“Fighting the so-called war on drugs where has it gotten us?” asks DA Boudin

Liz and Lee Heidhues 12.20.2021 (UPDATED)

DA Chesa Boudin ran on a campaign platform to use the office of chief prosecutor in a different manner than the traditional law and order approach to crime. 

Now he faces a recall, calling into question the very fiber of San Francisco’s “progressive” reputation.  To DA Boudin’s credit he is standing by the platform on which he ran and was elected two years ago.

During his two years in office DA Boudin has brought about a humane system of dealing with criminal defendants.  He has worked empirically, epistemically to transform the ‘lock ’em up’ approach to criminal justice.  He has worked to implement his reform policies amidst the obstacles of the now two year long Pandemic.

DA Boudin has successfully managed within the constraints of the Pandemic to decrease the jail population and to perform his job within the severely truncated Court system.

Excerpted from The San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate 12.20.2021

District Attorney Chesa Boudin, along with other elected officials and activists, protested Monday against Mayor London Breed’s public safety push meant to flood the Tenderloin with police and crackdown on drug dealers and people who use drugs.

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San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin speaks during a press conference in protest of Mayor London Breed’s plan for more policing and enforcement of laws that could affect drug users in the Tenderloin neighborhood on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in San Francisco. Boudin urged Breed to put more money into housing and treatment to get at the roots causes of crime. (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)Gabrielle Lurie/AP

“If arrests and prosecutions alone could solve the drug crisis in this country or in this city, it would have been solved long ago,” Boudin said. “We’ve invested over a trillion dollars in fighting the so-called war on drugs, and where has it gotten us?”

Boudin’s presence at an afternoon news conference held by opponents of the plan calls into question whether the mayor can succeed in this push and pits Breed against the city’s top prosecutor.

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Candidate Boudin in 2019

Boudin’s decision to join the protest comes as he faces a recall election next year. It underscores the debate in San Francisco about how to deal not just with crime, but with the homelessness and addiction crises.

The news conference comes as Boudin, whose 2019 election was not supported by Breed, faces a recall election in June put on the ballot by detractors who say he is soft on criminals. Boudin’s office has countered the criticism with examples of successful crackdowns on retail theft and other criminal operations. But his remarks Monday made clear his position on going after people who have substance use problems or mental health issues.

Boudin said the “raw human suffering” he sees in the neighborhood outrages him. But using outdated methods won’t make people any safer, and the city has other options, said Boudin, who worked in the public defender’s office before becoming DA.

Last week, Breed said that she hoped the district attorney would prosecute people arrested under her plan. But it appears that progressive Boudin may not cooperate.

Judges also play a role, since they have discretion beyond the district attorney to release someone from custody before their trial, which could influence whether that person returns to the streets.

It didn’t appear as of last week that the Mayor had met with either Boudin or the head of the courts.

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DA Boudin and Mayor Breed

At the news conference held at addiction treatment center HealthRight360 in SoMa, leaders including Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton called for the Mayor to instead quickly ramp up “evidence-based” alternatives to policing for people who use drugs, including more treatment and housing. The city has been chronically short of drug and mental health treatment beds and housing for the homeless.

While city leaders and residents are divided about the best way forward, some Tenderloin families and business owners have been pleading for safer and cleaner streets for months in the face of shootings and open-air drug use.