Four years ago, progressive prosecutors, aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement and pragmatic enough to draw establishment support, racked up wins across the U.S. Now, with homicide numbers rising in some cities and elections looming, their attempts to roll back the tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s are under attack from familiar critics on the right, but also from onetime Democratic Party allies, the New York Times reports.
San Francisco, District Attorney Chesa Boudin faces a recall vote in June amid criticism from the city’s Democratic mayor. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is trying to fend off a recall effort as some officials complain about guidelines eliminating the death penalty and prosecutions of juveniles as adults.
Manhattan’s new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has run afoul of the new Democratic mayor, Eric Adams, and his new police commissioner over policies critics call too lenient.
Rising homicide crime rates have even Democrats in liberal cities calling for more law enforcement, not less — forcing prosecutors to defend their policies against their own allies. Some traditional boosters have soured on the officials they once backed.
“I think that whole honeymoon period lasts about five or six hours,” said Wesley Bell, the prosecuting attorney in Missouri's St. Louis County, who is seeking re-election. Bell, a former city councilman in Ferguson, Mo., is among prosecutors elected on a promise to address racial disparities in criminal justice. Most support eliminating the death penalty and cash bail, limiting prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses and scaling back sentences.
There is no clear evidence linking progressive policies to rising crime. Critics have been quick to make the connection, suggesting that prosecutors let offenders walk and created an expectation that low-level offenses won’t be charged.
A Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters in New York City found that 74 percent of respondents considered crime a “very serious” problem — the largest share since the survey began asking the question in 1999 and more than 20 percentage points greater than the previous high in 2016/
In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed has become an outspoken critic of Boudin’s approach, which emphasizes social services over policing.
“This is not working,” Breed said on the New York Times podcast “Sway.” “We’ve added all these additional resources — the street crisis response team, the ambassadors, the services, the buildings we purchase, the hotels we purchase, the resources. We’ve added all these things to deal with food insecurity. All these things. Yet people are still being physically harmed and killed.”