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Incoming Austin DA Garza to End Low-Level Drug Cases

“Progressive prosecutor” can sound like a catchall descriptor for any district attorney willing to put fewer people into jails and prisons. One race this year seems to have redefined the term, reports the Texas Observer. In a July primary runoff in Austin, José Garza, a former public defender and labor organizer, resoundingly defeated Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, a self-described progressive incumbent, by 36 points. Garza, the presumed winner in the November general election in the deep-blue  County, is part of a new wave of progressive DA candidates in Texas this year who have argued for a more transformative change of the criminal legal system. National progressive groups call his promise to end low-level drug prosecutions in Travis County a milestone in the movement to end the war on drugs. Garza spoke with the Observer about drug enforcement and police accountability.

Asked how prosecutors can work closely with police, but also hold them accountable, Garza said, ” think it’s really about the relationship between the police department and the public. What does public safety really mean? I think that in Austin our community has said explicitly that their understanding of public safety is stability, good jobs, access to health care, access to mental health care, access to good education. They have clearly rejected the idea that public safety is locking up as many working-class people and people of color as we can.” Garza also said that in his county, “the war on drugs is one of the greatest drivers of racial disparities in the criminal legal system. Substance use in Travis County is consistent across race and ethnicity, but Black people constitute 30 percent of arrests, even though they’re only 9 percent of our community at large. There are just so many reasons why the old approach to drugs has failed.”