Ballot Propositions and Civil Rights

This lesson examines the history of ballot propositions in the struggle for equal rights in California. Students examine the tension between “the voice of the majority” and the defense of minority rights and the role played by the judiciary in protecting the Constitutional rights of minority communities from injustices imposed by majority rule through the ballot initiative process.

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New Questions Raised About Death of Journalist During 1970 Chicano Moratorium

August 29, 2010

On August 29, 2010, the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, an historic anti-Vietnam War march in East Los Angeles that spiraled into violence, the Los Angeles Times reported that its review of LAPD records uncovered conflicts between law enforcement officials and Ruben Salazar, a reporter and Times columnist who was killed during the Moratorium.

Salazar was covering the protest for the Spanish-language television staton KMEX, and was inside the Silver Dollar Cafe when a tear gas canister fired by a sheriff's deputy burst through the window. It hit Salazar ini the head, shattering his brain.

Salazar was one of three people killed during the moratorium. He was deeply mourned. Parks and schools have been named after him, and his death has inspired numerous artworks, including the painting above.

Many in the Chicano community believed his death was not random. He had written passionately about police brutality in East Los Angeles, Mexican American's lack of representation on juries, and unwarranted police surveillance.

Earlier this year, the Times filed a California Public Records Act request seeking the Los Angeles County Sheriff's files on Salazar's killing. Initially Sheriff Lee Baca refused to release any documents. But on August 16, he changed his mind and shared thousands of pages with the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, a civilian agency with oversight over the department.

Baca said that he will publicly share the Office of Independent Review's report on the documents and will then determine whether to release any other material in the department's records on Salazar's death.

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Los Angeles Times reports of slain journalist's tensions with the Los Angeles police and sheriffs prior to his death.

New Report Reveals Racially Segregated Schools

February 5, 2010

A report released by UCLA's Civil Rights Project shows that public schools in California and across the country are racially segregated. The study found that segregation was particularly pronounced in charter schools and especially for African American students in charter schools.

California's schools have been racially segregated, sometimes by law and sometimes by tradition, since the 1850s. In 1874, the state supreme court ruled in Ward v. Flood, a lawsuit on behalf of twelve-year-old Mary Frances Ward to enroll in an all-white San Francisco school, that separate schools for African American children were constitutional. In the follwing decades, the state legislature passed laws requiring the segregation of Asian and Indian students. In 1947, the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court ruling in Mendez v. Westminster that the segregation of Mexican American students was unconstitutional. Soon thereafter, Governor Earl Warren signed a bill repealing all school laws requiring segregation. 

Beginning in 1963, the Los Angeles Unified School District was the subject of desegregation litigation that went on for nearly 20 years. In 1970, a superior court judge ruled that the school board's directives amounted to government-sanctioned segregation. The ruling contributed to mandatory busing, which resulted in a backlash, including Proposition 1, a successful 1979 ballot initiative that amended the state constitution freeing school boards from any obligation to desegregate except in cases where it could be proven that the government purposefully segregated students.

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UCLA researchers find that racial segregation is common public schools but is more severe in charter schools.

[Chapter 04] Under Color of Law: The Fight for Racial Equality

African Americans were regularly segregated from San Francisco streetcars in the late 19th century. But two African American women challenged such discrimination, nearly a century before Rosa Parks's similar action spurred the civil rights movement.


KQED Forum: California, 'Wherever There's a Fight'

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July 28, 2010

Host Michael Krasny talks with Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi about the many unsung heroes of California's past profiled in their book.


U.S. Supreme Court Accepts Voting Rights Case

November 13, 2012

Days after a momentous national election, the United State Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The high court will decide a case brought by an Alabama county objecting to a provision of the Voting Right Act requiring certain jurisdictions to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in election laws or voting rules.

The provision of the Voting Rights Act under question is meant to protect the rights of minority voters in areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination.

Although most of the regions covered by Act are in the Southern U.S., Monterey, Yuba, and Kings County in California are also included. In recent years, Latinos in Monterey County cited the Voting Rights Act to delay consolidation of judicial districts and to block the County's move to reduce the number of polling places in a special election.

Advocates who believe that the provision of the Act should be eliminated or changed argue that the racial discrimination which created the need for the provision no longer exists in the states and regions under the provision's requirements.

But within the last year, the Justice Department invoked the Act to block enforcement of voter identification laws in Texas and South Carolina, and to challenge reduction of early voting in Florida. Justice Department officials said that these laws would have a negative impact on African American and Latino voters.

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The Court's decision, expected by June, could impact some California counties

California Supreme Court to Decide Affirmative Action Lawsuit

May 5, 2010

On May 4, justices on the California Supreme Court appeared split on the question of whether Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that amended the state constitution to ban affirmative action, violates the federal constitution.

The high court heard arguements in a lawsuit challening a 2003 San Francisco ordinance that gives firms owned by racial minorities and women a slight advantage in bids for city contracts.

The city of San Francisco argued that the program is necessary to level the playing field and counter ongoing discrimination.

An attorney for two white-owned contractors argued that the San Francisco ordinance violates Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action in government contracts, public employment, and public education.

Immediately after the passage of Proposition 209 by 54% of voters in November 1996, Governor Pete Wilson identified 31 state-funded programs for elimination or curtailment, including summer science programs for elementary school students and hiring programs that ensured recruitment from minority communities. 

Civil rights attorneys filed a class action lawsuit to stop Proposition 209 from taking effect. In late December 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the initiative.  In 1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Henderson's ruling.

The state supreme court is not bound by the earlier federal court ruling.

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In a case regarding San Francisco contractors, the high court justices debated whether Proposition 209, California's ban on affirmative action, violates the federal constitution.

Historic Choice for State Assembly Speaker

December 11, 2009

John A. Perez, a Democrat representing Southeast Los Angeles, is the first openly gay person to be selected as Speaker of the California State Assembly. The Assembly's Democratic Caucus voted unamimously to support the freshman lawmaker to become the legislative body's next leader. A formal floor vote to confirm Perez as Speaker is scheduled for January. Raised in a working class Los Angeles family, Perez worked for 15 years in the labor movement and became a leader in several unions and the California Labor Federation. For a gay former union official to become Assembly Speaker is significant given that the state of California criminalized homosexuality from 1850 until 1975, and given that Southern California civic leaders in the 19th and early 20th centuries were hostile to organized labor. Current Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who represents the West Los Angeles area, recruited Perez to be her successor. Bass herself made history when she became the first African American woman to named Assembly Speaker.

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Los Angeles legislator John Perez will become the first openly gay Speaker of the California State Assembly.

The Fight for Racial Equality in Education

This lesson broadens the study of the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the schools beyond Brown v. Board of Education through an examination of the judiciary’s role in safeguarding the rights of communities of color to a quality public education. Students will understand how the battle by different ethnic and racial communities to end school segregation in California in the late19th and first part of the 20th centuries predated more well known efforts by African Americans in Southern states, how the Mexican-American community in southern California through Mendez v. Westminster in the 1940s used groundbreaking legal strategies to challenge school segregation, how minority populations use a range of political strategies to fight for equality in public education, the difference between de facto and de jure segregation, and the impact of residential segregation on school segregation.

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Apex Express

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October 24, 2009

Listen to KPFA's Apex Express – Asian Pacific Islander Expressions broadcast Stan Yogi reading excerpts from Wherever There's a Fight at a program at Berkeley's Eastwind Bookstore.

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