McCarthy Boycott: Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Calls On U.S. To Stop Building Jail 'Death Traps'

Black Lives Matter Co-Founder and Reform L.A. Jails Chairperson Patrisse Khan-Cullors is launching a new campaign calling on Los Angeles County officials to cancel a contract with McCarthy Building Companies, a prison-building contractor, to replace a men's jail with a new mental health hospital for inmates.

Calling the plans for the new mental health hospital for inmates a "death trap" jail in disguise, Khan-Cullors told Newsweek that she wanted to see L.A. County officials call off their plans to invest millions in a plan that would see thousands with mental health issues "criminalized."

In response to the "unconscionable" use of jail in place of treatment, as well as the lack of investment in prevention and rehabilitation services for those with mental health issues, Khan-Cullors and Black Lives Matter, in partnership with other community organizations and grassroots groups, have collected more than 246, 000 signatures to put an initiative to "Reform L.A. County Jails" on the ballot on March 3, 2020.

On Wednesday, Khan-Cullors and others will also be formally launching their call for L.A. County officials to cancel plans to build a new mental health hospital under the hashtag #CancelMcCarthyContract.

Arguing that the facility will only put inmates with mental health issues in further peril, Khan-Cullors pointed to the embattled California Health Care Facility in Stockton, which was built by McCarthy and which was the subject of a scathing report last year on poor mental health management at the facility.

In his report, California's chief prison psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Golding, accused officials of misrepresenting the care that thousands of prisoners were getting, putting the health and lives of inmates at risk at the facility, which was at the center of a horrifying incident in 2017 that saw an inmate pull one of her eyes out and swallow it.

"It's so bad that one prisoner ate their eyeballs, which is so disturbing to even have to utter," Khan-Cullors said.

"I feel very, very badly for the people of Stockton who have to deal with this behemoth of a building in their community," she continued. "People with mental illness are not being treated the way they should be, not receiving the care they should be."

For Khan-Cullors, the criminalization of people with mental health issues is one that hits close to home.

The Black Lives Matter co-founder's own older brother, Monte, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a teen, was beaten and arrested by Sheriff Deputies in L.A. County jails over activity triggered by his condition in an incident that Khan-Cullors said might have been avoided had he had access to the care he needed–and if mental health issues were approached differently by law enforcement.

Currently, Khan-Cullors said, the way that people with mental health issues are treated within the criminal justice system "is backwards and inhumane."

"Mental illness impacts every single person. Everyone knows someone with a mental health condition," Khan-Cullors said. "It is part of our everyday."

"Right now, there are as many as 5,000 people who are in county jails suffering from some sort of mental illness," she said. "We don't put cancer patients in jail or HIV patients in jail just because they have leukemia or are HIV-positive."

Instead of seeing another multi-million detention facility for inmates built in L.A. County, Khan-Cullors said she would like to see federal and local lawmakers "start over again" and focus on "community-based treatment" for people with mental health issues.

"Jail only exacerbates their conditions," she said. "It does not help."

"I would love to find an architect or a company that is ethically driven and that understands the needs of people with severe mental illness and is interested in building not one facility, because we can't just have one facility," she said. "We need community-based treatment and it needs to be throughout Los Angeles."

Then, she said, "if we can stop a mental health jail in Los Angeles, we can stop mental health jails across the country," she said. "Whenever Los Angeles does anything, good or bad, we lead the way."

"This is a moment to be brave," she said.

McCarthy Building Companies and L.A. County officials have not responded to requests for comment from Newsweek for this article.

Patrisse Khan Cullors
Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors speaks at the 2018 ACLU National Conference at the Washington Convention Center on June 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Khan-Cullors has called on Los Angeles County officials to cancel a contract with McCarthy Building Companies to build a mental health facility for inmates. Paul Morigi/Getty
McCarthy Boycott: Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Calls On U.S. To Stop Building Jail 'Death Traps' | U.S.