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When DA’s won’t hold the Police Accountable, We Must

Content warning: police violence

Recently, we received an email from a Courage member about an encounter they once had with the police:

“3 years ago I opened my front door to 5 LAPD with their guns pointed at me, the closest to me a very scared looking young officer, probably a rookie. It scared the crap out of me and I put my hands up, one holding a plate of food, and yelled over and over, “Don’t shoot don’t shoot.” Someone had called in saying they thought they saw a prowler on the roof. I was, and still am, very aware that if my skin was brown I might be dead. There’s more to the story,  but wow, I was in a state of shock for days, so traumatizing.”

This is an experience of someone who is very well aware that they have racial privilege and they are lucky that this didn’t turn out to be a deadly encounter, but an experience doesn’t have to be deadly for it to be traumatic and leave a lasting effect. The fact that police officers repeatedly fail to be held accountable further compounds that trauma. 

Accountability should begin in the police department itself, but it’s long become clear that police forces act and function like gangs, in that they will do anything they can to protect their own. So who do we turn to next? District Attorneys (DA). It’s the DA’s job to enforce the law, including prosecuting cops who kill our community members. Yet several DAs, throughout the state, refuse to prosecute. While the police act as if they’re above the law, our county DAs reinforce that behavior. Too often we forget that a DA is an elected position and we have the power to vote and hold our DAs accountable. In order to build trust with the district they serve, DAs must prove that their loyalties lie with the people who elect them — and NOT the police unions that contribute big money to local races and electeds.

Police departments and associations have major financial influence over local electeds, such as DAs, which is why former, current, and running District Attorneys have come forward calling on a ban of police union money and endorsements for DA races. Chesa Boudin, Diana Becton, Verber Salazar, and George Gascon have written to the State Bar of California requesting a change to its ethics rules to ban police influence and rid the system of a clear conflict of interest.

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton explains why such a change is necessary:

“Law enforcement unions play a vital role representing rank-and file police officers, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers. I make no attempt here to impede union voices or rights.

However, I recognize that despite our best intentions, when we handle officer involved cases, the public perceives a conflict of interest. To complicate matters when we do initiate an investigation of an officer, it is through their financial contributions to unions that accused officers and deputies most often secure legal representation. 

The issue becomes more complicated when as District Attorneys we receive political endorsements and campaign contributions from law enforcement unions.

The proposed rule change will go a long way to avoid actual conflicts or the appearance of conflicts, and it will help rebuild public trust and confidence in our criminal justice system at a time when it is so sorely needed.”

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin weighs in as well:

“District Attorneys will undoubtedly review use of force incidents involving police officers. When they do, the financial and political support of these unions should not be allowed to influence that decision making.”

Even state legislators have started making public statements saying they will no longer take police union money, including Courage Score All-Star Sen. Lena Gonzalez.

Meanwhile DAs — who welcome police union money and fail to prosecute police — have rejected these calls. Los Angeles District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, is one of them.

While organizers on the ground work to defund, and ultimately disband, the police, it’s important that those who enforce our laws do so equally — with both citizens AND police. District Attorneys’ absolute focus should be on serving justice, not on building their political power with oppressive forces and serving their careers.

When someone is left traumatized after wrongly having police guns drawn on them — or worse, murdered — can one trust DAs, who are funded by the police, to police the police? 

Criminal justice reform must happen at all levels from the police upwards.

With Courage, we can ensure that District Attorneys and other elected officials within our “criminal justice” system stop colluding with the police and stop taking their money. Join us as we demand justice for Black lives!