Antonio Ray Harvey l California Black Media
May 25, 2023
(CBM) – Last Week, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) welcomed Tennessee lawmaker and Oakland native Justin Jones to the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The visit occurred one month after Jones was expelled from the Tennessee legislature for participating in a protest on the Tennessee State House floor demanding urgent action on gun control. Jones has since been reinstated, and was recognized on the California Assembly floor with a resolution condemning his expulsion and that of fellow Black Democrat Justin J. Pearson by the Tennessee Legislature.
Jones told a roomful of reporters at the Capitol that he participated in the demonstration to “protect kids, not guns.”
“They tried to make a public spectacle out of us,” Jones said of the Republican lawmakers who voted to expel him.
“But what they didn’t realize is that the nation was watching, and that the nation was seeing the immoral decision being made to expel lawmakers instead of passing common-sense gun laws that the majority of Tennesseans, the majority of Americans, are calling for in this moment,” he added.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) and Assemblymembers Tina McKinnor (D- Inglewood), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) – all CLBC members — attended the event. Senate President pro Tempore, Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) stood with Jones and the other lawmakers.
“I’m thinking about all of us are standing here united from the Tennessee State House to the California State House with a clear message that if you come for one of us you come for all of us,” Jones said. “This is what multi-racial democracy looks like and we will not let any type of authoritarian, anti-democratic force take us back in our history, a time we don’t want to go to.”
The Assembly unanimously voted 60-0 to disapprove of the actions taken by the Republican controlled Tennessee House chamber. The resolution, AJR 5, was authored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Gardena), who has authored and supported several other pieces of gun-control legislation.
Assembly Republican Minority Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) praised Jones for speaking up on behalf of his constituents in Tennessee and pledged his full support for AJR 5. However, he also criticized his Democratic colleagues for not bringing wildfire prevention and anti-Fentanyl bills to the Assembly floor.
Gallagher said he was close to bringing “a megaphone” and coming onto the floor” to discuss those issues, which he said are priorities for his caucus.
“Don’t get up here and preach to me about democracy and talk about other states. The message about Rep. Jones is not just about Tennessee. It’s for you,” Gallagher said. “The bottom line is, if we want to ensure democracy, we better do it right here at home. Do a little soul-searching first before you make this into a day of the panderer.”
Gipson said gun control is an important issue that must be addressed in California and across the country due to the increasing frequency of mass shootings around the nation.
“Tennessee tried to snuff out democracy. Tried to silence the voices of the representatives that represent their constituency. If we stood by as Californians and did nothing, we would have been guilty of remaining silent about the things that matter,” Gipson said.
After the tragic shooting at Covenant School in Nashville that resulted in the loss of three children and three adults, Democratic Representatives Gloria Johnson, Pearson, and Jones joined a group of protesters at the state capitol. These legislators, whose districts are in Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville – the state’s three largest cities – have been dubbed the ‘Tennessee Three’ by the media.
On April 6, the Republican-controlled state House held separate votes to expel Johnson, Pearson, and Jones from their elected positions for joining in a youth-led protest.
While Jones and Pearson were expelled, Johnson, who is White, narrowly avoided expulsion by one vote. A week later, Jones and Pearson were unanimously reinstated by the Nashville Metro Council and Shelby County Commission respectively.
Born in Oakland, Jones earned a Bachelor of Art degree in political science from Fisk University, a Historical Black College and University (HBCU) in Nashville. He has worked as an activist and a fellow for the John Lewis Center for Social Justice and he served on the board of directors of the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign.
Jones was elected to his position representing Tennessee House District 52 in the general election held on Nov. 8, 2022.
During the news conference, Gipson said Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) was “responsible” for bringing Jones to the State Capitol, along with other advocates against gun violence from Northern California.
Bonta said she was both “inspired” by Jones and “heartbroken” to discuss the issue of gun violence.
Bonta added that protecting Democracy and supporting Jones and his Tennessee colleagues was imperative to saving lives.
“We needed to make sure that brother Jones and brother Pearson knew that while they are fighting this battle without the kind of support they need in the state of Tennessee that California will have their backs (and) Oakland will have their backs. Son of Oakland: we’re with you every single day,” Bonta said.
Pres. Biden Visits California Community Devastated by Gun Violence
By Maxim Elramsisy l California Black Media l March 3, 2023
On his trip to California last week, President Biden first stopped in San Diego to meet with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The heads of state have formed a strategic alliance to scale up military technology intended to protect interests in the China Sea, an important trade route.
Biden then traveled up the coast to Monterey Park approximately seven miles east of downtown Los Angeles where he met with families of the victims of the mass shooting at Star Dance Studio, where 11 people were killed and nine injured during a Lunar New Year Celebration on Jan. 21.
“I’m here on behalf of the American people, to mourn with you, to pray with you, to let you know you are loved and not alone,” Biden said in the gymnasium of a Boys & Girls Club half a mile from the site of the shooting. “I know what it’s like to get that call. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one so suddenly. It’s like losing a piece of your soul.”
Biden announced an executive order to enhance background checks on firearm buyers.
“My executive order directs my Attorney General to take every lawful action possible to move us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation,” President Biden said.
“The Executive Order also expands public awareness red flag laws,” Biden continued. “So, more parents, teachers, police offices, health providers and counselors know how to flag for the court that someone is exhibiting violent tendencies, threating classmates, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that make them a danger to themselves or others and temporarily remove that person’s access to firearms.”
The executive order also aims to hold the gun industry accountable by providing the public and policymakers with more information regarding federally licensed firearms dealers who are violating the law.
“The President is directing the Attorney General to publicly release, to the fullest extent permissible by law, ATF records from the inspection of firearms dealers cited for violation of federal firearm laws. This information will empower the public and policymakers to better understand the problem, and then improve our laws to hold rogue gun dealers accountable,” the White House said in a statement.
The President has also called on the Federal Trade Commission to perform “an independent government study that analyzes and exposes how gun manufacturers aggressively market firearms to civilians, especially minors, including by using military imagery.”
In addition, the Executive Order addresses federal law enforcement’s reporting of ballistics data, and the implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). That law was passed in 2022 after a man with racist ideology killed 10 Black people and injured 3 at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. Soon after that incident, an 18-year-old lone gunman killed 21 and injured 17 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
“None of this absolves Congress of the responsibility of acting to pass universal background checks, eliminate gun manufacturers immunity from liability. I am determined, once again, to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Biden told the Monterey Park audience.
Congresswoman Judy Chu(D-CA-28), a former mayor of Monterey Park, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis (1st District), and Sen. Alex Padilla spoke at the event preceding the President. Several members of Monterey Park’s local government and city council attended the event.
As part of his broader strategy to tackle gun violence, the President announced an initiative to improve federal support for survivors, victims’ and survivors’ families, first responders to gun violence, and communities affected by gun violence.
“We need to provide more mental health support for grief and trauma. And more financial assistance when a family loses the sole breadwinner or when a business has to shut down for a lengthy shooting investigation,” Biden said.
The Executive Order calls for Congress to prevent the proliferation of firearms undetectable by metal detectors by making permanent the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which is currently set to expire in December 2023.
President Biden also acknowledged Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the shooter, thwarting a second attack at his family’s dance studio in Alhambra. Tsay, who was President Biden’s guest at his State of the Union Address this year, met the president as he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport.
President Biden’s trip comes as gun violence deaths (including all causes) are trending higher in the first three months of 2023 than the recent high in 2022, according to The Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection and research group.
“I led the fight to ban them in 1994. The ten years that law was in place, mass shootings went down. My republican friends let it expire, and mass shootings tripled since then,” Biden said. “Let’s finish the job, ban assault weapons. Ban them again. Do it now. Enough. Do something. Do something big.”
Stockton Resident Tied to Serial Killings
This booking photo provided by the Stockton Police Department shows Wesley Brownlee, from Stockton, Calif., who was arrested Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in connection to a series of shootings.
Manny Otiko | California Black Media | October 24, 2022
Wesley Brownlee, a Bay Area native, is being held on murder charges by Stockton police. He is a suspect in a string of murders in Stockton and Oakland.
According to news reports, local police have long suspected a serial killer was operating in the area. The serial killer is suspected of being responsible for at least six murders. One of the victims was shot but survived.
Brownlee, who lives in Stockton, has a history of drug arrests. According to juvenile court records, Brownlee lost a brother to gun violence. After this incident, he showed signs of mental and emotional distress.
Acting on a tip, local police and other law enforcement agencies began surveilling Brownlee.
He was arrested while scouting for new victims. When he was taken into custody, Brownlee was dressed in black clothing and was carrying a pistol and a mask.
“Our surveillance team followed this person while he was driving. We watched his patterns and determined early this morning he was on a mission to kill,” said Stockton police Chief Stanley McFadden during a press conference. “He was out hunting.”
California State Attorney General Rob Bonta praised the Stockton Police Department and other law officers for removing a dangerous criminal from the streets.
“I am grateful for the work of the Stockton Police Department and law enforcement agencies who lent their support to this investigation, including the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms and Bureau of Forensic Services,” Bonta said in a press release.
However, there seems to be no pattern to the murders. Four of the victims were Latino, and one was a White male. The lone survivor was a Black woman. Several victims were homeless.
According to FBI profilers, most serial killers are White males. But a few of them have been African American and people of color.
For example, Los Angeles-based serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the “Night Stalker,” was Hispanic, and Lonnie David Franklin Jr., dubbed “the Grim Sleeper,” was African American.
Franklin was responsible for at least 10 murders. He was called the Grim Sleeper because he appeared to go dormant and then become active again at intervals during his killing spree, which lasted three decades.
Franklin mainly targeted women in the South-Central area of Los Angeles. Most of his victims were sex workers. Several local residents complained that police didn’t take the killing seriously. Franklin died in prison.
According to FBI records, Samuel Little, an African American, is considered the most prolific serial killer. He claimed responsibility for 93 murders, 50 confirmed by the FBI.
According to police records, Little operated in Los Angeles and parts of Los Angeles County at one point. But before dying in
prison in 2020 at the age of 80, prosecutors planned to tie him to murders in at least 14 states. He was serving a life sentence.
The Lookout: Four California Criminal Justice Reform Laws That Took Effect This Year
Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media | June 7, 2022
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).
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.”
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.