At first glance, an attempt to recall the San Francisco area. Atti. Chesa Boudin is a debate about how a relatively small, atypical city fights crime, a philosophical debate about how often criminals should be locked up, and the relative success of efforts to get nonviolent offenders into treatment programs that will keep them out of jail.
In fact, the recall is a battle between facts and feelings, an example of how millionaires can set the political agenda, a lesson in the limitations of reform through progressive prosecutors, and the difficulty of changing the status quo.
That’s why the June 7 referendum in the Boudin case matters far beyond San Francisco’s 47-square-mile area, where violent crime rates are close to historic lows despite viral videos of the debacle and the dual crisis of homelessness and drug-related deaths.
Since his botched victory, Boudin has been troubled by the establishment: a Yale-educated public defender, son of imprisoned Weather Underground leaders, a relative newcomer and political newcomer in a city where politics is a blood sport and people proudly trace their local ancestry from generation to generation. to a generation. He emerged from obscurity in 2019 to campaign on a detailed platform that promised to overturn a system that disproportionately persecutes black and brown people.
As Democrats across the country grapple with voter fears of rising crime rates, many have abandoned reforms, including Los Angeles County. Atti. George Gascon, who may have to recall himself later this year. Instead, Boudin implemented the ideas that got him elected: jail as a last resort. No cash deposits or gang upgrades. Do not harass minors as adults. Accusations against police using excessive force. Expansion of services for victims. An overview of long sentences handed down under outdated laws during the war on drugs. Accusations of employers in the theft of wages.
Boudin’s policies won him newspaper approval, but he faces an uphill battle in the recall election. Its main mission is to rethink crime and punishment – to shake up the status quo at an already fragile moment. The desire to blame him for many long-standing illnesses has resonated amid frustration and anger at all the life-changing changes of the past two years. Tragedies and mistakes are easy to exploit, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which has exacerbated the city’s glaring inequalities, eroded its economic base for tourism and technology, and heightened its fear of crime.
His agenda defies audio cues, while the opposite is true for his opponents. With the ability to collect unlimited donations, they have spent millions, first on paying signature collectors to withdraw them from the ballot, and now on television flash advertising.
names on five- and six-figure deposits in file with city as well as state The agencies — who’s who of tech, finance and real estate moguls — are signaling the extent to which those accustomed to influencing the city see the Boudin program as a threat. Heads of Blockchain, Lyft, Y Combinator, Grove Capital, Twin Tree Ventures, Route One Investment, Prime Finance, Initialized Capital. The three largest contributors were the California Assn. realtors, Shorenstein Realty and Republican billionaire William Oberndorff.
Boudin, whose parents spent decades in jail for being runaway drivers in a 1981 robbery that ended with three people shot to death, is an easy caricature figure and an easy target in a city grappling with the obvious, intractable problems of the proliferation of homeless camps. , record drug overdose deaths, increased burglaries, gun violence and car break-ins.
The recall attempt also illustrates a lesson with national ramifications about the limits of relying solely on reform prosecutors to enact change.
District Attorneys wield tremendous power; only they decide what charges to bring. This uncontrollable force has a ripple effect in a system where most cases never make it to court. If prosecutors inflate charges, they have more leverage over a plea deal. If they’re looking for sabotage, fewer people end up behind bars. If they harass police officers, this behavior becomes subject to public scrutiny.
But a district attorney trying to change the country’s reliance on incarceration has little control over either the root causes of the problem or the infrastructure that could help solve it. City, county, and state officials determine housing policy, addiction treatment, and mental health options—all the support services needed to change a world in which the county jail is often the largest provider of drug and mental health counseling and the largest homeless shelter. In many ways, the recall is a showcase battle for how a liberal city handles poverty.
Boudin was not naive about problems, both internal and external.
“In many ways, getting here tonight was easy,” he warned amid the applause on the night of his victory party. “What happens next is very important… We have our work cut out for us. It won’t be easy.”
But he didn’t count the pandemic that closed the city and changed the pattern of crime. He could not have foreseen an increase in the number of hate crimes against Asians in a city populated by almost a third of the Asian population. He calculated that he would have four years, which may be just enough time to show that his policies can reduce recidivism, one of the clearest indicators of criminal justice success.
Facts no longer carry the weight they once did. It’s not just the far right who hold the idea that truth is what you think, that facts are what you experience. As a reminder, supporters ridicule data that shows crime is declining; they post photos of broken car windows and ask: do you believe the statistics or your own eyes? Boudin, whose crusade proves that locking in more people doesn’t make the rest of us safer, is an attractive target.
Here are some facts.
According to FBI and San Francisco police statistics, overall crime—and violent crime—decreased from 2019 to 2022.. Murder rates have risen from historic lows, but less dramatically than in nearby jurisdictions with traditional law enforcement prosecutors.
Number of prisoners in San Francisco fell about 40% since Boudin took office, the decline has been driven by the urgency of COVID-19 but has been maintained as the pandemic has eased.
Boudin was charged with crimes reported by the police, who make arrests in only 8% of reported crimes. about the same level as his predecessor, but he referred more cases to arbitration courts. which allow offenders to avoid prosecution if they successfully complete the programs.
These are subtle messages to be conveyed amid a blizzard of TV commercials blaming the city’s ills on a wide-eyed radical who lets dangerous criminals roam the streets. Crimes make headlines; success stories are less known and perhaps less important to those who invest millions of dollars in a review. A man wrongfully convicted of murder and released after 32 years was front-page news. But it wasn’t the 58 San Francisco residents serving lengthy prison sentences they wouldn’t receive today who were re-sentenced and sent home with return plans and regular visits from a social worker. (According to prosecutors, only two were rearrested.)
Like much of the country, San Francisco is struggling to find a post-pandemic balance, made more difficult by its reliance on tourism that has dried up and tech companies that have gone off the rails. Two-thirds of the workers did not return to their offices. San Francisco International Airport, once one of the busiest in the country, recovered barely half of its pre-pandemic volume. The average selling price of a house was $1.6 million in Aprilwhile the city spent millions on a homeless tent city that filled United Nations Square in the shadow of city hall.
If Boudin’s grassroots campaign to keep his job beats the odds, he’ll have 18 months of reprieve to make his case until the next election, and a podium for hooligans to use San Francisco’s notoriety for national reform.
If the status quo prevails, his enemies will have to find a new scapegoat for the divided city’s suffering in the throes of rethinking.
Miriam Powell is the author of the recently published book California Browns: A Family Dynasty That Changed the State and Shaped the Nation.