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Guest essay: Vote No on recall to cont. justice reform

Carolina Mendez is a member of Chispa, a grassroots political organization for young Latinxs in Orange County. She is also a recent graduate of California State Fullerton, where she majored in political science, and now serves as the Orange County regional director for the California College Democrats.

If Democrats continue on their current trajectory and fail to galvanize their base to decisively oppose the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Californians face the prospect of electing a Republican governor who would work to usher in regressive policies that would undermine hard-fought progressive legislative victories.

Should the recall succeed, this could threaten effective implementation of substantial reforms to California’s criminal justice system of the last decade. Under Democratic leadership in Sacramento, California has steadily prioritized moving away from the destructive tough-on-crime politics that dominated the state in the 1980s and ’90s. These reforms are addressing the devastating effects of mass incarceration and over-policing of low-income communities of color and, buoyed by grassroots movements, reimagining what true safety looks like.

Having organized alongside some of the incredible activists who have devoted so much of their time, spirit, and energy to enacting these policies, I’ve seen how the prospect of losing this precious momentum has become a rallying cry for mobilization efforts against the recall.

Beyond just momentum, we also stand to lose the support that has driven key legislative wins. Several landmark bills signed by Gov. Newsom last year – like the California Racial Justice Act, AB 2542 – seek to rectify these effects by promoting equity in the courtroom. Introduced by Asm. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), the bill prohibits the use of race, ethnicity or national origin to seek or obtain convictions or sentences. It also allows individuals to challenge their convictions by proving exhibited racial bias by a defense attorney, prosecutor, judge, law enforcement officer, expert witness, or juror involved in the case.

Addressing the systemic bias prevalent in charging and sentencing is certainly a step in the right direction, as was Newsom’s signing into law AB 1185, which promotes police accountability through the establishment of county-led Sheriff oversight boards. As calls for direct community involvement in overseeing police departments’ conduct are being amplified across the state, bills like AB 1185 serve as the foundation for more impactful legislation in the future.

Under a Republican governor, we would not only stand to lose indispensable support in securing investments in programs that seek to reimagine safety and uplift marginalized communities plagued by decades of heavy policing and inequitable access to resources, but we would also gain an antagonist with a loud megaphone and platform.

As a young Latinx voter, the stakes during this recall could not be higher for me and my community. It’s not merely our futures at stake, but our very lives.

At the core of Newsom’s legislative support lies a willingness to confront the root causes of crime and an openness to undo the worst excess of the past. Rather than return to antiquated tough-on-crime policing practices under a Republican governor, Gov. Newsom will continue to shift the narrative and employ a more “holistic” approach in reducing and preventing community violence.

While my fellow organizers and I would like to see greater commitment from Gov. Newsom toward rolling back poor policing practices in communities of color and investing more in areas like housing and healthcare, his willingness to champion reforms to confront the underlying causes of crime creates a clear contrast with the Republicans seeking to replace him.

Another example of Newsom’s commitment was appointing former Alameda Asm. Rob Bonta as California’s newest Attorney General. In the Assembly, Bonta championed legislation that made California the first state in the nation to ban for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers. Bonta’s nomination signaled a new era in the Attorney General’s office and served as another commitment to confronting the devastating impacts of historic injustices sanctioned by the criminal justice system – disproportionately so on communities of color.

The stage is set. Unless we turn out to vote in record numbers by vehemently opposing this blatant Republican power-grab together, California stands to close the curtains on its transformative legacy as a policy trailblazer.

Young people like me are now once again confronted with the responsibility of stepping up and taking bold, decisive action to preserve our democracy, and we don’t have a moment to lose.

We must refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past and not destroy the progress our communities have sacrificed so much to secure.

There is too much at stake. We must unite and reject the recall.

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