LOS ANGELES — Less than three months after Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón was sworn in, victims advocates and members of law enforcement agencies gathered outside his office to demand his removal.
Their dissatisfaction led to an organized recall effort against Gascón, who ran on a progressive campaign to bring sweeping change to the country’s largest prosecutor’s office. But critics want him out, saying he prioritizes criminals over victims, making the county a less safe place to live.
As calls to reform the criminal justice system grow louder across the country, Gascón’s predicament exemplifies the difficulties district attorneys face in trying to heed those voices. Reform-minded district attorneys in San Francisco and Philadelphia are up against similar challenges as they try to introduce changes voters say they want, fueling tensions between tough-on-crime prosecutors and district attorneys looking to take a more holistic approach to law enforcement.
“Gascón said, ‘I am the change candidate,’ and voters still put him in office, to change policy,” said Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “When he changes the policy in the office, to have him then recalled for doing what he was elected to do would be perverse, and it will send a signal to future candidates.”
Supporters of Gascón praise his commitment to quickly overhaul a system that has disproportionately affected people of color for generations and say he is a welcome change from the last district attorney, Jackie Lacey, who refused to prosecute police officers accused of using excessive force or who had killed civilians.