L.A. County will go to the polls on March 3 to elect their District Attorney to a four-year term. Incumbent Jackie Lacey is running for a third term, but there are two major challengers to her campaign. The Los Angeles Loyolan interviewed one of those challengers, George Gascón, to learn more about his campaign. This interview was shortened due to length.
Cristobal Spielmann (C.S.): Why did you decide to run for District Attorney in L.A. County?
George Gascón (G.G.): You know, it was a combination of things. When I announced that I was not going to run for a third term in San Francisco and come back home to spend more time with my family, especially my ailing mother, a lot of people that I had been working with in the past asked if I considered running here, both locally and around the state and around the country. I've worked in criminal justice reform now for the good part of about 12 to 15 years and as a district attorney for the last eight-and-a-half years or so. Many here in L.A. are disappointed with the type of work that the current district attorney has been doing for the last seven-and-a-half years. The contribution to mass incarceration, her continuing to seek pursuing the death penalty, her prosecution of juveniles as adults, and it goes on and on. Basically [she's] fought every reform measure that I have supported or that I have actually started. So people were hoping that I'd run and we [decided that this was] essentially the right thing. I was coming home and [I'm] very passionate about the work and I decided to run. That's why I'm running.
C.S.: You were criticized by many officials in San Francisco for lowering punishments for some non-violent behaviors during your time as D.A. for the city. Drug use and needles have become commonplace in the city in the last few years. Do you think your time as D.A., and previously chief of police, shaped what’s going on in San Francisco today?
G.G.: Well, first of all, I would not say many San Francisco officials, I think you're referring to the mayor of San Francisco, and it's a little more complicated than that. She has been investigated for public corruption and other issues that are now public and I put a very strong public corruption effort as the district attorney that they be more uncomfortable and now it is more public [knowledge] that she's been compromising other people. So I would not say that many people [criticized me], in fact I have the support of many people in San Francisco, multiple members of the board of supervisors, a current assemblyperson, a former city senator, the head of the Democratic Party and many clubs and organizations. I think it's important to put this in context because there's more to it and this law is driven by my work in public corruption, number one.
Number two, I think that most people who've really known San Francisco for a long time know that the Tenderloin has had a problem that goes on for decades with homelessness and drug use. This is the area that has been neglected by city officials for many, many years and as a matter of fact, The Chronicle just had an article that was written by a tenant of Tenderloin housing that talked about the last thirty years ... Now, having said that, has there been an increase in homelessness and addiction[across the country] which has impacted San Francisco, L.A. and many other cities, and the answer to that is clearly yes. That addiction problem is more complicated than any one city. There are many attorney generals in the state who sued Big Pharma for their contributions to the epidemic we have suffered ... Violent crime has gone down in San Francisco. When I went to San Francisco as chief of police, there were nearly 100 homicides, a year later there were 45 ... I think you need to look at the facts very closely because the reality is that San Francisco has enjoyed significant crime reduction in violent crime and now, in the last few years has enjoyed reductions in property crime and at the same time, we incarcerated under a quarter of the level that L.A. County did. L.A. County had a 30% increase in violent crime during the period that the current district attorney has been in office in about 40-some% in the city of L.A.
C.S.: You and your closest opponent Rachel Rossi are both challenging incumbent Jackie Lacey as progressives, and you two share similar beliefs like ending cash bail and not pursuing the death penalty. What makes you different from her?
G.G.: Well, there are many things that make us different. We share the same beliefs as supporting criminal justice reform. The difference is I've actually done it. Many of the reforms that have taken place in the state and nationally, such as - well the first major reform drug policy was Prop 47, bringing over $350 million a year to local communities dealing with mental health [problems] and drug addiction, the reform of three strikes, bringing in an artificial intelligence tool to take race out other prosecutors charging ... actually being the first prosecutor to work on creating a vehicle to provide people the relief from their records.
C.S.: LMU is a school with a very strong connection to social justice. How would you define social justice?
G.G.: Social justice, obviously, is a term that encompasses many different things, but for me, social justice means about looking for ways to create a more equal society where people, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their economic status, are going to be able to benefit from the things that our communities have to offer, that they're not going to be singled out by the criminal justice system, or by any other system, that they're going to have equal access to housing, healthcare, education, open spaces. Obviously, I'm more focused [on] criminal justice reform, but social justice as a larger umbrella [is] within a space I specialize in.
C.S.: When Lacey was first elected in 2012 and again in 2016 [during the primaries and excluding the runoff election for D.A. in 2012], less than half of L.A. County voters voted for her in either the 2012 or 2016 primaries. How would you encourage a majority of voters to go to the polls?
G.G.: We have a very strong grassroots effort. We have volunteers that are walking throughout the county, we have a lot of people who are helping this campaign and we believe that a lot of folks are energized by this campaign and the prospect of a historical connotation to bring in a different kind of district attorney than L.A. County currently has. We're hoping that those efforts will energize people to come out and vote.
C.S.: Lastly, what advice would you give to college students who might be voting, not only in their first primary, but in their first election?
G.G.: Obviously, I would like and I would hope that they vote for me. I think that if they believe in criminal justice reform and are subscribers to social justice, then I think that I'll be the option for them. When it comes to district attorney, and obviously the presidential primary, it is important that we all vote, vote for our conscience. We're facing a very difficult time in our country, and this November election is going to be very critical to the future of our country and certainly the future of all our younger students who are voting for the first time, so I would say first of all, vote, secondly, if you find a candidate or cause that you are attracted to, donate a little bit of your time.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.