Checking in on Chesa Boudin

Checking in on Chesa Boudin

The clocks are striking thirteen in San Francisco.

Okay, in the Big-Brother-totalitarian-dystopia sense, the City of San Francisco cannot yet be called Orwellian. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to use the cliché to describe the policies of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who took office last year.

You see, Chesa Boudin is a Pro-Crime Prosecutor. If you think this is a contradiction in terms, you haven't met Chesa. His policies embolden criminals, demoralize the police, inflict violence on citizens, and promote the theft and destruction of as much property as possible.

At the beginning of Chesa’s term, I wrote a short piece exploring the background of this radical wunderkind turned prosecutor. To recap: Chesa Boudin’s parents were jailed members of a far-left terrorist group, the Weather Underground. After graduating law school, he took his talents to Venezuela and worked for Hugo Chavez.

In that piece, I joked that “Comrade Gringo” would use his experience in Venezuela to quickly turn San Francisco into a completely unlivable hellhole, à la Caracas. Unfortunately, Chesa took that sarcastic and dire prediction as a starting point.

The first four months of his tenure, I can only describe as a jailbreak. First, Chesa ended cash bail. In theory, this was intended to reduce the over-incarceration of poor people. But in reality, it has meant that low-level criminals — mostly those involved in property and drug crimes — are frequently released to commit more crimes before trial, a period which can often last months.

As it happens, Chesa also believes in releasing criminals even after they’re convicted. In March, using the pandemic as a pretext to advance his long-held agenda of decarceration, Chesa released almost half of the San Francisco prison population. “I’m keeping San Francisco safer by emptying the jail,” he wrote. Not everyone was made safer.

Hanako Abe and Elizabeth Platt were both killed in a hit-and-run on New Years Eve. The driver was drunk and high on meth, leaving a burglary he just committed, when he hit them with a stolen car. In April 2020, Chesa gave him parole on a previous robbery conviction for which he faced decades in prison. The multiple arrests in the months leading up to the hit-and-run did not result in any action, and now two people are dead.

Sheria Musyoka, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College and a young father, moved to San Francisco just last month. Ten days after arriving in his new home, he was killed in a hit-and-run. The driver in this case was also using drugs and alcohol, driving a stolen car, released by Chesa Boudin, and was arrested at least five times in the months following his release. He was briefly held but never charged, and released again.

In the first 11 months of 2020, 621 people died from drug overdose in San Francisco, mostly from heroin and fentanyl. The DA’s office has allowed these drugs to proliferate throughout the city. (For some perspective on the scale of this human tragedy, only 173 died from Covid-19 in San Francisco in the same period.)

Under the stewardship of Chesa Boudin, the merchants of death are profiting and prospering.  Highly-organized drug dealers in the Tenderloin sell poison like fentanyl with near impunity, unleashing a wave of death all around the city. They rarely face the serious threat of incarceration.

Property crime exploded in 2020, with burglaries surging almost 50%, an increase driven heavily by repeat offenders, whom Chesa Boudin actually referred to as “prolific folks.” Car thefts are up 36.3% and arson is up 40%.

On a recent Zoom call with residents, Chesa proclaimed that “San Francisco is and will continue to be a safe city” without a hint of irony. Two plus two equals four, and San Francisco is not a safe city. With Chesa Boudin in charge, it never will be.

In January 2020, Chesa was asked by NPR how he would measure his success as DA. Chesa answered: “The metrics that I want to use have to do with things that may be a little bit more difficult to measure but which are far more important in terms of public safety - things like recidivism rates.”

Recidivism — the rate at which convicted criminals reoffend when released — is a totally useless metric, as used by Chesa Boudin. If you refuse to re-arrest criminals when they commit more crimes, you will indeed reduce recidivism rates. This is the criminal justice equivalent of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a released criminal steals 15 motorcycles and Chesa Boudin doesn’t lift a finger, are the motorcycles even missing? Yes, yes they are.

In any sane system of justice, the metrics of success would be quite simple. How many people are dying or otherwise having their lives ruined due to crime? Is there widespread destruction preventing businesses, schools, community organizations, and families from functioning? On these metrics, Chesa Boudin has been an abject failure.

I have tried to take a light tone when talking about “Comrade Gringo,” because laughter makes the unbearable, bearable. I had hoped that some humor might help people to see the absurdity of it all —  his "metrics," his endorsement from Angela Davis, his "Chasing Justice" podcast (no word yet if he caught it). But the truth is, the quips and nicknames are a filter, a way to distract myself from thinking about the grim reality of what Chesa has done to a great city. It’s far easier to write a joke than it is to put my righteous anger into words. But it’s important, so I will try:

Chesa Boudin is directly responsible for a state of violence, death, and lawlessness that should not exist in any American city, let alone one of the richest on the planet. If you are a resident of San Francisco, I implore you:

  1. Vote for sensible candidates in city elections. They don’t have to be Republicans — I know that's hard for many of you! — but choosing a progressive with even a shred of conscience or willingness to enforce laws would prevent hundreds of unneeded deaths.
  2. Tell Mayor London Breed to demand Chesa Boudin's immediate resignation. If he does not resign, there should be a recall election to allow the people to express their views on his disastrous first year.
  3. If you are legally eligible under state and federal law, consider purchasing a firearm to protect yourself and others. Demand that the SFPD grant concealed-carry permits to all eligible citizens! If the DA refuses to protect the people from violence, they must be able to protect themselves.

We can and should work to make our criminal justice system more fair and effective. But decarceration as a singular goal which supersedes all others is incredibly destructive. Let San Francisco serve as a warning to others: your city is next. If you elect a moronic and unrepentant ideologue like Chesa Boudin to a position of public trust, you will pay the price.

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