September 16, 2020; Daily Democrat (Woodland, CA)
As the Guardian recently noted, progressive prosecutors are being elected in ever greater numbers around the country, providing a new leverage point for criminal justice reform. But as their numbers increase, so do their options for intervention in what has been a very entrenched and pernicious system. In California, for instance, the brand new Prosecutors’ Alliance of California will bring progressive prosecutors together to counteract embedded conservative forces in criminal justice policy.
“This is not a debate that’s happening solely in the streets; it’s happening in the legislature and at the highest levels of government,” says Diana Becton, who was elected in 2018 as Contra Costa County’s prosecutor on a progressive platform. “We need a voice at the table that represents us and understands we must pursue modern alternatives to the status quo.”
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Its founders say the alliance is meant as a counterweight to powerful law enforcement groups, including police unions and some of their fellow prosecutors, that have historically pushed for tougher criminal penalties and longer jail and prison sentences.
The founding group includes Becton, San Francisco district attorney and former public defender Chesa Boudin, San Joaquin County district attorney Tori Verber Salazar, and George Gascon, who is the former San Francisco DA but is now running for the position of top prosecutor in Los Angeles County. These founders have aligned before in a campaign to bar prosecutors from accepting donations from police unions.
The alliance’s members present their group as the first of its kind, an outgrowth of nationwide protests this summer over police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black residents, and demands for racial justice. Initial plans include starting a nonprofit that will “provide public education, support and training to prosecutors and their offices” and generating funding to back campaigns for criminal justice reform legislation.
That stance could set up the group for conflicts with the existing California District Attorneys’ Association, a body known for campaigning against successful ballot propositions that would reduce sentences.—Ruth McCambridge