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Newsom Signs Bills to Study Slavery Reparations, Close State Youth Lockups

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a slew of bills today aimed at tackling systemic racism and making the criminal justice system more fair for all Californians (Sruti Mamidanna/KQED)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a slew of bills today aimed at tackling systemic racism and making the criminal justice system more fair for all Californians — in part by abolishing the state juvenile justice system and by creating a task force aimed at considering reparations for slavery.

Under one of the new laws, California will create a nine-member task force to document the institution of slavery and recommend the form of compensation that should be awarded and who it should be awarded to. Under a separate bill, the state will eventually abolish state juvenile justice detention centers, moving responsibility to the county level starting next summer.

Newsom also signed into law bills that aim to tackle racism in the legal system by reducing discrimination in jury selection and another prohibiting the use of race, ethnicity or national origin when convicting someone of a crime. That bill, AB 2542 by San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra, will make it far easier to challenge past convictions where defendants believe that racial bias was a key factor.

The governor also signed a bill banning chokeholds, or carotid restraints, by police — a promise he made after George Floyd's death this summer. And he signed a measure requiring the state Attorney General to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed people.

“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive,” Newsom said in a written statement after signing the reparations bill and several others. “Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.”

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Newsom also signed a bill that builds on previous legislation requiring publicly held corporations to have at least one woman on their boards of directors. The new law, by Pasadena Assemblyman Chris Holden, will add a requirement for those boards to also include directors from underrepresented communities — defined as "Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender."

Newsom called all the new laws “important steps in the right direction to building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”

San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who authored the reparations law as well as the bill barring the exclusion of jurors based on their race, said that while “California has historically led the country on civil rights, we have not come to terms with our state's ugly past that allowed slaveholding within our borders and returned escaped slaves to their masters.”

She said the signing of both bills “once again demonstrates that our state is dedicated to leading the nation on confronting and addressing systemic injustice.”

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Oakland Senator Nancy Skinner called the Division of Juvenile Justice bill “monumental," saying research has shown that youths need help, not punishment. Under the new law, the state DJJ will stop accepting new inmates after next July 1, and will eventually be shuttered entirely.

“This landmark reform recognizes what we’ve known for years: Youth are far better served with trauma-responsive behavioral programs rather than being treated as criminals,” Skinner said. “With SB 823, the era of youth prisons in California is over.”

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