By Cruz Reynoso and Harry Snyder
July 21, 2015
article here, or view below.
In his long and multifaceted career in public service, Gov. Jerry Brown
has made a name for himself as someone who cares about criminal justice,
whether during his days as attorney general of California, or as a tough-on-crime
mayor of Oakland in the early 2000s. He also governs a state that has
more people die at the hands of police — more than
100 so far in 2015 — than any other state in the country.
We know too well that there are two sides to criminal justice: The side
that keeps citizens safe from unlawful activity, and the side that protects
us from unfair treatment at the hands of the law. It is on the latter
issue that the governor has been conspicuously silent.
In the 1990s, Brown was outspoken against the overrepresentation of black
men in the criminal justice system, calling it a “staggering ...
message of absolute oppression.” In the last year, however, when
protests against police brutality swept the nation and repeatedly filled
California’s streets with activists, the governor declined to comment
publicly on the issue until January. When citizen footage exposed a pervasive
level of police misconduct, Gov. Brown made it easier for law enforcement
to use video to monitor citizens, vetoing a bill that would require police
to obtain a warrant before using surveillance drones on the public.
Fortunately, the governor is facing a critical opportunity to take action
to solve one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time —
not only with his voice, but with his pen. Three bills —AB953,
SB411 — are making their way to his desk that combat unjust and unconstitutional
practices in law enforcement. These bills provide much-needed refinement
of laws that no longer adequately protect the people from unfair treatment
and abuse at the hands of the criminal justice system.
poll shows that more than half of Californians believe that “blacks and
other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice
system.” These perceptions are a reflection of the troubling reality
facing people of color in our state: A 2015 report by a California police
department found that while blacks and Latinos were searched by police
three times and two times the rate of whites, respectively, these searches
were less likely to result in arrest than searches of white Californians.
Though the state currently has prohibitions against profiling, even the
Legislature acknowledged in 2000 that these statutes are too vague to
be effective in preventing the practice, making AB953 a long-overdue addition
to the books.
Similarly, the laws protecting evidence against tampering were written
before digital video was so readily available, so SB411 would update the
law to uphold Californians’ rights to film police, and AB256 would
ensure that any police officer who intentionally tampered with video evidence
would face felony charges.
By ensuring these bills become law, Gov. Brown has an opportunity to take
a stand against the persistent biases in the criminal justice system.
These bills will help ensure that all Californians receive equal treatment
and equal justice under the law, but they are only the start of what must
become a larger movement to end police violence.
Instead of leading the nation in the number of police-related deaths, our
state can be a leader in fair and accountable policing — but only
if the governor takes action.
Cruz Reynoso is a UC Davis professor emeritus of law and a former associate
justice of the California Supreme Court. Harry Snyder is a public interest
advocate and lecturer at UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
End unjust practices
AB953 (Weber) Racial profiling — Scheduled for Aug. 17 hearing in Senate Appropriations
AB256 (Jones-Sawyer) Makes falsifying digital evidence by law enforcement a crime — In Senate Appropriations suspense file (will be heard in mid-late August).
SB411 (Lara) Ensures people’s right to photograph police — On governor’s desk.