DA Boudin and colleagues forge Prosecutors Alliance to fight the politics of mass incarceration

Prosecutors-Alliance-DAs-Chesa-Boudin-Diana-Becton-Tori-Verber-Salazar-George-Gascon-1400x529, DA Boudin and colleagues forge Prosecutors Alliance to fight the politics of mass incarceration, Local News & Views
Founding members of the new Prosecutors Alliance are, from left, California District Attorneys Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, Diana Becton of Contra Costa County, Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County and George Gascón of Los Angeles County. The press conference announcing this bold new progressive law enforcement association was the first press conference attended by Bay View Assistant Editor Malik Washington since his release from prison on Sept. 3.

Bipartisan Prosecutors Alliance to provide education, training, and advocate for initiatives and legislation that enhance safety, equity and justice

by Rachel Marshall

San Francisco – San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin joined current and former district attorneys from across the state Sept. 15 to create the Prosecutors Alliance of California. The announcement by District Attorneys Boudin, Diana Becton, George Gascón and Tori Verber Salazar follows nationwide protests and growing distrust in a criminal justice system mired in systemic racism. The Alliance stands alone among law enforcement organizations in its commitment to modern and sustainable approaches to achieving safety and community health at the state and local level. It is the nation’s first progressive law enforcement association to have an advocacy arm.

“Traditional law enforcement organizations abide by a philosophy that hasn’t changed for 40 years,” said District Attorney Boudin. “Ultimately, law enforcement unions have a vested interest in tough-on-crime policies, as criminalization leads to more police and correctional officers and more money for the unions that represent them. The safest communities don’t have police on every corner, and from San Francisco to Sacramento, we can no longer allow these groups to distort what’s in their interest with what’s in the interest of your safety.”

“Prosecutors are elected advocates for the people, and the people need their advocates to lead the conversation on criminal justice reform instead of delaying and denying the need for systemic change,” said Prosecutors Alliance Founder and Executive Director Cristine Soto DeBerry. “It’s time to give voice to the growing number of reform leaders within law enforcement. They reject the traditional police and prosecutor association approach to safety that breaks the bank and destroys the fabric of our communities.”

“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,” said Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton. “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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The Prosecutors Alliance of California is a non-profit organization that will provide public education, support and training to prosecutors and their offices. The Prosecutors Alliance of California Action Fund is a social welfare organization that will draft and advocate for criminal justice reform legislation.

Said Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton, “We need a voice at the table that represents us and understands we must pursue modern alternatives to the status quo.”

The necessity of a forward-thinking law enforcement voice has become increasingly clear in recent months. For example, when law enforcement officers engage in unconstitutional policing and there are delays in the condemnation, arrest and charging of those officers, the public perceives a failure on the part of the prosecutors to meet their responsibility, and there is an erosion of the promise of equal justice.

But when a prosecutor’s personal or political interests suggest the delay or denial to pursue a police officer may be motivated by a financial relationship with the involved officer, trust in our system quickly – and completely – dissolves. For this reason, the founding four members recently joined forces to call on the California State Bar to change the rules of professional responsibility to #CureTheConflict of interest that occurs when elected DAs take law enforcement union money and then review misconduct cases against the same unions’ members.

Traditional law enforcement organizations were quick to oppose the measure. In fact, one such opponent, the California District Attorneys Association, has a board made up entirely of elected prosecutors who have accepted and benefited from police union money in their respective elections.

“Law enforcement unions use their considerable resources and the symbolism of the badge to pressure lawmakers to heel or face being labeled ‘soft on crime,’” said former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. “But they perverted that symbol and falsely invoked the veil of safety to promote their self-interests, and that has come at the expense of the health and well-being of the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

“Prosecutors work for you, not the police. And free from the influence of police union money, the Prosecutors Alliance will level the playing field as the public and lawmakers alike seek to reform our dated system of justice,” Gascón added.

When a prosecutor’s personal or political interests suggest the delay or denial to pursue a police officer may be motivated by a financial relationship with the involved officer, trust in our system quickly – and completely – dissolves.

“A broad spectrum of political ideologies believe in a smaller, less punitive and more equitable system of justice,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney, Tori Verber Salazar. “This is one of the few issues in America’s discourse upon which Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, and we welcome prosecutors from across the political spectrum to join us. All you need is the courage to challenge the status quo and the ability to reflect and grow.”

The Prosecutors Alliance of California is the first such progressive law enforcement association in the nation to engage in advocacy at the state and local levels. However, prosecutors in Virginia and Missouri are interested in bringing a new voice to their jurisdictions as well.

“The definition of insanity is doubling down on the same tough on crime strategies that failed to make us safer and expecting a different result,” said Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis Kim Gardner. “Black and Brown communities are disproportionately victimized, arrested and incarcerated.

“To level the playing field public safety professionals must focus on the root causes of crime, we must retire a dated approach that focuses on punishment at the expense of getting results for our communities. Our voices are louder when we’re organized, and together we can bring our criminal justice system out of the dark ages.”

“It’s the 21st century. It’s time to reject the failed policies that defined the 20th century,” said Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales. “A group of status quo prosecutors should not be allowed to dictate what is and what is not in the interests of safety when young Black and Brown people are the ones victimized and incarcerated at disproportionate rates.

“We need a new paradigm in criminal justice, and several of my colleagues in Virginia have joined me as we seek to build a new voice in our community. The Prosecutors Alliance could help us get there faster.”

For more information about the Prosecutors Alliance, go to www.ProsecutorsAlliance.org or Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Rachel Marshall is director of communications and policy advisor and an assistant district attorney in the office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. She can be reached at Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org. The DA’s Office can also be reached by mail to San Francisco District Attorney, 350 Rhode Island St., North Building, Suite 400N, San Francisco, CA 94103, or by calling 628-652-4000.