California’s Dark History: 167 years of taking advantage of societies most vulnerable

Posted on February 22, 2016


California was born in a rush for surface gold in 1849. In that year, there were 54 Chinese immigrants in California by most historical accounts. One year later, California had 116,000 Chinese immigrants, many of whom ventured into gold country to stake and work claims.

Shortly after California was declared a state, naturally born Americans working the claims in gold country heavily lobbied the State of California to impose a monthly tax on every non-american born gold miner of $20.00 per month. This tax, which was primarily targeted at Mexicans and Chileans who traveled north to pursue California’s gold also ensnared French, Australians, Germans and Chinese. By 1852 the foreign miners tax represented more than 50% of state revenue and stayed in place until 1872 when most of the surface gold was gone and the big digs commenced by corporations issuing pay checks to miners to extract the gold.


In 1849, it was estimated that more than 300,000 native Americans in over a hundred tribes that occupied lands across California – including land in California’s gold country. Shortly after statehood, the State of California announced a bounty that would virtually wipe native Americans from the map in California. While 60% of them would succumb from the white man’s diseases for which they had no immunity, the state of California announced a bounty of 25 cents per Indian scalp and $5.00 per Indian head. Other laws permitted white Americans to indenture in servitude for 4 months at a time any Indian who appeared was not in the employ and being paid by a white man. Still, other laws permitted the white man to take orphan Indian children as slaves until their eighteenth birthday. These child slaves would be bought and sold with boys selling for $60.00 and girls selling for $200.00. At the time, only 8% of California’s population was female and in gold country, only 2% of the population was female so you can imagine why Indian girls were enslaved and held a value more than 3 times that of Indian boys.

Needless to state, the easiest way of gathering Indian slave children were to kill both parents and in 1851, the state of California authorized a million dollars of payments to those who collected Indian scalps (25 cents) and Indian heads (5 dollars) to achieve that goal. By the year 1900, only 16,000 native Americans occupied California lands.

The courts of the early years were of no help at all. Early California Supreme court rulings held that non-whites were non-persons and could not vote. Moreover, they could not lodge a legal complaint nor testify against a white man or serve as a witness in any capacity.

And the dark days continued.


The California Alien Land Law of 1913 (also known as the Webb-Haney Act) prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” aka Asian immigrants, from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it, but permitted leases lasting up to three years.It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California. Implicitly, the law was primarily directed at the Japanese. It passed thirty-five to two in the Senate and seventy-two to three in the Assembly and was co-written by attorney Francis J. Heney and California state attorney general Ulysses S. Webb at the behest of Governor Hiram Johnson.

Yes, that would be the exact same Governor Hiram Johnson whose name is on the building housing Judicial Council Staff Offices in San Francisco….

The Alien land laws were strengthened by voters in 1920 and by the legislature in 1923. They were also affirmed by the U.S Supreme Court in 1923 as not a violation of the 14th amendment and then re-affirmed by the California Supreme Court in 1946. It was the California district court of appeal that invalidated these laws in 1950 under Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter to which the United States was a signer. Two years later, the California Supreme Court would uphold their invalidation under the state constitution and Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution in 1952 – a mere 64 years ago.


Today California remains blanketed with some highly discriminatory laws under the guises of traffic safety and civil assessments. Driving while colored means you are four times more likely to be pulled over and cited. Just being colored means you are likely to earn substantially less and be challenged to make payments on a new car or even auto insurance. Driving around in a car that is over ten years old and can no longer be financed or driving around in a dented vehicle serves as a red flag that if you’re being pulled over it’s because you can’t afford to drive and that likely means that you can’t afford auto insurance. Effortless, low hanging fruit for cops looking to write traffic citations. It is the primary reason millennials are shunning car ownership and the reason that 2016 is the last year for the Scion car brand: They can’t afford to get a ticket so they just don’t drive – or buy cars.

Debtors psychology is a naturally occurring phenomena. It basically states that if you cannot afford a bill, nor can you afford what someone else believes you should be able to afford in terms of monthly payments, that the debtor will attempt to preserve the quality of their life with a hammer hanging over their head by ignoring the debt they cannot ever hope to pay. Legislators and the courts know this as fact, yet they all but completely ignore that adding even more money in the forms of failure to appear and failure to pay and civil assessments adding hundreds of dollars to citations does not make them any more likely to collect: In fact, it makes them less likely to collect.

Today, those debts total nearly ten percent of the states budget. When the costs of some citations for the victim-less crime (well, until you get into an accident) of not being able to afford auto insurance are factored against the egregious costs of foreign miners tax at the time, it becomes apparent that California is following its long, sordid history of chasing minorities and the poor for what should be tax revenue.

We call on the governor to consider that, if, by the time he leaves office, that if legislators haven’t lowered fees and fines and his eighteen month amnesty plan is unsuccessful with citation debt continuing to grow, that he issues a blanket pardon for every outstanding traffic infraction and civil assessment and call on successive governors to follow in his footsteps until we have traffic laws and court procedures that no longer prey on the poor as a source of what should be tax revenue – or permanently changing the infraction system to be reflective of ones income, much like many European countries do.

Fairness deserves no less.