Skip to content

The state of criminal justice reform: an interview with Angela Chavez

SF Rising volunteer, Ethan Lee, and Communications and Volunteer Manager, Sana Sethi, sat down with Angela Chavez from Courage California to talk about the state of criminal justice reform in the current moment and the impacts on the larger movement. 

Ethan: There has been a trend in San Francisco towards policies that expand police powers, criminalize social problems, and increase incarceration. Recently, voters passed Prop E, which allows SFPD to use surveillance technology, and Prop F, which cuts substance-dependent communities off from welfare. What has led towards the trend of harsher criminal justice policies? 

Angela: I wouldn’t say it’s a San Francisco trend, it’s not unique or isolated to SF. California as a state, and even elsewhere, has been said to have a “crime wave” that’s been falsely used to blame the public safety reform policies and reformer leaders. California has been made to be the scapegoat to say “here’s this crime wave, this is what happens when you have reformer policies or reformer elected officials.” It’s not true at all. It’s a narrative that’s being used up and down our state, and nationwide. But perception is reality when it comes to voters, and the perception in California is that our state and cities are unsafe because of smash and grabs, fentanyl, and increased homelessness. This narrative is being driven by paid and earned media and it’s an opportunity for others to latch onto it as a means for others to get their special interests made. It’s more of a resurgence in harsher policies, it’s not so much a trend. 

The resurgence is a response to progressive elections and policies. It has everything to do with the response to progressives getting elected and reforming policies coming to light, not so much to do with actual crime statistics or what makes communities safe. As soon as a reformer is voted in, those who want to keep the status quo, or keep harsher policies, they are already from Day 1 looking for a way to change it back to the way it was. We’re seeing deep-pocketed reactionary forces coming out to weaponize real community issues like homelessness and drug addiction to push fear-mongering tactics to influence voters, instead of supporting and investing in real solutions.

These deep pockets aren’t necessarily coming from within our communities. One of the biggest donors who has been backing these harsher policies is Neighbors for a Better San Francisco. Which sounds really lovely but are largely funded by wealthy hedge fund CEOs and happen to be a major donor to some of the current electeds in San Francisco. 

These harsh and ineffective policies like drug testing welfare users and those who are accessing housing services, and granting police more power, they’re not necessarily in response to a community’s needs, they’re more informed by wealthy opportunists. They’re not data-driven, they’re driven by those who have the means to influence and are seizing the moment.