GEORGE GASCON ARGUES TO CANCEL THE PENAL CODE
(The views attributed to LADA George Gascon below, although fabricated, reveal the dangerous trajectory of his misguided philosophy that if allowed to go unchecked could turn Los Angeles into a lawless dystopia.)
By Joseph P. Charney
In an attempt to seek a County without police, prosecutors and prisons, Los Angeles District Attorney, George Gascon, calls for the cancellation of the Penal Code. He explains his reasoning in a recent interview.
Q: What would be the benefits of cancelling the Penal Code?
GASCON: Crime is created by the Penal Code, without it, you eliminate “crime”. What remains is anti-social behaviors. These behaviors can be better engaged in a more comprehensive and effective manner with resources made possible by canceling the Penal Code.
Q: Aren’t we playing word games here? I don’t understand how burning the Penal Code helps.
GASCON: By eliminating the cost of armed law enforcement, criminal courts, the DA and PD’s office, as well as jails and prisons, billions will be saved. The criminal justice system would be replaced by a “humane justice system”. These savings could be better spent on anger management counseling, gang interventions, and by promoting voluntary rehabilitation for those whose addictions or poverty make them inclined to do what some have called “immoral acts”.
Q: Are you saying we shouldn’t punish violence to protect the community and deter others? How can that be justice?
GASCON: We need another vision of justice. Our effort should be directed to reimagining how violence and stealing can be more effectively reduced without medieval methods of policing, arresting and jailing. Armed law enforcement can be replaced by health and psychiatric outreach workers who will help ensure the safety and welfare of our residents. Furthermore, numerous studies by eminent psychologists, penal reform experts, and progressive think tanks have concluded that locking up individuals does not rehabilitate. If anything, incarceration increases the probability of those confined to commit further anti-social activity after they leave prison.
Q: You think gang violence and slaughter can be stopped without policing?How’s that going to happen?
GASCON: There will be millions of dollars available for gang intervention workers, money for job training, and a gun buy-back program specifically targeting gang members possessing weapons. In addition, increased athletic facilities will provide outlets for adolescent energy now focused on violence and other anti-social acts.
Q: You think this will end murders and robbery in the County?
GASCON: No, but let’s adjust our vocabulary to reflect a new reality. Murder and robbery are Penal Code terms. We must refer instead to specific behaviors and not fall back on nomenclature that is antiquated and neither precise nor helpful. Killings occur under different circumstances. If we are to reduce them, we must recognize the emotions that precipitate specific acts of violence.
Q: What does any of that have to do with preventing violence?
GASCON: People kill each other for many reasons, and in order to treat them, we must recognize the different causes so we can properly reduce violence. A domestic dispute, for example, may lead to the killing of a spouse. The triggers for such events should be studied to prevent them in the future. Killings may occur because of predictable anger or frustration, or the false belief that forcibly taking the property of another is going to make someone feel fulfilled, or satisfied. Only when the root causes of violence are examined, are we on the path of effectively treating the unwanted behaviors and ending them. Again, it’s important to stop thinking in terms of Penal Code Sections. Reality and human behavior are far more complicated than these numerical sections.
Q: Aren’t you concerned about those who suffer the consequence of crime, who experience violence….who have their loved ones killed? Don’t they matter?
GASCON: Of course. I am deeply moved by those tragedies. But isn’t much of life suffering, including the suffering of the poor, the infirm and the neglected. With the savings from dismantling our present dysfunctional system, we will actually be able to reduce suffering. We can hire thousands of grief counselors who will help gently assist family survivors of violence on their road to healing. Eventually they can support others experiencing similar calamities. Outreach workers can ensure appropriate medical care to those experiencing physical assault. We can also offer assistance paying funeral expenses for those who lose loved ones to violence.
Q: Doesn’t the threat of “punishment” deter individuals from crime — excuse me — anti-social acts? And when they’re in prison they can’t commit crimes…isn’t that obvious?
GASCON: I would say the same thing that I would say to those who wish to bring back torture or capital punishment for petty theft. This is a medieval notion that assumes the individual has an evil soul. When we eliminate the Penal Code, the idea of punishment will be eliminated with it. Is it moral to punish young males for anti-social behavior when we know their brains aren’t fully developed until they reach the age of 25 and even older?
Q: Didn’t you once work for the LAPD? Any second thoughts about your behavior as a police person?
GASCON: I, like others, have evolved and learned during a lifetime of experience. While I held to the highest standard of conduct in the LAPD, I now recognize that policing is not an effective method of protecting communities, and its mere presence often causes the very violence we want to diminish.
Q: You claim that great numbers of the incarcerated are wrongfully prosecuted and factually innocent. How did you figure that out?
GASCON: Research has concluded that about 1/10th of inmates now serving behind bars may have been wrongfully convicted or are innocent. There is a saying — “better to let ten guilty go free than convict an innocent man”.
Q: So what do you suggest we do?
GASCON: The only fair thing to do. Release those presently incarcerated with their promise of good behavior. Of course we should also offer them the services and support that I have previously described.
Q: You were one of the main sponsors of California Prop 47 which makes possession of all street drugs a misdemeanor. As a result there has been an explosion of drug use on the streets, with a reduction of the quality of life in many parts of our County. While you have said you won’t prosecute any “quality of life” crimes, would you consider making an exception for the possession of meth and fentanyl, drugs responsible for an epidemic of overdose deaths in the County?
GASCON: Absolutely not. We should not criminalize the use of any drug. Adults should have the right to put whatever substance they choose in their bodies. We must pursue harm reduction through education and counseling. While an individual has the right to die on the street we can and should provide access to Narcan to reverse the effects of meth and fentanyl in a good faith attempt to revive them. In addition, hundreds of health workers should be placed throughout the County, including homeless encampments, to provide and administer this life-saving protocol wherever drug use is prevalent.
Q: Homicides in Los Angeles shot up 38 percent last year, and the city’s year-end total of 349 homicide victims was its highest in over a decade. In light of the fact that the hardest hit by this violent crime are predominantly poor, Black and Latino what do you say to inner city communities whose residents are being disproportionally slaughtered?
GASCON: While the death of so many young people is truly a tragedy, especially the death of minority youth, policing is not the answer. Policing merely produces arrests, prosecutions and mass incarceration of these same minorities. The answer to violence is ending poverty and replacing a racist system that oppresses with one that cares for all of the people and renders violence unnecessary.
Q: By canceling the Penal Code, there would be no need for an LA County District Attorney. How would you keep busy?
GASCON: The office would still be needed to assist the newly established County Public Prosecutor in the prosecution of prior unlawful police conduct. After that, who knows…maybe run for Mayor.