The Civilian Oversight Commission, a watchdog agency for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, resolved Thursday to hold the department accountable for using force and to join community members in enacting “real changes” within the criminal justice system.
“George Floyd didn’t deserve to die. His murder by a law enforcement officer in full view of the public is a horrific reminder of how this nation has collectively failed black people and other people of color time and time again,” a COC statement reads.
“With COVID-19 disproportionately affecting black and Latino communities, George Floyd’s killing underscores how far we have not come. While we are angered and mourn the death of George Floyd, we also remember the countless other men and women who have died and suffered because of an unjust system, including the many lives lost in Los Angeles County who have been killed because of illegal acts by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”
The statement issued after the COC’s Thursday meeting recognized protesters’ grief, while seeming to condemn looters and drawing parallels with 1992 Los Angeles.
“Black Lives do matter; we recognize and embrace this. To those who are hurting, we hear you; we, too, are hurting. To those who are grieving, we are grieving with you. To those who are taking advantage of this pain and anguish, we condemn your actions and ask that you see the negative impact your actions are having on a cause that is worthy and just. It has been 30 years since Rodney King. Little has changed,” the statement reads.
The COC said a fundamental shift is required to eliminate inequality in all its forms, including social, economic and judicial disparities.
An ad hoc committee of the COC has been reviewing the department’s use-of-force policies long before Floyd’s death sent protesters to the streets. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn have since filed a motion calling on the COC to consider eight policy restrictions — dubbed `8 Can’t Wait’ and crafted by Campaign Zero, which is co-led by a Black Lives Matter activist — that range from banning or restricting chokeholds and strangleholds to comprehensive reporting of even the threat of use of force.
In a telephone interview with City News Service, COC Executive Director Brian Williams said of the supervisors’ motion, “This is lock and step with what we’re already doing. This sort of pushes our timeline up a little bit, but it is absolutely consistent with what we were already doing, and we look forward to working with the board on these issues.”
Williams said he expected a final set of recommendations to be presented to the board within 30 days.
The union that represents sheriff’s deputies pushed back hard against the supervisors’ motion in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
“I am very disappointed that you feel the need to make a knee-jerk reaction motion that is insulting to the deputies of Los Angeles County,” said Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. “In a time when our deputies have been ordered to work unprecedented hours in overlapping emergencies, instead of openly praising them for the job they do, you take the word of a biased anti-law enforcement group. This motion indicates that you believe deputies are looking to hurt or kill people, as opposed to reacting to a situation to which they have been called, or observed.”
Hernandez pushed back specifically against the notions that deputies don’t already work to de-escalate volatile situations, intervene to stop other officers using excessive force, give a warning before using force, and stop short of firing on a vehicle unless there is another threat of deadly force.
“Your suggestions in this motion are the equivalent of us making demands that you, as individual board members, be required to not receive kickbacks, engage in illegal political favors, and/or abuse your powers, for personal gain,” Hernandez said.
The ALADS leader said he stood with other law enforcement members who condemned what happened in Minneapolis.
“Make no mistake. The actions of the four Minneapolis police officers is appalling to all law enforcement, and I look forward to the proof that the justice system works,” Hernandez said, as he called on Hahn and Ridley-Thomas to collaborate with the union rather than using deputies as scapegoats.
The debate comes as many activists across the country are calling for elected officials to defund law enforcement. Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he will cut up to $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget to fund needed programs in black communities.
Asked about that issue, Williams said any government’s priorities are reflected in how it spends its budget.
“Where a local government’s priorities are generally align with where the budget is. And I think it’s something that we certainly should investigate,” Williams told CNS. “Of course, we’re not talking about completing defunding law enforcement, but redirecting some of those dollars to places that will help prevent people from getting involved in the criminal justice system I think is something that we all can support and ought to take a very serious look at.”
The COC’s executive director said he sees an opportunity for meaningful change.
“We’re certainly hoping that this movement turns into action, and that this action turns into real, substantive change,” Williams said.
In its formal statement, the COC invited the entire Los Angeles community to engage alongside the commission in an effort to enact “real changes” within the criminal justice system on a sustained basis. In closing, the statement offered two quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere” and “Riots are the language of the unheard,” before telling protesters, “We hear you and commit to listen even more deeply and to act judiciously.”
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