December 21, 2021

Battling the Effort to Recall Progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin

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By Marjorie Cohn and Michael Steven Smith

Chesa Boudin has been serving San Franciscans as their district attorney for nearly two years. He is a leading progressive in what has been called the progressive prosecutors’ movement. Other progressive district attorneys in that small cohort are George Gascon in Los Angeles and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia.

In Berger v. United States, the Supreme Court said that the duty of a prosecutor “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Yet all too many prosecutors are more concerned with winning cases than with doing justice, which includes the protection of constitutional rights.

Boudin campaigned by proposing solutions to the disaster of mass incarceration, one of the leading civil rights issues of our time.  He introduced policies of diversion and no cash bail. He put fewer juveniles behind bars. He opposed the death penalty and focused his efforts on helping victims of crimes.

Boudin said that the recall effort is about criminal justice reform, that it is “a question of whether we are going to go forward and continue to implement data driven policies that center crime victims, that invest in communities impacted by crime, and that use empirical evidence to address root causes of crime in our communities or if we are going to go back to the failed policies of Reagan and Trump.” 

Today Boudin’s efforts are being challenged.  A claimed 83,000 signatures were gathered in San Francisco by paid workers to put a Recall Boudin question on the San Francisco County ballot in June.  Even Donald Trump has injected himself into the campaign in what has become a national well-funded Republican putsch.

The right-wing line is that crime is the product of social and cultural pathologies. Conservatives say that crime has little to do with the unequal distribution of wealth, racism, poor healthcare, lack of education, unemployment and poverty in general.

Another conservative myth is that police stop crime. But most crimes are stopped by police only if they actually see them being committed and most suspects are arrested because of informants, many of whom lie in exchange for personal benefits.  

Arresting, sentencing, and imprisoning criminal offenders is far cheaper than providing people with their basic needs. Preventing what they call the “welfare state” is the motivation of the extremely wealthy people who are bankrolling the recall campaign. They believe that we can lock up our way out of poverty.  

Fear mongering is employed to create a false conception that crime in San Francisco is rising. In fact, it has decreased.  The recall effort is alleging that Boudin has made San Francisco less safe and killers are being released.

But the jail population in San Francisco is down 25%. It is even lower for women. Seventy-five percent of those arrested in San Francisco are either addicted to drugs, mentally ill or both.  Boudin has created diversion programs.  People convicted of minor offenses are not put in jail but instead are sent to anger management classes or drug counseling. His office no longer demands cash bail, which kept the poor in jail and let the rich walk free. 

The Boudin recall effort is a bellwether. Gascon is also facing a recall campaign. Will progressive minded district attorneys be allowed to continue humane practices or will the “lock them up” campaign by right-wingers and police unions succeed?  

Those supporting Boudin can visit his website at Let’s hope that justice prevails and the recall of Chesa Boudin is defeated.

Marjorie Cohn and Michael Steven Smith are co-hosts of Law and Disorder Radio

This article first appeared in LA Progressive.