On October 17, 2016, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity took part in the planning and organizing of a town hall meeting where District Attorney Jackie Lacey was invited to engage the community in a dialogue. D. A. Lacey is the first woman, and first African-American, to serve as LA District Attorney since the history of the office which was created in 1850. A post she has been holding since she was elected in 2012.
In the United States, a District Attorney (DA) represents the state government in the prosecution of criminal offenses, and is the chief law enforcement officer and legal officer of that state’s jurisdiction. As such, these legal professionals are granted wide discretion with regard to deciding whether to prosecute, what charges to file and whether to permit a plea agreement. With so many people in our criminal system, a high number of law enforcement use of force incidents, two different ballot initiatives that will either stop (Prop 62) or speed up (prop 66) death sentencing in California, it was urgent that the community would engage her in a conversation on such matters.
IM4HI, along with several well respected and recognized community organizations the town hall meeting was planned. Four well thought out questions were decided on, with the intention that each question would allow us to engage further in a dialogue in regards to the complicated issue of criminal justice. This dialogue would also give an opportunity to learn more from her and have her listen to the concerns of the community as an elected official.
People came; it was a good diverse crowd that filled the meeting room. Then the officers came in, men and women, suited in black that were there to protect, if need be the district attorney. I counted thirteen officers inside the room and there were some outside as well. D. A. Lacey come in through the back door and was received by an angry community that demanded answers. Many persons held signs with pictures of loved ones that had been shot and killed by police officers. It took several attempts to quiet down the crowd.
The meeting was taken over by activist from Black Lives Matter and other members of the community who did not want to hear from the D.A. They wanted her to listen to the grieving, mothers and fathers who were invited to share how their children died in such a violent way. They wanted to share their side of the stories, which they shared was changed in the police reports and media. They wanted to know why there have been no police indictments for the many lives that have been taken by officers.
- A. Lacey did promise to get together with one of the grieving mothers, but was not allowed to speak or respond as one by one the persons came to the microphone. She eventually walked out after an hour. This was not the outcome that organizers had planned for. This is the cruel reality of what is happening in our cities. The long history of use of force by officers on people of color has led to the mistrust of Police and Sherriff’s officers. On this event, I saw the same mistrust towards an elected official, who happens to be a woman of color.
As a faith base organizer, I have mixed feelings when I reflect on this event. I feel for the grieving parents who will never see their children coming home to them. As a mother, I would be devastated and angry if my child was murdered but I would be outraged if it was at the hands of those that swore to serve and protect us. As a woman of faith, the Word of God invites me to dialogue, to seek healing and peace but also justice and wholeness. When a transgression from those that serve and protect us happens, whole communities are affected by the trauma of such violence. If officers are causing these transgressions while upholding the laws adopted by our society, then there is justice in looking at the laws and changing them. This is what faith call us to do.