Los Angeles Times

Gascón is an easy scapegoat

The recall campaign is a misguided attempt to assign blame for two years of turmoil.


The final tally of verified signatures on petitions to recall Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón is expected within days. If county officials report that there are at least 566,857 valid, nonduplica­tive signatures among the 715,833 collected since Jan. 27, voters will be asked to weigh in on Gascón for the second time in two years — and the distractin­g, destructiv­e season of California recalls will stretch on.

The D.A. has become the latest vessel into which residents wrestling with anxiety over disease, lockdowns, political turmoil, violence and societal disruption have poured their fears — and into which opponents of criminal justice reforms, and opportunis­ts of various political stripes but most notably from the far right, have placed their hopes.

A similar dynamic played out in the attempted recall last year of Gov. Gavin Newsom, which culminated in the governor’s landslide retention by voters on Sept. 14. On June 7, San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin was recalled after a campaign that blamed him for a supposed wave of violence and property crimes in the city — even though crime actually dropped during Boudin’s tenure.

Boudin was a high-profile target of justice reform opponents, in part because his city is a leading bastion of progressiv­e politics, and in part because his parents were convicted of killing police officers in the 1980s, making him a potent symbol for police, prosecutor­s and others who feel threatened by criminal justice policies that depart from the status quo.

Gascón, by contrast, is himself a former police officer, having spent most of his career in the Los Angeles Police Department, before serving as chief of police in Mesa, Ariz., and San Francisco.

To many in the movement to roll back reform, that background makes Gascón an even bigger target than Boudin, because his reform orientatio­n smacks of profession­al betrayal. That’s the charge inevitably leveled against reformers in any field who through experience and reflection identify flaws in the system of which they are a part and commit to fixing them.

L.A. County voters have repeatedly expressed their desire for a crime-and-punishment system that is more just, more equitable, more efficient and more constructi­ve.

They voted against the death penalty in 2016 as the rest of the state retained it. They supported reforms like Propositio­n 47 (cowritten by Gascón), which ended felony charges for simple drug possession and adjusted the line separating misdemeano­r and felony property crimes (although it’s still far easier to charge felony theft in California than in supposedly tough-on-crime states like Texas and South Carolina).

They elected Gascón to protect and extend those and other reforms, as well as to

The notion that a D.A. can make crime rise or fall over a period of months is absurd.

hold police accountabl­e for criminal misconduct — a job to which he brings particular profession­al insight.

The increase in crime in Los Angeles County is real and deeply troubling, and requires an official and meaningful response from government. Crime is frightenin­g and corrosive even to people who are not directly affected.

Increases in violence and theft over the last two years parallel nationwide trends and are minuscule when compared with the crime wave of the 1990s, but those facts do not lessen the public’s legitimate desire for safety.

Yet the notion that it’s the prosecutor­s — not the police, the mayor, county supervisor­s and other players or criminal laws and policies regarding health, economics, education — that control crime is fairly new and somewhat odd.

The D.A.’s role comes on the back end of a case, after the rest of government has failed and a criminal defendant has been arrested and accused. A D.A. making charging decisions can begin the slow process of making the system more responsive and equitable over a course of many years. But the notion that a D.A. can make crime rise or fall over a period of months is absurd.

If the recall against Gascón qualifies for the ballot, the process won’t operate like the one required by the combined citycounty charter in San Francisco, where voters booted out the D.A. and the mayor filled the vacancy.

The L.A. County charter calls for the process to follow state law, as in the attempted recall of Newsom, with replacemen­t candidates on the same ballot as the yes-or-no question to remove Gascón. If the gubernator­ial recall is a guide, it’s likely that most of the replacemen­t candidates will offer a 180-degree reversal of the direction Gascón and voters have set.

We will know shortly whether Los Angeles County voters must spend the next three months arguing yet again over reforms they have endorsed again and again — or whether their district attorney will be allowed to continue putting them in place.

 ?? Irfan Khan
Los Angeles Times ?? LOS ANGELES COUNTY Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times LOS ANGELES COUNTY Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

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