From policing his city through a global pandemic, controversies in policy, political opposition, the backlash of a homicide, and excessive force by police, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin speaks candidly about his first year in office.
“I’m rolling up my sleeves,” said the son of former radical leftist activists. “And I’m personally doing the work to keep our cases moving forward and to help make San Francisco safer for us all,” Boudin said during an on-air conversation on KQED’s Forum, hosted by Michael Krasny in March.
To do that moving forward, SF’s Top DA said he will work collaboratively with the police department to build trust in communities and the law enforcement agencies sworn to protect them.
“We need to support the police in doing a more effective job on the front end,” said Boudin. “It’s a huge challenge. We filed what I believe to be the first ever homicide charges against a San Francisco Police Department officer while on duty for a killing. In this instance, it was an unarmed Black man.”
The first-year DA said trust in communities can never be accomplished without equal enforcement of the law.
“I want to be really clear. I don’t celebrate filing those criminal charges.” Boudin believes that filing charges of homicide, whether it’s a po-lice officer or somebody else, is never an easy decision to make.
“We have to have a system in which no one is above the law, regardless of their race or wealth or the uniform they wear to work,” said Boudin.
Boudin has said the police officers union (POA) has been spreading misinformation and lies about his progressive agenda.
“They (POA) want impunity. They don’t want transparency or sunshine on the small minority of officers who engage in excessive force or explicitly racist and discriminatory conduct,” said Boudin.
Opposition to his policies can be attributed to those who want to roll back popular reforms by exploiting tragedy and promoting fear, he said.
“Reforms that are long overdue in terms of racial justice and racial equity, that empirically have been shown to promote public safety,” have been popular measures with San Franciscans, Boudin said.
“I was elected on a very transparent and clear platform to enforce the law equally and to fight for racial justice and equity in our criminal justice system,” said Boudin.
Noting that he will focus resources on the “root causes of crime,” Boudin said his office has a tremendous amount to be proud of this year.
“If you look at the data, it shows that in 2020, crime overall decreased in San Francisco by a historic 24.5 percent. Now I want to be clear. I am not taking credit for those drops.” Boudin credits the COVID-19 pandemic for those numbers.
The numbers Boudin touts, however, have been shadowed by the death of two people by a parolee, T. McAlister.
The San Francisco man is accused of killing two women after speeding through a red light in a stolen car on New Year’s Eve. He pleaded not guilty to an array of charges.
“This is a terrible tragedy…The reality is, in any homicide, we cannot undo the harm that was caused, and that’s the weight that I carry as the district attorney every single day, in every single decision that I make, in every single case. It is devastating,” said Boudin.
Some San Quentin residents commented on how the parolee McAlister’s actions reflect on the prison populace:
“When something as tragic as this happens, we are all painted with broad strokes. Just as when an officer shoots and kills an unarmed Black man, we paint the police with the same broad strokes. Naturally, that doesn’t make it true. But just as all police are not bad, the same goes for people incarcerated. That, however, doesn’t change the dynamics,” said Kevin Sample.
There are large contingents of prisoners who believe that the ball was dropped in the handling of McAlister by the parole department.
“First of all, without sounding cliché, I pray that God leads the families to a place of solace and comfort even through the process of mourning,” said Corry Willis, a former lifer returned to prison on a parole violation. “I feel sad for the victims and for McAlister’s family. I think as a community, as a whole, it’s a terrible loss be-cause he didn’t get the help that he needed before it was too late and multiple people became victimized.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said every law enforcement agency has to take responsibility for what they did or didn’t do, according to Boudin.
“In my case, of course, there are things in hindsight that we could have done differently. That’s true in every single case where someone who’s had prior law enforcement contact is involved in a serious crime. We don’t have a crystal ball, and the district attorney’s office handles thousands and thousands of cases,” said Boudin.
Boudin is focused on three things moving forward in the McAlister case.
“First of all, supporting the families through the grief. Second of all, holding Mr. McAlister, the man we believe caused this harm, accountable for what he did. And third, bringing together all the different law enforcement agencies who were involved in supervising or policing or holding Mr. McAlister accountable — and looking at what we did, what we could have done, what we should have done in ensuring that going forward, we don’t have agencies operating in silos.”
Meeting with Mrs. Abe, the mother of one of the two victims, was unbelievably difficult, “an unusually challenging meeting for many reasons,” said Boudin.
“They’re holding Chesa Boudin accountable, but the true accountability lies with the accused’s handler, the parole agent. Mr. Boudin is doing great things with his for-ward thinking. He wasn’t the person on the ground to notice irregularities in McAlister’s behavior. He wasn’t the person on the ground whose due diligence — where due diligence was needed to pre-vent that tragedy,” said Willis, the former lifer.
He further added, “I’m incarcerated, and the effects of what Mr. McAlister is accused of reverberate back on all of us. It affects me internally just as it does people who are not incarcerated. I am human. I have feelings. Assign blame to each individual on his or her own merits, their own actions. Help Mr. Boudin change the narrative. Criminal justice reforms are needed, and rehabilitative programs are working. Make no mistake about it, I am standing here in absolute shame and sorrow for the family’s suffering,” Willis concluded.