Community Leaders Come Together Against Racism and Discrimination Protesting Senate Bill 793

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Black & Magazine Newswire

Neighborhood FORWARD was joined by hundreds of Californians, including local faith leaders, retired law enforcement, and civil rights activists, to ensure the voices and pleas of the Black community are heard by California legislators. While wearing masks and practicing social distancing, people peacefully marched in front of the home of California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon chanting, “Defeat SB793. Another bill to put Black people at the mercy of law enforcement. We’re arrested more. Beaten more. Killed by police more. Stop SB793 — another potential neighborhood to prison pipeline bill.” 

The goal of SB793 is to ban the sale of flavored tobacco to help reduce youth e-cigarette and vaping usage; however, in terms of primarily adult-use tobacco products, the bill carves out an exemption for hookah tobacco use while banning menthol cigarettes. This demonstrates clear discrimination and preferential treatment between two tobacco products preferred by two different cultural groups, as one group is exempted while the other is not. 

“We have spoken and testified, and yet our requests to meet with Speaker Rendon fall on deaf ears. The goal of this protest is to ensure we are heard,” said Rev. K.W. Tulloss, President of Baptist Ministers Conference Los Angeles and co-founder of Neighborhood FORWARD. “We will not and cannot stand for more policies that resemble another black tax, yet find a way to make concessions and amendments for certain groups. Hookah is exempted, yet menthol cigarettes are not. The Speaker can make this bill fair and that’s all we’re asking.”

“Yesterday, we served notice to the California Speaker of the house that SB793 is a bad bill that’s not good for California,” Rev. Tulloss continued. “The unintended consequences of this legislation are real. Bills like this take us backward, not forward.” 

TOWN HALL 

The march followed a July 30 virtual town hall hosted by Neighborhood FORWARD and a panel of local faith and civil rights leaders to discuss the broader civil rights, discrimination, and criminal implications of SB793. The panelists voiced concerns over the ban’s ability to increase racial profiling and legitimize pretextual stops by law enforcement based on statistics that suggest menthol cigarettes are overwhelmingly preferred by African American adults who smoke. 

According to a 2018 statewide study  from eight of California’s largest law enforcement agencies, Black Californians were stopped by police officers much more frequently than other racial groups, and police were more likely to use force against them.

“Have the past decades, even centuries, of discriminatory legislation not taught us anything? In the last 30 years, we have evolved from Jim Crow to mass incarceration, which has become the vanguard of civil rights issues,” said Dr. Jody Armour, Professor of Law at the University of Southern California. “We can’t criminalize our way out of social problems. This proposed ban concerns me because many people do not realize that this ban would also lead to more pretextual stops from law enforcement because a Black man may simply possess a menthol cigarette.” 

The panel discussion was led by former U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek and included Pastor K.W. Tulloss; Pastor William Smart, President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California; Dr. Jody Armour, Professor of Law at the University of Southern California; Elder Joseph Paul, City of Refuge; Corey Pegues, retired NYPD executive; Roz Renfro, Vice President of L.A. Black Pride; and civil rights activist Dr. Amos Brown, who has marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The panelists were all in agreement that although they aren’t advocates of smoking, they are advocates of preserving an adult’s freedom of choice and fighting America’s legacy of bans that discriminate against and suppress the Black community. 

“Don’t deny one group the right to smoke while allowing another group their right to choose,” said Rev. Smart. “Hookah is being carved out of SB793, which gives preferential treatment to one race over another. That is why SCLC is in this fight.”

COALITION AGAINST THE MENTHOL BAN

-Neighborhood FORWARD
-Southern Christian Leadership Conference
-Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles
-I Love LA Homeless
-Los Angeles Black Pride
-SHIELDS for Families
-Law Enforcement Action Partnership

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