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What The Recall Of Chesa Boudin Reveals About San Francisco

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An Image of the San Francisco Skyline

If one word in the English language could succinctly describe San Francisco, what would it be? For me, the word that most accurately describes San Francisco is contradiction. We want to have it all. San Francisco outwardly wants to be a city that is a safe haven for the disenfranchised, but clearly, San Francisco also wants to be a world class power city filled with the elite. It can’t be both, and the brunt of this struggle fell squarely on Chesa Boudin’s shoulders.

San Francisco outwardly wants to be a city that is a safe haven for the disenfranchised, but clearly, San Francisco also wants to be a world class power city filled with the elite. It can’t be both, and the brunt of this struggle fell squarely on Chesa Boudin’s shoulders. It’s not unreasonable to assume that people who live in or visit San Francisco would like to know why they’re stepping over the corpses of fentanyl addicts and broken class left over from a car that was recently burglarized.

Inequality isn’t unique to San Francisco, nor is drug addiction or any other societal ill. What is unique to San Francisco is the visible concentration of every urban problem imaginable for the entire world to see. These problems, left to their own devices, wouldn’t be that jarring if they were occurring in a city of limited means. If the people shooting fentanyl were dying all over Detroit, Fox News would have gotten bored of covering it. Why? Because Detroit is an impoverished city that’s reputation is tied to the manufacturing of automobiles. Detroit’s “dead”. Everyone knows it. To continually report on squalor in Detroit would grow boring because it’s natural for corpses to rot.

San Francisco’s decay is alarming because the destruction and dead bodies are piling on the doorsteps of the rich. Chicago is in a similar position, but for a different reason. Gang violence is Chicago’s equivalent to San Francisco’s homelessness and random crime problem. Gangs are all over America. Why do they report about gang violence in Chicago on a national scale more than other cities? Because Chicago still matters, so the problem is more intriguing.  San Francisco is home to the highest density of billionaires in the world. According to a report by U.S. News, 1 out of every 11,600 people in San Francisco is a billionaire. So, technically, by that estimate, San Francisco is the richest city in the world. It’s not unreasonable to assume that people who live in or visit San Francisco would like to know why they’re stepping over the corpses of fentanyl addicts and broken glass left over from a car that was recently burglarized.

The real answer to these problems are endlessly complex, and in order to adequately solve them, it would take a complete restructuring of our economic system. That’s not going to happen. What has happened is two ineffective strategies have emerged. There’s the Democratic Party strategy that is seen in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, which is to let these people rot outside and watch as the collateral damage emerges until they die on the same streets they’re destroying. On the other end of America’s partisan divide is the Republican idea of locking all of them in jail so they can force them into quasi-slave labor until they die or are released only to relapse and the cycle continues…

Chesa understood that when people are arrested, they’re more than drug addicts or gangsters, they’re people, and people are capable of change.

Neither tactic is humane or fair. Chesa understood that when people are arrested, they’re more than drug addicts or gangsters, they’re people, and people are capable of change. That’s not to say I agree with all of Chesa’s decisions, but I think his heart was in the right place when he made a decision about whether to prosecute or not. I think he knew he couldn’t change the system that ultimately hurt the people most likely to be incarcerated. His strategy was one of harm reduction, not revolution.

Chesa couldn’t make housing available in a system that promotes its scarcity for profit. Nor could he stop the flow of drugs into the Tenderloin. But he could try to lessen the burden of the criminal justice system on those forced into unfavorable circumstances due to poverty, drug addiction and mental illness. And he tried to do just that. But as a result, due to him attempting to take a compassionate approach, he was then directly blamed for every criminal act that took place during his tenure as district attorney.

San Francisco is progressive in the same way that a Black Lives Matter yard sign in front of a mansion or a Pride flag hung up in Bank of America is. It wants kudos and to continue counting its money.

The attacks on Chesa weren’t just word of mouth complaints among residents, but well financed political attacks that were national in scope. Fox News talked about Chesa, the New York Times talked about Chesa, everyone had an opinion on Chesa. He became the poster boy for civic inaction in the face of a crime crisis. When crime in American cities during the pandemic was being covered, it wasn’t uncommon for a shot to be directed at Chesa.

What does this all mean? It means that San Francisco wants to feel good about itself. It wants to feel like it’s doing something without doing anything. San Francisco is progressive in the same way a Black Lives Matter yard sign is in front of a mansion or a pride flag hung up in Bank of America is. It wants kudos and to continue counting its money. It has to be on the right side of history, but only in a history book written by someone who is incapable of critically thinking.

San Francisco doesn’t want fundamental change. Chesa, for all his faults, represented change. Was he perfect? Fuck No. But he tried, he genuinely tried and he paid the price. If Chesa ran on the exact same platform and literally behaved like every other DA before him, he likely wouldn’t have faced the myriad of scrutiny, and eventually, his recall.

The worst part is that crime isn’t going to stop. Mentally ill people are still going to attack people in the street. Fentanyl is still going to kill addicts. The only likely result is that the cops are going to go back to playing whack-a-mole and filling jails so rich people feel safer in a city that is anything but.

If you look at the common thread among almost all the things that plague humanity, poverty is likely to be found. We say we’re going to get tougher on crime, but really, we just get tougher with the poor.

And it’s easy to act tough when your target has nothing.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground will be available early 2022.

1 Comment

  1. Max Chanowitz
    June 14, 2022 at 9:39 am — Reply

    Every single “progressive” news source after the recall results:
    https://i.imgur.com/SUhBGZA.jpg

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