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San Francisco's Recalled District Attorney and His "Hard on Crime" Replacement

Graffiti on the walls, dirty paper boxes and black trash bags littered on the streets, and human feces hiding in street corners. You may think it’s the setting of some sort of gang fight in a low budget movie, but this is actually the city of San Francisco—the apple of Silicon Valley’s eye and the home of the Golden Gate Bridge. In December of 2021, even the city’s mayor “declar[ed] a state of emergency to fight ‘nasty’ streets.


And one man suffered the blame—Chesa Boudin, one of the most progressive district attorneys in San Franciscan history. Though he followed through with his promises and was working towards reforming the criminal justice system, some residents have asserted that Boudin’s “over-progressive” policies have made the city fall victim to a sharp increase of unrestrained crimes.


Repulsed by the stench of the city streets and demoralized by San Francisco’s deteriorating reputation, the residents of SF uprooted Boudin from his post back in June 7th. And now, Brooke Jenkins has been appointed his successor with the promise of “mak[ing] [San Francisco] neighborhoods safer, advocat[ing] for victims, and work[ing] to implement strong, practical criminal justice reform,” with an emphasis on “listen[ing] to the concerns of San Franciscans.”


Illustrated by Lily Jiang


By Faith Qiao, Lucia Liu, Naomi Lin, Benjamin Qiao, Shu Han Jin

 

Chesa Boudin was born to two members of the Weather Underground, a radical-left domestic terrorist group with the goal of overthrowing American imperialism.

When Boudin was only 14 months old, his parents were arrested for participating in an armed robbery where three people were killed. With both of his parents incarcerated, Boudin was adopted by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who, like his parents, are also members of the Weather Underground.


Although his parents only played “minor” roles as get-away drivers, they were charged as if they committed the murder. Boudin’s father received the maximum sentence of 75 years; his mother, on the other hand, requested a plea deal and only received 20 years.

Boudin says, “My mother negotiated a plea deal, and my father went to trial. I think one thing we notice in their case that kind of stands out is how, in some ways, arbitrary the outcomes in the criminal justice system can be. And they did basically the same, identical thing.”


Fueled by the absurdities of the legal system, Boudin studied criminal justice policies at UChicago, Yale Law School, and the University of Oxford. He later worked as a clerk in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a public deputy defender of the SF Public Defender’s Office.


In 2019, Boudin ran for San Francisco District Attorney—a role responsible for the prosecution of criminals,what charges they are subject to, whether to offer plea bargains, and whether to take the case to trial.


Boudin’s resume was far less impressive compared to his opponent, Suzy Loftus, a white woman. Loftus had been the president of the San Francisco Police Commission, as well as the Assistant Attorney General under Kamala Harris. Endorsed by the previous SF attorney and now Vice President Kamala Harris, Loftus was seen as the top contender while Boudin, who had never prosecuted a case in his life, was seen as the underdog. So, how did Boudin win?


Boudin was endorsed by Kim Foxx from Chicago, Rachael Rollins in Boston, and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia—all of whom had just won their own district attorney election with similar campaigns: reducing racial disparities in sentencing, ending mass incarceration, eliminating cash bail, and stopping juveniles from being charged as adults. That along with San Francisco’s extremely large progressive population (as with the rest of California), with 85.3% of voters voting Democratic in the last presidential election, helped boost Boudin into the spotlight.


He also did not shy away from retelling his story on the campaign—reiterating his faithful passion and personal interest in reform . And ultimately, Boudin’s emphasis on these progressive criminal justice policies, over Suzy Loftus, resulted in the election moving in his favor. At the end, Boudin won with 51% of the vote, narrowly beating Loftus by less than 160 votes.


Upon entering office, Boudin implemented a diversion program in order to reduce trauma for children with incarcerated parents. In this program, all criminal proceedings would be suspended for 24 months while the defendant takes various classes and training like parenting classes. He eliminated cash bail, instead releasing people from custody based on a “risk-based” system that calculates risk based on background and criminal history.


From July to December 2019, San Francisco’s violent crime rate was 3,294. Between January and June of 2020, the crime rate dropped to 2,444, and then to 2,380 by December of 2020. Altogether, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Boudin reduced San Francisco’s jail population by 25%.


However, in 2020 alone, burglaries in SF went up by 46%. While Boudin theorizes that the increase in crime is due to the “economic desperation” of the pandemic, many retail organizations, including the California Retailors Association, attribute the rise in burglaries to the DA team refusing to even prosecute them, citing the fact that San Francisco’s crime burglary rate increased significantly more than other major cities in the United States.


Many San Franciscans criticized Boudin for his “softness” which resulted in mishandled criminal cases, especially cases involving the release of repeat offenses.


In one instance, 17-year-old Deshaune Lumpkin shot and killed a 6-year-old. Boudin’s office chose to try Lumpkin as a minor, and consequently only sentenced him to 7 years in prison—a decision criticized by both the media and the family of the victim. The 6-year-old’s father called Boudin “out of touch and dismissive.”


Similarly, Boudin’s office’s trial on Troy Ramon McAlister was also highly controversial. When he was arrested for the second time in 2020, he was not charged due to evidence not being “strong enough.” Later in December 2020, McAlister struck and killed two pedestrians with a stolen vehicle, something which could have been prevented if McAlister was previously convicted.


Boudin called this incident a “devastating tragedy.” “I lay awake at night thinking, ‘What could we have done differently?’” he said. He stated that his office is now pursuing charges against McAlister.


Boudin was also seen as the source of the rise in drug-related crimes in San Francisco. Crimes related to Fentanyl in particular have been surging in recent months. In 2021 alone, approximately 500 people died from Fentanyl overdoses. Yet, despite its large presence in the SF drug market, the District Attorney’s office did not file a single conviction related to Fentanyl and only three for other drugs.

According to Boudin, this was largely due to the immigrant statuses of the defendants. Because many drug dealers in the city were Honduran nationals, if they were convicted, they would be deported and receive deadly consequences. Therefore, instead of a conviction, defendants pleaded guilty to an “accessory after the fact” charge, or helping another person commit the crime, essentially protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation. This way, defendants would still have a chance to receive citizenship.


Critics pointed to Boudin’s prioritization of ideology and politics, rather than the day-to-day handling of cases, as the cause of his mishandling of cases and jeopardization of public safety.


By May 2021, just over a year after Boudin took office, many San Franciscans were in favor of recalling Boudin. There were primarily two recall campaigns against Boudin: one led by former mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, and another by the Safer SF Without Boudin campaign led by Mary Jung.


The first campaign collected over 50,000 signatures but fell short of succeeding by 1,714 signatures. The second campaign led by Mary Jung garnered over 80,000 signatures. As a result, the recall campaign was verified, and voters could officially vote to recall Boudin.


On June 7th, 2022, Chesa Boudin was recalled from the District Attorney office. Of the 200,000 people who voted, 55% of voters voted in favor of Boudin being recalled, while 45% voted no. Seeing as the majority of San Franciscans are progressives, it’s safe to say Boudin’s recall was not an issue of Republicans vs Democrats, but rather his specific mismanagement.


Mayor London Breed said, “[Jenkins] sacrificed her career to fight for people in this city to fight for victims who needed a voice in this city… [and] is someone who has the necessary experience to lead this department.”— San Francisco Mayor London Breed


On July 8th, 2022, the mayor selected Brooke Jenkins was selected to be the replacement District Attorney for the rest of the Boudin's term.


Before serving as DA, Jenkins served as the Assistant District Attorney in San Francisco from 2015-2021, and has over 15 years of experience as an attorney. In October 2021, Jenkins resigned in order to support the recall campaign, becoming one of the most prominent voices in the recall against her former boss. With her experience and role in the campaign network, Jenkins would be an influential DA who was backed by the people.


Additionally, being both Black and Latina, Jenkins explains, “I have seen the imbalances and disproportionate impacts of our criminal justice firsthand. I have had family members on both sides of the courtroom.” While she is progressive, she understands the need for discretion in order to deliver a punishment that is both just and fair.


“We shouldn’t have any blanket policies that preclude us absolutely from accessing laws that we need in order to pursue justice or hold offenders accountable.”— Brooke Jenkins to The New York Times


On the topic of cash bails and charging juveniles as adults, Jenkins states, “Yes, I do want to have the discretion that if we believe that a case is appropriate for charging a certain way, that we do have the ability to do what we think is fair and is just. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be extremely thoughtful when we exercise our discretion to go a certain way” (New York Times).


It has been over two months since Jenkins was sworn into office. In order to reduce crime in San Francisco, Brooke Jenkins emphasized holding repeat offenders accountable, something Boudin was repeatedly criticized for not doing. She plans on cracking down on the issue of open-air drug markets from Boudin’s term. In her first month in office, Jenkins rescinded over 30 plea offers related to Fentanyl that was negotiated by Boudin. More recently, the DA office has implemented a “five strikes law”: when a person has reached five counts for public drug use, the DA office will issue a complaint to community justice centers in order for the person to receive treatment.


However, some argue that Jenkins’ policies are too aggressive, despite also criticizing Boudin’s soft policies. Maintaining the fine balance between being compassionate, yet stern so as to not jeopardize the public’s safety, will be important to be a good DA.

Jenkins is currently up for re-election in November, and in the midst of her campaign and her sudden public spotlight, she has been caught in a fraught of scandals. In one, she has received over $120,000 for six months of work from a nonprofit affiliated with the recall of Boudin to which she claims to have volunteered. It is not just one nonprofit, she has financial relations with up to three that contain similarly large payments.


Nevertheless, an EMC research poll finds Jenkins 23 points ahead of her opponent. She is the projected winner of the November campaign which will serve to cement her as San Francisco district attorney.









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