LOS ANGELES, WE MUST VOTE JACKIE LACEY OUT THIS NOVEMBER
Written by David Mizzell of Our Revolution Los Angeles
A graphic tweeted out by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors (@OsopePatrisse) ahead of the March 3 primary now headed to a runoff in November.
2020 has been a year of reckoning so far. And one of those reckonings has finally begun to implicate the state sanctioned violence that is disproportionately perpetrated against black Americans in the United States. Unfortunately, such violence is often committed by police officers who seem to enjoy relative insulation from any significant consequences besides paid vacations, and sometimes even an actual termination. The murder of George Floyd seems to have marked a turning point, particularly in terms of public opinion towards the objectives and demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. While this turning point appears to be a victory for the cause of social justice, it may ultimately raise more questions than answers.
Questions like, “where do we go from here?” “how do we fix it?” and “how did it get this bad?” abound in what seems to be the beginning of a new era, in which many moderate Conservatives and Liberals have finally come around to acknowledging the fact that systemic racism is still very much a problem and indeed has yet to ever be meaningfully resolved. The reality is that systemic racism is like a hydra, with so many heads that no one action, no one election, and no one person likely could comprehensively address such an issue that permeates both our institutions as well as our culture itself. However, one thing remains clear, and that is that killer cops must be held accountable! And one of the reasons they often aren’t is because of District Attorneys (DAs) who are unwilling to prosecute them.
In what many have referred to as a modern day lynching, Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging in his neighborhood back in February when he appears to have been hunted down and murdered by a father-son duo who later claimed to have suspected Ahmaud of theft. Ahmaud Arbery is a case that has joined the likes of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in that their faces should haunt the American public for our previous and continued inaction in dealing with the epidemic of violence and maniacal police officers who regularly brutalize and murder with seeming impunity. Ahmaud Arbery could have easily been another statistic, had not video footage of his murder in cold blood and in broad daylight not later surfaced to the public. How is that possible? As it turns out, Ahmaud Arbery’s murderer was a retired police officer who previously worked for the local DA office, presiding over the county where the incident took place. It is tough to believe that such professional relationships didn’t curry the killer cop the benefit of the doubt needed when he claimed he had been attacked by Ahmaud and reacted lethally in “self-defense.”
One thing Ahmaud Arbery’s case highlights is the role District Attorneys play in determining whether or not law enforcement will be held accountable when such cops abuse their power and unnecessarily brutalize American citizens. That being said, it is important to know that District Attorneys are often elected by the people, and that the people of Los Angeles have an important decision to make in November.
Incumbent District Attorney of Los Angeles Jackie Lacey will be facing former police officer and former District Attorney of San Francisco George Gascón. Although Jackie Lacey is the first black woman to ever serve as District Attorney of Los Angeles, she unfortunately has a reputation for refusing to prosecute extrajudicial murders perpetrated by local law enforcement. Lacey has consequently faced regular criticism and protest from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors has described the upcoming DA race as “the single most important DA race in the country,” and for good reason. The number of fatal police shootings in Los Angeles since Jackie Lacey took office in 2012 varies, depending on who you ask, between 300 and 600. Regardless of which estimate you believe, the fact that Jackie Lacey has prosecuted only one of those hundreds of cases is alarming. When confronted with this record, Lacey often argues that the evidence in these cases is simply not sufficient enough for a conviction, and that prosecuting what she deems as unwinnable cases would be a waste of time and resources. However, as attorney Carla V. Minnard argued in a letter to Jackie Lacey regarding Lacey’s refusal to prosecute a high profile fugitive and accused rapist, “there is value in prosecuting cases you believe in – even ones that you think you may lose.” Furthermore, when you look closely at just a few of these supposedly unwinnable cases, the math just doesn’t add up.
Perhaps the most notable of such cases was that of Brendon Glenn, who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2015 while loitering outside a bar in Venice, CA. Brendon was intoxicated and disrupting both bar patrons and passersby when police confronted and eventually subdued him. Two police officers had Brendon pinned to the ground when one officer shot and killed Brendon supposedly out of “self-defense.” The officer argued that Brendon had reached for the officer’s weapon in the altercation. However, a report by the LAPD Chief as well as video footage both contradicted this statement. “[A]t no time during the struggle can Glenn’s hand be observed on or near any portion of Officer [redacted]’s holster,” the official LAPD report read. The LAPD Chief who wrote the report later went on to publically recommend criminal charges be filed against the offending officer. Despite all of this evidence and the unprecedented public advice of a LAPD Chief, Jackie Lacey declined to prosecute. In part of a released statement regarding this decision, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California Melanie Ochoa said “[Lacey’s] decision suggests that no matter how egregious an officer’s conduct is, no matter the evidence she has before her, she does not intend to hold any officer accountable for unnecessarily and inexplicably shooting a member of the public. Police officers are not above the law. District Attorney Lacey must stop treating them that way.”
Unfortunately this incident does not appear to be just a fluke. In August of 2016, police shot and killed 30-year-old Redel Jones, who was wielding a kitchen knife in an alleyway in South L.A. Police claimed that Redel made aggressive advances toward officers, but eye witness accounts directly contradicted such reports by indicating Redel was shot and killed while fleeing the officers. Redel’s husband Marcus Vaughn recounted that while Redel unfortunately struggled with mental illness, she loved web design, dancing, cartoon shows, and electronic/hip-hop music. In April of 2018, 30-year-old Grechario Mack was shot and killed by police officers in a Baldwin Hills Crenshaw shopping mall while Mack was exhibiting signs of a mental health crisis and wielding a kitchen knife. The LAPD report indicated that Mack was “aggressively waiving a long knife” whereas an anonymous eye-witness account provided to The Guardian by an employee of the shopping mall indicated “it wasn’t such a big knife,” and that Mack was not behaving in an intimidating manner. “I couldn’t save my baby,” reflected Mack’s mother, “when they took my son’s life, they took a part of me.” The next day police shot and killed 25-year-old Kenneth Ross Jr. while responding to a report of “shots fired.” Kenneth was murdered as he fled the scene, allegedly unresponsive to officer commands. Kenneth was unarmed and also struggled with mental illness, which may have contributed to his reaction on the scene. The officer responsible argued “self-defense,” given that he believed Kenneth to be an active shooter. Of course, this begs the question, how can someone argue self-defense when they shoot someone who is running away?
None of the cops responsible for the murders of Brendon Glenn, Redel Jones, Grechario Mack, nor Kenneth Ross Jr. have faced charges. In 2017, an attorney representing the family of slain 14-year-old boy Jesse Romero – in yet another controversial case where Lacey declined to press charges despite the existence of directly conflicting police and eye-witness reports – told the L.A. Times, “by not disciplining police officers when they use excessive force, [Los Angeles has] fostered a culture of allowing officers to shoot people and get away with it.” Per Patrisse Cullors, “Jackie Lacey promised reform but has continued [a] tradition of fueling mass incarceration and destroying black and brown communities in Los Angeles.” Still more though perhaps unsurprisingly, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has donated $1 million to a Political Action Committee that opposes the election of Lacey’s November challenger George Gascón.
As with most races, there is not a savior on the ballot but there is leverage. George Gascón does come with his own crop of baggage, which is not to be ignored. Similar to his opponent, Gascón did not prosecute any police officers for lethal shootings during his eight year tenure as District Attorney of San Francisco. However, Gascón has clearly campaigned on the premise that many of the cases Lacey has been criticized for should have resulted in charges, especially in the case of Brendon Glenn. Further, Gascón sports a much more progressive track record in the way of addressing some of the glaringly urgent problems with criminal justice in America’s major cities. Gascón championed legislation and ballot measures aimed at making it easier for DAs to prosecute police, as well as reducing penalties for drug offenses. He has also pledged to create a do-not-rehire database for cops who are terminated for using unlawful force. Unlike Lacey, Gascón promises to never pursue the death penalty. Lacey has pursued capital punishment despite a moratorium being placed on the practice by California Governor Gavin Newsom. When confronted on these differences in a debate back in February, Lacey drew from the conservative playbook by fear-mongering about rising crime rates and car break-ins in San Francisco resulting, per Lacey’s view, from Gascón’s more proactive reformist-oriented stances. Lacey also felt compelled to detail the particular gruesomeness of a crime committed, in which she insisted on pursuing sentencing the convicted offender to the death penalty as opposed to more sensibly and even more economically pursuing life without parole as punishment.
The people of Los Angeles must vote Jackie Lacey out this November. Not because Gascón will solve systemic racism in policing. If he takes office, we will need to hold his feet to the fire like any other elected official. However, voting Jackie Lacey out will send a clear message. That message will be that communities, activists, and the Black Lives Matter movement are not to be ignored politically. The Black Lives Matter movement is finally gaining a public favorability it has not enjoyed perhaps since its founding, but we should be wary of its message and likeness being co-opted by hollow corporate forces and celebrity vies for trendiness. We must heed the advice of organizers on the ground as well as the civil rights organizations committed to fighting the formal legal battles of this cause. We must look critically at the records of politicians as well as their identities and professed ideologies. Gascón has made clear that he is more inclined to leverage his position as District Attorney as a force for justice, as opposed to resting on the defeatist notion of the limited powers of a sitting District Attorney. As an electorate, we must endorse this more aggressive stance that is a much needed asset in the overall fight for racial justice, both in law enforcement and in every other area of our society. Frederick Douglas once said, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” This November we cannot ask for justice; we must demand it.