Why I don't support the campaign to recall San Francisco's DA

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I live in the Tenderloin in SF.

Fun fact: The Tenderloin got its name after Police Department Captain Alexander S. Williams moved from a quieter NYPD precinct to one called “Satan’s Circus” in 1879.

Upon his arrival, Williams reportedly said, "I’ve had nothing but chuck steak for a long time, and now I’m going to get a little of the tenderloin.” 

Meaning the bribes he got for looking the other way in the suburbs could only buy him chuck steak, but looking the other way in this neighborhood would let him eat tenderloin. New York, Chicago, and LA also have Tenderloin neighborhoods. 

Last time I looked, SF had lower rates of violent crime than the neighborhood I lived in in D.C.

Still, the Tenderloin retains a feeling of lawlessness.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to imagine myself becoming a victim of violent crime while walking around my neighborhood. Especially at night when I’m alone.

But I’m more worried about the campaign to recall Chesa Boudin than I am about being robbed or raped by a stranger.

Mathematically, I’m many more times more likely to be assaulted or killed by someone I know.

The recall campaign scares me because I know what’s on the line. I know how powerful and unaccountable prosecutors are. I know the legal and illegal levers they have to pull to get convictions and get re-elected. I know a prosecutor can hide exculpatory evidence, stack charges, deny defendants a jury trial, threaten witnesses, cover up for lying cops, work in cahoots with corrupt medical examiners, put expert witnesses on the stand who peddle pseudoscience. And I know that they know they can do this without ever facing any negative repercussions. Most of the time no one outside their departments ever even finds out.

It’s also because I can see myself committing a crime. I remember listening to the You’re Wrong About podcast and one of them was talking about their 5’2” professor who woke up with a much larger rapist kneeling on her chest who nevertheless threw him off her bed and out of her apartment.

You can never know for sure how you’re going to act in an extreme situation. I believe this to be true of everyone, including myself.

I can also see myself being falsely accused of a crime. Or, more likely, being arrested for pissing off the wrong person on the pretext of one of the many crimes I and everyone else breaks every day.

I haven’t read deeply into the recall campaign, so I might have missed something. But as far as I can tell the only real policy solution on offer is “Replace Chesa with someone who will put more people in prison.”

And so the biggest reason I’m opposed to the recall campaign is that “tough on crime” is bullshit. All the evidence which with I’m familiar indicates it’s extremely unlikely we can incarcerate enough people to have a significant impact the likelihood I’ll be a victim of violent crime. But more importantly, all the evidence which with I’m familiar indicates “more arrests, more convictions” policies create unnecessary friction between police and communities of color, exacerbate racial and economic inequality, and shift priorities for police away from solving violent crimes and toward meet quotas by over-policing low-income and minority neighborhoods.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the time, money, and energy going into the “Recall Chesa” campaign went into attacking the underlying causes of violent crime, such as poverty and racial and economic segregation, rather than the perpetrators.

I don’t think Chesa is perfect, by any stretch. And I don’t think the recall will be successful. But I’m worried that a reactionary segment of San Francisco may be growing in number and power.

And that scares me a lot more than my neighbors in the Tenderloin.