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Chesa Boudin: New Kid in SF DA’s Office

Only time will tell whether Chesa Boudin, the current San Francisco DA, walks in the footsteps of S.F. DA Terence Hallinan, whose life and times Fred Gardner has so ably chronicled. But after six months in office—he took over in January 2020—Boudin is off to a good start. Hallinan, who died on January 17, 2020, would probably approve of him. 

After all, Boudin is aiming to reform what’s called the “criminal justice system” but that might better be termed the “criminal injustice system. Boudin has eliminated the system of “cash bail,” which favored those with money and penalized those who didn’t have it, and led to jails full of poor people and rarely if ever a wealthy person. Fred Gardner knows about that reality as well as anyone else around these days.

Like Terence Hallinan, Chesa Boudin comes from a storied American lefty family. His grandfather, Leonard, belonged more or less to the same generation as Vincent Hallinan. Leonard argued frequently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Unlike Vincent, Leonard never entered political life. Chesa’s parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, belonged to a series of left wing groups that devolved from coherence to crime. 

They both took part in a botched attempt in New York State to rob a Brink's armored vehicle that led to fatalities. Kathy Boudin served a long prison term and now teaches at Columbia University in New York. David Gilbert is still in prison, and after 40 years behind bars and several books to his name, isn’t clamoring for his release. Chesa visits his father frequently. San Francisco cops tried to smear him with the criminal record of his parents and argued that he would bring chaos to the city. Voters didn’t buy that line, though the police spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince them.

At a recent virtual town hall meeting, Chesa insisted that he “respected the courage” of SF cops, but that he didn’t like “dishonest and lazy” law enforcement officers, and that while he was “pro-labor” he was against police unions because they are “part of the problem.” He added that he would not accept donations from any police union and that he would do his best to see to it that cops who had records of misconduct would not be rehired. 

Boudin noted that on the whole crime had decreased dramatically (50%) in San Francisco over the past three-and-a-half months, though he didn’t take credit for the stats. Covid-19 and the shut down of businesses in the city had led to a decline in crimes against property, he said. He added that the theft of automobiles – always a big SF issue—had increased by 28%. 

Perhaps the most dramatic stat that he offered was that 75% of the people in jail in the city were mentally ill, addicted to drugs or both. “I’m not a drug warrior,” Boudin said. “We can't arrest our way out of drug addiction.” But he also noted that 24% of the felony cases his office handled derived from cases that involved the sale of drugs. There was, he explained, a steady rise of overdose-deaths from Fentanyl in the city. 

What would his office do if the federal government sent troops to San Francisco? Boudin was asked. “We don’t need, or want and won’t tolerate the kind of behavior seen in Portland,” he insisted. “If Trump sends troops we’ll protect First Amendment rights.” 

Terence Hallinan would be of the same mind. So would Vincent Hallinan and Chesa’s grandfather, Leonard, who argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it was unconstitutional to require the post office to “detain and deliver…foreign mailings of communist political propaganda” only if and when the addressee consented to receive the material. One law journal called it “the Freedom of the Mails” case. 

Boudin said that he had participated in peaceful protests after the murder of George Floyd, and that while his office prosecuted cases involving violence and commercial burglary, it did not prosecute cases involving civil disobedience. Given today’s political climate, it’s not difficult to imagine that one day San Francisco’s young, energetic and idealistic DA will find himself in jail along with dozens if not hundreds of other protestors. 

One Comment

  1. Mark Laszlo August 23, 2021

    Thanks Jonah. Good to think about a new DA of the real American Left. I think so few American leftists are elected with all the tricks and terrorism of our rightists today, that our political landscape is just too imbalanced for what’s left of our liberty to last. The American Way of Life is based on a marriage of religious and Enlightenment philosophic movements in the Renaissance of <>1350-1800, a synthesis realized earlier, in such Christian humanists as Erasmus of Rotterdam, in Basel. When General Washington’s letter of his defeat in New York was read to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin said “Gentlemen, we must hang together, or most assuredly, we will hang separately.” A nation run by Her citizens is so hard to get and keep. I believe the USA has nearly run Her course, except as a subverted govt over the constitutional one. They will hide underground while all w/o fallout shelters die. Then, with the 1%, lord it over the rest who survive. Then later, may return some of our liberties, as if they own them, in a bigger sham of democracy than today. That subverted govt and the 1% have to kill most of us “pitchforks”, one way or another, or be killed eventually by the masses.

    I condemn racism, slavery and native genocide, yet am godswalloped, the leaders of the revolution of 1776’s statues were taken down in SF and Jefferson is now called a “slave-raper”. I dare anyone to try to write as high
    minded and eloquent as Thomas Jefferson. If you can’t match the Declaration of Independence, do not insult it’s authors. Progress never happens all at once. Rights to wealth must be balanced with rights of the poor and middle class. All include good people. Although i believe the entrenched rogues of the military industrial complex and the 1% are about to destroy civilization, the record of exceptions to excluding Leftists from power is invaluable for survivors to learn from, to rebuild a balanced civilization. Socialism and capitalism both existed in America since before 1776. Each has it’s pros and cons re: Our liberty. It is for the People to find which ideas from each can form a more perfect union.

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