Voters Demanded More Accountability From Prosecutors and Police on Election Night
Criminal justice reform advocates continued to make gains at the local level in the 2020 election, as progressive candidates in several major cities won elections for district attorneys and voters in other cities passed measures strengthening civilian oversight of police departments.
Over the past several election cycles, a wave of well-funded progressive candidates have run for prosecutor offices in major cities, turning what were once sleepy races into hotly contested battles over criminal justice reform. That trend continued on Tuesday night.
In what was perhaps most significant of the local prosecutor races, Los Angeles County, George Gascon beat incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey 54 to 46 percent. Lacey was criticized by Black Lives Matter activists for failing to prosecute fatal police shootings. Gascon, the former San Francisco County district attorney, has promised to re-open investigations of police killings, focus on rehabilitation and drug treatment over incarceration, and not seek the death penalty. He will now be the chief prosecutor of the most populous county in America.
“I think that this has been a campaign that has been driven by passion, by an honest commitment to reimagine our criminal justice system, moving away from punishment,” Gascon told ABC7. “It’s really about redemption.”
Voters in Austin, Texas, and Orlando, Florida also elected two former defense attorneys to be their top prosecutors, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, a retired judge running on a reform platform was elected district attorney. The current Honolulu prosecutor is on paid leave amid an FBI investigation.
Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx, one of the first reform candidates to take over a major prosecutor’s office in 2016, cruised to reelection.
Meanwhile, the race for New Orleans District Attorney will go to a run-off between two candidates who have both pledged to reform the office, to differing degrees. The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office became a high-priority target for criminal justice reformers after 12-year incumbent D.A. Leon Cannizzaro announced that he would not seek reelection. Cannizzaro’s office is currently fighting an ACLU lawsuit over its practice of sending fake subpoenas to crime witnesses and victims. His office once used a habitual offender en
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