Black votes can do it
by Chesa Boudin, leading candidate for District Attorney
The United States is addicted to incarceration. We lock up more people than any other country in the history of the world. Half of all Americans have an immediate family member who is either currently or formerly incarcerated, and I’m one of them.
Right now, there are 2.2 million people in our jails and prisons. Nearly 25 percent of them are presumed innocent – awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime, often held because they can’t afford a cash bail payment that would secure their release. In San Francisco, that number is even higher – nearly 80 percent of people in San Francisco County Jail are pretrial.
Some people say that San Francisco doesn’t have a mass incarceration problem. They ignore the disgraceful fact that racial disparities here are worse than virtually anywhere else. Even though African Americans make up at most 5 percent of our city’s population, they make up about 50 percent of the people in our jails.
According to data from the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the incarceration rate for Black San Franciscans is almost 10 times the rate for all San Franciscans. We incarcerate African Americans in San Francisco at more than double the rates of Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, and more than six times the rate of New York City.
And it’s not just incarceration. Black and Brown people in San Francisco are more likely to be harmed by the criminal justice system at every single stage of the process.
They’re more likely to be stopped by the police. Once stopped, they’re more likely to be searched without their consent, despite being less likely to be found with contraband.
Black San Franciscans are over seven times more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts, and they are 11 times more likely to be booked into county jail. They are held in pretrial custody longer and are over 10 times more likely to be convicted of a crime.
After conviction, Black defendants receive sentences that are, on average, 28 percent longer than those received by White defendants. It’s a shocking set of statistics, building on centuries of systemic racism beginning with slavery and the Black Codes and moving through Jim Crow, housing policy, the Drug War and more. It needs to change.
As District Attorney, I’m committed to doing everything in my power to eradicate racism from the criminal justice system. The system must not treat people differently based on the color of their skin. And though racism runs much deeper in our society than our courtrooms and jails, the District Attorney can make a real difference. Here are some of the things I’ve committed to doing on day one.
First, I’ve committed to totally transparent decision-making. We’ll publish data about the demographics of people stopped, arrested, jailed, convicted and sentenced to increase the transparency and accountability of every agency involved in the system.
Next, I’ll require a racial impact statement in every case. The racist outcomes produced by our criminal justice system will be less tolerable when decision-makers are regularly forced to confront them. What does a racial impact statement look like? One example: Before asking that an African American defendant be detained prior to trial, a prosecutor must state on the record the percentage of African Americans in jail on pretrial detention compared with other defendants.
We’ll stop prosecuting racist gang enhancements. They’re not just racist, but they’re ineffective and unnecessary.
They’re racist because for years not a single white person has been prosecuted for a gang enhancement in San Francisco. They’re ineffective because San Francisco jurors almost never find sufficient evidence to establish a gang connection.
And they’re unnecessary because it piles on punishment in a system where punishment is already too severe. People who are convicted of felonies are already subject to prison terms, often lengthy ones, for the crime they’ve been convicted of. And people are rarely sentenced to the maximum punishment allowed by law. We don’t need racist gang enhancements, with their additional potential prison time, to keep San Francisco safe.
We’ll decline charges where the arrest was racially motivated, and we won’t use evidence that was gathered in a racially discriminatory way. We’ll also decline to prosecute cases where an arresting officer has a history of racist behavior. Racist policing has no place in any city, least of all San Francisco.
Additionally, we’ll require implicit bias training for all staff. Every year. Many of the racist outcomes in our criminal justice system result from decisions made by people who don’t know they are being racist.
But whether a racist outcome is produced by overt hatred or by the subtle ways our society has influenced perceptions of people of color since our country’s founding, it is a racist outcome all the same, and it is entirely unacceptable. All DA staff will participate in yearly implicit bias training led by top trainers to ensure that the impact of implicit biases is reduced and ultimately eliminated.
Finally, we’ll build the most diverse District Attorney’s Office in the country. The District Attorney’s Office should be as diverse as the city it represents. So we’ll hire, retain and promote a diverse staff, including formerly incarcerated people and others who have been personally impacted by the criminal justice system.
When our criminal justice system treats people differently based on the color of their skin, the integrity of the entire system is undermined. Individuals and entire communities come to distrust law enforcement, making our city not only less just, but also less safe.
Eradicating racism from our society is a long project, and one we need to take on much more seriously than we have. The criminal justice system – capable of producing incalculable harm – is an important place to start.
Chesa Boudin grew up visiting his parents in prison. His father, the renowned political prisoner David Gilbert, is still locked up. Chesa began advocating in high school for the children of incarcerated parents. Determined to fix a broken criminal justice system, he excelled at Yale, then as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, then in Yale Law School, finally joining Jeff Adachi in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where he’s handled more than 300 felony cases and worked with crime victims and prisoners’ families to make the system more just. Learn more at https://www.chesaboudin.com/. The Bay View proudly endorses Chesa Boudin and asks readers who live in San Francisco or know anyone who does to vote for him and spread the word that we can elect the most progressive DA in the country.