State Prison Officers Union Under Fire for Video Showing Crosshairs on Face of Black Lawmaker

A screenshot of a video that was posted briefly on the Facebook page of the president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association showing a crosshairs taped over a photo of Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. (Facebook)

The union representing prison correctional officers in California is under fire after briefly posting a video online showing crosshairs taped over a photo of a Black lawmaker who is up for reelection this year and who the union has spent more than $100,000 to defeat.

The president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), Glen Stailey, posted the 2 1/2-minute video on his Facebook page before quickly taking it down amid criticism that it could incite violence against the targeted lawmaker, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles.

Jones-Sawyer is chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and has been an outspoken advocate for  police and criminal justice reform.

The video, which implores supporters of law enforcement to register to vote this year, paints California as unsafe and says that law enforcement has been framed as the “enemy.”

“California communities and our professional life have been under duress for some time,” a voiceover in the video states. “Failed public safety policies and eagerness to score cheap political points have put our neighborhoods at risk and created more victims of crime. This is beyond unacceptable. It is beyond time to bring accountability back to the state Capitol and behind prison walls.”

The narrator goes on to say that law enforcement needs to come together and speak the “truth about what is happening” in prisons and on the streets.

“We’re going to demand that the increased violence and assault on police officers is addressed and that the perpetrators are held accountable to the highest degree,” the voiceover states, as members of CCPOA stand before a wall covered with pictures of lawmakers. One of the men in the video points a finger at the red crosshairs taped over a picture clearly labeled Jones-Sawyer.

In a statement this morning, Stailey said the union will take the video down and edit it — but defended the content as simply a campaign video.

“The CCPOA posted a video that showed we are ‘targeting’ several legislative districts,” Stailey stated. “It would require a great stretch of the imagination to believe that we meant anything other than our clear intent, which was to demonstrate that we are mounting political campaigns against certain legislators. However, to put this controversy to rest, we are removing the video from our official channels and editing it. We will not be deterred from our commitment to protect the interests of correctional officers by actively participating in political campaigns.”

But gun violence prevention activist Peter Ambler, executive director and co-founder of the Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence group, said the video should be taken seriously.

Ambler previously worked for former Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona, when she was shot in the head at a constituent event in 2011. She survived the attack, but was badly injured; six other people at the event were killed.

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“The conflation of politics and violence is a threat not only to the safety of our communities, but to our very democracy,” Ambler said. “The threat against Reggie not only endangers his safety, but is all the more chilling when taken in context of his advocacy for police and prison reform, which CCPOA opposes.”

Jones-Sawyer said in an interview that he was surprised by the video, because he has worked well with CCPOA and went on a trip with Stailey to Norway to look at successful prison rehabilitation efforts there.

“I didn't know what to say,” Jones-Sawyer said of seeing the video and realizing that a target had been put on his head. “It was like, what is this about? It absolutely did not make any sense. It’s disturbing because of the safety of my family. But most important, I'd never seen anything like this before.”

Jones-Sawyer said he has reached out to the state attorney general’s office to ask them to investigate the video.

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He added that he considers his efforts championing police oversight and reform as a way to better protect law enforcement who do their jobs properly by building trust with the community. And, he said, threats like this won't deter the work of the Legislature.

“People are still going to want those reforms, whether I'm here or not,” Jones-Sawyer said. “And so, that's what makes it so perplexing. I can't think they think that coming after me will scare the rest of my colleagues from not trying to push for more reforms. In fact, they may push even more so.”

CCPOA was an influential political player in the 1990s and early 2000s, as California passed a slew of tough-on-crime sentencing laws, which they supported and, in the case of ballot measures, often bankrolled. Those laws, including California's three strikes measure, helped drive up the state's prison population, led to the construction of new prisons and swelled CCPOA’s ranks and political power.

The union seemed to recede from the political scene over the past decade and a half, as California worked to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce its prison population — and as voters, as well as state leaders, embraced more progressive criminal justice policies.

Nevertheless, CCPOA did spend $4 million in independent expenditures to support the 2018 election bids of Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. And the video — along with other recent campaign finance contributions — indicates that CCPOA plans to assert itself more.

“Today marks the first day of a new direction for our association,” the narrator says as the video opens. He goes on to pledge support to lawmakers “not afraid to stand with law enforcement."

In addition to the $106,000 in independent expenditures made this month on behalf of Jones-Sawyer's challenger, Efren Martinez, CCPOA also made nearly $150,000 in campaign contributions on a single day in August to a wide range of lawmakers and to both the Democratic and Republican state parties.

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