By Dennis J. Freeman
LOS ANGELES — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has built his career on being an outsider with the nerve to try to shake up the political landscape across the country.
On June 2, Sanders met with hundreds of his supporters in downtown Los Angeles to talk about police brutality, mental health and racial justice.
He was not alone. Sanders joined Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and Real Justice co-founder Shaun King at the Million Dollar Theater to discuss a tattered criminal justice system and ways to fix it. Besides Sanders, Cullors and King, other speakers included Melina Abdullah from Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, activist Jasmyne Cannick and Jayda Rasperry of Dignity and Power Now.
The message was clear: reform jails, see more implementation of police reform, get mentally challenged individuals from behind bars and into alternative sentencing programs, and erase the bias in the criminal justice system.
“Change can’t be made the same way you make peanut butter and jelly,” Abdullah said. “That is not how change that is meaningful comes. Meaningful change comes because we struggle. Meaningful change means putting our bodies on the line and sacrificing something.
“That is what struggle is about. Think about momma Harriet Tubman. She sacrificed something. Yes? Think about what Brother Malcolm (X) sacrificed. Think about what all of our political prisoners — with us and not with us —sacrificed. Right? So, if we’re talking about change that’s meaningful we must understand the gravity of what we face right now and be willing to put it on the line to change things.”
Cannick, leading the charge in the Reform L.A. Jails campaign, highlighted the mysterious disappearance and ultimate death of Mitrice Richardson, a young black woman who came up missing after being released by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies following her arrest at a Malibu-based eatery. Richardson went missing in 2009. Her remains were found in 2010.
In 2011, Richardson’s family reached a civil agreement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for a reported $900,000.
“Reform L.A. Jails is about that there are no more Mitrice Richardsons and there no more suicides in our jails,” Cannick said. “Eight years ago, when they found her naked body in a Malibu ravine dead, there was no independent oversight of the (Los Angeles) Sheriff’s Department. … There were no answers, there was not an explanation or even the acceptance of responsibility of her senseless and preventable death. Nearly 10 years later, we still don’t know what happened to Mitrice, other than she was arrested for something that today most police officers wouldn’t even bother with.”
While Abdullah, Cannick and others spoke inside the theater, Sanders was speaking to an energized audience out front. Once inside the theater, Sanders went through his list of issues he was willing to talk about.
There was no surprise announcement about a potential 2020 presidential run. The only thing that Sanders wanted to engage in was for the American people to step up their awareness around the social issues he’s been speaking on for years.
“You know and I know, everybody here knows that real change never takes place from the top on down. … It is millions of people standing up and demanding change, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” Sanders said.
Sanders praised the efforts of Cullors and her work through Black Lives Matter, along with Cannick, King and Rasperry for being on the front lines in the battle to bring attention to reform of the criminal justice system.
“As a result of their efforts, we are succeeding, all over this country, we are beginning, just beginning, to see the American people stand up and make it clear that it makes no sense at all that we have two million people in jail today, more than communist China,” Sanders said. “And it makes no sense at all that those numbers are disproportionately African American, Latino and Native American.”