LOS ANGELES — Newly elected District Attorney George Gascón plans to create an advisory board for victims of crime.
“Supporting victims in their journey to becoming survivors is fundamental to community safety,” Gascón said at a Dec. 16 press conference. “When a person has been harmed, wronged or experienced loss at the hands of another, they need justice and healing.
“The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will pursue a system of parallel justice, where we not only seek legal prosecution for the offenders, but also provide support services for victims in their evolution to becoming survivors.”
Gascón’s introduced the six-member advisory board panel who will work with the department to ensure a smooth transition from victim to survivor.
They are LaNaisha Edwards, who recently cofounded United Communities for Peace and the Sister Circle Women Empowerment Group; Susan Hess, a clinical associate professor at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work; Enako an advocate for the Jireh-Shalom Foundation, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice California and many other community organizations; Patricia Ramirez, the founder of the Healing Justice Transformative Leadership Institute; Skipp Townsend, a cofounder and executive director of 2nd Call, a community-based organization designed to save lives by reducing violence and assisting in the personal development of high-risk individuals and others; and Rebecca Weiker, a program director at Restore Justice, where she develops and implements programs for survivors, responsible parties and formerly incarcerated individuals.
“The purpose of the advisory board is to solicit input from survivors to inform his policies,” said Maxwell Szabo, spokesperson for Gascón.
The press conference outlined a new process of not seeking enhancements for crimes, which has drawn the ire of victims and prosecutors who will no longer be able to seek penalties to the fullest extent of the law. Gascón said sentencing enhancements serve no public benefit.
“Sentencing enhancements or other sentencing allegations, including under the Three Strikes Law, shall not be filed in any cases and shall be withdrawn in pending matters,” Gascón said.
But some people familiar with the special directive issued by Gascón believe he is trying to circumvent the law.
“In order to strike a prior, a judge has to find that there is either insufficient evidence or it’s in the interest of justice,” said an anonymous commenter on social media. “Gascón is trying to get around this.”
Gascón’s office has confirmed that sentencing enhancements will no longer be sought in hate crimes, which was addressed in a letter from the Anti-Defamation League.
“We are concerned eliminating hate crime enhancements in all cases could send the wrong message,” said Jeffrey Abrams, regional director of ADL Los Angeles.
Gascón is concerned that additional enhancements could prevent a parole board from releasing a prisoner who could have been rehabilitated while serving time.
Members of the advisory board applaud the efforts of the new district attorney who will no longer use the justice system as a means to lock victims up and effectively “throw away the key.”
“I plan on adding a different perspective to the conversation regarding gang-motivated and gang-related crimes,” Townsend said. “I plan to provide insight that every community member labeled as a gang member is not always a criminal with a criminal mindset.”
Townsend is a world-renowned gang expert who spent 27 years as a documented member of the Bloods. He said that too many times young men of color are erroneously labeled a gang member, which is detrimental at sentencing hearings.
Los Angeles Police Department officers recently came under fire for mislabeling community members as gang members and adding them to the states gang database, which would make them eligible for sentencing enhancements under the previous district attorney.
“Some community members react with emotions and become labeled as gang members because of their first offense and I will advocate for supportive services instead of harsher sentencing,” Townsend said.
Adding more supportive services to the district attorney’s office was a cornerstone of Gascón campaign that saw him unseat Jackie Lacey after two four-year terms as district attorney.
Gascón said he was keeping promises he made during the campaign by implementing reforms as soon as he took office.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood area. She can be reached at email@example.com.