By Cailin Garcia and Julian Verdon
LOS ANGELES – Incumbent Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is trailing, after Tuesday’s initial voting results, to George Gascón, the former DA of San Francisco who has campaigned on a platform to reform Los Angeles’ law enforcement.
As of Wednesday evening, Gascón held a 222,000 vote lead over Lacey with a 54 percent to 46 percent edge.
Several months ago Lacey held a significant lead over Gascón in the primaries. However, with the death of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matters protests, many activists have called for more aggressive prosecution of officers accused of police brutality.
According to NBC Los Angeles, by July, Lacey had only brought charges against one deputy out of 258 shooting deaths caused by cops. The voters saw this as an indictment of Lacey “going soft” on law enforcement.
Lacey, however, disagreed with the voters’ sentiments.
“If you look at my record though, I believe that we’ve been on the right side — we’ve prosecuted those cases that we could, and those cases where we didn’t have the evidence, we did not,” said Lacey. Lacey has said that could only take on the cases she had a chance to win
Gascón campaigned on a promise to bring justice to those who suffered from police misconduct. But critics of Gascón point out that he has his own history when it comes to failing to prosecute cops for misconduct.
In 2015, Mario Woods died after five officers shot him over 30 times. He had been carrying a large knife but video footage suggests he walked away from officers when they began firing. Gascón and the San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against the officers.
Gascón expressed his personal thoughts and condemned the actions of the officers, stating that he did not believe the officers should have killed Woods. He then offered his condolences to the family.
“To the Woods family…there are not enough words that I can say that are going to bring their loved ones back. I’m very sorry they lost a son, they lost a brother, a friend, because I don’t believe that was necessary,” said Gascón in 2018.
Gascón declined to prosecute, saying he was bound by law not to prosecute the officers—a similar position to Lacey. Advocates called his stance a double standard, saying cops could kill with impunity but citizens were punished for crimes that prosecutors had trouble proving.
Yet on the campaign trail Gascón claimed he would be more aggressive when filing charges against cops who had committed any fatal shootings. His campaign said that none of the shootings involved unarmed suspects during his tenure as the District Attorney of San Francisco.
“We can look forward,” Gascón said, according to the Daily News. “We can begin a journey into a 21st century mode of law that is more humane, that is more thoughtful when it comes to race, and that is going to make us safe.”
Gascón cites his support for Assembly Bill 931 as evidence of his progressive view on handling police shootings. The bill ultimately failed but its goal was to change the standard of deadly force from “necessary” to “reasonable.” He also successfully sought to change certain non-violent felonies to misdemeanors.
Gascón said that his goal is to be everyone’s district attorney, even those who did not vote for him. Both candidates had considerable endorsements to their campaigns. Lacey had the backing of many police unions, which would normally be a huge benefit to a candidate.
However, amid the current political climate, many people disapprove of police unions, which may have negatively impacted Lacey’s chances of re-election.
Initially, Lacey had the support of US representative Adam Schiff of Burbank and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, but they both withdrew their endorsements. After Mayor Garcetti withdrew his support for Lacey he endorsed Gascón on Twitter.
Lacey said those who had withdrawn their support were attempting to show their lack of racial bias. She still has the support of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, outside of one member who endorsed Gascón.
Gascón has received a wide array of support from many prominent political figures across the country, including former 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He was also endorsed by the LA Times, Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Kamala Harris, and US soccer player Megan Rapinoe.
However, Gascón has his own set of detractors too. “[Gascón] has a long history of going whichever way the winds blow, saying whatever suits his political purposes and only looking out for himself,” said the Mayor of San Francisco London Breed.
Both Lacey and Gascón received large billionaire donations, according to an NBC Los Angeles report. George Soros donated $1.5 million to Lacey’s campaign and Reed Hastings donated over $2 million to Gascón.
The campaign between the two candidates has been hard fought. At one point during the debates, Lacey said Gascón had left San Francisco in a mess. He retorted, saying that crime increased at a quicker trajectory in Los Angeles.
Their criticisms of each other ranged from a number of topics. Lacey’s Crime Review Unit aimed to overturn wrongful convictions, which led to the release to four defendants. Gascón criticized the program for its ineffectiveness, while failing to acknowledge that his own program released no one and only reviewed seven cases in three years.
However, it should be noted that Lacey’s program had only reviewed 350 out 2,000 innocence claims and released just four of those individuals.
Lacey also received a lot of public scrutiny in March when her husband pointed a gun at protesters in front of their house and said, “Get off of my porch. I will shoot you — I don’t care who you are.”
Lacey later claimed her husband acted out of fear and apologized for his actions.
Ultimately the race has drawn national attention during a flashpoint of racial injustice and police killings. Many see the race as a critical moment in history for how the US will handle such inequalities when it comes to crime.
Many activists who argued for a restructuring of American police conduct urged voters to turn out for this election.
“Everyone understands what’s at stake with the presidential race, but what affects us most on a daily basis is the D.A. The D.A. determines what crimes are prosecuted, what crimes go unenforced—and whether we will continue to lock up Black and Brown people with reckless abandon,” said Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter co-founder, as quoted by The Guardian.
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