anthony asadullah samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad

*June 5th is Election Day throughout the state of the California. Every race has some intriguing aspects to them, but none more the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s race. The black community’s politics have become so convoluted, that it doesn’t know who can represent it and how to discern it.

The bench of “qualified” black candidates for local and state elections is thin. Real thin. You think the Lakers had a thin bench? The Los Angeles black community has a leadership void now. No trained leadership in its pipeline. No 20 somethings or 30s somethings on the bench—or even 40 somethings. The Latino community has several 30s and 40s somethings electeds in office as they are bringing forth new generations. The black community is playing musical chairs. Everybody running for office, or talking about running for office, in the black community is in their 50s (or older), except one. Talking about, “new leadership.” Please. We really need to address this at some point. The black community needs some young players on its bench to win again. At a time when the Latino community is poised to “flex” on the 9th district city council seat (and a couple of other seats) with their loooong bench of up and comers (the labor movement is their pipeline), this is quite disconcerting. Still, black people need representation too and they need to be sophisticated about how they choose representatives.

What makes the District Attorney’s interesting is that there are three African Americans in the race. All have their support bases, but generally in “law and order” seats (Attorney General, District Attorney), black people have little chance to win in cities or counties without large non-black constituencies. In Los Angeles, the favorite in the D.A. race is an African American women…that for some reason, the community doesn’t want to get behind.

Now I’ve heard the reasons. She was “handpicked” by the non-popular current D.A. and is only a “puppet.” The black “rank and file” don’t like her. She doesn’t know our community. She’s anti-labor. Whatever the buzz was, it was all designed to keep the black community confused and distracted around who this lady was. It is easy to stay out of a race when you don’t have a dog in the fight. But black people in Los Angeles County are disproportionately arrested, disproportionately prosecuted (to their percentage in the population), and disproportionately sentenced by over-zealous deputy D.A.s, trying to make a name for themselves. Who’s the next “Top Cop” in L.A. is not exactly something we can overlook and is not a race we should lay down on.

While attending the memorial service for civil rights attorney and community activist, John Caldwell, the preacher for his eulogy (Rev. Zen Holmes) said about John something that stuck with me.  He said John lived with a zeal and an attitude about how we change our community, and we don’t change it by sitting silent. He said that John’s attitude was the old mantra where, “When you see a good fight, Get In It!!!” John’s service was a beautiful tribute to the power of activism (close to 800 attended the service). Next day, I went to see my old friend, Willis Edwards, who is in a V.A. Hospice in Northridge. I learned a lot of what I know about activism from Willis. Though he may be down, he is not out and is busy making change from rest bed (not a death bed). Never short on spirit, or low on insight, the subject of the District Attorney’s race came up when a commercial came on television.

Willis, from his sickbed, raised up and said, the community is making a mistake by not supporting Jackie Lacey—and it’s because they really don’t know Steve Cooley. Now, of all the things to talk about, when you think you’re seeing a person at the end of their journey, he wants to talk about an injustice taking place with Jackie Lacey. So I listened, though I really like Bobby Grace—I know he can’t (won’t) win.

People talk about Grace, then invoke that Barack Obama was a long shot too. Well, he was a long shot, but the one thing Barack Obama did was out-raised all of his opponents and it made him competitive. You need major money for a countywide race and its just not there—and our community can’t continue to be naïve about the reality of politics. You can’t win with just a base and no money, but you can win with money and no base. We’ve seen that too. Thus, the conversation becomes about not, “who might win,” but “who’s can win” and who best serves our interests. That’s when the conversation gets good, and the light bulb comes on with Willis. We can never let anybody close our options. We must keep an open mind to all options, even when they don’t appear favorable on its face. Willis asked me to do him a favor and at least talk to Jackie. I asked him, why? He said, “How many times do we have a chance to push a front-runner across the finish line? And how many times do we have an African American as the frontrunner, who has been endorsed by nearly every major newspaper in the County, for District Attorney?” The answer, to both questions are, hardly ever. His response was, “Then why would we miss this opportunity?” He was right. The noise box has kept the community away from Jackie Lacey.

Willis made it clear that this is an opportunity that we should not sleep. Now, the major incentive for me, is that City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has jumped in the race—with a million dollar war chest. The fight just got good. The black community helped get Trutanich in the runoff in his first election, by beating Jack Weiss, and he has never acknowledged that—nor has he kept any of his campaign promises to the community. What once was taken for granted that Lacey would win, now is a good fight, that the black community must get in the middle of to insure she wins. So, I met with Jackie Lacey, and raised everything to her that I had read and heard. And she addressed them. She is from this community (she went to Dorsey, class of 1975-same year as me). She has had some conflicts in the D.A.’s office. Who hasn’t had conflicts in their work arena? She’s nobody’s puppet, and has some “haters.” Who doesn’t? Remember, “Haters make you greater.” I came away with no overt reason to oppose her, and her association to Steve Cooley is not a compelling reason. Black people have been stigmatized and marginalized by “guilt by association” treatment, it should be a “lesson learnt” for us. What I did come away with was several reasons to try to help her. And not “just” because she’s African American—but it factors.

I can’t say that I know Jackie Lacey any better, but I am willing to get to know her. Some things I’ve heard and read make me a little nervous. But things I know and have read about Carmen Trutanich makes me a lot nervous. I believe Lacey can be worked with and the community can raise their concerns after we get her in the runoff. We know the three black candidates are going to split the black electorate—and that is to be expected—but when looking at who has the best chance to win this office, it’s not a fight we can afford to stand by and watch.

So, I’m keeping a promise to an old friend, and asking my community to take a closer look at the frontrunner in this race, who is from our community, and has a chance to become the first black D.A. in the history of Los Angeles. Let’s help get Jackie Lacey in the run-off so we can take a closer look at her. We owe nothing to nobody by taking a “Look-see,” but sometimes, a favor to a friend goes a long way. Willis Edwards asking, alone, is worth the consideration.

Get better, Willis.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st  Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.