Gascón Addresses the Space Between Numbers and Perceptions

The crowd went quiet at a fundraiser on Feb. 18, 2024 to listen to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speak about the benefits that policy changes had created, and the surprisingly persistent gap between information and perception. 

“I spent 30 years in policing, and I know…dealing with human behavior, it’s impossible to predict what people will do… but the policy changes we have put in place since 2020 are getting positive results, and it’s important to continue this; that’s why I’m running.” 

His remarks to the crowd touched on his own background – family immigrating from Cuba, his service in the Army, 30 years as a police officer, and his own shift of perception with the Rodney King case – but looked purposefully toward the future of criminal justice in LA County. 

“We have 44 police agencies in the county, and [our office] deals with all of them. It’s the largest [District Attorney’s] office in the country. And we need to make sure that police officers and prosecutors are held accountable.”

Recounting the Rodney King moment, he remembered hearing then-LAPD Chief Darryl Gates say that the violent behavior by the police officers was an aberration.”I was a police officer, working in South LA, and I knew that was not an aberration…I saw the city in flames, after the verdict, and I really began to [educate myself] on how we could change to make things better.” 

His policy changes for Los Angeles County have been to avoid the use of the death penalty, to keep minors out of adult prisons, and to hold his people – police and law enforcement at all levels – accountable. “In creating these policies, we consulted with prosecutors and defense lawyers, with judges, we had juvenile experts, we had community input – we wanted to be sure we had the best minds in agreement about what were the best policies.”

“[Why decide] not to use the death penalty ? It does’t work; it’s not an effective deterrent,  it’s highly discriminatory and it’s very expensive. It’s also irreversible. If we make a mistake – if we execute the wrong person, we can’t fix that. 

“We are no longer putting minors into adult prisons.  By my numbers, through the end of December, we have kept 747 kids out of adult prisons. [When you put a child in with an adult population,]  not only are you going to have a life of criminality, you ruin an entire family. You send a 16 year old to prison with hardened adults, and they get out when they are 26? 36? They can’t get employment, or housing…how surprised are we when they are back in court and then back in prison? “

Gascon took on the crisis in misinformation, saying “Some people think crime is up, when in fact, crime is down. The numbers that we have show that crime is down across the board. Our numbers are even better than Orange County. We have created positive change. Tragically, [one type] of crime that has increased are hate crimes; and that’s a national problem; it’s not just us. Since 2016, there has been a major rise in hate crime. And we are seeing a rise in car theft – kids on TikTok showing how to steal cars. So, other kids go and do that.” 

Gascón has survived two major recall campaigns, both of them very well funded, largely by conservatives who object to systemic reforms. 

“All the data says that crime is down…but it also says that every year, people say they feel less safe, regardless of how much crime there is.” He put the gap down to social media influence, and to political forces using fear to manipulate people. 

He concluded by saying that “I believe 2024 will be a defining year for our nation, and I’m looking forward to continuing the work.” 

Judith Martin-Straw

Photo Credit – Karim Sahli


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