Patrisse Cullors, a police and prison abolitionist who co-founded Black Lives Matter, is leading a signature-gathering drive to place a referendum on the November ballot that would transform the largest sheriff’s department in the world.
News of the proposed Reform Jails and Community Reinvestment Initiative was first reported by NBC 4 Los Angeles, which labeled it the "Black Lives Matter Ballot Measure." Proponents want more community control over the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), which provides law enforcement services to 42 contract cities and operates the nation’s largest jail system.
The potential countywide initiative, if approved by voters, would give a civilian oversight panel subpoena power over LASD. Currently, that nine-member board is limited to making recommendations in an advisory role. The measure would also task that same panel with developing a plan to reallocate billions of dollars budgeted for two new correctional facilities to anti-incarceration alternatives and social programs.
As KNBC News first reported:
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors says the money should be invested instead in programs to assist the homeless and drug addicted, and the mentally ill.
“These are the folks that are most marginalized, most vulnerable, and we should be investing those dollars into them,” Cullors said.
The group has until June to collect 150,000 signatures to get their measure before voters in November, hoping that with crime ticking up, voters will be interested in more inmates being released from custody.
Although Cullors’ coalition — called Reform L.A. Jails — provided the scoop to KNBC News, the group did not publicize the exclusive report on its official social media platforms, raising questions as to whether supporters of the initiative wanted the proposal branded as a Black Lives Matter effort. The campaign did not respond to an inquiry from The Daily Wire seeking clarification.
Like the official Black Lives Matter network, the call for a more authoritative oversight body is led by a circle of intersectional feminists. Two vocal advocates are members of the very civilian panel which stands to gain power if the initiative is passed, including Priscilla Ocen, a law professor who helped draft the measure. She has accused LASD of delaying the release of information requested by the oversight board. Ocen says the proposed changes would result in greater transparency.
“It wouldn’t be at the pleasure of the sheriff’s department to cooperate or not,” she told KPCC Public Radio.
Rabbi Heather Miller, who has worked with prominent Black Lives Matter activists on faith-based resistance projects, also sits on the sheriff’s oversight commission. She believes the civilian panel should have “unfettered access” to all LASD records, policies, and facilities.
Both Ocen and Miller were nominated to serve on the oversight commission by the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, a jail reform group created by Cullors in 2011 — two years before she co-founded Black Lives Matter.
Cullors, who has often been candid about her desire to “dismantle” law enforcement agencies, was instrumental in the establishment of the civilian oversight panel in 2016. “She brought the idea to the table and organized local communities to demand it,” coalition allies wrote. Now Cullors contends that the oversight board requires more clout in order to be effective.
She recently co-authored an editorial published by both Ebony and L.A. Weekly which elaborates on her assertion:
Civilian oversight bodies are put into place because the public has lost faith in their scandal-ridden, beleaguered police departments. But these groups often end up being more of a conciliatory gesture from local governments to placate the public in troubled times. They are prevented from doing the very work that both city officials and police departments claim they want to be done – improving public accountability and transparency. To root out misconduct, bring about real criminal justice reform and avoid having Bonnie investigate Clyde, these civilian bodies that hold the trust of the public must have two things – independence and power. Without it, they’re just for show. Oversight with no site. Oversight with no bite.
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and other law enforcement officials maintain that the potential ballot measure would duplicate the duties of the existing Office of the Inspector General, which was created “to provide independent and comprehensive oversight and monitoring” of LASD and its correctional facilities.
Reform L.A. Jails is currently recruiting paid signature gatherers to generate support for their proposal. On Saturday, the campaign will take part in a community forum hosted by the ACLU of Southern California and other local activist groups.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.