SF’s Boudin Joins Progressive Prosecutors In Facebook Live Panel Discussing Black Communities in Criminal Justice System

By Alana Bleimann

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, and Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins this week joined the community activist group, Black Citizen CA, to discuss progressive policies that have been made to support Black communities who are disproportionately affected by the criminal legal system.

According to their Facebook page, Black Citizen CA is “a social impact initiative whose mission is to create impactful change and to transform the way we react and respond to concerns facing Black communities… born out of a desire to attain justice and equality for Black people living in the Bay Area.”

Additionally, the group “invests in community-led initiatives and small non-profit organizations that empower Black lives by harnessing the energy and urgency of today’s social justice movements to create, scale, and sustain social and economic power to advance Black lives in Bay Area communities.”

Rollins, the first person of color to hold the position of DA in the state of Massachusetts, acknowledged “there is a system that is not used to seeing people like me leading,” but she is empowered by her own lived experiences to lead with an open mind and open heart.

“We are shattering these systems as we speak,” she stated.

SFDA Boudin introduced himself by talking about his personal experience visiting prison in order to keep a connection with his parents, who were arrested in 1981.

“When we make the decision to incarcerate…there are ripple effects…we need to be intentional and mindful,” Boudin said, and incarceration should be “the last resort” after other programs, like drug treatment, don’t work.

Boudin’s practices are centered on being more human and more cost effective.

Larry Krasner introduced himself as a progressive prosecutor who is not “opposite [to] reform and opposite [to] fairness.”

Moderated by Celeste Trusty, the PA State Policy Director, Reforming the System opened with questions regarding the current window of opportunity to reform the system with progressive leaders.

DA Rollins argued that charging individuals is “some of the biggest decisions that we make….it is pretty arbitrary at times…just because we can charge something doesn’t mean we must.”

In her work, she said she is very deliberate about why and what people are charged with as there are always underlying issues such as food and housing crises that are consequences of a “societal failure.”

Additionally, Rollins opened up a conversation about the outcome of policy changes and how such outcomes can negatively or positively impact Black people.

Simply put, Rollins noted that “resources reduce harm” and “investing in people” is the most effective way to prevent crime in the long run. Resources such as “education and after school programs and legitimate things that young people can experience rather than feeling like there’s nothing else they can do.” In Boston, juvenile diversion programs are just one effective way already implemented.

DA Krasner prided himself on his office’s ability to maintain transparency throughout his time in office.

There are currently 15 data analysts in the office and an online dashboard that presents transparency showing the improvements made so far for anyone to view.

DA Boudin referenced the work that has been done in San Francisco thus far, and that, like Krasner, his office is “measuring everything we can and being transparent.”

Currently, the SFDA’s office has reduced the number of people sent to state prison by about one-third since Boudin took office.

Fifty percent of people in jail were African American compared to their four percent of the city’s population, thus the progressive policies in place benefit communities of color that are over-policed.

There is this narrative that is surrounded by fear that if we let people out of prison, crime will go up, but “we have seen the opposite in San Francisco,” Boudin said, adding robbery is down by 25 percent and “we’ve been able to safely decarcerate.”

Additionally, a new initiative, a primary care diversion program, has been launched, Boudin said. It gives parents a chance to engage in parenting classes that, if they complete, will net them a dismissal in their case(s). Currently, 90 percent of people have been successful in the program, he said.

“We are all safer when parents are at home taking care of their kids rather than in cages,” Boudin reminded audience members.

Celeste Trusty then changed the focus of the conversation to the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no reason why people have to physically come into court for non-essential parts of the process,” DA Rollins stated, and “we need to really look at what type of cases we are prosecuting.”

All three district attorneys claimed that putting time, money, and resources into high-level cases such as homicides and sexual assaults is the most pressing matter, and that low level cases, such as traffic stops, are not as serious.

Due to the pandemic, DA Krasner claimed, recreational centers, high schools, and job programs have shut down, resulting in “40 percent increases in homicides…in shootings in major cities.”

“We have underestimated how protective these things [programs] are in society,” he continued, and the lessons coming out of COVID-19 is that programs actually work because since they are closed, we are seeing new crime trends.

Now more than ever, “there are far more crimes than any police department can investigate and arrest,” DA Boudin said, noting that in San Francisco, resources are limited for police departments, the DA’s office, courts, jails, and prisons.

He emphasized that resources must go into more serious crimes because “those are the cases that cause the most harm to victims” and “we can build safety if we focus our resources on the things that cause the most harm.”

Regarding recidivism, DA Boudin explained that the city of San Francisco has very strong re-entry plans, and, already, 40 people have been brought home from state prison.

“The vast majority of long term incarcerated people present a very, very low rate of recidivism,” he stated.

Additionally, Rollins claimed, “people age out of behavior” thus “everyone should be parole eligible,” noting that Boston is currently looking at two-tier sentencing and raising the age of who is considered a juvenile as well as “looking backwards to make sure we got it right.”

DA Rollins finished by encouraging listeners to push their leaders to be bold in their policy decisions, even to institutions such as ICE which have unconstitutional practices.

“We need people with lived experiences making these decisions,” she argued, adding “if you wanted us to be better you would have put the money into our damn communities…we need leaders who are brave enough to say that.”

Philadelphia has already shut down a contract with ICE that had previously allowed them to look into databases.

The virtual panel ended with words of wisdom from DAs Boudin, Rollins, and Krasner, who said they are dedicated to pushing the system toward change for Black communities across the country.

Alana Bleimann is a junior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Criminal Justice Studies. She is from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the team leader on the Chesa Boudin Recall – Changing the Narrative Project.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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