Los Angeles County’s first Black district lawyer

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For two and a half years, a crowd has gathered in downtown LA almost every Wednesday, holding self-made signs and shouting a familiar song.

"Jackie Lacey has to go! Jackie Lacey will go!"

Their mission has intensified since George Floyd's death and the resulting nationwide protests. But unlike other Black Lives Matter targets – including the brutality of the police, often by white officers – their target is Los Angeles County's first black and female district attorney, a South LA prosecutor.

"They think they'll sweep it all under the carpet as if it never happened," cried Fouzia Almarou, the mother of Kenneth Ross Jr., who was shot by a Gardena policeman in 2018.

"I'm big here!" Almarou shouted from a stage as she turned to launch explosive devices at the Los Angeles Judicial Hall, where District Attorney Jackie Lacey's office is located. Her office had freed the Gardena policeman from misconduct and decided the shootout was warranted.

In turn, almost a dozen parents of dead children picked up the microphone to accuse Lacey, a democrat, of what they consider unwilling to prosecute police officers.

"Killer cops are not funny!" The crowd sang in unison. "Bye Jackie 2020!"

"It's surreal," said Lacey of the weekly protests against her. "It's almost like an out of body experience."

In her first in-depth interview since Black Lives Matter stepped up his campaign to supplant her, Lacey tells CNN that she has more in common with demonstrators than they realize, and that in many of these cases, she is handcuffed by law.

"While you might be watching an officer shootout and say," Oh, you could have shot him in the leg, you didn't have to react that way. "This is not a test under California law," said Lacey. "The test is when someone's life is in danger."

Nevertheless, the pressure on Lacey has been relentless since George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. So much so that Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff, a high-profile Democrat, called in his support for them and tweeted that his endorsement by Lacey a year ago no longer had the "same meaning".

"I don't know why he asked for his support, but I've heard from the electorate that they're being threatened by email," said Lacey. "People show up and protest against the elected people late at night."

That also happened to Lacey. But early that morning, the demonstrators landed at gunpoint.

Protesters bring their complaints to Lacey's house

It was still dark when Melina Abdullah led a group of demonstrators to Lacey's house early in March. It was a bold move, but the co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A. felt she had no choice.

"We stand in front of her office and requested that she meet with us for two and a half years and she refused to come out," said Abdullah. "What alternative is there?"

Lacey said she offered to meet in smaller groups after an early town-hall style meeting caused screams.

"If it's a large group, there's no dialogue. They yell at me and hope I don't react well," said Lacey, noting that people are filming the exchange on their cell phones.

However, this moment "caught in front of the camera" happened at her home, only that it was her husband on the video.

"Good morning," Abdullah said to David Lacey, who was pointing a gun at her and others.

"Get off my porch!" he replied sternly.

"Are you going to shoot me?" Abdullah asked.

"I'm going to shoot you, go off my porch!" David Lacey said.

"I don't care who you are, get off my porch!" he replied sternly.

"Can you tell Jackie Lacey we're here?" Abdullah replied.

"I don't care who you are, get off my porch right away! We'll call the police right away," said David Lacey as he closed the door.

Lacey said that she did not know that her husband was going to the door and that the moment felt like "total chaos".

"We both slept and I just called 911. I didn't know what was going to happen," said Lacey. "As a prosecutor, you realize that a lot of people … may want to get rid of you because you are prosecuting them."

At a press conference later in the day, Lacey apologized on behalf of her family. She told CNN that coming to her home "crossed the border."

"I don't think this will help your cause if you create a situation where someone thinks they will be harmed," said Lacey.

But Abdullah disagrees, saying that "people have been going into the homes of elected officials for decades" and that everything is in search of social change.

"She can't hide just because she lives in some kind of suburb," Abdullah said, arguing that when you become a civil servant, you give up some of your privacy.

The fundamental disagreement on this issue shows the wider gap between Lacey's approach to her job and the demonstrators' expectations. They want a big change to correct what they see as generations of pain caused by a broken criminal justice system that falls victim to skin-colored people.

Lacey disagrees, she says, but she sees change as something that can happen by repairing the criminal justice system and not dismantling it.

"If you talk about redistributing funds, I absolutely agree," said Lacey of her view of defusing the police.

"I've been campaigning for mental health funds to go to color communities since 2013. I've been committed to treating drug addiction for a long time. But if you talk about it, let's just take the whole police force out of ours." Community and when a crime happens, just let someone answer, I just don't think it's realistic. "

While other politicians, including Adam Schiff, marched with demonstrators after George Floyd's death, Lacey's refusal to pick up a megaphone has given the appearance that she has not disclosed her true allegiance. Black Lives Matter regards its ambitions as "narrow", ineffective and prefers the police.

"We wanted to think openly about how we could allow her to be a more advanced prosecutor and act in the interests of the blacks as a whole," said Abdullah of her initial approach to Lacey. "If you have someone who is black, it doesn't always mean that they represent the interests of all blacks."

"They treat me like 'the man'," said Lacey. "But if you only knew that I was the girl from the neighborhood."

From South LA to a seat of power

Lacey grew up in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Los Angeles and was born to parents who moved from the south.

"You talked to me about Jim Crow and racism early on," she recalled.

As a graduate of the University of Southern California Law School, her pioneering prosecutor case was brought before famous judge Lance Ito – an early application of the LA County hate crime law that resulted in convictions for the homeless death of a homeless person.

"I actually went to law school to find out how I can help people who don't know their rights and don't know the law," said Lacey.

When Lacey took office in 2012, it seemed to be a win for the community to become LA's first black prosecutor since the office was founded in 1850.

"I'm getting on here and the loudest group that wants to get me out is a group called Black Lives Matter," said Lacey.

It is opposition that the group believes is necessary given the current climate.

"As a black woman, I would rather celebrate other black women, and I do," said Abdullah. "I am loyal to the blacks, not a single black person who would not mind selling us."

Lacey finds it difficult to rationalize this approach. The 63-year-old says her upbringing gives her a completely different view of Los Angeles than the younger protesters.

"I remember when my parents' house was broken into and they put bars on the windows," she said, adding that her top priority as a teenager was to "walk safely to and from Dorsey High School." To come home ".

"People didn't know how dangerous it was in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s," she said. "I remember when (my parents) complained that the police didn't care about our neighborhood."

That's why she doesn't see the police facility as toxic, she said. However, her opponents see her as a police nurse, especially since her job as a district attorney in the country's largest jurisdiction may be to persecute police officers who use excessive force.

Black Lives Matter has created "Jackie Lacey's Seven Deadly Sins," a list of what they consider to be their most outrageous insults to the Black Community. This includes disproportionately pursuing the death penalty against skin color defendants and relying on the testimony of corrupt police officers.

But number one on this list: Ed Buck, a democratic political donor and resident of West Hollywood.

"How many disadvantaged black men have to die …?"

Buck, a white gay man, is said to have invited a black man to his home for sex and drugged him until his death. The case was a rumor until he was accused of doing it a second time. At that point, activists started asking if it was criminal.

"How many disadvantaged black men must die before Jackie Lacey will prosecute this democratic donor?" They asked.

"I didn't know him. He gave my campaign a tiny amount. I think a hundred dollars," said Lacey. "We returned it."

Then it happened a third time, only this time the man escaped Buck & # 39; apartment and called the police. Protesters outside Buck's house received their request – charges were brought against him, including for battery and methamphetamine administration. Federal meth distribution fees were added later, for which Buck will be brought to justice next year.

Lacey said she was not giving in to the demonstrators; Rather, it took so long for the evidence to comply with the law.

"When we got this third person who was alive, we were able to file a case," said Lacey, arguing that the first two cases were ambiguous.

"It reminds me of the story of John Belushi. There was a woman who gave him drugs that he overdosed and people wanted the prosecutor to accuse them of a crime," said Lacey. "Ed Buck is similar in terms of here were men who used drugs that Ed Buck supplied, but we don't know if he injected them or injected them themselves."

This attention to legal details provides insight into Lacey's methodical approach to her position. It also explains why Lacey and protesters broke up on another issue: police shootings.

"No matter who you have in this job, you still have to follow California law."

Lacey and Black Lives Matter are so far away on police shootings in Los Angeles County that they can't even agree on how many there have been.

Black Lives Matter has compiled a list of more than 600 people who have been killed by the police since Lacey took office in 2012. Lacey estimates the number at around 340.

Both sides agree that both numbers are too many, but Lacey advertises another number, which she says needs to be considered: "14 or 15 of these shootings" concerned unarmed citizens, she said .

"I can't tell you how many times I'll watch a case on TV and say, okay, that gets in my way. Let's see what it's about," said Lacey. "And I open the book and say, & # 39; Oh, no one mentioned that the man had a gun or the woman had a knife. & # 39;

According to an official balance sheet from her office, Lacey had reviewed 252 fatal shootings by May 2020. One of these cases brought charges against the representative of a LA County sheriff. The rest were rejected.

Lacey said this is because the law leaves her little leeway when a citizen is armed, and it can be argued that the officer was in danger at the time of the withdrawal.

"No matter who you have in this job, you still have to follow California law," she said.

But Black Lives Matter points to Lacey's support from police unions as a reason to be suspicious, since unions are largely seen as an obstacle to effective police reform.

Lacey says she is generally union-friendly, which makes her popular not only with the police.

It has nearly 20 recommendations from unions and trade associations, including the L.A. County Federation of Labor.

"But they don't make the decisions here," she argues.

Aside from shootings, Lacey said she was still indicting 200 police officers or sheriff MPs for various other behaviors both inside and outside the office. And her long-standing goal has been to prevent people from coming into contact with the police, she said.

"Why is the police called for a mental health crisis? Shouldn't that be a social worker?" She asks. "Why is someone called when someone is homeless and commits trespassing? And what can we do to get more people off the street, to keep people from committing crimes, to reduce relapses?"

These statements may sound similar to those of the demonstrators, but the gap appears to be too large to even out before the November elections.

"Unless Jackie Lacey was ready to file charges in all 609 police-killed people, yes, it's too late," said Abdullah. "She has proven who she is over the past seven years."

"My next term will be my last one"

Black Lives Matter makes no endorsement, but its call to oust Lacey can only benefit Lacey's challenger George Gascón. So it's ironic that he's a former cop and deputy chief in Los Angeles and more recently the San Francisco District Attorney.

But that doesn't mean that he wouldn't be subjected to the same test as Lacey, since Black Lives Matter considers the system to be ripe for the "over-criminalization of the colored and poor".

"So no matter who occupies the office, there will be a problem with the office itself," said Abdullah.

Despite years of protests, Lacey still enjoys broad democratic support and has almost won a third term, receiving just under 50% of the vote needed to avoid general elections.

But that was before George Floyd.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has left his previous endorsement of Lacey ambiguous and given a criminal justice reform website that it could be "time" for a change.

Gascón has his own advocacy problems – the Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, has approved Lacey for her former prosecutor's office.

No matter how the election ends, Lacey says to CNN, "My next term will be my last."

I think I'm less concerned with what people say than with how this book should end, "she said." I want to see fewer young people in our … system, fewer people on the street.

"I don't want it to end like this, do I?" She continued. "It was the first African American to hold this job and demonstrators kicked it out. It doesn't seem like a fair ending."


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