A political action committee co-founded by activist Shaun King has teamed up with Black Lives Matter’s top strategist to push a proposed ballot measure that would fundamentally transform the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) — an agency that provides policing services to 42 contract cities and operates the nation’s largest jail system.
Canvassers representing the Real Justice PAC have been gathering signatures in support of the Reform L.A. Jails and Community Reinvestment Initiative. The suggested referendum aims to stop the construction of two new correctional facilities and give a civilian oversight panel legal powers over the LASD. The campaign said its initiative “radically reimagines a system that responds to black and brown bodies with detention, incarceration, and criminalization.”
The drive was launched earlier this year by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, a police and prison abolitionist who began a quest to incrementally revamp the LASD nearly seven years ago. Local media initially labeled her current proposal the “Black Lives Matter Ballot Measure,” but neither Cullors nor her allies have embraced that characterization.
Cullors shared a stage with King, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and several L.A.-based organizers closely aligned with the Black Lives Matter Global Network at a criminal justice reform rally last month. As affiliates of the campaign prowled through the crowd collecting signatures, speakers encouraged attendees to partner with Reform L.A. Jails. Real Justice PAC hosted the get-together.
King opined that the justice system “is not just,” and went on to claim its institutional structure is inherently racist, deliberately discriminating against people of color.
“The justice system is not broken; it’s actually functioning exactly how it was designed and built and intended to function,” King told thousands of people assembled in downtown Los Angeles. “Right now, it is firing on all cylinders. This is not a broken system. This is a system that’s doing exactly what those who built it wanted it to do.”
Since that event, Real Justice PAC has assisted Cullors’ campaign with field organizing and an increased social media presence. After an individual allegedly called a PAC volunteer a racial epithet when asked to sign the Reform L.A. Jails petition, King used his multiple online platforms to attempt to discover the person’s identity.
While the campaign says it has already surpassed the 146,333 signatures required for the measure to qualify for the March 2020 countywide ballot, organizers have continued ground game operations. Cullors, who first advertised the proposal for placement on the November 2018 ballot, revised her plans and now seeks voter consideration alongside the next Presidential Primary and District Attorney race.
Coincidentally, the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter has been leading weekly demonstrations demanding L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey step down for her unwillingness to prosecute controversial officer-involved killings. Lacey ran unopposed in 2016.
King, along with former staffers from Sanders’ presidential campaign, established the Real Justice PAC in February to “fight structural racism” and help “elect reform-minded prosecutors” at the municipal and county levels. Almost four months later, King said Real Justice was receiving financial support from nearly 6,000 monthly donors. According to its website, the group builds local teams “to change the justice system from the inside out,” recruiting activists, organizers, and anyone opposing injustice, police brutality, and “mass incarceration.”
The committee’s emphasis on local criminal justice systems follows the example of the George Soros-funded network of state-level “Justice and Public Safety” PACs, which have spent millions on efforts to elect progressive district attorneys throughout the United States.
Reform L.A. Jails has until September 9, 2018 to submit collected signatures to the county registrar to determine sufficiency. With President Donald J. Trump as the presumed Republican nominee, the March 2020 primary election would strategically be the optimal Democrat-saturated date in the near future.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.