THANK YOU to our speakers and to all who joined this vital conversation!
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Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) is grateful to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, Black Lives Matter leader Dr. Melina Abdullah, Kelly Savage-Rodriguez of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and everyone who joined us yesterday. The forum included situation updates and discussion on actions that people seeking racial justice can take. Together, we can push forward needed changes in the criminal justice system and push back efforts to reinforce mass incarceration and other repressive, racist measures in the name of victims' rights.
In November 2020, George Gascón was elected Los Angeles District Attorney after promising to fight the “machine of mass incarceration,” end tough-on-crime prosecutions, free people from overcrowded prisons, and hold police accountable for misconduct. He defeated his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, who was under fire for her ties to police unions, refusal to prosecute police officers accused of abuse, and continued support for the death penalty.
Since taking office, DA Gascón has announced his department will stop seeking the death penalty, prosecuting children as adults, filing gang enhancements (additional punishments added to sentences), and filing three-strikes charges, which require life sentences. He also has promised to stop sending DAs to parole hearings to oppose release and to re-evaluate thousands of cases for resentencing.
These policy changes have provoked an immediate and growing backlash. Law enforcement leaders statewide have launched an aggressive campaign to thwart DA Gascón’s reforms, including challenges from DAs and from the union of his own deputy prosecutors. Another campaign, backed by the LA County Sheriff, aims to recall him from office. The success or failure of Gascón's criminal justice reforms could significantly impact similar efforts across the U.S.
Dr. Melina Abdullah
In 2020, Dr. Abdullah was a chief spokesperson for "Jackie Lacey Must Go!" - an effort to replace Lacey as Los Angeles DA, led by families of those killed by law enforcement with impunity. A womanist scholar-activist and prolific author, Dr. Abdullah is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements. One of the original group whose convening led to the creation of Black Lives Matter, she co-founded Black Lives Matter-LA and continues serving as a leader in the local and national movement.
Dr. Abdullah is Professor and former Chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She is co-host and co-producer of the KPFK radio program Beautiful Struggle and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, PBS, Al-Jazeera and other TV news outlets. She serves on the boards of numerous academic and community action organizations and is the recipient of a wide range of awards for her work in racial justice, human rights, and community service.
Kelly Savage-Rodriguez is the new coordinator for DROP LWOP (Life Without Parole), a program of CCWP. Recently released from prison at 46 years old, Kelly was incarcerated for 23 years. Governor Jerry Brown commuted her life without parole sentence in December 2017, and she was finally released on parole in November 2018. As a domestic violence survivor, Kelly was forced to experience the similarities between domestic violence and the violence of incarceration. She was an inside member of CCWP for 15 years and helped initiate CCWP’s campaign to end life without parole.
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