Rapper Common plans free Sacramento concert to promote criminal justice reform
JULY 17, 2017 5:00 AM
BY ANITA CHABRIA
Rapper, actor and activist Common will perform a free concert on Capitol Mall next month to raise awareness about criminal justice reform and push for the passage of three bills in the California Legislature that would give more rights to juvenile offenders and revamp the state’s bail system.
The show is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 21 and up to 10,000 people are expected, said Michael Latt, who handles Common’s social impact initiatives. Billboards for the “Imagine Justice” event will go up around Sacramento on Monday.
“As an artist, I believe it is my duty to fight injustice wherever it appears and take a stand for my fellow brothers and sisters. I believe it is my responsibility to use my platform to amplify the courageous voices of the movement and support the most marginalized members of our society,” Common said in a statement to The Sacramento Bee.
The concert is the start of a three-day Sacramento campaign that includes a day of lobbying at the Capitol and a second concert for inmates inside a nearby prison, possibly Folsom State, said Latt.
Common has been involved in social justice projects including animal rights and AIDS/HIV measures in the past, but his work on criminal justice reform is new. Beginning this year, he connected with former Hollywood producer-turned-activist Scott Budnick, said Latt.
Budnick was the executive producer on “The Hangover” trilogy of movies, the top-grossing R-rated franchise in domestic box office history, raking in $643 million in U.S. ticket sales. Inspired by volunteer work teaching writing classes inside a juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles, Budnick left his Hollywood career and founded the Anti Recidivism Coalition in 2013 to help young kids in the criminal justice system.
Since then, he has become one of the most powerful voices in California’s criminal justice reform movement, and was instrumental in writing and helping to pass Proposition 57 in 2016, which curtailed prosecutor’s discretion in charging juveniles as adults, increased parole opportunities for nonviolent felons, and gave all inmates greater access to education and rehabilitation programs to earn time credits on their sentences.
Budnick also considers himself a “super fan” of Common, he said. Budnick said Common became interested in criminal justice reform after working on the 2014 film “Selma,” the story of the 1965 voting rights marches in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. Common co-wrote the Oscar and Grammy-winning song “Glory” for the movie and played civil rights leader James Bevel.
“When (Common) was doing ‘Selma’ he kind of … dove deeply into MLK and John Lewis and those in the civil rights movement, and he saw that it was really something that they did every day,” said Budnick.
Budnick said he and Common collaborated on a series of four concerts inside California prisons earlier this year, doing full shows with the set Common used at the Coachella music festival and filming interviews with young offenders. That footage will be turned into a feature documentary produced by Blumhouse Productions, which recently produced the horror-social commentary film “Get Out.”
Common also played a Capitol Mall concert in “#Resistance Street Party” during the state Democratic convention in May.
The August concert is a continuation of Budnick’s alliance with Common and is meant to help change both public perception and policy about those in jail, said Latt.
“You are not going to get people in society to believe in better laws if you just watch the news every night and see every horror story, every crime, every gang-related crime,” said Budnick.
Collaborations like the one with Common help “show the humanity and the change and the transformation of the people inside when they have hope, when they have support, when they have opportunity.”
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Common and Budnick will meet with legislators the day after the concert to talk about two bills meant to give juvenile offenders more of those chances.
The first, Senate Bill 395, would require that minors have legal counsel before waiving their Miranda rights when in police custody. Budnick used the example of a formerly incarcerated member of his staff, Jerome Dixon, who was arrested as a 17-year-old and interrogated for 25 hours straight before confessing to a crime he maintains he did not commit. Dixon served 21 years in prison.
“It wasn’t him but after 25 hours in an interrogation room as a minor, he said whatever they wanted to so he could go to bed,” said Budnick. “All this bill says is before the police interrogate a young person, they get to have one conversation with an attorney, with an adult.”
The second measure, Senate Bill 394, would give minors sentenced to life without parole a chance to be released after serving 25 years. There are currently about 300 inmates in California who were convicted as minors without the chance for release, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.
“We are the only country in the world that would sentence a juvenile to life without parole,” said Budnick. “That basically says young people can’t change and who you were at 15 and what you did at 15 years old is who you are forever.”
Common is also supporting Senate Bill 10, a controversial measure that would reform California’s bail system and allow more people to be released without the requirement of a money-backed bond.
Opponents argue ending money-based bail would be costly and potentially put more dangerous people on the street.
Budnick and other advocates argue the money bail system keeps low-income people in jail for financial reasons while they await their day in court and often causes them to lose jobs, fail out of school and lose housing regardless of whether they are eventually convicted or not.
“It’s just unjust and attacks poor people,” said Budnick of the current system. “If I committed an identical crime to someone who is poor, often a poor person of color, I would be out of jail in a couple hours and they would be in there months or even years, and both of us are innocent until proven guilty.”
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