It was a packed house Wednesday evening at the swearing-in ceremony for District Attorney Chesa Boudin, with standing room only, and a delirious audience. Oh, how Donald Trump wishes he could say that.
“I’m not actually the last black man in San Francisco,” said Last Black Man in San Francisco star Jimmie Fails, in his opening remarks emceeing the swearing-in of Chesa Boudin as San Francisco district attorney Tuesday night at a jam-packed Herbst Theatre. And so began the new term of the deputy public defender now anointed by voters as DA to pursue his agenda of bail reform, sentencing reform, and expansion of victim services that has made him a local progressive hero and right-wing media’s most reviled district attorney in the country.
“We are proud to be the status quo’s worst nightmare,” said Sup. Hillary Ronen, the first elected official to endorse Boudin’s campaign. “And the collective ‘we’ will make this city a place that takes action and implements big, bold exciting Change. We got this.”
A surprise guest for the evening was Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose video address can be seen in the two videos below. “It is uncommon for a former public defender to become a district attorney of a major city like San Francisco,” Sotomayor said. “Especially a district attorney who spent his childhood visiting parents incarcerated for committing serious felonies.”
Boudin addressed his controversial biography directly, speaking to his mother Kathy, who spent decades in prison for the 1981 Weather Underground Brink’s Truck robbery (his father remains in prison). “Your incarceration lasted 22 years, but your love and support are endless,” he said, singling out his mom in the audience. “The crime you participated in when I was an infant cost three innocent men, with families, their lives. It did not matter to the DA or judge in your case that neither one of you was armed, not that neither one of you personally hurt anyone. Those details, they matter to me.”
“Our criminal justice system is failing all of us,” Boudin continued in his roughly 20-minute address. “It is not keeping us safe. It is contributing to a vicious cycle of crime and punishment. More than any country in the history of the world, we have the longest sentences, the largest prison populations, the most bloated law enforcement budgets, and the highest recidivism rates.
“Join us in rejecting the notion that to be free, we must cage others.”
Boudin also announced some new policy in his address. “For decades, people have decried the perils of driving while black,” he said. “Today, we will stop filing cases that arise from illegal searches following a minor traffic violation.”
Above is video of his actual swearing-in by Mayor Breed, which is pretty boilerplate, but probably a thrill to watch for anyone who supported, phone-banked, or advocated for Chesa Boudin.
It was a star-studded, progressive-hero evening, with actor Danny Glover arriving a few minutes into the sold-out ceremony (we saw about 15 people immediately try to give him their seat upon recognizing him). Legendary activist Angela Davis was also there, plus local progressive-wing pols you’d expect like Davis Campos, Jane Kim, Mark Leno, and supervisors Matt Haney, Dean Preston, and Shamann Walton. We spotted a few additional current and ex officials you wouldn’t have expected to see; former sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, ex-mayor Art Agnos, and Suzy Loftus-endorsing Sup. Ahsha Safai (seated less than five feet from his November 2020 opponent John Avalos).
Just look at the San Francisco bingo card this picture represents, with Angela Davis (far left), Danny Glover (middle), and former supervisor and mayoral candidate Matt Gonzales (onstage).
Chesa’s mother Kathy Boudin held court with Angela Davis following the ceremony.
But Boudin took difficult questioning backstage in a pre-inauguration media scrum, with KPIX’s Joe Vazquez asking whether criminals would feel emboldened by Boudin’s more compassionate stance on non-violent crimes like car break-ins.
“We cannot prosecute people if police don’t arrest them,” Boudin responded. “Right now, unfortunately, police are making arrests in less than two percent of reported auto burglaries. When the police do bring [them] to the district attorney, people that get arrested for auto burglary, they get prosecuted. So we’ve got to work with the police to figure out how we can do a better job of protecting, deterring, and preventing.”
And on whether he would prosecute police in officer-involved shootings? “I don’t look forward to bringing charges against anyone, no matter who they are or what they do,” he said. “It’s a difficult decision, it’s one that I know we’ll have to make in some cases involving civilians, and in some cases, involving police officers.”
Mayor Breed was not booed during the ceremony, and was in fact received very warmly by the crowd. Boudin had kind words for his opponent Suzy Loftus and SFPD chief Bill Scott. His other-side-of-the-courtroom counterpart, public defender Mano Raju, was also there, indicating a level of diplomacy, support, and mutual respect we haven’t seen in the law enforcement vs. public defender dynamic San Francisco has been so used to over the last year.
We give this peace a week, maybe two.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist