Progressive district attorneys seeing voter backlash

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

District attorneys have a fair bit of power, particularly when it comes to how suspected criminals are treated. After all, it’s their office that makes any determination on what to ask the court for. While judges make the ultimate decision, if the prosecutors aren’t interested in holding someone, why would the judge decide otherwise?

This is normally not a big deal.

However, recently, we’ve seen criminal justice reform-minded district attorneys start to turn our jails into revolving doors where almost no one is held and where prosecutions are, at best, lukewarm. People just aren’t being punished for their crimes, and a lot of people are outraged.

That includes the voters who put these DAs in office.

An imperfect storm of political events and policy misfires has sparked a national crime crisis. Homicide and violent crime are increasing in most major cities, 12 of which have set new records for homicides. However, in California and nationally, the political pendulum may be swinging back to public safety and victims’ rights.

But this crime wave should not be viewed through a racial prism.

In Philadelphia, white District Attorney Larry Krasner dismissed the city’s rising homicides by saying, “We don’t have a crisis of crime or violence.” The city’s black police chief, Danielle Outlaw, complained that the DA refuses to prioritize violent crimes, and African American former mayor Michael Nutter called Krasner’s comments “ignorant and insulting.”

In the state’s largest  city, the tipping point was the 2020 election of George Gascon as Los Angeles County district attorney. Gascon (pictured) ran on a platform of “criminal justice reform.” Many now believe his campaign was a bait-and-switch. Most progressive prosecutors shy away from charging low-level offenses such as possession of small amounts of drugs and drug paraphernalia, but Gascon went miles further. He announced that his office would not charge offenders in 13 categories he termed “low-level misdemeanors.” Low level is in the eye of the beholder, and Gascon’s office rarely prosecutes theft, criminal threats, resisting arrest, trespass, and public intoxication. Good luck having Gascon charge a drug-high person who’s screaming threats of bodily harm at you as they steal patio chairs from your yard.

California law requires sentencing enhancements for crimes involving “special circumstances,” previously employed for hate crimes, gang-related offenses, using firearms during a robbery or assault, or when the offender has two felony convictions. Gascon’s “reform” rarely seeks enhancements; the noteworthy exception was in the armed theft of Lady Gaga’s bulldogs. We love Gaga, but most residents want Gascon to follow state law and not carve out exceptions for high-profile celebrities.

Gascon has been a trainwreck, as have a number of other district attorneys who are supposed to prosecute crimes but seem remiss in actually doing their jobs.

Now, Gascon is facing a recall threat and if Los Angeles is really, really lucky, they’ll remove him from office.

See, people expect their district attorney to actually go after criminals. They don’t want them to do anything underhanded or illegal to do so, but they do want to see criminals prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The fact that this is happening at the same time we’re seeing a huge spike in violent crime isn’t lost on the voters, either. You can try and make the case that one has nothing to do with the other, but you’d damn well better be convincing. So far, none of these DAs actually have been. Instead, they’re trying to gaslight the public into thinking there’s no problem to worry about.

Meanwhile, the voters can see the truth plain as day.

I mean, this isn’t just bad timing for these reform efforts. There’s a reason people like Gascon took office right before things got bad crime-wise. It’s not an accident.

I don’t think they intended for it to go like this, mind you, but is it really an accident when your intentional actions result in something a whole lot of people told you would happen and you do it anyway?

No, it’s not.

Luckily, these are elected officials. Voters will be able to fix their mistakes soon enough. Assuming they survive the violence until election day, that is.