Black clergy to serve on D.A.’s interfaith advisory board

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Five of the 13 members appointed by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón to his new Interfaith Advisory Board are Black clergy, a move viewed as part of Gascón’s efforts to improve his questionable relationship with Black communities in the county.

The five Black clergy are teaming up with Gascón as he digs in for a difficult campaign battle against Nathan Hochman, the former federal prosecutor who forced Gascón into a November runoff for the district attorney’s seat.

Gascón is seeking a second term amidst rising concerns of public safety and property crimes in Black communities.

“It’s very important that we’re able to have the ear and attention of the D.A.,” Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope, said of Gascón. “Anytime you’re a public official, you’re going to have critics from every ethnic group.”

Ali and other clergy expressed support for Gascón’s Interfaith Advisory Board, which was formally sworn in on March 13 and will conduct monthly meetings with Gascón and his staff.

A primary purpose of the board is to share with Gascón concerns and solutions to issues that plague minority and diverse communities throughout the county.

“Faith-based organizations have long been at the forefront of social justice movements and advocating for the rights of marginalized and underserved populations,” Gascón said in a statement. “Our county is a rich tapestry of cultures, beliefs and backgrounds. It’s imperative that our criminal justice system reflects and respects this diversity.”

Gascón was praised by many Black clergy leaders for his “transparency” while running for the district attorney seat in 2020. Gascón promised the group that he would create opportunities for dialogue.

“This board gives us a chance to provide information from the various communities and deliver honest narratives, not a particular agenda,” said Elder Joe Paul Jr., vice president of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership and one of the five Black clergy on the Interfaith Advisory Board. “We have legitimate concerns about things going on in our communities and the justice system. The only power we have before the handcuffs come on is to talk first and understand.”

The four other Black clergy on Gascon’s Interfaith Advisory Board include:

• Stephen ‘Cue’ Jn-Marie, a former hip-hop artist who founded the Church Without Walls in Skid Row.

•  James Thomas, assistant professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State Los Angeles and pastor of Living Word Community Church.

• Gary B. Williams, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles. 

• And Ivory R.F. Brown, pastor of Brown Memorial Temple Church of God In Christ in Pomona.

“I believe this group can make a difference,” said pastor Shep Crawford of Experience Christian Ministries, a church in the Ninth District. “There’s a perfect blend of clergy and politics. I just want the job to get done. There’s so much work to do out here on these streets.”

Crawford was among a group of Black clergy that participated in a breakfast meeting with Gascón at a South L.A. restaurant in 2020. Paul coordinated the meeting to give Gascón a face-to-face connection with voices in the Black community. 

At that meeting, Gascón made a commitment for open dialogue with Black leaders, a pledge that ultimately led to his development of the Interfaith Advisory Board.

“It’s important to have a safe space where meaningful discussions can happen,” Paul said.

Gascón survived two recall attempts during his first term. He drew complaints for a number of policies, including new leniency guidelines for juvenile offenders and sentence reductions in cases involving violent crimes.

Hochman seized on those issues and others in his campaign attacks on Gascón during the March primary. Hochman, who lost to Rob Banta in 2022 in the race for California state attorney general, reportedly raised more than $2 million in campaign funds to challenge Gascón and force the November runoff.

Gascón may be in a position where he will need additional support leading up to the general election, particularly from communities that have disagreed with some of his policies.

“People need to become more educated about what Gascón has done,” Ali said. “Gascón needs to run on his record and not be so concerned about the tactics of his opponents.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at