By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
1,500 plus. The number is staggering and horrendous. It is the number of uses of deadly force, i.e. shootings, by LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the past two decades. To put this in even more deadly and horrific perspective, L.A. County Sheriffs and LAPD officers have shot more people than police in all the European countries combined during this period. During these two decades, the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriffs have consistently averaged between 50 and 100 shootings a year. To further put it in deadly perspective, Syria which is the most war racked country on the planet did not have this number of police only shootings during this period.
It’s even uglier. 30 L.A. County Sheriffs were involved in 3 or more shootings. Several LAPD officers had the same record for frequent gunplay. Many of the shootings were of civilians and were dubious and questionable. Some of them were even ruled out of policy by the L.A. Police Commission. In at least one case, a recommendation was made by an L.A. police chief for charges to be brought against an officer involved in one particularly outrageous shooting. Yet, neither he, nor any other of the shooters has been prosecuted by L.A. County District Attorneys during these years.
Jackie Lacey is the most conspicuous of these turn a blind eye to the dubious shooting DAs. Her non-action on these shootings was rammed back into public focus when Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison wasted no time in slapping tough charges against the four former Minneapolis cops who either choked or aided and abetted the choking death of George Floyd. It was further rammed into focus when Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, like Ellison, wasted no time in slapping murder charges on one former Atlanta cop and other charges on his partner in their slaying of Rayshard Brooks.
It took massive protests after Floyds murder, loud calls for Lacey’s resignation, and a sharp attack by her challenger George Gascon for her do nothing stance on police violence cases, for Lacey to bring charges against LAPD officer Frank Hernandez who made like Mike Tyson and pummeled a homeless man in Boyle Heights. Now keep in mind Hernandez had been involved in three other shootings and Lacey did not file any charges against him.
Lacey has justifiably been on the hot seat for the past few years because of her dogged refusal to bend on police abuse cases. But now the hundreds of dubious shooting cases by sheriffs and the LAPD now more than ever scream for a second and even third look. Lacey, as other DAs, has the authority to reopen any case she chooses. If she did, it would be the first time that DAs have reexamined closed cases when circumstances change. The change has been the exposure of many police agencies for lying, cover-up, and doctoring facts in a dubious shooting to ensure that the officers involved avoid any in-depth scrutiny of their actions.
By any account, Lacey has been a huge disaster in this one area that above all has been one of the most painful, sensitive, and contentious. That’s the issue of police abuse and the overuse of deadly force by officers. Lacey has been unshakeable on this even when police officials request or indicate they will not oppose a prosecution.
Lacey enjoys a cozy relationship with L.A. politicians and police brass, rakes in lots of campaign dollars from the police unions, and apparently sees herself as the top legal bulwark against violent crime in L.A. county. The slightest deviation from this play it close to the legal and official vest she apparently regards as fraught with political peril.
What makes her unyielding stance even more infuriating is that many DAs around the country have shown that they can be tough on crime, yet still hold cops accountable when they break the law. Lacey instead has turned the DAs office into a zero-sum game with her hardline stance on crime versus reform. The result: the DA’s office has become a virtual war zone, with groups such as Black Lives Matter and other police and criminal justice reform groups practically laying siege to her office. They denounce her for her refusal to prosecute cops who overuse deadly force. Her refusal has even prompted a call from civil rights groups for a recall campaign against her.
Lacey can, as other DAs, bring any case she wants whenever she wants. She showed this with her speedy announcement that she will prosecute Hernandez on felony assault charges. Speedy, because she announced the prosecution literally within days after the murder of Floyd, and tens of thousands of enraged protesters demanded that she do her job and start prosecuting abusive cops. This forced her hand on prosecutions. Now it’s time for her to take the next step. That’s to take a real hard look at the pile of cases where the LAPD and sheriff’s gunned down unarmed civilians, always with the flimsy excuse that they feared for their life. That’s no longer good enough, and a relook at these cases by Lacey may just prove why it’s not.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.