Race, justice and the heated contest for Dallas DA

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Democrat John Creuzot (at right) has made racial disparities a central issue in his quest to unseat current Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson (seated left). (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer

The race for District Attorney is a hotly contested one in Dallas County. Currently, the office is held by Republican Faith Johnson after being appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. She is being challenged by Democrat John Creuzot, who earned the chance to compete by defeating fellow Democrat Elizabeth Frizell in the primaries.

With the recent spate of high profile deaths of Black men at the hands of white police officers and the apparent inequalities of treatment received by minorities in prosecution and sentencing practices in the current judicial system, Creuzot has made reforming criminal justice front and center in his campaign.

What is usually unspoken, but not often unnoticed, is the stark contrast of a white male running on a platform of racial equity against African American female opponents in both the primary and general elections.

But Creuzot sees no irony in the optics.

“I do not think the race or sex of my opponents has a bearing on their awareness of the issues of disparate treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system,” Creuzot said. “I am the only candidate in this race focusing on ending mass incarceration. Ending mass incarceration requires an acknowledgment of racial and socioeconomic disparities that give rise to mass incarceration. Understanding and acknowledging those facts are the only basis for developing a new approach to end the structural components of mass incarceration.”

He says past programs he devised and implemented prove his commitment to these causes were not adopted for the purpose of one political race.

“In DIVERT Court, we reduced rearrests by 68 percent and created a cost savings of $9.34 for every dollar spent,” Creuzot said. “After completion of the program requirements, the cases were dismissed and expunged. The program participants were charged with felony offenses. Dismissal and expunction allowed participants to create a normal criminal justice background-free life, unburdened with a criminal record. Those programs became the model for similar programs across the state. The DIVERT program is now replicated, in part, by over 300 programs in Texas.

“In 2005, the Texas Legislature was faced with a projection of needing 17,000 new prison beds in addition to the already existing 150,000 beds. The legislature adopted the philosophy of treatment over incarceration, which I pioneered, with a result that we have now closed eight prisons. Our prison population has been reduced to 141,000 prison beds.”

During a recent Monday Night Politics (MNP) forum, hosted by the Dallas Examiner at Fair Park, Creuzot went as far as to say that some cases could be averted by merely not filing them. Questioned as to whether such discretion is feasible or fair, he quickly defended the option.

“Yes, it is within the discretion of the District Attorney to not file cases or, working in collaboration with other departments or social service agencies, to provide treatment and other related services to reduce the likelihood of repeated behaviors that violate our laws,” Creuzot said. “By exercising prosecutorial discretion of cases to lessen the burden of a criminal record to a person does not create legalization of the offense. Despite more rational approaches, some offenders will refuse services and opt for prosecution. That seems counterintuitive, but some people will choose to take that route. The criteria should be whether the person poses a threat to the community, can be treated with non-criminal justice services and whether a new approach will save taxpayer dollars.”

Finally, with partisanship running high throughout the country, Creuzot was asked about the need to paint his opponent as someone to “spread the Republican message” in an office such as District Attorney (which he did at the MNP forum). Many feel the office should be a non-partisan position in the first place, and whether or not the Republican-Democrat dynamic plays itself out in a significant way.

“‘Spreading the Republican message,’ was a direct quote from the then-party chair made at Ms. Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony,” Creuzot said. “The dynamic plays out in an implicit or explicit recognition of bias in the criminal justice system; the training of prosecutors to handle low-level offenses in a way that saves tax dollars and creates public safety. My platform is rational, realistic, and moral. We got into this mess by doing the same things over and over. A true criminal justice reformer with a distinguished track record of measured and verified results can guide us out of the realities of structural mass incarceration.”

(Editor’s note: Faith Johnson was given the opportunity to address the same questions posed to John Creuzot. No response was received by press time.)