If passed into law, two new propositions-Propositions 6 and 9-could impose stiff new penalties that could adversely affect disadvantaged members of the community, according to activists at the grassroots based Community Coalition.
Members of the organization held a workshop Sept. 11 to alert the community about the propositions that will be facing voters on the November ballot.
Proposition 6, if passed, would be earmarked for criminal justice programs that could cost taxpayers billions. The funds would go toward law enforcement and corrections as well as to prisons, probation or police. The funds would come out of the State’s general fund and would threaten funding for vital programs such as education and welfare.
But more disturbingly, coalition organizers said that Proposition 6, known as the Safe Neighborhood Act, would target youth for adult prosecution. Youths 14 years or older charged with a “gang related” felony, including nonviolent felonies, would be presumed unfit for trial in a juvenile court. If convicted, the youths would be tried as adults and serve longer prison sentences. The charge would also leave permanent felony convictions on their records.
Proposition 6 would also provide money to local housing authorities to conduct criminal background checks for Section 8 recipients and occupants which could lead to the withdrawal of the housing subsidy for tenants with recent convictions.
The measure would also enforce stiffer penalties covering a wide range of infractions, including increasing penalties for nonviolent violations of gang injunctions, vandalism, gun possession, and even penalties for a minor if he or she attempts to remove a GPS device.
Another piece of proposed legislation of concern, is Proposition 9, which would remove judges’discretion to decide if restitution is appropriate in a case. It would also prohibit efforts to relieve overcrowding in California’s jails or prisons, and deny people on parole legal counsel at parole violation hearings.
Community Coalition president Marquise Harris-Dawson said that the propositions will have dire consequences for undeserved communities. “They are destabilizing populations with these initiatives,” Harris-Dawson declared. “Look at the number of black people incarcerated. The state of California as 175,000 people in prison. Sixty percent are black, and one third of that 60 % are from Los Angeles County. We have exploding foster care because of mass incarceration,” Dawson pointed out.
Harris-Dawson said that many voters will be misled when they hear the term Safe Neighborhood Act. “When you hear the words ‘Safe Neighborhood Act,’ what does it bring to mind?” Harris-Dawson asked. “A safer neighborhood. But Proposition 6 would call for the criminalization of youth starting at 14 years old. In other words, this bill would lock them up as adults when they’re still children.”
The proposition will also broaden the definition of gang related activity and requires all occupants living in public housing to pass yearly background checks. “Family members who do not pass the background check will lose housing,” Harris-Dawson pointed out. “A lot of these propositions are written in complicated and strategic language when they promote these propositions.”
Harris-Dawson observed, “Once they go to prison, it will be difficult for them to get housing or jobs, so what happens? More people will stay in the criminal justice system.”
Andres Ramirez, Community Coalition youth organizer, pointed out that the propositions will ultimately impact black and brown communities. “Ultimately, these propositions are about money,” Ramirez said. “If passed, these propositions will generate billions of dollars for jails, prisons, and parole operations. It is modern day slavery because it will keep up the level of oppression on black and brown in the courts. People will lose their rights and these propositions will help to break up families.”
“We need to get educated about these propositions,” said Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, civic engagement coordinator for the Community Coalition. “These measures are about putting more people in jail.”
Kwa Jitahidi added, “The board of supervisors can make policy for the activity in the prisons. They set policies for section of the communities who are most at risk of entering into the prison system such as the poor and the unemployed. So they play a major role in providing services and programs for people to prevent them from going into prison-such as job training, drug treatment and education in and outside of prison.
“We want people to be informed about these propositions and the connection to our elected officials, particularly on the county level,” said Kwa Jitahiti. “We want people to be informed voters and empowered with information to talk to their neighbors, friends and family. A lot of the information we provided is not widely known by the community and people don’t know where to get the information. The presidential election is important, but there are a lot of propositions in upcoming races that will tremendously impact our community,” stated Kwa Jitahidi.