Last week police arrested Shawn Laval Smith for the murder of Brianna Kupfer, 24, the UCLA student found stabbed to death in the furniture store where she worked. The African American suspect, 31, has a long criminal history on both coasts, and his arrest was a national story.
Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon called the murder “tragic and heartbreaking,” but a search for a statement from state attorney general Rob Bonta rendered zero results. As it turned out, the Bay Area Democrat was busy on other fronts.
Last Wednesday, when the suspect in Brianna Kupfer’s murder was booked into jail, Bonta announced a civil rights investigation into Santa Clara County sheriff Laurie Smith. The graduate of San Jose State, Cal Poly Pomona, and the FBI Academy, was elected sheriff in 1998, won the Woman of the Year award from the California Assembly, and served as president of the California State Sheriff’s Association. Bonta thinks sheriff Smith needs to be investigated.
“When communities feel they are treated fairly and equitably by law enforcement, it increases trust and that in turn contributes to increased public safety,” Bonta said in a statement. “However, it is clear that there is a lack of trust in Santa Clara County as a result of deeply concerning allegations around county jail facilities and other misconduct.” It wasn’t the first time that Bonta had ignored a murder victim and targeted law enforcement.
Last November, mobs of armed robbers ransacked retail stores and one attack claimed the life of former San Jose police officer Kevin Nishita, gunned down while protecting a news crew. An internet search turned up no official statement from the attorney general, who again had cops on his mind.
On December 8, Bonta announced an “independent review” of the Torrance Police Department over allegations of “excessive force, racist text messages, and other discriminatory misconduct.” According to Bonta, “where there is evidence of potentially pervasive bias or discrimination, it can undermine the trust that is critical for public safety and our justice system.”
On December 21, police arrested suspects in the murder of Kevin Nishita, but Bonta, born in the Philippines, issued no official statement. Earlier that year he professed strong concern for the civil rights of Asian Americans.
“This significant increase in hate crime activity,” Bonta said in a statement, “was particularly pronounced for Asian Americans during periods in which harmful rhetoric from public figures sought to connect the Asian community with COVID-19.” According to the Bay Area Democrat, there was “a surge in anti-Asian violence correlated with the words of leaders who sought to divide us when we were at our most vulnerable.” And so on. As it happens, California does have a history of anti-Asian prejudice.
Even after the Bakke decision, California’s public universities rejected many high-achieving Asians and people of pallor while admitting those less academically qualified. In 1996, Californians passed the California Civil Rights Initiative, (Proposition 209), which banned racial and ethnic discrimination in state education, employment and contracting.
In 2020, assemblyman and Yale alum (BA and JD) Rob Bonta backed Proposition 16, which would have overturned the state law. “Prop. 16 will provide opportunity and fairness, where there is lack of opportunity, lack of fairness,” said Bonta, whose philanthropic efforts have drawn attention.
In 2017, the assemblyman created the Bonta California Progress Foundation. As Laurel Rosenhall of CalMatters explains, the foundation was “unusual” not only because it was affiliated with a single legislator.
In 2018, Bonta’s foundation gave $25,000 to Literacy Lab, where the assemblyman’s wife Mialisa “was earning a six-figure salary as CEO.” According to the states’ Fair Political Practices Commission, Bonta solicited donations from “interest groups that lobby him at the Capitol — including PG&E, the teachers union, and the maker of Budweiser beer.” These groups “pumped $75,000 into the Bonta California Progress Foundation” in 2017 and 2018.
In 2020, Bonta was the prime mover of AB 2088, the California Wealth Tax, which would have slapped a 0.4 percent tax on the portion of a taxpayer’s net worth that exceeds $30 million. As Bonta explained, “asking these well-resourced Californians to give a little more to keep our people working and support our most vulnerable is the right thing to do.”
As embattled Californians understand, a tax is not a request but a taking. Bonta wanted to keep on taking even after Californians leave the state. AB 2088 would tax former Californians 90 percent of their in-state levy in the first year after they leave the state and 80 percent in the second year until phasing out over a decade.
“Attempting to tax a former resident for 10 years after they terminate their residence is the same as taxing them for life,” tax accountant Paul Bleeg explained. “It’s completely unhinged to think this is okay.” The money grab fizzled and voters rejected Proposition 16, preserving the state’s law against racial and ethnic discrimination.
Last March, after former attorney general Xavier Becerra was confirmed as Biden’s HHS boss, Gov. Newsom filled the post with Bonta, billed as “on the forefront” of social, economic and racial justice. Embattled Californians have cause to wonder.
When armed robbers gunned down Asian American Kevin Nishita, Bonta issued no statement on the possibility of a hate crime, and failed even to decry theft and gun violence in the case.
An African American criminal is arrested for the murder of Brianna Kupfer, a person of pallor. Rob Bonta ignores the murder victim and launches an investigation into sheriff Laurie Smith.
The attorney general opposes a voter-approved state law that protects the people from racial and ethnic discrimination. And in the style of the Clintons, the Yale alum sets up a foundation that benefits his family.
California’s attorney general post was a launching pad for Democrat stars Kamala Harris and Xavier Becerra. Rob Bonta is fully qualified to follow in their footsteps.