Who Does Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell Really Work For? (OPINION)

Aug 20, 2018
12:12 PM

With Donald Trump repeatedly weaponizing immigrants to divide America with his clear racism and racist policies, the most important race in American this November is arguably the race for Los Angeles County Sheriff.


Current Sheriff Jim McDonnell is a long-term Republican who now claims to be an “independent,” having left the Republican brand as his public profile grew at LAPD where he served for over 20 years. Interestingly enough, McDonnell did not leave the Republican Party in protest of California Governor Pete Wilson’s routinely attacking immigrants and proposing to turn teachers into immigration agents. McDonnell did not leave the Republican Party when President Reagan was South African’s BFF during Apartheid nor during Bush 1 and 2s illegal wars, torture, nor Congressman Sensenbrenner’s plan to turn school bus drivers into immigration agents.

McDonnell left the Republican Party for independent status as he applied to be LAPD Chief unsuccessfully and successfully for the top cop job in Blue Long Beach. Now claiming the need for safety, McDonnell has sealed his voter registration presumably to hide his lifelong membership in Donald Trump’s Republican Party. But it is not Jim’s flip-flopping on his party that is cause for concern. It is solidarity and commitment to Republican values and his disdain and opposition to those he claims to protect.

At a time of national conversation around local policing, there is growing Democratic talk of ending collaboration with ICE for non-violent, non-sex and non-drug offenders, reforming our jails, and rolling back policies of mass incarceration. It is also time we in Los Angeles County expand our thinking of how to reduce our incarceration and arrest rates, not on how to expand our already massive jail system. Last year alone, over 1,100 people were transferred to ICE from LA County jails under McDonnell’s watch. He continues to give ICE access to these jails and allows them to question whoever ICE wants as long as the person in question signs a dubious consent form. In fact, in the recent debate, McDonnell said that he will continue working with ICE.

McDonnell’s anti-immigrant actions are mirrored in his lobbying efforts as well. Last year, he was arguably the most vocal and most powerful opponent of SB 54, the California “Sanctuary Law.” His opposition resulted in a drastically weakened bill that leaves large gaps for ICE and Trump’s politicized immigration enforcement to prey on immigrants in Los Angeles. His opposition to SB 54 drew large protests, which culminated in a lawsuit by immigrant rights organizations for refusing to answer questions about his communications with Trump. Throughout the process to pass SB 54, McDonnell repeatedly stuck to the Trump Administration’s talking points, essentially threatening immigration raids in the community if SB 54 passed.

But McDonnell’s record is worrying—not just on immigration. One of his signature projects is a massive expansion of the LA jail system. He has urged the LA Board of Supervisors to approve a $2.4 billion plan to increase the capacity of LAs jails by 3,900 beds. This is especially problematic, given that Los Angeles already runs the largest system of jails in the country. Our jails are almost double in population that of the next largest jail system, New York City. Many fear McDonnell’s true motives are to expand his detention of undocumented immigrants. Instead of increasing capacity for jails, presumably to rent beds to state and federal prisons and ICE, the LA County Sheriff should be working to protect inmates in jail while they await trial, while adding more programs for education, reform and treatment for addiction.

Then there is McDonnell’s close collaboration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In fact, McDonnell joined Jeff Sessions front and center in Sacramento when the good ol’ boy AG announced his lawsuit against California. McDonnell also attended a private meeting in the White House with President Trump, along with other sheriffs from across the country. In another meeting in Fresno, McDonnell was present as Sessions honored the “Anglo American tradition of sheriffs.”

Yet in the end, McDonnell will have to answer to voters. Does he represent the county or does he represent Sessions and Trump? Is McDonnell just another conservative, anti-immigrant Republican?

This Sheriff’s race in Los Angeles is a referendum on old ideas about the role of policing. Are you voting for the continuation of mass incarceration, collaboration with ICE, and the promotion for policies that have subjugated the immigrant and black community for years, or will you vote for real change?

It’s pretty clear to me what we as a community must do.

Vote McDonnell out.


Javier González is the founder and principal of Tell That Story. He has over 20 years of experience in labor, community and political organizing. You can follow Javier on Twitter @javgonz.