On Saturday, public defender Chesa Boudin won the race to become district attorney of San Francisco. His victory, although celebrated as part of the larger national movement to elect more criminal justice reformers to offices of power, may not be such a gift to San Francisco, whose crime woes seem to be at least partly the result of too little criminal enforcement.
Boudin’s political leanings are fairly unsurprising. San Francisco’s newest DA and self-proclaimed socialist is the son of former members of the violent revolutionary far-left group Weather Underground, an organization that rose to infamy in the 1970s and carried out as many as two dozen bombings of government properties. Both of Boudin’s parents were imprisoned for murders related to a robbery they conducted as Weathermen, and Boudin’s father David Gilbert is still serving time.
In his parents’ stead, two other militant Weathermen, known as leaders within the organization, raised Boudin. Indeed, in an interview with Jacobin (yes, that Jacobin), Boudin spoke positively of how his four parents’ “activism” has inspired his own work, despite the “mistakes” they all made—a supposedly “charming” detail that is fundamentally grotesque.
As a Yale-trained lawyer, Boudin eventually left the United States to work as a translator for Venzuela’s now-deceased socialist dictator Hugo Chavez, an outrageous resume data point that ought to get someone laughed out of political office (for those unfamiliar, Chavez’s socialism eventually transformed Venezuela into a failed state). But predictably not so in San Francisco, where behemoth, yet ineffective government is fetishized to the point of allowing piles of human feces in the streets.
Starting January 1, 2020, Boudin will hold the office of the city’s top law enforcement official, but his staggeringly leftist vision—regarded by some as exceptionally to the left, even by San Francisco standards—may be at sharp odds for what the city needs.
True, Boudin isn’t entering the easiest of roles. Among the United States’ 20 largest cities, San Francisco currently ranks number one in property crime, a status that has been driven by a cottage industry of organized gangs reselling stolen goods, often in broad daylight. Boudin’s stated approach to crimes like this is to stop punishing them.
Boudin’s platform is nominally predicated upon reducing mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Among Boudin’s declared initiatives is to no longer charge for gang enhancement, which significantly increases the penalties if an offender is found to have participated in a street gang.
Boudin has called this penalty “racially motivated” since recent studies have found that only 8 percent of documented gang members are white. However, San Francisco, whether its latest DA is willing to admit it or not, has a serious problem with gang activity. For instance, 70 to 80 percent of the city’s car break-ins are carried out by organized gangs, and a car is broken into in San Francisco 80 times per day. If these numbers suggest anything, there isn’t enough deterrence for joining a street gang.
Decriminalizing gang membership should not be used as a political cudgel to advance the left’s identity politics drivel, and doing so may have disastrous consequences. San Francisco has previously relaxed certain policies, reducing penalties for some facially non-violent charges, to reduce incarceration levels and allow police supposedly to focus on violent crime. While this method can be applied with some measured success, it requires a highly tailored approach that San Francisco has shown itself ill-equipped to carry out.
For instance, when San Francisco passed Proposition 47 five years ago, it met loud applause from criminal justice reform groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But it was an abysmal failure. As I wrote last week when reflecting on Prop 47, “Prop 47 was allegedly designed to keep non-violent offenders out of the state’s already packed prisons by reducing certain non-violent felonies to mere misdemeanors. For instance, a thief can now steal twice as much as he or she formerly could before facing a felony charge. But thieves have begun to capitalize on this loophole. In cities like Vacaville, CA, just outside of the state’s capital, theft has more than doubled, and police believe Prop 47 is to blame.”
Boudin’s platform, in all its emphasis on reducing incarceration (as opposed to reducing crime), likely promises more failed policies similar to Prop 47. Some have voiced their discontent with Boudin’s election, which they fear will only exacerbate San Francisco’s current crime woes, ones that remained largely unaddressed by San Francisco’s former DA George Gascon. On Saturday, police union president Tony Montoya declared in an official statement, “Unfortunately, the election results mean that San Francisco residents will have to suffer through another four years of George Gascón style policies that have plagued our city and decimated public safety.”
Two Marches ago, I reflected in the tone of a sad desperado how San Francisco had begun to resemble a failed state. As a former San Franciscan, I have little hope that Boudin’s policies will do anything but exacerbate what is, by all metrics, an urban crisis fomented and sustained by excessive liberalism.