Calcasieu DA responds to billboards

Calcasieu DA responds to billboards

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - "It is what it is." Those five words are now plastered on billboards along with Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier's face around the Lake Area.

It all has to do with DeRosier's controversial comment during a hearing at the legislature on ending 10-2 jury verdicts.

You'll see plenty of billboards scattered across Lake Charles, but there's one that seems to stick out.

It shows Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier along with the phrase "it is what it is."

That comment goes back to late April when DeRosier spoke at House Committee meeting about a bill that would get rid of the state's 10-2 jury verdicts for felony cases meaning all jurors must agree on a verdict.

In that meeting when lawmakers brought up the racial origins of the current 10-2 verdict rule DeRosier said that comment.

It upset many and now, billboards are up.

"We are trying to build a beacon on the hill, and to see somebody come in from the outside and try and mess with that is somewhat frustrating," said DeRosier.

The group paying for the ads is a public charity in California called Tides Advocacy. The group involved Ben Cohen, with New Orleans non profit "Promise of Justice Initiative."

"The law is racially motivated," said Cohen. "The law is racists, and it operates in a racist way and when people of power are indifferent to racism that's a problem."

When Tides Advocacy called Cohen about putting up the billboards, he was shocked but supportive.

"District attorneys decide who should live who should die, who's exempt from rehabilitation, exempt from redemption," he said. "They have this extraordinary power, and for somebody to say well yes this is a racist law, it's born of slavery and Jim Crow but I'm indifferent to that... that was disheartening, (and) disappointing. I think it made a lot of people angry."

DeRosier still opposes unanimous jury verdicts, but says he would change his stance, if someone could prove it was more reliable.

He says no matter how all of this plays out he says he will continue to work for those in Calcasieu Parish.

"Somebody told me one time, it's not what you say that makes you who you are, it is what you do, and I have done what I think is the right thing for everybody in Calcasieu Parish," he said.

The Justice Collaborative is a project this is part of Tides Advocacy and Executive Director Rob Smith responded to putting up the billboards saying:

"The Justice Collaborative, a project of Tides Advocacy, is a nonpartisan organization focused on creating safe and healthy communities through smarter criminal justice policy. We believe meaningful criminal justice reform starts with elected District Attorneys, who wield an enormous amount of influence over their local criminal justice systems. Those who are give the most power have the most responsibility to ensure that racism is eradicated from our criminal justice system." 

The legislature approved the bill that would end 10-2 jury verdicts, but it will be up to voters to decide if the state's constitution will be amended.

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