San Francisco has been waiting to be rocked by another massive earthquake since 1906. On Tuesday night this week, it finally came when the people of America’s most famously Left-wing city voted overwhelmingly to throw out their chief prosecutor — and with him a policy of ultra-woke tolerance of crime that has brought the city to its knees.
Some 60 per cent of San Franciscans voted to ‘recall’ from office Chesa Boudin, a pin-up for the ‘progressive’ Left, midway through his term as the city’s District Attorney.
Down the Pacific coast, the day of reckoning continued as voters in Los Angeles threw their support in the city’s mayoral race behind a formerly Republican billionaire businessman, Rick Caruso, who has pledged to save the crime and vagrancy plagued city from the worst instincts of its Left-wing leaders.
Even diehard Hollywood liberals have turned out to support Mr Caruso, who won the most votes but, because he didn’t reach the 50 per cent threshold, faces a November run-off against Left-wing rival Karen Bass.
They include Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and rapper Snoop Dogg. Paltrow, who once opened up her LA home to host fundraising parties for Barack Obama, said on Instagram: ‘We need Rick to get our streets cleaned up and functioning.’
Two years ago, with the U.S. burning under the fury of the riots over the death of African-American George Floyd, nobody would have dared express such sentiments, least of all a leading light of Tinseltown, a Democrat citadel.
The critics of LA’s equally progressive District Attorney, George Gascon, wasted no time in warning him they’re confident they’ll soon have sufficient support to send him the same way as Mr Boudin.
The international outcry over the appalling police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd in May 2020 set off months-long rioting and looting that Democrat municipalities largely ignored
The significance of all this is difficult to overstate: the U.S. doesn’t get more evangelically ‘woke’ than San Francisco, birthplace of the hippie counterculture, and LA where you can walk for days and not find a Republican.
If they’re prepared to reject the suffocating political and cultural dogma that has swept both sides of the Atlantic, say its opponents, there’s hope for the rest of us.
With Californian political observers saying the state’s laid-back voters haven’t been so angry since the late 1970s, the prominent conservative columnist Bret Stephens asked in The New York Times following this week’s vote: ‘Is a decade of destructive progressive ideology finally coming to an end?’
He and others enjoyed a little schadenfreude as they dredged up the old saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.
The shockwaves of this bruising reality check for the Left are spreading across a country riven by culture wars — over myriad issues from transgender rights and free speech to political indoctrination in schools and slavery reparations — that have often started in the U.S. before making their noxious way across to the UK.
Indeed, London Mayor Sadiq Khan was out in LA a month ago looking for tips on how the state has decriminalised cannabis. If he’d come this week, he could have taken a different lesson home.
Mr Caruso, a billionaire LA property developer, was until recently a Republican and only switched to the Democrats for naked tactical reasons. He is running on an aggressively pro-police ticket, promising to recruit an extra 1,500 officers and clean up the city’s streets of crime and homelessness in a campaign that has been compared to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and his ‘broken windows’ policy in the 1990s.
Broken windows — better known in the UK as zero-tolerance policing and based on the premise that if you ignore petty crime, more serious lawlessness will grow — has since been condemned by the Left in the UK and U.S. as inherently racist on the grounds that black people are disproportionately targeted.
Smashed windows are the least of San Francisco’s problems. One of America’s most enchanting cities is now blighted by rampant open-air drug abuse, car break-ins (3,000 in one month), aggressive shoplifting, homeless encampments and fouling of pavements with human excrement. Video after video shows locals ignoring blatant lawbreaking and getting on with their lives, resigned to the fact nothing would be done even if they did try to get involved.
San Francisco has become a drug-abusing Wild West with syringes littering pavements and drug dealers, selling heroin or the deadly opioid fentanyl, easily recognisable dressed in black with matching backpacks
‘We shouldn’t be popping champagne bottles,’ said Richie Greenberg, a community activist behind the successful campaign to oust the DA. ‘People have died under Boudin’s watch. Lives ruined, families broken, businesses shuttered.’
Even more so than LA, which many demoralised residents are deserting for saner and safer climes, beautiful ‘Frisco is gradually becoming less and less attractive as a place to live.
And even fellow Left-wingers will admit that the reason is dogmatic radicals obsessed above all else by race — the great battlecry of American progressives.
There was nobody more dogmatic than Chesa Boudin. He has impeccable progressive credentials — the 41-year-old’s parents were radical Left-wing terrorists in a group known as the Weather Underground. Both were jailed within months of his birth after acting as getaway drivers in a bank robbery in which two police officers and a security guard were killed.
Boudin was raised both in prison and by other members of the Underground. He later won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford followed by a stint as a translator for Hugo Chavez, the autocratic Left-wing Venezuelan president, before spending most of his legal career as a public defender.
San Franciscans knew exactly what they were getting when they elected him as their District Attorney in 2019 as Boudin pledged to concentrate on keeping people (and like his LA opposite number, who shares the same aim, he means principally black and brown people) out of prison, a policy known as ‘decarceration’.
While it’s true the U.S. incarcerates a relatively high proportion of its population, it’s an odd priority for a criminal prosecutor. Sensing disaster ahead even if Left-leaning voters didn’t, the local police union campaigned to stop him winning.
In office, the high-handed Boudin scrapped cash bail (on the grounds that it was unfair on the poor) in favour of ‘zero bail’, no longer prosecuted any minors as adults (no matter how vicious their offences) and stopped pursuing so-called ‘quality of life’ crimes such as prostitution, public defecation and open-air drug use.
He made full use of Proposition 47, a 2014 California law introduced to keep petty criminals out of prison by making drug possession and theft of goods worth less than $950 (£760) a ‘misdemeanour’ rather than a more serious ‘felony’. Misdemeanours are barely prosecuted. Most of these controversial policies have also been championed by DA Gascon in Los Angeles.
Prosecutions fell but many crimes soared as their perpetrators went unpunished. Offenders were simply released.
Sometimes, innocent lives were lost as a result. On New Year’s Eve 2020, a man driving a stolen car ran over two women as they crossed a street, killing both.
The African-American driver, Troy McAlister, had previously been arrested five times for crimes such as driving stolen cars and burglary, only for Boudin’s office to refuse to prosecute him, in each case saying it didn’t believe the police evidence was strong enough to secure a conviction.
‘I lay awake thinking, “What could we have done differently?” ’ asked Boudin with jaw-dropping arrogance.
Car theft, muggings and burglaries have rocketed, making certain neighbourhoods no-go areas for some. Asian-Americans, suffering across the U.S. from an uptick in racist assaults, accused Boudin of ignoring attacks on them — proof, some said, he cared about some minorities more than others.
Shoplifting has reached epidemic proportions. Thieves sometimes go round stores with calculators, blatantly totting up what they can safely steal before passing that $950 prosecution threshold. Others go armed, such as a woman who calmly filled up her basket in an LA branch of chemists Rite Aid, threatening anyone who came near her with a pickaxe. Astonishingly, even she escaped.
Some of the thieving is down to ruthless gangs up to 80-strong ransacking anywhere from their chemists to Louis Vuitton of goods worth as much as $100,000 at a time. Some chain-store branches have given up and closed, others resort to putting items as basic as toothpaste in barred cabinets.
San Francisco has more billionaires and more vagrants (locals prefer to call them ‘people experiencing homelessness’) per square mile than anywhere in the U.S. As in LA, many of the latter live in vast tent cities that officials try not to disturb. (The total homeless figure in California has soared by 10,000 since 2019).
San Francisco is now blighted by rampant open-air drug abuse, car break-ins, aggressive shoplifting, homeless encampments and fouling of pavements with human excrement
Many are addicts and San Francisco has become a drug-abusing Wild West with syringes littering pavements and drug dealers, selling heroin or the deadly opioid fentanyl, easily recognisable dressed in black with matching backpacks.
Space has been set aside for addicts to inject themselves in peace, provided with food, medical care, syringes and housing advice. But there are so many addicts and so many drugs that in San Francisco users are dying from overdoses at a rate of two a day.
DA Boudin was lambasted after he announced that he wouldn’t prosecute street-level drug dealers because they are ‘themselves victims of human trafficking’.
The backlash against oppressive wokeness has gone beyond issues of crime, drugs and homelessness.
In February, San Francisco voters got rid of three members of the city’s seven-strong Board of Education, which controls its schools, after getting sick of their overbearing behaviour.
Chinese-American parents were incensed when the trio replaced ability testing for entry into one of the city’s top schools with a lottery on the grounds the former was racist. And they were even more livid when it emerged the board’s vice-president had with gross offensiveness compared Asian-Americans — often high achievers in U.S. schools — to slaves who benefited from working inside a slave owner’s house.
The education chiefs had already made clear where their perverse priorities lay when they delayed reopening schools after the pandemic so they could change the names of 44 schools which honoured the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson for offences such as keeping slaves, oppressing Native Americans and in the Treasure Island author’s case once publishing a ‘cringeworthy poem’.
As with the hapless Boudin, a toxic mix of ideology and power turned bureaucrats into Maoist tyrants.
The legacy of the Black Lives Matter movement hangs heavily over this ugly mess. The international outcry over the appalling police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd in May 2020 set off months-long rioting and looting that Democrat municipalities largely ignored.
Demoralised and fed up with the resulting barrage of criticism and ‘Defund the Police’ demands — echoed, like the marches, in the UK — police are retiring in record numbers but recruits are not coming forward to replace them. Both the San Francisco and LA police are consequently suffering a recruitment crisis and are falling short of their intended strength.
Voters in Los Angeles threw their support in the city’s mayoral race behind a formerly Republican billionaire businessman, Rick Caruso, pictured left, who has pledged to save the crime and vagrancy plagued city from the worst instincts of its Left-wing leaders
And just as experts say the BLM protests made police more reluctant to enforce the law, particularly with African-Americans, so Left-wingers such as California’s crusading DAs have become ever more strident.
Some progressives, at least, have admitted it’s gone terribly wrong. San Francisco’s Democrat mayor, London Breed, who promised in 2020 to redirect $120 million from the police budget to help the black community, has dramatically changed tack and since pledged to ‘end the reign of criminals’.
Announcing a new plan to increase police funding to tackle crime, she promised to be less tolerant of the ‘bull**** that has destroyed our city’.
The crime and vagrancy nightmares are much the same in Los Angeles under a DA who also treats offenders with kid gloves. So far this year, people are being killed there at an even faster pace than in 2021, when murders hit a 15-year high.
The insanity spreads far beyond California. Radical Left District Attorneys have been elected in cities across the U.S., including New York, many of them — it emerged this week — with substantial indirect backing from billionaire investor George Soros.
Mr Soros, an anti-Brexit campaigner and famously the man who ‘broke the Bank of England’ by betting on the pound crashing out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992, reportedly gave $40 million to groups campaigning to elect Boudin and 74 other like-minded prosecutors.
Violent crime has soared in America’s Democrat-led major cities since the BLM protests. Gunshots recently, for the first time, overtook car crashes as the country’s leading cause of death by trauma.
The police won’t even necessarily detain you for trying to kill someone, as Democrat politician Craig Greenberg, running for mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, discovered when a campaign meeting was rudely interrupted by Quintez Brown.
The latter, a rising star of the Black Lives Matter movement, burst into his office and fired shots at Mr Greenberg. Charged with attempted murder, Brown was let out on bail just two days later.
Wiser and more moderate Democrats were already aware that the deranged policies of their progressive wing may well lose them November’s congressional ‘midterms’ and the 2024 presidential election.
California this week provided the rest of the U.S. — and beyond — with the same blunt message.
Maybe an end is in sight to the lunacy.