Los Angeles County is the next battleground in the struggle to reform our criminal legal system. We are home to one of the largest prisons in the world, two of the deadliest police departments in the nation, and an incredibly broken prosecutor’s office.
As the most populous county in the nation our District Attorney’s office is involved in thousands of prosecutions a year. The sheer size of our DA’s office and jail system makes LA a model for the nation. For too long LA has relied on mass incarceration as a solution to crime. Calls for reform have been getting louder, gaining momentum by passing SB 1421 and getting Measure R on the March ballot. Community members have been vocal about their demands, but our DA’s office has failed to deliver needed reforms.
Since 2013, Jackie Lacey has served as LA County’s DA. She won the office running as a reformer, but quickly abandoned any actual moves towards change. Her signature reform, a much-touted mental health diversion program, is mostly lip service, with prosecutors regularly opposing diversion even in obvious cases of mental illness. Even though the state legislature has demanded that prosecutors take immigration consequences into account in charging decisions, Lacey has failed to create any policy or standards for her line attorneys to follow.
LAPD and LA County Sheriff’s deputies kill dozens of people every year, more than 500 people since Lacey was first elected, yet these killings have only resulted in 1 prosecution. Even when the Chief of Police recommended charges against a killer cop, Lacey’s office looked the other way. Other uses of force, as well as deaths in custody, go unprosecuted. Our police and jailers have been given de facto immunity.
Serial killer Ed Buck was allowed to prey on vulnerable young men for years, resulting in at least 2 deaths, though the real number is probably higher. Whether it was his position as a Democratic donor, his wealth, his social position in West Hollywood, or her office’s indifference to marginalized victims is anyone’s guess, but Jackie Lacey failed to pursue charges. Buck would almost certainly be free today, but for the intervention of federal prosecutors. When pressed on the case, Lacey threw the forensic investigators under the bus, claiming that she had wanted to prosecute Buck all along.
The racist disparities don’t stop there. Despite California’s death penalty moratorium, Lacey’s office has sentenced 22 people to death row; every single one of whom is a person of color. Lacey is not only out of step with state policy, she has also led her office further into racialized incarceration.
Because of these many failings, Lacey has faced robust protests for the last few years. Black Lives Matter LA has led weekly vigils in front of her office, shown up at her events, and even protested at her house. Rather than meeting with community members, Lacey has hidden. Rather than instituting needed reforms, Lacey has delayed. Rather than listening to the people, Lacey has protected power.
We are unequivocally advocating for Jackie Lacey’s defeat in March. Right now it feels like she is fighting for 2nd place in a 3 way contest. The best outcome would be for Lacey to come in 3rd and not make the November runoff.
There are two challengers vying to unseat Lacey: Rachel Rossi and George Gascon. Either would be a massive improvement in the office, but they have very different backgrounds.
Rachel Rossi is a former LA County Public Defender and former Federal Public Defender. Rossi’s platform is rooted in the idea of protecting communities and using incarceration as a last option. Her experience as a defense attorney gives her a unique insight on the criminal legal system. Her career has demonstrated her commitment to clients and community, giving her far more courtroom experience than the incumbent. Rossi has staked out very progressive positions: stop cooperation with ICE at courthouses and probation offices, end cash bail, appoint independent prosecutors to prosecute police misconduct. Unlike the incumbent, she has pledged to open up communication with the community and to directly engage the community in the reform process.
George Gascon is the former San Francisco District Attorney, who left that office to return to Los Angeles. He has a solid history as a reformer as one of the co-authors of Proposition 47, which was an enormous expansion of freedom that ended the felony prosecution of drug addiction and petty theft. He also supported AB 392, imposing new limits on the use of deadly force by the police, and took that stand even before the bill was watered down. He has faced substantial criticism, however, for his own failure to prosecute killer cops in San Francisco.
Either challenger would be a substantial improvement over Jackie Lacey. As an experienced manager, Gascon might be better equipped to exert control over the massive office; given the scale of the fight and the very real possibility of backlash by reactionary forces, however, the success of a reform DA is going to depend on their ability to communicate their policies and develop community support for change. Rossi’s history as a public defender, familiarity with LA, and aggressive platform make her the more progressive choice.
KNOCK, therefore, recommends Rachel Rossi for District Attorney. But a vote for Gascon is also a vote for someone who will center reforms. A November race between two progressives with different visions is far preferable to Jackie Lacey stumbling through another election cycle.