A co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and an activist funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are leading a new coalition formed to stop Los Angeles County from spending billions of dollars on two new jails.
As politicians finalized the upcoming budget on Tuesday morning, activists launched the “Justice L.A.” campaign outside the L.A. County Board of Supervisors headquarters, where they set up approximately 100 steel jail beds in the middle of a downtown street.
“The 100 replica beds we’ve created are a far cry from the upwards of 6,000 beds that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is trying to build,” said Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, who led the demonstration.
“When the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors talk about building jails, they talk about beds,” Cullors continued. “What they’re really talking about isn’t beds. It’s black people. It’s brown people. It’s indigenous people. It’s undocumented people.”
Justice L.A. pre-released a video campaign last week which featured Cullors and other anti-incarceration activists, including Mark-Anthony Johnson, who was recently awarded a paid fellowship from Soros’ foundation to “push for progress toward a more humane criminal justice system in the United States.” Johnson was one of the lead organizers at Tuesday’s protest, tweeting: “You want jail beds, we brought the beds to your doorstep.”
Both Johnson and Cullors were mentored and trained by Eric Mann, who became involved with the Students for a Democratic Society and its more radical splinter group, the Weather Underground, in the 1960s. According to the New York Times, the Weather Underground “advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government.” Mann currently heads the Labor Community Strategy Center, which coincidentally is part of the conglomerate of more than 30 activist groups demanding a moratorium on jail construction in L.A.
Shaun King, a nationally known writer and activist associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, broadcast Tuesday’s demonstration on Facebook Live. Justice L.A. representatives used the digital platform to draw attention to LAPD officer-involved shooting deaths and the thousands of inmates housed in L.A. County jails — two local institutions organizers say inherently discriminate against black, brown and transgender people.
“(Los Angeles) is not a center of liberalism or progressivism; it is the center of oppression,” said Greg Akili, a Black Lives Matter-LA member who formerly worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers under Cesar Chavez. “These 100 beds represent that oppression.”
“The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest jail system in the world,” said Cullors, who is also a prison abolitionist. “Those of us that have been imprisoned and/or have had loved ones inside jails and prisons know that what they’re really talking about isn’t beds; it’s marginalized people.”
As the Los Angeles Times reported:
The demonstrators, led by Patrisse Cullors, an L.A. native and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, launched the “Justice L.A.” campaign to call on county leaders to redirect funds intended for new jails to community services and other alternatives to incarceration.
The county plans to spend $2 billion to build a 3,885-bed replacement for the downtown Men’s Central Jail and a 1,600-bed women’s facility at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.
The plan, which opponents contend could amount to $3.5 billion by the time the jails are completed, was first approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2015.
The LAPD confirmed that Justice L.A. organizers had not obtained a permit for the demonstration, which shut down a major thoroughfare downtown.
Shortly after Justice L.A.’s protest concluded, an inmate housed at the nearby Men’s Central Jail died after being pepper-sprayed by deputies. The man was identified on Wednesday as Juan Correa Jr., 31, whose hometown was not known.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.