Leesa Manion for King County Prosecutor: An Interview
We sat down with Leesa Manion, who is running for King County Prosecutor, to talk about her positions, commitment to racial justice and background.
We've known you for a long time through racial equity work. Tell us about how your commitment to racial justice influenced you in wanting to run for Prosecuting Attorney.
Our criminal justice system was conceived of and built by a subset of our population: wealthy, white, cisgender men. These men’s perspectives are limited to their heterogeneous experience and so the system they built fails to account for the differences so many of us embody every day. I will be the first woman and person of color to serve as King County Prosecuting Attorney and I am excited to bring a new perspective to ensuring safety and justice for all.
I know we have a lot of work to do to create a criminal justice system that serves all our communities. It starts with elevating diverse perspectives and by fostering compassion and grace in the face of difference. Systemic change
requires communication and collaboration. As an experienced coalition builder, I have the tools to work with many different groups to affect positive change.
The PAO has an important role to play in the creation of an equitable justice system. As Prosecuting Attorney, I will use my position to eliminate barriers to justice for historically marginalized populations by:
Reducing language barriers
Promoting better understanding of victims and communities
Promoting inclusivity and acceptance of cultural differences
Offering culturally sensitive and effective services
Offering early interventions for victims closer to the time of harm
Partnering with community based resources to increase capacity and cultural responsiveness
Addressing hate crimes
Aside from your awesomeness, what sets you apart as a candidate?
Two main things: My lived experience and my deep level of professional experience.
My lived experience. I was born in Seoul, South Korea while my dad was serving in the US Army; when he brought me and my mother to the United States to live in his home state of Kentucky, my mom was met with bigotry and discrimination. My grandmother (my dad’s mom) never approved of my parents’ relationship, and one day when I was four, my grandmother and my mother got into an argument. My grandmother ended up throwing my mother out of the house with only the clothes she was wearing, and I did not see her again for 25 years. When my dad filed for divorce, my mother had no voice or power in the proceedings, and my dad was awarded full custody. This experience shaped my approach to the world and my approach to justice.
I know what it’s like to face discrimination. My brother and I experienced it, and all of the disproportionate school discipline and disproportionate law enforcement contact that so many young men of color experience, was also experienced by my brother. I grew up worrying about his safety.
I have seen, first-hand, what happens to women and families who are marginalized. I also know that we are not the sum of our worst mistakes. My grandmother’s decision made a huge impact on my and my brother’s lives – AND she also loved us in a very fierce way. She advocated for us. She encouraged us to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I learned about the power of forgiveness. I learned that it is possible to hold two truths at once and that “yes, and” thinking is powerful and helps us to identify common ground.
My professional experience. For the past 15 years, I have served as Chief of Staff of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO), where I have spearheaded projects aimed at reducing racial disproportionality, strengthening victim services, and improving public safety.
Among my accomplishments, I am most proud of my work in building effective diversion programs to keep youth and young adults out of the traditional court system by diverting them to important community-based resources and mentorships and educational supports where they also have access to opportunities. I was a founding co-partner in building the Choose 180 Program (an effective pre-filing juvenile diversion program). I improved the PAO’s approach to education engagement and truancy/dropout prevention (many do not know that our State’s truancy laws are enforced in Superior Court) to keep kids in school and on the path to graduation.
As an advisor for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) “Unbundle Policing” Solve Venture Lab Initiative, I supported the initiative’s focus on improving public safety and policing in the United States. I was also a member of the Juvenile Prosecutor’s Leadership Network, (housed in Georgetown University’s Center For Juvenile Justice Reform) –a select group of experienced juvenile justice leaders, tasked with identifying emerging and innovative policies and practices to improve fairness and effectiveness within all realms of juvenile justice.
I am also proud to be a long standing Board-member of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. I am proud to have supported the creation of programs that have enhanced opportunity and economic development for people of color and to have supported legislation to restrict access to firearms in our state.
What about running for and/or being the King County Prosecuting Attorney is the most exciting for you?
When elected, I will be the first woman and the first person of color to serve in this important position. In addition to my proven record of leadership and experience implementing essential reforms, I will also be able to invite more diverse voices and perspectives to the table to further inform the important work of the office. Representation matters.
What else do you want voters in King County to know about you?
I believe that my long history of partnering with communities and delivering results has earned me a broad and growing list of endorsements from elected officials, community advocates, and business and civic leaders, including Former Governor Gary Locke, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, former King County Council-member Larry Gossett, State Representatives Jesse Johnson and Jamila Taylor, and so many more. Please visit leesamanion.com/endorsements to view a complete list.
As Prosecutor, I am committed to building a fair and transparent justice system, crafting innovative solutions through broad coalitions, and creating positive change to keep every community across King County safe and thriving. I would be honored to earn your support.