US/World News

Jewish prosecutor, a leading progressive, recalled in San Francisco

(JTA) — Voters in San Francisco have recalled Chesa Boudin, the local district attorney who sought to change policing in that city and came to represent one extreme of a polarizing debate over criminal justice in America. Boudin was elected in 2019 after vowing to reform the way San Francisco handled crime, with a goal of increasing equity in prosecution and keeping non-violent offenders out of prison whenever possible.

His outlook was informed by his experience as the child of Jewish radicals who spent decades in prison for their role in a 1981 robbery that left three people dead. Visiting his mother showed him that many people behind bars should not be, he told J. the Jewish News of Northern California, in 2019. “When is punishment more about our longing for vengeance and less about rehabilitation? What does meaningful accountability look like? What does freedom from oppression really mean?” he wrote in a J. essay in April, as the recall effort was well underway.

In the less than two years that he held office, Boudin made multiple changes including abolishing cash bail, a practice that keeps low-income people charged with nonviolent crimes incarcerated when people of means charged with similar crimes await trial from home; creating a commission to identify and overturn wrongful convictions reached under his predecessors; and launching programs to help youthful offenders and people charged with using drugs rather than sending them to prison. Those efforts made Boudin a standard-bearer for liberals who believe that criminal justice in the United States unfairly penalizes low-income people and people of color who are charged with relatively minor crimes.

Increasingly, many in San Francisco grew dissatisfied with the city under Boudin’s leadership. His critics pointed to high rates of property crime and the prevalence of people who are homeless or drug users as evidence that the city was growing less safe. A rash of hate crimes against Asians furthered that view, as did a high-profile incident in which a man who had recently been arrested multiple times killed pedestrians when, drunk at the wheel, he drove onto a sidewalk.

On Tuesday, June 7, San Franciscans voted decisively to remove him from office, with nearly 60% of voters supporting the recall. 

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