On the News

Lacey-Gascón Battle is Key in Struggle Over Prosecutors

When Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey began her fight against challenger George Gascón, her strategy was to attack the purported reformer as weak on crime, while touting her record on public safety. That classic approach worked in a primary that saw former San Francisco D.A. Gascón finish 20 points behind, narrowly forcing a runoff in November. After the death of George Floyd, prompting protests against police brutality and racism in the justice system, the tenor of the race shifted, the Los Angeles Times reports.  Crime data seemed an inadequate measure of prosecutors’ worth. Amid protesters’ calls to step down, Lacey questioned Gascón’s credentials as a reformer. Once content to slam him for property crime surges in San Francisco, Lacey tore into his record of not prosecuting police in fatal force cases, though she’s been criticized on the same issue during eight years in office.

The Lacey-Gascón battle is key in a national struggle over the future of how prosecutors operate. Reform advocates have targeted elected district attorneys as a weak link in efforts toward a more equal justice system that holds police and other officials accountable. “We have gone from a point where many prosecutors could take for granted that they were going to be reelected without talking to the community,” said Alissa Heydari of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Victories by progressive candidates in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere have given momentum to an effort that a few years ago seemed quixotic. Prosecutors have been close allies with law enforcement. Ideas such as lowering incarceration rates, ending cash bail and diverting minor offenders from the justice system have become themes for mainstream prosecutors, evidence of a new mindset in a profession once centered on conviction rates and police support.