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LEGAL CHALLENGE: District Attorney Dolores Carr answered a few questions after being ambushed by young Prop. 6 protesters outside her office Monday.

Street Justice

Students march on County Building to protest Prop. 6

By Diane Solomon

SHOUTING "education, not incarceration," 60 young people marched on Monday from the San Jose Diridon Caltrain station to the district attorney's office at First and Hedding. The march began at 4pm, when a train arrived carrying participants from East Palo Alto, who walked out of the station chanting in call and response.

Most of the marchers were in their teens and carried homemade signs. Wearing jeans, big sneakers, Vans, sports jerseys and "No on 6" T-shirts, they made their way through autumn leaves up Santa Clara Street past the Pavilion. 

Accompanied by a bass drum, they sang and passed out information cards to curious merchants and pedestrians. The young women shrieked and cheered when drivers honked in support.

When they got to the County Building, they assembled in the plaza and Gail Noble, a San Jose mother, spoke against the proposition. The march ended when they marched through the building, surprising District Attorney Dolores Carr, who listened to their chants and comments and then headed back up to her office.

Last year Gail Noble joined a Sunday group organized by Silicon Valley Debug after her 17-year-old son was arrested for assault and battery. She says many Silicon Valley African Americans share her family's story. Four witnesses said her son didn't commit the crime and his high school principal testified about his good character, but Karim was sentenced to eight months at Juvenile Hall. Noble says Proposition 6 will make it easier for teens like Karim to go to prison.

Prop. 6, the "Safe Neighborhoods Act," is a tough-on-criminals law written by state Sen. George Runner, his wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, and Mike Reynolds, the father of California's three-strikes law, which was passed in 1994. It increases prison time and other penalties for certain crimes, creates new felonies and misdemeanors and expands the circumstances under which juveniles as young as 14 will be tried as adults. All will likely result in more offenders being sentenced to state prison or jail for longer periods of times.

If passed, Proposition 6 will set a yearly minimum funding level of $965 million for specified criminal justice programs. This 33 percent increase over current spending takes the authority for budgeting these programs away from the state legislature and governor. Annual increases tied to inflation, says the Legislative Analyst's Office, will increase this amount by $100 million in five years.

Because it draws from California's General Fund, it will compete for funding with schools, hospitals, transportation, rehabilitation and emergency service programs.

Billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III is Prop. 6's largest financial supporter. Last summer he was indicted by the federal government for methamphetamine use and distribution. Nicholas has been in and out of rehabilitation, not jail. If he'd been convicted under Prop. 6's terms, that would not be the case.

While state Sen. Runner says Nicholas' support was motivated by his half-sister's 1983 murder, supporters like Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and law enforcers, probation officers and district attorneys around the state might be motivated by the General Fund money Prop. 6 would make available to them.

When the young demonstrators marched through the County Building and came upon Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr, Carr demonstrated grace under fire by calmly answering questions as the demonstrators became more boisterous.

"Proposition 6 will provide law enforcers with a stable source of funding and more tools to use against gang violence," Carr said. Measure opponents say it adds decades of jail time for gang-related crimes, while gang memberships and affiliations aren't defined anywhere in the law. They also say hearsay evidence, which usually isn't admissible in court, will be made admissible.

Carr responds that the measure will allow a limited exception for hearsay when a defendant is responsible for a witness not coming to court.

Sen. Runner introduced Proposition 6, saying statistics show that tough-on-crime laws like the three-strikes measure deter crime. San Jose State University criminologist Mark Correia says, "The data does not suggest that the three-strikes law has had a deterrent effect on crime.

"The data does seem to suggest that this policy may in fact increase the likelihood of violence against police with those who have two strikes. They know that if they get got for their third strike, they'll serve 25-to-life, therefore they may become more violent toward the police."

Santa Clara University's Elsa Chen will publish the results of an 11-year study of three-strikes in November's Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. She found that California's extremely broad version of three-strikes doesn't produce greater crime-reduction benefits than the more narrowly tailored versions that were adopted in other states.

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