As a chant of “You help killer cops” rumbled through a packed community center in South L.A. recently, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey stared at the people pointing their fingers at her. “You’re a race traitor,” one woman screamed. When she finally addressed the crowd members at a town hall meeting on race and the criminal justice system, Lacey told them she understood their anger. The event illustrated the intense pressure on Lacey — the county’s first black district attorney — to take a tougher stance in prosecuting police officers who use force against civilians, particularly African Americans, reports the Los Angeles Times. Decisions about charging officers in killings of black men–and the larger issue of how prosecutors deal with police force, weigh heavily on the otherwise popular Lacey–who this year became the county’s first district attorney to win reelection without a challenger in 60 years.
Her office has not filed charges against an officer in an on-duty shooting in more than 15 years, long before she took the helm. But Lacey has drawn especially forceful criticism from some African American activists who say they feel she has failed them. Lacey says she has a deep-rooted respect for police but also a clear view of their historical abuse of black people and how that influence carries into the present. After police shootings, she said her mind often jumps to the same question: Was it racially motivated? “Who could not think about that?” she said in an interview, adding that she always looks for assumptions in cases, especially those involving people of color. She recently announced new mandatory training for prosecutors in how to avoid implicit racial biases.