By Darling Gonzalez
DAVIS, CA – This past Thursday, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, along with other keynote panelists. spoke about the future of criminal justice reform during The Vanguard’s webinar discussion.
David Greenwald, the founder of The Vanguard, began the discussion about justice reform by introducing the changes over the past two years including mass protests after the George Floyd killing, the narrative of rising crime, and the underlying polarization that the country is facing.
Greenwald asked D.A. Boudin, “Where do we go from here?”
Boudin began by noting the reality of what San Francisco is facing by providing empirical data and information about the reduction of crime across the board in most key categories.
Through empirical evidence, Boudin explained that, unlike places like Sacramento and Oakland, who are being led by “tough on crime” prosecutors, the homicide rate in San Francisco is hovering near a 56-year low.
“The failed policies in the tough on crime era that led to mass incarceration that led to horrific racial disparities in our communities and jails and prisons are failed policies. They didn’t work. They were never supported by empirical evidence,” Boudin said.
Boudin further explained that, although news coverage and media have portrayed specific crimes as “trending upward,” it does not justify going backwards and supporting policies that have made communities less safe and bankrupted the local governments.
Boudin stated that his serious outlook about public safety for communities begins with targeting root issues and investing in education, healthcare, housing, and employment which continue to be the kinds of things that help build safe and vibrant communities.
Greenwald followed up his line of questioning by asking D.A. Boudin, “Are we seeing a backlash against reform?”
Chesa Boudin explained that the media has had impacts toward justice reform and police unions, in particular, and they have used the media to achieve their goals of undermining reforms.
Boudin explained, “Police unions that are public in operatives are exploiting individual tragedies to undo reforms that are based in evidence, based in racial justice, and based in decades of learned experience by how we can build safe and just communities and they are doing it really effectively with the help of a lot of mainstream media outlets that have realized, as has been true for decades, ‘if it bleeds it leads.’”
The public perception, as explained by Boudin, has been driven by social media, viral videos, and police union talking points, that have sadly been totally divorced from reality when it comes to policy, data, and evidence.
Jonathan Rapping, a professor of law at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, input his own support for the justice reforms necessary in the D.A.’s office by describing the experiences many people are subjected to in the justice system.
Rapping noted the personal experiences of people who survive police encounters are very different when they are thrown into a criminal legal system where they are subjected to simultaneous routine violence, normalized violence and invisible violence.
This same violence is separate from what is seen in the media as it happens where there are no cell phones, where CNN is not broadcasting, and in a place where they are taken from their families and put into cages on money bonds.
These are events that happen every day and go unnoticed, Rapping explained.
Rapping added, “Public defenders collectively have the potential, if we actually recruit, train, and support them the right way to be a critical engine to interrupt that violence that often goes unnoticed.”
In response to Boudin’s earlier statements, Jody Armour, a professor of law at USC, input his own perspective on D.A. Boudin’s response to justice reform.
“As a politician, running for elective office [especially in the position of District Attorney] is one of the most important kinds of executive type politicians out there…I was really heartened to hear the points he was hitting. I think those are the places we need to go,” he said.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement, stated her own perspective on justice reform as she indicated that people must fetch the lessons of past abolitionists and pave a path of safety for the children and the future of justice.
Abdullah explained that those spirits who have gone through injustice must be acknowledged and their demands must be met.
“What they’re demanding is that we do what we pledged to do on July 13, 2013, which is to build a movement not a moment. We must tackle all of these systems of injustice… bring down the systems that make it unsafe for [our] children to walk the streets–to just simply exist,” Abdullah said.
The panel was then asked about how the public should proceed in helping Boudin have a fair representation of his time in office.
Armour responded that there must be a change to the culture so that people can be responsive to evidence rather than back free fear mongering.
He also said that some of the journalism in San Francisco has not been as responsible as the reporters should be in their reports on Boudin.
“We want misinformation killed whether that be in politics or even COVID, weighing in as much as we can in those areas is just one of the ways we can help,” Armour said.
Said Rapping, “This is a battle about a narrative about his office and whether what they are doing is making the community less safe or more safe, healthier or less healthy, and I think there are natural allies, communities that would never align with prosecutors in the past that actually are willing to pull in and find ways to get a more accurate message.”
Rapping then ended by stating that it was integral for people to understand that as long as D.A. Boudin is under attack, they would also be under attack.