What the national news cycle missed while covering Chesa Boudin’s recall — and why he’s likely an amoral individual fighting for moral policies
After Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s recently elected progressive District Attorney was recalled (removed) from office this past June 7th, it seemed like everywhere in the nation, except for San Francisco, was shocked. How could America’s most progressive city remove its foremost criminal justice advocate? I watched as many of the news outlets I trust (and still do) told me that our city’s decision was either a result of falling prey to Republican billionaires propaganda and/or that we succumbed to illogical feelings of lack of safety, largely using surface-level data for evidence. With the exceptions of a Pod Save America discussion that mentioned the situation was complicated as well as decent piece by the New York Times that developed a somewhat-fair picture at a high-level but still didn’t really do justice to the issue, I didn’t see or hear one outlet demonstrate a thorough understanding of Chesa’s actions or reciprocate my feelings that the move to recall him may have been a logical one.
And the thing is — if I had heard that another city’s progressive DA who had decreased jail populations without a substantial uptick in crime, ended cash bail, provided jail diversion programs for minors, and prosecuted police officers who abused their power was ousted, I’d rightfully come to a WTF kind of idiots voted that person out conclusion as well. I wouldn’t need to look further. So with that in my mind, I wanted to provide my perspective on why I, a Bernie Sanders-voting, criminal justice reform-loving San Francisco idealist progressive confidently decided to recall Chesa Boudin and put an end to arguably the most critical criminal justice experiment in history to date — and one in which has data that could suggest it was working. With this piece, I do not aim to convince others of my opinion or explain why I don’t believe I was hoodwinked by a major Mitch McConnel donor; my goal is to simply share the additional data that was missed by seemingly all major news outlets through sharing the fact-finding process that led me to my recall vote.
So in short, I voted to remove Chesa Boudin, because I came to the cautiously confident opinion that he was an unethical leader. I often find myself looking down upon Trump voters for assuming that Trump can do no wrong, yet I find that we as progressives may be guilty of the same crime. Do we ever think our leaders fighting injustices do something wrong? Can amoral people fight for moral policies? In this case, it seems like the answer is yes.
We can first get an insight into arguably unethical practices through Boudin’s lack of prosecuting violent crimes. I want to discuss these cases first because I believe most people who voted to recall Chesa did so because of un-prosecuted violent crimes as well as because I do not believe that the national media captured the severity of this issue. Many news articles aptly described the case of Troy McCalister. For those not familiar, Troy McCalister killed two pedestrians while driving high on meth. Prior to killing these two individuals, he had been arrested four times for charges ranging from pretend-armed robbery to substance abuse and was let go each time. Allegedly, most prosecutors would have struck a plea-deal after the third time at the very least that would have required Troy to be treated for substance abuse; Chesa fought for nothing.
Many outlets reported on this case, but it seemed like most outlets covered it within the context of it how the event created mass-hysteria within San Francisco — not within the context of saying that this could be a potentially very valid reason for his recall. And by itself, it isn’t. But what if it’s a consistent theme? Most outlets seemed to frame it as one-off and didn’t report on the repeated accusations against Chesa charging him with not prosecuting people who either were accused of or were proven to have committed violent acts. Brooke Jenkins, a prosecutor who recently resigned from the San Francisco DA’s office, argued that Chesa refused to effectively prosecute the murder of her husband’s cousin and that he played a key role in enabling the release of a murder suspect that went on to attempt another murder. There was another case where Chesa refused to prosecute an individual who shot Emma Hunt in the back after she swung a milk crate at the shooter, because he argued that the shooter was acting in self-defense. Our Mayor London Breed, who grew up in one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods and diverted $120MM of police funds to support black communities, also voiced general concerns that Chesa was not not effectively prosecuting cases of violent crime. And although I can not verify this, I do remember reading police reports that said, in essence: We just caught this individual breaking into a residential home. This is the third time we’ve caught this individual breaking into a residential. We will let him go again, because no one is prosecuting him. All in all, this paints a pretty clear picture in which Chesa has received consistent criticism from multiple sources that he was not protecting public safety — his main job. Was a progressive city that by and large supported his policies rebelling against him or was he not taking the need to protect San Francisco’s citizens seriously?
But, the interesting thing here is that in San Francisco during the pandemic (which has covered most of Boudin’s term), overall violent crime, property crime, and burgalaries decreased, while murders increased marginally. This data also happened under the backdrop of Chesa significantly reducing jail populations and eliminating cash bail, which provides evidence to support the effectiveness of those policies. So there’s no real overwhelming evidence to conclude that Chesa’s policies have increased crime or decreased public safety at large. But the point here isn’t that San Francisco rejected his policies; it’s that, after many, valid stories circulating San Franciscan ears of multiple criminals who were arrested and not charged who then went on to commit another harmful or potentially harmful crime, they didn’t care about whether his policies were working or not; those stories triumphed over discussion of whether his policies were effective. People didn’t say we don’t like his progressive policies; people said he’s not prosecuting violent criminals so we need to remove this guy.
My opinion on the above was that it made me highly concerned and made me make a footnote to do more research before voting for him again; but I almost wish that we would have been able to get more data on how his policies were to play out given initial data could help provide a basis to improve thousands of lives of those who are incarcerated and do no half to be. (I say this from a privileged position given that I’m not among the main demographic most often impacted by violent crime). But his unwillingness to prosecute violence brings me to my foremost point — is he not prosecuting because he’s evaluated the evidence and has drawn a different conclusion multiple people multiple times or is that he’s biased?
For me, utilizing the following data, the answer is that he is not only biased but actively meddles in truth-finding, which is a Trumpian red-line for me.
As a San Franciscan, you hear reports that Chesa yelled at our Mayor, doesn’t have a good relationship with our police, and that over 25% of the prosecutors in the DA’s office have quit. At first, it may seem like someone who is changing the game; flipping the system on its head. But, that may be too easy a narrative. I mentioned that our Mayor diverted $120MM from our police’s budget to black communities, and our Police Chief quickly and openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement. You’d think that the SF environment would be ripe for a progressive prosecutor to come in and create strong partnerships to pursue criminal justice reform, which I strongly believe the majority of elected officials and voters in this city want.
So why did it seem like he did not have a single good relationship in City Hall? Perhaps he’s changing the system; perhaps he’s just not a good dude, despite wanting good policies. And the evidence to support the latter statement is strong. A local judge chastised him in open court for running a disorganized office and prioritizing national policy over doing his job in the court house. One potential example of his organizational incompetence is that our DA’s homicide unit does not have one prosecutor in it whose has successfully prosecuted a murder. Shirin Oloumi, one of the 37 prosecutors who resigned from Boudin’s office, quit because she felt like he was biased towards defendants. Brooke Jenkins resigned for the same reason. Brooke even described a time where her and a colleague had decided to argue that an alleged murderer was not insane due to evidence that he was aware of his actions, when Chesa told them to argue in favor of insanity without making a strong effort to understand the facts, a stark contrast with how Chesa’s predecessor examined truth. “He will intervene in cases unilaterally to enforce what he believes is right regardless of what his line attorneys feel or regardless of what the evidence suggests,” she said. Most astonishingly, Magen Hayashi said that Chesa’s office ordered her to withhold evidence in an effort to prosecute a cop.
So now, we have repeated accusations not only of Chesa not prosecuting murderers but also of active truth-meddling.
When you are a DA and you are intentionally withholding evidence or not considering it, it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re Rex Tillerson or Bernie Sanders; it doesn’t matter how good or bad policies are; my belief is that you should be removed immediately. Such reasoning is the basis for my voting to recall him. I believe that Chesa’s actions are not only immoral but also illegal. The facts force me to believe that Chesa is an amoral individual who often fights for moral policies.
But maybe there was something I missed? What were his counter-arguments? I tried to give Chesa an opportunity to defend himself. I went to his town halls, listened to him argue against his recall, and read his interviews. When discussing controversial actions such as repeated decisions not to prosecute violent actions, I was hoping to hear him say something along the lines of: this is the decision I made, this was the result, and this why I now agree or don’t agree with my decision. Or, this is specifically what folks misunderstood about the situation, and here’s some information you may not have considered that support my actions. However, I don’t think I heard Chesa discuss his own actions directly in any circumstance. In response to the Troy McCallister case, he has repeatedly said he stays awake at night thinking about what he would do differently, but I never heard him say what he would actually do differently. In seemingly quite literally every question I’ve seen him answer, he either puts blame onto someone else or provides relational context for the question without actually answering it. (The extent of these types of answers is so surprising that it makes me question whether I missed an interview or two— If anyone has found an example of him thoroughly describing his own actions and the rationale behind them that I’ve missed, please send it over).
The above information paints a narrative that’s vastly different from the one painted by most major media outlets, and I would invite them to take more curiosity when investigating stories before assigning a good or bad frame to a story based on their own alignment with a subject’s political labels. (But to be fair, national media outlets are so strained these that it is probably not possible to vet every story thoroughly, so no hard feelings here). Regardless, progressives around the Country can rest easy that Chesa’s circumstances are very unique to who he is as a leader.