Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón didn’t waste any time making radical changes. On Monday, his first day in office, the progressive Democrat eliminated cash bail.
Gascón took to Twitter after he was sworn in and said, “40 years ago I walked my first beat as a young police officer. Today, I was sworn in as the 43rd District Attorney of Los Angeles.”
He added, “I am not the same man I was when I first put on the uniform. One of the many reasons for that is because of situations I faced as a young officer – situations & experiences that have stayed with me, and that continue to shape my approach to this work.”
He spoke of how he saw the flaws in the system, tweeting, “Those experiences taught me the criminal justice system is fundamentally broken. Today, we will usher in a new era of criminal justice, and transform the largest criminal justice jurisdiction in America.”
Born in Havana, Cuba, Gascón, immigrated to Los Angeles at age of 13. He is an Army veteran whose previous California-based jobs included serving with the LA Police Department for 30 years, and San Francisco District Attorney from 2011 to 2019, The Corsair reported.
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Explaining his move to end cash bail, Gascón tweeted, “The money bail system is as unsafe as it is unjust. Money is a terrible proxy for risk posed to society. So today we will end cash bail for any misdemeanor, non-serious or non-violent felony offense. And I will end bail completely January 1.”
Gascón’s reforms were met with approval by many on Twitter. One user wrote, “never mind that he was a beat cop first, and that he knows policing better than you or I do. those enhancements were voted on singularly, but their commutative effect is far greater than intended. take a seat, watch the man work.”
But others lashed out. “In 3 months, we crime victims will file a Notice of Intention (§11020) to recall you. Your priorities lay with appeasing criminals. We have already raised a lot of money in just a few hours for this endeavor. So go back to your criminal friends and BLM for more money. It’s war,” posted one tweeter.
There has been a growing chorus pushing for an end to cash bail in all of California. Proposition 25, which would have ended cash bail statewide, was on the ballot in the 2020 election.
The bail industry aggressively opposed Proposition 25 while a group of billionaires backed it and formed a committee called Yes On Prop 25, A Coalition Of Justice Reform And Labor Organizations.
The top four donors backing Proposition 25 were billionaires or their spouses, Forbes reported. They included former hedge fund manager-turned-philanthropist John Arnold of Texas, and Steve and Connie Ballmer. Steve Ballmer was the longtime CEO of Microsoft. Other supporters included Patty Quillin, spouse of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings; Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund investor and former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate; and Oklahoma-based philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who gave $250,000. Proposition 25 ultimately failed.
While voters failed to pass Proposition 25, various California cities have already banned cash bail. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin ended cash bail for all criminal cases in February.
Now Los Angeles is on the list of cities that have banned cash bail. It’s one of many changes Gascón has planned.
Gascón announced other sweeping policy changes he’ll make as district attorney including a ban on prosecutors seeking enhanced prison sentences, and showing leniency to many low-level offenders, Los Angeles Times reported.
“I recognize for many this is a new path … whether you are a protester, a police officer or a prosecutor, I ask you to walk with me. I ask you to join me on this journey,” he said. “We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma and arrest and recidivism that has led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation.”
The reforms are among those Gascón vowed to make during a heated election against incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey. In 2012, Lacey became the first woman and first African-American to serve as L.A. D.A.
Gascón beat Lacey with 53.7 percent of the total vote, leading by an estimated 229,000 votes, Santa Monica College news outlet The Corsair reported.
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But his new policies aren’t sitting well with everyone. “His policies are a slap in the face to crime victims — both past victims and the ones to come,” said a veteran prosecutor who requested anonymity for fear of retribution in speaking out against Gascón. “His blanket policies do not take into account that we are the only people standing between truly dangerous criminals and the general public. I am already getting concerned emails from concerned victims. What am I supposed to say to them?”
Gascón has long fought against cash bail. As the district attorney for San Francisco, he prompted the use of risk-assessment tools in place of cash bail that evaluate the likelihood a defendant will commit more crimes if released, L.A.Times reported.
“How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for how dangerous you are,” Gascón said. “Today there are hundreds of people languishing in jails, not because they represent a danger to our community but because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom.”
Activists in Los Angeles held regular rallies urging Lacey’s ouster. They were further bolstered when Lacey’s husband pulled a gun on protesters who had gathered outside her home, Politico reported.