When George Gascón was a young boy in Cuba growing up under Fidel Castro’s regime, he witnessed a litany of injustices that influenced his view of authority. On one occasion, he recalled, the police swept into his neighborhood unannounced and arrested a man who lived across the street. “I remember this man being taken out in handcuffs, and he never came back,” Gascón recounted in a recent interview with Jewish Insider. “We learned several months later that he was executed.”
“I grew up in a system where the police were everywhere,” Gascón added, an experience that imbued in him a strong and early sense of skepticism toward law enforcement. He carried that distrust with him into his teenage years after his family fled to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. “I did not have a lot of respect for police,” he said bluntly. The feeling was mutual. “I bought a lowrider, and that was probably the biggest mistake of my life,” Gascón told JI, referring to a type of car with a lowered body. “I had weeks that I would get stopped three or four times.”
Still, those who are familiar with Gascón’s trajectory know that he long ago overcame his aversion to law enforcement by joining its ranks. The former Los Angeles cop worked his way through the system to become police chief in Mesa, Ariz., and then San Francisco, where he most recently served as district attorney, earning plaudits for his innovative prosecutorial reforms. Now that he is running for Los Angeles County district attorney, Gascón, 66, is hoping he can bring what he regards as sorely needed change to a city — and a legal system — that once treated him with suspicion.
“I believe that L.A. is this incredible place that is so vibrant in almost every walk of life,” Gascón told JI. “Except for public safety.”