By Michele Hanisee
When George Gascón abandoned his position as San Francisco District Attorney with more than a year left in his term, the law required an election be held to replace him. The winner of that election was a public defender and former translator for the late Venezuelan dictator President Hugo Chávez’s administration named Chesa Boudin.
Boudin started his term with a flourish, firing multiple prosecutors within two days of taking office. Those he fired were among the most experienced prosecutors in the office, including the managing attorneys of the Homicide Unit, General Felonies Unit, and Gang Unit. Attorneys in the office told the San Francisco Chronicle that office morale was devastated by the firings.
In a city plagued with homelessness and the highest property crime rate in the state, Boudin has pledged not to enforce the law against what he calls “quality of life” crimes. He has stated he will not prosecute anyone for offering or soliciting sex, public urination, or blocking a sidewalk. Worse still, Boudin has also announced that he will not seek enhanced penalties for gang motivated crimes.
Gangs are present day mafia; they are organized crime. Present trends in gang crimes include the formation of large robbery crews that target private citizens and business alike. Human trafficking has been widely adopted by California gangs as a way to exploit a never-ending resource of vulnerable young people who can be sold again and again for profit. And the classic turf wars continue, with gang members shooting and killing rival gang members and innocent citizens alike to protect the precious territory that is the source of their income.
When our state legislature enacted the gang enhancements that had the following to say.
The Legislature hereby finds and declares that it is the right of every person, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or handicap, to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, and physical harm caused by the activities of violent groups and individuals. It is not the intent of this chapter to interfere with the exercise of the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of expression and association. The Legislature hereby recognizes the constitutional right of every citizen to harbor and express beliefs on any lawful subject whatsoever, to lawfully associate with others who share similar beliefs, to petition lawfully constituted authority for a redress of perceived grievances, and to participate in the electoral process.
The Legislature, however, further finds that the State of California is in a state of crisis which has been caused by violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods. These activities, both individually and collectively, present a clear and present danger to public order and safety and are not constitutionally protected. The Legislature finds that there are nearly 600 criminal street gangs operating in California, and that the number of gang-related murders is increasing. The Legislature also finds that in Los Angeles County alone there were 328 gang-related murders in 1986, and that gang homicides in 1987 have increased 80 percent over 1986. It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this chapter to seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs by focusing upon patterns of criminal gang activity and upon the organized nature of street gangs, which together, are the chief source of terror created by street gangs. The Legislature further finds that an effective means of punishing and deterring the criminal activities of street gangs is through forfeiture of the profits, proceeds, and instrumentalities acquired, accumulated, or used by street gangs.
The California Supreme Court reiterated that sentiment in 2010, in a case called People v. Albillar, saying:
[T]here is nothing absurd in targeting the scourge of gang members committing any crimes together and not merely those that are gang related. Gang members tend to protect and avenge their associates. Crimes committed by gang members, whether or not they are gang related or committed for the benefit of the gang, thus pose dangers to the public and difficulties for law enforcement not generally present when a crime is committed by someone with no gang affiliation. “These activities, both individually and collectively, present a clear and present danger to public order and safety . . . .”
Boudin’s firing of experienced prosecutors immediately upon entering office, in combination with his announcements that he will refusal to enforce the laws of this state, particularly enhancements for gang crimes, appear to support the position taken during the election by the San Francisco Police Officers Association who said that Boudin was the “the number one choice of criminals and gang members.”
Now, Los Angeles faces the same peril. George Gascón, like Chesa Boudin, has promised not to enforce a laundry list of crimes, including gang enhancements, if elected as the District Attorney of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County is the single most populous county in the nation. It’s sheer size dwarfs San Francisco both in terms of population and geography. It also holds the dubious title of “gang capital of the nation.” The impact of leniency for gang members who engage in organized and violent crime will be bad for San Francisco, but it will be exponentially worse for Los Angeles.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.