Image: LASD disgraceful family tree––Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka take big baby Alex Villanueva out for a stroll. Cartoon by Kim McGill.

Sheriff Villanueva’s Trumpian tirades are just one reason why his office should be defunded

August 28, 2020

Sheriff Villanueva is always crying about something. In an aimless, ranting, Trumpian speech on July 22nd, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva took to social media in a live-streamed video to complain about the growing efforts in Los Angeles and beyond to challenge the violence of policing, especially against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. He called out JusticeLA by name and harassed the LA County CEO Sachi Hamai.

As with Trump, comments like the Sheriff’s can have real, and dangerous, impacts. Because of the lies he told about her, the CEO was threatened by his supporters and needed to retain personal security. Well, she sued him, and won a $1.5 million dollar settlement on August 26th from his lies and bullshit. We often don’t agree with the CEO’s politics, but we respect her and we are proud of anyone who stands up to bullies. Given what has happened in Kenosha, we are also very aware of what happens when law enforcement enables their violent, toxic supporters. 

Here’s the truth: The Sheriff is upset that communities who are fed up with law enforcement agencies eating up the lion’s share of the County’s budget are organizing––and making significant gains. Villanueva’s crosshairs were aimed not just at the CEO, but local elected officials and community organizers alike, including those within the Justice LA Coalition, with unfounded, and often laughable, accusations.

For those of us within the Justice LA Coalition, and for Angelenos at large, Villanueva’s characterizations of people who oppose him as “the criminal community” endangers the reputations and safety of those who dare oppose him, all for engaging in community organizing for the public good.

The Sheriff even went so far as to accuse us, a coalition of mostly young community members and advocates, of puppeteering the political system by supporting a vital new ballot initiative (Re-imagine LA, also known as Measure J) that could potentially reduce his department’s funding by as much as 10%. 

A concerted effort to derail the measure and prevent it from appearing on the November ballot failed today in court. 

“If you’re trying to hijack the ballot process to get something on there, and give it a very innocuous or innocent sounding name like ‘Reimagine LA County’…just think Mad Max. Think a dystopian world where there is no law enforcement,” Villaneuva said. Apparently, he thinks investing in health, housing and human services will somehow devolve LA County into some kind of a nightmarish fright zone.

In this political climate, it is unnerving that the Sheriff, himself an elected official, would smear community advocacy, organizing, and grassroots campaigning––the foundation of democracy––as ominous, or even criminal. 

However, we are not the least bit surprised by Villanueva’s immature attacks against our communities, the CEO, and efforts for justice. We expect more will come. In fact, the attacks make perfect sense: as the head of an office whose only tool is the hammer of criminalization, everything looks like a nail. Opposition must be met with the most aggressive “law and order” response possible. We see it all over the country. We saw it at the Republican National Conventions this week. It is precisely for this reason, beyond any issue with Villanueva himself, that his office must be defunded. 

While Villanueva’s tactics are certainly rogue, our communities have endured the same kind of attacks through criminalization policies from sheriffs long before Villanueva. Contrary to his campaign promises, Villanueva has been in line with the shameful legacies of Sherman Block, Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka. Like his predecessors, Alex Villaneuva has spent more time protecting his department than he has protecting the community. From coverups to abuse, to a continued and almost fanatical devotion to resisting calls for transparency, Villanueva is a shameful knockoff of the crooks who came before him. 

We don’t want to focus too much on his pettiness. It’s not even about him. The Sheriff’s Department as a whole is a threat to marginalized people, and that’s why it has to be defunded. Our communities will continue to be hammered by the violence, discrimination, mistreatment, and systemic racism of an institution that has never been, nor set up to be, an effective tool for public safety. 

This reality stands true regardless of whether Villanueva is sitting at the helm. The issues within LASD are by no means specific to him; he just happens to be the one in the hot seat during this moment of much needed, and long overdue, scrutiny of policing in this country. For years, LASD has been wracked by wrongful death lawsuits, all paid for by our tax dollars. Let’s not forget the federal investigations, use of force complaints, sexual assault charges, and severe mistreatment of people with mental health needs

These problems existed long before Villanueva, and will not go away until we start meaningfully divesting from the Sheriff’s Department in order to resource community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective in addressing the issues communities face every day. 

These are just a few reasons we have to Vote Yes on Measure J in November, and fight to Re-imagine LA as a care first county staffed with people trained to help––not harm. 

We thank Sheriff Villanueva for making this ever clearer to the people of Los Angeles.

#JusticeLA 

Want to support community’s demand that Villanueva Resign? Sign the petition!

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