Catherine Lozano, Shields for Families

Latino organizations have joined the efforts of Black Lives Matter (BLM) to support Measure R that aims to reform LA county jails. 

At a news conference held Wednesday, Jan. 22, representatives from Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas (COFEM), Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Federación Michoacana de Los Ángeles, Federación Duranguense USA, and immigrant rights organizations stood alongside Patrisse Cullors BLM co-founder. They officially kicked off their campaign to push for the passage of Measure R on the March primary ballot.

Organizers point out that the Sheriff’s Department has a dark track record of abusing the most vulnerable, including Latinos who are disproportionately arrested and jailed making up 50% of the LA county jail population with half of that number being immigrants.

Community activist Francisco Moreno, representing Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas (COFEM), said historically, like the African American community, Latinos are racially profiled.

“We also find that members of the immigrant community can be picked up and jailed for what might be acceptable or a mere infraction in their home countries that have a different culture about drinking in public or having a fight which can cause them to be jailed here,” Moreno said.

It’s a very serious matter that can ruin their chances at receiving citizenship, said Moreno. “Often times immigrants don’t know the law or understand the legal system and their families don’t understand the process of bail or have the resources to raise money for bail. They just don’t have the knowledge or the contacts.”

Moreno believes that the Sheriff’s Department and ICE feel empowered by the Trump administration.

“When the President refers to immigrants as ‘criminals,’ it sends a message that it’s ok to target them. We are very hardworking people who contribute to this economy,” he said. “Some immigrants are detained in county jails awaiting to see an immigration judge, and we’ve found that some of them are just forgotten.”

Christman Bowers, the general consultant for the Reform LA Jail Movement, is straight forward when he defines the LA County Sheriff’s Department and jail system as “corrupt.”

“We don’t believe that anyone is above the law and police authorities  shouldn’t be either. We are currently jailing people with mental illness. A recent Rand report indicated that 61 percent of those with mental illnesses are being housed inside of county jail,” he said.

 “We believe that LA county has a problem with the systemic oppression for people who are homeless and imprisoned, and the corruption within the Sheriff’s Department  [which has engaged in brutal beatings of prisoners].”

Bowers said there are countless stories in need of investigation. including reports of deputies getting away with raping female inmates and drug trafficking.

“If you go to a [Black Lives Matter] meeting you’ll hear the stories from victims and family members of victims that have not been given their day to have an independent body to investigate their cases.”

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors has been leading protests with other members of the community fighting for police reforms for the last decade, speaking out against police brutality and racial inequality in the US Criminal justice system. She’s called their successful petition drive and getting Measure R on the March ballot as a “game changer.”

A “yes” vote would amend the Los Angeles County Code to authorize the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to develop a (italics)  Comprehensive Public Safety Reinvestment Plan (italics end), which would aim to reduce jail population and incarceration, and grant the commission subpoena power to investigate complaints. The commission has been previously blocked from obtaining internal records regarding police misconduct.

However, perhaps as a nod to the efforts of proponents of Measure R, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to grant the Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power, which will allow the commission to direct the Office of the Inspector General to compel records from the Sheriff’s Department that have stonewalled their attempts to get information about secret deputy cliques with matching tattoos and misconduct.

“Voters have said that in the midst of allegations of deputies operating internally as gang members, and claims of a secret gang society among the Sheriff’s Department’s ranks, and amid ever-increasing allegations of sexual misconduct involving deputies in LA county jails  — that they want answers,” said Cullors. She said people want alternatives to incarcerating the most vulnerable.

“We are taking on the largest jail system in the country,” Bowers said. “How many people are jailed simply because they can’t afford bail or are sick and doesn’t have anyone to help them? If we take the steps in the right direction then other communities across the country will follow.”

“Whether someone is homeless, an immigrant, African American, mentally ill, we are the same,” said Moreno. “We are the community and we are part of society, we are brothers and we have to fight together. We have to acknowledge the discrimination that our community faces when it comes to jails in Los Angeles. Most importantly, we need to change it.”