Los Angeles, CA, February 2, 2021 –
Today, the Deputy District Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles County has their day in court with newly-elected District Attorney George Gascón, who has been in office since December 7th, 2020, and was elected on November 3rd. Gascón’s election led to an end to the 8-year era of District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was long-critiqued for her oppressive policies and regressive “tough-on-crime approach.” Voters chose George Gascón by a convincing margin, and Lacey, and all that her Office stood for (a disturbing lack of accountability for law enforcement officers who have violently stolen the lives of our loved ones, harsh, hyper-punitive sentencing, and a “No” vote on Props 47 and 57) was rejected by voters and ousted from office.
It’s no surprise that upon the election of George Gascón, the County’s Deputy District Attorneys, or line-DAs, are rejecting his meaningful policy changes. Line-prosecutors have long been indoctrinated into a culture of extreme sentencing, rewards for prosecution, and an adherence to over-reaching prosecutorial bravado. These features of the Office are also the culture of criminal legal system as a whole, and the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s era hyper-punitive, deeply racist, classist “tough-on-crime” approach: a mindset and set of laws encouraging District Attorneys to seek County jail and State prison time without a thought about the impact these policies and prosecutorial decisions have on community members’ lives.
In Gascón’s first week, he put forward a number of sweeping reforms, including ending the charging youth as adults, ending the filing of sentencing enhancements, re-sentencing cases that were previously filed with an enhancement, and reopening the cases of our loved ones whose lives have been stolen by law enforcement officers as far back as 2012. He also extended compensation allocated for victims of crime to those who are survivors of law enforcement violence and murder. These progressive reforms are steps in the right direction, and Dignity and Power NOW has long encouraged these actions, while also demanding a reduction in the size and scope of the District Attorney’s office. We’ve also demanded a redirection of funding from the DA’s Office to the 2015-created Office of Diversion and Re-entry, and to community-based programs, such as survivor services, that exist separate and apart from the District Attorney’s office.
Yet now, the progressive changes that Gascón ordered on day one are being contested in court by the prosecutors that work under him. During Gascón’s first week in office, Deputy District Attorneys filed a suit challenging his order to end the filing of sentencing enhancements, including gang enhancements and “three strikes” enhancements. The suit mounted by the Deputy DA’s is deeply unjust: sentencing enhancements are racist and classist, and destroy the lives of our community members.
Dr. Lamia El Sadek, Executive Director of Dignity and Power NOW, says, “For the Deputy District Attorney’s Association to sue Gascón because he implemented progressive policy changes that were promised on the campaign trail is regressive and abhorrent. We know that voters chose a transformation of our criminal legal system, leading away from an era of tough-on-crime approaches and towards an era of investing in care and community. The Deputy District Attorney’s Association is attempting to block progress to protect their own interests, and this selfish, insidious approach harms our community members and stalls the progress of our movements. We cannot stand for it.”
Dignity and Power NOW names the urgent need to support the progressive reforms coming out of DA Gascón’s office. We know that District Attorney’s Associations aren’t actually unions that fight for fair wages and safe, humane working conditions. Instead, they are powerful, corrupt special interests who protect Deputy District Attorney & law enforcement abuse, as well as bloated District Attorney and law enforcement budgets. Given that Dignity and Power NOW believes in defunding the District Attorney’s office and funding systems of community-based care, we strongly oppose the protectionist cronyism of the Deputy District Attorney’s Association. Lex Steppling, Dignity and Power NOW’s Director of Campaigns and Policy says, “The Deputy DA’s are showing a commitment to a long discredited status quo rather then a commitment to public safety, accountability, and ethics. They should be utterly ashamed.”
This suit filed by the Deputy District Attorneys also defies the direction and power of our social movements and the choices of voters more broadly. The election ushered in a new era of sweeping changes made by the District Attorney, and his election was made possible by civil uprisings outside of the District Attorney’s Office, and the momentum of our people-powered movements for years prior to this tipping point. For the Deputy District Attorney’s office to challenge this transformation in court is regressive, obstructionist, and unjust. Continuing to try to defend “tough-on-crime” sentencing enhancements when the lived experience of our community members, and the data, show that these approaches destroy lives and don’t reduce crime, is a backward, small-minded approach. Michael Saavedra, Community Engagement Organizer with Dignity and Power NOW, says, “Gascón’s policies of ending sentence enhancements and opening up cases for resentencing are crucial day-one moves. People have already done their time, and having them do extra time for a sentencing enhancement when they could come home early is wrong. By re-sentencing people who are currently serving a sentence enhancement, people have a chance to re-enter our communities earlier, and have their lives outside of prison begin sooner. Challenging Gascón’s move to end the filing of sentence enhancements is a vengeful, immoral move on behalf of the Deputy District Attorneys.”
What’s more, in addition to dropping sentencing enhancements, Gascón also promised to reopen the cases of officer-involved use-of-force and officer-involved shootings dating back to 2012. His office will work with the Law School at University of California- Irvine to reopen these cases. Helen Jones, Community Organizer with Dignity and Power NOW, whose son, John Horton’s life was stolen in 2009 by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputies while he was being held in custody, says, “It’s essential that all of our cases be reopened. Any time when the County Coroner is in question, cases should be reopened to reveal what really happened to our babies and to give grieving families answers. Gascón is taking a first step, and for District Attorney’s to be undermining him in court proves that they are in bed with law enforcement and would never actually hold killer law enforcement officers accountable. Rather than challenge Gascón on these enhancements, we need to be focused on supporting his policies of reopening families’ cases, and push him to look back further than 2012 to make sure that no families get left behind.” Saharra White, Community Engagement Organizer with Dignity and Power NOW, agrees, saying “When I lost my loved one, Quinten Thomas, I and our daughter, Ashanti, needed support. It is crucial that we hold these Deputy District Attorneys accountable for their actions, and not allow them to protect law enforcement interests instead of the lives and legacies of our stolen community members.”
Originally published by Dignity and Power Now: Source