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A co-founder of Black Lives Matter got a big win on Tuesday when voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to bring sweeping changes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).
Patrisse Cullors led the drive to get Measure R on the countywide ballot. The new policy grants an LASD civilian oversight commission independent authority to subpoena documents or witnesses pertinent to its investigations. Additionally, the referendum’s passage requires that body to draft a plan for reducing the county jail population with alternatives to incarceration. LASD provides policing services to 42 contract cities and operates the largest jail system in the world.
According to the most recent count, the proposal won with more than 71% support.
“Measure R is now law,” tweeted Cullors, who served as the ‘Yes on R’ campaign chair, also known as the Reform L.A. Jails initiative. “We will use it to hold the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department accountable, and we will use it to make sure L.A. County continues to move forward with a care-first/jail-never ethos.”
Cullors, who has often been candid about her desire to “dismantle” law enforcement agencies and abolish prisons, told Rolling Stone that Measure R “was really 10 years in the making, 10 years of work from the grassroots level that had been challenging elected officials to invest into community-based services versus incarceration.”
She was instrumental in the establishment of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission in 2016. Cullors’ allies say she brought the idea to the table and organized local communities to demand it. She said Measure R was necessary to strengthen that panel by providing power to compel the testimony of officers and the capacity to administer oaths, resulting in more effective oversight of law enforcement.
Cullors launched a signature-gathering drive two years ago to qualify the citizens’ initiative for placement on Tuesday’s ballot. NBC 4 Los Angeles broke the story, initially labeling the proposal the “Black Lives Matter Ballot Measure.” However, the campaign never publicized the exclusive report or embraced that description, raising questions as to whether it wanted the initiative branded as a Black Lives Matter effort.
Vocal advocates at the time included members of the civilian oversight panel, including Priscilla Ocen, a law professor and current oversight commissioner who helped draft the measure. She had accused LASD of delaying the release of information requested by the oversight board.
Ocen was 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. The civilian panel is comprised of nine commissioners, with four of those members recommended by the community.
Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, pumped more than $1.5 million into a committee supporting Measure R. Patty Quillin, the spouse of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, spent at least $500,000 backing the initiative.
“It takes a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” Cullors told Rolling Stone. “It makes sense why people who are wealthy are the ones who can change laws and are in control of laws.”
Cullors said L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was the main opponent of Measure R.