Judges Must Also Be Centered in Demands to Defund and Divest from Mass Criminalization

Screen Shot 2020-06-22 at 11.07.53 AM

As we collectively grieve George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and other Black people murdered by police, we cannot forget that, everyday, judges are making decisions that result in the degradation or loss of Black life. Decision makers within the criminal legal system are offering empty platitudes to quell protesters’ fury, while doing nothing to change the status quo. On June 11, the Supreme Court of California issued a statement on “equality and inclusion” that stated “society must recognize our unacceptable failings and urged us to acknowledge that in addition to overt bigotry, inattention and complacency have allowed tacit toleration of the intolerable.” Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said she was “deeply disturbed by the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others, as well as the action and inaction that led to these deaths.” It is confounding how the Chief Justice can be disturbed by the actions of law enforcement, but oblivious to the unacceptable failures of the Judicial Council of California, the policy making body of the courts that she leads, to prevent more tragic deaths.

The Judicial Council’s actions speak louder than words. Before COVID-19, California’s bail amounts were 10 times the national average and more than 71,000 people were held pretrial inside California’s crowded cages as the outbreak spread. In April, the Judicial Council issued an Emergency Bail Schedule that set bail at $0 for people charged with misdemeanors and some felonies. The purpose of the emergency rule was to limit the spread of COVID-19 in jails and surrounding communities. Crime rates remained at historic lows throughout its implementation.