Midterms: Progressive Criminal Justice Advocates Fared Well

Ellison... who oversaw the prosecution of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, was re-elected.

Photos: YouTube

Much concerning the results of Tuesday’s election remains uncertain, and we would be wise not to draw too many conclusions without that certainty. Yet several clear-cut bright spots did emerge, and we would be equally remiss not to call them out, especially in relation to candidates who support criminal justice reforms.

Among them:

(1) Attorney General Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who oversaw the prosecution of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, was re-elected.

(2) Mary Moriarty, former Chief Public Defender in Hennepin County, MN, was elected County Attorney; Hennepin is the county of Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered. As Chief Public Defender, Moriarty worked to highlight and address racial inequity in policing and was vocal in her support of calls for racial justice following Floyd’s murder.

(3) Defense attorney Kelly Higgins was elected District Attorney of Hays County, Texas, outside of Austin. Higgins ran on a platform of reducing prosecutions for cannabis possession and implementing a long-promised cite-and-divert program for other low-level charges. He credits the work of local activists for moving him toward more progressive positions.

(4) Maryland and Missouri voted to legalize recreational marijuana; both states will now also move toward expunging the records of many with prior convictions.

(5) Five cities in Texas voted to decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

(6) After 25 years in office, Bristol Country, MA Sheriff Tom Hodgson, known as “the Arpaio of the East,” was defeated by Paul Heroux. Heroux ran on improving living conditions in county jails, overhauling inmate rehabilitation programs, and instituting assessments of the efficacy of anti-recidivism programs.

(7) John Fetterman won his Pennsylvania Senate race despite an egregious far-right advertising campaign that equated him, quite literally, with “poverty and crime.”

The road to equitable public safety systems is long and demands of us an unwavering dedication to the work ahead. But as we continue that work, we must never hesitate to name and claim the victories on the way, not least because they illuminate an emergent truth: The capacity to reimagine public safety is growing in this country, and every win is fuel for the next.

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