By Jonathan Hatami
Leadership does not come from power or your title. It does not come from winning an election. It has nothing to do with being “seasoned,” reaching a certain pay grade or with seniority. Leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality. Inconsistencies in Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s directives show a complete crisis in true leadership. His policies completely ignore the rights of victims and their families, while focusing exclusively on the criminal and wrongdoer. His policies also disregard the law, public safety, and the will of the voters; and could lead to dangerous results.
On October 9, 2020, during an interview for the Jewish Insider, Gascon said the following: “I have been very clear both as district attorney in San Francisco – and were I to be elected in LA – that hate-motivated crimes will be dealt with swiftly. I have no tolerance for hate-crimes in our community.” Only a few months later, on December 7, 2020, hours after he took office in Los Angeles, Gascon directed that all hate crimes allegations be removed from charging consideration. Weeks later, only after being pressured by the media, did Gascon change his directive.
The federal government estimates that there are over 250,000 incidents of hate crimes committed annually in the United States. Hate crimes in Los Angeles are on the rise. A 2019 Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations Hate Crimes Report found violent acts of hate grew to the highest rate since 2008. It reported that hate crimes against people of Jewish decent rose 89%, against LGBTQ Angelenos it rose 64%, against people of Asian decent it rose 32%, and against people of Middle Eastern decent it rose 142%.
Most hate crime victims do not even come forward for fear that they will be victimized further, and their case will not be taken seriously or handled with care and compassion. Hate crimes not only affects the victim, but also families, communities, and even the entire country. The Los Angeles County DA’s order that no more hate crimes allegations would be charged in Los Angeles likely caused many more victims to not come forward. More innocent people likely were hurt and abused. A DA should follow the law and seek justice, as long as she/he has the evidence, no matter how difficult the charge will be to prove. The DA of Los Angeles is supposed to fight for everyone.
On December 7, 2020, Gascon said the death penalty is “racist, morally untenable, irreversible, and expensive and beginning today, it’s off the table in LA County.” He repeated that statement throughout his campaign for Los Angeles County District Attorney. However, on day one of his tenure, not only did he remove the death penalty; he also removed all special circumstances and Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). He never once mentioned the complete removal of special circumstances to the public during his campaign. That meant that child murderers and torturers, police killers, child rapists and murderers, hate-crimes killers, and serial killers could one day get paroled. That policy is against the will of the voters, violates the law, and completely ignores justice and public safety. It is also a slap in the face to all surviving family members.
Weeks later, Gascon allowed the special circumstances to remain in some cases but not in others. Then, in February 2021, Gascon decided that Michael Gargiulo would still face the death penalty after Gascon made an exception to his order barring capital punishment.
Decisions regarding hate-crimes, LWOP, special circumstances, and the death penalty should clearly not be made this way. These inconsistent and ever-changing directives are unfair to all Angelenos, especially the victims and their surviving family members.
I chose to be a Deputy District Attorney because I care about people and respect the importance of serving the community, absent politics. I have tried cases involving hate crimes, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, sexual assaults, and child molestation. These cases involve very vulnerable members of our society that a DA should always fight for. Like my fellow DDA’s, I want my children and your children to live in a better and safer place. Protecting the public and fighting for the most vulnerable is part of being a good DA. Gascon’s blanket policies appear less to be about reform and more about making headlines. True reform comes from hard work and caring about the community you serve in.
Can we really trust someone to be the DA for all the people when that person says one thing but just months later completely forgoes his oath to uphold justice by abandoning victims and vulnerable communities?