LOS ANGELES — Can there really be black-on-black racism?
That was the question U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney posed to attorney Nana Gyamfi during a hearing Jan. 13 on Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s and Assistant D.A. Craig Hum’s motion to dismiss them from a wrongful death and discrimination lawsuit.
Gyamfi is representing LaTisha Nixon in the wrongful death lawsuit of her son Gemmel Moore, an openly gay black man. Moore died of a methamphetamine overdose in the home of West Hollywood political donor Ed Buck in July 2017.
Following Moore’s death, many gay black men contacted Nixon and told her of their personal encounters with Buck and how he preyed on financially vulnerable men, paying them to allow him to inject them with higher and higher doses of meth.
The men alleged that Buck liked to watch the drug’s effect on them.
Buck, 66, is a white gay man and political donor who, according to Nixon’s lawsuit “forcibly and repeatedly injected Mr. Moore with crystal methamphetamine.”
Nixon’s wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the district attorney’s office is racially biased against black women.
For almost two years after her son’s death, Nixon attempted to present information to Lacey to incite an i investigation into the circumstances leading to Moore’s death.
Nixon claimed that even after a second gay black man died from a methamphetamine overdose in Buck’s apartment in January 2019, Lacey and Hum declined to file charges, stating there was insufficient evidence.
Carney questioned the validity of Nixon’s claim of racism.
“What I’m struggling with in particular, is Ms. Lacey is African American,” Carney said. “Do you really think that the decisions that were made on not following up on the leads Ms. Nixon provided were based on race?”
“The issue here is not the race of the person, but whether or not the person’s actions would tend to show a discriminatory intent,” Gyamfi said. “There are plenty of black people that act in a manner that is discriminatory towards other black folks.”
Attorney Farid Sharaby, representing Lacey and Hum, claimed the fact that Lacey offered letters of immunity to black men admitting to criminal acts while testifying against Buck demonstrated that there was no discrimination and the claims against Lacey and Hum should be dismissed.
Gyamfi said Lacey was reluctant to provide immunity to the men for their testimony and only did so after intense public pressure.
“Ms. Lacey doesn’t get credit for that,” Gyamfi told the judge.
She cited a 2019 research study done by the American Civil Liberties Union that found racial bias in the D.A. office’s death penalty sentencing. Since Lacey took office in 2012, every defendant who has been sentenced to death in L.A. County is a person of color.
“She discriminates against black people, particularly black women,” Gyamfi told the judge.
Cormac had his own questions about the D.A.’s reason for not meeting with Nixon.
“You have pretty descriptive reports of terrible conduct by Mr. Buck. Why wouldn’t the D.A.’s office law enforcement follow up with that with Ms. Nixon?” Cormac asked. “They’re giving you specific names on who this is happening to and the D.A. says ‘We’re not going to talk to you.’ I just don’t understand it.”
Sharaby said the D.A.’s office accepted the findings of the sheriff department’s investigation and there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
“They made their judgment based on the evidence they had. That’s the answer,” he said.
Gyamfi pointed out that conducting internal investigations is part of the D.A.’s authority, but with Lacey, investigations don’t tend to happen when the person reporting the crime is a black woman and the perpetrator is white.
She also noted that the U.S. Attorney’s Office interviewed all of Nixon’s witnesses. Buck is currently in jail awaiting his trial later this year.
“What we’re saying to black women in this county is if someone that is not a black person does something to you in a violent way or to your loved one, you are not going to be protected by the law,” Gyamfi said. “That is not a message we should be giving in 2020.”
Cormac said he would make a ruling within the next few days.