From the Hammer to the Hand

In Stockton, California, Republican D.A. Tori Verber Salazar is embarking on transforming the criminal justice system – much to the displeasure of the police union.

Joyce_victims group
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
August 20, 2021
12:04 minutes
Funding Initiative
Short-Form Series and Special Projects
Headshot of Emily Cohen Ibañez

Emily Cohen Ibañez

Emily Cohen Ibañez is a Latinx filmmaker with Colombian and Syrian Jewish heritage. She was a Fulbright Scholar based in Colombia and earned her doctorate in Anthropology with a certificate in Culture and Media at New York University. Her directorial feature documentary debut, Fruits of Labor premiered at SXSW 2021.

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The Film

In Stockton, California, Republican District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar is embarking on transforming the criminal justice system. Since her election in 2015 as the first female DA in San Joaquin County, Salazar has seen the homicide rate decline by 40%. And yet, the Stockton Police Officers Association and a local social media tabloid, the 209 Times, characterize her as pro-criminal, anti-victim, and emotionally unfit for office. Salazar believes that police union antagonism toward her stems from the fact that she has charged more than 20 officers with possession of narcotics, excessive force, manslaughter, DUI, or sexual harassment. They are particularly upset by Salazar’s participation in a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

Originally considered a prosecutorial hardliner, Salazar is the proud product of a police family who began her career hyper-focused on convicting young men charged with gang related murders. But over time she began to doubt the effectiveness of her initial approach, questioning the rationale behind putting a violent person in a violent cage and expecting them to emerge healthy and rehabilitated. Describing herself now as both pro-community and pro-victim – despite claims from opponents that she is actually pro-defendant – Salazar meets with parents whose children were victims of homicide, offering support and advocating a holistic approach to public safety. Her focus on restorative justice programs includes one in which mothers of homicide victims meet with incarcerated men. Salazar’s opponents, including police union president Chuck Harris, consider her approach to be a dereliction of duty. But Salazar remains determined to carry on. From the Hammer to the Hand reveals the complex political arena that a local DA must navigate when she attempts to reduce mass incarceration, increase community resources, and advocate for oversight of police misconduct.