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November 19, 2010

"Rethinking Criminal Justice — Why Black Prosecutors Matter"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new piece appearing in New America Media.  Here is how it begins:

Nearly three weeks after the midterm elections, the winner of the hard-fought race to become California’s next attorney general has not been determined. Kamala Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, holds a razor-thin lead over Steve Cooley, her Los Angeles County counterpart, with some 680,000 votes remaining to be counted.

While the stakes are highest for California residents, the AG race is also being watched closely in legal circles nationwide, especially by people concerned about criminal justic policies and practices that have a harmful affect on communities of color.  They support Harris’ efforts to address these issues.

As San Francisco’s chief prosecutor, Harris is among a current crop of elected black DAs who are transforming the way crime is addressed, suspects are prosecuted, and punishment is meted out.  Her innovative approaches for being “Smart on Crime,” instead of simply “tough on crime” are have gained political currency for being thoughtful and pragmatic and are being borrowed by DAs around the country, particularly those in communities with large black, Latino or other minority populations.

November 19, 2010 at 06:58 AM | Permalink


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Professor Berman:

Given the various disasters that Ms. Harris has presided over during her tenure as the S.F. D.A. (refusing to consider the death penalty in any murder case--even for a cop killer, ignoring the S.F.P.D. drug lab scandal, having the worst conviction rate in the state, to name but a few), I would be laughing about the pompous pronouncements of her being "smart" on crime, were it not for the horrible possibility of her being our next Attorney General.

By the by, "this interesting new piece" is from a company based in San Francisco; no doubt a coincidence.

Posted by: California Prosecutor | Nov 19, 2010 11:15:26 AM

While I don't know enough to fully evaluate Kamala Harris's performance as a DA, I do suspect that the frequent disparaging references to her conviction rate by her opponents represent political opportunism rather than solid evidence.

I mean, I'd like to see California Prosecutor's conviction rate if he had to try all of his cases before San Franscisco juries! Harris is probably lucky if the jury doesn't hug the defendant and send him home with a bag of organic veggies and some mood-stabilizing herb tea.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 19, 2010 5:11:56 PM

Dear Anon:

As a quarter-century veteran prosecutor (and someone who reads the papers), I think there is more than sufficient evidence extant to fully evaluate the performance, or lack thereof, of Ms. Harris. The conviction rate of that office during her tenure as D.A. is also a matter of record. Feel free to run the web search of your choice to find out.

As for "political opportunism", I am both a Democrat and someone who is not particularly enamored with her opponent. But I am confident that he would not be the disaster Ms. Harris promises to be with her "smart" on crime approach.

As for conviction rates in S.F., I would respectfully invite you to speak with S.F. A.D.A. Jerry Coleman, both a veteran and highly succesful prosecutor, who would doubtless disagree with your cute characterization of S.F. juries. I know because I have often heard him lecture on their readiness to convict on murder charges. Maybe that might be different on a death penalty case, but we will never know as long as Ms. Harris is in charge there.

Posted by: California Prosecutor | Nov 19, 2010 7:02:34 PM

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