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Why You Should Support Chesa Boudin, the Socialist Running for SF’s District Attorney

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District Attorney candidate Chesa Boudin speaks at a campaign event where he pledged to create a wrongful convictions unit outside the Hall of Justice (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner).

Political junkies call electoral contests such as the one coming this November an off-year election.  The characteristics of such elections are: no big political office such as President or Governor, low voter turnout, and usually a more conservative electorate.  But interested BAS readers can turn San Francisco’s off-year election into a surprising one. This election can be the one where for the first time, San Francisco elects two people openly running as Socialists to public office.  One of them is Dean Preston who is running for District 5 Supervisor, and the other is Chesa Boudin who is running for District Attorney.  

The District Attorney plays a central role in deciding what sort of cases get prioritized for criminal trials.  This elected official calls the shots on whether prosecuting people who have a little crack cocaine is more important than prosecuting cops who kill unarmed civilians. For the first time in 100 years the D.A. race won’t have a sitting district attorney running, so this makes it a wide open competition. Boudin’s candidacy presents a welcome alternative to what the other D.A. hopefuls are offering.  

Boudin and his opponents agree the current criminal justice system is broken.  They’re also on the same page regarding the ultimate goal of the D.A.’s position: ensuring public safety and reducing crime. Where Boudin differs from the more Establishment-acceptable candidates is the path he advocates to reach those goals.  He feels that the current metrics of conviction rates and sentence lengths need to be reserved for serious and violent felonies, such as those connected to sex crimes. Meanwhile, for misdemeanors, this D.A. candidate prefers using restorative justice where possible. The victims would receive help getting past their crime-related anger and trauma, while the perpetrators would receive guidance and counseling for issues like mental illness or addiction, as they sought ways to repair the damage caused by their crimes.    

Do these positions make Boudin a target for that dreaded right-wing insult “soft on crime?”  That depends on whether the person making the charge perceives the District Attorney’s role as solely to inflict the harshest punishment possible, for the longest period of time available, on those convicted of a crime. In Boudin’s experience, though, such metrics have far less to do with protecting victim’s rights or increasing public safety than the metrics’ advocates claim. In San Francisco, such metrics ignore the inconvenient truths of high recidivism rates, misallocation of D.A. resources (S.F.’s trial conviction rates came out of jury trials for such quality of life misdemeanors as drug possession and homelessness), and the social and economic costs of locking people up.  

Boudin knows these truths because he brings to the table both professional and personal experience. As a Public Defender, he’s tried over 300 felony cases involving charges ranging from attempted murder to auto burglary. As an indirect victim of crime, he’s dealt with trauma resulting from being personally affected by a high-profile crime. As the son of incarcerated parents, he’s lived with the social stigma and the disruptive impact of that reality on his life.

Chesa Boudin’s parents were members of the Weather Underground, and were imprisoned for decades for participating in a Black Liberation Army-planned armed robbery where three men died.  Boudin’s adoptive parents will also be cited as a Red-baiting mark against the candidate. They are former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.  

Chesa on an early visit to his parents in jail (image from twitter).

But the recitation of these facts don’t make Boudin a stealth law enforcement saboteur in a three-piece suit. The participation of the candidate’s parents in that long-ago robbery can be simply described as: 1) never fired a shot and 2) were just switch car drivers.  Also, Ayers’ and Dohrn’s current political activities follow more peaceful political pursuits such as fighting the privatization of public education. Finally, using Boudin’s relatives to define him ignores the candidate’s very real professional qualifications for the District Attorney spot.  He’s a Yale Law School graduate who’s also a Rhodes Scholar. During his clerkships for two federal judges, Boudin worked on criminal trials and appeals as well as search warrant authorizations. And there’s the aforementioned 300+ felony case trials experience.   

What Boudin wants to do with the D.A. position is change the way the office accomplishes its core mission.  The rise in auto break-ins can be addressed in prosecutions by distinguishing between the ones committed by members of a sophisticated burglary operation and the ones performed by drug addicts to score quick cash.  Prosecuting sex crimes, for example, would involve focusing on victims coming from such underserved communities as the LGBTQ+ and the non-English speakers as well as taking a #BelieveWomen policy in preparing prosecutions.  It also means having advocates available to help such victims navigate the criminal justice system. Other D.A. candidates favor emphasizing prosecutions for quality of life misdemeanors; Boudin feels prosecutions should focus on political corruption, corporate crimes, or misconduct by either the cops or ICE agents. Finally, Boudin wants to end racial disparities in who gets convicted and jailed. If African-Americans make up less than 4.5% of San Francisco’s general population, why do they make up over half of the S.F. jail population?

This progressive candidate doesn’t deny he’s in an uphill race. The front-runner, who favors the current broken criminal justice system status quo, happens to be endorsed by such local heavyweights as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Yet if reform-minded Larry Krasner can become Philadelphia’s District Attorney, who’s to say what’s possible or not for Boudin?   

Learn more about Chess Boudin and get involved in his campaign right here.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.