Susan Estrich: The new leader of the criminals' lobby
Summary: GeorgeGascon appears to have gone soft on criminals.
Having been run out of San Francisco, as liberal a place as you will find in America, George Gascon relocated to Los Angeles. Having failed to free everyone from prison in San Francisco, he is now trying to do even worse in Southern California.
In November, voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly rejected a proposition that would have eliminated cash bail. The margin was almost twice the margin newly elected Los Angeles District Attorney Gascon won by against a Black woman who had been targeted by the Black Lives Matter movement for two years. The first thing he did after he was elected, before meeting with anyone else in the community, was meet with the leaders of Black Lives Matter. The first thing he did when he was sworn in was lift his middle finger to voters by swearing to eliminate cash bail. And sentencing enhancements for crimes? Gone. Resisting arrest will no longer be punished. Nor will it matter anymore if the guy who mugged you happens to be a drug dealer and gang member.
Gascon apparently trusts criminals more than he does police. It's true that there are police officers who use these enhancements to make sure that gang members who commit violent crimes don't end up in the revolving door. It is also true, however, that such "nonviolent" offenders are the ones most likely to pull a gun on a police officer, to terrorize honest citizens and to turn neighborhoods into battlegrounds. But under Gascon, there will be no more prosecution for "nonviolent crimes" like mugging and petty theft and shooting up on the corner after a score. Don't even bother calling the police if your home has been broken into by a man threatening to kill you.
It makes me furious, not because my own neighborhood is teeming with crime (it isn't) but because, having been raped in my building parking lot when I was 19, I'm sensitive to those sorts of things. My vote is not with the criminals or the prosecutors but with the victims. I've been called a racist more than once for standing for victims whose honesty is not in doubt, regardless of the race of the bad guy who was responsible.
"Would you lock them all up?" a colleague once asked me in a tone that made clear what he thought of me. And he was right: I would lock up rapists and robbers and burglars. Yes, burglars. A burglary becomes a robbery when a person turns out to be home. Criminal justice experts have long considered burglars and robbers in the same class because a burglary gone wrong can easily translate to grievous bodily harm or death for the unlucky person who's there, in which case the felony murder rule would make it first-degree murder. Maybe Gascon won't enforce that law either.
Tell Gascon to dig deep into the literature about the sort of "incivilities," like being mugged at the corner, that can turn a neighborhood into a killing field and make honest citizens afraid to go out and talk to the police, not because, as Gascon might tell you, the police overreacted but because they fear the gangs hold sway on the street.
What happens if you clean up that corner, if you disband the gang members who hang out there; enforce the laws against stealing or assaulting a person; force the local graffiti artists to paint over their masterworks? More people feel safe to go out, which makes the neighborhood safer for everyone and makes the police -- hopefully reflecting the community they protect -- a welcome presence, especially for the most vulnerable.
So, Mr. Gascon, when a gang member demands that a 14-year-old girl give him a blow job in exchange for safe passage to school, what would you call that? Consent? A nonviolent crime?
Because that is what the children going to the worst high school in Los Angeles went through, until the teachers voted give up their tenure to make it a charter school so that we, the charter school group whose board I sat on, took over. That first year, security expenses skyrocketed as we created a visible presence in the school neighborhood. Which, of course, made it safer for everybody -- something Gascon has shown absolutely no interest in to date. So determined is he to countermand every wish of the electorate. If I were younger, I'd run against him in the next election. Already, the talk is beginning.
Beware. Once he gets run out of town, he may just show up in your hometown. After all, there are criminals everywhere waiting for him to give them a license to steal. And mug. And rob people. And terrorize older women and ninth graders.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.