By lighting a pen on Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva breathed a new life in an effort to remember against District Attorney George Gascón, who was elected with a promise to transform the office but was criticized by victims of crime and law enforcement officials.
Supporters of the memorial gathered outside the district attorney's office in downtown Los Angeles to begin collecting signatures before the October deadline. Organizers must collect 597,000 certified signatures, about 10 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County, by October 27 to prepare for re-election.
The first three signatures include Villanueva's. The policeman, who was wearing a uniform and refused to speak to reporters, was recently criticized for his handling of allegations of criminal gangs and allegations of excessive force, retaliation and other misconduct in the sheriff's department.
California manager Gavin Newsom is also facing an attempt to recall. Organizers have collected enough signatures to qualify for the election, state officials who have not set a date.
Efforts to crack down on Gascón, who has been campaigning for a change of attorney general's office, have been effective since taking office in December. Victims of crime and other law enforcement officials have spoken out against his earlier orders, including ending his confidence in the development of the judiciary and reorganizing the elite unit, and blamed him for the increase in crime throughout the region.
"You, George Gascón, have put the perpetrators before the victims. I truly believe you have confused your role as a district attorney and public defender," said Desiree Andrade, whose son was killed and thrown into a cliff in 2018. "This is not political. This is a struggle for right and wrong. You do not have to be a victim to understand the significance of this."
Just last month, at least 14 city councils in Los Angeles County issued a vote of no confidence in Gascón, reports the Los Angeles Times. But the setback began a few weeks after Gascón issued his first orders.
A union representing the attorneys for the Los Angeles County district attorney filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that some of Gascón's orders violated state law and forced prosecutors to break their vows. The case focuses on Gascón's order to renounce sentencing improvements, which are used to extend defendants' sentences in certain cases, such as gang membership or criminal records.
Gascón's first administration ordered the reduction of more than a hundred improvements, including one that promoted hate crime from crime to crime. He eventually withdrew and included improvements in cases involving children and people targeted because of their race, sexual orientation or disability, but not before his deputies took him to court.
Since then, the district attorney's office has been defending, undermining Gascón's commitment to reform and arguing that his ongoing policies are born out of "research, science and data."
"Where I am today is an evolution based on self-criticism, looking back and looking at the wrong system at its core - a racist nation, and we are doing that," he said in an interview for "NBC Nightly News."
Gascón, the son of a Cuban immigrant, began his legal career as a Los Angeles assault officer before becoming police chief in Mesa, Arizona, and San Francisco. He later became the attorney general of San Francisco while Pamela Harris, now vice-president, resigned as California's attorney general.
In November, he opened Jackie Lacey, the first Black woman to lead the Los Angeles County prosecutor's office. Lacey's predecessor, Steve Cooley, was among those who gathered at Wednesday's rally to make a comeback effort.
Gascón did not respond directly to the memory effort. In a statement Wednesday, he provided comments from supporters who supported his reforms, including Service Employees International Union Local 2015.
"Proponents of the right wing's involvement have been embroiled in a scandal and manipulation of terror and their efforts to recapture the harshness of justice in the 1980s and 1990s," April Verrett, president of the region, said in a statement. "This commemoration is about the observance of policies that have plagued black and black communities for decades, which continue to perpetuate crime. Voters have chosen George Gascon to change these policies."
Melina Abdullah, founder of the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, is also throwing party weight behind Gascón after protesting Lacey's leadership for more than three years in part because she rarely brutally persecuted law enforcement officials.
"LA finally has a Regional Advocate who is determined to stand up and hold the judiciary accountable, and it is not surprising that the leader of some of the most vicious and deadly organizations in America is trying to reduce the LA campaign for black lives," he said. in a statement, referring to Villanueva's support for the memorial.
Gascón is among the most revolutionary prosecutors who have faced similar attacks in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore and Chicago, among other authorities. An effort to remember continues with Gascón's successor in San Francisco, Chesa Boudin.