What – and whom – should our next District Attorney stand for?
The county’s choice of a new District Attorney can help end local poverty … or make it worse
By Mariana Moore
Ensuring Opportunity Campaign Director
Following the resignation of former District Attorney Mark Peterson in June after he pleaded guilty to perjury, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors will act to appoint an interim District Attorney. Whomever the Board selects to fill the interim role will have the incumbent’s advantage leading up to the June 2018 election. More importantly, the new D.A. will have an important role in shaping the department’s culture, policies and practices. And right now, all of us have a unique opportunity to weigh in whom the Board will select.
The Supervisors met on August 1 and narrowed the list of applicants to five finalists. They have been invited to participate in a community forum at 6:00 pm this coming Tuesday, August 15, at 651 Pine Street in Martinez; details here. Whether or not you can attend, we encourage you to submit your questions to the forum moderator in advance, using the online form here.
The five finalists are Diana Becton, Danielle Douglas, Paul Graves, Thomas Kensok and Patrick Vanier. You can read their applications here, along with those of the other seven candidates who were not chosen.
A second District Attorney candidates’ forum will be held tomorrow (Saturday) from 12:30-3:00 p.m. This event is co-hosted by several resident groups and community organizations; details here.
Here’s why the D.A. appointment matters
The goal of the Ensuring Opportunity is to end poverty in Contra Costa County by changing the systems and policies that get in the way of residents’ economic success. Our vision is that every resident and family living in our community has access to the resources and opportunities they need to support their family and thrive. To get there, every resident of our county must be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, regardless of income level, cultural background or immigration status.
The District Attorney has an important role to play in achieving this vision. There is a clear, evidence-based link between criminal justice policies and the level of economic opportunity that is available to residents. The policy choices that our District Attorney makes will have a profound impact on the lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable members. While the media often focus on the practices of police on the street, the policies set and enforced by the District Attorney also deeply affect the economic well-being of residents who interact with the criminal justice system.
That’s why the “Community Safety” section of Ensuring Opportunity’s Policy Framework highlights several current criminal justice policies that affect the economic well-being of local residents, including the criminalization of minor non-violent offenses, sharing inmate release dates with federal immigration authorities, charging high bail and fines, and seizing defendants’ property prior to conviction. These types of policies are outdated and wrong-headed, and have led to our current mass incarceration crisis. Together, these policies are keeping too many people from reaching their economic potential.
The new District Attorney must make it a priority to promote justice and fairness for all residents. They should enhance public safety for all residents, both victims of crime and residents charged with a crime. The District Attorney is required to live in Contra Costa. To earn our trust, they should be seen as a part of the community and as someone fellow residents trust to uphold the values of transparency, accountability and integrity.
The new District Attorney must be deeply committed to earning the community’s trust. She or he will need to rebuild public confidence, across all communities and all political perspectives, in the integrity and competence of the District Attorney’s office. It is especially important to create trust among residents who have historically been hurt by systemic injustices including racism, economic discrimination, and divisive immigration policies. What we have as a result is a system that harms residents who can’t afford cash bail or high fines and fees, let alone pay a private attorney. This is unacceptable.
The new District Attorney will surely come into office knowing there is much work to do to change external perceptions of the department’s performance and integrity. It will be important to examine the department’s culture and practices, as true change must come from the inside out. This type of internal examination can be difficult, but it’s essential – and our community’s safety depends on it.
What – and who – should the men and women aspiring to be our next District Attorney stand for? The answer is: integrity, transparency, fairness and justice, for all county residents.
Please join us at the community forums tomorrow and Tuesday to add your voice to the conversation. Our Board of Supervisors wants to hear from you. The decision they make will have critical and long-lasting impacts on whether everyone in our community truly has an opportunity to thrive.