By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles, CA – As Larry Krasner rolled to an easy victory in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, opponents of fellow progressive DA George Gascón officially filed recall papers this week in Los Angeles. They will have until October 27 to garner a little more than 579,000 signatures—ten percent of LA County’s registered voters.
That’s a tough task just to start, but the results in Philadelphia suggest it might be much harder than opponents think.
For one thing there will be a sense among many voters that Gascón did not have any time to implement his policies—most of which he overtly ran on—and show the results for them. Sure, opponents can point to a rising murder rate, but the problem is twofold—one is that the murder rate was going up last year under his predecessor Jackie Lacey, and two that the murder rate is going up across the country regardless of local policies and most believe the driver is the pandemic and economic disruption.
Gascón won his November election over the incumbent, pushing many of these policies—winning handily, by seven percent and more than 250,000 votes.
There are commonalities between Gascón’s potential recall and the effort to unseat Larry Krasner.
Against Krasner it was largely the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) as well as Carlos Vega, a former Deputy DA who was fired by Krasner, who led the way to attempt to defeat the incumbent. In LA, it is Assistant DA Michelle Hanisee of the LADDA (LA Deputy District Attorneys Association) along with police groups going after Gascón.
As LA Times reporter James Queally noted, “Gascón’s supporters have dismissed most of the criticisms against him as the result of misguided outrage from reform-resistant law enforcement officials or conservative politicians.”
They have a point. In fact, it is the extension of red state tactics in deep blue areas that appears a key commonality between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
In Los Angeles, we have seen the outcry of some crime victims who argue that Gascón has ignored them.
But we also see polling showing that it may well be the law and order crowd that is out of touch.
The petition alleges, “Gascón has abandoned crime victims and their families.
“Gascón has disregarded the rule of law and weakened lawful sentencing requirements for the most violent criminals, including murderers, armed robbers, and rapists,” the petition continues. “George Gascon’s new policies treat career and repeat violent offenders as if they had never committed a crime, ignoring public safety laws approved by the people.”
As we spoke with NYU Law Professor Rachel Barkow and ACLU Political Director Udi Ofer last week for a podcast that will be released on Tuesday, crime victim is an interesting concept. Victim groups often seem overwhelmingly white and conservative. But the reality is that many victims are, in fact, Blacks living in high crime areas.
Even cursory analysis from Philadelphia shows that Krasner won overwhelmingly in these Black neighborhoods of Philadelphia—demonstrating that this idea that crime victims or areas hit hard by crime will be backing tough-on-crime measures is misleading at worst, and overly simplistic at best.
One of the problems that opponents of Gascón will face is that the people supporting the recall, for the most part, are not the people who supported Gascón in the first place.
Polling in Philadelphia prior to the election there and polling in Los Angeles conducted in February continue to show substantial and strong support for reform policies.
As we reported previously, polling from Data for Progress showed substantial support among LA County voters for measures to reduce jail population.
“A strong majority (59 percent) of respondents in Los Angeles County—including 65 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independent voters—favor releasing people charged with low-level offenses, such as crimes that do not involve physical injuries to another person,” the poll finds, with just one-third of the voters opposing such a measure.
“Sixty-two percent of people favor releasing incarcerated people with less than 6 months left in their sentence,” it continues. “An even stronger majority (65 percent) of voters support releasing elderly incarcerated people and 55 percent favor releasing those who are more vulnerable to the virus as a result of co-morbidities like heart and lung disease so long as they do not pose a serious risk to public safety.”
The poll goes even further—the voters in Los Angeles, in fact, do not support “pre-trial detention,” which is basically bail reform.
The Appeal finds that people do not want to see people detained before trial unless strictly necessary.
“Do you support or oppose releasing anyone charged with a low-level offense, for example a crime that does not involve a physical injury to another person?” Fifty-nine percent either strongly or somewhat support such a measure. They find that “6 in 10 Angelenos support the use of tickets and citations as alternatives to jail to ensure court appearances with only a quarter (27 percent) in opposition.”
They support tickets or summons, therefore, as an alternative to jail to ensure court appearances—again, that is the core of bail reform and a centerpiece of the Gascón package.
Upon assuming office, Gascón announced he is immediately ending the cash bail system, making hundreds of people incarcerated eligible for release under a new pretrial release policy that took effect on January 1.
“The money bail system is as unsafe as it is unjust,” Gascón said. “The rich can be dangerous while the poor impose zero threat to society.
“The amount of money a person has in their bank account does not determine the danger they pose to their community,” he argued.
These are similar to the findings that Data for Progressive found in their polling in Philadelphia a week or so before Krasner won with 65 percent of the vote.
In addition, a poll released in March showed out of 724 crime victims in L.A. County, 61 percent favored treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration as a form of punishment.
This suggests that the focus on crime victims as opposed to Gascón’s policies may be flawed.
Moreover, another analysis from Philadelphia shows the FOP backing helped to sink Carlos Vega.
The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in their analysis found, “While Krasner only faced Vega in the election, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 — which backed Vega — loomed large in the race as a ‘third party on the ballot.’”
They found, “The FOP’s visible presence throughout the primary worked against Vega while boosting Krasner, especially in African American neighborhoods.”
A similar dynamic could be at work in Los Angeles as well.
As Udi Ofer pointed out during our interview, anti-reform, police, and prosecutors have now attempted to take down three incumbent progressive prosecutors—Kim Foxx in Chicago, Kim Gardner in St. Louis and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and each time they have fallen well short.
Efforts to take down progressive prosecutors has not been successful so far. Time will tell whether that will change now.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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