Candidates land punches in first D.A. debate

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(5)
Triangulated D.A. debate
Luke Thomas
David Onek, George Gascón and Sharmin Bock shake hands at the first D.A. debate

District Attorney and former SFPD Chief George Gascón, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Sharmin Bock, and former San Francisco Police Commissioner David Onek all landed solid punches during a three-way District Attorney debate that was co-hosted by the San Francisco Young Democrats and the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and moderated by Recorder editor Scott Graham. The primary sponsor of the debate was the City Democratic Club, according to CDC President Jim Reilly. So, thanks CDC for helping to pull off a great event.

The debate was framed as a choice between Bock, a veteran prosecutor with leadership experience, Gascón, a career cop with managerial experience, and Onek, a former San Francisco Police Commissioner and criminal justice reform expert. And above all it proved that if you lock three attorneys in the same room and pit them in a three-way fight, you'll be rewarded with a blood sport spectacle.

Bock kicked off by noting that there are many similarities between the three candidates—except when it comes to independence and experience "Experience matters," Bock said, throwing a one-two punch at Gascón and Onek. “The job of the District Attorney is not a management job, a police job or a job for someone with just a law degree. It needs a veteran prosecutor,” she said—remarks that resonated well with the crowd, judging from the applause.

But after a few niceties, Gascón shot right back at Bock and Onek. “I am the only one who has led large organizations and pushed public policy forward in an effective manner,” he said.

And Gascón struck a home run when he revealed that when he took the job of Chief of Police in Mesa, Arizona, he was “facing one of the most toxic environments” in terms of hatred towards people of color and the LGBT community--and that he did something about it, by standing up to anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, and protecting the local LGBT community’s right to protest.

When it was his turn to speak, Onek fired off his own rounds at Bock and Gascón, noting that the state’s criminal justice system is broken—and claiming that it will take an outsider to fix it.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the criminal justice system,” Onek said, laying out his reform-minded track record.

And then he stuck it to both Bock and Gascón by stating that the death penalty does not work. “I will never seek it in San Francisco under any circumstances,” Onek said, earning excited applause, as he noted that he’ll look at all policy question through the prism of three questions: 'Does it make us safer, is it cost effective and is it fair and equitable?”

Onek also noted that neither the Supreme Court’s ruling that California must reduce its prison population by 30,000, nor Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for prisoner realignment, come with any money.
‘That’s a disaster,” observed Onek, as he stressed the need to demand resources to help deal with the upcoming load of prisoners that about to return to San Francisco.

Gascón fielded questions about whether they are enough people of color and LGBT background in management in the D.A.’s Office. “Well, I think there’s definitely always room for improvement in any organization,” he said, noting that he has a history in the Los Angeles Police Department, the Mesa, Arizona Police Department and the SFPD, “of pushing very aggressively to have diversity within the office.”
But he started a bit of a buzz when he said it was “really a surprise to me that I promoted the first male, black, police captain to the San Francisco Police Department.”
“You would think that there have been, you know, male African-Americans in that department for many years. It was hard for me to believe that actually in 2009 we had not had one,”  Gascón continued, a remark that got some debate observers asking afterwards, if this meant that Gascón really did not know that former SFPD Chief Earl Sanders was a black male.

Meanwhile, Bock was happily trampling all over the sit-lie legislation that then SFPD Chief Gascón and Mayor Newsom backed last fall, as she noted that more foot patrols and community policy are what’s actually needed. “Political hot-button measures don’t work,” Bock said. “Both sides agree it hasn’t worked. It’s the wrong response to the real problem.

Asked if he had a conflict of interest, when it comes to investigating allegations of police misconduct, Gascón claimed the problem is limited to a small number of officers, adding, "if the allegations are true."

"In reality the majority of the SFPD are hard-working people doing the right thing,” he said. “And there has been only one challenge—and our office has prevailed,” Gascón said. “However, there have been a finite number of cases where I personally adjudicated the bad conduct—and those will be handled by the Attorney General’s office.”

Bock stressed that she was not in favor of sending drug offenders to prison and would focus on restorative justice, instead. Asked if she would have a panel on her staff review potential death penalty cases, Bock confirmed that she is committed to having a Special Circumstances Committee, as D.A. Kamala Harris did, to get input around the facts and from lawyers involved in such cases.“The ultimate decision is mine, and I oppose the death penalty,” Bock said, noting that she does not believe that 12 jurors will return a unanimous death penalty verdict. “But I do think as prosecutor you need to go case by case.”

Asked if he would have sought the death penalty in a case like the L.A. Night Stalker, who murdered 13 people, many of them elderly, Gascón said, “Probably not. All of us agree that the death penalty is not a good tool. But it is part of our system, and I continue to have the system Kamala Harris had in place. At the end of the day, it’s my decision, and I’m the only one in the room, who can say I’ve already turned down the death penalty.”

Agreeing with Bock that a jury is unlikely to go for the death penalty, Gascón maintained that the death penalty is “an illusory issue,” and that the real question is, “How do we rewrite the State Constitution [so the death penalty is not on the books]?”

Asked how he felt about marijuana, Gascón said he doesn’t believe folks should be incarcerated for use—and that folks are already being diverted to community courts in those instances.

But when Onek tried to wrap up by positioning himself as a the reformist-minded outsider, Gascón pounced, reminding folks that Onek was a Police Commissioner, when the Police Commission recommended Gascón to Mayor Newsom as the next SFPD Chief. “While David is someone I respect—and one of those who hired me, David has painted himself as an outsider, when the Police Commission is the policy-making body for the SFPD. There are no outsiders here. The question is, what have you done? There’s a difference between calling yourself a reformer and having other people call you a reformer.”

Bock for her part used her closing remarks to remind folks that there has been a crime lab scandal, alleged police misconduct, a DNA backlog, and about 100 cases dismissed as a result of these scandals, and a bunch of prisoners are about to be sent back to the community because of realignment. “We’re in challenging times, at a critical crossroads, with stormy weather ahead,” she said. “I’m not going to be trying things out at your expense. As a veteran progressive prosecutor, I’m fully prepared.”

Comments

Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

1) "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protectio...

2) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05, http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2005/11/29/opponents_in_capi...

3) "A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection", Lester Jackson Ph.D.,
http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102909A

The false innocence claims by anti death penalty activists are legendary. Some examples:

4) "The Innocent Executed: Deception & Death Penalty Opponents"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/10/08/the-innocent-executed-deception-...

5) The 130 (now 138) death row "innocents" scam
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocenc...

6) Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean--the-death-...

7) "At the Death House Door" Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?"
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/01/30/fact-checking-is-very-welcome.aspx

8) "Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles
http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Cameron%20Todd%20Willingham.aspx

Posted by GuestDudley Sharp on Jun. 17, 2011 @ 2:55 am

Campers,

Here's Tony De Renzo's video of the debate. It clocks in at 1 hr. 11 mins.

> http://blip.tv/sf-city-watch-productions/sf-da-debate-5282934

Go Giants!

Bulldog Salon at Daly's Dive Noon to 3pm as usual today.

Two buck pints and fries.

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on Jun. 17, 2011 @ 7:58 am

Kicking the convict down the road
By Paul Sutton As a professor of criminal justice, I am writing this during my 100th weeklong tour of California prisons. The tour is visiting eight prisons in five days. Today (May 26) was San Quentin, normally peaceful but the scene of a riot four days ago. Tomorrow, I lead 24 San Diego State criminal justice students into Folsom State Prison and Cal State Prison at Sacramento, which six days ago had its worst riot in 15 years.I was in Pelican Bay State Prison on the day, 20 years ago, that the court ordered California to do something about the state’s deplorable prison conditions and inmate crowding. Coincidentally, I was in California Men’s Colony on the day (May 23) when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its most recent decision to force the state to find a solution to the problems the courts had recognized a generation before. In the interim, the debate has seen more heat than progress. U-T reporter Matthew Hall’s piece (“Court rules state must cut prison population,” May 24) has raised some interesting points and has generated much additional heat – much of it symptomatic of why so little has changed over so many years when so much has needed to change. Much of the debate misses the point, and much of the interchange is based on bias, racism, prejudice and ignorance. That is both understandable and tragic.
There are many problems and many issues. They are both substantial and imminent. They will not be solved without careful and thoughtful discussion. And the forging of remedies simply cannot and must not be left to politicians or practitioners, if we are to find our way out of our current mess.
There are many aspects to this problem. The issues include big considerations like sentencing, parole, rehabilitation, budgets, the nature of incarceration and so on. Those are critical and must be part of any solution. But there are other, obvious things, that no one is addressing. Perhaps those who know better are best served in this debate by keeping the public in the dark about certain critical realities and to let us argue about the irrelevant and benign. At the heart of the matter, for example, is the issue of so-called realignment, i.e., moving inmates from state prisons to county jails. Despite the funding and logistical problems such a proposal raises, no one is addressing the plain fact that county jails in California are simply not equipped to handle offenders sentenced to longer terms than those offenders they currently hold. They not only don’t have the room, the staff, the facilities, the programs, the infrastructure, the philosophy, the training or the architectural requisites to do what realignment expects or demands them to do. Simply put, jails were not built, intended or capable of holding massive numbers of felons for long periods of time. That is what prisons – however badly – were designed to do. And however convenient it might be to solve the state prison crowding problem by shifting the burden from the state’s prisons to the ill-equipped and already overburdened county jail systems, it is a terrible idea. It is worse than “kicking the can (of correctional problems) down the road.” It is literally the problem of kicking the convict down the road. And that will not help the problem, the public or the convict. Things will be worse, as a result, plain and simple. Los Angeles and San Diego are responsible for most of our state’s inmate population. Accordingly, they will be the likely target of most of the realignment. Over the past 30 years, I have visited and studied most of the jails in San Diego County and the largest of those in Los Angeles County. I have been in and out of most of the prisons in California – from RJD (Richard J. Donovan) on the Mexican border all the way to Pelican Bay on the Oregon border – 100 times. I have seen the best and worst of both worlds – jails and prisons. And they are very different worlds. Each does some things well and some things poorly. We are proposing to shift tens of thousands of people from one system that is designed for one thing into a system that is designed to do an entirely different thing. That is folly. It is as if everything believes – without knowing better or caring – that a bed is a bed, a cell is a cell, and a lockup is a lockup; that any one of them is as good – or bad – as any other. Nothing could be further from the truth: they are very, very different. And saying they are equally competent to do the same things does not make them so. Until someone with some sense – and some authority – stands up and makes that point loudly and clearly, we condemn ourselves to even more frustration, waste, expense, public harm and human suffering than our current correctional system has wrought for generations. Sutton is a professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University. He has written, spoken and produced documentary films about California prisons. He has conducted weeklong tours of California prisons for more than 2,000 of his students for nearly 30 years.

Posted by Claire Phillips on Jun. 19, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

Kicking the convict down the road
By Paul Sutton As a professor of criminal justice, I am writing this during my 100th weeklong tour of California prisons. The tour is visiting eight prisons in five days. Today (May 26) was San Quentin, normally peaceful but the scene of a riot four days ago. Tomorrow, I lead 24 San Diego State criminal justice students into Folsom State Prison and Cal State Prison at Sacramento, which six days ago had its worst riot in 15 years.I was in Pelican Bay State Prison on the day, 20 years ago, that the court ordered California to do something about the state’s deplorable prison conditions and inmate crowding. Coincidentally, I was in California Men’s Colony on the day (May 23) when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its most recent decision to force the state to find a solution to the problems the courts had recognized a generation before. In the interim, the debate has seen more heat than progress. U-T reporter Matthew Hall’s piece (“Court rules state must cut prison population,” May 24) has raised some interesting points and has generated much additional heat – much of it symptomatic of why so little has changed over so many years when so much has needed to change. Much of the debate misses the point, and much of the interchange is based on bias, racism, prejudice and ignorance. That is both understandable and tragic.
There are many problems and many issues. They are both substantial and imminent. They will not be solved without careful and thoughtful discussion. And the forging of remedies simply cannot and must not be left to politicians or practitioners, if we are to find our way out of our current mess.
There are many aspects to this problem. The issues include big considerations like sentencing, parole, rehabilitation, budgets, the nature of incarceration and so on. Those are critical and must be part of any solution. But there are other, obvious things, that no one is addressing. Perhaps those who know better are best served in this debate by keeping the public in the dark about certain critical realities and to let us argue about the irrelevant and benign. At the heart of the matter, for example, is the issue of so-called realignment, i.e., moving inmates from state prisons to county jails. Despite the funding and logistical problems such a proposal raises, no one is addressing the plain fact that county jails in California are simply not equipped to handle offenders sentenced to longer terms than those offenders they currently hold. They not only don’t have the room, the staff, the facilities, the programs, the infrastructure, the philosophy, the training or the architectural requisites to do what realignment expects or demands them to do. Simply put, jails were not built, intended or capable of holding massive numbers of felons for long periods of time. That is what prisons – however badly – were designed to do. And however convenient it might be to solve the state prison crowding problem by shifting the burden from the state’s prisons to the ill-equipped and already overburdened county jail systems, it is a terrible idea. It is worse than “kicking the can (of correctional problems) down the road.” It is literally the problem of kicking the convict down the road. And that will not help the problem, the public or the convict. Things will be worse, as a result, plain and simple. Los Angeles and San Diego are responsible for most of our state’s inmate population. Accordingly, they will be the likely target of most of the realignment. Over the past 30 years, I have visited and studied most of the jails in San Diego County and the largest of those in Los Angeles County. I have been in and out of most of the prisons in California – from RJD (Richard J. Donovan) on the Mexican border all the way to Pelican Bay on the Oregon border – 100 times. I have seen the best and worst of both worlds – jails and prisons. And they are very different worlds. Each does some things well and some things poorly. We are proposing to shift tens of thousands of people from one system that is designed for one thing into a system that is designed to do an entirely different thing. That is folly. It is as if everything believes – without knowing better or caring – that a bed is a bed, a cell is a cell, and a lockup is a lockup; that any one of them is as good – or bad – as any other. Nothing could be further from the truth: they are very, very different. And saying they are equally competent to do the same things does not make them so. Until someone with some sense – and some authority – stands up and makes that point loudly and clearly, we condemn ourselves to even more frustration, waste, expense, public harm and human suffering than our current correctional system has wrought for generations. Sutton is a professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University. He has written, spoken and produced documentary films about California prisons. He has conducted weeklong tours of California prisons for more than 2,000 of his students for nearly 30 years.

Posted by Claire Phillips on Jun. 19, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

Kicking the convict down the road
By Paul Sutton As a professor of criminal justice, I am writing this during my 100th weeklong tour of California prisons. The tour is visiting eight prisons in five days. Today (May 26) was San Quentin, normally peaceful but the scene of a riot four days ago. Tomorrow, I lead 24 San Diego State criminal justice students into Folsom State Prison and Cal State Prison at Sacramento, which six days ago had its worst riot in 15 years.I was in Pelican Bay State Prison on the day, 20 years ago, that the court ordered California to do something about the state’s deplorable prison conditions and inmate crowding. Coincidentally, I was in California Men’s Colony on the day (May 23) when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its most recent decision to force the state to find a solution to the problems the courts had recognized a generation before. In the interim, the debate has seen more heat than progress. U-T reporter Matthew Hall’s piece (“Court rules state must cut prison population,” May 24) has raised some interesting points and has generated much additional heat – much of it symptomatic of why so little has changed over so many years when so much has needed to change. Much of the debate misses the point, and much of the interchange is based on bias, racism, prejudice and ignorance. That is both understandable and tragic.
There are many problems and many issues. They are both substantial and imminent. They will not be solved without careful and thoughtful discussion. And the forging of remedies simply cannot and must not be left to politicians or practitioners, if we are to find our way out of our current mess.
There are many aspects to this problem. The issues include big considerations like sentencing, parole, rehabilitation, budgets, the nature of incarceration and so on. Those are critical and must be part of any solution. But there are other, obvious things, that no one is addressing. Perhaps those who know better are best served in this debate by keeping the public in the dark about certain critical realities and to let us argue about the irrelevant and benign. At the heart of the matter, for example, is the issue of so-called realignment, i.e., moving inmates from state prisons to county jails. Despite the funding and logistical problems such a proposal raises, no one is addressing the plain fact that county jails in California are simply not equipped to handle offenders sentenced to longer terms than those offenders they currently hold. They not only don’t have the room, the staff, the facilities, the programs, the infrastructure, the philosophy, the training or the architectural requisites to do what realignment expects or demands them to do. Simply put, jails were not built, intended or capable of holding massive numbers of felons for long periods of time. That is what prisons – however badly – were designed to do. And however convenient it might be to solve the state prison crowding problem by shifting the burden from the state’s prisons to the ill-equipped and already overburdened county jail systems, it is a terrible idea. It is worse than “kicking the can (of correctional problems) down the road.” It is literally the problem of kicking the convict down the road. And that will not help the problem, the public or the convict. Things will be worse, as a result, plain and simple. Los Angeles and San Diego are responsible for most of our state’s inmate population. Accordingly, they will be the likely target of most of the realignment. Over the past 30 years, I have visited and studied most of the jails in San Diego County and the largest of those in Los Angeles County. I have been in and out of most of the prisons in California – from RJD (Richard J. Donovan) on the Mexican border all the way to Pelican Bay on the Oregon border – 100 times. I have seen the best and worst of both worlds – jails and prisons. And they are very different worlds. Each does some things well and some things poorly. We are proposing to shift tens of thousands of people from one system that is designed for one thing into a system that is designed to do an entirely different thing. That is folly. It is as if everything believes – without knowing better or caring – that a bed is a bed, a cell is a cell, and a lockup is a lockup; that any one of them is as good – or bad – as any other. Nothing could be further from the truth: they are very, very different. And saying they are equally competent to do the same things does not make them so. Until someone with some sense – and some authority – stands up and makes that point loudly and clearly, we condemn ourselves to even more frustration, waste, expense, public harm and human suffering than our current correctional system has wrought for generations. Sutton is a professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University. He has written, spoken and produced documentary films about California prisons. He has conducted weeklong tours of California prisons for more than 2,000 of his students for nearly 30 years.

Posted by Claire Phillips on Jun. 19, 2011 @ 11:19 pm