Online caricature of Chesa Boudin does not correspond to reality

Fewer than a dozen mourners gathered near Gilman’s Playground in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood last weekend to remember Keita O’Neil, an unarmed black man killed by police in 2017 .

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin stood among them.

“I just heard celebrating the life of Keita O’Neil,” he told the small crowd once people started noticing he was there.

Boudin did not post about the vigil online, mention his appearance in a fundraising email, or use it as a photo op for his anti-recall campaign. I was as surprised as others to see him there. And while most of O’Neil’s friends and relatives thanked Boudin for his work on police accountability, one vocal person criticized Boudin for not going far enough. Over the next two hours, Boudin listened intently.

Right now, his online critics were chasing him for completely different reasons.

On Twitter, a number of users tagged him in a video of someone they suspected of stealing items from a local CVS. “Thank you @chesaboudin you made this,” one user wrote. Another said, “People are killing people and getting out of jail” in San Francisco because of Boudin.

There were dozens of tweets like this. None had more than one or two tastes, but their accounts are shared by Boudin’s traditional critics, who blame his criminal justice reforms for the pandemic crime spikes that have plagued cities across the United States and not have no single, easy-to-blame cause.

To say that crime is out of control in San Francisco is a blatant distortion of reality. And blaming a spike in shoplifting on Boudin is as foolish as blaming the tragic mass shooting in Sacramento on that county’s conservative prosecutor, Anne Marie Schubert. But these are the narratives voters seem to subscribe to — of Boudin the online caricature rather than Boudin the flawed public servant.

As my colleague Megan Cassidy reported earlier this month, the recall campaign beat Boudin in fundraising, raising more than $2.7 million as of April 3. The figure does not include the more than $600,000 the recall campaign has since received from the California Association. of Realtors, Hotel Council of San Francisco and Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, which is actually based in San Rafael.

Boudin, whose supporters raised just over $1 million earlier this month, likely wasn’t collecting big checks from those at the vigil, who are still awaiting closure more than four years after O’s death. ‘Neill. But that didn’t stop him from showing up.

O’Neil was killed Dec. 1, 2017, after he allegedly stole a state lottery employee’s van and led police in a brief chase that ended a stone’s throw from where the vigil took place. occurred. When he jumped out of the vehicle and drove past a police cruiser, Christopher Samayoa, a rookie cop who was less than a week into his career with the San Francisco Police Department, fired a single shot at through the passenger side window, hitting O’Neil. in the head. O’Neil was unarmed.

Boudin filed manslaughter charges against Samayoa in November 2020, less than a year after he took office. It was the first time a city police officer had faced criminal charges for an on-duty shooting. The criminal case against Samayoa is ongoing. Boudin’s office has cases pending against 11 officers, seven of whom face charges of alleged conduct in the line of duty.

The prosecutions rely on a 3-year memorandum of understanding with the SFPD that makes Boudin’s office the lead investigator in serious cases of police violence. In early February, Chief of Police Bill Scott attempted to end the arrangement and alleged that Boudin was breaching the terms of the memorandum of understanding, which Boudin denied. The two sides are still negotiating what a revised version might look like.

April Green, O’Neil’s aunt, hosted his wake. There was a microphone available, but the crowd wasn’t large enough for most to need. Among those who spoke from a makeshift stage was Jameel Patterson, a community activist who knew O’Neil and credited Boudin with “fighting for accountability” in political spaces that often lack black representation. . Others echoed his sentiments.

About halfway through the vigil, one of Green’s cousins, who had spent most of the event pacing the edges, began shouting that “there has been no justice” in the murder of O’Neil and that Boudin was like other politicians “who lied” to black San Franciscans about police accountability.

No one was alarmed by the commotion. Patterson told me the man was just saying how many black residents feel. Boudin listened quietly until Green took his cousin away.

As the vigil drew to a close, Green told me she was surprised that Boudin was still there.

“I know he has things to do,” she said. “But I know seeing him here for something like that meant a lot to people. … It shows that we are not alone in this fight and at least one person thinks our voices matter.

Justin Phillips is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @justmrphillips

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