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The Social Justice Propositions You Need to Know This Year: 16, 17, and 20

Californians have several opportunities to stand on the right side of history in 2020.

Black Lives Matter Protest (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

2020 has ushered in a new era of anti-racist activism. People of all types have taken to the streets demanding lasting systemic change. Our elected officials showed up right on time for photo ops, said the right things, then turned around and gave us lackluster results when given the opportunity. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, for example, “slashed” $150m of the police budget while failing to mention that he was really just shaving a scheduled budget increase.

These tepid half-measures from our mayor, city council, and state government have illustrated how deeply flawed and divisive our state’s issues are. Since efforts to call and email our elected officials have fallen on deaf ears, our next recourse is to make our voices heard at the polls. This year, there are four extremely important social justice measures on the statewide ballot, and we’re going to provide analysis on each of them. Prop 25 is so nuanced we gave it its own article. The other three (Props 16, 17, and 20) we’re breaking down below.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

PROP 16 — Restore Affirmative Action — Vote YES

California was the first state in the union to ban affirmative action in 1996 with the passage of Prop 209. Prop 16 would repeal Prop 209, allowing California to practice affirmative action again.

Ward Connorly, the author of Prop 209, reasoned that affirmative action was only meant to be a temporary stopgap until equality was reached. He claimed affirmative action had become a skewed system that discriminated against white and Asian people. At the time, public perception was that Affirmative Action’s mission had been accomplished and it was time to move on, and the measure passed.

Time has shown that Connorly’s take is simply not true. The equity he spoke of was never reached. Ending affirmative action only widened wealth and education disparities for our low-income Black and Brown communities. All Prop 209 has accomplished is blocking Black and Brown students from better schools and from getting higher-paying positions after graduating. Professionals with higher tier education are more likely to get hired at better corporations, command a higher salary, and have a better competitive edge to win contracts for their own companies: the list goes on.

Furthermore, one study covering the last 24 years has shown that only white and Asian communities have benefited in affirmative action’s absence, at the expense of Black and Brown people. White and Asian college enrollment barely changed, in part because affirmative action never deterred white or Asian students from going to school, especially if they could afford a private university. There have been no winners, only students who’ve lost out on higher-income opportunities as a result of this crucial deciding factor.

Prop 16’s detractors argue that opportunities should be awarded by merit and merit alone, which is glaring gatekeeping at its worst. The measurements and opportunities to earn said merit are goalposts moved at the whim of historically white and wealthy institutions (many of which have suffered a small bribery problem, in case anyone’s forgotten). The merit argument further underscores the need for affirmative action. Even the SAT, which was literally invented as a eugenics ploy to establish white Americans as superior, has owned that they’re less than perfect and now takes socio-economic background into account (albeit with a flawed algorithmic system). Colleges look at every other aspect of a student’s life — neighborhood, school, economic background, but not their race.

The strong resurgence of Black Lives Matter and protests for racial equity this summer makes reinstating affirmative action especially timely. Voting Yes for Prop 16 is an acknowledgment that California is not the bastion of equality we claim it to be — far from it — and we have work to do to close our gaps.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

PROP 17 — Restoring the Right to Vote to People on Parole — Vote YES

Prop 17 would restore the right to vote for people convicted of felonies upon release from prison. As of this moment, former prisoners can vote once their probation is complete. This is a clear Yes, for us. People should never get their right to vote stripped away. Plain and simple.

The law as it stands only recognizes prisoners as numbers, not as humans. We count prisoners on the census, but only where they’re imprisoned. This means that once every 10 years, the town surrounding the prison counts the number of people in that prison as permanent residents. This special type of gerrymandering inflates the legislative power and government funding of every prison’s district, but only the surrounding citizens get to enjoy the benefits. Neglecting to count prisoners in their hometown robs their communities of those same resources, and creates an assumption that a consistent number of people will spend more time in prison than at home.

No, this bill does not address that double standard. It just underscores why we need to move the needle towards correcting this hypocrisy. This year, the best we can do is restore voting rights to a disenfranchised population who never should have been stripped of them to being with.

This is just one of a long string of punishments we enforce upon newly released prisoners. We’ve created hostile parameters that do nothing to motivate or assist people to re-engage with society. What does restricting their right to vote accomplish? What lesson are they supposed to learn from this? Restoring voting rights is a small step towards inviting people back into society in a meaningful way.

San Quentin Prison. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

PROP 20 — Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection — Vote NO

Prop 20, if passed, would mangle years of activist work towards ending mass incarceration. Prop 20 seeks to reclassify 51 crimes and sentence enhancements as violent, opening up paths to heavier sentences and disqualifying certain prisoners from the parole review program. It would also expand the “wobbler” rule, which allows prosecutors to escalate certain misdemeanor charges to felonies at their discretion. Such higher sentences would thus exclude prisoners from the parole review program. Unsurprisingly, police and prison guards are vocal in their support.

We have begun to come to terms with the consequences of our “tough on crime” policies of the ’90s. Even as we cling to the title of having the largest prison population in the country (hence the world), Californians are realizing how costly, inhumane, and ineffectual our prison system truly is, and that preventative measures deserve a fair shot.

Activists have worked tirelessly to present alternatives to incarceration and educate the general public about them, but Prop 20 seeks to set us back. Prop 20 is a blatant scare tactic, meant to stir up distrust in our communities. It would put more people in prison and keep them there longer.

Prop 20 would also open the door for police to collect DNA for misdemeanors, including shoplifting. This means someone could legally get their DNA sampled for stealing a candy bar. Unsurprisingly, major grocery conglomerates are amongst the largest donors in support of Prop 20.

Once again, law enforcement is intent on over-policing lower-level crimes rather than doing the harder work of addressing their root cause, especially with crimes of need, such as theft. Prisons do not solve systemic problems, only exacerbate them.

Prop 20’s own impact statement shows that the cost of implementing these measures would extract tens of millions of dollars in taxes a year. Once again, we’re told that demanding a bigger share of the budget is only okay when law enforcement wants it. It’s a bit wild to think that in a time of unrest, amidst a global pandemic, retailers are more concerned with charging people with felonies than taking care of essential workers. Even wilder to think we’re also presented with the far superior Measure J here in LA, which would fund programs to prevent people from needing to steal food to begin with, without increasing the budget. Imagine that.

Not to mention the DNA collection element of Prop 20 comically overestimates our capacity for tackling data. We have a heinously backlogged DNA database as is. Why would we trust the government to expand their DNA collection operation to collect from a wide swath of people convicted of misdemeanors if they cannot process all that they have now? Maybe they should start with the rape kits and go from there.

We acknowledge that many of the crimes listed are not victimless. I’ve personally had my car broken into several times. A vote against Prop 20 does not discount the people affected by these crimes. However, the cost to “rectify” said crimes will be much deeper and wide-reaching than the system we’re working towards now. We do not intend to ignore the harm being caused. In fact, we take it seriously enough to take an honest approach to ending the cycle of harm instead of perpetuating it. Prop 20 would spin the wheel on turbo drive.

Want to learn more about your 2020 election ballot? Check out KNOCK.LA’s Voter Guide, which breaks down propositions and candidate platforms for over 120 races in and around LA County.

KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.