Editorial: The Invisible Targets of Proposition 21

On March 7 the people of California will vote on Proposition 21, called the “Juvenile Crime and Gang Prevention Act.” The proposition’s intent is to lock up more youth by fostering fear of them. Proven rehabilitation programs will be gut
ted to build more prisons. The proposition would sentence and house children as young as 14 as adults. It expands the “three strikes” offenses to include common schoolyard assaults as though they were gun robberies. It makes graffiti a felony, $400 worth of damage will be a felony. It expands the definition of a “gang” so that anyone can be entered into the gang database just on suspicion and then convicted by association.
The “three strikes” laws and the “war on drugs” sold the public irrationnal fear of violent, primarily minority, “criminals.” Mostly non-violent offenders, poor people, people of color and disproportionately many women have been imprisoned as a result.
Although few are focusing on the effects this proposition will have on young women, they are very visible part of organizing against it. Several young women signed a statement that says, in part, “This initiative is the real deal. It is a threat to all young people and the people who care about them…. We want to walk down the street without getting harassed by the police. We want a chance to live without being afraid of getting killed or thrown in jail. This initiative could send us to prison. We need your help.”
A young woman speaking at the Martin Luther King, Jr. freedom parade in San Francisco said “youth were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Proposition 21 would lock us up before we can do anything.” A young Asian woman pointed out that California is number one in prison building and 41st in school spending. This proposition would take money away from the few alternative programs and spend literally billions of dollars more on new prisons.
Once in the juvenile system, the last stop for neglected, unwanted children, young women continue to be the ones most neglected and unwanted. They do not have even the limited options in alternative programs available to boys (see article on page 7.)
Given the history and the current abuse of young women in the juvenile system, can we imagine the heightened abuses if this initiative passes? Proposition 22, the anti-gay Knight initiative seeks to ban gay and lesbian marriages in the name of so-called “family values.” But where are the family values in Prop. 21 which will separate young women from their children. We have to come together to fight all these initiatives which seek to deny human rights to vulnerable communities.