by Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff
San Francisco made a hard right turn on June 7, Election Day, when this “progressive” city unelected the most progressive prosecutor in the country, a district attorney who serves as a model across the U.S. for a criminal justice system that truly does justice, even for Black and other oppressed people. Here in San Francisco’s Black heartland, we’re devastated.
“We have two cities. We have two systems of justice. We have one for the wealthy and the well-connected and a different one for everybody else. And that’s exactly what we are fighting to change,” Boudin told the large crowd of supporters at The Ramp Tuesday night. “We are part of a national movement that understands we can never incarcerate our way out of poverty.”
San Francisco won its “progressive” moniker for being open to gay culture; Black people have never been welcome here. While the Black population has been driven down to under 5%, San Francisco has had the distinction of being the place from which a Black man is most likely to go to prison. San Franciscans think “Black” when they think of crime and prison, so Boudin’s aim to reduce incarceration frightened many with nightmares of “Black thugs” on the loose.
By the end of this month, Mayor London Breed will have put her DA in office, and most likely some of Boudin’s policies that are most popular with San Franciscans and most essential to Black lives will be replaced with a much more tough-on-crime agenda. Most likely, cash bail will again force even innocent people who can’t afford bail to “choose” jail, minors will again be prosecuted as adults, county jails will fill back up and police officers can count on impunity. The first San Francisco case of a cop being charged for killing a young Black man, Keita O’Neil, in Double Rock, just blocks from the Bay View’s office, may be dropped. The prosecutions Boudin was pursuing against nine cops may all be dropped.
“San Franciscans had the vision and the courage to elect someone who was truly progressive,” Lara Bazelon told Democracy Now! Bazelon is a University of San Francisco School of Law professor and chair of Boudin’s Innocence Commission, a project Boudin is especially proud of and a major reason his supporters love him. The Conviction Review Unit it replaced had never exonerated anyone, despite the fact that most people charged with a crime are never tried but go to prison on a plea bargain. Already Boudin’s Innocence Commission has freed a man who served 32 years for a crime someone else committed.
But all is not lost. We have a second chance, and even the San Francisco Chronicle, which to its credit backed Boudin, says so: “(O)utgoing District Attorney Chesa Boudin could be back on the ballot in six months, running again for the office he just lost.”
Could he win? Two years ago, he beat some strong opponents to win the office of district attorney, he has a dynamic campaign organization already in place, he delivered on all his promises, and he’s won the hearts and minds of real progressives and of people of color and poor people in San Francisco and across the country. Black San Francisco loves him like we loved his mentor, the late great Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Even people who don’t agree with Chesa Boudin recognize his fierce sincerity and courage, the way he listens to both supporters and detractors, looking deeply into speakers’ eyes to fully understand the gravity of their words. He was born for the job of San Francisco district attorney of parents who cared so much about Black liberation that they assisted the Black Liberation Army in its desperation to resist the 1970s vicious backlash against the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s, paying with their lives – serving decades behind bars, where they worked on bringing enlightenment into those dark dungeons.
Will San Franciscans come to regret the ouster of Chesa Boudin? “San Francisco voters didn’t just oust Boudin on Tuesday; they also set in motion a potential dismantling of one of the country’s most progressive district attorney’s offices,” writes Justin Phillips, the Chronicle’s Black columnist. Knowing from Day One that he had to prove himself and demonstrate that his policies work, that they help and don’t harm and that San Franciscans can feel safe in a city that does justice for all, Chesa Boudin, Yale Law School graduate and Rhodes scholar, “surrounded himself with bright public defenders, veteran prosecutors, academics and policy experts to steer his reform-focused agenda,” Phillips reports. Re-electing Boudin in November could prevent a tragic brain drain.
Still, returning Boudin to the District Attorney’s Office is a tall order not only for him but for us. Only a dismal 18% of the registered voters in Bayview Hunters Point cast a vote, the lowest turnout of any neighborhood in the city. Next lowest were Visitacion Valley at 20%, Ingleside at 23% and Excelsior at 24%; even the Western Addition, including the historic Fillmore District, Harlem of the West, turned out only 26% of its voters. These are no longer the solid or majority Black strongholds they were not long ago. Even the Bayview splits about one third each Black, Latino/a and Asian, joined by a substantial minority of whites who’ve paid over a million dollars for homes that Black families grew up in; we suspect it is those white neighbors who are likely to have cast the majority of votes on June 7.
Would Blacks vote in November if Boudin were on the ballot? Voting is our voice in creating a future. Black San Franciscans, who place dead last in every statistical measure of public health and wellbeing, who are locked out of the economy and all the advantages that come with prosperity, are sick and tired, afraid to hope for fear of yet another disappointment. The great Black leaders of yesterday are gone. We must encourage their successors to step up and teach the people to Vote 100%, as the Big Five used to preach.
We have this newspaper, and it’s swayed some major elections in the past. With our little staff of supremely brilliant and dedicated journalists – and the community journalists who will join us soon, thanks to a grant – and an active social media presence in addition to our monthly Bay View newspaper, we can build enthusiastic support for the re-election of Chesa Boudin. Our only limitation is money. Can we count on financial support from our well-healed progressive allies for both the Bay View and the Boudin campaign?
In the words of the greatest of all freedom fighters, Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” or in today’s phrase, “When we fight, we win!” Run, Chesa, run!