DA Candidate Calls For Community-Based Approach
by Nigel Roberts
Almost everyone is familiar with the statistics: young African American males are incarcerated disproportionately high compared to their numbers in the population. And in most cases, the victims are families that live in the Black community.
"It's one thing to know the statistics but another to understand them," said David Cooke, one of four candidates running for Macon district attorney. "I understand the dynamics that places young African American men in the prison pipeline."
Cooke, who currently heads the special victims unit in the Houston County district attorney’s office, explained how the prison pipeline works. He said African American kids get suspended from school at more than twice the rate of White children. Even though the school has already punished them, these children often find themselves in the juvenile justice system. "And once they’re in the justice system, African American kids are more likely to end up in prison than in a college classroom," he said.
Former Macon Mayor Jack Ellis has given Cooke a key public endorsement. "We need a DA that’s tough, fair and compassionate," Ellis stated. "David Cooke will work with the community to solve crimes--not work against the community and its youth."
Cooke points to the recent trial in which a 9-year-old Macon boy was prosecuted as a gang participant in an alleged group assault on a classmate. "I would have said to the prosecutor that this is contributing to the prison pipeline," Cooke stated. "Instead of prosecuting, this case should have been a teachable moment for the child, as well as the prosecutor who didn’t understand the pipeline."
Cooke's experience in working with communities of color began when he was a Fulton County prosecutor. Many of his supervisors were African American, as were most jurors, victims and witnesses.
If elected, Cooke said he would use a community-oriented approach to prosecutions. He would obtain federal grants to relocate prosecutors to the neighborhoods they serve. "They would get to know people in the community and be able to distinguish those who need severe punishment for terrorizing the community from those who need mentoring because they've lost their way," said Cooke.
This approach does not make Cooke soft on crime. His philosophy is that we need to be tough on career criminals and those who prey on the community but "smart" at the same time.
This know-how comes from years of experience, which his opponents lack. As a prosecutor in Atlanta, Cooke specialized in "the cases that people don't like to talk about: child molestation and murder." His resume includes serving as assistant solicitor-general in Athens, assistant district attorney in Carrollton and assistant U.S. attorney specializing in Internet crimes against children.
Cooke's ties with Macon's Black community strengthened in 2008 when he worked as a foot soldier, walking the streets to register voters for the Obama campaign. That experience formed a foundation that has fostered the growth of his relationship with community organizations and activists.
The Carrollton native first came to Macon in 1993 as a law student at Mercer University. He met his wife, Rebecca, at Macon's First Baptist Church, where the couple and their three children currently worship. "As a husband and father, I know that protecting our families is the most important thing we can do," says Cooke. "As Macon's next district attorney, I'll fight as hard to protect your family as I would work to protect my own."
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