Monday, June 6, 2022

Chesa Boudin, San Francisco District Attorney, Doomed by Rising Crime and Angry Voters

Tomorrow's California's primaries election, as well as the recall for red-diaper baby Chesa Boudin.

I haven't seen any polls or anything. I just know voters are mad about crime, and in San Francisco, not just crime, but the open-air drug markets. Big quality of life issues, even though some say the murder rate is down. 

Okay. Whatever.

Anyways, next to inflation, law and order's the big thing. It's going to be blockbuster.

At WSJ, "Progressive Prosecutor Movement Tested by Rising Crime and Angry Voters":

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and other prosecutors advancing progressive measures around the U.S. face electoral challenges.

SAN FRANCISCO—District Attorney Chesa Boudin declared his 2019 election victory a call by voters for radical change. He promised to do more than lock up criminals and embarked on a progressive agenda to reduce incarceration rates and scrutinize police misconduct.

On Tuesday, Mr. Boudin faces voters again, in a recall election backed by business owners unhappy with his performance. Polls indicate his ouster is supported by the majority of residents in a famously liberal city that has seen, along with the rest of the nation, a spike in murder and other crimes.

“Crime makes everyone more moderate,” said Albert Chow. He owns a hardware store in a once-placid San Francisco neighborhood hard-hit by home and business burglaries.

A successful recall of Mr. Boudin would mark a significant setback in what has been called the progressive prosecutor movement. Progressive prosecutors include the district attorneys of Los Angeles County; New York County, which encompasses Manhattan; Chicago’s Cook County; and Philadelphia—all places where homicides went up during the pandemic and lockdowns. Homicides in the U.S. jumped nearly 30% in 2020 from 2019, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Progressive prosecutors have pursued such goals as sending nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of jail, sparing juveniles from being prosecuted as adults and spending resources looking at old cases to free wrongfully convicted people from prison.

Worry about crime among Americans is at its highest since 2016, according to a national Gallup Poll in April. Many criminologists say there is little evidence that prosecutors’ policies are to blame for increased crime, but voter concerns are resonating in local politics during this midterm year, including a backlash against the “defund the police” movement.

In just the past three weeks, candidates for district attorney with tough-on-crime messages in smaller counties have defeated progressive rivals in at least five elections in North Carolina, Oregon and Arkansas.

In Pennsylvania, legislation that would effectively bar a third term for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has declined to file charges against people arrested for drug possession, cleared the Republican-led state House of Representatives in April with votes from several Democrats.

Groups allied with police unions and largely funded by business leaders have gathered tens of thousands of signatures in Los Angeles, Northern Virginia and Colorado to unseat prosecutors changing longstanding practices.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is one recall target. Mr. Gascón, who previously served as San Francisco D.A., will face a recall election if opponents collect the required 566,857 signatures by July 6. The recall campaign reports it is close.

“Crime is going up around the country, which really speaks to the root causes of crime that have nothing to do with reform,” said Mr. Gascón, a former Los Angeles Police Department assistant chief.

In San Francisco, crime overall has fallen since Mr. Boudin took office in January 2020, but burglaries have gone up 45% in the past two years and homicides rose by 37% over the same period. The city’s homicide rate in 2021 climbed to 6.4 per 100,000 residents from 5.4 a year earlier; the national homicide rate in 2020, the most recent available, was 6.5 per 100,000.

Mr. Boudin, a former public defender, said opponents of change are exploiting crime fears without cause. “Every single criminal-justice reform policy we’ve implemented is aimed at making our community safer,” he said.

Prosecutors on all sides see the San Francisco recall election as a gauge of voter support for revamping the justice system.

Steve Wagstaffe, a more traditional district attorney in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, said Mr. Boudin’s defeat would be “a sign that even in California, it can be taken too far.”

Turning point

Longstanding calls for an overhaul of the criminal-justice system—including by those who see it as stacked against minorities and the poor—intensified after the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Mr. Boudin was one of the first prosecutors to respond. He ordered his crime-victims division to aid people harmed by police and filed San Francisco’s first homicide charges against an officer for an on-duty shooting. He also abolished cash bail, seeking what he saw as more evenhanded treatment of suspects who can’t afford to post bail while awaiting trial.

Mr. Boudin, who grew up visiting his parents in prison, has said his childhood set him on a path to become a lawyer and a public defender. Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert had been members of the Weather Underground, a violent far-left group, and were arrested 14 months after Mr. Boudin was born. They served lengthy sentences for their roles in the 1981 robbery of Brink’s armored vehicle and the murders of a security guard and two police officers.

A turning point in Mr. Boudin’s term as district attorney came a year after he took office. On New Year’s Eve 2020, a man driving a stolen car hit and killed two women in downtown San Francisco. The alleged driver, Troy McAlister, has pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter and other felony charges.

Mr. McAlister was a parolee with a long rap sheet who had been arrested five times in the previous six months for various crimes including burglary. In each case, Mr. Boudin’s office had declined to file charges that could have sent him back to prison because, prosecutors said, evidence in the five arrests was weak. The case became a high-profile local news story.

Mr. Boudin said his office had referred Mr. McAlister to a parole agent who had the power to revoke his parole. He later instituted a policy allowing his office to seek parole revocations directly with the court.

“Mr. McAlister deserves a fair trial, but the slanted media coverage makes it almost impossible now,” said Scott Grant, the deputy public defender representing him.

In April last year, the former chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party launched a recall campaign casting Mr. Boudin as soft on crime, a theme that resonated with residents fed up with petty theft, drug use and homelessness.

City data show that Mr. Boudin’s office filed criminal charges at a rate similar to his predecessor’s, but the conviction rate fell to 39% in 2021 from 60% in 2019. His office attributed that to an increase in the proportion of defendants diverted to rehabilitation programs, which went to 39% from 18% over that period.

Brooke Jenkins, a homicide prosecutor who worked under both Mr. Gascón and Mr. Boudin, left the district attorney’s office and joined the recall campaign. She had been handling the trial of a 29-year-old man accused of murdering his mother before setting her corpse on fire. Ms. Jenkins won a conviction, but the jury couldn’t decide whether the man was legally sane.

Mr. Boudin intervened, accepting an insanity plea proposed by the man’s public defender. Ms. Jenkins objected and quit. She said Mr. Boudin kept his view as a public defender from his past job, to the detriment of crime victims.

Explaining his decision in the case, Mr. Boudin said most of the victim’s family wanted the man locked away in a mental hospital, and that three of four experts in the case determined he wasn’t sane enough to be found guilty...