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Our Future On The Ballot #2

Heading into the highest-stakes election of our lifetimes, The Appeal launched a newsletter called Our Future on the Ballot covering insurgent candidates across the country, their elections, and what’s at stake.


In today’s issue, we’ll cover:

  • Pivotal races in Los Angeles, where candidates are vying to shape the future of public safety in the nation’s most populous county. LA’s long history of abusive, lethal, and racist policing has reared its head once again in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and the demand for transformative change is at a tipping point. Meet three candidates for district attorney, board of supervisors, and city council who are committed to real change.
  • Plus: The Austin-American Statesman endorses reform DA candidate José Garza; Marquita Bradshaw, the Democratic nominee for US Senate in Tennessee, appeared on a live town hall with Sunrise Movement; and other news from key elections across the country.

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THERE IS A LONG HISTORY OF ABUSIVE, LETHAL, AND RACIST POLICING IN LOS ANGELES. MEET THREE CANDIDATES PROMISING TO ADDRESS IT HEAD ON.

In 2015, LAPD Officer Clifford Proctor shot and killed Brendan Glenn during a scuffle just off the Venice Boardwalk. The disturbing incident was captured on camera, and showed what seemed to be a clear-cut case of an unjustified shooting. Even the LAPD chief at the time called for Proctor to be prosecuted, but Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey ultimately declined to press charges. Glenn’s shooting — and the subsequent response — were just a short chapter in a much longer history of police brutality and misconduct in LA, which has spanned across the sheriff’s department, the LAPD, and the smaller police forces that operate within LA County.

  • A LEGACY OF SCANDAL — LA law enforcement’s notorious history includes the Rodney King beating and the Rampart Scandal, in which LAPD officers were shown to have made false arrests and given perjured testimony in a plot to frame innocent people. More recently, we’ve seen explosive controversies over tattooed gangs operating within the LA Sheriff’s Department and an LAPD unit that was found to be falsely labeling people as gang members.
  • A CULTURE OF IMPUNITY — There is another pattern: Officers involved in misconduct, and especially those responsible for killing civilians, have rarely been held accountable. This is a failure that extends from the Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office all the way down to local government officials who are responsible for police funding and oversight.
  • BUT POLICE AND JAIL BUDGETS KEEP GROWING — The LA city council and mayor have thrown heaps of money at the LAPD, even as they’ve neglected investments in mental health and other basic services. The LA County Board of Supervisors has continually rubber-stamped massive amounts of funding for the sheriff’s department, including huge investments toward the jail, reflecting a misguided prioritization of arrests and incarceration over treatment and prevention.
  • ENORMOUS STAKES — Los Angeles County is home to more than 10 million people — a larger population than 40 states. The county has the nation’s largest jail system and accounts for around one-third of California’s prison population. Around 14,000 people are locked up in the county jail every night, and almost 30 percent of people held there suffer from mental illness.

“THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT D.A. RACE IN THE COUNTRY” 

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is seeking a third term at the helm of the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office. She’s running against George Gascón, the former San Francisco DA and one-time LAPD beat cop. Lacey’s decision not to press charges in the Glenn case has emerged as a sticking point in the race, reminding critics of her longstanding unwillingness to rein in police violence and misconduct. The size of Los Angeles, the legacy of abuse by the local police, and the lack of accountability for police from the prosecutor’s office has led Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, to call the race, “the single most important DA race in the country.” Today, The Appeal published an overview of how the dynamics of this race have shifted dramatically in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

  • HUNDREDS OF POLICE KILLINGS, NO ACCOUNTABILITY — Lacey hasn’t charged a single LAPD officer for a shooting under her tenure since 2012. Activists have held weekly protests outside the DA’s office and occasionally in front of Lacey’s home which have attracted thousands of protesters at once. During one demonstration this spring, Lacey’s husband pulled a gun and threatened to shoot unarmed, peaceful protestors.
  • AN OBSTACLE TO REFORM — Lacey has routinely opposed legislative efforts to bring increased accountability and transparency to law enforcement, as well as measures to scale back the incarceration crisis in California. Lacey was a chief opponent of Proposition 47, a statewide ballot initiative that Gascón co-authored to reduce punishments for certain drug crimes and shrink California’s bloated prison population.
  • COZY WITH THE COPS — Law enforcement groups have also found an ally in Lacey, as evidenced by multiple recent $1 million-plus expenditures by organizations in favor of her campaign and against Gascón’s. All together, Lacey has now taken over $5 million from law enforcement unions. Gascón has rejected contributions from law enforcement and during a recent interview with The Appeal called Lacey “conflicted by the level of resources she’s being provided,” which has caused her to ”look the other way.”

  • A SLIPPING INCUMBENT — Lacey has lost a number of high-profile endorsements in recent weeks. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently walked back his endorsement of Lacey in an interview with The Appeal and later announced he was supporting Gascón. California Governor Gavin Newsom has also endorsed Gascón.
  • A CONTRAST OF RECORDS — Under Lacey, LA’s incarceration rate is four-times higher than the incarceration rate in San Francisco was under Gascón. Lacey’s office has also resisted key mental health diversion efforts that Gascón had successfully implemented in San Francisco. Lacey continues to support the death penalty, whereas Gascón has been a vocal opponent since 2014.
  • A NEW WAY FORWARD — Gascón recently created a progressive bipartisan coalition, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, which has presented him with a new opportunity to take a front seat as a champion for statewide policy reform. For more on the Alliance and their efforts to counter the powerful California District Attorneys Association’s anti-reform stances, see The Briefing’s episode, Why Prosecutors Are Forming a Progressive Association:

POLICING SHOULD NOT BE AN “ARTIFICIAL BACKSTOP FOR OTHER FAILED SYSTEMS” IN LA COUNTY.

Budgets are moral documents that reflect the priorities of the leaders who craft them. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has a colossal budget that tops out at $3.3 billion dollars a year. The District Attorney’s office draws more than $350 million each year for its budget. And with these deep investments in policing and prosecution coming at the expense of other basic services that people need to thrive, it’s clear where officials on the LA County Board of Supervisors have stood.

California state Sen. Holly Mitchell is currently running for an open seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors, where she has promised to take a different approach to county funding priorities, including for the District Attorney, Sheriff, and county jail. Mitchell is facing off against Herb Wesson, who is currently on the L.A. city council, and has only recently begun talking about the need for police reform.

  • NOT FOR SALE — Mitchell refuses to accept campaign contributions from police unions, reasoning that “it is time for leadership that is free from corruption and influence.” By contrast, Wesson’s campaign has received at least $50,000 in contributions from the Los Angeles Police union this year.
  • SHIFTING RESOURCES FROM POLICE TO BUILD COMMUNITY SAFETY — Mitchell has spoken about the need to invest in alternatives to policing, and supports Measure J, a county charter amendment on the November ballot that would require the board of supervisors to spend a minimum of 10% of unrestricted general funds on community investment. The measure specifically declares that this money cannot be spent on law enforcement, and would catalyze a substantial shift from over-investment in punishment and instead toward housing, mental health programs, diversion, employment opportunities, and social services. Mitchell joined The Appeal’s Our Future on the Ballot on Monday and explained why she believes LA County must reduce its reliance on law enforcement and incarceration, which, in her words, have become the “artificial backstop… for other failed systems.”

  • A “BORN-AGAIN REFORMER” — Wesson’s 15-year career on the city council is something of a mixed bag on policing. His most vocal support for a new approach to public safety has come this year, after he stepped down as council president to focus on his campaign for county supervisor. Over the summer, he supported a measure to divert service calls involving non-violent incidents away from the LAPD and toward a new unit of unarmed service providers trained in crisis intervention. But as recently as 2017, Wesson carried water for the local police union by pushing through a charter amendment that weakened the disciplinary system for officer misconduct, and in general has faced criticism for failing to uphold his promise to push the city council toward a bolder approach on police discipline, oversight and reform. In a recent endorsement of Mitchell, the LA Times wrote of her challenger: “Wesson has become somewhat of a born-again reformer, pushing programs to beef up human services, address racial and economic inequity and curb abusive policing. These moves show Wesson at both his best and his worst: He hears what the public wants and he responds — but not until the problem is unavoidable.”

INVESTING IN COMMUNITY PUBLIC SAFETY ON THE LA CITY COUNCIL. 

The LA city council plays a crucial role in funding the Los Angeles Police Department, which last year had an operating budget of $1.8 billion. After George Floyd’s murder, in the middle of protests across the country, Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed a budget to the city council that would have significantly increased LAPD funding.

BLM and others responded with the People’s Budget, which would have implemented a dramatic fiscal shift away from law enforcement and toward universal aid and social services, housing and neighborhood development, and reimagined community safety. Under pressure,

Garcetti ultimately approved cuts to the police budget. The city council has since taken up a range of ideas, from transitioning duties to non-law enforcement first responders, to disbanding traffic police, to commissioning a report on LAPD misconduct during recent protests.

In a critical city council race, urban planner and community advocate Nithya Raman is locked in a tight race against incumbent City Councilman David Ryu, and her candidacy appears to have forced Ryu to embrace some of her most ambitious policy proposals — including support for non-law enforcement first responders and a rejection of police union funding. “He’s chasing whatever he thinks is politically expedient,” a political consultant recently said of Ryu in an interview with the LA Times.

“Rather than leading with, you know, LAPD first, LAPD continues to be the  primary and most frequent point of contact between residents experiencing homelessness and the city, I want to lead with outreach workers and services first.”

  • MAKING THE CITY COUNCIL WORK FOR PEOPLE, NOT AGAINST THEM — For Raman, the issue of over-policing is personal. She got started in politics while writing a report for City Hall and realizing that most of the money spent on homelessness was going to arrests and jailing of people for being homeless instead of providing housing or basic needs. This is why she has pledged to reallocate police funding to a Public Safety Department with non-law enforcement experts who have the training and experience to address everything from homelessness to treatment crises to interpersonal disputes. She talked about her policing epiphany yesterday on The Briefing:

THINGS WE ARE TRACKING:

  • The right to vote is on the ballot in California, where Proposition 17 would allow people to vote while on parole. The proposition is only a half-measure to address Jim Crow-era laws denying the vote for criminal convictions, in that people in prison would still be disenfranchised. But it’s a step in the right direction. The Appeal covers the proposition here.
  • Brandon Scott, Baltimore City Council President and Democratic nominee for Mayor, introduced a renters right to counsel bill. Scott said: “COVID-19 has further exposed the highlighted need for housing stability in our city. “This bill will improve the ability of residents to achieve favorable outcomes in landlord tenant disputes and make the process more fair. We know that when people show up to court with representation, they achieve outcomes that are more fair and equitable.”
  • Julie Gunnigle, a progressive running for Maricopa County Attorney, explained in a recent interview why most drug offenses should result in treatment, not prosecution: “Putting someone behind bars doesn’t make them less addicted. It doesn’t help substance abuse disorder to lock someone away. So our baseline values ought to be that treatment is a first step.”
  • Endorsement Watch: On October 1st, the Austin-American Statesman endorsed reform DA candidate José Garza. They called his pledge not to prosecute low-level drug cases “imminently sensible.” And they rejected his opponents’ claim that all crimes should be prosecuted, noting that “district attorneys make these judgment calls all the time.” If elected, Garza would be one of the most progressive DAs in the nation.
  • Cori Bush, the Democratic nominee for Missouri’s First House district, lays out, in a step-by-step thread, why environmental justice is racial justice. From toxic waste to pollution to climate change, “BIPOC communities are hit first and worst,” she writes, culminating in a call to action: “We will not let mega-corporations like Shell, BP, Peabody, & Exxon off the hook for burning our world, contaminating our air, poisoning our water, and destroying our communities just to turn a profit. We have to fight with everything we’ve got. Our whole future is at stake.”
  • Candace Venezuela, the challenger in Texas House district 24, was profiled by Grist as one of six candidates in toss-up districts where the electorate’s engagement in the climate crisis could sway the outcome of the election.
  • Jackie Fielder, the challenger running to represent District 11 in the California State Senate, participated in a candidates forum yesterday which her opponent, incumbent Senator Scott Wiener declined to attend. When asked how she would respond to the climate crisis, Fielder replied, “We need to phase out all oil drilling, not just fracking by 2024. We need to fund green jobs to make the transition for workers from extraction to solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. We need a public takeover of PG&E that balances equity and costs nothing extra to utility payers and workers alike.”
  • Marquita Bradshaw, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Tennessee, appeared on a live town hall with Sunrise Movement. Among other things, she talked about how she got her start in politics as a young person doing environmental justice work, trying to address the high incidence of cancer in her community. She supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, demilitarization of police and more.

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