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National Action Network Los Angeles Stands Up for Criminal Justice Reform One Case at a Time 
By  Niele Anderson,Contributing Writer 
Published July 20, 2017

Racial disparities drive the need for criminal justice reform. (Courtesy Photo)

The National Action Network Los Angeles currently advocates for AB 284, a bill authored by Democratic Assembly members Kevin McCarty, Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Rob Bonta, and Chris R. Holden. The bill which would give local police and district attorneys the ability to ask the state attorney general’s office to investigate police shootings, has the organization at odds with the Department of Justice under the leadership of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In a memo dated May 10, Sessions wrote that federal prosecutors “should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” calling that a “core principle” of the Justice Department charging and sentencing policy. The new policy replaces the approach of the Justice Department during the Obama administration under former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.  They gave federal prosecutors more leeway to decide when it was appropriate to charge crimes that trigger mandatory minimums, which automatically result in set prison terms.

Sessions’ memo also rescinded an August 12, 2013, memo from Former attorney general Holder, which instructed federal prosecutors to “ensure that our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers.” If the defendant met certain criteria ― if their conduct didn’t involve violence, if they weren’t a leader, if they didn’t have significant ties to gangs or drug trafficking organizations, and if they didn’t have a significant criminal history ― Holder instructed them not to charge the quantities that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

It should also be noted that stocks of the two biggest private prison operators — CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corp. of America) and Geo Group — have doubled since election day. CoreCivic is up 140% since Trump won in November; Geo Group has risen 98%.

The families of color that are affected by the U.S. Criminal Justice system are the main reflections justifying why reform is of dire need. One family that the network is trying to help navigate through the process is Mother Barbara Coleman, a Los Angeles grandmother who has lost one house and thousands of dollars in lawyer fees, collect calls and visits. Her grandson has received three consecutive life-sentences for attempted murder. He is currently seeking an appeal which brought her to National Action Network. She was referred to the organization from Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray.

This 88-year-old grandmother’s burden has allowed her to mobilize attention and support but the judicial wall is thick as she seeks freedom for her grandson or at least a sentence reduction.  Mother Coleman stated, “it’s just awful, he was transferred from Kern to Lancaster now they’re getting ready to move him out of state. If they move him out of state, I can’t go nowhere.”

The process has been tedious as NAN pivots community issues in addition to assisting mother Coleman through the process of appeal while at the same time trying to mobilize attention and support for bill AB 284.  “It’s the work where no cameras are there and you do it for the love of the community. You do it because it’s the right thing to do, you do it for your neighbor as the Bible teaches us to do. We march and we also lobby but we need the community, those who have loved ones incarcerated to help us advocate. Make calls, show up at meetings and rallies, help us fight for Criminal Justice Reform,”said Rev. K.W. Tullous, Western Regional director of National Action Network.

National Action Network meets every Monday at 6 p.m. at Concord Community Center,
2828 West Jefferson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90018. For more information 323-521-3477.

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