Tuesday, June 6, 2023 Jun 6, 2023
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Criminal Justice

The Atlantic Profiles Dallas DA John Creuzot

Does the national magazine accurately capture our reformer district attorney?
By Shawn Shinneman |

From The Atlantic this week, we get a sweeping view of John Creuzot’s first seven or so months atop Dallas County’s justice system. The piece is framed as the inside story of a progressive DA’s attempt to reform the system inside a still-conservative state. Engaged Dallasites will find some truth in that narrative, even if the profile doesn’t quite succeed in pulling out all its tension and nuance.

At minimum, the piece serves as a reminder of just how much has happened in this city in 2019 and just how often Creuzot has found himself in the middle of it all. The writer gets him talking again about troopers in South Dallas, about his list of reforms and the backlash against it, about Amber Guyger, and about his approach to homelessness here (with a little jab at the media—see the story’s kicker—to boot).

When I interviewed Creuzot, he most wanted to talk about how he might address social crises outside the usual realm of his office, such as mental-health issues and homelessness. For example, he has campaigned to increase the number of shelters in Dallas to keep up with a rising homeless population. “We’ll want to put up a homeless shelter in one councilman’s district, and the immediate response will result in the withdrawal of the plan and apologizing for the plan,” he said. He contrasted this with the experience of members of the African American community, whose concerns about aggressive policing are met with limited response. “There’s a stark contrast in who you are, and where you are, and how you are dealt with,” he said.

While some police feel alienated by Creuzot, critics of the police feel that he hasn’t gone far enough—perhaps because he doesn’t want to upset them more than he already has. In three recent high-profile incidents of police violence in Dallas County, Creuzot has dismissed charges, or declined to bring them in the first place. “These three cases to me would indicate that Creuzot is not going to be aggressive on police brutality,” says John Fullinwider, a co-founder of the organization Mothers Against Police Brutality. But Creuzot said his office couldn’t bring charges in these cases, because there simply wasn’t enough evidence.

If you read a piece of Texas justice-y writing from a big coastal magazine, you also must read the corresponding take over at the Texas criminal justice reform blog Grits for Breakfast. Those are the rules. Grits’ analysis again peels us away from our neat little boxes of thinking—progressive, not progressive, red, blue, etc.—and offers some nuance about how Creuzot’s policies and actions really stack up. A taste:

Creuzot was the first Texas DA to more comprehensively articulate his own decarceral agenda, sort of a Larry-Krasner-Lite, but whose pronouncements are peppered with “y’alls.” His policies were more modest than, say, newly elected prosecutors in Philly, St. Louis, or Boston. Even so, there’s no doubt Creuzot’s positions were more concrete and his thinking about decarceration is the most-well-developed of any Lone-Star prosecutor. Indeed, his general election vs. a Republican incumbent essentially centered around which one of them would be more reform-minded.

Read The Atlantic’s profile here. And stay dry this weekend.

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