Meet George Gascon – Los Angeles’ New Hero D.A

george gascon

I have my favorite TV D.A.s. Lately the object of my hero prosecutor’s desire is Sonny Carisi . He is the Staten Island good boy Italian Catholic cop turned A.D.A. in the long running Law and Order: Special Victim Unit series. He is a good guy with a deep morality. Before Carisi his mentor and longtime prosecutor on the series was Rafael Barba the Harvard educated Cuban born A.D.A with a dry wit and underlying empathetic heart. I love those two prosecutors, root for them without a second thought, and could probably recite their lines in my sleep. I ask myself does life imitate art and are there hero D.A.s in real life? 

Enter George Gascon. Gascon may be a little bit Sonny Carisi and Rafael Barba rolled into one. A former beat cop who like Sonny Carisi earned his J.D. degree while working as a cop, Gascon quickly rose through the ranks of the LAPD to Assistant Chief of Police. Carisi took the leap to A.D.A. after years as a plain clothes and undercover detective in sex crimes.  

Gascon’s upbringing has given him the unique perspective to experience life on the receiving end of feeling targeted by the police. Perhaps similar to Rafael Barba who in the episode, “December Solstice”, it was revealed Barba grew up in the Bronx “projects”  there is the backdrop of an immigrant low income Hispanic upbringing that brings with it the fear of targeting and bullying.

“I would get stopped because I’m going too slow. I’m getting stopped because I ‘rolled’ through a stop sign,” Gascón told Maria Hinojosa. “It was almost like it was hard to imagine that either you or one of your friends were not going to be stopped before the night was over.”

In 2006, Gascon was appointed Chief of Police for the Mesa Police Department. There he had frequent run-ins with the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over immigration sweeps targeting Latinos. For those readers who may have forgotten, Joe Arpaio  was the anti-immigration buddy of Donald Trump’s who was pardoned by Trump for a “federal contempt of court conviction”.

Arpaio, who was one of the first elected officials to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign, was convicted in July 2017. The next month, Trump pardoned him, saying he admired Arpaio’s work “protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”

In 2009, Governor Gavin Newson appointed Gascon Chief of Police for the San Francisco Police Department. In 2011, after Kamala Harris became the Attorney General for California, Governor Newson appointed Gascon as the San Francisco District Attorney. Fast forward to December 7th, 2020 , when Gascon was sworn in as the District Attorney of Los Angeles after a  bitter race.

George Gascon ran on a platform of much needed criminal justice reform after a long hot summer of activism over police brutality and George Floyd’s killing.

 The bitter race to run the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office was seen as a referendum on whether LA voters wanted to reform policies after a summer of activism over police brutality and racial inequality ignited by George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police.

But not one year later Gascon is facing pushback on the very policies that he was elected for.

Mr. Gascón, 67, who was propelled into office by grass-roots activists in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, is one of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors in one of America’s most liberal cities, and yet he is facing an intense backlash in enacting the sorts of policies demanded by protesters last year and aimed at reducing the vast racial disparities in arrests and prosecutions.

The pushback is a sign of the many challenges liberal district attorneys in big cities are facing, at a time when Republicans are increasingly trying to portray Democrats as soft on crime, amid a rise in gun violence and homicides across the nation that began during the pandemic and has continued into 2021. In Los Angeles, for instance, murders increased 36 percent last year.

With that pushback comes the obvious recall bandwagon that impatient voters and other naysayers love to jump on when things don’t quite go their way in that, “I have to see things change overnight in order not to kick you out of office.” Yet, the initial recall efforts did not seem to go their way and the bandwagon fell short of the needed 580,000 petition signatures before a looming Oct. 26 deadline to force a recall election

Why is it always the liberal or Democrat who gets recalled?

Yet, they did not take a hint and the recall organizers decided to start anew. Whatever happened to “just find someone to run against him in the next election cycle” if you are dissatisfied? Isn’t that the point of democracy?  

Facing the unlikelihood of collecting the needed 580,000 petition signatures before a looming Oct. 26 deadline to force a recall election, organizers trying to oust Los Angeles County District George Gascón announced Thursday the formation of a new committee and a restart of their efforts.  The new committee, named Recall District Attorney George Gascón, will start gathering petition signatures from scratch next month and focus on increased fundraising.  “The reset will allow Recall District Attorney George Gascón to gather necessary financial resources prior to starting the 160-day period for signature collection, rather than play catch-up,” organizers said in a statement. “The committee will be filing an updated petition with the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters shortly.”  Jamarah Hayner, manager of Gascón’s anti-recall campaign, said Gov. Gavin Newsom’s success this week in easily defeating a similar effort to remove him from office does not bode well for the rebooted committee.

As if this wasn’t enough on the embattled D.A.s plate in mid-October the Association of Deputy District Attorneys representing Los Angeles County prosecutors sought an injunction to bar Gascon from hiring public defenders who contributed to his election campaign rather than going through the “county’s merit employment system” alleging he was passing over prosecutors eligible for promotion. 

With all this negativity people tend to forget that George Gascon made good on his campaign promises and took office at a difficult time for Los Angeles one short year ago.

The new DA also made good on his campaign promises to stop seeking the death penalty, stop charging juveniles as adults, and to review hundreds of police shootings.

Gascón takes office at a difficult time. He faces stiff opposition to many of his policies from his prosecutors and the police officers with whom he must work. He also faces a rising crime rate across L.A. County.

Maybe people need to take a step back and not be so quick to kick someone out before they even let the ink on their policies dry. This practice of hashtag impatient democracy is going to lead us into no democracy at all. 

In his inauguration speech, Gascón said his time as a hard-charging LAPD cop in the 1980s and ’90s helped shape his transformation into an advocate for wide-ranging criminal justice reforms.  “Those days continue to haunt me,” said Gascón, who asserted that he and his partners arrested multiple generations of poor young Black and Latino men and sent them off to prison when rehabilitation was a better answer. He said that approach destroyed many lives, including those of the arrestees’ families.  “It is time to change course and implement a system of justice that will enhance our safety and humanity,” said Gascón. “Today we are confronting the lie that stripping entire communities of their liberties somehow made us safer — and we’re doing it with science, research, and data.”

Perhaps those naysayers should follow the advice of  Wayne Dyer and  “Change The Way You Look At Things And The Things You Look At Change.” Maybe they can give George Gascon more than a year to prove himself the right man for the job.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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