In the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, as protests against police brutality, white supremacy, and systemic racism grow all across the country, we are continuing, with even more urgency, to focus on prosecutorial accountability.
Why? Because prosecutors hold a position of enormous power within the criminal justice system. Alongside defunding the police and investing that money in communities, prosecutorial reform is one of the keys to transforming America’s failing, racist system. That’s why we’re working with the ACLU and Color of Change to make it happen.
We all want to know what to do to create change at this pivotal moment. Here’s one way: VOTE. Almost all prosecutors are elected. If you want to help end mass incarceration, money bail, and systemic racism, then learn more about these five races we’re following—and vote!
Let’s just take a second to review a few of the reasons why your local prosecutor is so important:
- They determine how and whether to charge someone who’s been arrested with a crime. This is especially crucial now, because thanks to COVID-19, incarcerating someone could be a death sentence.
- They have a lot of sway over judges when it comes to setting bail, or whether to set bail at all.
- Instead of choosing incarceration as a punishment, which they almost always do (especially for Black Americans), they have the power to recommend more effective alternatives, like court diversion or treatment programs.
Reformist prosecutors, whose numbers are increasing around the US, understand that mass incarceration is an irresponsible and racist policy that doesn’t make us safer. They understand that money bail criminalizes poverty and Black and Brown skin. They understand that Black communities are overpoliced, that Black people experience disproportionate violence at the hands of police, and that Black people are disproportionately incarcerated. They understand that low-level offenses, like cannabis possession, should not lead to arrests or prosecutions.
These races present a huge opportunity for reform-minded prosecutors to transform the criminal justice system and help create a new model of public safety.
Item number 1
Oakland County, Michigan
Oakland County is Michigan’s second-largest county and it has the state’s second-largest jail, where Black people far outnumber white people despite making up only about 14% of the overall county population. That needs to change, and the good news is that there’s a real chance this year in Oakland County to vote for reform. The primary election is in August, followed by the general election in November.
Item number 2
Orange County, Florida
A two-fer! Broward and Orange Counties are the second and fifth most populous counties in Florida. Police violence and voter suppression have long troubled both counties. And Orange County arrests more juveniles than any other county in the state. But this year, the state attorney, sheriff, and supervisor of elections are all up for re-election in both counties, which gives voters a chance to make a huge difference. Ready to become a Justice Voter? Primary elections are held in August and the general election is in November.
Item number 3
Maricopa County, Arizona
You’ve probably heard of Maricopa County. It’s the largest county in Arizona and it has the largest jail in the state as well—and for years the local sheriff and prosecutor took a flagrantly racist “tough on crime” stance that disproportionately impacted both Black and immigrant communities and filled jails to bursting. They are both out of office now, so this is the first moment in a generation to vote for real prosecutorial accountability in Maricopa. You can vote for your favorite candidate in the August primary. The general election is held in November.
Item number 4
Orleans Parish, Louisiana
Orleans Parish encompasses New Orleans and is the third most populous in the state of Louisiana. It also has the state’s largest jail. In a positive development, the jail population has been declining recently, but there are still inexcusable racial disparities in both admissions and the overall incarcerated population. Reformers in Louisiana have been pushing for prosecutorial accountability of late, and this election could be the moment when a candidate with a true reform agenda breaks through. The primary election will be held in November, followed by a run-off in December.
As we work to defund the police and increase investments in community and social services that will truly keep people healthy and safe, we need to elect reform-minded prosecutors to strengthen the movement to transform the criminal justice system.
The five races we highlighted are just the start—this year almost 2,300 prosecutors are up for reelection. Find out more about your local race, then get out there and vote!