Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles has proven to be an organization to be reckoned with, as the recent passage of key police reform legislation including Measure R, the Alternatives to Incarceration work group and their impact on the District Attorney’s seat shows.
The grass roots organization based in LA now includes the strength of those not only from the Black community, but is becoming a place of support for Latinos and other diverse communities as well.
Much more than the anti-police protest handle that the organization has had, it is now noted as a place to turn for families who’ve lost loved ones during encounters with law enforcement — families have found encouragement to take action, to turn their sorrow toward activism.
Following the controversial fatal shooting of actor Vanessa Marquez by South Pasadena police, fellow actor Minerva Garcia, a close friend of Marquez turned to Black Lives Matter. Her participation also led her to the ACLU, where she learned of additional justice campaigns including “Check the Sheriff” that calls for stronger checks and balances.
“I’m grateful for Black Lives Matter for their support and resources. As unfortunate as the events that have brought us together, meaning police brutality and the killing of our close friends and family, it helps to find others who understand what we’ve been through. It helps to make me feel less alone,” Garcia said.
From participating in demonstrations and providing testimony at LA City Hall, to participating in news conferences about police excessive force and the need for police reform, new coalitions have formed strengthening the work of Black Lives Matter including JusticeLA, La Defensa, the ACLU and immigrant rights organizations.
“Latinos have taken leadership roles on this issue” said Lynne Lyman, of the Measure R campaign during a meeting with the the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol.
“There has been increase participation by the Latino community in this issue of mass incarceration. In this [Measure R] campaign, the Latino leaders have really stepped forward to say, ‘ This is our issue, we’re joining Black Lives Matter and the black community to say, ‘Enough!’ A coalition of Latino leaders have come out to say, ‘you can’t continue to do this to our community and to partner with the black community to raise this cup as a multi-racial coalition,’” Lyman said.
“This campaign represented that in a way where none of the work I’ve seen in California in our decade of reform work has really done. Latinos have co-led this effort,” she said.
Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors also founded Reform L.A. Jails which has successfully stopped the city from building LA County’s eighth jail.
Recently, with a strong coalition of support, they not only effectively placed Measure R on the ballot, they won with little opposition and are standing ready if there is an appeal. Measure R will provide supeona power for a watchdog independent commission over the Sheriff’s Department.
During the campaign, Black Lives Matter organized very public demonstrations from blocking traffic on LA’s busiest streets to most recently demonstrating in front of the home of county District Attorney Jackie Lacey on Super Tuesday.
That early morning demonstration was met with a gun held by Lacey’s husband ordering members of the group off of his front porch.
Black Lives Matter has regularly protested against Lacey who hasn’t met with the group since 2016 despite their requests. Lacey failed to participate in candidates forums including one held in the San Fernando Valley where members of the Black Lives Matter organization were present.
While incumbents most often have the upper hand in their re-election, DA Lacey may face a run off in November against former San Francisco DA George Gascon.
Provisional ballots are still being tallied from last week’s election, this week, Lacey fell below the 50% mark in her reelection. Lacey would need to finish with more than 50% of the vote from to avoid a runoff.
The first tally from last week showed Lacey with 51.6% of the vote but that margin dropped to 50.7% when the first counting update was released, then it fell to 50.1%, and then to 50% on Friday, March 6. The latest vote totals released Tuesday, March 10, by the county Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office, showed Lacey with 49.9% of the vote.There are about 493,450 ballots left to count, according to the county. The next vote-counting update is scheduled to be released Friday afternoon.
In addition, this week Black Lives Matter was able to add another huge win to their list of reformative goals.
The Board of Supervisors voted for a “care first, jails last” plan. Black Lives Matter has long called for a ban of building new county jails and move toward finding alternatives to the thousands of homeless and mentally ill that are housed at LA county jail. Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion to immediately adopt more than two dozen recommendations by the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group aimed at putting fewer people behind bars and investing instead in community-based treatment.
Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California emphasized the board’s shift in attitude.
“Six, seven, eight years ago, the only discussion coming from the dais at the Board of Supervisors about how to improve the treatment of people with behavioral health issues in the jails was to build a better jail,” Eliasberg said. “Now the conversation has completely changed … this can be a transformational document for LA County.”
“Community care is not only more humane, but more cost-effective,” said Dr. Robert Ross, CEO and president of The California Endowment and the chair of the ATI Work Group.
“This in part is a moral statement about criminalizing hopelessness and criminalizing illness,”Ross told reporters Monday. “And it is clearly a strategic report … for the taxpayers of this county, it is cheaper to treat someone in a community than to treat them in a jail cell.”
Of the nearly 17,000 people in custody in Los Angeles county jails, the largest jail system in the nation, roughly 30% have a serious mental illness. Of those, 21% have a substance abuse problem, according to the report.
Eunisses Hernandez, co-founder of La Defensa and a member of the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group that helped to shape the plan over the last year, was among those celebrating a shift in the way the county thinks about incarceration.
“This whole process has shown me that community can change the way that the bureaucratic system works,” Hernandez said. “The system is movable, it’s changeable, it can be transformed, but it requires significant relationship building that’s not transactional.’’
“This is a big moment in LA county criminal justice reform. I’ve been calling it the four-legged stool — one leg is [the passage of] Measure R, another is this alternative to incarceration [that has now passed]report, the third leg is the district attorney race — and I think the fourth leg of the stool is the potential election of Holly Mitchell to the Supervisorial District Two seat,” Lyman said.
Mitchell is now in a runoff election with incumbent Herb Wesson.
“With her as our champion, having her come to the county would really be that fourth leg,” said Lyman. “I think this is a critical moment to get all four of these pieces to happen. I have a lot of hope for the county, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
City News Service also contributed to this report.