There are less than two weeks left before the vote aimed at recalling progressive DA Chesa Boudin. Polls suggest the recall will succeed but Boudin’s allies on the left and in the media (but I repeat myself) have been claiming there’s absolutely no legitimate reason for this recall. Yesterday Mother Jones published a story headlined “Blaming Chesa Boudin for Crime Is Empirically Wrong.”
Their fight against Boudin is part of a broader tough-on-crime movement that has gained momentum during the pandemic. In Los Angeles, progressive District Attorney George Gascón faces a well-funded recall effort, too…
In all these places, “people are using fear narratives to paint a picture that reform and safety are opposite,” says Akhi Johnson, a former prosecutor who now works at the Vera Institute of Justice, a think tank that collaborates with progressive district attorneys. For instance, one anti-Boudin group in San Francisco wrote recently on its website that “as car break-ins, burglaries, and overdoses reach a crisis level in San Francisco, Boudin’s refusal to hold serial offenders and drug dealers accountable is putting more of us at risk.”
The story goes on to argue that violent crime is actually down in San Francisco but admits that shootings and homicide are up. Still the author argues, murder is pretty low in SF compared to other large cities. But it’s the quality of life issues that seem to be driving the SF recall. The Wall Street Journal reported in March that San Francisco leads the country in property crime when you look at America’s 25 largest cities.
Among the 25 largest U.S. cities, San Francisco has had the highest property-crime rate in four of the most recent six years for which data is available, bucking the long-term national decline in such crimes that began in the 1990s. Property crimes declined in San Francisco during the first year of the pandemic, but rose 13% in 2021. Burglaries in the city are at their highest levels since the mid-1990s. There were 20,663 thefts from vehicles last year — almost 57 a day — a 39% increase from the prior year, although still below the record of 31,398 in 2017, according to the police.
Smashed storefronts are so common that the city launched a program to fix them with public money. Car owners leave notes declaring there is nothing of value in their vehicles, or leave their windows open to save themselves from broken glass. Videos of shoplifters hauling goods out of drugstores such as Walgreens have gone viral, and a smash-and-grab robbery by 20 to 40 people at a Louis Vuitton store last November made the national news.
And data shows Boudin’s response to all of this has been a lot more dismissals and people sent to diversion. But even if you consider all of that a wash, there are other reasons to consider Boudin’s tenure in office a failure. He has claimed that he’s most proud of his efforts to expand victims services. But people who have worked for him say he’s not doing a good job.
Changes to state law approved by voters in 2008 were meant to address concerns that crime victims weren’t being heard. While parts of what is known as Marsy’s Law are controversial and opposed by groups including the ACLU for potentially restricting defendants’ rights, the sections about keeping victims notified about their cases and giving them the right to speak in court are widely embraced…
Jessica Zuasola, who worked in the Victim Services Division for five years before resigning in October 2021 because she felt victims weren’t prioritized, said that under Boudin’s predecessor, George Gascón, prosecutors kept victim advocates and crime victims in the loop.
“Under the previous D.A., it was more of a standard protocol,” she said. “Victims’ thoughts and what they would want to see as an outcome were taken into account.
“In the transition to Chesa, it became less and less about keeping the victims involved,” she said. “They were hardly getting calls. Their Marsy’s rights were constantly being violated.”
Edgar Zamudio, who worked in the division for two years before also quitting in October 2021 for the same reason, agreed, saying, “The office is not as victim-centered as it was before.”
There were 42 people working in victim’s services when Boudin took office. Since then 20 of them have left. Dr. Gena Castro Rodriguez, who led the office, quit last year. Boudin’s office has hired replacements, some of who quit after a few weeks. His spokesman has an explanation for that, claiming people are leaving lots of jobs because of the pandemic. But there’s another explanation that makes more sense. The office is now full of former public defenders who see the people they are prosecuting as victims and aren’t really interested in the actual victims.
The advocates who talked to me said the changes in the office happened largely because Boudin hired many public defenders to replace the legions of prosecutors who quit or were fired during his tenure, and they’re overworked and not familiar with centering victims…
The report says it was common for attorneys to explain the outcomes of cases to victims under former DA George Gascon (now the DA in LA County) but some of Boudin’s prosecutors won’t speak to victims.
Jason Young, a former supporter of Boudin whose 6-year-old son was shot by a 17-year-old in 2020 became angry that Boudin wouldn’t charge the shooter as an adult. Young collected 3,000 signatures for the proposition that the shooter should be charged as an adult and Mayor London Breed arranged a meeting between him and DA Boudin. At the meeting, Boudin was fiddling with a pen and just kept repeated that he couldn’t bring their son back. But of course they weren’t asking him to bring their son back. They, and the 3,000 people who signed their petition, were asking him to charge the killer as an adult. The child’s mother, who was also present told the Chronicle, “It didn’t look like he was paying attention to anything we were saying. His mind was already made up.”
Boudin did eventually change his mind on charging at least some 17-year-olds as adults but only after he was publicly embarrassed over his light treatment of Hannah Tubbs.
I think the real reason it seems Boudin’s office doesn’t care about victims is pretty simple: He sees many of the people who have been arrested and charged as victims, especially the low-level offenses that are making the city unlivable. He and his office are more concerned about caring for those suspects than about the actual victims. His priority is social justice and that means preventing mass incarceration and generally giving suspects a pass if at all possible. So long as he remains in office, that’s what he’s going to keep doing.