Flush from their successful campaign in support of Proposition 47, the ballot initiative that made drug possession and other nonviolent crimes no longer a felony in California, a coalition of community activists and private foundations is now pushing to change policing and sentencing laws throughout the state.
"Change is possible. Mass incarceration is not inevitable," pop singer John Legend, who had become the celebrity face of the November ballot measure, told a ballroom of activists at the Sacramento Convention Center on Monday.
Although the event was billed as a rally for crime victims, the diverse group of participants included family members of those in prison and those killed by law enforcement officers, as well as organizations that have fought against expansion of jails and prisons in California. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also addressed the gathering.
"Most offenders themselves are survivors of crime," Legend remarked in his keynote address.
The activists, organized under the umbrella of the foundation-funded Californians for Safety and Justice, plan a rally Tuesday at the Capitol to promote what spokesman Gil Duran called "the new face on crime victims." They also oppose legislation that changes aspects of Proposition 47. The proposed bills would require a ballot measure to restore felony status to the theft of handguns. Another would make it a felony to possess "club drugs" with the intent of using them for date rape.
The activists also support two bills that would require public disclosure of all incidents where law enforcement officers injure or kill someone, and limit how officers may use race, gender, age or other factors to profile crime suspects. Californians for Safety and Justice has not taken a position on that community policing legislation.
A separate crime victims group, supported by police unions and traditionally attended by the governor, canceled a planned rally in Sacramento on Monday.
A representative from that group, Crime Victims United of California, told the Associated Press the public event was canceled because of fears it would draw activists protesting officer-involved shootings. Instead, the group planned a private dinner in Sacramento on Tuesday night to raise money and talk about "the current shift in our country's attitude toward community safety."
The sides came face to face anyway at a separate "police accountability" policy forum Monday afternoon sponsored by the California Endowment, one of the major financial backers of those who campaigned for Proposition 47. There, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink, a nonprofit group that promotes policies to help the disadvantaged, challenged Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin on whether law enforcement agencies should adopt a "readiness to be self-critical."
McMillin called for a fundamental change in law enforcement officers' approach to the job, with a "shift away from the warrior mentality and pivot towards the protector/provider mentality." He also called on communities to be willing to "have a reasonable conversation with us…and try to understand what law enforcement is doing and why we're doing it."
In the hall outside were propped coffin-shaped placards bearing the names of people killed by police, borrowed from the crime victim conference a block away.
In addition to the California Endowment, the forum was sponsored by the Rosenberg, Sierra Health, Akonadi and Liberty Hill foundations, all major providers of grants targeted to support the movement behind Proposition 47.