by Steve Marquez
“I want Police reform, and I believe that people should have a second chance, but not for those who show no remorse.” Maricela Lopez, an area resident said during a Recall George Gascón event in front of City Hall in Whittier, California. Lopez and her husband, Ernie, were there to sign the petition to recall the newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney, George Gascón. Lopez wasn’t a supporter of Jackie Lacey, the former District Attorney, but thought that Gascón had gone too far.
“I believe in Proportional Justice. There are things I don’t like, ‘Three Strikes,’ on some things, I don’t believe in the death penalty, but I sure believe in life without parole.” Imelda Hernandez, whose son was murdered in Artesia, California, said. “If someone wants to make themselves better a person in jail, then be a better person in jail, just don’t get out.”
“A person who commits a crime should be held accountable.” Ernie Lopez said. He varied a little from Hernandez, saying that if a person makes something better out of themselves in prison and is remorseful for the crime they committed, then perhaps they should have their sentence reduced and given a second chance. But he also said that he knew some police officers within the county and that their morale was very low. “They don’t want to arrest anyone anymore or put themselves at risk because they know that Gascón is going to put them right back on the streets with little more than a ticket.”
Ever since being elected and handing down directives and enacting policy shifts, Los Angeles County District Attorney, George Gascón has garnered respect by some, and the ire of others, including those on his staff as ADAs and some of the over 1,000 district attorneys in the county. “He hasn’t prosecuted any cases and has no idea what a prosecutor does.” said one such prosecutor and key note speaker, Jonathan Hatami, at a rally held in front of the Whittier, California, City Hall on Thursday evening, May 27, 2021.
Since the Recall George Gascón campaign kicked-off in front of the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles on February 27, 2021, (Click here for my BLOG from that event) there have been echoes around the county where victims of violent crime family members have been expressing their desire to see Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón removed from office.
“He was murdered at a park,” Paulina Camberos said of her brother Raymond Camberos. “He was playing basketball.” Camberos said. Three “individuals” as Camberos put it, thought he was a member of a gang because of a tattoo, but it was actually the name of his son. They fought with him and, “they beat my brother pretty bad.” She said. The three young men chased him and shot and murdered him. “We got our justice,” she said, “but the one that pulled the trigger was underage at the time, [because of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s new policies], we may have to go back to court.”
The new policies include leniency for those who committed crimes as minors. Prosecutors have been instructed to no longer ask for enhancements for gang activity. This means that Hernandez’s case may be reviewed and the alleged shooter may not have to spend much time in prison for the murder of her son.
“My son was shot [and killed] in the City of Artesia,” Hernandez said. “I found out through the preliminary trial that my son knew something was wrong.” He left as quickly as he could but, “they shot at the car as he was taking off and he was hit in the back of the head.” Although it was horrific, she was grateful that the bullet didn’t go all the way through so she was able to see her son’s face, “he looked like him at the very end.” she said. “Four months later, the gang unit did catch the murderers; they’ve been in jail since last August.” During the preliminary trial, a mere few weeks ago, the judge decided to keep the enhancements on their charges.
“I am nervous everyday that I am going to get a call from my (Deputy District Attorney) that something happened with Gascón and that nothing is going to stand.” Hernandez said that every time she goes to the court building in Norwalk, she gets a “weird” vibe because nobody likes Gascón, and that they are not able to do their job. “I feel like the D.A.’s cannot do their best job because they are stressed out and they have no support.”
The tragedy of the loss of her son was tempered by the thought that seven people were saved that day because her son was an organ donor. “My son was one of the biggest organ donors at Long Beach Memorial. He saved seven lives. It was a big deal!” she said. “My son’s heart is in Hawaii.” Hernandez plans to visit there some time soon.
It has not been easy for some who have decided to speak out against Gascón. Some have experienced threats or have even been laughed at—by Gascón himself—or told they were un-educated when they expressed their doubts in his ability to be the District Attorney. Others have been riled on Social Media like Paulina Camberos.
“I’m not just here for myself, I am here for everybody.” Paulina Camberos said.
Those words were echoed by her and Raymond’s mother, Geraldine. “We are here for everyone who seeks justice.” She said. “I want to address those people who want to slander my daughter because of her opposition to Gascón’s directives,” She said. “My daughter is human. I mean, her brother was murdered!” She was proud of her daughter’s work to stand up for those who no longer have a voice. “It’s only right that she stands up here. Raymond doesn’t have a voice anymore. [My daughter] is strong, she is not only speaking for her brother, but for me and her brother.” What she really wanted to address is the attacks on social media. “I am sick and tired of people on social media attacking [Paulina] because she is opinionated.” She said that those on social media complained that if you didn’t like Gascón, then you shouldn’t have voted for him. “Well, I didn’t vote for him!” She said. “And those who did vote for him, voted with a ‘blind eye’ because he did a complete 360, when he got into office.”
The rally had many speakers including the Mayor of Whittier, Joe Vinatieri, Mayor Pro Tem, Kathy Warner, Imelda Hernandez and others. Key note speaker Jonathan Hatami, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office in Santa Clarita, California was the final speaker. He said that Gascón has been derelict in his duty and that his policy changes have been dangerous and disastrous. Hatami said that he was against all forms of hate and was pro law. He said he even believes that reform is necessary, but these drastic changes should not be implemented at the expense of victims of violent crime. He spoke about a particular policy shift that will have massive ramifications for the future, “Gascón has barred prosecutors from attending parole hearings with victims and their families.” Hatami said. This does not allow the victims to have an advocate and allows the murderer or child rapist to tell their side of the story without any contradictions. It also allows for them to talk to a psychiatrist whatever they want to hear in order to be released. He believed it was dangerous for the community and especially dangerous for the victims and their families. This is why he asked those in attendance to make sure they sign the petition and recall George Gascón.
Finally, in a show of unity, the Mayor led those in attendance in a prayer asking God for help in these difficult times. We hope that his prayer has reached the heavenly throne and that God will answer quickly because we desperately need justice tempered with mercy.