Baca stepped out of the courthouse on August 1st, came down to face the cameras, and began to justify all the reasons why he was withdrawing his guilty plea. I listened to him make his statement and a couple things came up for me…
There’s a really offensive irony in the fact that he continues to play up his Alzheimer’s diagnosis as a reason why he shouldn’t go to prison. Meanwhile we still have hella folks inside who aren’t getting proper treatment. Law enforcement’s psychological and emotional wellbeing has so much more value and weight than the psychological and emotional wellbeing of Black and Brown people in Los Angeles County; particularly incarcerated people. Clearly Baca is using his diagnosis as a legal maneuver while many of our folks in the jail system, which he ran for years, are experiencing cognitive “impairments that are beyond minimal” (as his lawyer described him.) Baca may in fact benefit from the “mental health diversion” climate that has the county’s attention but our loved ones inside have yet to see those benefits.
Even when you talk about an officer involved shooting the popular narrative is that “police are scared for their lives.” The family members of Donnell Thompson, Jr. have expressed that he had a disability. Those needs were met with military force. The Sheriff’s response in his case was to deploy SWAT, deploy armored vehicles, and kill him.
Donnell Thompson, Jr.’s case is a clear indication of how the fear and psychological health of law enforcement is valued over the safety and lives of people in our community. They are given so much more priority – even in a legal context, which is why Baca is playing up his diagnosis so hard. All the while Donnell’s family endures another example of “treatment” for Black people. This is a clear indicator of the crisis of state violence.
The health and wellness of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Black and Brown people and their loved ones is the necessary priority. It is all the more critical that we look at it not as supplement to the conversations of stopping lethal and excessive force, but as essential. Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown LA is still the largest mental healthcare provider in the country and Los Angeles County is looking to build another jail to function as a treatment facility. As long as incarceration and public safety are the lenses through which we “treat” Black and Brown people’s health our communities will never be safe.