“In Los Angeles County, which is known as a bastion of progressivism, we have a system that is churning out more death sentences than any other county in the country. And by seeking death in a discriminatory way, they are perpetuating a racist system,” says the Justice Collaborative’s Senior Legal Counsel Summer Lacey.
“Bryan Stevenson says the death penalty is modern day lynching, and you picture him talking about Alabama, but it’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening here in LA,” Summer Lacey says.
She is referring to the recent bombshell report from the ACLU, which revealed several shocking statistics about LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s prosecution of death penalty cases. Among the findings:
Since Lacey’s election in 2012, 22 people have been sentenced to death, and every one of them was a person of color. Thirteen were Latinx; eight were Black, and one was Asian.
Of the 22 cases, nine involved lawyers who were previously or subsequently disbarred, suspended, or charged with misconduct.
More than a third (36 percent) of the 22 cases in which defendants were sentenced to death involved at least one white victim, despite the fact that white victims accounted for only 12 percent of homicides between 2000 and 2015.
“I can’t say I was surprised” by the findings, Summer Lacey, a former county and federal public defender, says. “But what I did find noteworthy and disturbing was that all 22 were people of color. And when you think about that in relation to the fact that a significant number of the victims were white, it highlights whose lives matter. It affects people on an individual level. The message is ‘As a person of color you won’t be treated as a victim whose life is important. Your life isn’t as valuable.’ ”
The fact that, according to the report, “In absolute numbers, no county in the United States has produced more death sentences than Los Angeles,” is ironic in light of LA Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee’s unceasingly virulent criticism of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium, as “thwarting the will of the voters.” In both 2012 (53.7 percent) and 2016 (52.3 percent), Los Angeles residents voted for initiatives calling for abolition of the death penalty. So who, really, is thwarting the will of the voters? The DA who is churning out more death sentences than any other county in the country, or the governor who called a moratorium to take a look at a death penalty system that Los Angeles County shows all too well is broken beyond repair?
The Justice Collaborative, a national organization that works on criminal justice reform, is made up of policy experts, lawyers, and journalists. Summer Lacey says they’ve been gratified by the coverage the report has gotten, not just here in the U.S., but internationally. “It shows how disturbing these numbers are. Education is powerful. The information is out there now.
“We have to stay informed and come together as a community and demand change. The DA’s office will realize this cannot continue. This is not justice for anyone. Changes can be made immediately by issuing statements of support for the governor’s moratorium and by making a public commitment to seek justice and end discrimination.”