Why Won't SF DA Chesa Boudin Put All The Children In Prison Forever?
San Francisco is one of those "liberal" cities that Fox News loves to panic over — along with Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. They love to clutch their pearls about all the crime, and how that crime is certainly due to the fact that they are "Democrat run cities." Hell, even NBC breathlessly reported that the city had "56 homicides in 2021, up from 48 in 2020, and 41 in 2019." Nevermind that Jacksonville, Florida, a city of comparable size and with a Republican mayor and Republican DA, had 175 homicides. Or that the states with the highest murder rates in the country are, in order, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and Alaska, and the states with the highest violent crime rates are Alaska, New Mexico, Tennessee, Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, and South Dakota — only two of which voted for Biden in the last election.
The Right has been going pretty hard on San Francisco lately, hoping to make the city an example of the horrors of Democratic leadership — and, in particular, to rile people up about the horrors of a progressive approach to criminal justice.
Next week, San Francisco's chief prosecutor Chesa Boudin will face a recall election — one that, so far, polls predict he will lose. That's pretty unfortunate, because so far, Boudin has done a lot of good.
He created a wrongful conviction unit and freed a man who was unjustly imprisoned for decades, eliminated cash bail, charged a police officer with an actual crime when that officer murdered an unarmed Black man (a first for the city), created a worker protection unit to defend worker's rights, went after DoorDash for misclassifying workers (big surprise that early DoorDash investor Ron Conway is one of those leading the charge to recall him), implemented a policy to reimburse small businesses for any expenses related to being vandalized or broken into, created a Post-Conviction Unit to review excessive sentencing, and more.
The progressive prosecutor faces opposition not only from conservatives but also from many wealthy Democrats, none of whom really seem to know what he is specifically in charge of doing or what it is they would like someone else to do in his place. They just know that things seem bad in the city right now and that this is probably his fault for not being "tough" enough on crime.
For example — a 69 year old man filed a lawsuit against Boudin after he was attacked with a baseball bat by a man and his teenage son and Boudin allowed the man to plead down to misdemeanor battery. Sure, it later came out that the man was in a wheelchair and the teenage son was actually eleven and had merely swung a plastic baseball bat at the victim, but these are the kinds of crimes that those who wish to see him recalled want to see punished more harshly, even if they're not sure how.
The Guardian reports:
Asked about that case and how he thinks the DA should have handled it, Richie Greenberg, chairman of one of the pro-recall committees, said: “We try not to get involved with actual policy or analysis. But we need to hold criminals accountable, regardless of their age, whatever is the appropriate accountability method.”
But should the 11-year-old have been charged or imprisoned? “We need to go back and see how other DAs would’ve handled it. I’m not in charge of the DA’s office,” responded Greenberg, a former Republican mayoral candidate who launched the first recall effort last year.
Boudin has cut the juvenile jail population in half, with 33 children incarcerated at the start of his term compared with 14 on average as of March 2022, his office said. Boudin also oversaw a 35% reduction in the population of San Francisco residents in state prisons, achieved through resentencing and diversion.
Pressed on whether he thought more youth overall should be jailed, Greenberg said: “We’re not talking about philosophies on whether or not we want to change the system on how you sentence a juvenile versus an adult. This is starting to veer off into another topic.”
The real issue here, Greenberg explained, is that Boudin is a former public defender and therefore should never have been elected, period, because that is not allowed. Greenberg added that Boudin also nefariously tricked the public into voting for him by being "charismatic" and "using buzzwords like mass incarceration and racial justice." He says he wants the recall to be a template for conservatives to go after progressive prosecutors.
Matt Dorsey, the latest addition to the Board of Supervisors, wrote an op-ed about how he supports the recall because Boudin isn't harsh enough on drug offenders — which he seems to think is a bad thing.
What is true here is that San Francisco has had an uptick in certain kinds of crime — just like the rest of the country has had in the wake of the COVID pandemic. There has also been an uptick in homelessness and drug addiction, just like the rest of the country has had in the wake of the COVID pandemic. It is unclear how the latter two could possibly be the fault of any district attorney, but Boudin's detractors are doubling down on it.
The really sad thing here, again, is that what Boudin is doing in San Francisco is great, actually, and we need more of it, not less. We need more thoughtfulness in our criminal justice system and less clinging to a "tough on crime" narrative that has never borne the results people think it does.
There's a reason why people love to look at a place like San Francisco and clutch their pearls over "the crime!!!" while red states and cities pile up the bodies of the dead — and it's not just because those of us on the Left working in media simply aren't gross enough to go after Mississippi and Louisiana the way Tucker Carlson goes after San Francisco or LA or Chicago. It's not the actual crime or crime rates or murder rates that matter to most of those people — it's the catharsis, it's about what feels satisfying and what makes them feel safe regardless of whether or not they actually are. Those states may have high murder rates, but they're giving that contingent of people what they actuallywant out of the criminal justice system. They want harsh cops, they want harsh prosecutors, they want harsh sentences, because that is what feels good and feels right and feels satisfying.
That's the actual problem we have to deal with if we ever want to see any meaningful change to our criminal justice system. The things we want to do to make things more just — even to make things safer for all of us? They're not satisfying. They don't scratch that itch. Now, I don't need them to and if you're here reading this, you probably don't either — but Americans have become accustomed to it. They have become accustomed to the justice system being there not to produce the best results, but to produce results that feel satisfying to them, to feeling safer because some teenager got tried as an adult for a minor crime and is going to be locked up for the next 20 years, to getting to believe that the death penalty is actually a deterrent. They want to feel that high, that "now there's some real justice!" and they don't like the feeling of someone not being punished harshly enough. That is what we are fighting here and being aware of it is the first and most necessary step towards actually being able to do so.
I hope Boudin survives his recall, because I think he's doing great — but if this is the way we want things to go in the grand scheme of things, we've got a lot more work ahead of us than just next week.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse