Victories of Progressive DAs Caught Opponents ‘Off Guard’

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George Gascón's election as DA in Los Angeles was one of several notable wins by progressives in 2020. Photo by Shawn via Flickr

Growing voter support for so-called progressive prosecutors and their reform policies caught many law enforcement professionals and conservative politicians “off guard,” NPR reports.

The victories of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who won  her bid for re-election, George Gascon in Los Angeles and Jose Garza in Austin, Tx., continued a slow but steady support for changing the “tough on crime” approach that has driven mass incarceration.

Although out of more than 2,400 elected prosecutors fewer than 100 pursue reform agendas, they are perceived as a threat to traditional “tough on crime” approaches favored by law enforcement unions and conservative politicians.

“We think we caught a lot of those folks off guard,” says Scott Roberts, the senior director of campaigns for the activist group, Color of Change.

“They weren’t ready for a movement that would focus on prosecutor elections. ”

In Chicago,  Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx interpreted her victory as a mandate to “double down” on her existing policies.

“It means, in this next term, doubling down on our efforts,” she said. “to make sure that people with substance use disorder or mental health issues have the resources they need in communities so we can stop the de facto use of our justice system” to help people in crisis. won her bid for re-election

In Austin, Tx, Jose Garza,  a former public defender, said he considered his victory a mandate to tackle racial bias in the justice system by decriminalize low-level drug use.

“We know that those kind of offenses are one of the greatest drivers of racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” said Garza. “So we have made clear that when we take office we will end the prosecution of low-level drug offenses.”

George Gascon, who beat Jackie Lacey in the race for Los Angeles D.A., , promised to promptly implement a number of changes.

“We would eliminate the death penalty. We’d stop prosecuting children as adults. We would start creating more diversion opportunities especially for those that are mentally ill,” he said.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Peter Moskos says that while reform-minded prosecutors are raising real issues, their focus has to be on public safety.

“The idea that if we just stop arresting and prosecuting non-violent offenders and everything will get better is a dream world,” says Moskos. “We haven’t seen that happen anywhere.”

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