“…change needed to upend a system rooted in slavery.” – District Attorney Diana Becton
By Allen Payton
In a joint commentary published on Politico.com last week, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and four other district attorneys from across the country, issued a statement on 11 criminal justice reform commitments. However, the commentary states they want to transform and no longer reform the system. The commentary was not sent to local media which covers Contra Costa County.
One of the points reiterates what Becton promoted in June, with other prosecutors in California, which is to ban political contributions from police unions to candidates for district attorney. However, questions to her about that issue, including asking if Becton would also support banning contributions from criminal defense attorneys, were never responded to.
The commentary begins with the claim, “Our criminal legal system was constructed to control Black people and people of color. Its injustices are not new but are deeply rooted in our country’s shameful history of slavery and legacy of racial violence. The system is acting exactly as it was intended to, and that is the problem. We should know: We’re Black, we’re female, and we’re prosecutors. We work as the gatekeepers in this flawed system.”
In that commentary, the five elected prosecutors also wrote, “Each level of the legal system reflects a level of inherent bias, and unless we stop trying to reform the system and instead work to transform it, we will never achieve the kind of change needed to upend a system rooted in slavery. Working from within, we have begun the steps to rectify past wrongs. We are implementing policies that include declining to prosecute minor offenses, overturning wrongful convictions, refusing to take cases from officers with a history of racial bias and expunging marijuana convictions.”
“Now we are pushing even further. We have decided to make the following 11 commitments, and we urge our fellow prosecutors to join us:
- Do not prosecute peaceful protesters. Citizens have a right to protest, and prosecutions can antagonize marginalized communities.
- Do not accept any funding from police unions. This will ensure our offices’ independence, and the ability to hold police accountable for injustice and misconduct.
- Require the review of all available evidence — including body-worn camera and other video footage — in cases that rest solely on the testimony of an officer. One officer’s perspective cannot guarantee the full truth, and therefore all available evidence must be reviewed for the cases that come across our desks.
- Ban “No Knock” warrants and reexamine our policies for issuing warrants. “No Knock” warrants are a violation of individual rights and represent an overreach of police power. They often result in unnecessary and tragic fatalities, as we saw in the case of Breonna Taylor.
- Hold police accountable by pursuing criminal charges against officers unlawfully using excessive force and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.Each member of law enforcement must do their part to hold officers accountable for unlawful practices and misconduct to ensure the safety of every person who comes in contact with the legal system.
- Expand our office policies on declining low-level offenses to cover decisions regarding charging and issuing warrants. By increasing our efforts to decline to prosecute certain low-level offenses, we can work to reverse the disproportionate impact the legal system has on Black people and low-income communities.
- Financially support and advocate for increases in funding to community-led and community-defined responses, restorative justice and violence prevention programs. Investing in community-led programs is crucial to addressing the racist origins of our legal system.
- Commit to using our office’s power and platform to advance discussions of divestment from the criminal legal system and toward community-led and community-defined responses to harm. Strong community support, restorative justice practices and diversion practices are key to dismantling the current legal system and shifting its focus from punishment toward justice.
- Develop grant-based community reinvestment programs to be administered in partnership with community-based partners. Community programs have proved to lessen recidivism and keep people out of contact with the criminal legal system, while keeping communities safer, overall.
- Solicit feedback from Black and brown community groups we were elected to serve through public, virtual forums in the next two weeks. Only by listening to the most impacted communities and advocates and bringing them to the table, will we truly understand their greatest needs and biggest challenges. Then, we will work together to rectify them.
- Commit to budget transparency.A budget is a moral document, and our constituents have the right to see how we allocate our budget and what we are funding to invest in community supports and safety.
To read the entire commentary on Politico, click here.