By Elina Lingappa
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin joined Californians for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) at a virtual town hall this week that was designed to highlight two California legislative measures to uplift the voices of victims of police violence.
The town hall took place during the organization’s series, “Survivors Speak,” hosted during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
This event, themed “From Healing to Action,” featured an array of speakers including District Attorney Chesa Boudin, State Senator Connie M. Leyva, Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer, and survivor leaders from around the around California.
Moderator Tinisch Hollins began the event by stating, “We have to confront the failures of our public safety systems and where they have failed to keep our communities safe, specifically Black, Brown, People of Color, and marginalized communities.”
The first half of the event focused heavily on Senate Bill 299: Victim Compensation, which was introduced by Senator Leyva.
However, victims of police brutality are rarely encompassed in these programs. Obtaining a police report of police violence is not only difficult but the product is also often biased.
George Floyd’s case exemplifies this, as the initial police release was misleadingly titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.”
His cause of death is now acknowledged as the fault of police—SB 299 would ensure victim compensation for crimes of police brutality.
District Attorney Boudin also spoke on his co-sponsorship of the Bill.
In describing San Francisco’s more established victim compensation programs, he underscored the importance of centering “all victims or survivors regardless of who caused harm, whether it’s domestic violence, or whether it’s caused by someone with mental illness, or whether it’s caused by someone wearing a uniform and a star.”
The panel also featured several survivors and family members of victims that endorsed SB 299.
One such speaker was Stephanie Hatten, whose adult son had been killed at the hands of police.
Hatten underscored her grandson’s need for mental health services—he witnessed his father’s death firsthand. SB 299 would have provided such care for crime victims and their families. According to her, these services would not only help her grandson as an individual, but would also address a cycle of trauma and violence.
“To know what could happen without those trauma services, I’m afraid,” she admitted, “we’re going to repeat something.”
Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa, a pair of sisters in their 20s, spoke next.
“We’ve been on this journey for 10 months, but for us every day is June 2,” Ashley said in reference to the day their brother was killed.
The sisters, like Hatten, applauded the extensive mental health services provided by SB 299.
They also underscored the importance of financial aid, as their brother had been the primary financial provider for their house, and they ultimately turned to GoFundMe to fundraise for his funeral costs.
This is not an uncommon experience, they emphasized.
“[Our parents] immigrated here to give us the quote-on-quote American dream, only to be met with American terror,” Michelle said. “SB 299 actually recognizes us as survivors, we’re actually being humanized.”
The other bill underscored in the town hall was AB 95, which provides unpaid bereavement leave to Californians when a close family member dies.
Organizers and those with personal experience vocally endorsed the measure.
Mariko Yoshihara from the California Employment Lawyers Association was among the next speakers, underscoring the importance of caring for working class communities during their times of grief and loss, particularly during the pandemic.
“California’s working class is the backbone of our society,” she said in support of AB 95.
Adela Bara, speaking for Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts (LAURA), hoped to bring Spanish-speaking communities into the conversation around AB 95.
In both English and Spanish, she emphasized the need for immigrant workers to take time off, especially as they have been largely impacted by COVID-19.
Two community organizers also came forward to talk about their own experiences with loss and bereavement leave.
Tamara Walker described how she was fired from her job when she took time to support her children after the devastating loss of their father.
Heather King Jeter spoke on her need to take time off work after her 16-year-old son died, noting, “My son was a victim, but so am I.”
The virtual panel came at a time when exploring victimhood and crime response is a relevant topic.
It was mere days after former cop Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three counts of murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, a monumental verdict in the history of police brutality.
From the opposing right wing, many are questioning the methods of DA Boudin’s progressive prosecuting. Nonetheless, Boudin’s steadfast commitment to victims and survivors remains clear, even at this event.
“The way we treat victims,” he said, “and how we listen to and support them says a tremendous amount about who we are as a society.”
DA Boudin, CSSJ, and numerous additional organizations and impacted community members continue to push for awareness around these bills and victims’ rights.
Elina Lingappa is a sophomore at the University of San Francisco double majoring in Sociology and Politics. She is originally from Seattle, Washington, and she is deeply passionate about the spheres of criminal justice and education equity.
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