Author: lafocus

Advocates Pressure Gov. Newsom to Fund Health Equity, Racial Justice in Final Budget

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

On June 8, community leaders, public health advocates and racial justice groups convened for a virtual press event to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund (HERJ Fund).

The initiative supports community-based organizations addressing the underlying social, environmental and economic factors that limit people’s opportunities to be healthy — such as poverty, violence and trauma, environmental hazards, and access to affordable housing and healthy food. Health advocates would also address longstanding California problems related to health equity and racial justice problems.

The fund cleared a significant hurdle last week when the State Legislature included $75 million in their joint budget proposal. This means both the Assembly and Senate support the HERJ Fund and they will go into negotiations with the governor to seek his support to approve it.

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus. If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,” said Ron Coleman, Managing Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.

Wednesday’s virtual community meeting and press event capped off a series of rallies held by supporters in cities across the state calling on Gov. Newsom to make room in his budget for the HERJ Fund.

Coleman facilitated the online event featuring representatives from service organizations speaking about their support for the fund and presenting plans for how the money would be used to support their shared mission of providing services to minority and underserved communities in California.

Jenedra Sykes, Partner at Arboreta Group, spoke about inequalities that exist in funding for smaller grassroots nonprofits and how traditionally larger, White-led nonprofits use state funds to subcontract with grassroots nonprofits to provide services to communities of color at lower costs.

“The faith-based non-profits on the ground have the relationships, the access to those who are most vulnerable and marginalized among us who disproportionately have poorer health outcomes,” said Sykes. “This bill also evens the playing field a bit. Instead of going through the middleman of the established larger non-profits, funding will go directly to the people who are doing the work. The passion, the heart, the skills, the talents are there. It’s about the resources to fund these talents”

Coleman gave attendees an update on the status of the HERJ Fund’s path to inclusion in the state budget.

Now that the State Legislature has included the fund in their spending proposal for Fiscal Year ’22-23 (it was not included in Newsom’s “May Revise”), it must survive negotiations with the governor’s office before the June 15 deadline to finalize the budget.

A final budget needs to be in place by June 30, the last day for the governor to approve.

HERJ Fund supporters remain hopeful that funding for their program will be included in the final budget.

In the past, reservations have come from the Governor’s office supporting the fund came from questions around oversight, accountability and outcomes would look like. Updated mechanisms were added to the HERJ Fund’s proposal to alleviate those concerns and supporters of the fund believe that Governor Newsom is out of excuses.

“Our best shot at getting the HERJ Fund in the budget is now. We are hoping that all of you will keep the pressure on the Governor to ensure that this becomes a reality,” Coleman said. “If he does care about the intersections of health equity and racial justice then we will see funding.”

Attendees were encouraged to contact the Governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund. You can visit to learn more about the proposal and the effort to include it in the state budget.

Nadia Kean-Ayub, Executive Director of Rainbow Spaces, shared details about the valuable events and services community-based non-profits provide. She said there is no shortage of families in need who want to participate in their organizations’ programs but, due to limited funding for transportation, many people never access services meant to help them.

“This tells me that when things are created in our communities, they are not making the impact we need in our Black, Brown and API communities,” Kean-Ayub said. I will continue to fight. To really make this grow, we need the state to understand that the true impact comes from the community and the people who are living these issues and who know how to help them.”

White Terrorists Pose Top Safety Risk

Mark Hedin /Ethnic Media Services

Law enforcement knows that the top threat of deadly violence in the United States today comes not from “tree huggers” or Black Lives Matter activists, but from white supremacists and far-right extremists.

But in the eyes of the law, they’re all treated the same.

This was among the messages presented Tuesday to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “‘Metasticizing’ Domestic Terrorism.”

To “metasticize” is to dangerously spread and grow, like a cancer.

The hearing was held in response to the May 14 attack at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that killed 10 shoppers and store security, mostly black.

Among those testifying was Michael German, a 16-year veteran of the FBI who cut his teeth working undercover, infiltrating white supremacist and right-wing militant groups in Los Angeles and Seattle in the ‘90s before resigning in protest over what he deemed misguided agency policies around counterterrorism in the post-9/11 era.

He now works at the Brennan Center for Justice, after publishing a book and working for the ACLU.

White supremacists the “most violent”

A first step law enforcement should take, he said, is simply to focus on who’s most violent.

“Congress has already done the work necessary to provide federal law enforcement with all the tools it needs,” he said.

“The FBI and Justice Department use their domestic terrorism authorities most aggressively against groups that are far less violent and rarely, if ever, commit fatal attacks, such as environmentalists, animal rights activists, peace activists, anti-racism activists, anti-fascists and, most recently revealed, Concerned Women of America,” he testified.

But “white supremacists are the most violent and deadly among the perpetrators the FBI categorizes as domestic terrorists,” he said — and the most deadly to law enforcement officers themselves.

“The problem is that the Justice Department and FBI choose not to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of white supremacist and far-right violence as a matter of policy and practice.”

Also, German noted, data on both the extent of white supremacist crimes and on how it’s being addressed are lacking.

Too often, German said, violent crimes are left to state and local authorities or other agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or the Drug Enforcement Agency to prosecute, according to their varied rules and appetite for justice.

For example, German said, a murder that could be considered domestic terrorism might be prosecuted instead as a hate crime, or simply a violent crime, and referred to state and local authorities, some of whom don’t have hate crime laws.

Of the 230,000 hate crimes that occur on average per year, only 25 are prosecuted at the federal level, German said, while only 14% of police agencies even acknowledge that hate crime exists within their jurisdictions.

“These crimes demand extra attention because they pose a persistent threat to vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women, the disabled, and religious minorities,” German said.

“At some point we must acknowledge that white supremacy is not an ‘extremist’ belief system, but instead far too mainstream,” German testified.

The Great Replacement Theory

But when leaders adopt these positions, German said, people understand them as authorization to act on those beliefs — which have also, alarmingly, taken root in law enforcement circles.

Like the killer of 23 people in El Paso, Texas in 2019, the 2018 synagogue attack in Pittsburgh that killed 11 and the Christchurch, New Zealand, killing of 50, the Buffalo gunman   justified his murderous targeting of black shoppers with the “Great Replacement Theory” that has cropped up repeatedly around the world in blaming an “other” — usually a racial or ethnic minority or religion, often immigrant — for usurping power and opportunity from a more privileged sector of the populace.

In 2022, such beliefs have been accepted by nearly a third of U.S. respondents — and 54% of Fox viewers, according to polling that German cited.

It’s not surprising, he commented. “Politicians and media pundits have long exploited racial resentments and public fears of demographic change to sway voters and build an audience.”

And too often, he continued, violent actors are portrayed and prosecuted as “lone wolves” without broader consideration of their fellow travelers.

This was the case with the Buffalo, N.Y., attacker, but closer examination turned up not only advance warnings of the scheme posted and seen online, but also that he described his plans openly to others, including at least one federal agent, and had help in choosing his weaponry.

When he was working undercover with white supremacists, German testified, “lone wolf tactics” were recommended by its leaders for those “committing criminal acts, as part of a broader ‘leaderless resistance’ strategy” to keep the group as a whole out of trouble.

Ever since 9/11, German said, too much emphasis has been placed on surveillance for terrorist recruiting and radicalization efforts — to little effect beyond the detriment of people’s privacy — and “see something, say something” campaigns that have been similarly ineffective and divisive.

More effective strategies, he testified, would be to focus on how the violent element operates within the white supremacist movement, focusing on the tactics used, and amassing data and successfully prosecuting all violent crime across the board.

German is the author of the 2008 book, “Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent” and his reports on white supremacist groups and far-right militancy can be accessed online: “Fighting Far-Right Violence and Hate Crimes,” (2019), “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement,” (2020) and “How to Combat White Supremacist Violence? Avoid Flawed Post-9/11 Tactics” (2020).

Protect Yourselves — and Your Baby — by Getting Vaccinated and Wearing a Mask

Shantay Davies-Balch

      I don’t know a single pregnant woman or parent who doesn’t want a healthy baby. Unfortunately, far too many Black women and their babies experience poor health outcomes. In Fresno, for example, 14.9 percent of African American babies are born prematurely, compared to 8.4 percent of babies born to white women, and Black babies are more than three times more likely to die in their first year of life. This is the reality that the BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center(BWPC) is working to change every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made achieving health equity even harder. That’s because of our community’s disproportionately low rates of vaccination against COVID-19, including pregnant women and parents with infants. Sadly, many remain unconvinced by the science that has demonstrated that vaccination does not cause male or female infertility. The vaccine is proven to be safe and effective for pregnant women and their babies — and women who get vaccinated during pregnancy pass that protection onto their newborns.

We’ve seen the devastating impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women, who face far higher risk of hospitalization and death when they are infected than women who are not pregnant. And when a pregnant woman gets COVID, her baby’s chances of being born early are 40 percent higher. Vaccination against COVID-19 provides a layer of protection that helps safeguard the health of the entire family. Even with efforts from trusted voices, distrust, hesitancy, and myths about the disease and the vaccine persist.

BWPC will continue to counter the misinformation and misunderstanding about vaccination with science-based evidence. Our goal is to respectfully encourage the communities we serve to make the decision to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 based on the science.

Despite lingering vaccine hesitancy, we know that our pregnant women and new mothers and fathers want what is best for their babies.

Wearing a mask in most settings is a simple and effective way to protect ourselves and families. Although indoor mask requirements for most settings have eased in recent weeks, masks are still strongly recommended and remain an important tool against a disease that is still with us. This is especially true when we’re around our tiniest children who are unvaccinated and are more vulnerable to COVID infection, and any number of other circulating viral diseases like the flu, RSV and the common cold.

It’s also critical to remember to wear a mask around our older family members and friends, and those who may have pre-existing health conditions or are immune comprised. And if you have a new baby at home, consider limiting visitors or celebrating the birth virtually. When you are joining friends and family, encourage them to wear a mask and to keep six feet away from your new baby.

Our loved ones deserve to be protected. If you have children in public school, where masks are no longer required for students, remind them that masks are still strongly recommended and that no one should be told not to wear one if they feel safer doing so.

At BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center, where the health and safety of our staff and communities we serve is paramount, we continue to wear masks. And we have created a simple guide to the most effective types of masks.

Remember, our babies are dependent on us for their care and protection. When we protect ourselves and children against COVID-19 with vaccination and wearing a mask we are giving them the best opportunity for a healthy beginning and fulfilling our promise to do what’s best.

About the author: Shantay Davies-Balch is Board Chair of the BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center, a community-based organization dedicated to improving Black maternal and child outcomes, unite and elevate the Black voice, and build sustainable infrastructure to build Black capacity.

Gascon Recall Campaign Surpasses Required Threshold to Make November Ballot


Well, it’s official. The Recall DA George Gascon Campaign has surpassed 566,857 signatures collected as of June 14th, which equates to 10% of registered voters in Los Angeles County and is the required threshold to officially initiate a recall.  Organizers maintain that it is the most signatures ever collected in Los Angeles County for any petition.

The campaign is now focused on collecting as many additional signatures as possible to ensure there is a necessary cushion to cover those that are invalidated by the Registrar.

“We are officially within striking distance of initiating a recall against George Gascon, but the urgency for signature collection in these final days will be greater than ever,” said campaign organizers in a statement.  “Simply clearing the required threshold is not enough – we must build the necessary cushion for signatures that are inevitably invalidated.  We are urging every registered voter in Los Angeles County to mail in their petition by no later than June 24 to ensure they arrive on time, or alternatively, drop them off at one of our permanent signing locations by June 30.  The only thing that can stop us at this point is complacency.”

The official deadline for signature submission to County Registrar is July 6, 2022.

Black-ish Star Tracy Ellis Ross Is 2022 Ambassador for Buy from A Black Woman

Kisha Smith

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross has been announced as the 2022 ambassador for Buy From A Black Woman (BFABW), an Atlanta-based non-profit founded in 2016 by Nikki Porcher that connects hundreds of Black Woman owned businesses across the United States—and has teamed with H&M USA— provides a community of support with the goal of helping their businesses flourish.

Ross, who launched her own hair care brand, Pattern, in 2018, will serve to amplify the non-profit’s mission of helping other Black Woman owned businesses flourish through a community of support and resources.

“I am proud to help support Buy From a Black Woman and the incredible network of business owners they’ve brought together,” says Ross.  “Black women and their contributions are often overlooked, which is why it’s crucial for us to come together to build, strengthen and create our own opportunities for success.”

On June 10th, Ross and Porcher sat down together at H&M’s Los Angeles showroom for a candid discussion about the challenges and successes Black Woman encounter as business owners, delving into such topics as starting your own business, strengthening a network of Black women business owners, and how Black women are often called to create their own path to fill a need that is often unrecognized by corporations.  Ross, herself a talented multihyphenate with years of experience in entertainment and business, gave words of wisdom and advice to young Black women seeking to achieve their own goals in a world where they may not always be seen.

“It’s hard to describe in words what it means to have Tracee Ellis Ross as an ambassador for Buy From A Black Woman.  This year we are celebrating and showing the world that Black Women are living examples. I couldn’t think of a better example to help us spread our message of just how important it is to buy from and support Black Women Business Owners better than Ms. Ross. We are truly honored to work with her and to continue our partnership with H&M,” says Nikki Porcher, Founder of Buy From a Black Woman.

Now in the second year of partnership, H&M USA will continue its support of Buy From a Black Woman through a variety of activities and support aimed at continuing the growth and success of the business owners, beginning with  a donation of $250,000.  This summer, H&M USA will again sponsor the organization’s Buy From a Black Woman Inspire Tour, leveraging H&M USA’s channels and brick and mortar locations to highlight Black Woman owned businesses across the country.

“We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Tracee Ellis Ross to propel our support of Buy From a Black Woman even further,” says Donna Dozier Gordon, Head of Inclusion and Diversity for H&M Region Americas.  “Ms. Ross’ role as Buy From A Black Woman ambassador will be a force multiplier in amplifying the critical work being done to elevate the success of Black woman business owners, and in turn, uplift entire communities. H&M’s collaboration with Buy From A Black Woman continues to exemplify the impact we want to have in empowering and creating capacity in the communities in which we live and work.”

New Poll Reveals Waning Support for Biden from Black Voters


Nearly 90 percent of Black voters chose Biden in 2020, but according to a new poll, the numbers are not likely to be that high in 2024 should the president seek re-election.

A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted online April 21 through May 2, 2022, has found support for President Joe Biden to be lagging among black voters.

The poll of 1248 Black voters found that while a 60 percent majority of those polled said that Biden was keeping his promises, but 37 percent say he is not and while 9 in 10 voted for him, just 7 in 10 approve of his job performance.

In fact, while 60 percent of Black voters viewed a possible Republican takeover of the Senate in the midterms as bad, 31 percent of Black voters felt it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. Upwards of 75 percent felt Biden had done little or nothing to reduce discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Of Biden’s unsuccessful attempts to curtail the rising gas prices and inflation, Myra Johnson observed, “I don’t know that I ever had a whole lot of faith in him to turn things around in the first place. I wasn’t all that thrilled about the Democratic candidates who were running and he [Biden] just seemed to be Black folks best shot at beating Trump. That’s why I voted for him.”

Johnson is among those who may not support Biden in 2024, unless as she puts it, “He is the only choice”.

Biden’s approval rating was even lower among younger Black voters.

The poll is one of several over the last year that have demonstrated decreasing support for Biden among Black voters. A CNN poll found that Biden’s support among black voters had dropped 20 points since last year.  A Pew Research poll released last September found a sharp drop in support among Blacks as well.

“What we must put in context is that the unusually high turnout among black voters in 2020 was at the height of the George Floyd movement…wanting to deal with policing issues, wanting to deal with how we were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and how it exposed the health deserts in our communities and all of that drove us to voting for Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket as well as the offensive nature of the Trump presidency,” Rev. Al Sharpton told Morning Joe in May.

“Now, that we have gotten two years in and we did not get the George Floyd Bill. We did not even get the John Lewis Voting Advancement Bill and we don’t have Trump there.”

Sharpton was quick to point out that the Biden/Harris team had made some advances in dealing with the impact of the pandemic in Black communities as well as investments in some black communities and the appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

But, said Sharpton, “I think that a combination of their not having the right messaging machine for what they have done and not being realistic about the expectation of black voters is what has led to a decline.”

Despite a drop in support for Biden, the Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that Biden’s standing among blacks remains higher than other groups and that they remain supportive of the Democratic party even as gas prices soar and inflation strains the economy.

Wendy Williams Show to End Friday, Williams In Legal Battle over Her Finances


Kisha Smith

After 13 years on the air, the final episode of The Wendy Williams Show is set to air on Friday. The show, which debuted in 2009 from Debmar-Mercury, became one of its longest and most successful syndicated programs. Williams won’t be present, but a video montage will serve as a tribute to the highly popular host while also celebrating the show’s groundbreaking TV run.

Williams—who has been battling Grave’s Disease and has had some personal setback over the last several years—has not been hosting the show since last year and the show had been slated to continue through the end of the season with rotating guest hosts.

In February, it was announced that one of those hosts, actress/comedienne Sherri Shepherd, had inked a deal with the show producers (Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury) for a daytime syndicated talk show that would make its debut this fall in what would have been the Wendy Williams time slot.

Williams, who had vowed a come back to the show prior to its finale, said she would be watching Shepherd’s show this fall.

The 57-year old former radio host and author is presently locked in a battle with Wells Fargo after freezing her accounts (and several million dollars according to Williams) due to concerns of her being of “unsound mind” as reported by a former advisor.

A March 2022 statement from the bank noted that “Wells Fargo’s priority is the financial well-being of Ms. Williams and the preservation of her privacy.”

In May, a New York judge appointed a financial guardian to oversee her accounts, but access to—and control over—her money could come sometime this summer.

Karen Bass Takes the Lead from Caruso in L.A. Mayor Race



With the latest round of mail-in ballots counted in the L.A. mayoral primary, Congresswoman Karen Bass has taken the lead from billionaire developer Rick Caruso by nearly three percentage points. The latest numbers have Bass at 41.05% with 202,818 votes and Caruso—who spent a record $40 million—at 38.29% with 189,178 votes.

“We’re in a fight for the soul of our city and we are going to win the fight,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass on the eve of the primary that makes her the first Black woman to compete in a November runoff for a Los Angeles mayoral race.

“Going forward means that we have to bring together all of the people around the city and have the type of very diverse grassroots campaign that we always planned to have,” Bass added. “We started the first phase of it and now we’ll be able to become much bigger. It’s time for unity.”

Should she win, Bass would make history the first Black woman to be elected mayor of L.A., and just the second Black hold the post.

A UC Berkeley poll had ranked the six-term, battle-tested congressmember as slightly ahead of Caruso just days before the election despite a relentless avalanche of TV ads attacking her with the goal of getting to 51% of the vote and winning outright on June 7.

“You would have thought $40 million compared to $3 million, that I would have been wiped out,” Bass said, on a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show With Jonathan Capehart”.

Caruso surged ahead by five points as the sun rose on June 8, but mail-in ballots have flipped the results in Bass’ favor with the final tally to be certified by July 7.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) has announced its endorsement of Karen Bass for Mayor of Los Angeles.

“Congresswoman Karen Bass is the only real Democrat running for Mayor of Los Angeles — and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party is proud to endorse her,” said Mark Gonzalez, Chair of LACDP, representing more than 3.1 million registered Democrats“This is a choice between a man who has spent his life profiting from the labor of working Angelenos, and a woman who dedicated her life to protecting those working families. In her service, Rep. Bass has been a lifelong Democrat and leader in the city who has spent decades fighting for the principles of the Democratic Party advocating for worker’s rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and tackling inequality. Those are Democratic values, and they’re Karen Bass’ values. We look forward to getting her elected to City Hall.”

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of Los Angeles County Democratic Party,” said Rep. Karen Bass. “Together, we can bring Los Angeles into a new era, by leading with our Democratic values: building housing for the unhoused, making sure all Angelenos feel safe, ending unacceptable levels of poverty, and making sure that the economy works for working people. We must choose to move our city forward.”

Peers Praise Alameda Judge Trina Thompson’s Rise to Federal Court


Edward Henderson | California Black Media

Judge Trina L. Thompson of the Superior Court of Alameda County, who is African American, was confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The United States Senate voted 51-44 to confirm Thompson, who President Biden nominated.

Appointed under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, federal district court judges serve lifetime appointments upon good behavior.

“All of us in the Northern District are grateful and excited to have Judge Thompson join us,” said Chief Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“She brings a wealth of experience as a highly regarded trial judge, which will be most welcome on our very busy Court,” he said.

Since taking office, the Biden Administration has made it a priority to diversify federal courts.

“Our current federal bench is not representative of the diversity of our democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) in remarks on the floor last week. “We have a lot of work to do to rebuild a judiciary that deserves the faith of the American people.”

More than 70% of President Biden’s 92 district and appellate court picks have been women, and a vast majority have been people of color.

Prior to her appointment, Judge Thompson served as a juvenile court commissioner, a criminal defense attorney in private practice for nearly a decade, and as an assistant public defender as well. Thompson holds the distinction of being the first African American woman elected to the Superior Court of Alameda County.

In addition to her work on the bench, she serves as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1983, and her juris doctor from the university’s School of Law in 1986.

Thompson has contributed to educating the public and her peers about equity and equal rights under the law. Her work contrasted the tenets of American law with the history and contemporary realities of discrimination when she participated in the ‘Continuing the Dialogue’ series for the Center for Judicial Education and Research Division (CJER) of the Judicial Council of California. She discussed the history of housing discrimination in California effected through illegal racial covenants, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. She has also presented a CJER lecture on wrongful convictions and the learnings judicial officers can adapt to prevent them.

Thompson is a member of the Association of African American California Judicial Officers, Inc., (AAACJO). The organization was established in 2017 to address the professional interests of Black state and federal judicial officers presiding in the California. The membership includes Superior Court Judges and Commissioners, Appellate Court Justices, Administrative Law Judges and State Bar Court Judges.

“Given her body of work and her dedication to the community, it is clear Judge Thompson will be an invaluable asset in her new role as District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California,” the AAACJO said in a statement congratulating Thompson.

The Lookout: Four California Criminal Justice Reform Laws That Took Effect This Year



Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden signed a federal policing accountability executive order based on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 authored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37). That action supplements other criminal justice reforms affecting Californians that took place this year. Several other criminal justice reforms at the state level went into effect in January.

Here is a rundown highlighting four of those laws, detailing what they do, and recounting what California legislators have said about them.

Senate Bill (SB) 317 allows conduct credits to be earned while an individual who has been deemed mentally incompetent by the court is in a state hospital or other mental health treatment facility awaiting trial.

Authored by State Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas), SB 317 was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October of last year and went into effect this past January.

“SB 317 provides pathways to appropriate mental health treatment for defendants charged with misdemeanors,” said Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-California), Chair of the Public Safety Committee.

SB 317 also changes some of the guidelines for trial competency.

“It is important to remember that not all options are available for every defendant, as those are dependent on the situation and mental health status of each defendant,” stated Jones-Sawyer. “This bill is a tailored approach that allows California to use existing tools to help defendants gain competency and avoid a cycle of incarceration.”

Assembly Bill (AB) 124 provides a petition process for an individual to request that an arrest or conviction for nonviolent offenses be vacated — if the booking or crime resulted from the person being a victim of intimate partner violence or sexual violence.

“This bill ensures that survivors of sexual violence are able to receive justice through our legal system, which typically overlooks the context of abuse when determining whether to arrest,” said Jones-Sawyer.

Newsom signed AB 124, which was authored by Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), in October last year. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

“Incarcerated survivors of trafficking & violence need a 2nd chance at holistic justice,” Kamlager tweeted last year before the bill passed. “We cannot continue to criminalize behavior born of desperation and liberation when our systems don’t benefit those who need it most.”

The law also allows a coercion defense to be used in the case of a serious felony or charge of human trafficking if the defendant is a victim of human trafficking and their offense was a direct result of that.

“Many trafficking survivors are incarcerated for crimes committed to protect themselves from further violence. AB 124 allows for more just outcomes moving forward,” stated Jones-Sawyer.

Senate Bill (SB) 73, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), ends mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.


The legislation allows a court to suspend a sentence or grant probation for drug offenses such as possession or transportation of opiates or cannabis.

“Mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders hasn’t reduced drug use or addiction,” Wiener tweeted after the bill passed last year. “Time for a new approach.”

Assembly Bill (AB) 333, authored by Kamlager, limits the state’s gang enhancement law.

Gang enhancements are additional prison sentences prescribed to individuals who courts determine are associated with a gang.

Under the previous law enacted in 1988, individuals who are found to be affiliated or associated with a “criminal street gang” could receive gang enhancements for any felony even if it is not connected to gang activity.

“When 92% of gang enhancements are used against BIPOC – that’s a massive systemic problem,” said Kamlager.

Just six months into the year, it is not clear how effective these new laws have been but the push for criminal justice reform continues inside and outside of the California legislature even as more conservative opinions harden against them.

© Copyright 2021 - LA Focus Newspaper