by David M. Greenwald
San Jose, CA – On Sunday, Khan, flanked by a number of fellow advocates and a crowd topping 100 people, announced his intent to take on the incumbent DA in 2022. This follows events of a year ago last summer when a pointed column by Public Defender Sajid Khan, Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen threatened to initiate a whistleblower retaliation proceedings against the Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender.
“I am running to be your district attorney because I am a commitment to healing, systemic racism,” Khan said. “I am running to be your district attorney because I am a commitment to ending mass incarceration.”
“Santa Clara County needs a true progressive as its District Attorney. I will be that person,” he said. “As District Attorney for all people, I will be committed to truth-telling about systemic racism, shrinking mass criminalization, addressing root causes of crime, and bringing the criminal legal system in line with basic notions of justice and humanity.”
For the last 13 years, Khan has been a public defender serving Santa Clara County. He has fought for people’s constitutional rights, and against systemic racism, and against mass incarceration. He has sat in the county jails and juvenile hall, representing countless individuals.
Khan was born in San Jose to Muslim immigrants from Madras, India. His mother worked as a laboratory scientist at O’Connor Hospital, and his late father was a physicist in the semiconductor industry who established a mosque and later a school, both in Santa Clara.
The mosque, Muslim Community Association, is where he worships today. The school, Granada Islamic School, currently educates 500 students, including his sons.
Khan pledged to be a DA for all the people.
“As DA for all the people we will be a justice and public safety advocate for all people, including those who have suffered harm, those who have caused harm, and the entire community,” he said pledging to “fight mass incarceration and stop using jails and prisons as our answers to public safety.”
He said, “We need to transform the system. We need to decarcerate. True community safety comes from understanding and addressing the root causes of crime. True community safety comes from prioritizing rehabilitation and re-entry. True community safety does not define people by their worst moments.”
Khan pledged, “We will put a stop using overcharging, and coercive plea bargaining and the trial tax, where people are punished for exercising, their constitutional rights.”
Khan pledged, “We will treat kids as kids and never prosecute them as adults.”
He also pledged to, “make your district attorney’s office — independent of police agencies — stop the status quo of over-policing in our communities of color, and hold police accountable when they unjustifiably take lives, violate the dignity of our people and fail to uphold the law.
“We will prosecute police officers who unjustifiably kill or use excessive force. We will not prosecute cases or use evidence where police violate the constitution or engage in racially motivated practices.”
In his career, he said that he sat next to a 14 year old boy that was shackled in an adult court and prosecuted as an adult in San Jose.
He said, “I sat next to a man facing the death penalty. I sat with people sent to prison on excessive sentences under our three strikes, laws and racist gang enhancements. “
He added, “I’ve represented people who are victims of police violence only to be charged with frivolous crimes to protect police from liability. I have cross-examined and stood up to police officers. I’ve been with people stuck in our jail because they’re too poor to afford bail only to be coerced into pleas or punished if they took their case to trial.”
He continued, “I’ve helplessly, watched kids ripped from their mothers and held in our juvenile halls. I have seen how our DA’s office — the seat of power — has not only failed these people and individuals, but has further traumatize them.”
At the announcement event, Sajid Khan was backed by numerous leaders and people fighting for reform in the system.
Retired Judge LeDoris Hazzard Cordell spoke on his behalf. She was the first African-American woman judge in Northern California, and has since served as an independent police auditor for San Jose.
She noted that there are 58 DA’s in California. They are elected officials and powerful, “not only because they determine who will be charged with crimes and prosecuted in our courtrooms, but also because their support of, or opposition to, statewide policies that can impact all of our lives.”
Sajid Khan, she said, “has demonstrated by his words and his deeds that he understands the criminal legal system and that he is committed to supporting reforms that will lead us away from mass incarceration away from mandatory minimum sentences and other policies that do far more harm than good.”
“Under Sajid Khan’s leadership, our District Attorney’s office can make a cultural shift from a laser-like focus on prosecution and punishment to one that balances public safety with compassion for victims and the accused,” said the retired judge.
Former Congressman Mike Honda also spoke on behalf of Khan’s candidacy. Honda was born and raised in San Jose, he was interned with his family during World War II along with thousands of other Japanese Americans. He would later serve 12 years in Congress.
He said, “I think the current district attorney could look at some of his own behavior in the last few years, as far as using his office in the appropriate manner in the area of politics.”
“We have to have prosecutors,” he said, “but I want prosecutors who understand — as Keith Ellison, the [Attorney General] of Minnesota, who said, that I am the prosecutor, I am the AG. And I look at my victims, my clientele as human beings, as well as those who are perpetrators as human beings. I don’t want to ever forget that.”
“It’s not going to be easy to change either the direction or the system of the DA’s office, but certainly if someone comes in with an understanding of where he comes from and the kinds of things he sees that need to be changed … that can be changed … and changed in an appropriate way,” Honda said.
Raj Jayadev from Silicon Valley D-bug added, “This is a different time we’re in right now … and this a different man … and this is a new definition of what a DA could be right now.”
“We have never seen this confluence of urgent need for change [together with] the possibility of real transformative change,” he said.
“At some point, there is a decision being made by a person, a subjective decision,” he said. “And in this county, that decision maker is the district attorney’s office. For years, that district attorney — even predating the current one — has decided that mass incarceration and systemic oppression is what our people deserve.”
Jayadev said, “We need a leader who is willing to fight for and alongside our communities of color to re-imagine what safety for all means in Santa Clara County, and be positioned to act upon those values. Sajid Khan is that leader.”
He added, “The devastation of mass incarceration and systemic racism is very much a local reality here. But we have a historic opportunity to change that. That is why I stand behind Sajid and his vision for a more just, forward-thinking, and humane Santa Clara County.”
“The people of Santa Clara County have long called for a new, more humane approach when it comes to criminal justice,” Sajid Khan said in a statement. “They have voted repeatedly to support propositions and efforts to reduce mass incarceration. They want to see a District Attorney who can meet the moment and bring about much needed change.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting