Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Black Lives Matter co-founder, veteran organizer, artist, and freedom-fighter, has partnered with over thirty organizations to launch JusticeLA, a human rights and abolitionist coalition organized around the collective goal of halting a proposed $2 billion jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County.
The coalition’s first action took place Tuesday morning with a powerful demonstration in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration ahead of the weekly Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Though the Board’s Sept. 26 agenda included finalizing the county’s 2017-2018 budget, supervisors first approved the expansion plan, which outlines the construction of two new jails, in 2015, L.A. Times reports.
According to the coalition, that amount will be more in the ballpark of $3.5 billion once construction is completed and any additional expenses accounted for—$3.5 billion that should be reclaimed, reimagined, and reinvested in the oppressed and occupied communities for whom the jails are being created.
According to the JusticeLA press release:
Los Angeles County supervisors plan to build a 3,885-bed replacement for the downtown Men’s Central Jail and renovate the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center into a 1,600-bed women’s facility in Lancaster—replacing the Lynwood facility. In L.A. County, 40 percent of female inmates are Latino while 32 percent are Black. The men’s facilities’ population is currently 50% Latino and 30% Black – over 80% people of color. While Black people make up less than 9% of L.A. County’s population, they are almost a third of the county jail population.
“When they talk about building a jail, on the surface, they claim to be talking about beds—mental health beds, substance abuse beds, medical beds, high-security beds,” Khan-Cullors, who is also a 2017 The Root 100 honoree, said in a statement to The Root.
“But we know that those beds are intended to expand the carceral state by incarcerating more marginalized people for profit,” she continued. “That is tradition in this country and the numbers show that.”
That is why Tuesday’s action included placing beds in front of Los Angeles County’s Hall of Administration.
“The 100 replica beds we’ve created are a far cry from the upwards of 6,000 beds that the LA County Board of Supervisors is trying to build,” Khan-Cullors said. “This visual was a plea to divest from the $3.5 billion jail plan and invest in health care, youth centers, infrastructure, education, career development, and other resources that benefit our communities and address the years of governmental neglect and fundamental conditions that have caused deep-seated harm.”
For Jayda Raspberry, Organizing Director at Dignity and Power Now, the demonstration was deeply personal.
“For me, those beds represent torture, trauma, embarrassment, isolation, shame, and death,” said Raspberry, who was incarcerated at the California Institution for Women for six years. “It was such a brilliant action.”
Those beds represented undocumented black and Latino people, as well.
“L.A. County leads the nation in deportations with over 35,000 since 2008 by allowing Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to the largest jail system on earth,” Johnathan Perez, Development Coordinator at Immigrant Youth Coalition, told The Root. “That makes L.A. County jails the most common places for an immigration raid to take place.”
Perez continued, “Undocumented people and legal permanent residents are in effect double punished; people who served their sentence and are ready to come home are instead met with a deportation officer. When we presented 100 jail beds it signified a crossroads for this generation, do we choose a path where we can build more jail beds than homes for the houseless or do we choose to reimagine what our future looks like.”
For Khan-Cullors, divesting from systems and institutions that harm and investing in communities, families, and individuals most severely impacted in this white supremacist capitalist society is critical. Despite what fiscal reports may say, if the L.A. County Board of Supervisors fails to act accordingly, it will be admitting to moral bankruptcy.
“I believe that the Board of Supervisors should have a commission to study alternatives to jails,” said Khan-Cullors. “With $3.5 billion, we could support people who are houseless and getting them homes. We could support children who have little access to getting healthy food. I’m a lover of life and I deeply believe in humanity’s ability to do better than we’re currently doing.”
The Justice LA coalition is a revolutionary partnership between the following organizations:
Now ACLU of Southern California
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)
AWARE-LA Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance
Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles
Blackout for Human Rights
California Calls California Partnership California Immigrant Policy Center
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)
CLUE: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice
Dignity and Power Now
Drug Policy Alliance
Fair Chance Project
Garment Worker Center Gender Justice LA
Immigrant Youth Coalition
Immigrant Youth Coalition-San Gabriel Valley
Immigrant Youth Coalition-Free The People Network
Justice Environmental Coalition
Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives
LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network)
Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution
March And Rally Los Angeles
March for Racial Justice
National Day Laborer Organizing Network
Our Revolution Los Angeles
Restore the Delta
Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Center for Popular Democracy
The Labor Community Strategy Center
TransLatina Coalition United Way of Greater Los Angeles
White People 4 Black Lives / SURJ Affiliate Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition