George Gascón, San Francisco’s district attorney, said the lopsided number of African-Americans in the city’s criminal justice system had compelled him to try something new.
By Timothy Williams
June 12, 2019
While riding the train in San Francisco three years ago, a white man told an African-American man that he smelled bad and should move away from him. An argument followed, and the African-American man, Michael Smith, was eventually tackled by police officers and accused of assaulting them.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office charged Mr. Smith with seven counts, including battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. But after viewing body camera footage, a jury acquitted Mr. Smith, then 23, on most of the charges, and the prosecutors dropped the other counts. Mr. Smith’s lawyer said he does not believe a white person would have been arrested or prosecuted.
While the district attorney’s office disagreed with that assessment of the case, George Gascón, the district attorney, has acknowledged that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are prosecuted in the city, which led him to ask a troubling question: To what extent does bias affect the work of prosecutors?