Measure R: Reform LA Jails on March 3 Ballot

Op Ed by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-LA

UPDATE:  D.A. Jackie Lacey was forced into a run-off in November, and Measure R passed by a 70+% majority in LA County.

There are several races beyond the presidential primary on the ballot in L.A. County and in the city of L.A., that merit people’s engagement. First and foremost is Measure R, the Reform LA Jails initiative placed on the ballot through a major volunteer signature gathering effort initiated by the Justice LA Coalition and including Black Lives Matter, White People for Black Lives, the Youth Justice Coalition, and others involved in mass and class organizing from an abolitionist perspective.

Reform L.A. Jails, founded by activist, public speaker, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network, Patrisse Cullors, received a ballot designation and is now officially the “Yes on R” campaign. Measure R is a response to the systemic corruption and structural oppression that has shaped the lives of Black and Brown residents, poor and houseless people, and those who struggle with mental illness or disability, in LA County.

LA County jail is the biggest in the world,  and has a history of over-incarcerating people with mental illness and providing substandard mental healthcare inside the jails. Thousands of people who struggle with houselessness, mental illness, or drug dependency are locked up in LA County every day. There are over 5,500 Angelenos in jail because they suffer from mental health illness; 70% suffer from substance use disorder, 25% are chronically homeless and 40% of those jailed simply can’t afford bail (including a majority of all women in jail locally).

“Instead of locking people up, we should show care and compassion by ensuring them access to mental health care. That’s why it is so pertinent to vote Yes on R and we call on the community to do the same,” says Cullors.


If Yes on R is successful, the measure requires LA County to invest in rehabilitation and mental health treatment, grant subpoena power to the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) to effectively investigate misconduct. The COC will also be mandated to develop a plan to reduce jail populations and LA County would be mandated to redirect all cost savings from reduced incarceration to public priorities, such as drug treatment, housing, and mental health care.

Yes on R will end the cycle of corruption and misconduct that has plagued LA County for over a decade,  invest in rehabilitation and mental health and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year by ensuring people no longer sit in jail just because they can’t afford bail.

LA County now has the opportunity to fight for a justice system that works for all. For more information on the ballot and how you can vote, visit


Also on the LA County ballot, and related to the same struggle, is the selection of a District Attorney. The incumbent, Jackie Lacey, was initially appointed as a successor to her Republican mentor, DA Steve Cooley. She ran unopposed four years ago, but in her years in office, has become the focus of a #ByeJackie2020, #JackieLaceyMustGo campaign led by Black Lives Matter LA and the families of dozens of people killed and brutalized by local law enforcement. More than 500 people have been killed by cops and sheriff’s deputies during her tenure. Yet she has never indicted or convicted any, even when the killings were found out of policy by police departments or oversight bodies, even where the cops were fired. BLMLA and allies have been holding space for grieving families and struggling communities outside her offices every Wednesday for over two years, and hounding her public appearances and campaign fund-raisers with the city’s elite.

They successfully struggled to deny her the endorsement of the county Democratic Party and several local Democratic clubs, such as West Hollywood, where the community is deeply angered over her long refusal to indict fundraiser Ed Buck over the deaths of at least two Black gay men in his home. (The Feds finally charged him with civil rights violations and drug crimes over the overdoses.) Lacey is facing challengers on March 3, including ex-LAPD honcho and former SF DA George Gascon, and former public defender Rachel Rossi. The ideal outcome would see a run-off between Gascon and Rossi, eliminating Lacey from contention in the general election, but in any event it’s important to educate and mobilize people to vote AGAINST Jackie Lacey, who has been the last line of defense for killer cops, as well as the prosecutor who has put more people on death row in California — all of them Black and Brown — than any other county in the state, and who is continuing to pursue capital punishment even though the governor has declared a moratorium on executions. If she doesn’t get 50%+1, there’s a Nov. run-off.


     LA has always been one of the most corrupt cities and counties in the country, up there with Cook County (Chicago under the Daleys) or New York County (Manhattan under Tammany Hall). But the business as usual switcheroo going on this year, while the City Council is under intense scrutiny and investigation by the FBI, beggars belief. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and former City Council president Herb Wesson, both getting termed out, are trying to swap positions. Both face challengers however.

Channing Martinez of Labor Community Strategy Center

     Channing Martinez of the Labor Community Strategy Center and producer of KPFK’s “Voices from the Frontlines” is one of several movement candidates running to succeed Wesson in his 10th council district seat representing the Crenshaw area. Part of the historic Black core of Los Angeles, it’s under heavy gentrification attack, including via the new Metro line through the area connecting to LAX. Another movement council candidate in nearby south LA Council District 8 is Cliff Smith, a labor leader in the Roofers’ Union and co-founder of the LA Coalition for Community Control Over the Police. He is making support for a City Charter amendment for an elected Community Control board, with the power to hire and fire cops, a central part of his campaign. Wesson faces challenges from Sen. Holly Mitchell and former Council member Jan Perry in his race to succeed Ridley-Thomas.


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