Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prosecutors for Obama

I have almost always voted for Democrats for President (I think I voted for John Anderson in 1980), but party affiliation is less important than the content of a candidate's character, intelligence, and what they bring to the office. Several months ago, after Bill Richardson dropped out, I decided that the best candidate for the next President of the United States was and is Barack Obama.

The federal government's role in crime control is largely that of leadership and funding. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that justice is best served by leaders who are "tough on crime and tougher on the causes of crime." Barack Obama has said that it's not enough to be tough on crime, we must be tough and smart.

The concept of being tough and smart and fair is consistent with Obama's repeated calls for personal responsibility. "I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up," he has repeatedly said. "[People] know government can't solve all their problems, and they don't expect it to. They believe in personal responsibility, and hard work, and self-reliance."

Your local prosecutors have the job of bringing accountability with fairness into the community. State and local prosecutors handle about 95% of all criminal prosecutions in this country. Several months ago I started gathering other elected prosecutors to endorse Obama and to help spread the word that, contrary to what might be conventional wisdom, career prosecutors are enthusiastic about Barack Obama.

The biggest failure of the Republican administration has been the abandonment of the federal Byrne Grants, which provided money to fight interstate and interagency crimes -- including funding for DNA databases, sex offender registries and gang task forces -- as well local drug prevention, rehab and enforcement programs. Rural and small towns were particularly hard hit, and many of their drug task forces simply closed up shop.

The Bush administration has all but eliminated its funding to the National Advocacy Center, in Columbia, South Carolina, for the training and continuing education of local and state prosecutors On top of that, there is almost no communication between the federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice and the state and local prosecutors. Injustice flourishes best when the person standing at the gateway of the justice system -- the prosecutor -- doesn't or can't do the job well. All the more reason to make sure that those men and women are adequately trained and valued for their work.

Federal sentencing laws should involve rational drug control policies, giving out tough sentences to those who are major traffickers in drugs and humans. Obama promises to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder-based cocaine, in which the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence is required for 5 grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine.

We need foreign policies that address international drug production, whether that is heroin in Afghanistan, cocaine in Colombia, or methamphetamine in Mexico. Those polices should address the truly responsible - traffickers - and not simply implement quotas which only encourage the use of valuable federal prosecution resources on end-users.

We also need to stitch up holes in the system, like the current policy of providing nothing more than a bus ticket back home to someone illegally crossing the Mexican-American border with 499 pounds of marijuana.

In the same vein, the Bush administration has paid too little attention to human trafficking and the horrible toll it takes on women and children.

It's perhaps particularly important that the Department of Justice be de-politicized. The firing of eight US Attorneys, seven in one day, in 2006 -- most of whom were presiding over public corruption trials at the time -- undermined the integrity of the Department. Obama has pledged to end ideological litmus tests at DOJ, even requiring new hires to affirm that they weren't offered the job based on political affiliation alone, and employees who make hiring decisions to certify that they did not take political affiliation into account for career positions.

The ethical failures of the Bush administration at the Department of Justice and its indifference to the needs of local law enforcement working amidst a worsening economy call for CHANGE.

Crime is not a liberal versus conservative issue, and for too long it's been a code word for failed policies designed to curry favor with one extreme or the other. Changing the old rhetoric means creating new alliances that can create communities -- and not just gated communities -- where parents are not afraid their children will be shot on the street. The victims of crime are, out of all proportion to America, women, and children, and people of color.

"It is up to us to create a better America," Obama says. As the Broken Window theory proved, that starts with the little things -- some of which are little only on a national level. Your neighbor beat his wife last Saturday night? That won't make the news. The local flower shop was vandalized? No news at eleven. But it matters to those people, their families. That's where your well-trained, well-valued local prosecutor steps in.

These prosecutors from across America have declared their support for the candidate of Change, Barack Obama: Stan Levco, Evansville, Indiana; Everett Fowle, Augusta, Maine; Bob McCulloch, St. Louis, Missouri; Kamala Harris, San Francisco, California; John Sarcone, Des Moines, Iowa; Barry Kirscher, Palm Beach, Florida; Jim Fox, Redwood City, California; Barbara LaWall, Tucson, Arizona; and many, many others.

Let's be frank: Some voters are afraid that Barack Obama will head an administration that tolerates and excuses crime, particularly among the African-American community. Yet Obama calls for accountability that starts with the family and the community. It is a message not of excuses, but of responsibility.

Barack Obama's life story personifies the American dream. His election has the promise of bringing America into a post-racial era of politics from which everyone would benefit, and make real the Langston Hughes plea that "America must be, America will be, America to me."

For every American.