Photo from Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Facebook page.
On April 20, Sheriff Alex Villanueva of Los Angeles County addressed a crowd of reporters on spoke on behalf of victims at the National Crime Victims’ Rights Rally. “Victims matter. Victims will always matter to me,” he said.
Nearby, a group of protestors — mostly family, friends, and supporters of people whose loved ones had been killed or injured by law enforcement — held their own rally. They were protesting the sheriff, who has refused to acknowledge deputy gangs, concealed information about those who have died at the hands of law enforcement, and, according to a new report, harassed the families of those who are mourning their loved ones’ deaths.
Villanueva angrily blamed the protestors for disrespecting victims. But who’s a victim to the LASD?
The LASD has a documented history of harassing the families of victims — not the victims Villanueva likes to talk about, but the victims who were killed by his deputies, some of whom are affiliated with LASD deputy gangs. The harassment includes driving by slowly to scare mourners and family members, breaking up memorial services, and even arresting family members. In one case, LASD deputies followed the 14-year-old sister of Paul Rea (an 18-year old teen who was shot and killed by an LASD deputy) as she walked home from school. According to the report:
[T]wo deputies stared at her and then started laughing. One of the deputies then got into a patrol car and pulled up alongside her. The patrol car followed her very slowly as she walked along the street
These abuses of power are illegal. So much so that the Civilian Oversight Commission asked the Office of the Inspector General to investigate and write a report. Yesterday, two members of the Board of Supervisors issued a proposed motion to further investigate harassment and intimidation of victims’ families by LASD deputies.
When I talk to prosecutors and law enforcement officials, they often talk to me about their perception of the problems of witness intimidation, which means that victims and witnesses won’t testify in court because they are worried about retaliation. But who can help people who face retaliation from the sheriff’s office? What happens when your harasser is the police?
This is an old and widespread problem. Certainly, the fact the people in Los Angeles are organizing and protesting means that targeted harassment of victims’ families and friends will at least be noticed and taken seriously. Sam Levin wrote a good piece for The Guardian about the incidents and the report. People across the country face this harassment. It’s why they are afraid to confront the sheriff. It’s why they do not report harassment or even domestic violence by law enforcement.
Speeches like Villanueva’s feel particularly hollow when seen in this light. Who are the victims he supports? And when people write news articles about crime, crime rates, and victims, where do the people who die at the hands of law enforcement or in jails appear? What are those stats?
When you say victim wishes shouldn't control results, what do you mean by that? In practice, many victims who want to retaliate against their assailant do so, even when the law doesn't allow a path to retribution. Sometimes victims are motivated to engage vigilantism by a system with overly lenient sanctions. If we create a system that removes the interests of victims from it, do you think it would increase vigilantism?