As Stalking Awareness Month comes to a close, victim’s advocate Lenora Claire (a member of the Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s Victim’s Advisory Board) shares her thoughts on his new directives and policies for prison reform.

I have a confession. While I may be familiar to some as the neon haired activist and victims’ advocate discussing my highly publicized stalking case or breaking down the impact of Prop 57 on talk shows, there was a time when my greatest awareness of the legal system came courtesy of Dick Wolf. I distinctly recall voting for Al Gore in my first election, and being so young and uninformed when voting on local candidates that I thought it was a great idea to just pick a woman or unconventional sounding politician.

However, life has a way of coming at you hard and fast. Not long after that very election, I was sexually assaulted. It would be the first of three violent crimes I’ve endured in my lifetime. That is when I first saw the complexities of the system and realized that I would have to advocate for myself.  Never again could I be so cavalier about selecting judges, DA’s, and the people who might have great impact on our daily lives.
In November 2020, George Gascon was elected as Los Angeles District Attorney, defeating two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey after a hard-fought, bitterly contested electoral race. While there is little both sides can agree on, I think everyone can acknowledge that newly appointed Gascon dropped a bomb on Los Angeles his first day in office.
Whether you’re a supporter who saw it as making good on promises to destroy and dismantle a flawed and often racist system, or a member of the recall movement who views the end of cash bail and controversial new directives as permission for the kind of lawlessness seen in the film The Purge, you felt the burn-it-all-down blast of his vision. Where does this polarizing extremity leave those of us who, like myself, identify as both a progressive person and multi-crime survivor who works with other crime victims? Is it possible to believe in certain necessary systemic changes without removing prosecutorial options that would further re-victimize us as collateral damage? Does it have to be all or nothing? Are we really unable to distinguish between petty crimes and outright brutality?
I can absolutely see the value in not incarcerating people for drug-related crime, and instead, turning to other types of solutions. But I very much feel rapists, domestic abusers, stalkers, and murderers should be removed as threats to the community. Never in my punk-music-listening, proud intersectional feminist life have I been compared to a moderate centrist, but that is how I am perceived if I feel not all crimes can be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach.
As I poured over the Gascon’s new directives with fellow advocates, terrified victims, and former DA’s trying to decipher what they meant for our futures, I remember being especially shocked seeing removal of hate crimes from sentence enhancements. At a time when reported aggravated assault hate crimes are up 28%,  how could this decision be explained?
Thankfully, Gascon reportedly met with the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and saw the value of putting hate crime enhancements back into play. While it was painful for many that these conversations even had to take place, I can appreciate anyone who can be reasoned with and walk back on their mistakes.
One of the first people I spoke with when Gascon’s directives dropped was my friend Peggy Farrell. Peggy and I met while our stories were profiled for a special on stalking on CBS’ 48 Hours. Peggy’s case is especially terrifying because her stalker wrote a “murder manifesto” which culminated in burying her body in the desert,  and I will always fear her stalker will try to carry out this terrible threat.. After years of terrorizing her, Peggy’s stalker was convicted and sentenced to prison.  There were two years left on the sentence when she was notified that with the removal of strikes, her offender could be released in a matter of mere weeks.
She would have to immediately relocate with a young child during a pandemic and go back in hiding. The retroactive removal of strikes (which has yet to be clarified exactly about how far back it will go) will produce a lot of people like Peggy. People who thought they had years to live normal, peaceful lives and heal from their trauma may be confronted with this expedited reality.
If we are to explore this push to lessen incarceration we also have to ask, how do we intend to protect potential violent crime victims? I’ve been lobbying for legislative proposals such as restraining order registries and other preventative measures since 2016 but we aren’t there yet and that only covers a small specific window of crimes. Prosecuting crimes is a nuanced endeavor, and when you take away prosecutorial discretion, victims suffer. While some directives such as removing trespassing makes sense for people pulling stupid pranks, those of us who have experienced domestic violence and stalking are going to feel very differently. These kinds of crimes are already under reported for a variety of reasons but the removal of weapons enhancements tells abusers they can put a gun to their victim’s heads or knife to their throats and they will not be held accountable for the use of that weapon as a terrifying threat.
Essential to this discussion, is the fact that a disproportionately high number of the incarcerated are people of color. As a white Jewish person, I’m not the one to lead this part of the conversation, but it should be noted that in 2018, 89% of the homicides in Los Angeles county were against people of color; they are also disproportionately impacted as victims as well. We are failing everyone on both sides.
The push to end mass incarceration is a positive thing. But there are some who are beyond rehabilitation. My stalker was sentenced to felony stalking max and the two years he served of his four year sentence was for me, like finally being able to breathe after being held underwater for nearly a decade. I was able to have my wedding without fear of being sexually assaulted, kidnapped, or killed the way my stalker has fixated about for years. I was able to hold a job without my stalker sending my boss constant death threats. I was able to sleep without fearing I would be gassed under my door which is one of his repeat fantasies. I was allowed to exist. But within three days of his release, he was posting videos about me on Youtube. It won’t be over until one of us dies. And for now, I’m the one serving the life sentence.

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