By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles, CA – DA George Gascón this week learned that the recall effort against him fell short of the required number of citizens and, on Wednesday at SEIU Local 2015, he told a group of union members that the work of his office at reform must go on.
“We are paying the price of global incarceration and the corruption of our system,” Gascón stated. “If locking people up was about making us safer, LA County would be the safest county in the world. And our country would be the safest country in the world. But guess what? We are not, but we are not, we are not because we have over-criminalized generations of Black and brown people, taking away the opportunities for communities to grow and foreclosing their opportunities to be a productive contributor to our nation that continues to destroy one generation after another.”
He said, “We cannot continue to live in gated communities and somehow believe that that is going to insulate us and somehow make us safer.”
“We cannot get there by taking those who are mentally ill or less fortunate and locking them up,” the DA said. “Those are the steps that are creating the insecurity that we’re experiencing today. Not only in LA, but around our country.”
Gascón noted that their office is prosecuting crimes at the same rate as prior DAs. “The difference is that we are being discerning in the sentencing,” he said.
He said, “If the intervention only requires five years in prison, we don’t want to send somebody for 50 years.”
He added, “We’re being discerning when we’re looking at a 16-year-old that has never had an opportunity to grow and makes a horrible mistake, and causes harm and understanding that while we have to work with that victim and ensure that the harm is reduced to the extent that we can, that locking up a 16-year-old for life is never going to fix our problems.”
Gascón noted that respecting the victim is important, but “respecting our victims is not necessarily sending an offender to prison for the rest of their life or to the death penalty.” Rather he explained, “Respecting the victims is actually intervening and addressing the trauma that has been caused by the harm. Respecting our victims in understanding that over 80% of the people of imprisoned debate fact, over 85% of the women that are in prison have been abused, have been traumatized, have been victimized. We have to understand that hurt people, hurt other people.”
Further, he added, “accountability is much more complicating than just simply locking people up.”
He said, “Accountability is about holding people responsible for the harm that they have caused, but understanding that they are still members of our community. Accountability is about understanding the 95% of the people that we incarcerate are coming back to our community.”
But he explained, unless we provide thoughtful rehabilitation and reentry, they are going to reoffend because we’re throwing them on the streets. We’re not allowing them to be able to work. They don’t have a place to stay. Come on. And then we are surprised when they’ve re-offended, talking about accountability. What about assisting accountability? You cannot just simply say that accountability flows in one direction.”
While Gascón has noted his past as a police officer in Los Angeles, on this day, he also noted that he grew up in this community as a young immigrant who was a Spanish speaker.
“I don’t live in a bubble,” he said. “My family lives in this community.”
He said, “I grew up and lived in a one-bedroom apartment.” He noted, “The living room was the living room during the daytime and it was my bedroom at night. The couch was my bed.”
He added, “The sad part of my story is not that I’m standing here because I am blessed. But you know why? Because most of the kids that grew up with me never had an opportunity to stand here with me. They never had an opportunity to have a union job. They never had an opportunity to go to college.”
He said, “They had generally a one-way street path to jails and prisons.”
Gascón noted, “Not only does that not make us safer, but it costs so much more.”
He noted the cost of state prison is over $100,000 per year, but a public university is $30 to $40 thousand and a community college people can attend for free.
“I’m here to tell you that I’m grateful for our community, because I would not be standing here without you.”