News & Politics

What Should Blacks and Latinos Do About Davis, Part II

Whether Gray Davis' policies have done more good than harm is an awfully close call.
In a cautious and guarded statement hailing a racial profiling bill authored by state senator Kevin Murray in 2000, California Governor Gray Davis claimed that there are only a "few who appear to have stopped motorists for no reason other than the color of their skins." The "few" he referred to were abusive police officers. Despite lawsuits, mountains of complaints, and even candid admissions by some police officials, Davis stubbornly insisted that police agencies don't engage in racial profiling. He vetoed one, and threatened to veto another, tough racial profiling bill that would have required the California Highway Patrol to compile data on unwarranted traffic stops. This would have been a significant step toward determining once and for all whether police agencies are right when they claim they don't target Latino and African-American motorists for traffic stops.

The racial profiling bill by Murray that Davis liked was ineffectual and toothless. It did not mandate data collection, nor contain any sanctions against police agencies that are guilty of profiling blacks and Latinos.

Davis' torpedo of a meaningful racial profiling bill underscored his rigid determination to out-Republican the Republicans on crime. Even as California has sunk deeper into financial pauperism, Davis has not relented from his law and order obsession. Davis hacked the education budget by $5.4 billion, and hiked the prison budget by $5.3 billion. At the same time, he bludgeoned prison literacy and vocational programs, and bulled ahead with his plan to build a new prison at Delano. This is a costly, and unnecessary pork barrel project that will stiff taxpayers out of nearly $700 million. It comes at a time when crime has dropped in the state, and the California Dept of Corrections projects a sharp decline in the number of prisoners in the next few years. Davis' cuts in education and social programs virtually assure a continued drop in the number of black and Latino males entering college (they are already severely under-represented on University of California campuses) and that more young black and Latino males will wind up in prison cells.

Davis' budget slice of prison educational and vocational, job and skills training programs, drug treatment, mental health and social service programs will further fuel the crime problem. These are the types of programs and services that are humane, cost effective ways to reduce crime. Davis' relentless upping the ante on crime measures flies in the face of what Californians say they want. A Field poll in 2001 found that four times as many Californians said that they would rather cut the state's prison budget than higher education.

More than sixty percent of California voters backed Proposition 36. The measure mandates treatment rather than incarceration for first time drug offenders. The California Legislative Analyst's office estimates a cost savings of $1.5 billion from this approach. At the same time that Davis hiked the prison budget, other states, and that includes lock em' up and toss the key Texas, have reduced their prison populations, increased funding for drug treatment and rehab programs, and opted for early release of non-violent offenders.

While Davis has been unabashed in weilding the budget ax for educational, health, and social programs, he has been Santa Claus like in ladling out goodies to prison guards. Though teacher's and state employees face pay cuts, scaled down retirement benefits, and layoffs, the guards have gotten hefty pay increases. Davis' largesse to the guards is no accident. They have dumped a king's ransom of over $3 million into his campaign coffers. This includes a single payment of $250,000, which is the biggest sum Davis has ever received from any donor group.

Davis contends that the recall is nothing more than a right-wing Republican sour grapes hit on a moderate Democrat. There's probably some truth to that. Davis is not the demon that the Republicans make him out to be. He has done some things that have been beneficial to blacks and Latinos. When the state had money, he got significant hikes in school funding, increased state employee pay and benefits, reined in the HMOs, enacted restrictions on the sale of cheap handguns and assault weapons, and gave modest support to affirmative action programs.

But his misguided spending and policy initiatives that wildly expand California's prison-industrial complex have come at a time when blacks and Latinos desperately need more, not less, support for education, health, and social programs. What should blacks and Latinos do about Davis? To answer that, they must decide whether Davis' policies have done more good than harm. It's an awfully close call.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).
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