LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to consider a number of proposals today related to criminal justice reforms and police protests, including support for a statewide ban on carotid artery restraints and a call for new regulations to ensure that law enforcement officers don't jeopardize protesters' health.
Public health officials have repeatedly warned of concerns that large protests may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases. Those warnings come at a time when the rate of person-to-person transmission has increased slightly in Los Angeles County, where 64,699 people have so far tested positive for COVID-19.
While a majority of the protesters participating in peaceful demonstrations over the last few days appear to be wearing masks or face coverings, many are walking in crowds of thousands of people – an estimated 20,000 gathered in Hollywood on Sunday -- at the same time that a public health order prohibits much smaller gatherings, limiting church services to 100 people, for example.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said law enforcement agencies have failed to consistently follow safety measures dictated by health officials, neglecting to wear personal protective equipment and ignoring physical distancing when taking protesters to jail.
“Protesters have been detained for curfew violations and other misdemeanors and loaded onto buses without cloth face coverings, unable to physically distance from one another,'' Kuehl wrote. “In their attempts to control crowds, law enforcement personnel have forced large groups of protesters into small spaces where even those trying to practice physical distancing while protesting were deprived of that safety measure.''
Acknowledging that such practices might suit ordinary times, Kuehl said the convergence of the pandemic and historic civil rights protests demand more.
The motion calls for public health authorities to work with the sheriff's department and other local law enforcement agencies, as well as health officers in Pasadena and Long Beach, to issue protocols within 48 hours of Tuesday's meeting. The motion suggests those orders should cover the use of tear gas, which some worry will spread COVID-19 by forcing those within range to cough.
The majority of protesters arrested were cited for curfew violations, arrests that civil rights organizations say are in violation of First Amendment principles and therefore, illegal. District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City Attorney Mike Feuer have said they won't prosecute such cases, but they have not yet agreed to dismiss them outright, as some groups demand.
Another motion, aimed at reforming use-of-force policies countywide, has been stalled.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas had filed a motion in support of “8 Can't Wait'' use-of-force policies recommended by the advocacy group Campaign Zero. The motion called on Sheriff Alex Villanueva and all 46 police departments in Los Angeles County to adopt the restrictions, which include limiting the use of chokeholds and requiring a warning before shooting.
Reaction to the policies has been mixed. Influential supporters include Oprah Winfrey, but some civil rights advocates say the policies don't work.
Dignity & Power Now -- part of a coalition of civil rights groups that succeeded in convincing the board not to proceed with plans for a women's jail in Lancaster and a massive mental health jail downtown -- said the policies did not go far enough.
“We are way past the moment where these demands are acceptable,'' Dignity & Power Now said in a statement issued last week, characterizing “8 Can't Wait'' as “failed reform points'' that would amount to a “betrayal'' by the county.
The nonprofit group instead supports recommendations laid out by a task force the board established to identify alternatives to incarceration. Dignity & Power Now is also calling, like many advocacy groups, for elected officials to shift funding from law enforcement to community resources and programs.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva declared his support for the “8 Can't Wait'' policies in a tweet Monday, posting that “@LASDHQ has been at the forefront of Use of Force training. Campaign Zero echoes the #LASD use of force principles and we encourage all law enforcement to mirror our 21st Century use of force policies.''
Campaign Zero, which is led by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe and policy advocate Brittany N. Packnett Cunningham, says the policies are backed by rigorous data.
Ridley-Thomas, who could not immediately be reached for comment, has asked that the matter be postponed for two weeks, according to an updated agenda.
Separately, Hahn has asked her colleagues to lend their support to AB 1196, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, that would ban the use of carotid artery restraints by law enforcement.
Other motions to be considered at Tuesday's meeting include plans to continue to reduce the number of youth in juvenile halls and camps and to find ways to keep the jail population low, rather than allowing numbers to build again once stay-at-home orders are eased. More than 5,000 inmates, many awaiting trial, have been released from county jails in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The board will also consider an update from the Office of Inspector General on oversight of the Sheriff's Department.
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