Black Lives Matter-L.A. launches campaign against law enforcement unions

David Zahniser
·4 min read
Overall, shows LAPD Headquarters on 1st St. in downtown Los Angeles
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles organizers announced a campaign targeting two of Southern California's biggest police unions. Above, LAPD headquarters. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Organizers with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles launched a campaign Wednesday targeting two of Southern California's biggest police unions, saying they will push to have them ejected from the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and ultimately disbanded.

Activists said they intend to stage protests every week outside the headquarters of the Police Protective League, the union that represents roughly 9,800 Los Angeles police officers, while also working to end that group's status as a labor union. The campaign will also seek to expose the league's "central role in perpetuating white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and a culture of deadly violence" at the LAPD, organizers said.

"Every Wednesday we're going to send a message to the people across the street ... that we are going to end these associations," said Akili, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-L.A., appearing at a news conference across from the league's offices. "We will not be bullied anymore. We will not give up our budgets anymore."

Akili, who goes by a single name, said his group is working on state legislation to decertify police unions. Representatives of Black Lives Matter-L.A. also want the labor federation, which represents about 300 affiliates, to sever its ties with the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing deputies with the county's Sheriff's Department.

Asked about the activists' campaign, L.A. County Federation spokesman Christian Castro said his organization believes that all workers have a right to form a union.

"We stand by our original stance — that every worker in every field should have the right to collectively bargain and build power in the workplace under a union contract," he said.

The Police Protective League has serious pull in Los Angeles and Sacramento, putting money into the campaigns of state lawmakers, citywide elected officials and council members, among others. Last fall, despite massive summer protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the league and other law enforcement unions derailed several bills aimed at requiring more accountability, oversight and transparency from law enforcement agencies.

In Los Angeles, the league has been a bit more on the defensive. The City Council cut the LAPD budget by $150 million last summer, prompting the department to slash overtime pay by $97 million and reduce the overall size of the force by 250 officers.

Black Lives Matter-L.A. and many of its allies have been demanding that city leaders go much further, calling for city leaders to effectively zero out the LAPD budget, bringing an end to deadly police shootings and shifting the savings into such programs as rent relief, affordable housing and the acquisition of hotels to house homeless Angelenos.

“Defunding is just shorthand for abolition,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., at Wednesday's news conference and rally.

Police Protective League President Craig Lally said neither Black Lives Matter nor other organizations have the power to strip officers of their right to union representation. "That’s an anti-democratic tactic usually promoted by authoritarian regimes, not organizations that purport to be rooted in respecting workers’ rights and democracy," he said.

Lally accused Black Lives Matter of seeking to "vilify and divide," saying "the tougher path is to work together to improve policing."

Meanwhile, ALADS Vice President Richard Pippin said his own union has deep labor roots, representing "working people for over 50 years."

"It’s surprising that any group would think that diminishing someone else’s rights to be able to collectively bargain, have a voice in their workplace and ensure equal access to industrial due process would elevate their own cause," Pippin said in an email.

The exchange between the police unions and grass-roots activists comes as the city is facing a surge in homicides, which are up nearly 143% so far this year, compared with the same period two years ago. Meanwhile, the City Council is weighing a two-year contract extension with the league, part of a larger effort to address a major budget crisis.

The deal, which comes up for a vote next month, would require officers to delay a pair of pay raises. In exchange, the city would drop its plan for laying off officers this fiscal year.

The agreement guarantees a minimum of $245 million in cash overtime pay for officers over the next three years — deal points that have frustrated activists looking to cut LAPD spending.

Garcetti will unveil his budget for 2021-22 in April. If the city's tax revenues continue to come in below expectations, they may need to cut police staffing either way.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.