When District Attorneys enter the courtroom, they are granted the title “the people,” a designation grounded in the premise that by prosecuting criminals larger communities are kept safe. While there is an abolitionist argument to be made that criminalization and incarceration does not actually keep communities safe, what is beyond dispute is the virtual immunity that law enforcement has enjoyed under the current structure. Since District Attorney Jackie Lacey took office in January 2013, at least 422 Los Angeles County residents have been killed by police or while in custody; Lacey, who is supposed to represent “the people” has chosen not to prosecute a single officer. Rather than serving as a representative of the people, Lacey has aligned herself with police who commit the most heinous of crimes, making her complicit.
The breakdown of police murders includes the greatest number of deaths from Los Angeles County Sheriff, which includes the vast majority of in-custody deaths (203), followed by Los Angeles Police (119), other county departments (92), and unknown (36). The community questions why Los Angeles is home to the most murderous law enforcement departments in the nation and why law enforcement is untouchable in the county.
Under current California law, law enforcement officers have been protected from adverse consequences when they commit misconduct. This includes withholding from the public their names, footage from dashcams or body cameras, lack of true civilian oversight, and acts deemed “in-policy” when they result in death.
Additionally, district attorney investigations rely solely on evidence and testimony from officers, often times that contradicts itself, or lacks logic, and is used to substantiate the claims that deadly force is necessary. Then victims are subjected to a double murder; after their bodies are killed, their characters are assassinated, pathologized, dehumanized, and vilified in the local media, so the community blames the victim for behaving in a manner that brought on their death.
Furthermore, the California Police Officer Bill of Rights further enshrines protections of law enforcement in government code. These rights include:
- financial compensation for time spent participating in an interrogation as a result of an investigation;
- the ability to refuse a polygraph without consequence;
- strict perimeters under which an interrogation can be conducted that preserves their right to comfort, representation, and protection from duress;
- alerting media can only occur with expressed written consent;
- the ability to review “any comment adverse to his interest” in their personnel file;
- and the authority to appeal any disciplinary actions prior to implementation. These are only some protections afforded to law enforcement.
Unfortunately, the public is not afforded similar protections when law enforcement assumes the role of judge, jury and executioner.
Why Jackie Lacey Must Go
Years have been spent attempting to convince Jackie Lacey, who is descriptively Black, to stand on the side of “the people” she is supposed to represent.
Years have been spent attempting to convince Jackie Lacey, who is descriptively Black, to stand on the side of “the people” she is supposed to represent. We have had phone calls, held closed door meetings with her and her staff, written letters, articles and social media posts, sent faxes and emails, launched petitions, had those with whom she has personal and professional relationships engage her. Since 2014 we engaged in these efforts, and none swayed her. Finally, Trisha Michael, whose twin sister, Kisha Michael, was killed by Inglewood Police Department while sleeping in her car, along with her partner Marquintan Sandlin, challenged Black Lives Matter to do more.
We had worked with Kisha’s family on a successful campaign in Inglewood which got the five officers who murdered the couple “removed” from the Inglewood Police Department, but Trisha reminded us that they could easily get jobs with other departments and must be prosecuted. It was time to demand action from the District Attorney.
On September 11, 2017, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles launched a petition demanding that Lacey prosecute the police who kill our people, beginning with the five officers who killed Kisha and Marquintan. The petition was signed by more than 10,000 people and we attempted to deliver the signed petitions to the public office of Jackie Lacey at the “Hall of Justice.”
On October 25, 2017, the families of Kisha Michael, Marquintan Sandlin, Wakiesha Wilson, and John Horton were supported by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, White People for Black Lives, and more than 40 ally organizations in attempting to deliver the petition. The group was met with hostility, the closure of the public building to community members, and blatant dishonesty and disrespect by Lacey’s staff.
The coalition was determined to make its voice heard. Each week groups gathered outside of Jackie Lacey’s office to demand that she #ProsecuteKillerCops. After months of demonstrating, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles was received a personal phone call from Lacey and invited her to a community meeting to discuss the petition demands. Lacey initially confirmed her availability for a January open community meeting and agreed to attend, then reneged.
This was a last straw that confirmed that the District Attorney had no intention of bringing about indictments of police who kill residents. It was clear that Jackie Lacey was not on the side of “the people” and needed to step down. In January 2018, the demand shifted to #JackieLaceyMustGo and a new petition was launched. Weekly demonstrations continued. October 24, 2018 marked the public commemoration of one year of protest; more than 300 people, including 14 families of those killed by police gathered outside Lacey’s office, praying, chanting, speaking, offering heartfelt testimonies, and leaving 422 candles and flowers...one for each of the victims. No one from Lacey’s office came out. No response, other than heightened police presence was offered. It was time to escalate.
The Wake Up Call
Shortly before dawn on October 25, 2018, a group of 50 or so protesters, led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, gathered in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the North Valley. The group marched silently in the darkness as early-morning-dog-walkers stared, gasped, and questioned in exasperation, “What’s going on?!?!” They hadn’t seen such a large contingent of mostly Black people. We were out of place...even the pastor in his collar...even the elder with her cane...We were seen as a threat as we approached the home of Jackie Lacey to give her a “wake up call.”
A Spirit overtook us, an energy of conviction and solidarity marched us forward as we convened to perform what we believe to be our #SacredDuty—to stand for those who have been killed and usher forward Black freedom struggle. Lacey effectively condones the killing of our people by Los Angeles County policing units every time she refuses to indict officers. This creates a culture of impunity that is promoted and supported within the District Attorney’s office, leading to even more cases of deadly force. With such lack of accountability for murder, a target is placed on the backs of Black, Brown and poor people.
As we arrived, in front of Lacey’s neatly manicured front lawn, accompanied by a softly beating African drum, we laid white sheets with images of bloody handprints on the sidewalk and stated that DA Lacey has blood on her hands. We were led in prayer by a local pastor, an Indigenous sister offered Native American blessings, and an elder poured libation in the names of those whose bodies have been stolen, but whose Spirits were palpably present.
We shared stories on the impact of police brutality in communities across the County and shared songs and words of solidarity. In the predawn hours, we shined a spotlight with the words “Jackie Lacey Must Go” on her garage door and showed videos from our #MoreThanAHashtagLA Instagram account, which serves as “virtual altar” to those who have been killed and is aimed at sharing community narratives on victim’s lives.
LAPD eventually arrived to her home and held a perimeter around the peaceful demonstration. At approximately 7AM, just as we were leaving, police created another perimeter spanning the length of the street, effectively denying access to the immediate exterior of her home. Jackie Lacey appeared in a royal blue tailored suit, looking down, not out at “the people.” She hurriedly made her way to the waiting black government-issued SUV and was whisked away, not a word, not a wave, not a nod of acknowledgment. Instead, she relied on a police barricade to prevent her constituents from accessing her, as is her practice.
We embraced each other, gave knowing nods, smiled, held hands, and chanted as we walked away.
The District Attorney is one piece of the larger web of impunity, injustice, and murder. She represents the police, not the people. We are the people and justice comes through us.
Melina Abdullah and Dahlia Ferlito
Melina Abdullah is Professor and Chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and immediate past campus president and current Council for Affirmative Action Chair for the California Faculty Association. Melina serves on the leadership team for #BlackLivesMatter and is committed to ending state-sponsored and police violence towards all people, and especially
Dahlia Ferlito is a co-founder of White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL). WP4BL is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).