Our criminal justice system is deeply tainted by racially disparate outcomes. Tom and I are raising our three daughters and have always told them that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can achieve anything. But time and time again, top headlines in the news remind us of the ways this isn’t true in San Francisco and across the country.
The recent outrageous college admissions scandal is a powerful reminder of all the invisible ways privilege allows some to break the rules with impunity, while others are denied their basic civil rights: of equal treatment under the law, and equal opportunity to succeed. While some people can buy their children’s way into college, others watch as their children are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated at alarming rates.
Suzy Loftus and daughters with Rep. Barbara Lee and Mayor London Breed
What can the San Francisco District Attorney’s office do to make things right in our City? What can I do to build a San Francisco where any parent–whether she has a college degree or not–can stare into their daughter’s eyes and honestly tell her she has an equal shot at success?
The District Attorney should be a guardian of justice, and should do all she can to ensure that everyone’s civil rights — our cherished guarantees of equal treatment and equal opportunity — are protected.
A District Attorney for all San Franciscans.
As a candidate to be your District Attorney, my top priority is to ensure that we create a city that is both safe and just — not for some, but for all. As your District Attorney, I will establish the first-ever Civil Rights Unit within the office of the San Francisco District Attorney. Staffed with experienced civil rights lawyers, prosecutors, and policy and research experts, the mission of the Civil Rights Unit will be to protect and advance the rights of all San Franciscans.
When we advance the civil rights of all members of our community; when we prioritize the needs of survivors; when we divert people out of our criminal justice system and instead invest in addressing intergenerational poverty and trauma, cut bureaucracy and help people in need; when we successfully cycle people out of our system and transition offenders through smart and effective re-entry, San Francisco will be more safe and our systems will be more just.
For decades, the criminal justice system in San Francisco has seen extreme racial disparities, and data shows a significant nationwide problem. Currently, African Americans are 5% of our population, but compose 53% of our jail population. Even as drug arrests in San Francisco have dropped 92% since 1988, disproportionate arrests of African Americans have persisted. Women, especially women of color and LGBTQIA women, are the fastest growingpopulation in jails. Latinx and African American individuals are more likely to be booked on serious charges with an increased likelihood that charges may be refiled. Adult probation sentences are more likely to be longer for African Americans and Latinx individuals. It is the prosecutor, charged with doing justice, who must take on this issue and take an unflinching look at his or her own practices to determine how to eradicate bias in the criminal justice system, reduce racial disparities across the board, and focus on the prosecutor’s ability to protect the rights of all San Franciscans. The very legitimacy of our justice system is at stake.
The truth is this: when examining disparities or injustice, we all want to believe that bias exists elsewhere — not within us. But what we must face is that bias is a poison that affects everyone — sometimes it is explicit, but far more often it is implicit. The person acting on this bias isn’t even aware that it exists. This includes jurors, judges, police officers, prosecutors, witnesses, and victims — no one is spared. In order to create a more just system, we have to begin by recognizing when the government has the ability to take one’s liberty, it has the obligation to ensure justice is truly equitable and color blind: to race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, and faith.
Our Historic Next Step
To make true, sustained and bold change in our system, we need to change the approach from within while transforming the District Attorney’s Office to be truly accountable to the community. We will use science-based and data-driven best practices, address the cynicism that pervades the profession, take our lead from community voices, and create space for prosecutors to better understand how bias impacts their decision making and leads to outcomes that they may not intend. In addition, we will partner with academic institutions to evaluate and study the impact of this approach, both on the individual prosecutors and on the evolving role of prosecutors in securing short term and long term safety and justice for all members of the community through the justice system.
San Francisco’s Civil Rights Unit will be charged with instituting solutions to eliminate disparities in our criminal justice system that affect individuals of all racial and gender identities, sexual orientation, religious affiliations, and physical abilities, starting with the current practices of the District Attorney’s Office. Justice also must never be predicated on income or wealth. Access to justice should never be limited by how someone looks or who they love. Restorative justice practices that center the voices and preserve the rights of crime victims also must be integrated at all stages of the criminal justice system.
I will use the power and discretion of the Office to institute new policies and practices aimed at creating a more fair and just system:
- Conduct a complete audit of SFDA practices and outcomes, led by experts in the field, to understand where existing policies and practices are increasing or decreasing disparities.
- Collect and analyze data on charging decisions, use of prosecutorial discretion, conviction integrity, and other key decision points to understand where disparities are being exacerbated.
- Pilot best and emerging practices to eliminate bias, such as color-blind charging.
- Establish new policies around charging decisions, plea offers, sentencing recommendations and other practices to combat racial disparities.
- Require implicit bias, procedural justice, and racial equity training for all SFDA employees.
- Require monthly reports across the Office measuring racial disparities in case outcomes for defendants and crime victims alike.
A Safer and More Just San Francisco for Everyone
The Civil Rights Unit also will be charged with leveraging the affirmative power of the prosecutor’s office to enforce civil rights, including prosecuting those who commit civil rights violations against our residents. Both independently and in partnership with community-based organizations and other agencies including the City Attorney, California Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s office, we will engage in community “know your rights” education and assign a team of prosecutors and investigators to enforce the law to protect the health, welfare, and rights of all San Franciscans. The affirmative enforcement agenda of the Civil Rights Unit will include:
- Workers’ Rights: Enforce workers’ rights and prosecute cases of unfair labor practices, including wage theft, employment discrimination, unsafe working conditions, etc.
- Housing Rights: Protect the housing rights of all San Franciscans, including combating housing discrimination based on race, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other factors, poor housing conditions, unlawful evictions, etc.
- Environmental Justice: Hold toxic polluters accountable and enforce our environmental laws.
- Corporate Crime: Prosecute corporate fraud and predatory business practices that target marginalized populations (e.g., notario fraud targeting immigrant communities, redlining, etc.)
- Immigrants’ Rights: Due process and equal rights are fundamental American values and must be applied equally to all community members, especially immigrants, that come into contact with the criminal justice system.
- Victims’ Rights: Every aspect of the criminal justice system must strengthen the voices of survivors of crime, increase access to services that facilitate their healing, integrate restorative practices, and identify systemic gaps within our community that are the root of many crimes.
- Restoring Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People: Protect the rights of and address unlawful discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals in housing, employment, education, and other areas.
The leaders of the San Francisco Justice Community recently committed to reducing jail populations by 16% over the next two years. I believe we can be even more bold in our ambition. Having a dedicated Civil Rights Unit will provide the internal capacity within the Office of the District Attorney to ensure we’re doing our part to build a more just San Francisco. Together, San Francisco can take the lead in protecting and preserving the civil rights of everyone who calls this beautiful city home and in reimagining and reforming our criminal justice system.