Oakland County Prosecutor Challenger Says Racial Disparity Key Issue

Karen McDonald, who is running against incumbent Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, says the county is “lagging behind” on using the office to reform criminal justice.

Michigan’s state and local primary election is Aug. 4.

See more information on the Aug. 4 primary election here.

Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson is committed to highlighting candidates on the ballot. 

After the death of longtime County Executive L. Brooks Patterson last year, Oakland County is at a political crossroads in 2020. Democrats have gained control of most of the county government. Now there are primary battles for many of those positions.

Interview: Karen McDonald

Candidate for Oakland County Prosecutor, challenging incumbent Jessica Cooper. Detroit Today has contacted Cooper to schedule an interview.

“We need a prosecutor that acknowledges there’s racial disparity, who is transparent about who is being charged. It can’t change though unless we have a prosecutor who acknowledges it exists.”

Click play to hear why McDonald says Oakland County is “lagging behind.”

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Candidate Brief

Key experience: Oakland County Circuit Court Judge presiding over family court cases since 2012, former commercial litigation and family law, former Assistant Prosecutor working on child sexual assault cases, former public school teacher.

Why they are running: “The most critical role in criminal justice reform is the prosecutor. The prosecutor decides who to charge and what to charge them with. That is the first and most important step in the criminal justice system. The prosecutor holds the key.” 

Major endorsements: Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy


  • Racial disparities in criminal justice: McDonald says the incumbent has not acknowledged the prosecutor’s role in correct racial disparities, referencing a recent candidate forum where Cooper said she does not see prosecutorial practices as a cause of disparity in treatment of people of color in Oakland County. “We need a prosecutor who acknowledges that there’s a racial disparity,” McDonald says. “Convictions are much higher in communities with people of color than white communities. That has to change. It wont change, though, unless we have a prosecutor who acknowledges that it exists.”
  • Alternative remediation: McDonald says prosecutors need to engage with alternative remediation instead of conviction. She criticizes the incumbent for not being involved in specialty courts, like drug treatment courts or cash bail arraignments.
  • Police reform: “I’m not in favor of defunding the police. What I’m in favor of is specialized training,” she says. She also says she supports banning chokeholds, the creation of a system of accountability for officers accused of police brutality, and targeting resources at alternatives to policing for communities with mental health issues.
  • Community engagement: McDonald says she wants to set up community advisory councils with people of color, and does not anticipate issues with Republican colleagues like like incumbent Oakland County sheriff Michael Bouchard, who is running for reelection. “I am an approachable, reasonable, smart and compassionate person. You have to make yourself available to listen and sit down with everyone.”

This article was written by Detroit Today student producer Ali Audet.


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