Sunday, March 02, 2014

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos on his office, social and political philosophy, homelessness

Written by  Suzelle
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by Suzelle, CLMP in-office monitor
When Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos was interviewed on the Civil Liberties Hour call-in talk show on KMUD Redwood Community Radio on October 2nd, CLMP host Bonnie Blackberry began with a question about the status of the District Attorney's office.  She asked in particular about jail realignment and budgetary concerns.  Gallegos responded that they both "pose challenges for us: the one creates more work, and the other creates less resources to do that work."  Asked if he had adequate personnel, he said, "In public service you never have the luxury of all the resources you need or want.  Could we do a better job with more people?  Absolutely.  More resources would be better on my staff because we're so tight it's difficult: just for staffing purposes, courtrooms, trials, giving vacations, sending people off for training.  When you work on a tight staffing allocation, it creates issues."  Gallegos himself has been in trial in the mornings and returns to the office to review files to be in court in the afternoons, he said.  "This is what the attorneys have to do.  Week-ends are sort of the same."  He commended his staff as being "really smart, talented people, and really dedicated."  However, he added: "People are not being adequately represented, we are making do.  The community deserves more and we believe we should get more resources to serve our community."
A caller was concerned about government inadequacies with dire consequences.  She said, "A person who is being held for recent shootings had a history of mental illness that apparently the court knew about, but he was returned to the community."  She asked if "something could be put in place that when these people who we know have a history of mental illness and violence do come back to the community would keep these things from reoccurring."  
Gallegos said he couldn't talk about particulars of active cases because he does not want to taint the jury pool, but he commented: "Because we've been focused for a long time on the punishment paradigm instead of the harm reduction paradigm, we haven't put the measures in place to protect the community in those cases.  We need to do something that will bring those people back into the community in a manner that protects the community without making everyone subject to losing their individual liberties."  And further, "I think that was the intention of the realignment, and the long term goal of the realignment.  Getting there is the tough thing, requires a paradigm shift on everyone, and it also requires us investing in the resources to do it."
Another caller stated that, "Solitary Confinement should be greatly modified. . ."  and though it was clarified that this is not a District Attorney matter, Gallegos commented, "It's a very expansive question."  He shared the basis of his social philosophy: "At the most basic level, my vision of my community is it's a community where people are free to go about their lives without interference except as is necessary.  They are allowed to live safely.  They're allowed to live with their families and promote their own future.  So, you have a business, you do your business, you make a living, and, unless you're harming/hurting someone else or the community-at-large, you're free to go about that."  The caller responded, "That's really prosaic.  We elected you thinking you were a Progressive.  Are you or aren't you?" he asked.  
The DA clarified: "I don't think of myself as a progressive or anything.  I think of myself as a compassionate human being who cares about human beings, who cares about my community and is trying to do my best to promote my community.  Now, that means that often I fall in line with values that are associated with the progressive party.  I care about all people in my community, not just certain sections of the community.  I care about (oddly enough) a government that responds to its people.  I think government serves the people of our community, and it serves the people of this country.  I do not see government as bad.  I do not understand how a government by-the-people-for-the-people, can be bad.  I think it can do bad things, but I think so long as we remain vigilant, and we participate in the process, then the government serves us, and it should.  I don't think it should serve just special interests.  This is a big subject.  I think as long as there's the influence of large money in politics, you and I and most of us, are largely disenfranchised.  There's so much to discuss in that question you asked.  But at the end of the day, if you want to attach a label to me, the label I would say is, I'm a person that cares about people.  I'm a person that feels I was fortunate in life, and I want to give back, not only to my family but my community.  I was somebody that didn't live in Humboldt County, but moved to Humboldt County because I loved it.  And the people of Humboldt County welcomed me, and I feel an obligation back, and I want to do everything I can for the community."
CLMP asked if the DA was prosecuting people for living in homeless camps. Gallegos answered, "Homelessness, it turns out, isn't a crime.  I prefer to not be in the business of prosecuting someone because they're homeless, or poor, or mentally ill, or a different race, or things of that nature.  If people are homeless and they engage in an activity that deprives others of their rights, or they're engaged in crimes like property theft, or things of that nature, then yes, we are going to prosecute them.  Because we want them to not steal from people, not engage in activities that impact other people's free enjoyment of their liberties.  But I don't perceive it as my job to drive people out from under the bridges if they're not doing anything wrong. . .Some do come to our office, of course, if when [law enforcement does sweeps] they find they're in possession of drugs, or they're unregistered sex offenders, or they're felons in possession of firearms, things of that nature, as they should.  But we don't get someone, 'Hey, they were here underneath the bridge sleeping,' that's not something that generally comes to our door.  And if it did we would say, 'Well, where's the crime?'"
You can download the whole radio program from the KMUD archive here, right-click and "save link as."
Read 5893 times Last modified on Monday, March 03, 2014
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