- Son of former Weather Underground terrorists Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert
- Claims that the American criminal-justice system is thoroughly racist
- Was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2019
- Says he is “proud” to identify openly as a socialist
Chesa Boudin was born in New York City on August 21, 1980. His parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, had been members of the Weather Underground terrorist organization in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Chesa’s great-great-uncle, Louis Boudin, was a Marxist theoretician; his grandfather, Leonard Boudin, was a prominent radical attorney who represented controversial clients such as Fidel Castro, Joan Baez, and Paul Robeson; and his maternal great-uncle was the journalist I.F. Stone.
On October 20, 1981, when Chesa Boudin was 14 months old, his parents left him with a babysitter and went out to serve as getaway-truck drivers in the infamous Brink’s armored-car robbery in Nanuet, New York — an event that was organized by the Black Liberation Army and resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard. When both of the boy’s parents were subsequently sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their roles in the Brink’s heist, they entrusted their friends Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn – who also were former members of the Weather Underground – to raise their son. Chesa Boudin has described Ayers and Dohrn as people who “have spent their entire lives fighting for social justice.” He likewise lauds his biological mother for having “taught bilingual parenting classes,” done “a lot of work around literacy,” and helped start “a peer education group around AIDS” during her 20+ years in prison.
In 2003 Chesa Boudin received a Rhodes Scholarship to attend St. Antony’s College at Oxford, where he went on to earn two master’s degrees — one in “forced migration” and the other in Latin American public policy.
After earning a JD degree from from Yale Law School in 2011, Boudin spent much of the next three years clerking for two judges – one in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the other in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In 2012-13, he also served as a Liman Fellow at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where he began working full-time in 2015.
In a May 2019 interview, Boudin said he was “proud” to identify openly as a socialist: “When we were kids, socialism was a bad word associated with dictatorships. What we’ve seen over the last five or so years, in large part thanks to Bernie Sanders and all the grassroots organizing that’s gone into making him a national political leader, is that socialism has become something that even mainstream progressives identify with. It means things like universal health care, quality public education for everyone, great housing for everyone.”
In 2019 as well, Boudin was elected District Attorney of San Francisco. Asserting that the American criminal-justice system was thoroughly infested with racism, he said during his campaign: “It’s not a coincidence that the prison population exploded around the same time as working communities, black and brown communities were organizing in the Civil Rights Movement and against the war in Vietnam.”
Pledging to build a justice system “for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected,” candidate Boudin told The New York Times that he was “sad that my parents have to suffer what they have to suffer on a daily basis” simply because they were “dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world.” He explained, moreover, that his parents’ experience as long-term prison inmates had profoundly impacted his own views regarding the inequities of America’s penal system. “My mother spent twenty-two years in prison,” said Boudin. “My father may never get out. I know the destructive impacts of mass incarceration … That’s why I’ve worked my entire life to reform the criminal-justice system…. Throughout my life and legal career, I’ve consistently fought for underdogs.”
Also in the run-up to the 2019 election:
- Boudin vowed to “decriminalize poverty and homelessness,” saying: “We will not prosecute cases involving quality-of-life crimes. Crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc., should not and will not be prosecuted.”
- He ran specifically against adding “gang enhancements” to prosecutions of criminals who were also gang members, arguing that nonwhite minorities would be affected disproportionately by such practices.
- He called for the prosecution and imprisonment of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as well as police officers seeking to apprehend criminal aliens.
- He called for the creation of an “immigrant defense unit” within the DA’s office to “stand up to Trump on immigration.”
- He vowed to subsidize “universal legal representation” for illegal aliens facing deportation, and to “help every single immigrant victim of every crime obtain a U-Visa.”
- He maintained that “if we treat the root cause of crime” — most commonly “serious drug addiction, mental illness or both” — “and [we] prioritize treatment over jail and conviction rates, we can actually prevent crime and make our city safer.” “If we as a society give [offenders] the right support and the right supervision and the right resources,” Boudin added, “then I believe that the overwhelming majority of people can live peacefully and productively with the rest of us. But that’s not what our prison system does. It punishes people … in a way that teaches them to be institutionalized and dysfunctional in society. That’s why we see high recidivism rates.”
- He advocated “a restorative justice approach” that “focuses on making the victim whole, on righting the wrong that was done,” rather than a punitive approach. “If it’s something small,” Boudin explained, “you sit people across from one another, and one says, ‘I spray painted your garage and I’m sorry for that and I want to help make it right by repainting your garage.’”
- He stated that: “Money bail is a classic example of how the system is broken…. It allows the wealthy to purchase their freedom, no matter how dangerous or how high a risk they pose. Wealth buys the liberty and the presumption of innocence. Meanwhile, the poor languish behind bars even when they pose no risk and the evidence against them is weak.”
Boudin was by far the top fundraiser in the San Francisco DA’s race, collecting more than $623,000 in donations in 2019 alone — much of which came from out-of-state academics, entertainment-industry executives, and influential East Coast attorneys. One of his leading donors was Chloe Cockburn, a prominent partner of George Soros‘s Democracy Alliance. Other top contributors had ties to the Tides Foundation and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Moreover, Boudin’s campaign for DA was vigorously endorsed by such notables as Angela Davis, Linda Sarsour, Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, the radical Chicago District Attorney Kim Foxx, and Senator Bernie Sanders. When Boudin was elected in November 2019, Sanders tweeted: “Now is the moment to fundamentally transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration, the failed war on drugs and the criminalization of poverty. Congratulations @chesaboudin on your historic victory!” At the victory party on the night of Boudin’s election, his supporters chanted: “F*** POA!” (i.e., the Police Officers Association).
Upon formally taking office as DA in early January 2020, Boudin summarily fired seven key felony prosecutors — the most radical cutback of personnel in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office since 1995. One of the fired attorneys told the Bay Area public radio station KQED: “I think the impact on morale is going to be devastating.”
In late January 2020, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Boudin had “decided not to pursue criminal charges against Jamaica Hampton, [a black man] who was shot [by police] after he allegedly attacked two officers with a glass vodka bottle in the Mission District in December .”
In June 2020, Boudin announced that his office would no longer charge any criminal cases that relied on information from police officers who had ever been accused of any type of past misconduct or racial bias. Moreover, Boudin’s office established a new “Trial Integrity Unit” to compile and regularly update a list of officers against whom such misconduct claims had been filed.
In addition to his work as a district attorney, Boudin also serves on the board of the Civil Rights Corps, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to “challenge wealth-based detention and promote anti-carceral alternatives to human caging.” Moreover, he is a board member with Restore Justice, a California-based nonprofit that “advocates for fairness, humanity, and compassion throughout the Illinois criminal justice system, with a primary focus on those affected by extreme sentences imposed on our youth.”