A judge in one of California's largest counties cleared the way for court challenges to all prosecutions brought over the past decade under a gang-enforcement strategy that he ruled was racist in its disproportionate targeting of Black people, the Mercury News reports. Contra Costa Judge David Goldstein cited the California Racial Justice Act in dismissing gang charges against four men that carried possible life-without-parole sentencing enhancements. Goldstein based his ruling on a decade of data — what he called a “significant statistical disparity” — showing that gang charges are more often filed against Black people. The data showed that Black people were from 6 to 8 percent more likely to be charged with “special circumstance gang enhancements” than people who weren’t Black. Those enhancements, alleging gang membership and added on top of the underlying criminal charges at issue in a case, can greatly increase the sentence a defendant receives.
The ruling came in a case already under heavy scrutiny because two of the defendants were directly referenced in racist text messages sent by Antioch police officers who investigated their alleged crimes. The texts — part of a much larger scandal involving racism, alleged civil rights violations and dozens of impugned officers — made light of injuring the men during their arrests and referred to Black people in explicitly biased, hateful ways. Goldstein, who did not base his ruling on Friday on the texts, will soon hear arguments about whether the racist texts by Antioch officers constituted a separate violation of the Racial Justice Act, a new state law intended to weed out racism in the superior courts. Last week, county prosecutors agreed that the texts had. The four defendants are accused of fatally shooting a man to benefit an Oakland gang. The ruling does not affect the murder, attempted murder and conspiracy counts against them. For many defense attorneys in Contra Costa, Friday’s ruling was a seen as vindication after years of calling on Contra Costa prosecutors to audit their own filing decisions.