Almost a year since thousands of people took to the streets nationwide over the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the demonstrations in Los Angeles show no signs of slowing down.
Organizers with Black Lives Matter – L.A. have started staging protests every Wednesday outside the Police Protective League headquarters and are making a renewed call to end the group’s status as a labor union.
What began more than three years ago as a weekly protest demanding the removal of L. A County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who activists say refused to prosecute “killer cops,” has morphed into a broader call about law enforcement accountability that targets two of Southern California’s most prominent police unions.
The activists said the Police Protective League – a special interest group representing rank-and-file LAPD officers—fails to take appropriate action when officers in the Los Angeles Police Department break the rules.
“The police have an extra set of rights that is undeserved, and it makes them believe themselves to be infallible and untouchable,” said Baba Akili, an organizer with BLM- L.A., standing on a small metal stage in front of a pickup truck parked in the middle of the street across from the league’s office. “When you think you are infallible, you become corrupt.”
Akili told the crowd of about one hundred people that the doctrine of qualified immunity, which grants law enforcement personnel civil immunity for on-duty actions and allows police officers to get away with misconduct, has to be dismantled. BLM- L.A. activists also want labor federations to sever ties with the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union for members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The demonstrators outside the Police Protective League headquarters at the Wednesday protest were both racially and geographically diverse, with a variety of speakers.
“This is supposedly the workers union,” said Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. “This is the same union that went after Malcolm X. This is the same association that went after Dr. King, and the same association that is going after us,” he added, pointing toward the building.
For many critics, police unions are too powerful in Los Angeles and Sacramento, preventing investigations and lawsuits and thwart penalties when abuse occurs.
Moreover, activists allege that these police unions aggressively protect problem officers’ rights over the public’s interests and impede reform that would improve policing and police-community relations.
Another criticism levied at police unions is that they have tremendous sway over local and state politicians, often resulting from campaign donations.
It’s worth noting that last fall, amid coast-to-coast protests against police brutality, the league employed a series of measures to derail the proposal of new bills aimed to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency from law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, when outrage swelled in L.A. over George Floyd’s death – in some incidents sparking violent protests and clashes between protesters and police – the City Council voted to cut LAPD’s budget by $150 million last summer and direct those funds toward alternative resources.
But the initiative received little praise from community activists, in part because city officials are not doing enough to address police misconduct. BLM-L.A. and many of its allies want policing budgets to be zeroed out and divert the savings into public spending priorities such as housing assistance programs, rental assistance, and housing the homeless.
“They are not a union, said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., at last Wednesday’s protest. “They’re a police association who have lobbied, bullied, and bribed for exorbitant shares of the city budget. They are the reason that the police continue to get more than 50 % of the city’s general fund.”
She added it was paramount that activists stop the influence the police union had commanded over legislative policy in L.A. for decades.
Meanwhile, LAPPL Director Craig Lally released a statement describing the weekly campaign’s aims as “divisive.”
“The focus on divisiveness and promotion of unworkable demands does nothing to improve police and community relationships and does nothing to address the violent crime, shootings, and homicides that are plaguing many neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” Lally said. “The easy path is to vilify and divide; the tougher path is to work together to improve policing, we are choosing the latter path and urge those intent on division to join us.”
Lally took issue with BLM’s efforts, noting that the majority of police officer ranks are composed of “Black, Hispanic and Asian (officers) — and the number of women and LGBTQ officers grows with each academy.”
He also scoffed at protesters’ cries that the protective league was “not a union.”
“Yet another dangerous idea from the anti-public safety fringes that’s akin to their previous ideas to defund the LAPD budget by 93% or to end incarceration for dangerous convicts,” Lally said. “It’s an outright lie to suggest that this group has any ability to strip the union representation rights of our members or any member of a union. That’s an anti-democratic tactic usually promoted by authoritarian regimes, not organizations that purport to be rooted in respecting workers’ rights and democracy.”
Nonetheless, Helen Jones, 55, questioned the legitimacy behind calling the league a union when they provide many law enforcement officers with a sense of impunity. The mother of a 22-year-old man named John Horton, who, on March 30, 2009, was found hanging from a noose in his cell in Men’s Central Jail, gave a stern rebuke of the league at the rally.
“The [league] ain’t no union. All it is another place where they got their gangs hiding. That’s what they are. We should never get them mixed up with a real union that represents workers’ rights,” Jones said.