CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bills tackling racial injustice, discrimination

Photo of Gavin Newsom
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a first-in-the-nation bill to study and make recommendations regarding reparations for slavery through a state-based task force. Newsom also signed two bills targeting structural racism, bias and discrimination in California’s legal system. (Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three bills Wednesday addressing racial discrimination and systemic racism in California.

One of the three bills is AB 3121, which establishes the first task force in the nation to study the effects of slavery and make recommendations for reparations. The second bill, AB 2542, prohibits the use of race, ethnicity and national origin in convictions and sentencing decisions. The final bill is AB 3070, which attempts to eliminate discrimination in the jury selection process, according to a press release from Newsom’s office.

“California’s rich diversity is our greatest asset,” Newsom said in the press release. “We won’t turn away from this moment to make right the discrimination and disadvantages that Black Californians and people of color still face.”

According to the press release, Newsom’s decision to pass the three bills is a part of his administration’s efforts to address racial injustice in California’s legal system. The release adds that the bills come at a time when the nation has begun reckoning with the presence of racism in the its institutions.

David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, drew parallels between the reparation task force and the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a group appointed by Congress to study the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was passed, granting $20,000 and an official letter of apology to all formerly interned Japanese Americans. Inoue said Japanese Americans have a “responsibility” to support reparations for African Americans.

“So many people say slavery happened so many years ago, but discriminatory laws still exist. There are things going on that are just as evil today,” Inoue said.

UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said the laws passed by Newsom will help combat racial bias and discrimination in the legal justice system. According to Chemerinsky, while there is more to be done in fighting racism within the country, the bills are an “important step.”

Lisa Holder, Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney and Of Counsel with the Equal Justice Society, spoke about the presence of implicit bias and racism in the legal and governmental systems. Holder added that compared to white people, Black and Latinx individuals face harsher sentences and higher bails on convictions made with the same evidence.

“For the last 50 years since the civil rights era, we have been pushing this perspective, which is called ‘colorblind consciousness,’ at every single level of our political system,” Holder said. “But the fact is that that has been a very misguided practice. You can’t have a colorblind society until you have a level playing field.”

Contact Blake Evans and Samantha Lim at [email protected].