Ozomatli, Black Star, Ndegeocello Fight Anti-Gang Ballot Measure

Performers join in bid to defeat California's Proposition 21, which would treat juveniles suspected of gang involvement as adults.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Members of the hip-hop/groove collective Ozomatli joined several speakers in an afternoon rally against California's Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act.

Ozomatli, along with rap duo Black Star and singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, also were scheduled to play a benefit concert later Friday (March 3) to raise money for groups opposing the initiative.

Proposition 21 seeks to change the state's penal code by treating young gang members as adults, thus exempting them from some considerations the justice system normally accords minors. Proponents of the measure hope it will curb gang violence.

Protesters gathered at a sunny brick courtyard behind the Santa Cruz City Hall. They urged that tax dollars be spent on schools instead of prisons.

"We're trying to make the climate [of this country] a climate of change, not of lockdown, Nazi Gestapo-ism," Ozomatli bassist Wil Dog said.

"As a band, if we see injustices happening, we feel we have to respond to stop them," Wil Dog said.

"They won't put the money into education. ... California being the third-largest prison system in the world behind the United States and China, we're going to do everything we can to stop it."

'Scared For My Future'

Several protestors held signs with such slogans as "Schools not jails" and "Why does California rank 41st in the nation in education spending? It's the prisons" — a spoof of a nearly ubiquitous advertising campaign waged by the state dairy industry in which questions are posed and inevitably answered: "It's the cheese."

Damian Ashton, a 17-year-old student at Santa Cruz High School, also spoke at the rally, explaining that his school had an assembly about the issue and that school officials were 100 percent supportive of the students' concerns.

"I oppose Proposition 21 because I am scared for my future," Ashton said. "I do not want a future where I can be labeled as a gang or gang member for walking down the street with two or three of my buddies."

Ashton said students were planning to walk out on classes Tuesday — the day California's voters go to the polls. A citywide march is also planned for Saturday (March 4).

"Students are taking action, and it's spreading like wildfire through Santa Cruz," Ashton said.

Several speakers from Critical Resistance also spoke at the rally, pointing out that starting prison guards earn an average salary of $51,000, while starting college professors average only $41,000.

"We are demanding schools, not jails," Jime Salcedo, 24, said. "The youth movement today ... is being called the new civil rights movement. We're learning from what has worked in the past and what hasn't."

Artists Support Youth Movement

Another speaker from Critical Resistance, 29-year-old Robin Templeton, said several musicians have voiced their support of the youth movement against Proposition 21, including Lauryn Hill, the Roots, Spearhead and rapper E-40.

"MC Hammer built himself a prison cell in his neighborhood ... and is refusing to come out until after the election," Templeton said.

"I've always been involved my whole life; we're on a platform every day, playing to people," Wil Dog said. "This is going to affect the outcome of the future."

Black Star and Ndegeocello did not make the press conference because they were busy doing soundchecks for the show.

Proceeds from the benefit, at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, will go to the No on 21 Campaign, Critical Resistance and Barrios Unidos.

Ozomatli are known for their danceable mix of hip-hop, funk and Latin-groove music, as well as the turntable stylings of DJ Cut Chemist, who figures heavily in the group's song "Cut Chemist Suite" (RealAudio excerpt).

Ndegeocello appeared at 1998's Critical Resistance benefit to fight the growing "prison industrial complex." Her most recent album, Bitter, was released in August.

Plantation Lullabies, her 1993 debut, included "Shootin' Up and Gett'n High" and "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" (RealAudio excerpt).

Black Star — consisting of rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli — helped organize the upcoming EP One Four Love, which protests the killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York City police officers last year.

Their 1999 sophomore effort, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, featured "Astronomy (8th Light)" (RealAudio excerpt) and "RE: Definition."