It was a big win for criminal justice reformers: the nation’s leading progressive prosecutor supporting the movement’s main target, the nation’s largest county and one that has long been hostile to change.
“I knew how tough LA County was because I had been a police officer here for 27 years,” he said. “This office had been one of the major incarcerators, the death penalty, put young children in adult prison. This office actually paved the way.
Back then, in the fall of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd sparked a new racial justice movement, being a well-known advocate for criminal justice reform was an asset in Los Angeles.
Black Lives Matter signs appeared in Beverly Hills, and Gascón leaned into his message of sweeping reform. “It’s really about starting to dismantle systemic racism from the criminal justice system,” he said at the time.
Gascón acted quickly after taking the oath. He ended cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. He told his assistant prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty, never try minors as adults, stop prosecuting people for non-violent offenses for the first time, and stop using so-called sentencing enhancements, which allow prosecutors to pile on jail time.
And he did all of this on his first day in office.
Then came the backlash.
When certain types of crime increased in Los Angeles, Gascón was blamed. In Beverly Hills, the city council passed a resolution for a vote of no confidence against him.
“It has become fashionable for wealthy white people to want to be in charge of the police,” he recalled. “It was kind of the fancy thing to do. So you’re also going to want to be seen with BLM. They wanted to take part in demonstrations, didn’t they? …I’m a little cynical now, looking back. At the time, I actually thought there was a separation of the waters. I said, ‘For the first time I’m hearing from rich white people understanding the suffering of black people in this country and the poor.’ And I thought, ‘That’s a reversal.’
” I was wrong. »
California makes it relatively easy to remove an elected official. It’s been part of the state constitution since 1911. And in tough times, Spike recalls. Governor Gavin Newsom faced a recall last year which he defeated. San Francisco recalled three school board members in February. More worrisome for Gascón, last month San Francisco recalled its district attorney, Gascón’s ideological friend and relative Chesa Boudin, who had instituted many of the same policies.
There was talk of recalling Gascón as soon as he was sworn in. And those calls came from inside the Hall of Justice, where many of his assistant prosecutors rebelled against the changes.
“The week I was sworn in, they started talking about calling me back,” Gascón said. “And you had to tell them that you had to wait at least 90 days. So, I’ve been fighting the recall since day one.
In LA, the deep state is real. Gascón cannot fire assistant prosecutors who are so hostile to his program that they publicly endorsed the recall. “Think of Biden coming in and keeping Donald Trump’s cabinet,” he said. ” It’s like that. »
Voters will know by Aug. 17 whether a Gascón recall will be on the November ballot.
In the meantime, Gascón’s politics became a flashpoint in other major California elections. In the Los Angeles mayoral race, right-wing candidate Rick Caruso condemned him, and left-wing candidate Rep. Karen Bass distanced himself from him. Nationally, Gascón has become a recurring character on Fox News and an unwanted issue for vulnerable Democrats.
The backlash against progressive prosecutors even caught the attention of the White House.
The day after Boudin was recalled last month, President Joe Biden told reporters, “I think voters sent a clear message last night that both parties need to step up and do something about crime, as well as about the crime. armed violence. He reminded everyone that his budget provided more money to hire and train more cops.
Gascón said he learned from Boudin’s recall.
“One of the mistakes that Chesa made that I learned about — and he’ll readily admit — was trying to talk to data people,” Gascón said. “People don’t care about data. It’s about emotions. It’s about how you perceive and feel. And you can’t use data to manage sentiment. And I think it was a failure. And by the time he somehow woke up, it was too late for him.