George Gascón Won L.A.’s District Attorney Race—and So Did Reform Activists

In this Jan. 29, 2020, file photo, George Gascon participates at the L.A. district attorney candidates’ debate in Los Angeles.

In this Jan. 29, 2020, file photo, George Gascon participates at the L.A. district attorney candidates’ debate in Los Angeles.
Photo: Damian Dovarganes (AP)

This Election Day, activists for justice reform and racial equity saw their vision for L.A.’s justice system come to life with George Gascón’s win in the Los Angeles County district attorney race. For eight years, racial justice advocates fought tooth and nail for reform, innovation and transparency at the district attorney’s office while the incumbent Jackie Lacey took pains to block our efforts. Now, despite naysaying from political moderates and conservatives, Gascón has won, sending a powerful message from voters: L.A.’s justice system is in dire need of an overhaul.

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Gascon’s win is a story of how a community of Black advocates rejected a status quo that was killing their communities. L.A.’s incumbent top prosecutor, Jackie Lacey, had been using the district attorney’s office to tear L.A.’s Black communities apart. She threw the weight of the office behind widely debunked, ineffective policies that overwhelmingly harm Black people, such as cash bail and lowering the age of criminal responsibility. Her office notoriously bungled investigations into high-profile crimes committed against Black individuals, like the killings of Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean and the police killings of Ezell Ford, Dijon Kizzee, and so many others. And as the city has embraced the national movement for racial justice and equity, she’s been a well-known detractor. Her own husband, David Lacey, faces criminal charges for pulling a gun on Black Lives Matter protesters.

During her tenure, Lacey upheld a dangerous double-standard that backed harsh, tough-on-crime enforcement in Black and low-income communities while wealthy white defendants and law enforcement (literally) got away with murder. Black people are routinely thrown behind bars for low-level offenses like loitering or minor drug possession while white offenders get a slap on the wrist for far more serious crimes. In L.A. County, Black people are still 13 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people.

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So local and national justice reform activists decided they would work to end Lacey’s destructive leadership as district attorney. In the weeks leading up to this election, my organization Color of Change PAC reached nearly 90,000 Black voters in Los Angeles through a grassroots-level voter contact program. We ran phone, text, mail, and canvassing campaigns and held dozens of community events to build trust, understanding, and long-lasting relationships in Black communities. Through this work, we are creating truly Black-led venues and platforms to spark Black joy, mobilize Black people, and build a movement to drive real progressive change.

The power of this movement is now clear for all to see. Across the country, local district attorneys, state attorneys, attorneys general, and other prosecutors are embracing advocates’ visions for reforming the justice system and reimagining public safety. They’re doing away with discriminatory practices and taking real, actionable steps to be more transparent and to hold themselves and their colleagues in law enforcement accountable. And we are convincing voters: of the 16 progressive district attorney candidates that we endorsed in this election cycle, more than half rose to power on Election Day.

In a year where viral outbreaks crippled America’s jails and prisons, police violence claimed countless Black lives, and white domestic terrorism went virtually unchecked, activists nationwide have also changed our national conversation about criminal justice reform. The nationwide wave of protests has been matched with real results that are the result of years of organizing. Chatham County, Georgia elected its first-ever Black woman district attorney, who won on a platform to hold police accountable and reduce mass incarceration. States like New Jersey, Arizona, and South Dakota voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, reversing decades of discriminatory drug enforcement. California reinstated voting rights for more than 50,000 individuals on parole with the passage of Proposition 17. And in L.A., voters approved Measure J, one of the most significant proposals in the nation to divert law enforcement funding to community resources like housing, health care, and alternatives to incarceration.

This is the vision that advocates have built, and it’s the climate that George Gascón will enter into on Inauguration Day. We elected Gascón to create a fairer, more equitable justice system in L.A. County and, come January, the same advocates and justice groups that propelled him to office will be working to ensure that he delivers. This community is clamoring for change; we must make sure that it happens.

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Across the nation, cities are finally embracing advocates’ model for fairness, justice, and safety. And at long last, L.A. seems ready to join them.


Rashad Robinson is spokesperson for the Color of Change PAC, one of the largest Black-led Political Action Committee’s in the country that is focused on building independent Black political power, amplifying Black voices, electing candidates who share our values, and holding them accountable to our communities. For more information on Color Of Change PAC, visit votingwhileblack.com.

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