The discussion on changing the criminal justice system was part of a virtual meeting moderated by Melina Abdullah, a civic leader and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. District attorneys Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, George Gascon of Los Angeles County and Larry Krasner of Philadelphia attended, as did Kim Foxx, the state attorney for Cook County, Illinois.
Boudin and Gascon are currently facing recall attempts. All four DAs have implemented efforts to reduce incarceration and directives that represent a change from the traditional tough-on-crime approach.
“We should never walk away from the fact that reform is actually good for safety and health in the community,” Gascon said. “We should be very proud of the fact that the path that we’re taking is avoiding, not only the systemic racism, but all the mistakes of the past.”
Much of the panel blamed most crimes on several factors: poverty, racism, access to mental health care and over-policing.
The moves, however, come as violent crime has skyrocketed across the country amid brazen acts by offenders, with some having been arrested and released back onto the street time and time again. In California, Gascon helped author Proposition 47, a statewide ballot measure approved by voters that downgraded property thefts below $ 950 to misdemeanors.
Critics have blamed the measure for an uptick in brazen retail thefts across the state. San Francisco became the site of so many of those incidents that Walgreens closed multiple stores over concerns. In Los Angeles County, thieves had taken to following victims home from shopping malls and restaurants to rob them at home or in secluded areas.
In Chicago, murders and gun violence increased in 2021 following several years of declines.
Gascon’s other policies include barring prosecutors from trying juveniles as adults, which has been walked back, and not seeking cash bail or enhancement charges for repeat offenders.
Krasner said he believes Gascon and Boudin will come out of the recall efforts unscathed. Both cited big-money donors behind the recalls and what they characterized as misinformation about their policies. Krasner also assailed the Democratic Party for not supporting a more progressive criminal justice agenda and the DAs facing recall campaigns.
“So what do they do when they cannot beat us in elections? They try to end democracy and… they recall,” he said. “We’re going to convince our colleagues in the Democratic Party that instead of running away from criminal justice reform, they better run at it and hug as hard as they possibly can.”
“The reality is that Donald Trump knows how to turn out ‘Duck Dynasty’ and a bunch of guys with long beards who want to kidnap people and if Democrats don’t stop acting like it’s the Clinton era and rejecting progressives and rejecting criminal justice reform, then they will not turn out the sensible and progressive and young and Black and brown folks that they need to beat this bunch of fascists,” he added.
Foxx, meanwhile, elaborated on “transformative justice,” which she described as the recognition that the current system isn’t working.
“What we know is that healthy, thriving communities where people’s basic and fundamental needs are met, where people feel loved and nurtured have less crime. It’s just a fact,” she said.