Growing up, LaKeysha Washington’s older brother, Stephan, was both her nemesis and her protector. He would taunt her by stringing her Cabbage Patch doll from the ceiling out of her reach or take off down the hill with her wagon hitched to his bike. Stephan teased her endlessly, but LaKeysha felt the closest bond to him in the midst of a turbulent, chaotic childhood in the Seattle area.
When Stephan was 17, he held up a 7-Eleven store to steal food for the family and ended up in a juvenile detention center.
“When he got out of jail, he couldn’t find work,” LaKeysha says. “There was this domino effect of having the label of being in jail. The only thing he knew was to sell drugs, so he went right back into gangs and street life.”
“He could have been so much more if someone had recognized early on that this was a bright kid and tried to help him out of the situation. I am by no means suggesting that the best way to get food for your siblings is to rob a 7-Eleven, but I also realize that, unfortunately, some people commit crimes because of the life that has happened to them.”
There are those who might think it is an odd disconnect for LaKeysha to become a prosecuting attorney. LaKeysha thinks it makes all the sense in the world.
“I strive to be the type of prosecutor whom I would want my brother or cousins or neighbors or friends to have,” she says. “I try to treat defendants fairly. I want to hold people responsible for what they have done, but I also understand that life situations can affect the reason why they’re there. We have drug court, mental health court, and veterans court to get people the help they need. If I can send you to one of these courts so you can continue to be a parent, so that you can be productive, I think that’s the best thing for society.”
“How does my community deal with the fact that I’m a black prosecutor?” LaKeysha asks. “Some are very negative and will say, ‘How can you do this? How can you work for The Man?’”
“I start with the basic premise that there’s a role for everyone. We need the police and the defense attorneys. And we need the prosecutors because if your family is victimized, you want justice. If your wife or mother is raped or murdered, you want justice for them."
“Prosecutors have so much control and power over what is filed, so if prosecutors think someone was arrested unfairly or there’s not enough evidence, they can decline to file charges,” LaKeysha says. “The criminal justice system is not perfect. It could use reform, but if it’s broken, is it better to leave it in the hands of those you feel broke it, or is it better to have a diverse prosecutor’s office filled with people who want to prosecute defendants fairly?”
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