The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has typically been supportive of marijuana law reform efforts. After all, there is no denying the way that cannabis prohibition has negatively affected minorities and their families. Well, the ACLU of Oregon launched a new district attorney (DA) accountability campaign to teach people about the role of elected prosecutors, and some of the same DAs that were outspokenly opposed to legalizing marijuana in Oregon are upset again.
To explain, just recently the ACLU of Oregon began a major new campaign to make Oregon’s criminal justice system more effective, fair, and accountable. Over 100 supporters gathered in Beaverton City Park to hear about the new campaign and participate in door to door voter canvassing.
They Report to You aims to redefine the role of district attorneys, who are the most powerful people in the criminal justice system and have the ability to make the system more fair, equitable and accountable.
“At a time when President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are trying to turn our criminal justice system back to the 1990s, we are moving forward for reform in Oregon,” said David Rogers, ACLU of Oregon executive director. “This campaign is a top priority. It will last several years and we already have staff working on it full time.”
They Report to You clearly struck a nerve with some DAs as Mr. John Foote (Clackamas) and Mr. Joshua Marquis (Clatsop) have lashed out against them in the press. Their responses underscore exactly why we need this campaign. They are so unaccustomed to the idea that they can and should be held accountable by voters, that the very notion sends them off the rails. You may recall that both Marquis and Foote are also the main advocates of ineffective. expensive Drug War policies, opposing commonsense measures like Measure 91 and reducing drug possession penalties.
Here are the facts:
Daniel Lewkow, They Report to You campaign manager, said the group’s initial goals are focused on increasing voters’ understanding of the role that district attorneys play and increasing direct engagement between voters and DAs. Ultimately, the campaign will work to ensure the public knows how the state’s 36 DAs will do things like:
· Increase transparency in the justice system;
· Emphasize prevention, treatment, and a focus on addressing the root causes of crime;
· Commit to fair practices and policies and be intentional about reducing racial disparity.
“District attorneys need to understand that there is more to accountability than building and filling prisons,” Lewkow said. “Accountability includes doing what is fair and effective such as using more smart-on-crime strategies like prevention, treatment, education, and re-entry support.”
Early success in Salem
The effort comes as the ACLU of Oregon, while putting the They Report to You campaign together, helped make 2017 landmark year in Salem for criminal justice reform, with lawmakers passing laws designed to end law enforcement profiling, reduce unreasonably harsh penalties for simple drug possession, limit expansion of our prison population, and make our grand jury system more accountable and transparent.
“These smart reforms all faced serious and vocal opposition from the district attorneys, yet Oregon was able to push them forward,” Rogers said. “This marks a major shift in the political landscape in our state, and we’re just getting started.”
In addition to education videos and lobbying efforts, the They Report to You campaign is also surveying voters to see what people think about district attorneys and criminal justice issues. A team of canvassers gave the campaign a kick start by knocking on more than 15,000 doors in Marion and Washington counties this summer. The canvassers had thousands of one-on-one conversations with voters about why district attorneys matter. In door-to-door surveys they found that only about 38% people knew that their district attorney is elected.
“We found that many people do not know who their district attorneys are or what they do,” said Nikki Fisher, executive director of The Bus Project, which is teaming up with the ACLU of Oregon on the campaign. “But once they learned about the role that district attorneys play, they wanted to engage. People recognize that our criminal justice system is out of balance, and they want to see their DAs provide solutions to make the system work better.”
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