LA School District endorses Proposition 47 to reduce punishment for common crimes

A student pushes for Proposition 47 with a sign reading "Smart Jusice." | Kate Guarino

A student pushes for Proposition 47 with a sign reading “Smart Jusice.” | Kate Guarino

More than 100 youth and community leaders gathered Tuesday in Downtown L.A. to rally in support of Proposition 47. Those who marched were hoping that the Los Angeles Unified School district would pass a resolution voicing support for the measure, which would reduce the penalty for some of the most common crimes in California including drug possession, petty theft, possession of stolen goods, shoplifting, forgery and writing bad checks.

LAUSD voted 5 to 1 to support and endorse the proposition Tuesday evening.

Under the referendum— which will be voted on in November—these crimes would be downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors and sentences would drop from a potential of three years to a maximum of one.

The Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition, which hosted the rally, said LAUSD’s support is an important step to gain momentum for the referendum.

“It’s the second largest school district in the nation so when we think of the power that LAUSD wields, it’s incredible,” said Omar Torres of the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, one of 12 community organizations that comprise Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition. Torres said backing the proposed law is part of an ongoing effort to “get more money into our schools.”

Supporters of the proposition say it would reduce overcrowding and allow for reallocation of funds. The grassroots coalition estimates that Proposition 47 would save California an estimated $250 million per year and that 65 percent of that money would be invested in drug and mental health treatment, 25 percent in education and 10 percent in victims’ services.

For many of the youth gathered at the rally, Proposition 47 also means their family members could return home.

Raymond Davis’ father is currently incarcerated on charges of drug possession. Davis said if Proposition 47 is passes his father could be released.

“It’s been about a year and about four months,” said Davis, a Manual Arts high school sophomore who is part of Community Coalition for Substance Abuse’s South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action program.

“I have brothers and sisters,” Davis continued in a soft voice.  “It affects them, too…I have to step up and be a big brother. I’ve been going to buy some groceries so my brother and sister can eat when my mom be at work. I have older brothers but they’ve got jobs that they work so I have to keep the house held down for them and show how to be a leader.”

Davis then jogged back to a crowd of his peers chanting “support for education not incarceration.”

Many youth saw the rally as an opportunity to get their voices and their stories heard by an audience that might not be tuned in to the intricacies of the criminal justice system. To emphasize the impact the proposition could have on students, an organization called Community Coalition—part of BSS Coalition—designated students to speak to the media.

One of those students, Manual Arts high school freshman Beverly Morales, has been with Community Coalition for just three months but it was important to her to be designated a media spokesperson.

“I want people to know what I’m thinking,” Morales said.  “Prop 47 is important to me because I want to see a change in our system. I want to see our society evolve. This affects our future. This is what’s going to change our way of thinking, our way of living.  Our opportunities will get bigger.”

For some students, like John C. Fremont High School senior Alfonso Aguilar, today’s rally is one step in a much larger mission. Aguilar said Proposition 47 raises important issues about over-criminalization in communities like South L.A.

“I’m part of a low-income community, and a lot of people around are people who are being pushed out of school. They do petty crimes that [get] them that felony that will probably get them to jail,” Aguilar said. He said he has family members and knows other families who have been affected by this, adding, “It’s tearing families apart.”

Aguilar, who has worked with Community Coalition all through his high school years, said he took a break from his college applications to come to the rally.

His passion for community organizing remains strong. “My plan is to go to college, to finish college in four years and come back to my community and go do youth activism and unify black and brown youth,” he said.

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