Angelenos who violated curfews as they protested the police killing of George Floyd won’t be prosecuted. That’s a new announcement from LA City Attorney Mike Feuer and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. But in the City of LA, protesters won’t simply be exonerated. There will be some strings attached.
KCRW speaks with LA City Attorney Mike Feuer.
There will be no prosecutions and no court appearances. But your office says there will be requirements that are “productive and not punitive.” What does that mean?
Mike Feuer: “It is extremely important at this really crucial moment that we find ways to bring people together. We need to stop talking at each other — the us against them — and promote real listening to each other (law enforcement and protester and other key stakeholders in the community). Because the issues are focused on law enforcement, but issues of racism and bias in our system transcend law enforcement issues.
Our office is in the process of creating a series of alternative programs for people who have been involved in these curfew issues and unlawful assembly or failure to disperse issues. And I'm very optimistic that we're going to find ways to encourage people to actually participate in that conversation. You know, Ferguson came and went, and we lost an opportunity to create a sustainable discussion that ultimately results in real action.”
There was Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, LA, and so many other cities where things like this keep happening. Do you think everyone is going to come to this table with open ears?
“That is our objective … bringing law enforcement and protesters together. And by the way, a protester under this approach isn't required to establish her or his innocence in this. This is about taking this moment where we are advancing the ball in ways that haven't happened before. Our office in its history has never tried to create these formats of getting people together to actually advance a discussion that's about as relevant to our society right now as any discussion has ever been. Issues of race and law enforcement and so on.”
Rachel Steinback, an attorney for the National Lawyers Guild of LA, told Greater LA today that she had these concerns:
Rachel Steinback: “The curfew is and was illegal. They (LA City Attorney’s Office) know that. They know that they can't win these cases in court. And that's why they're creating this alternative. We do not believe there should be an alternative. All of the arrested protesters were engaging in protected free speech, and their cases should be not filed or dismissed immediately without conditions.”
Let's unpack that. The LA City Attorney’s Office knows the curfew was illegal. They know that they can't win these cases in court, and that all of the arrested protesters were engaging in protected free speech. The ACLU was set to file suit. How do you respond to that?
Mike Feuer: “Let's take those points and turn first to the curfew. There was a lawsuit filed. … I can't discuss the specifics of that litigation.
I can say this. I think curfews are a very last resort and to be extremely rarely invoked. Curfews in general are inimical to a free society. But there are moments — and I think we saw a moment about a week ago — when curfews here and elsewhere played a role.
They weren't the only ingredient. But they played a role in creating some space. Kind of a time out on the street. ... We have seen the protests ... be almost exclusively peaceful.
So with regards to the curfew, the approach that we're taking has nothing to do with the litigation surrounding the lawfulness of the curfew. And it certainly has nothing to do with our office's capacity to prove these cases in court. I just don't care what she [Rachel Steinback] says about that. This has nothing to do with a decision based on whether we could prove our cases in court, and nothing to do with whether the curfew is adjudicated to have been lawful or not.”
Steinback says there should not be an alternative.
“We are in the process of evaluating how best to create as much involvement and participation in the system that we're describing as possible. We have already been in conversations — preliminary conversations — with one key advocate for the protesters, to see if over the next number of days if we can find common ground on an approach that recognizes the values everybody is trying to promote here and advances the ball forward.
For our office, this is about an approach that hasn't been engaged in anywhere in the United States as far as I know. Where an office like mine — which among other things prosecutes — is playing a leading role in trying to convene people who traditionally have not been in the same room, have not listened carefully to each other. We have these very polarized positions being taken, when actually I think there can be common ground found. If people listen to each other.
So that's the approach we're taking here. It does not have to do with whether we could prove a case in court. That's kind of beside the point here.
What is the point is: Can our office be constructive? And can advocates like the advocate you interviewed [Rachel Steinback] help us try to find ways to establish that common ground that can actually advance the ball for a whole society?”
Let’s hear another clip from Rachel Steinback:
Rachel Steinback: “So if the city attorney, the district attorney and the regional city attorneys don't simply agree to not move forward on these low level cases, we will be prepared to go to court to take these cases to trial and to prevail at trial.”
Steinback says they've lined up lawyers who are ready to take these cases pro bono. Is the judicial system ready for that?
Mike Feuer: “We'll see if it ever has to come to that because, as I mentioned, our goal is not to be punitive at all. And our goal is not to be in a position where we are litigating the merits of these individual cases as opposed to taking advantage of a very important moment that has been rekindled by the protest to establish some very important principle about having a society that isn't pervaded with racism, having law enforcement and people in their communities that law enforcement serves actually recognize that they need each other.
That's the moment we're trying to galvanize here as opposed to thinking of this. The larger picture here is we have a society on the edge, a society that could be at a breaking point. Or it could be at a very important, positive point, where finally people are listening to each other. And shouldn't we use this moment to take advantage of that energy in a positive way?”
Are you considering possible repercussions, even arrest, for LAPD officers who assaulted protesters with batons, or shot them with rubber bullets and tear gas?
“None of us in America, let alone here in Los Angeles, should for one moment excuse an act of violence of one person against another. And that includes, very importantly, instances where police engage in that conduct.
We have seen images across the United States that are appalling. This is well beyond the absolutely heinous murder of George Floyd, but in jurisdictions in the aftermath of this across the country. And then we saw the president of the United States, for goodness sakes, calling the military in Washington to try to break up peaceful protests for a while.”
Are you now dedicated to ensuring that those who are on the police side, who may have instigated some of this violence, are also brought to justice? Yes or no?
“That would fall to the district attorney rather than to my office.”
— Written by Erin Senne and Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal