SF’s New DA, Chesa Boudin, Battles Criminal Injustice System on Two Fronts 

San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, 40, is battling the criminal injustice system in his own balliwick where cops have literally been getting away with murder, and where they have also aimed to sabotage the orderly workings of law enforcement. Boudin is battling much the same system of injustice, thousands of miles from home at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison about 80 miles south of Albany, New York where his father, David Gilbert, once a member of the Weather Underground is serving a 75-years to life sentence for felony murder and robbery. If you have power, modest though it is, you might as well use it.

Gilbert and his cohorts, both white and Black, robbed a Brink Armored Vehicle near Nyack, New York in 1981 and then were caught up in a firefight. Gilbert was unarmed, but two police officers and one security guard were killed. At his trial, Gilbert rejected a lawyer and opted to defend himself, though he was not physically present in the courtroom most of the time. “It’s a bad idea to represent yourself,” Boudin says. Spoken like the real lawyer that he is.

Now 76 years old, Gilbert has been behind bars for 39 years. Given the more than 3,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths in New York State’s prison population, he is a greater risk now than ever before to die while incarcerated. Gilbert is not eligible for parole until 2056. Kathy Boudin—Chesa’s mother—along with former Weather Underground members, Jeff Jones and Eleanor Stein, is asking New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, to grant clemency. Jones says that Gilbert has expressed remorse for his crimes and ought to be released.

The families of the officers slain at Nyack, have long opposed clemency for Gilbert. Still, they were unable to prevent the release of two other individuals who took part in the 1981 robbery and who were arrested and imprisoned. One of them, Kathy Boudin, is the daughter of famed civil liberties attorney Leonard Boudin. She was released from prison in 2003.

The other defendant, Judy Clark, is the daughter of Communist Party members, and an SDS member who affiliated with the Black Liberation Army. She lived in the Soviet Union from 1950 to 1953.  Clark was paroled and released from prison in May 2019.

Chesa Boudin looks at his mother, who served 22 years in prison, and his father, who has served 39 years and says “It’s an example of criminal justice imbalance.” He sees plenty of that in San Francisco. Ever since he became SF’s D.A. in January 2020, he has aimed to undo imbalances and restore justice, in part by abolishing the “cash bail” system which has discriminated against the poor and benefited the wealthy.

Just before Thanksgiving this year, Boudin filed manslaughter charges against Chris Samayoa, a former SF police officer who shot and killed an unarmed African American, Keita O’Neil in 2017. Boudin will have an uphill battle securing a conviction, though the case against Samayoa seems strong. The officer pointed his gun and fired it through the passenger side window of a patrol car. Never before in modern times, has a San Francisco D.A. charged a cop with homicide in a “use of force” case. Black Lives Matter!

Soon after Boudin took office, he pledged not to solicit or accept money from any law enforcement union. He has kept his word. In San Francisco this year crime has decreased, but burglary has increased by more than 40%. Shootings and homicides have also been on the rise. “It’s all over the country,” Boudin says. “It’s a tragic trend.” Opioid overdoses have also surged.

SF police officers claim they don’t make arrests when a burglary has been committed because the D.A. doesn’t prosecute. “That a lie,” Boudin says, though he adds that “It’s not a crime for a police officer to lie to citizens.” He has met with William Scott, the Black chief of police, and asked him to denounce “the narrative” that the D.A. ‘s office is lax when it comes to prosecuting crimes.

Boudin wants “officer accountability and transparency.” He’s against the death penalty on the grounds that it doesn’t dimish crimes. Thousands of prisoners in California have been released since the outbreak of COVID-19. Men and women still incarcerated risk death by the pandemic nearly every day.

So does David Gilbert, Chesa’s father, locked up at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in New York. Jeff Jones, Gilbert’s comrade and a major force in the fight for his clemency, says, “David’s chances have never been better. We are focusing a lot of attention on Cuomo. If we are successful, it probably doesn’t mean he gets out, but he gets to go to the parole board. The battle continues.”

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.