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Advocates Plead for a Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence

Eva Flores had never spoken publicly about her son’s story. But at a recent Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, the young mother from Maywood worked up her courage to talk about the beating her son suffered last August at the hands of sheriff’s deputies. He was pepper sprayed, handcuffed and suffered several broken bones in his back and his nose after being beaten, she said, by sheriff’s deputies. Since that day he has suffered from headaches.

“My son deserves respect and dignity; nobody deserves to be treated this way,” she said in Spanish. “I am concerned for the safety of my son and I don’t want this to happen again.”

Flores was one of more than 100 people that attended the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to push for the formation of a citizens’ commission on jail violence to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ever since the department came under intense public scrutiny for allegations of violence in the County jails, Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that the Board establish a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee the department. At the meeting Tuesday Supervisor Gloria Molina said she was “leaning” in the direction of supporting the citizens’ commission.

The group of advocates, called the Coalition to End Sheriff’s Violence in LA County Jails, is made up of nearly a dozen organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Youth Justice Coalition and the California Drug Policy Alliance. It was formed in response to the violence that has been plaguing Los Angeles County jails and the need to have civilian oversight of the treatment of inmates.

Patrisse Cullors, founder of the coalition, also became an advocate for personal reasons. Her brother was beaten so badly while in custody that he blacked out. She said he was later denied water and meals. He did not have a history of mental illness when he went into jail, but now he needs medication to handle the trauma he endured, Cullors said.

“It changed my family’s life,” she said. “The citizens’ commission is crucial to holding the sheriff’s department accountable and restoring any sort of faith in the community. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the people who are inside jail. But every single one of those people has a family that loves them. This is a community issue.”

The Rev. Peter Laarman, a member of the coalition and executive director of the organization Progressive Christians Uniting, said they will not stop until long term structural change happens.

“This will take courage and persistence to make the change we need and it will be difficult because it will shake the foundation of the sheriff’s department,” said Laarman. “We know that it is not simply the passion for change but the persistency in advocacy that will achieve an outcome that will serve the people of our county.”

Congressmember Karen Bass Honors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas

Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas was recognized for his work in public service by his longtime friend and ally Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) this week. Speaking about him on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressmember Bass lauded Chairman Ridley-Thomas for his efforts to increase civic participation among his constituents as well as encouraging neighborhood-based engagement in decision making.  Chairman Ridley-Thomas attended an event earlier in the week with Congressmember Bass at the Doubletree Hotel in Culver City where nearly 300 constituents gave him a standing ovation for his decades of service and his current position as Chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  “He has devoted his life to the betterment of the people of Los Angeles County and has used his leadership to bring about effective change in Los Angeles County,” said Bass in the statement. “He has left an indelible mark on Los Angeles, and continues to inspire my work in Congress and people of Los Angeles.”

Here is the text:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the work of a distinguished public servant from Los Angeles, Mr. Mark Ridley-Thomas. In 2008, Mr. Ridley-Thomas was overwhelmingly elected as the first African American man to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. This past November, Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ leadership was further acknowledged and he was unanimously approved by the Board to become the first African American man to chair the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

First elected to public office over twenty years ago, Mr. Ridley-Thomas served with distinction on the Los Angeles City Council for nearly a dozen years. He later served two terms in the California State Assembly, where he chaired the Assembly Democratic Caucus. Thereafter, he served as a California State Senator where he chaired the Legislative Black Caucus and initiated unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration between the Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander Legislative Caucuses.

Mr. Ridley-Thomas is widely regarded for uniting civic engagement and government decision-making. In an effort to encourage neighborhood-based advocacy and citizen leadership, Mr. Ridley-Thomas established the Empowerment Congress which served as a model and predecessor for the citywide Neighborhood Councils. Through education, engagement, and empowerment, Mr. Ridley-Thomas equipped and inspired his constituents to confront prevailing racial and economic disparities and improve community and public policy outcomes.

Throughout his life, Mr. Ridley-Thomas has shown a dedication and passion for improving the health and wellness of communities by inspiring participatory engagement to provoke change. After earning a baccalaureate degree in Social Relations and a master’s degree in Religious Studies, he further went on to receive his Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California focusing on Social Criticism and Social Change. He has devoted his life to the betterment of the people of Los Angeles County and has used his leadership to bring about effective change in Los Angeles County.

In addition to this exemplary public service, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas is deeply committed to his roles as father and husband. His wife Avis and twin sons, Sebastian and Sinclair, are shining examples of love and inspiration that Mr. Ridley-Thomas derives from his family and graciously shares with the community.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have called Mr. Mark Ridley-Thomas a friend and partner in the fight for social and economic justice. He has left an indelible mark on Los Angeles, and continues to inspire my work in Congress and people of Los Angeles. It is a great honor to recognize his work here on the floor today.

We Must Reduce Gun Violence

The pain and the horror of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues to haunt the nation. So, in an attempt to reduce gun-related violence Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has requested the creation of a taskforce made up of law enforcement, public health, mental health officials and the countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CCJCC) to develop a comprehensive plan on curbing firearm-related violence in Los Angeles.  “The Newtown, Connecticut massacre is yet another horrific example of the gun-related violence we have endured as a nation,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Just the other day, I met with a grieving mother who lost her 14-year-old daughter in a senseless shooting. We cannot continue to adhere to policies that allow such easy access to guns. We can respect the 2nd Amendment but we must also endeavor to save lives.”

According to the Los Angeles County Coroner, 75 percent of all homicides in Los Angeles County in 2009 were caused by use of a firearm, a trend that is mirrored nationally. In addition, a 2010 report by the Department of Public Health identified homicide as the leading cause of death for 15-44-year-olds. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings and more than 300 million guns in this country—nearly enough for every man, woman and child.

The motion calls for strategies to reduce the stigma related to mental illness and mental health treatment. The motion also calls for enhanced enforcement of existing laws regulating the possession, sale and purchase of high caliber, high capacity weapons as well as make recommendations on revisions to existing laws and regulations governing the sale, purchase, transfer and possession of firearms and ammunition.

The Board also requested that the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) will conduct a survey of each of the 80 school districts to make sure they are in compliance with their school safety plan. In addition, the county’s state and federal legislative advocates will report back with proposed legislative solutions for the county.

“I am hopeful that out of this senseless tragedy, we will find the courage and resolve to end this epidemic of firearm related violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

Key Step Forward in Providing Rail Connection to LAX

Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, on Monday proposed options for connecting the Crenshaw public transit rail line to the airport. LAWA’s proposal would link airport terminals to Metro’s Crenshaw and Green lines with an “automated people mover” similar to those used in airports such as San Francisco and Newark, New Jersey. The automated people mover would travel on a fixed guideway clear of traffic from other vehicles. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas called the proposal “a great step forward. We now have concrete options to choose from, all of which will provide the rail link for which we’ve waited so long,” he said.

The precise location of the link to the rail lines has yet to be determined, but LAWA has identified three possible sites. One would be at the future Century/Aviation Crenshaw line station, two others would be at the east end of the current Central Terminal Area and at the current Economy Parking Lot C.

The Crenshaw rail line is scheduled to open in 2019, and LAWA officials say they will temporarily run buses on a fixed guideway as the automated people mover is being constructed. “It is vital we move swiftly,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “The Crenshaw rail line is scheduled to open in 2019, and we need to be well on our way to ensure the airport connection is not further delayed. We must not repeat the frustrating experience of the Green Line, which now leaves passengers so close, yet so far away from a viable airport transit connection.”

Chairman Ridley-Thomas Expresses Gratitude for the Life of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed his appreciation for the life work of Senator Inouye, a World War II hero and a powerful advocate for civil rights who died Monday at the age of 88. Throughout his life, Senator Inouye was a champion of racial equality, noted Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

“We have lost a great patriot, a brave leader and a role model,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “My deepest sympathy goes to Senator Inouye’s family and the people of Hawai’i. We in Los Angeles also have a special connection to the Senator through his widow and my long-time friend, Irene Hirano.”

“Beginning with his childhood attending segregated schools in Honolulu, and continuing with his heroic World War II service with the 442nd Regimental Combat team, Senator Inouye’s early years mirrored the experience of many African Americans who volunteered to do battle for their nation, even as their own rights as citizens were denied. ”

In the Senate, Senator Inouye was a key ally of President Lyndon Johnson in advancing civil rights legislation. As the keynote speaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, occurring in the era of the Watts riots and the civil rights movement, Senator Inouye used his platform to speak movingly of the nation’s racial plight.

Irene Hirano Inouye grew up in the Crenshaw District and devoted herself to serving Los Angeles, first through her work in community health care, as well as by leading the Japanese American National Museum. She was always an important ally during Chairman Ridley-Thomas’ work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and they have continued to this day to work together on projects to elevate the quality of life in various communities.

“I know Senator Inouye’s legacy as a civil rights leader lives on through Irene,” he said. “And we shall all continue to be inspired by his example.”