The Honorable London N. Breed
City Hall, Room 200
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
June 27, 2022
Dear Mayor Breed:
As a result of the recent passage of Proposition H and the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin, you will soon have the opportunity to appoint San Francisco’s next district attorney, the top law enforcement official in our county. Prior to making this appointment, we urge you to consult community leaders who reflect and represent the geographic and demographic diversity of San Francisco, as well as representatives from directly impacted groups, which could include crime survivors, formerly incarcerated individuals, victims of police violence, wrongly convicted individuals, members of overpoliced communities, and advocates for immigrant rights and environmental, housing, public health, labor and justice reform. Other counties in California, including Contra Costa County in 2017, have previously conducted an open district attorney recruitment and appointment process including community forums, multiple opportunities to provide public and online comments, and interviews of each of the finalists. We encourage you to take similar action to ensure the appointment is transparent and includes public input.
The staff and volunteers of our organizations have had conversations with thousands of San Francisco residents over the past several months. Through those conversations, it has become even more clear that San Franciscans overwhelmingly support reducing incarceration, holding police officers accountable when they break the law, eliminating racial bias from our legal system, and investing in mental health and substance use treatment. And they want the policies that support those values to remain in practice. We urge you to appoint an interim district attorney who will support and build on the following policies and practices:
● Maintain a no-cash-bail system: With cash bail, when someone is unable to pay the total bail amount up front, they have to make a terrible choice: sit in jail while their case moves forward, plead guilty, or pay a bail bonds company a nonrefundable fee to get out – regardless of the merits of any criminal charge. As a result, in a cash-bail system, many people sit in jail simply because of their poverty. This is proven to have a devastating effect on family life and employment, with harms rippling out across the communities of the detained – disproportionately, communities of color. Moreover, pre-trial detention increases the likelihood of a plea bargain with possible additional punishment and all of the collateral consequences that flow from a criminal conviction. These harms are unjustifiable not only for those innocent of the offense charged, but for anyone who would otherwise exercise their constitutional right to trial.
● Do not seek gang injunctions: Gang injunctions raise a number of civil liberties concerns, both for specific, targeted individuals, as well as any community member who lives in or visits the designated area. One of the most troubling aspects of gang injunctions is that they often give police overly-broad discretion to label people gang members without having to present any evidence or even charge someone with a crime. Moreover, gang injunctions are an ineffective law enforcement tool that does not address the root problems of crime and violence.
● Refuse to charge children as adults: Nationally, a study published by the Sentencing Project showed that in 2015, Black youth were 500 percent more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, while Latino youth were 65 percent more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Another study showed that in 2015, 88 percent of the children charged as adults were children of color. Moreover, the scientific and legal consensus is now abundantly clear: adolescents are different from adults in ways that diminish their culpability for offense conduct, and which portend a far greater potential for reform. Instead of seeking jail or prison time, young people should be diverted to effective alternative-to-incarceration programs so that they may mature
and return to their communities as rehabilitated adults, without the lost time and trauma of a carceral sentence.
● Refuse to seek the death penalty: The death penalty is a gross violation of civil liberties that is applied unfairly, fails to bring real justice to victims’ family members, imposes inordinate costs on taxpayers to litigate, denies the fundamental dignity and worth of all individuals, and inherently carries the risk of executing an innocent person.
● Hold police officers accountable when they break the law: Two years after the murder of George Floyd and the country’s reckoning with decades of police violence against communities of color, abusive policing persists unabated. When law enforcement is not held accountable for misconduct, it sends a double message: to law enforcement, that this conduct is acceptable, and to the community, and Black and brown people in particular, that they are subordinate and and may be preyed upon by police at will. The resulting distrust between law enforcement and the community is self-perpetuating and makes policing impossible. Meaningful accountability is one of several necessary initiatives to break the cycle and begin to restore trust. This means not only pursuing criminal charges in the future where the evidence suggests it, but also continuing the efforts of the previous administration, as in the prosecution of Christopher Samayoa for the 2017 killing of Keita O’Neil. Backsliding in any such matter would be a devastating betrayal, compounding long-open wounds and setting back police-community relations still further.
● Continue to invest in diversion and restorative justice: Over-incarceration is a poor remedy to the social ills it is too often used to address. Mental illness, substance use, poverty, and inequality can all be better addressed through non-carceral responses that uphold dignity and invigorate communities. Mass incarceration does the opposite, creating multiple constitutional problems resulting from substandard living conditions, depriving communities of valued members, and wasting human life and potential, all at enormous expense to taxpayers.
● Decline to prosecute cases in matters resulting from pretextual traffic stops: Pretext stops continue a long tradition of police terrorizing communities of color; they are an outlet for bias that, in the best case scenario, make Black and brown people feel as though they are second-class citizens, and in the worst, frequently escalate into violence and police killings. They incentivize police to fish for evidence unrelated to the stop and, on balance, do not make communities safer as an empirical matter but contribute to the stark racial disparities in stops and searches and perpetuate the psychological trauma people of color feel because of police interactions. After years of campaigning, community advocates are working to eliminate pretext stops from the SFPD as a matter of policy. The previous District Attorney declined to prosecute cases resulting from what it deemed a pretextual stop. The District Attorney should continue—and expand—that policy and decline to prosecute cases when any police officer uses reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a traffic or code violation as a pretext to initiate a stop motivated by a desire to investigate another unrelated matter. And where the situation warrants, the District Attorney should refer the case to the Department of Police Accountability for review.
● Worker protections unit: Safeguarding workers from exploitation is vital to promoting and ensuring public safety. The next DA should commit to protecting workers harmed by workplace violations and holding unscrupulous employers accountable. Reducing corporate crime and enforcing laws against companies that abuse workers is essential for our recovering economy. The next DA should continue to pursue cases involving wage theft, labor trafficking, and other workplace violations like misclassification of workers.
● Support the non-coercive implementation of overdose prevention programs: Overdose prevention programs (OPP) — also known as supervised consumption services — provide a sanctioned, safe space for people to consume pre-obtained drugs in controlled settings under the supervision of trained staff. As Mayor, you have supported these evidence-based, effective public health interventions, which could help address the harms of drug use for individuals and communities. The next DA should do the same.
● Halt the criminalization of poverty: Over 40 percent of our current jail population is without stable housing. Many are incarcerated for low level offenses directly related to their housing status, such as illegal lodging, trespassing, and other charges connected to the simple pursuit of finding a safe place to sleep at night. This approach does not diminish homelessness; it exacerbates the problem by increasing instability, disconnection from services, and loss of housing opportunities.
There are real impacts of crime and violence on San Francisco communities, and San Francisco residents deserve to feel safe in their neighborhoods. San Francisco must focus on the root causes of crime and not fall back on the failed tools of incarceration and over-policing. A reversion to failed methods will lead to predictable results: the abominable prison conditions that flow from mass incarceration with attendant suffering, litigation costs, and judicial monitoring; harassment and death at the hands of police for our most vulnerable citizens; and a deepening divide between law enforcement and the community that will only deepen existing problems. We are relying on the next district attorney to protect recent gains in criminal justice policy while our organizations continue to pursue the transformative change that our communities demand.
We look forward to hearing how you will ensure that the new district attorney continues to move criminal justice reform forward in San Francisco, and we look forward to meeting with the new district attorney once they take office.
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth
Coalition on Homelessness
San Francisco Labor Council
San Francisco Rising
Smart Justice California
Treatment on Demand Coalition
Young Women’s Freedom Center