Harpo Jaeger dot com

Why I’m voting for Dave Sullivan tomorrow (and why you should too)

Law enforcement keeps the streets safe. Everybody knows that. We grow up learning that the police’s job is to put bad guys in jail, and that the streets are safer because of it. And in popular media, the public defense system (in my opinion, one of the most important services the government provides) is treated solely as an obstacle to putting the bad guys in jail. Police have to “get to” criminals before they “lawyer up,” as if getting a lawyer was somehow a shady move on a criminal’s part, just one more step in their deceitful lifestyle. No, actually getting a lawyer is a right. And getting a fair trial is in the constitution. But to see the way public defenders are portrayed underhanded characters who wear bow ties and will do anything to help a rapist walk free you’d never know it.

There’s a certain type of law enforcement or prosecutorial worldview that I see as the root of that disparagement of the public defense system. It’s the tough-guy attitude to law enforcement someone did something wrong and we’re gonna lock ‘em up for it. There’s no room for analysis or understanding of why they did something wrong, or what the best solution might be. Nope, we’ve got firepower and sentencing requirements (which, aside from taking away an important tactical tool from prosecutors the ability to bargain with defendants using sentences leave no room for nuance), and we’re going to use them.

While I have infinite respect for the work that police do, and I believe that the law is the law, no matter how much we’d like to change it in some ways, we have to notice that there are other things going on. The crime-and-punishment loop has done *nothing *for this society. Whileour incarceration rate is higher than anywhere else in the world,our society is a far cry from crime-free. We breed criminals by inducing poverty (particularly along racialized lines), making guns easily available, and refusing to address the negative social impacts of gambling, drinking, and the ramifications of heavy-handed drug policy. And as we privatize more and more prisons, offloading the work of handling rising numbers of inmates to private corporations, we waste more and more resources on a penal system that hasn’t delivered the results we need.

Lots of smart people have called for a better way of doing things. So how does this relate to the hotly-contested race for District Attorney in Massachusett’s Northwestern district? Well, electing one particular Democrat over another here won’t single-handedly bring about the necessary penal reform. But that’s precisely the point. The way to change these things is from the bottom up. Gun control laws won’t be coming out of Congress any time soon because the NRA is way too powerful. Neither will penal reform,for the same reason. It’s up to us to elect lawmakers and law-enforcement officers whose view of law-enforcement’s role in combating crime is more grounded in reality that is to say, who recognize that there’s more to safety than arresting criminals and putting them in jail.

Dave Sullivan is that candidate. He has the necessary legal and managerial experience to run the office, and he has lots of ideas on how to make it better. While it’s easy to just stand around and criticize people for not doing their jobs, Dave has concrete ideas on how to improve things. He’ll assign community prosecutors to work locally with various agencies and institutions, create civil and human rights advisory boards in the DA’s office, and issue an annual report and citizen’s guide to the office, so that the public knows where resources are being allocated.

Dave understands that crime prevention is also an important part of the DA’s job. He has fresh ideas on how to engage with the community to help prevent crime and report signs of it before it begins, breaking out of the crime-and-punishment paradigm. This sort of approach is necessary in order for the DA’s office to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and I just don’t see the samecommitmentto it from his opponent. Obviously, others may disagree on how best to respond to and deal with crime, but I believe the data supports my viewpoint that putting more people in jail doesn’t address society’s problems.

We need a DA who understands not only the power of our legal system, but its drawbacks. This well-rounded view is emblematic of someone who is ready to use all the tools at his disposal to improve public safety, not just the conventional ones associated with prosecution. It’s clear to me that Dave Sullivan is best equipped to take on the responsibilities of the DA and to carry them out in a sensible, nuanced manner, and, in doing so, to effect the sort of change that’s necessary to move beyond our broken view of law enforcement.

Make no mistake, there genuinely are people who need to be prosecuted for crimes. But there is also danger from an unequal or unfair application of that prosecutorial power. Dave’s ideas on reforming and improving the office will result in better allocation of resources and better partnership with the community, two things we can’t do without right now.

For all of these reasons, and more, Dave Sullivan is clearly the best candidate for Northwestern DA. I’ll be voting for him tomorrow, and I hope you will too.