[Picture: Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s District Attorney, who was elected in 2019 after running on a progressive platform of restorative justice, addresses his supporters on June 7, 2022, after being recalled by San Francisco voters. Credit: María A. Mejía/Reportera de Univision 14]
On June 7, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin conceded defeat following the success of Proposition H. The result was the conclusion of a billionaire-funded recall campaign that hinged upon concerns of incompetence, rising crime rates and public safety.
At an outdoor bar crowded with Boudin supporters, the votes rolled in, and the ousted DA resolutely called out: “This was never about one vote count. It was never about one election. This is a movement, not a moment in history.”
Turn back the clock and on the eve of Boudin’s election in January of 2020, glimmering hope ignited in the eyes of progressive San Franciscans and those hungry for change following a brutal summer. The nation watched police officer Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd, and tensions reached their tipping point. In answer to the collective pain felt, the criminal justice reform movement and its supporters championed restorative measures as a means to affect holistic change: via diversion programs and the elimination of the cash bail system as well as the three strike policy—all of which Boudin accomplished in his term to date.
Two years into the four-year term, the public’s hope dissipated just as quickly as it came, as affronted by unprecedented pandemic times—mass death and mourning due to COVID-19, closed schools, housing insecurity, smash and grabs robberies, AAPI hate crimes and the homeless crisis. In the great tragedy of these events, Boudin’s position came under scrutiny and high-profile crime cases placed his metaphoric head on the chopping block for the second time since 2021.
In 2021, Richie Greenberg, a 2018 Republican mayoral candidate, led the first call for the recall of Boudin, but failed to bring the proposition to fruition due to a lack of signatures. Greenberg recalls the tragic event which catalyzed the recall campaign: “It was the result of the unfortunate double killing of Elizabeth Platt and Hanako Abe on New Years Eve . And, that was the immediate outrage, disbelief and need to take action against the malicious policies and non-accountability that Chesa Boudin stands for,” Greenberg said.
The referenced incident set off the momentum for Boudin’s ousting, anointing him as the perpetrator of the crime. Troy McAlister had previous offenses and was out on parole when he killed Platt and Abe while driving under the influence in a stolen vehicle.
In cases like this, researchers caution against alienating anecdotal evidence from data trends at large. The recent report by PhD Senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Mike Males, revealed the discrepancy between the recall election’s perception of crime and actual crime in San Francisco. The report showed that rates of homicide, rape, violent crime and property crime—from 2014 to 2021—fell faster in San Francisco than in Sacramento, although the Sacramento DA, Anne Marie Schubert, firmly favors a tough-on-crime and punitive approach.
The report conclusively states: “If California is to move away from simplistic debate on crime inflamed by sensational anecdotes, viral videos, false claims and tough-talking cliches, political leaders and media reports must move towards consistent analysis of documentable trends.”
In response to data reports such as these, Greenberg says: “It’s hard to really trust the data, because it’s incomplete or the people who are reporting on the data can cherry pick, and pick out a positive or a negative and report on that.” Greenberg candidly continues: “That’s why I don’t even like looking at the data.”
Frequently absent from the larger picture of crime, is how perceptions of crime are influenced by homelessness. In San Francisco — a city that was in lockdown during the early stages of the pandemic — around 4,400 unhoused folks sleep on the streets and have become a more visible community given the pandemic.
As reported by The Atlantic, social scientists find that the unhoused are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, but yet their presence is associated with crime. Speaking on this, University of Central Florida sociologist Amy Donley told The Atlantic that “the perception is that homelessness and crime are almost synonymous.”
Illustrating Donley’s findings are the San Francisco media headlines, which in mass portray the city as one in decay and nearing likeness to the fictitious Gotham City.
These perceptions on homelessness, compounded by overarching misperceptions on crime rates, in part led to the outcome of the June 7 election, which saw 46 percent of San Francisco’s eligible voters turnout. Of those, 55 percent voted for Proposition H, securing the recall election’s win.
Regarding the outcome, the San Francisco Democratic Latinx Club’s Vice President of Political Affairs, Kevin Ortiz, expresses both sadness over the election results but also a faithfulness to the criminal justice movement, as well for Boudin.
“With such a low voter turnout, it’s frustrating to the Latino community that someone who is committed to championing and protecting Black and Brown communities, but particularly all communities, by understanding the root of what causes poverty in a way that provides services, and first time offenders a way out of poverty instead of criminalization.”
The SF Chronicle report published on June 9, gave data insight into the low voter turnout highlighted by Ortiz. While ‘outer-core’ neighborhoods, like the Sunset, increased their voter turnout since 2019—supporting the recall—the Boudin strongholds were in the ‘inner-core’ neighborhoods, like the Mission, and showed a lower voter turnout. Those who did show up to the polls in the Mission voted against the recall.
On the inner-core voters placing ballots against the recall, Greenberg names the district supervisors as the perpetrators of false narratives and propaganda peddled to Mission voters. On the question of why the Mission disapproved of recalling Boudin, Greenberg says, “it’s because they’re the ones who have the most, or a very good amount, of crime there and the hispanics are listening to Hillary Ronen.”
In contrast to this response, Ortiz names the loyalty of the Latino community to Boudin as shaped by the successfulness of Boudin understanding systemic issues and enacting changes which align with racial equity and keeping the city, and all in it, safe.
In suspense, both sides wait on Mayor London Breed to announce the interim DA, who will fulfill the position until the November election. Until then, the SFLDC, as said by Ortiz, vows to hold the new DA accountable to the changes made by Boudin — protecting and strengthening victims’ services, addressing AAPI hate, fighting against the removal of the innocence commission and maintaining restorative over punitive measures.
Though the SFLDC and other organizers vow to hold their ground this November, hurdles await. Especially in regard to finding enough funding to create a campaign capable of rivaling the forces that drove the recall, one that saw right-wing billionaires outspend the No on H campaign 3 to 1.