Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
What happens in one DA’s race could set the course for the future of law enforcement in America.
As a summer of unrest draws to a close, the contest to lead the nation’s largest district attorney’s office is heating up. The two candidates running for Los Angeles district attorney are incumbent Jackie Lacey, who took office in 2012, and George Gascón, who served as San Francisco’s chief of police before taking over as San Francisco’s district attorney in 2011, when Kamala Harris became California’s attorney general. After squaring off against Lacey and public defender Rachel Rossi in last March’s primary, Gascón took home just over 28 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff with Lacey, who received just under 49 percent. As highly visible acts of police violence, including the killing of Dijon Kizzee by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies on August 31, continue to spark protests, the election is closely tied to the debate over police reform.
Although the weekly protests outside Lacey’s office have swelled, they have been going on since October of 2017, calling attention to the hundreds of people killed by police in L.A. County since Lacey assumed office, and questioning why the officers responsible haven’t been prosecuted. “As the first African American DA, it has been difficult for me and my family to be targeted in this way,” said Lacey in a statement to Capital & Main. “I have been subjected to racism in this campaign by white people who seek to lecture me about racism in America and my own experience with it.”
Lacey campaign coordinator Walter Koch is skeptical of portrayals of Lacey as part of the law enforcement establishment given her opponent’s many years on the force. “DA Lacey enjoys a good working relationship with law enforcement in order to tackle issues like gun safety, homelessness and mental health reform. George Gascón is the candidate that should be questioned on being the preferred choice of problem officers on LAPD discipline boards,” he said.
Citing her efforts to expand de-escalation training, dismiss marijuana convictions and divert nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses away from jail, Lacey maintains that she has worked consistently to “drive meaningful change that reduces the inequities that have existed in our criminal justice system for generations.”
However, activists feel she has not done enough to shift the course of law enforcement. “I don’t think anybody set out to want to make Lacey the object of protest or anger or anything, but unfortunately she’s kind of earned that from the community,” says Lex Steppling of Dignity and Power Now, a criminal justice reform organization started by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors. “Jackie Lacey has been no different from those who came before her, and has not been accountable to the community.”
Tension between Lacey and protesters spiked in a highly publicized incident at her Granada Hills home just before the March election, when Lacey’s husband pointed a gun at Black Lives Matter activists.
Will the energy behind police reform give Gascón, who co-authored Proposition 47, an edge? “It’s an unusual situation. You have someone moving down from San Francisco to run for DA in L.A. I think in the beginning people assumed that that was a nonstarter,” says Bob Shrum, director of the University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for the Political Future. Data from Tulchin Research commissioned in July by Gascón’s campaign found that he has a three-point lead over Lacey.
Published: September 17, 2020