People in Santa Clara County of California are demanding an end to systemic racism, said Sajid Khan, an Indian American who is running for the post of district attorney.
Last week, Khan, 38, announced that he would be running against District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who has been holding the seat since 2011.
Khan now serves as a public defender at San Clara County. If elected he would be the first person of Indian American and South Asian and person of color to hold the DA’s seat. The primary election is next year, in 2022.
Khan said his candidature was “a service for our community members.”
Khan’s parents, Dr Mahboob Khan and mother Malika Khan, came to the United States from Madras — now Chennai — in the 1960s. Sajid Khan was born at the Alexian Brothers Hospital off of Jackson & McKee in San Jose.
He said the community service he learned from his parents is what led him to this profession and now to running for DA.
“They are my role models… [and gave me] a real commitment to helping other people, promoting justice and standing up against oppression. As I grew older it was very clear to me what I wanted to devote my career to — helping other people and protecting their civil and human rights of our community.
“That is why I went to law school,” he said. “It’s very much rooted in my family values.”
Khan has been a public defender in San Jose since 2008. He has a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Hastings.
“Because I am born and raised here, I live here and have invested here in the community as public defender for 13 years, I am an expert in the way system works, it fails and the way it can be improved,” said Khan.
Asked if he agreed that there was discrimination happening within the justice system, he pointed out that the majority of the people that he has represented are black/brown/people of color.
He said Santa Clara County only has 2 percent black population, but 13 percent of the prosecutions are against black people. And 80 percent of the gang prosecution cases are against people of color.
“We generally know that our jails and prisoners are primarily composed of people of color and that our system discriminates directly against minorities in our community,” Khan said. “So, I am running to undo [that] and ensure people regardless of ethnicity and color are given justice and safety in our community.”
Khan alleged that his opponent Rosen continues to prosecute children as adults.
“I represented a 14-year-old-boy and he was prosecuted as an adult by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office,” Khan said.
Khan also said that the police use excessive force and kill people.
“In the last five years there have been approximately 20 people killed by San Jose police and none of those policemen has been prosecuted for a single crime,” Khan said.
“Out of 20 people killed, 17 were people of color. So what these tell us [is] that this district attorney’s office continues to perpetuate mass incarceration and systemic racism and does not hold police to account,” Khan said.
Santa Clara County has 2 million people and 15 cities.
Khan said the district attorney should also promote fair access to housing, employment, medical care, social services, education and provide trauma sensitive consultations.
“When we ensure offering very basic dignities only then will we reduce crime and prevent crime from happening,” he said.
His experience as a public defender has taught him, he said, “that today’s defendant is yesterday’s victim and today’s victim can often be tomorrow’s defendant. So, the idea is that we have to collectively devote resources to looking at the root causes of crime and prevent happening of crime at the first place. So that it doesn’t happen again.”
He said that many of those arrested have mental illnesses and the DA’s office should provide the necessary services to ensure their mental illness does not get worse and does not result in harmful behavior to themselves or to the society.
Asked why he is against cash bail bond, Khan said he has seen time and time again that people are held in jails not because they have been convicted of a crime or because they are a threat to public safety, but just because they are too poor to pay bail.
“And what happens is that they are stuck in jail, lose their house, employment and suffer while incarcerated and are often pushed into taking plea bargain in order to get out of the jail. That doesn’t help,” he said.
“So we’re advocating to end money bail because we don’t want to hold people in jail just because they are too poor,” he said. “We want to develop a system that allows those who are fit and ready in our communities to stay with their family and housing and employment while ensuring they come to court.
“So I want to end bail bond because it is not making our community safer but depleting money from poor families,” Khan reiterated.
Asked about his view on fighting hate crime, Khan said it was critical to prosecute such crimes aggressively “but again it is critical we address the root of hate crime and we educate the ignorant and try to provide solutions that create healing in our community and bring our community together.”
His approach, Khan said, “is to move away from justice being measured from jail and prison term and using evidence-based interventions to ultimately make our community safe.
“We will still prosecute crime of violence and hate and make sure people are held accountable,” Khan said. “But we are going to proactively and reactively try to address the root cause of [such] behavior by trying to cultivate connection among our community members. As DA we need to have a seat trying to cultivate an understanding and healing so that these hate crimes do not occur.”