Monday Morning Thoughts: Here We Go Again – This Time in LA

George Gascon at a candidate’s forum in February 2020

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Los Angeles, CA – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—someone released early, committed a new and bad crime and it’s the fault of the DA and his reform efforts.  The media is following the playbook of Chesa Boudin, this time in Los Angeles.

A couple of very good reporters for the LA Times, James Queally and Richard Winton reported on Thursday, “The man who shot and killed two El Monte police officers Tuesday could have faced significantly more time in prison when he was last charged with a crime. But one of Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s most heavily criticized policies probably resulted in a lower sentence, according to documents reviewed by The Times.”

The media is in part doing their job, but this is just what happened in the case of Troy McAlister in San Francisco that launched the recall against Chesa Boudin—it takes a high-profile case where things went wrong and turns it into the implicit case positive against reform policies.

The Times reports, “Justin Flores, 35, who also died in Tuesday’s confrontation, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine when he was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in 2020.

“Flores had been convicted of burglary in 2011. Burglaries are strike offenses, which make suspects charged with later crimes eligible for harsher sentences. Flores’ earlier conviction means he had one strike against him when he was charged in 2020.

“But the prosecutor assigned to the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Holcomb, said he had to revoke the strike allegation after Gascón took office, according to a disposition report reviewed by The Times. That’s because the new D.A. had issued a ‘special directive’ that barred prosecutors from filing strike allegations on his first day in office.”

But as Rachel Marshall, the spokesperson for Chesa Boudin, pointed out in a Tweet thread late last week, “The media replicating the same misleading and fear-mongering strategies it used against Chesa to target the next progressive DA.”

She points out, “The media love to falsely blame progressives for every crime. You know what they don’t love? To tell the stories of the harms caused by incarceration or the failures of our prison system to rehabilitate. To blame conservative approaches when someone sent to prison recidivates.”

She adds, “The media also don’t love to tell stories of the many people helped (by) reforms.”

To me this is the big problem.  It is easy to point to someone who gets out early, who commits a crime, but that’s not data, it’s an anecdote.  In many cases, the vast majority of people released early are not committing horrific crimes, many are success stories who put their lives back in order—but without balanced reporting, the public hears about Justin Flores, Troy McAlister and Willie Horton, rather than the many successes.

Everyone knows the story of Willie Horton. He was released on furlough in Massachusetts, and ended up raping and killing a woman. It caused the program to end, and many believe it resulted in the downfall of Michael Dukakis when he ran for President in 1988. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the furlough program which was ended, was actually very highly successful and Horton was one of only two people out of hundreds to commit a crime while on weekend release, and the recidivism rate for the program was far lower because it allowed people to develop relationships and skills. That all went out the window when Horton committed his horrible crime.

When Boudin was first elected, I met with him and asked him what he worried about most—he said we are going to release someone on bail or early release who will commit a horrible crime and it will get spun. That’s what has happened here. You don’t hear about the many who never committed a crime, got their lives back in order, you focus on the Willie Horton or the Troy McAllister.

That’s exactly the problem.  The big story is always the guy who commits the horrible crime rather than the many who don’t.

As attorney Jessica Brand tweeted, “This is dangerous reporting.”

She explains, “People get probation sentences everywhere for possession of a gun—because it’s not a violent charge. Most don’t go out and commit a murder and we are asking for trouble when we suggest every tragedy could have been prevented by an earlier prison term.”

Moreover, even without changes to the policy, some pointed out that with 50 percent credits, Flores most likely would have been released from prison by now anyway.

Unless we are advocated indefinite detention even for relatively minor or moderate offenses, there is no real guard against these situations happening.

As Nazol Ghandnoosh from the Sentencing Project tweets, quoting from their Media Guide, “Even the best policies that dramatically reduce recidivism rates cannot get these rates to 0. If policies are evaluated by the recidivism of the few, then elected officials and practitioners will be pressured to abandon effective policies in the face of public opinion misinformed by skewed media coverage.”

But that’s not how the media is reporting it.  And the sad thing is even good reporters have bought into this narrative, apparently.

Just as Troy McAlister brought down Chesa Boudin and Willie Horton brought down Michael Dukakis, so too will this next villain potentially help to bring down Gascón.  But of course, none of this addresses the core problems in the criminal legal system.  It just means that reform can’t happen because someone will always commit a horrible crime that could have been prevented with longer detention.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Oertel

    Just as Troy McAlister brought down Chesa Boudin and Willie Horton brought down Michael Dukakis, so too will this next villain potentially help to bring down Gascón.  But of course, none of this addresses the core problems in the criminal legal system.  It just means that reform can’t happen because someone will always commit a horrible crime that could have been prevented with longer detention.

    The legal system does not cause people to engage in “horrible crimes”.

    The legal system exists because some people engage in horrible crimes, before they even reach the legal system.

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