A conversation with Los Angeles County DA George Gascón, Prosecutors Alliance of California Executive Director Cristine Soto DeBerry, and Impact Justice President Alex Busansky. Introduced by Impact Justice Director of Innovation Programs, Aishatu Yusuf.
Across the nation, progressive prosecutors are committed to reimagining the criminal legal system and helping make our communities safer. Prosecutors have enormous freedom to enact change at almost every step of the criminal legal process; they can leverage their power to reduce incarceration and rectify racial disparities across the criminal legal system while creating real public safety.
But at every step of the way, a clear barrier has emerged: police unions. Police unions have a long history of resisting change and marshaling their financial and political power to maintain the status quo of mass incarceration. They donate massive sums to their preferred candidates in races for DA and other local offices, including almost $65 million in LA over the last 20 years. This spring, the Philadelphia police union backed reformist DA Larry Krasner’s primary challenger and gave $25,200 — the maximum allowable contribution — to his opponent’s campaign.
As the Founder and Executive Director of Prosecutors Alliance of California, Cristine Soto DeBerry has been working to tame police unions’ political power through legislation requiring DAs who have received police union support to recuse themselves from prosecuting police misconduct cases. DA George Gascón in Los Angeles County has stood up to police unions throughout his career as a prosecutor while implementing a host of changes, from refusing to charge juveniles as adults to increasing the use of diversion. With Impact Justice President Alex Busansky, they will discuss the political power of police unions, how unions distort the fight for real safety and community well-being, and the ways we can push back on these powerful unions.
Thursday, July 22
1:00-2:00pm PT / 4:00-5:00pm ET
About the panelists:
George Gascón is the 43rd District Attorney for Los Angeles County. In the many positions Gascón has held throughout his career—from Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department to Chief of Police in Mesa, Arizona, Chief of Police in San Francisco, and, most recently, District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco—his commitment to fairness, service, and public safety has remained steadfast. As San Francisco’s District Attorney, Gascón reduced the jail population by nearly 30% and was the first DA in the country to call for an end of cash bail, the first DA in the country to launch an automatic record clearing program for marijuana convictions following legalization, and the only DA in CA to support a state law that created a stricter standard for when police can use deadly force. Gascón has earned a national reputation as a visionary in criminal justice reform.
Cristine Soto DeBerry is the Founder and Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance of California. She is an attorney and policy strategist with over twenty years of experience generating and implementing criminal justice reforms. Her commitment to racial equity, redemption and healing are borne of her life experiences as an immigrant, first generation college graduate, and crime victim, as well as her professional experience as both a public defender and a prosecutor. The Prosecutors Alliance of California is the nation’s first reform-oriented law enforcement association. Prior to founding the Prosecutors Alliance, Cristine served for ten years as Chief of Staff to San Francisco DAs George Gascón and Chesa Boudin. She helped shape the reform agenda, developing the nation’s first automatic record clearance for marijuana convictions, an independent unit to investigate and prosecute police misconduct incidents, as well as the nation’s first “blind charging” tool.
Alex Busansky is the President and Founder of Impact Justice, a national innovation and research center based in Oakland and Los Angeles, CA and Washington, DC, which works to create a more humane and restorative system of justice in the United States. At Impact Justice, Alex works to reduce the number of people involved in the justice system, improve conditions for those currently incarcerated, and support people successfully re-enter communities. He and his colleagues have developed, launched, and scaled numerous projects including the Restorative Justice Project, the PREA Resource Center, the Homecoming Project, the Research and Action Center, and the Food in Prison Project. Alex began his career as a prosecutor at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in 1987.