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OPINION: Who Is Your District Attorney? Why Electing A Prosecutor Is Crucial To Ensuring Justice For You

This year, congressional elections will be a large focus but Black communities should be equally concerned with who prosecutes criminal cases in their city or county.

Salaah Muhammad, Regional Field Director for Color of Change PAC, remembers an experience during the summer of 2020 when police were aggressively targeting protesters. While protests in support of racial justice were escalating, he witnessed Philadelphia police hitting protesters over the head with batons, spraying protesters with tear gas, and using a vehicle to assault protesters. He, like many others, who witnessed the violence the police inflicted on protesters was horrified.

“That was just too much to endure but it has been [Philadelphia District Attorney] Larry Krasner making sure that he held those cops accountable and charged them for how they targeted protesters in the summer of 2020,” he recalled.

To change this and continue to fight for a more humane and less hostile world for Black people, we need to elect more prosecutors who are working to build a more fair justice system nationwide.

No one holds more power in our justice system than district attorneys and prosecutors. They have immense power to influence the outcome of a criminal case and public policy. They have the ability to negotiate plea deals, present evidence during the case, and seize property. They also have the power to reform the criminal justice system by ending mandatory minimums, cash bail, and prosecutions for marijuana possession.

During his first term, Krasner led a 50% reduction in the number of children charged as adults; Portsmouth, Va., Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales called on the Virginia General Assembly to end mandatory sentencing minimums, cash bail, and the death penalty (Both of them were endorsed by Color of Change PAC). Each election cycle, more and more progressive prosecutors who are working to shape criminal justice reform for the future, are elected to office.

This year, there will be hundreds of DA races across the country in key states such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and California. It is essential that we elect candidates who are committed to building a more just and safer system. In 2022 we have an opportunity to cultivate this progressive wave of prosecutors. This is why it is important that we get started now.

There are close to 2,400 elected prosecutors in the United States. These prosecutors are mostly white, mostly male, and around 85 percent of them run for their positions completely unopposed, NPR reports. District attorneys decide who gets charged with crimes and who does not, whether police are held accountable for harming and killing Black people, whether cash bail keeps poor people locked up, and so much more. These decisions lead to mass incarceration and perpetuate racial bias in our justice system.

When Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by white vigilantes, two separate Glynn County District Attorneys, George Barnhill and Jackie Johnson, failed to arrest Gregory and Travis McMichael for a little over two months after the murder. Gregory and Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, were eventually arrested and convicted, but that doesn't bring Arbery back. These decisions also harm families, end lives and often — disrupt the path to justice.

Prosecutors have been known to fail to turn over evidence favorable to a defendant in the case, tampering with evidence, and fail to hold police officers accountable. These abuses can go on and on, with a lot of the stories not reaching the public ear. A ProPublica analysis of more than ten years worth of both state and federal court rulings discovered more than two dozen situations where judges concluded that New York prosecutors committed misconduct. The same appellate courts did not refer these prosecutors for investigation.

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The system has consistently failed to hold itself accountable so it is necessary we elect key district attorneys that have a history of holding themselves and the criminal justice system accountable. If we can continue to elect progressive prosecutors then we can continue to build a national agenda for criminal justice reform at the local level, building on the durability of the work that has been done, while electing more allies who advocate for criminal justice reform and police accountability.

In this 2022 election cycle, Color Of Change PAC will work diligently to elect candidates who commit to essential reforms needed to protect our communities like:

● Ending money for bail

● Treating kids like kids

● Stopping unnecessary prosecutions

● Ending secrecy

● Stopping anti-immigration prosecutions

● Holding police accountable.

We're continuing to work closely with our members across the nation to mobilize and educate Black voters and our allies on District Attorney races and their importance. To get involved in your local district attorney race, be sure to visit our PAC website  and sign up for more information and updates.

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Color Of Change PAC endorses PAC candidates who advance racial justice. Be sure to keep up with our efforts during these upcoming DA races and midterms by following us @votingwhileblk on Twitter, votingwhileblack on Instagram, Color Of Change PAC on Facebook, and Voting While Black website.

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