By Pat Priest
Many people want tough legal responses for others but bountiful mercy for themselves and their teenaged children when they get on the wrong side of the law.
And they think that efforts to make criminal justice policies fairer would skew things badly and coddle criminals. But calls for changes such as those championed by attorney Deborah Gonzalez, candidate for District Attorney, are about righting a lop-sided system where the scales of justice are out of balance, with catastrophic results for some.
Republicans depict Gonzalez as soft on crime when she speaks passionately about her many solid ideas. For example, she wouldn’t prosecute people for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and of course that could be your child who is spared out-of-proportion legal consequences.
She argues rightly that we should not keep low-risk, non-violent offenders in jail when they can’t pay bail. This and other ideas are both merciful and cost-saving, as they keep the system focused on serious crimes. And poor people’s lives wouldn’t be ruined entirely for something like passing a bad check. In the current system if they can’t pay bail they often languish in jail and then lose their jobs, which can cause a chain reaction when they then can’t afford their car or child support payments or their rent.
Gonzalez also knows that the justice system’s responses to people with drug addictions — rampant across social strata — can either be harshly punitive and further burden our prisons or can provide a helping hand for those in crisis. She offers feasible and transparent alternatives to this and other situations where people are tangled in the machinery of the criminal justice system without the resources (including some types of privilege) that benefit others.
I came across a quote from Raymond Chandler recently that said, “He didn’t know the right people. That’s all a police record means.” That’s not always true, of course, but Gonzalez’ leadership as district attorney would hold everyone equally accountable and give the same mercy to everyone, too.
The kinds of smart and fair measures Deborah Gonzalez is advocating come from a deep immersion in our community and an abiding search for solutions. Criticizing and seeking to change the system doesn’t mean she is anti-police or would make sweeping changes that benefit criminals. In fact, she wants to provide better and more rapid responses to victims’ plight.
I think this passion for justice stems from her upbringing as a child whose father served in the U.S. military. My dad was in the Air Force, too, and we want our country to live up to the ideals they risked or gave their lives for.
The run-off is December 1st. (And isn’t that confusing? Note that this is right upon us and almost a month before the run-off for the two senate positions.)
A vote for Deborah Gonzalez helps balance the scales of justice at long last.
Pat Priest, an Oconee County resident, earned a doctorate from UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is founder of Athens in Harmony, Walk and Talk with a Scientist, New Friends for the New Year, and Artists in Residence.