By Dalia Bautista Rodriguez and Nina Hall
NEW ORLEANS – When it comes to having a fleet of accomplishments, Jason Williams – the new Parrish district attorney of New Orleans – does not come up short.
Williams won election Dec. 5 with about 57 percent of the vote, after running unsuccessfully in 2008. He takes office Jan. 11, 2021.
But he stood for a city council spot in 2014 and won, as he did in 2017 and has worked to continue to implement an adaptive style that challenges past policies of the criminal justice system.
Born in 1972, Williams is a New Orleans native despite having spent most of his childhood residing in Georgia where he would was elected high school class president all four years of his time there. He also was class president all four years at Tulane, and all three years at Tulane Law School.
Williams attended Tulane University as a walk-on member of their football team, eventually earning a scholarship.
But it was in law school where he found another passion – justice.
During his time at Tulane Law School, Williams focused on representing low-income defendants and holding his opposing prosecutors to a higher standard.
After his time at Tulane Law School, Williams went on to open his own law practice centered around criminal defense, where he won a series of high profile cases.
Bright and Truvia were convicted in 1975 for the second degree murder of 15-year-old, Eliot Porter. Porter’s body was found in the New Orleans’ Calliope Projects government housing, and had been shot in the head twice. This area of New Orleans still has a reputation of having one of the highest crime rates in the U.S.
Bright and Truvia were originally convicted on the sole testimony of an eyewitness who later proved to not be credible. The witness claimed that she saw the pair go around the corner with a young boy, and return without him. However, unknown to the jury, the timeline that was given by the eyewitness did not match up with the victim’s time of death.
Additionally, it was found that the eye witness was suffering from schizophrenia and self-medicating with heroin. It was later discovered that she testified under a false name and after further investigation, it was found that the window at her residence had no line of sight to the location of the murder.
Williams fought hard for the release of Bright and Truvia, and after 27 years in prison both men were exonerated.
Williams went on to serve some time as an adjunct professor at Tulane Law School, before running for Parish District attorney for the first time at age 35. Williams centered his platform around creating a criminal justice system that would be, “…an instrument of progress, not an instrument of oppression.”
Williams focused his platform around reforming outdated policies. He lost that race to Lean Cannizzaro who campaigned on a “tough on crime” platform.
But now progressive prosecutor Jason Williams in the DA. His reform policies focus on the action of change and a justice system that is fair and transparent. He notes that people did not just vote for him, but for a change in a true radical reform.
He has announced a variety of reforms that will allow the public to see these changes being made and get rid of “tough on crime” policies. Some of the reforms highlight the topics of bails, fines, and fees. He talks about the decrease of COVID-19, transparency, different options to cash bail, smart detention among other reforms.
Williams argues that the COVID-19 pandemic is a big factor in a marginalized system, especially in the legal system. He wants to investigate those detained for low level crimes and non-violent crimes. With the topic of momentum, he brings in the issue of money bail and wanting to eliminate it.
He also emphasizes “smart detention,” which is focused on ending jail for people for low- level offenses and, instead, focus on violent offenders. When it comes to cash bail, Williams notes, not everyone is able to afford it because of financial issues and he wants to find alternative options to resolve the issue and make it fair to all.
He also demands an increase in transparency to the public, including a new transparency on the amount of bail, the type of bail, and those who do and do not gain from pretrial custody. This will help the public feel safe by showing that there is equity to all, and one does not benefit simply because of based on the color of their skin.
This is especially important after the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd cases where the public observed an unfair legal system, he said.
Williams insists he wants to get rid of the racial and inequality justice system and build a new one where the public can feel safe and keep their families together.
In an interview with the progressive prosecutor, he mentions that he wants to set up a baseline that shows what was provided under the last administration and that way people can see that the reform efforts are not just all talk, but that they are being delivered.
Williams, in an interview with NPR, believes poor people are made to feel less safe because they often are not participating in the system. So how he does he plan to persuade those who have been harmed by the system that there is a better way?
Williams told NPR that the DA office needs to prioritize violent crimes and learn how to properly handle them and that depending on the case, and they’re all different, there are different ways of them being resolved. Doing this, he said, will reduce crime rates.
Williams also mentioned that he will create a civil rights unit that will help investigate police and prosecutorial misconduct. He is determined to work with NOPD to develop a strategy to respond to police misconduct allegations, create a database of officers who have committed perjury, civil rights violations, or used excessive force.
He also wants to develop a policy on dash-cam videos for public use and he will require police to sign a statement that they provided all necessary documents to DA’s.
Williams wants all evidence to be shared, and will provide rigorous training and supervision of the prosecutors, as part of his plan to redesign a system that will build people up and fix issues caused by an unfair legal process.
Dalia Bautista Rodriguez is a third-year transfer at UC Davis and majoring in Community & Regional Development. She is originally from Guadalupe, CA.
Nina Hall is a sophomore from Colorado at Santa Clara University studying English and Sociology.
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