SURPRISE ENDORSEMENT!

April 24, 2022

Endorsement: Chesa Boudin is many things. Incompetent isn’t one of them. Vote no on recall

Chronicle Editorial Board

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.


UNDER the TREE, Episode # 47

April 22, 2022

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.


Support Teachers, Support CORE

April 21, 2022

My short piece on “the right to think at all”

April 7, 2022

https://truthout.org/…/right-wing-book-censorship-is…/


Renaldo and Alice

April 6, 2022

EPISODE # 46: From Death Row to Life!

April 6, 2022

The criminal punishment system is institutionalized dehumanization. It’s organized violence congealed, concentrated, and out of control. The everyday disposal of living human beings is normalized in these spaces—in the name of humanity and solidarity we refuse to become accustomed, and we resist accommodation. We’re joined in conversation with two dazzling thinkers and brave activists, Renaldo Hudson, Education Director of the Illinois Prison Project and the inaugural Artist for the People at the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab, and Alice Kim, the Director of the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab at the University of Chicago.


Chesa, from LA Times

April 4, 2022

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-03-30/chesa-boudin-san-francisco-recall-profile

How Chesa Boudin’s life made him a lightning rod for the progressive prosecutor movement

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin outside his office in San Francisco.

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

BY MIRIAM PAWEL

MARCH 30, 2022 4 AM PT

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SAN FRANCISCO — 

Chesa Boudin and Lorenzo Charles became friends during monthly visits to their mothers in a maximum-security prison.

Lorenzo’s mother was behind bars for a relatively minor drug offense; Kathy Boudin, a leader of the radical Weather Underground, was doing 20 years to life for her role as an unarmed getaway driver in a 1981 Brinks robbery near New York City that ended with three dead.

When 6-year-old Chesa screamed at his mother for abandoning him as an infant, Lorenzo calmed him. When Chesa refused to do homework, his mother urged him to emulate Lorenzo, an A student who lived with his grandmother in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood.

Not yet 5 years old, Chesa had been visiting his father in prison for almost four years. A few years later, he began to spend weekends with him in trailer visits.

(Family handout)

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Chesa lived in Chicago with his adopted family of activist intellectuals. With their support, he channeled his anger into achievement. He lost touch with Lorenzo. In his first semester at Yale, Chesa received a letter from his father, imprisoned for his role in the Brinks robbery. He had met Lorenzo on his cell block. Doing time for burglary.

It’s a story so central to Boudin’s life that he tells it over and over, always with the same last line: For Lorenzo, “the odds played out.”

Lorenzo’s fate drew Boudin to research and write about those odds against children of incarcerated parents, which deepened his convictions about injustice and racism, which propelled him to law school and a job as public defender in San Francisco.

And then he made a move in some ways as radical as his parents’ choices: In 2019, he ran for San Francisco district attorney, promising to use incarceration as a last resort, tackle systemic racial inequities and prosecute police brutality.

Everything about his victory was improbable. He was a 39-year-old public defender who had never prosecuted a case. In a city where politics is a blood sport, he was a candidate who had never run for anything since class vice president in sixth grade. His four parents, the two who bore him and the two who raised him, had been faces on FBI Most Wanted posters.

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin, center, with his chief of staff, David Campos, and Rachel Marshall, director of communications and policy advisor, at a news conference in 2020 announcing manslaughter charges against a former San Francisco police officer, Chris Samayoa, who fatally shot an unarmed carjacking suspect in 2017.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Opponents registered the domain name recallchesaboudin.org within days of his being sworn in. Fueled by tech money, fears of crime, and San Francisco politics, the June 7 recall election has made Boudin a lightning rod for every tragedy in the city, the target of anger over homeless encampments, drug dealing, gun violence and home burglaries.

San Francisco voters’ verdict on Boudin will reverberate far beyond the city’s 47 square miles, including in Los Angeles, where Dist. Atty. George Gascón faces a potential recall. Because if you can’t make radical change in San Francisco, what future does the progressive prosecutor movement have?

::

Two months after he took office, Boudin spoke at a Columbia University conference that focuses on ending mass incarceration. In the front row was his mother, Kathy, paroled in 2003, doctorate in education in 2007, founder of the center that organizes the annual event.

“I never wanted to run for office,” Boudin said. “Because of the compromise. Because of the mucky, disgusting policymaking process. The moral clarity of being a public defender was safer, was easier…. But I found myself, I think we all find ourselves, in a pretty unique historic moment…. And now I face the slippery slope of compromise. Every day.”

When he stood up in court, which he did often, he was clear what “for the people” meant: “A lot of people in my role don’t think that ‘the people’ include those they are prosecuting.”

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin during his swearing-in ceremony in San Francisco on Jan. 8, 2020.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

He was trying to disrupt the paradigm that divides the world into good victims and bad criminals, that equates locking people up with public safety, that measures success by convictions. He was trying to redefine success as interventions that healed victims and held criminals accountable, yet offered a path to redemption.

He hired former public defenders in top jobs to “bring people into the office who don’t just theoretically know that the person they’re prosecuting is a three-dimensional person … who have seen racial profiling and what it looks like in police reports. Seen people who are wrongfully accused.”

He was trying to convince career prosecutors that they had been wielding their enormous power wrongly.

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“They don’t want to believe that for their entire life, their entire career, they’ve been doing harm,” he said months later at a symposium. “They don’t want to believe that an outsider like me, a career public defender, knows better than they do how to be a prosecutor, or how to be a prosecutor that helps promote public safety.”

This, more than any specific reform, has made him a polarizing figure, loved and reviled, savior and threat.

“I just want to live in a city where the DA prosecutes crime,” tweeted Michelle Tandler, an entrepreneur and recall supporter. “My home has been overrun by radicals and the criminals they empower.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic bred insecurity and fear, addicts and homeless stood out on empty San Francisco streets, home burglaries surged as tourists vanished and tech workers left the city, and Boudin’s past, which shapes all that he does, was reduced to a simple refrain: son of terrorists.

::

On Oct. 20, 1981, Kathy Boudin dropped her 14-month-old son at the babysitter and joined his father, David Gilbert, assigned to pick up members of the Black Liberation Army after they robbed a Brinks truck in a suburban mall.

Chesa Boudin credits time spent in the Childrens Center at the Bedford Hills state prison, an unusual family-oriented visiting space for mothers and children, with enabling him to establish a strong relationship with his mother Kathy.

(Family Handout)

The plan went awry; Black revolutionaries shot and killed a Brinks guard and two police officers. Boudin and Gilbert were arrested at the scene.

Chesa was adopted by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, friends of his parents from the movement. By 7, he was flying solo more than a dozen times a year from their Chicago home to New York for prison visits.

Chesa Boudin with his two fathers, David Gilbert, left, and Bill Ayers, who along with his wife adopted the toddler after his parents’ arrest.

(Family handout)

“We’d be going about our lives, and then Chesa would be gone for four days,” said Sam Kass, a close friend since childhood. “He would go off into this other world and then come back to ours. And we’d be running around and riding bikes.”

By junior high, years of therapy helped channel his rage and guilt into ambition and achievement. “It was a very conscious decision,” Kass said. “He just worked harder at everything than everybody in everything he did. Whether he was good at it or not.”

He was the A student who read the most books, the multitasker who editorialized against the abolition of a free period, which he used to email family, eat, talk to teachers, get library books, make photocopies, attend club meetings and catch up on “those little things adults call errands.”

Chesa on his sixth birthday. He was slow to learn to read and had epileptic fits as a child.

(Family handout)

His nickname was the Shark: Always moving, or you die.

In a home that was a salon for children as well as adults, Chesa developed both a hard shell and an outspoken sense of injustice.

When teachers told him to wear a name tag the first day at school, Chesa threw such a fit that Ayers had to intercede. The problem was not the name tag, but the itchy yarn around his neck, Boudin recalled in an interview. Thirty-three years later, righteous indignation still tinged his voice:

“I wasn’t being rebellious for the sake of being rebellious. I was uncomfortable.”

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He embraced, first by necessity and then by choice, a life that straddled two worlds.

“Every day I combine two lives: one immersed in the stability of privilege and the other meeting the challenges of degradation,” Boudin wrote in his college application essay.

Reconnecting with Lorenzo Charles became the impetus for research on the rights of children of incarcerated parents and the biases of a system that disproportionately locks up Black men.

Boudin spoke around the country with a friend whose father had been a leader of the Attica prison rebellion.

“I would be the one who would be emotional,” Emani Davis said. “And he would stick to all the points.”

Boudin’s first new program as district attorney allowed parents charged with certain low-level crimes to enroll in classes and therapy in lieu of jail.

In response to criticism that the policy arbitrarily favored parents, Boudin pointed to the capriciousness of a system that sent his mother to prison for 22 years and sentenced his father to life, for the same crime:

“You point me to a place in the criminal justice system where the quality of justice is not arbitrary,” he said.

Weather Underground member Katherine Boudin is led out of the Rockland County Courthouse in New City, N.Y., by sheriff’s officers on Nov. 21, 1981.

(David Handschuh / Associated Press)

On, Oct. 24, 1981, David Gilbert is escorted by police into the Village Hall in Nyack, N.Y., for a hearing on felony murder charges stemming from the Oct. 20, 1981, Brinks armored car robbery at a mall in Nanuet, N.Y., and a subsequent shootout with Nyack police that left three people dead.

(David Handschuh / Associated Press)

Kathy Boudin still has the well-worn paper atlas she kept in her prison cell, immersed in maps that became a lifeline to her teenage son when he discovered travel.

“It was a leap that I remember experiencing as him owning a certain part of life that he created, that he loved, and then he would share with all of us. But it was his,” she recalled.

He counted countries as intensely as he studied. (Now more than 100, on all seven continents.)

The night that Kathy Boudin was released from parole, after seven years during which she could not leave New York without permission, she called her son.

“He said, ‘Great! Now we can travel together,’” she recalled.

::

When Chesa Boudin decided to run for district attorney, the hardest part was telling his parents.

“I was wary, even unhappy about it,” Gilbert wrote in an interview from prison (he was since granted clemency and paroled in November). “I’m skeptical about what one can accomplish in the money-laden arena of electoral politics.”

“I was very concerned that as a prosecutor, you have to prosecute people. You have to put people in prison,” Kathy Boudin said. “What would that be like for him, and how would he handle that?”

He handled it by leaning into his family history to make points: People are more than their worst mistake. A man in his 70s with a perfect record during four decades in prison posed no danger to society and belonged at home. Coming face to face with victims can be the most potent rehabilitation.

“The thing that made the biggest difference for my mom was when she met one of the people whose lives she had turned upside down by participating in the crime,” Boudin told a forum.

Neither Kathy Boudin nor Bernardine Dohrn ever expected their son to enter politics. He had been a Rhodes scholar, worked as a translator for the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, written a coming-of-age memoir (ever competitive, he boasts it received the worst review ever in the New York Times), returned to Yale for law school.

Then he found a home at the San Francisco public defender’s office, which he talks about with uncharacteristic passion. “The energy, esprit de corps, commitment — the culture of the institution is one I found to be addictive,” he said.

But the victories of prosecutors such as Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Rachael Rollins in Boston convinced him that a shift in public opinion had created opportunity for systemic change. In 2018, he was a finalist to run Los Angeles’ vast public defender’s office. That emboldened him when Gascón, the San Francisco district attorney at the time, decided not to run again, creating the first open contest for the office in 110 years.

A political novice, Boudin had two key assets. He was confident he would outwork the competition. And he was a networker since childhood. “There were 400 kids in our high school class,” said his brother Malik Dohrn, seven months older. “I stay in touch with eight. Chesa stays in touch with 400.”

Boudin eked out a victory, narrowly defeating Mayor London Breed’s favored candidate.

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As he celebrated the night of his inauguration, Boudin had no idea how prophetic his words would soon seem:

“2020 is going to be an amazing year. There’s going to be a roller-coaster ride.”

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin gestures as he walks with his wife, Valerie Block, during his swearing-in ceremony in San Francisco on Jan. 8, 2020.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

::

For a while, the roller coaster brought heady highs: The twin crises of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd made Boudin’s agenda both more urgent and politically feasible.

Keeping people out of jail — to provide space for social distance and reduce spread of the coronavirus — became an imperative amid a health emergency. The jail population shrank so quickly the city was able to close a structurally unsafe lockup.

The strength of the Black Lives Matter protests temporarily quieted Boudin’s most outspoken adversary, the police union, and fueled his agenda.

Prosecutors no longer asked for cash bail. They stopped seeking gang enhancements or “three strikes” charges, which dramatically increase the length of sentences. They refused to file charges for contraband seized during pretext stops, which overwhelmingly target Blacks and Latinos

Boudin filed the first homicide charges in the history of San Francisco against a police officer for actions while on duty, then filed charges against four more.

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The plunge came with equally dizzying speed. On New Year’s Eve 2020, a man on parole sped through an intersection and hit and killed two women, police said. Multiple agencies could have made different decisions that would have averted the tragedy, but the spotlight was on the district attorney’s failure to press charges that might have kept Troy McAlister behind bars.

McAlister’s name became shorthand for a prosecutor who let dangerous criminals roam the streets. The recall movement gathered momentum.

“As car break-ins and burglaries reached a crisis level in San Francisco, Boudin’s refusal to hold serial offenders accountable is putting more of us at risk,” the recall committee said.

Boudin tried for months to counter the accusations and underlying fears with data: Homicides had increased from a record low in 2019, but at a slower rate than neighboring jurisdictions. Police data showed crime overall had dropped in 2020. He was prosecuting drug cases at higher rates than his predecessor, while police were solving crimes at historically low rates.

He now sees the efforts to focus on the data as a mistake.

“In a world where people have good reason to be really skeptical of what they’re told by the government, if you’re scared, the last thing you want to hear is somebody tell you that your fear is irrational,” he said in March.

Boudin had won election by being the outsider who criticized a failed system; now he owned the system. To redefine public safety, to demonstrate that communities can be safe locking up fewer people, to build a consensus for programs that might break cycles of recidivism, would take years.

“So what do you do? You still have an ethical obligation to implement the best policies with the most consistency and the longest-term impact that you can politically afford to do. That’s the balancing act,” he said.

Boudin gravitates toward sports he characterizes as “mind over matter,” in which “there is literally always a little bit better you can do. And it’s always within your control. Or it feels that way.” He ran his first marathon after college on a course he measured around his parents’ camp in Northern California.

“It was him against him,” Dohrn said. “It was perfect in a way.”

The recall too is Boudin against himself.

He is still the outsider, a political interloper in a tightknit city. In a job that’s often a political springboard — one of his predecessors is now vice president of the United States — he is an anomaly; his ambition, said Judith Resnik, his law school mentor, “is to change what the whole world understands the role of a prosecutor to be.”

He likens his current situation to another favorite sport, chess, which he learned as a child from his grandfather, the prominent civil rights attorney Leonard Boudin.

“To the best of your ability, you’re anticipating what’s coming down the road and how you respond to it so that you’ve thought it through, and you’re not just reacting in the moment,” he said.

“But you can’t always see what’s coming.”


This is Here and Now—the USA Today

April 2, 2022

This note was sent out by the UFF state office yesterday:

As you may have heard, your institutions will be distributing an ideological viewpoint survey on Monday April 4th, which requests that all faculty, staff, and students respond and share not only their own political and religious viewpoints but what they perceive to be the viewpoints of their friends, colleagues, and classmates.

The United Faculty of Florida encourages all higher education faculty, staff, and students to ignore the voluntary “Viewpoint Discrimination” survey for the following reasons:

  1. Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community. Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.
  2. Ignoring this survey is an act that protects individuals of all political persuasions, now and into the future. This survey would not pass ‘validity tests’ in any institutional review process, as there is no way to ensure that responses will reflect the demographics of the institution. It is not worthy of time away from our teaching and research.
  3. The specificity of the survey’s demographic questions allows for targeting of faculty, particularly minority faculty, and can be used to attack tenure.
  4. Many of the survey’s questions are leading in nature and imply that there is a problem of viewpoint fairness on our campuses already–this is a conclusion searching for evidence, rather than the other way around.
  5. Many of the survey’s questions ask respondents to report on what they believe their colleagues and students think and how they are behaving on campus. Surveillance has no place in Florida’s higher education system.
  6. The survey will cause a chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of association on campus because faculty, staff, and students will be wondering whether their words and deeds will be reported to those in power.
  7. Governor DeSantis and other legislators have threatened to defund or otherwise punish campuses whose responses do not match the appropriate ideology. This is not a standard of leadership or behavior that any member of Florida’s higher education community should support.

For these reasons and more, UFF discourages participation in the survey, and we encourage you and all members of the Florida higher education system to join our fight to protect the freedoms of the faculty, staff, and students who make our campuses such wonderful places to live, learn, and grow.

UFF, your faculty union, has been fighting this law since it was first proposed. Now our fight is in federal court, and one of our main concerns has been that by its very nature this survey is an infringement upon the basic rights of all Floridians to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the basic right to privacy, regardless of a person’s background or political persuasion and without intimidation from the political party currently in power.

Join us in this fight, and encourage your colleagues to join us as well! We are stronger together.

In Solidarity,

Andrew Gothard, Ph.D.

President

United Faculty of Florida 

FEA/NEA/AFT/AFL-CIO


CHESA

April 1, 2022