July 06, 2023
LAWT News Service
California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas appointed Assemblymember Isaac Bryan of Los Angeles as a member of the Assembly Democratic Leadership team for the remainder of the 2023-24 legislative session. Rivas announced the selection on Monday, July 3.
“The historic diversity of our Caucus speaks to the remarkable lived experiences across our great state,” said Rivas. “Our leadership team also reflects this diversity so that we can uplift all residents.”
The Speaker noted that the leadership team will center the perspectives and needs of communities “who have been routinely and systematically underrepresented and underserved for far too long.”
Bryan, who represents the 55th Assembly District, took the oath as Majority Leader during Monday’s session.
“I am honored and humbled to be able to serve the people of California as our next Majority Leader of the Assembly under the leadership of Speaker Robert Rivas,” Bryan said. “Speaker Rivas and I share a deep, personal understanding of the struggles so many Californians face, and equally share a daily commitment to improving the conditions of life for all. I’m grateful to the Speaker for his trust in me.”
Rivas gave the oath to Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat from Winters, as Speaker Pro Tempore during Monday’s session as well.
“I am extraordinarily grateful to Speaker Rivas for his faith and confidence in me,” Aguiar-Curry said. “I am excited to work hand in hand with Majority Leader Bryan and the rest of our leadership team to serve The Speaker, the Assembly Democratic Caucus, our Legislative institutions and the working people of this state.”
The Speaker expressed gratitude for members who had served the Assembly and Caucus so far this session.
“I am especially thankful to Assemblymembers Eloise Gómez Reyes and Chris Ward,” Speaker Rivas said. “Their service to the Assembly and leadership elevated the functionality and effectiveness of our work. I look forward to ongoing collaboration with them.”
The Speaker announced the following members to the Assembly Democratic Leadership team:
Speaker Pro Tempore — Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Winters
Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore — Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen of Elk Grove
Majority Leader — Assemblymember Isaac Bryan of Los Angeles
Assistant Majority Leader — Assemblymember Gregg Hart of Santa Barbara
Assistant Majority Leader for Policy and Research — Assemblymember Diane Papan of San Mateo
Majority Whip — Assemblymember Lori Wilson of Suisun City
Assistant Majority Whip — Assemblymember Matt Haney of San Francisco
Assistant Majority Whip — Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal of Long Beach
Democratic Caucus Chair — Assemblymember Rick Zbur of Santa Monica
July 06, 2023
By Antonio Ray Harvey
California Black Media
The California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans delivered its final report to the California Legislature two days before the July 1 deadline.
The nine-member committee submitted a 1075-page, brown-and-gold hardcover book with a comprehensive reparations plan that includes more than 115 recommendations and a survey. Published by the California Department of Justice, the report documents the harms enslaved ancestors of Black Californians experienced during chattel slavery and due to the Jim Crow laws that followed. It also details the history of discriminatory state policies in California.
Attorney Kamilah V. Moore, the task force chairperson, provided a summary of the group’s activities over the last two years leading up to the compilation of the first-in-the nation report addressing the effects of slavery.
“As you all know, this illustrious nine-member California reparations task Force has been working diligently over a course of two years, not only to study the enumerable atrocities against the African American community with special considerations for those who are descendants of persons in slavery in the United States,” Moore said.
“Obviously, we’ve been working diligently to develop on numerous policy prescriptions to end what we consider to be lingering badges of slavery in California as well,” Moore added.
Ironically, the Task Force’s last meeting happened the day the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. A couple of task force members addressed the decision before the meeting but stayed focused on the release of the report.
Each page of the report offers an explanation of reparations, evidence of past aggressions and systemic racism, and recommendations for restitution and atonement.
The report is 40 chapters, beginning with an Introduction; followed by evidence of Enslavement; Racial Terror; Political Disenfranchisement; Housing Segregation; Separate and Unequal Education; Racism in the Environment and Infrastructure; Pathologizing the African American Family; Control Over Creative, Cultural, and Intellectual Life; Stolen Labor; and Hindered Opportunity.
“I would like to commend Governor Gavin Newsom for making this Task Force a reality, Secretary of State Shirley Weber for authoring the legislation creating this Task Force, and each and every Member of the Reparations Task Force who have worked tirelessly over the past two years,” said Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus in a statement.
“The findings are clear. Lawmakers must take direct and determinative action to address the vast racial inequality which exists in California today. The California Legislative Black Caucus looks forward to partnering with the Newsom administration and our colleagues in the Legislature as we look towards the coming Legislative Session.”
Additionally, recommendations made by the task force include a request for a formal apology from the state and acknowledgment of discrimination against the descendants of enslaved Blacks.
“This work has been relentless, has been meticulous (and) it is unsaleable,” Oakland-based civil rights attorney and task force member Lisa Holder said. “It has been a work of a collective. We partnered with the Department of Justice, we partnered with hundreds of scholars, and we partnered with the community. Public commenters and participants in listening sessions who poured out their hearts and souls told us some of the most devastating stories of racial discrimination. They shared their pain and made themselves vulnerable during this process.”
The task force decided on March 30, 2022, that lineage will determine who will be eligible for compensation, specifically, individuals who are Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States. If reparations become law, a proposed California American Freedmen Affairs Agency would be responsible for identifying past harms and preventing future occurrences.
The specialized office, with additional branches across the state, would facilitate claims for restitution, process claims with the state, and assist claimants in proving eligibility through a “genealogy” department.
Marcus Champion, a board member of the National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants Los Angeles (NAASDLA) and the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC), is a longtime reparations supporter and one of the activists who worked with Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber when she was an Assemblymember to make Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, the law that established the task force, a reality.
Speaking at a CJEC gathering in North Sacramento after the final task force meeting, Champion said now is the time to persuade the legislature to make reparations law.
“For us, on the ground as grassroots (organizations), we are about to start putting the pressure on the legislators to make sure that the words are right,” Champion told California Black Media.
“We’re about to make sure the community’s eligibility is right, make sure that there are cash payments, and make sure that this is not watered down and that this is real reparations.”
The 16th and final Task Force meeting was held in the First Floor Auditorium of the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building in Sacramento on June 29. The facility was filled with an overflow of people waiting in the lobby and outside of the building.
All nine members of the task force were present as well as some of the speakers who testified before the panel over the last two years. California Attorney General Rob Bonta, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus, and Weber also spoke during the three-hour event.
“The policies and laws of this nation have affected every state and many instances beyond the state. It's important to let people know that reparation is due whether you’re in Mississippi or you’re in California,” Weber said. “Reparation is due because the harm has been done. And we need to begin to repair the harm and stop patching it up as we’ve done for many years.”
July 06, 2023
By Aaron Morrison
Being a centenarian hasn’t slowed down Viola Ford Fletcher’s pursuit of justice.
In the last couple of years, Fletcher has traveled internationally, testified before Congress and supported a lawsuit for reparations — all part of a campaign for accountability over the massacre that destroyed Tulsa, Oklahoma’s original “Black Wall Street” in 1921, when she was a child.
Now, at age 109, Fletcher is releasing a memoir about the life she lived in the shadow of the massacre, after a white mob laid waste to the once-thriving Black enclave known as Greenwood. The book will be published by Mocha Media Inc. on Tuesday and becomes widely available for purchase on Aug. 15.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, she said fear of reprisal for speaking out had influenced years of near-silence about the massacre.
“Now that I’m an old lady, there’s nothing else to talk about,” Fletcher said. “We decided to do a book about it and maybe that would help.”
Her memoir, “Don’t Let Them Bury My Story,” is a call to action for readers to pursue truth, justice and reconciliation no matter how long it takes. Written with graphic details of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that she witnessed at age seven, Fletcher said she hoped to preserve a narrative of events that was nearly lost to a lack of acknowledgement from mainstream historians and political leaders.
“The questions I had then remain to this day,” Fletcher writes in the book. “How could you just give a mob of violent, crazed, racist people a bunch of deadly weapons and allow them — no, encourage them — to go out and kill innocent Black folks and demolish a whole community?”
“As it turns out, we were victims of a lie,” she writes.
Tensions between Tulsa’s Black and white residents inflamed when, on May 31, 1921, the white-owned Tulsa Tribune published a sensationalized news report of an alleged assault by a 19-year-old Black shoeshine on a 17-year-old white girl working as an elevator operator.
With the shoeshine under arrest, a Black militia gathered at a local jail to prevent a lynch mob from kidnapping and murdering him. Then, a separate violent clash between Black and white residents sparked an all-out war.
Over 18 hours, between May 31 and June 1, the enlarged mob carried out a scorched-earth campaign against Greenwood. The death toll has been estimated to be as high as 300. More than 35 city blocks were leveled, an estimated 191 businesses were destroyed, and roughly 10,000 Black residents were displaced.
In her memoir, Fletcher writes of the bumpy ride out of town in a horse-drawn buggy, as her family escaped the chaos. She witnessed a Black man being executed, his head exploded like “a watermelon dropped off the rooftop of a barn.”
The shooter had also fired his shotgun at her family’s buggy.
“We passed piles of dead bodies heaped in the streets,” she writes in the book. “Some of them had their eyes open, as though they were still alive, but they weren’t.”
Victims’ descendants believed that, once the conspiracy of silence around it was pierced decades later, justice and reparations for Tulsa’s Black community would follow. That hasn’t happened just yet — Fletcher and two other centenarian survivors are currently plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Tulsa.
Ike Howard, Fletcher’s grandson and co-author of the memoir, said systemic racism has prevented Tulsa’s Black community from fully recovering from the massacre.
“They want to be made whole,” Howard said. “We speak for everybody that went through a similar situation, who are not here to tell their stories.”
“You can learn a lot from ‘Don’t Let Them Bury My Story.’ And we know that history can repeat itself if you don’t correct and reconcile issues,” he added.
Fletcher notes in her memoir just how much history she has lived through — from several virus outbreaks preceding the coronavirus pandemic, to the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2008 to every war and international conflict of the last seven decades. She has watched the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the national Civil Rights Movement, seen the historic election of former President Barack Obama and witnessed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In 2020, Howard purchased his grandmother a brand new color TV for her birthday. Several months later, on Jan. 6, the images of the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol following the historic election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris retraumatized her.
“With that horrific scene, all of what occurred back in 1921 in Greenwood came flooding back into my mind,” Fletcher writes in the book.
In the AP interview, Fletcher attributed her active lifestyle at an advanced age to her reliance on faith and family. While in New York last month to publicize the book with Howard and her younger brother, 102-year-old Hughes Van Ellis, Fletcher saw the cover of her memoir advertised on jumbo screens in Times Square.
Van Ellis, a massacre survivor and World War II veteran whose words from his 2021 testimony to Congress serve as the foreword to his sister’s memoir, said he believes justice is possible in his lifetime.
“We’re getting pretty close (to justice), but we aren’t close enough,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. I have to keep on battling. I’m fighting for myself and my people.”
July 06, 2023
By Mark Hedin
Three U.S. Supreme Court decisions have slowed down but not reversed the steady erosion of voting rights over the last decade, especially for voters of color in Southern states.
A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center shows how deep the damage has run since the Court’s landmark 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder ended pre-clearance provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act used to battle racist voting laws.
The 6-3 decision June 27 in the Moore v. Harper case, laid to rest the “independent state legislature” theory that only state legislatures have the power to make voting rules, with no oversight from courts, elected officials, the initiative process, or anything else.
That the court would even consider such a seemingly unconstitutional proposition had alarmed even conservative-leaning observers.
Two other decisions reached earlier in June by the Court open the possibility of overcoming the gerrymandering in Alabama and Louisiana that hamstrung Black voting power in those states.
The first, Allen v. Milligan created an opening for Black voters in Alabama to have a second winnable Congressional seat among the state’s seven.
Then, in Ardoin v. Robinson, the court dropped the hold it put on a challenge to another GOP-drawn redistricting map, in Louisiana, and returned the case to the lower courts.
‘Packed and Cracked’
Even the typically conservative 5th Circuit had found Louisiana’s GOP-driven gerrymandering too extreme. The state’s population is one-third Black, but its six Congressional districts were so “packed and cracked” in the proposed maps that Black voters were likely to prevail in only one.
Had the Roberts Court not issued a stay on that lower court’s finding in June last year, Louisiana’s Congressional delegation might already look different than what the November 2022 election returned.
In a report issued on the June 25 10th anniversary of the Shelby v. Holder decision, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the immediate, ongoing and increasing damage that resulted, and provided a timeline of particular milestones along the way.
Arbitrary Voting Tests
Pre-clearance required states with a documented history of racial bias in voting rules to submit any proposed changes in voting laws to the U.S. Attorney General or a panel of federal judges for review before they could take effect.
That history of racial bias was originally determined by finding less than 50% voter registration or participation in previous presidential elections, or arbitrary voting eligibility tests.
Congress fine-tuned and reauthorized those VRA requirements repeatedly, for instance, ordering that voting materials be printed in languages other than English when 5% of a jurisdiction’s voting-age citizens relied on another language.
Such adjustments sometimes expanded the reach of preclearance rules beyond the six Deep South states originally covered to include jurisdictions in California, Michigan, New York and New Hampshire, among others.
Between 1965 and 2013, more than a half-million proposed voting law changes were reviewed under the preclearance guidelines, and more than 3,000 were blocked.
In 2006, Congress reauthorized the rule for 25 years, with a unanimous vote in the Senate, but in 2013, Justice John Roberts opined in Shelby v. Holder that the law had been so successful it was no longer necessary.
Alabama instituted a voter-ID rule the next day, and has been joined by 35 other states since. Along the way, some were litigated and found unconstitutional, such as one in North Carolina that an appeals court ruled targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision.”
Changing Polling Places
Another vote-suppression tactic unleashed by the ending of the preclearance rule has to do with polling places. Between 2012 and 2018, states previously subject to preclearance closed 1,688 of them, often without reasonable efforts to inform the affected communities.
In Georgia, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by 54,723 votes to become governor in 2018. On his way to the governor’s mansion, his unrestricted changes to polling places, the Atlanta Journal Constitution found, kept between 54,000 and 85,000 voters away on Election Day.
Additionally, states no longer subject to pre-clearance rules purged people from their lists of registered voters at rates far in excess of states never reviewed – costing 2 million people their voting rights in 2016, a Brennan Center finding cited in the SPLC report states.
Often, the report found, the impacted voters were not made aware of their loss of rights until they tried to vote.
On top of the polling place closures, Kemp purged more than a half-million people from the state’s voter registration rolls – including 107,000 removed on a single day – for not having voted in prior elections.
In 2012, a review of pre-clearance considerations reduced Florida’s attempted voter-purging from 182,000 to 2,600, and the state had been limited to purging at a 0.2% rate in the preceding years. After the Shelby decision, that rate grew to more than 7%.
Black Political Participation
The Moore v. Harper case ruling this year revolved around a redistricting map drawn by GOP legislators in North Carolina that heavily favored their party in an otherwise evenly divided electorate.
But elections last year changed the political makeup of North Carolina’s state Supreme Court, which no longer opposes the state legislature’s gerrymandering, so the new ruling won’t change facts on the ground in North Carolina.
But it dispenses with the argument that only state legislatures can make voting decisions.
“From the end of slavery to present day, significant advancements in Black political participation and representation have often been followed by a swift backlash and retrenchment of rights,” the SPLC report states.
High Voter Turn-out
Although the Moore v. Harper ruling doesn’t reverse the damage inflicted in the decade since the Shelby v. Holder decision, perhaps it marks a turning point against the wave of voter suppression it unleashed.
The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that, despite all the suppression activity in recent years, 2020 saw the highest voter turnout of any election this century, thanks to “states across the nation exploring novel methods to protect access to the vote,” to counter the social distancing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Where there is political will, change can occur,” it said.