What is your opinion of San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin? What do you think about his approach to crime?
— Drew Young
“Embrace the discomfort, after all change never happens when we’re comfortable. And we should never accept a system that prefers finality over justice.” Rachael Rollins, first African-American Female elected District Attorney of Suffolk County, MA, now a US Attorney in Boston.
It’s hard for me to criticize Chesa Boudin or his policies, because I respect what he overcame to get where he is today and I respect the self-determination of the residents of San Francisco. He is a Rhodes scholar, a Yale graduate, and a true leader, and I can agree with him that substantial reform is necessary, but I do not agree with his approach to criminal justice.
First, I concur with Mr. Boudin that the criminal justice system, as presently configured, is not keeping us safe, or as I like to rhetorically ask, “If the United States is the most incarcerated country in the world, then why is it not the safest country in the world?” Recognizing broken, however, and fixing it are entirely different propositions, and so my approach to fixing things would be entirely different than his approach has been, both conceptually and remedially.
Probably the most significant difference is that, unlike Mr. Boudin, I am not a “decarcerally-inclined” candidate. Like I’ve been saying, we don’t need to put more people in jail, just the right people. I believe that there is enough injury-based crime in Humboldt County to keep the jail at maximum capacity and filled with post-conviction offenders of those crimes (i.e. violent crimes and property crimes), instead of filling it with non-violent pretrial detainees, probation violators who are only there for essentially noncriminal conduct, and offenders of lesser crimes that are primarily regulatory and victimless.
I consider Mr. Boudin a “soft” reformist and myself a “hard” reformist, in that I still believe that the purpose of sentencing is to punish (plain and simple), and not to rehabilitate the offender, nor t0 restore relationships of the victim and the offender holistically. I don’t think sentencing should be akin to a 12-step program. While I believe in refocusing prosecutions away from victimless crimes and onto injury-based crimes, I also believe in very harshly punishing the perpetrators of those injury-based crimes upon conviction, and without the larfy remedial supervision and theoretical second-chances represented by probation. When someone hurts a person or steals their private property, the offender should be punished by incarceration, and there is nothing restorative or rehabilitative about putting a human in a cage, nor should there need to be. If a human acts like an animal, then that human should be treated like an animal and put in a cage. It sounds harsh, but it’s limited to conduct that is injurious to persons or property. On the other hand, crimes that are simply mala prohibita (i.e. regulatory crimes, or crimes that target theoretical risks of harm, instead of actual harm caused to person or property) should be dealt with primarily through policies of confiscation, civil monetary penalties, revocation of civil privileges, and, in the case of repeat offenders, exclusion from the County.
Another area of disagreement with Mr. Boudin is that he has stated, and I am paraphrasing, that racial discrimination is the most salient form of discrimination in our criminal justice system today. I disagree, because I believe classism is the most salient form of discrimination in our system, though systemic racism does still exist, as well as pervasive gender discrimination in arrests, prosecutions, and sentencing. Of course, there is substantial overlap between race and class, so it’s a close call, but I think there is a growing consensus that wealth is the biggest advantage one can have when facing criminal charges, rather than being Caucasian. (Case in point, OJ Simpson.)
Chesa Boudin won by a narrow margin over the appointed incumbent Suzy Loftus (50.8% to 49.2%), who was also a fairly progressive DA. She followed the former DA of San Francisco and present DA of Los Angeles, George Gascon, another reformist. Gascon is also the former Chief of the San Francisco Police Department. Interestingly, Gascon was born in Cuba and his father lost his job due to allegations of anti-government activity after the Cuban revolution in 1959, while Chesa Boudin’s grandfather Leonard Boudin represented, as a civil rights attorney, the revolutionary socialist government of Cuba around the same time.
I want to also note that there have been many other recent reformist District Attorneys elected in America, many whom of have faced harder odds than Mr. Boudin, such as Rachael Rollins, who was the first African-American female to be elected District Attorney in Suffolk County, MA, and who agrees that “wealth is the biggest thing that benefits you in the system.” Another one is Kim Gardner, also an African-American woman, who is the Circuit Attorney for St. Louis, and who has, against organized union opposition, excluded 57 officers that are under internal investigation from testifying in court. Larry Krasner, a white male, was elected as Philadelphia’s District Attorney in 2017, after a career as a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist who had represented Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia. The list goes on.
So it’s not just Chesa, but many reformists of the criminal justice system who have emerged and have been elected to the office of District Attorney by voters who want to see a better American Justice System in their lifetime. These reformists are in various stages of their service in public office, recall, and re-election. They are all of different varieties, but their presence indicates that a significant reform movement of the criminal justice system has begun in America.