It was almost a year ago that San Francisco voters ousted their liberal district attorney, Chesa Boudin, in a recall election, as public frustration was growing over property crime and the visible despair and squalor on city streets.
There was no compelling evidence that Boudin’s policies had made crime worse; overall, crime in San Francisco changed little in the time he was in office. Yet voters rejected his progressive message of taking a lenient approach.
Boudin, who has largely stayed quiet since the recall, steps into a new role this week, as the founding executive director of the new Criminal Law and Justice Center at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law. The job is wide-ranging and will involve teaching, researching the effects of changes in criminal justice laws in California and advocating new laws, in the State Capitol and in court.
“It’s a job that’s going to allow me to draw on the lived experience I had visiting my parents in prison for a combined 63 years, and the practical professional experience I had both as a public defender and elected district attorney in San Francisco,” Boudin said. When he was a toddler, his parents, members of a radical left-wing group, went to prison for their roles in a botched robbery that left three men dead.
As he begins his new job, Boudin, 42, reflected on the past year, his time in office and the continuing struggle in San Francisco over public safety.
Debates around crime, the fentanyl epidemic and homelessness have, if anything, become more contentious since he left office. City leaders have promised more aggressive enforcement; one proposal would exclude undocumented immigrants with convictions for fentanyl distribution from protection under the city’s sanctuary policy, making it easier to deport them.
“I absolutely do not agree with scapegoating or attacking immigrants for what are clearly deep-rooted structural inequities and a public health crisis,” Boudin said. “It has never worked, and it’s often been a red flag for fascism. Scapegoating immigrants is not who we are in San Francisco, and it will not make us safer.”
Concerning the fatal shooting of Banko Brown by a security guard at a downtown drugstore last month, Boudin had sharp words for his successor, Brooke Jenkins, who declined to file charges in the case. Her handling of the case sparked protests, especially over her public statements early in the investigation that the case appeared to be one of self-defense.
“Any experienced prosecutor knows, and Jenkins should have known perfectly well, that you don’t come out while a case is still under investigation, at least allegedly, and make the defense’s case for them,” he said.
“I campaigned on that issue,” Boudin said of police shootings. “It wasn’t political. It was what voters wanted.”
In his new job, Boudin might return to the courtroom as an advocate on a number of issues, including the overhaul of bail laws.
“That’s an issue I have worked on for many, many years,” he said. “I believe strongly that being poor is not a crime in this country. And that we have a presumption of innocence. And that people who are presumed innocent should not be detained simply because they are poor.”
Asked if he would ever seek elective office again, he simply said, “Never say never.”
Tim Arango is a correspondent for the National desk and is based in Los Angeles.
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Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from John Merkler, who recommends coastal parks in San Diego:
The beach and adjacent bluff are not only a geological fantasy of multilayered history; they’re a scenic wonder and a never-ending source of relaxation, enjoyment and often amusement. It’s an inspiration that never ceases to amaze and delight.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Call it postmodern love.
Joseph Bartlett Fay and Daniel Wayne Garness met face to face for the first time inside an architectural landmark — now known as the Burns House — designed by Charles Moore, the postmodernist architect, on a hillside in Santa Monica Canyon.
“Dan is a residential and landscape designer,” Fay said. “I’m an architectural enthusiast.”
Fast-forward 11 years. Fay, 68, and Garness, 70, were married this month in a small ceremony with a few loved ones present.
“A good house is a snapshot of the world,” Garness told The New York Times. “Equal parts shelter and dreams. Marriage is maybe a little like that, too.”