People of San Francisco and a Supreme Court justice welcome DA Chesa Boudin

It’s simply amazing.

Chesa Boudin is now San Francisco District Attorney. A true people’s campaign was culminated with his swearing in at historic Herbst Theater in San Francisco’s Civic Center.

The stage on which District Attorney Boudin took the oath of office was the same place where the United Nations was founded in 1945.

A positively rapturous crowd, many of whom are still in a state of disbelief, looked on as Mayor London Breed administered the oath of office.

The frosting on the cake was the congratulatory video from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Breaking News 4.15.2019

San Francisco Chronicle 1.8.2020

Standing on stage in front of a raucous crowd in San Francisco’s Herbst Theater, Chesa Boudin was sworn in Wednesday by Mayor London Breed as San Francisco’s new district attorney.

Boudin, 39, stood before the packed house of impassioned supporters, city dignitaries, law enforcement officials, judges and attorneys, promising to confront racial disparities in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. And as the city’s top prosecutor, he said he will focus resources on the city’s most violent criminals while also pledging to hold police more accountable in cases of brutality.

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Mayor Breed, Valerie Block and DA Boudin

“Join me,” Boudin said to the crowd of hundreds. “Join this movement. Join us in rejecting the notions that to be free we must cage others, that to seek justice we must abandon forgiveness, that to empower our protectors requires tolerating excessive force, that to be safe we should put the mentally ill and addicted in cages, and that jails and prisons should be the primary response to all of our social problems.”

Before his rousing speech, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a surprise appearance via a recorded message on the theater’s big screen to congratulate Boudin on becoming district attorney.

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“Your personal strength and commitment to reforming and improving the criminal justice system is a testament to the person you are and the role model you will continue to be for so many,” she said. “Chesa, you have undertaken a remarkable challenge today. I hope you reflect as a great beacon to many.”

Boudin’s unlikely path to the high-profile position began when his politically radical parents were incarcerated when he was an infant. They acted as getaway drivers in an armored car robbery in upstate New York that left two police officers and a security guard dead.

Boudin said visiting his parents behind bars while growing up helped shape his understanding of the country’s criminal justice system.

He went on to study law at Yale and earned a Rhodes scholarship before coming to San Francisco where he worked at the public defender’s office and was instrumental in upending the state’s cash bail system.

His mother was released from prison after more than two decades behind bars. She was in the audience at Wednesday’s swearing in. Boudin addressed her and his father, who remains in prison in upstate New York.

“The crime you both participated in when I was an infant cost innocent men with families their lives,” he said. “It did not matter to the DA or the judge that neither of you was armed nor that you did not personally hurt anyone. Those details matter to me. What matters even more is that since that terrible day you and my father have focused your lives on love. Thank you for teaching me about forgiveness and redemption.”

Boudin was elected in November in a narrow race in which he ran the furthest politically-left campaign of four candidates. His election was celebrated by his supporters and activists as a momentous juncture in how the city’s legal system will operate.

Boudin’s win, though, has prompted concern from groups like the city’s police union and statewide law enforcement groups, which fear the new district attorney may be unfairly harsh on police and soft on criminals.

But while progressive prosecutors were once unusual around the country, San Francisco has a legacy of electing reform-minded district attorneys, including the last three, Gascón, Kamala Harris and Terence Hallinan, who was elected in 1995. Other cities, like Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis, have followed San Francisco’s lead and recently elected progressive district attorneys.

And under San Francisco’s progressive prosecutors, violent crime has followed national trends and steadily decreased over the last two decades, reaching a 56-year low for homicides last year.

“We know there is a balance between justice and fairness and I appreciate that Chesa Boudin appreciates that balance,” Mayor London Breed said before administering the oath. “He knows that we need so desperately to reform our criminal justice system. But we don’t have to do so at the expense of keeping our community safe.”

Boudin ran on a slate of progressive reforms to transform the system, but he will also be confronted by major challenges including the worsening epidemic of drug abuse and dealing in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, a mental health crisis on the streets, and the worst property crime rate in the country.

“Our work will yield the most comprehensive restorative justice program in the country,” Boudin said. “Restorative justice saves lives. I know this because it saved mine. Victim services, especially for limited-English speakers and marginalized communities, is a critical and under-resourced part of the criminal justice system.”

As he takes over operations from interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus, who was appointed by Breed after Gascón quit his post in October, Boudin has launched efforts to implement his sweeping vision.

This week he announced the creation of subcommittees of advisers who will help to implement his policies.

Members include deputy police chiefs, public defenders, retired judges and activists. Jamal Trulove, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in San Francisco, and Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project and former member of the O.J. Simpson “Dream Team,” are among the members of the subcommittee to develop the office’s second look and conviction integrity unit.

Boudin will also have to solidify his executive team, which oversees the prosecution and public policy divisions of the office.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Wu, who ran the prosecution team under Kamala Harris and Gascón, tendered her resignation last week. She will be taking a job at the city Department of Police Accountability.

In an interview before his swearing in, Boudin said he was disappointed that Wu is leaving the office but understands her decision. He has not decided whom he will hire.

“It’s not a decision that I want to rush into,” he said. “Those are big shoes to fill. She did a lot of work. I want to make sure the person I put there is someone I can work well with, and also someone who has the skills and temperament and capacity to take on all that we need to take on.”

Boudin said Gascón’s Chief of Staff, Christine Soto DeBerry, will remain the head of public policy.