The leader of Black Lives Matter’s most prominent chapter has promised to support Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón amid a looming recall effort, assuring him that his policy changes so far align with the activist group’s vision for transforming America’s largest criminal justice jurisdiction.
“We’re going to hold you accountable, but right now, you’re going hard, and we are standing with you,” Melina Abdullah, lead organizer of BLM-L.A, said Sunday. “We have your back.”
Abdullah made her comments during a virtual meeting organized by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, a group formed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “to seek an alternative to the fear-mongering and vengefulness” that it claimed had swept much of the nation. She and Gascón headlined a conversation billed as “Backlash To Justice: Overcoming Roadblocks To Dismantling Systemic Racism.”
RSVP now for today's @ICUJP_SoCal virtual forum featuring @DocMellyMel & @GeorgeGascon, discussing progressive justice reform and overcoming roadblocks to dismantling systemic racism. Submit your questions during Q&A. TODAY at 2:45pm PT, registration link: https://t.co/h3DEkhp7Cd pic.twitter.com/qLcIdQREtI
— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) March 21, 2021
Gascón was elected in November 2020 and issued a set of sweeping special directives that sparked a backlash from police groups, deputy DAs in his own office, and families impacted by violent crime. Their outrage became the subject of several local media reports that helped generate support for a drive to recall Gascón, based mainly on his unwillingness to charge violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. Public outcry led to Gascón scaling back his initial reforms.
He began Sunday’s discussion by recapping his path to become one of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors. Gascón cited his previous law enforcement experience, which includes 30 years with the LAPD, where he rose to Assistant Chief of Operations. He also had stints as Chief of Police in Mesa, Arizona, then San Francisco, where he went on to serve as district attorney.
“I came from being a part of the system, rising through the ranks, and going through an evolution in my own life,” Gascón said. “I felt like we needed to reform the system, then getting to the conclusion that actually the system really did not need reform because the system was doing exactly what it was designed to do, which was to incarcerate large numbers of black and brown people.”
Gascón claimed the leaders of the recall effort were “a very right-wing, conservative driving force” who are “craftily…using some victims of violent crime that are very traumatized as the face of the process.”
“There is a national focus on what is going to happen in L.A. County, both for the progressive movement, but also for the people that are supporting going back,” said Gascón, referring to police unions, the bail industry, and district attorney associations. “Whether this recall is successful or not, you cannot turn the clock back, but it would be a major hiccup, and it would be a major setback.”
Abdullah took issue with media outlets labeling his policy changes as “Gascón’s reforms,” explaining that his goals are consistent with the objectives of Black Lives Matter members. She discussed meeting with Gascón at a Starbucks before he decided to run for L.A. County’s top law enforcement position. According to Abdullah, she expressed BLM’s desire to prioritize police accountability, stop pursuing the death penalty, and end the practice of enforcing mandatory minimum sentences and filing gang enhancements, which act as extra punishments added on to an underlying charge.
“We had these conversations, and we saw these as the people’s progressive justice reforms,” Abdullah said. “We had been fighting for three years with the sitting district attorney, Jackie Lacey, around these reforms.”
“When he finally took office and laid out what his agenda was, his agenda lined up with our agenda perfectly,” she continued. “He said every single thing on our list is what he planned to get done. We had to do some soul searching as an organization because we are used to having to push back on elected officials.”
While Black Lives Matter did not officially endorse Gascón, the group campaigned hard against his predecessor, leading the call to oust Lacey, a two-term incumbent.
Every Weds for the last few years Black Lives Matter LA, has gathered in front of City Hall to demand the resignation of D.A. Jackie Lacey and to grieve with mothers mourning the loss of their children to police brutality. I urge you to join them next… https://t.co/uOD3FegEG4 pic.twitter.com/KXbBNh0sXb
— Madonna (@Madonna) June 11, 2020
“We’re no longer protesting the district attorney,” Abdullah said. “Our hashtag went from #JackieLaceyMustGo to #StandWithGeorge.”
During Sunday’s meeting, Abdullah stressed the importance of an inside/outside strategy as “the only way fundamental transformation has ever come to be.”
“There has to be a willingness of folks on the inside and a push of those insiders, but there also has to be boots on the ground constantly on the outside making demands,” she said. “Power concedes nothing without demands. It never has, and it never will.”
“We’re not going to cede power to those who have never wanted black people, or brown people, or Indigenous people, or poor people to be free,” Abdullah continued. “We need to remember that the forces that are coming at George Gascón are tethering themselves to a very old and outdated and dying form of what they called justice. They’re tethering themselves to that, but we seek to undo that. We seek to upend that, and we seek to usher in a new form which really is empowering, which really is restorative, and which really provides freedom and liberation for our people.”