SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke Friday about the enormous amount of work that the state has to do to address the systemic inequalities that fueled the past week’s protests and demonstrations.
The governor spoke from the California Museum in Sacramento starting shortly after 12 p.m., offering an update to recent events and unrest surrounding protests across the state over systemic racism and the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Newsom opened his comments by discussing some of the people he had met working alongside various activists and youth leaders in the past few days cleaning up graffiti in Sacramento.
Newsom went on to recall that he had been at the California Museum last August to sign AB 392, one of the nation’s toughest use of force laws. He noted that the event gathered elected officials as well as community leaders who had lost loved ones to police violence as the state took an important step towards reform.
“I am here today to say that program passing is indeed not problem solving, unless we follow through on what we promote and promise and we manifest a cultural change and a deeper understanding of what it is we’re trying to advance,” Newsom said. “We passed that bill in August but it hasn’t stopped the violence. It hasn’t stopped the mistrust.”
The governor also mentioned the companion bill that was part of the package, SB 230, that addressed implicit bias training and deescalation techniques. Many of the provisions of the bill go into effect in January, but Newsom said he and legislators were trying to fast-track some of the elements of the bill sooner.
Newsom talked about broader criminal justice reform to address disparities that were part of the culture of the war on drugs during the 1990s, noting the state was an early adopter of cannabis reform and legalization as far as freeing those who had been jailed for marijuana possession.
The governor emphasized there was still an enormous amount of work to do.
“We have announced and the legislature has embraced the need to shutdown state prisons. In our current budget that I will sign in just a few weeks that calls for shutting two state prisons. It calls for the elimination of the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Newsom. “It calls for more probation reforms. All this building on the work we did on Prop 57, Prop 47, Prop 36. The work we continue in the state of California to end the death penalty. I was proud to sign an executive order on moratorium on the death penalty.”
Newsom went on to point up the inequities of the state’s justice system that need to be fixed.
“Because one thing we know about our criminal justice system: it’s not blind. It discriminates based on the color of your skin. It discriminates based on wealth,” explained Newsom. “It has been said over and over again and cannot be said enough: we have a criminal justice system — I don’t think this, I know this. As governor I live this every day — a criminal justice system that treats people that are rich and guilty a hell of a lot better than it treats people that are poor and innocent. You know that and I know that. So why aren’t we doing something about it? We’re trying our best here in this state, but we have to do more and better.”
Newsom also noted that the conversation had to be broader, beyond just criminal justice, but also about economic justice, social justice and environmental justice. He pointed out that those reasons were behind why he created the state’s Surgeon General position to bring focus to pre-natal care and pre-school for lower income families.
“At the end of the day, we can consume ourselves with achievement gap, but we know that people aren’t left behind in society, they start behind in society,” Newsom said. “So if we’re going to get serious about addressing these disparities, we need to get serious about our work in that space as well.”
Newsom also discussed education inequality, pointing out that learning loss during the COVID-19 increased significantly among Black and Latino students.
The systemic inequality that the state must work to correct tied into the unfair treatment some protesters had received and their right to demonstrate peacefully without harassment, according to the governor.
“One thing that is crystal clear to me, having seen images that have inspired me of peaceful protests: that protesters have the right not to be harassed. Protesters have the right to protest peacefully. Protesters have the right to do so without being arrested, gassed, shot at by projectiles,” said Newsom. “That’s a simple value statement I want to make that crystal clear. They have the right not to be harassed. Not to be denied. Not to be arrested for peaceful protesting. Period. Full stop. But it’s clear from the images that we see on TV — the reality of a grandmother in La Mesa, California, that’s in the hospital — that some people are denied that fundamental right.”
Newsom was referring to 59-year-old Leslie Furcron, a grandmother who was struck in the face by a law enforcement projectile during a weekend police protest in La Mesa.
Cell phone video that went viral showed Furcron lying on the ground, blood streaming down her face, amid shouting demonstrators attending the Saturday evening protest against police brutality.
On Tuesday, her family called for the officer involved to be publicly identified, fired and charged with attempted murder. Furcron remains hospitalized in an intensive-care unit in a medically induced coma and may lose one of her eyes, according to her family and their attorney.
On Friday, Newsom called for the creation of a new statewide standard for use of force in protests, saying that acts of violence against peaceful protesters will not be tolerated.
“We are not seeing people treated equally across the state of California. Now we have rules and regulations. The California Highway Patrol as to how we use projectiles and how we use tear gas,” said Newsom. “And how we use force to protect the peace. Not deadly force in this case, but broadly. The National Guard has a framework. But municipalities have different approaches and it’s clear to me that we need to standardize those approaches.”
The governor also said he has ordered California’s state police training program to stop teaching officers how to use a carotid hold on suspects that can block the flow of blood to the brain.
“It goes without saying we cannot see the kind of techniques that tragically and ironically we train. I own this. We own this. Across this country, we train techniques on strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk,” said Newsom. “Now we can argue that these are used as exceptions, but at the end of the day, a carotid hold that literally is designed to stop people’s blood from flowing into their brain, that has no place any longer in 21st century practices and policing. And so I am immediately directing our police officers training to end the training of that practice.”
The governor also called on urged mayors and other local authorities around the state to end reliance on the National Guard and curfews to help deal with policing of protests over the death of George Floyd.
“As they recognize the conditions have changed for the positive I would highly encourage them to pull back on those supports,” Newsom said.
Some California cities and counties have already ended curfews because protests were largely peaceful in recent days following heavy bouts of violence, but others still have the curfews in effect.
“My hope and expectation is that many local elected officials and law enforcement officials will no longer be in need of those state assists, and then we could begin to pull back in an expeditious manner, but a very thoughtful manner,” Newsom said.
National Guard members could be redeployed to provide logistical support for food banks that are helping people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.