Several activist groups in Southern California have asked one of the nation’s most progressive prosecutors to consider launching a campaign against Los Angeles County’s incumbent district attorney, Jackie Lacey, who is up for re-election next year.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced on Friday that he is contemplating joining the race and returning to L.A., where he served as a police officer many years ago.
“This is a big decision for me and it is one I will ultimately be making in consultation with my family, but I am both proud and humbled that so many Angelenos have encouraged me to bring a data-driven vision of public safety and racial equity back to my hometown of Los Angeles,” Gascón said in a statement.
The Los Angeles Times reports that “a number of social justice advocacy groups critical of Lacey” have approached Gascón, including representatives from the Real Justice political action committee, which was co-founded by nationally-known black liberation activist Shaun King. The PAC attempted to elect several reform-minded prosecutors throughout California last year.
District Attorney Gascón met directly with Patrisse Cullors, the California director of Real Justice PAC who is also the Black Lives Matter Global Network's co-founder and key strategist. Cullors told The New York Times that Gascón has “been very clear that he wants to end mass incarceration in Los Angeles” during their meetings, adding, “he wants to hold law enforcement accountable.”
As Gascón weighs his decision, he has also visited with members of Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter and other affiliated organizations.
According to the NY Times: “Groups that have successfully supported reform-minded prosecutors pushing to end mass incarceration in places like Philadelphia, Chicago and Texas have zeroed in on Los Angeles as the ultimate prize for their movement because of its size – it has the biggest jail system and the largest prosecutors office in the country.”
Since becoming the first African-American woman elected as L.A.’s top law enforcement official in 2012, Lacey has been the frequent target of a local anti-cop coalition which includes Black Lives Matter and the ACLU. Lacey’s critics have scrutinized her record of opposing progressive criminal justice reform policies, along with her unwillingness to prosecute police who have engaged in officer-involved shootings. Black Lives Matter members have protested in front of Lacey’s house, organized recurring demonstrations outside of her office, and vowed to “disrupt her wherever she goes” on the campaign trail.
Lacey has also been criticized for her handling of the cases of two gay black men found dead inside the West Hollywood apartment of a white, high-profile Democratic donor 18 months apart. The coroner determined that both deaths resulted from drug overdoses. However, Black Lives Matter allies are currently leading a drive demanding Lacey prosecute Ed Buck for murder, speculating that he administered the lethal doses of crystal methamphetamine that killed both men at his home. Several conservative social media influencers have echoed those unsubstantiated claims as detectives continue to investigate the deaths.
“When any allegation is considered for possible criminal prosecution, the issue is whether there is clear evidence that a crime has occurred and whether that is sufficient to convince a jury of 12 people of a defendant’s guilt,” Lacey explained earlier this year. “Prosecutors cannot ethically file charges without such facts in hand.”
Gascón was born in pre-communist Cuba and arrived in America after fleeing the Fidel Castro regime with his family as a teenager. They eventually settled in Los Angeles, where he would spend more than 20 years with the LAPD.
Last year, Gascón announced that he would not seek a third-term as D.A. in San Francisco, citing the failing health of his elderly mother who resides in the L.A. area. He had the support of progressive billionaire George Soros, who, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, had planned to hold multiple fundraisers for Gascón’s re-election effort. California voters approved a controversial criminal justice reform ballot initiative in 2014 that was co-authored by Gascón and backed by Soros’ international grantmaking network, along with its lobbying arm. The referendum, called Proposition 47, reclassified several felonies to misdemeanors.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.