Play this fabulous trailer:
EPISODE # 49) The Dialectic of Freedom
Everything’s in motion, everything in flux, nothing and no one stays the same: the young become the old, stories get retold, and the blowtorch of history illuminates the path ahead. That’s the way of time—the center cannot hold, and everything that is solid melts into air. I pause and sit down with my friend and comrade Wayne Au to talk about dialectics, contradiction, and the meaning of freedom. Dr. Au is a professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, a scholar/activist, and a deeply engaged social justice organizer. Wayne is an editor at my favorite teaching magazine, Rethinking Schools, and the author of A Marxist Education: Learning to Change the World, an essential text for understanding the mess we’re in, and the possibilities before us.
48) I Have a Story to Tell
I remember when in 2003 Ruth Simmons, the first Black president of an Ivy League school, launched an investigation into Brown University’s toxic ties to slavery. That illuminating and inspiring effort began with questions: What do we know? Who is visible in history? What stories are missing or suppressed? What is owed? Harvard just released a report revealing its own links to America’s original sin—one illuminating contrast is the names of the wealthy and the powerful (Increase Mather, Governor John Winthrop) alongside the human beings they enslaved who bore a single name or no name at all: Juba, Cesar, Venus, “The Moor.” What are their stories? What wisdom and richness is denied? Tara Betts, thinker and creator, mentor and teacher, author of the poetry collections Arc & Hue, Break the Habit, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear, joins me Under the Tree for a conversation about poetry, teaching, and the need for radical repair in this urgent moment.
Kathy Boudin is gone.
She died just as she had lived: fighting for life, surrounded by love, intrepidly building community and casting those invisible but sturdy threads in every direction, connecting family and friends, colleagues and comrades, neighbors and strangers.
To be loved by Kathy—to love her—lit up the whole sky.
Kathy is dead.
But fire doesn’t die. Light and heat and love and desire go on and on.
And so does she.
Rest in Power, Sister/Comrade.
May Day, 2022
Endorsement: Chesa Boudin is many things. Incompetent isn’t one of them. Vote no on recall
April 23, 2022
A 23-year-old youth mentor shot dead with a gun stolen from the back of a police car. A woman violently assaulted by a mentally ill homeless man as she entered her Embarcadero condo — captured on camera for the world to see. A probationer charged with 11 felonies, including ramming a police car with a stolen vehicle, freed from jail to walk the streets pending trial. A sea of car windows smashed while police stood by and “shrugged.” Residents livid about “the desecration of any sort of property rights or safety in San Francisco.”
No, these aren’t descriptions of life under District Attorney Chesa Boudin. This was San Francisco in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — in the run-up to Boudin’s election. Then, like now, headlines inspired outrage. Then, like now, there were those who demanded the city get tough.
And yet, in the 2019 election, when given the chance to select Nancy Tung, who vowed to crack down on drug and quality-of-life crimes, San Francisco voters rejected her resoundingly. They also narrowly dismissed Suzy Loftus, the then-acting district attorney who had charted an approach straddling toughness and reform.
Instead, San Franciscans put their trust in Boudin, who promised to pursue a more compassionate form of criminal justice that “diverted” nonviolent offenders away from jails and prisons and toward court-monitored rehabilitation programs that could potentially help them escape the cycle of recidivism.
Voters weren’t naive in making this selection. Concerns over the excesses and racial injustices of California’s traditional crime and punishment justice system were well-founded — and available data suggested Boudin’s approach could have merit.
A 2016 San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst report found that police crackdowns on the kind of low-level quality-of-life crimes that plague the city wasted money and produced little results. The report recommended shifting resources away from the criminal justice system to social and housing services.
Diversion data also showed promise. One San Francisco program boasted a 96% success rate in preventing recidivism — although some criminal justice experts cautioned that such results might be cherry-picked, because diversion programs at that time were typically reserved for offenders who showed the best chances of success.
Scaling up diversion is an experiment — one that we are now in the middle of. True to his campaign promise, Boudin is diverting a far greater percentage of cases than his predecessors.
Critics have branded this approach “catch and release.” But this is a cynical depiction of the plan voters knew they were signing up for.
Recall is a last-ditch tool for emergencies, not buyer’s remorse. And San Franciscans should respond accordingly by voting no on Proposition H.
Former homicide prosecutor Brooke Jenkins, a self-professed progressive who recently resigned from Boudin’s office, is among those leading the recall charge. In an interview with the editorial board, she argued that Boudin has brought a public defender’s mindset to his office, and in doing so has removed the will to effectively prosecute crime. She questioned his overreliance on diversion — and the efficacy with which he used it — and advocated for a balanced approach between compassion and toughness, like that of Loftus. The Chronicle’s editorial board offered similar critiques of Boudin’s strategy when he ran for office in 2019 — and ultimately decided not to endorse his candidacy.
Tactical differences of opinion, however, are not recallable offenses. And Jenkins or anyone else who decries Boudin’s methods and execution are free to run against him in two years.
In his recall endorsement interview with The Chronicle, Boudin was thoughtful, strategic and more than capable of justifying his decision-making. Boudin may be many things, but incompetent is not among them.
Crime stats that mirror those of when Boudin took office do not justify a recall. Violent crime is low and has stayed low even as it has surged across the country at rates not seen since the 1960s. Property crime rates were unacceptable before Boudin arrived and they are unacceptable now. San Franciscans have a right to be outraged. But prematurely sacking the district attorney won’t be a magic fix.
Cities across the country — regardless of their criminal justice approach — have struggled after COVID lockdowns lifted. A tough-talking district attorney may offer reassurance to some uneasy minds, but aggression is hardly a criminal panacea. One need only look to Sacramento, where aggregated assaults and homicides shot up 43% and 67% respectively from 2019 to 2021 under District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s notoriously harsh watch.
Reducing crime demands holistic solutions, and Boudin is far from the only leader who needs to step up.
Boudin vowed to fight crime by building a justice infrastructure that attempts to rehabilitate instead of incarcerate. That effort is a work in process. It may never come to fruition. But San Francisco voters signed up for a four-year experiment. We should have the courage of our conviction to wait for the results.
This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.
47) A Child is a Child is a Child
The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to adopt laws, policies, and practices that protect the rights of children and enhance their healthy development. The Convention was adopted by the United Nations on November 20, 1989, signed by the ambassador to the UN on behalf of the United States in February, 1995, and has languished ever since—no US president has submitted the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent. The US stands virtually alone in its failure to ratify the convention, objecting, among other things, to the prohibition against sentencing young people to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes committed before the age of 18—the US is the only country in the world that still allows such sentencing. A tireless campaigner for children’s rights and the fair sentencing of youth, Xavier McElrath-Bey Co-Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY) and co-founder of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), joins me in conversation Under the Tree.