*Imagine being the District Attorney and head prosecutor of the second largest city in America and you have to decide whether to bring charges against police officers for the shooting deaths of black men.
Oh yeah, did we say the DA is a black woman? Her name is Jackie Lacey and she’s in charge of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
And as you may have sensed, things aren’t going too well for Lacey in the black community of Los Angeles these days.
“You help killer cops, you help killer cops!” is what Lacey heard from citizens in South LA recently at a packed community center. “You’re a race traitor,” one woman screamed. “A betrayal, an accomplice to murder.”
When she finally addressed the crowd members at a town hall meeting on race and the criminal justice system, according to the LA Times, Lacey told them she understood their anger. A little boy screamed at her from the front row, “No, you don’t!” Her shoulders slumped and Lacey asked them to give her a chance. They booed and demanded her resignation.
READ RELATED STORY: NAN & BLACK ACTIVISTS WANT AFRICAN AMERICAN LA DA JACKIE LACY OUT. NOW!
As a new article in the Times points out, the recent event shows the intense pressure that Lacey is dealing with as LA County’s first black district attorney. She’s under pressure to take a tougher stance in prosecuting police officers who use force against civilians, particularly African Americans.
In her latest test, Lacey has to decide whether to file charges in two high-profile killings of black men by police, including one in which Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck has publicly urged her to prosecute the officer who shot an unarmed man in the back near the Venice boardwalk last year.
The decisions, and the larger issue of how prosecutors deal with police force, weigh heavily on the otherwise popular Lacey, who this year became the county’s first district attorney to win reelection without a challenger in 60 years.
Her office has not filed charges against an officer in an on-duty shooting in more than 15 years, long before she took the helm. But Lacey has drawn especially forceful criticism from some African American activists who say they feel she has failed them.
For her part, Lacey says she has a deep-rooted respect for police but also a clear view of their historical abuse of black people and how that influence carries into the present. After police shootings, she said her mind often jumps to the same question: Was it racially motivated?
“Who could not think about that?” she said in an interview, adding that she always looks for assumptions in cases, especially those involving people of color. She recently announced new mandatory training for prosecutors in how to avoid implicit racial biases.
Of course some say it’s unfair to blame Lacey, individually, for a system that trains prosecutors to view law enforcement as the good guys and then expects them to look at officers as potential suspects in force cases.
“The culture of the D.A.’s office is to circle the wagons around cops who you need to make your cases. That’s human nature,” said longtime civil rights attorney Connie Rice, adding that she believes Lacey is one of the fairest prosecutors she’s met.
Beyond that, Rice said, officers have wide latitude under the law in use-of-force encounters. Officers can’t be held criminally liable if they acted reasonably and genuinely feared for their safety when they fired their weapons — an extremely tough thing for prosecutors to disprove.
It’s a true pressure-cooker situation DA Lacey finds herself in. Read/learn MORE at LA Times.