Revisiting the DA Recall That Felt Like a San Francisco Heartbreak

It was a mash-up of apathy, exhaustion, and delusion that feels somehow personal — a San Francisco that turned its back on itself, with an uncertain future ahead.

  • This article was originally published on June 8, 2022, after the results from San Francisco’s special recall election were finalized, showing that the city chose to remove now-former SF DA Chesa Boudin from office. Brooke Jenkins was appointed by Mayor Breed to serve in the interim until the November 8th election of that same year; Jenkins manage to secure the majority vote to keep her appointment; Jenkins’s 11-month tenure has seen a rise in violent crime across San Francisco, department controversy around her swift firings of fifteen former Boudin staffers, objective favoritism by Breed, and support of policies and narratives that hint at a return of the war on drugs.
  • The article has been republished — the body text below unchanged — in the wake of San Francisco’s mass shooting that transpired on Friday, June 9th, around 9 p.m., leaving at least nine individuals injured; no deaths have been reported as a result of the shooting, and all the victims are expected to recover.
  • Though Boudin previously said he hasn’t ruled out running again for this one-time office, the Rhodes Scholar was recently appointed as the executive director of Berkeley Law’s new Criminal Law & Justice Center, where he hopes to build on his legacy work on “[shedding] light on issues too often dominated by [fear-mongering] and scare tactics rather than facts and law.”

 Whenever I have the chance, I vote in person at San Francisco City Hall on Election Day; I’m always self-conscious about whatever body odor might’ve wafted out from me when raising my hands going through an on-site metal detector.

There was no line yesterday. I spilled coffee on my mail-in ballot and had to receive a new one. I had to urinate once my signed-and-sealed ballot slipped through a slit no wider than a 2015 Macbook. All of this took twelve minutes — 720 seconds spent fulfilling my civic duty as a member of a (barely) functioning democracy.

Yet, registered voter turnout was barely at 26% in San Francisco the morning after the election.

By 8:53 p.m., June 7 — the time and date the San Francisco Chronicle called SF’s special recall election around District Attorney Chesa Boudin — my body began tensing, clenching, tightening.

Like an adult reticulated python had wrapped itself around my torso, my neck, my shoulders. Breathing became hard, more laborious as the reality sank in: One of the most progressive cities had regurgitated its decision to welcome one of the most progressive district attorneys it has ever seen.

By at least a 20% lead, no less.

Nothing was hurting. Everything was numb. Exhaustion nuzzled ambivalence like an old lover.

I dug my thumbnail into my forearm. I wasn’t dissociating: I was — (I still am, I will be) — heartbroken.

What washed over me last night wasn’t alien. The collection of body sensations and thought patterns echoed those felt when Donald Trump received 304 Electoral College votes in 2016, and I cried with newfound friends at Dolores Park. When my first San Francisco boyfriend and I broke up inside his silver 2011 Toyota Camry, parked by a Safeway in Marin. When I realized I would never have a close relationship with my mother and father, a reality set in atop the Filbert Steps. When I think of the fact that there have already been more than 250 mass shootings this year in the United States.

Heartbreak fractures the soul in specific, though familiar ways. But those among us brave enough to walk through life in tandem with vulnerability know its commonalities.

Each time a little piece of ourselves shatters and falls to the wayside, we watch it sink in slow motion. We replay each descent (at a dizzying pace) skimming through what went wrong, what could’ve gone wrong, what has gone wrong, and what will now go wrong.

How enchantments burn to bitter ash. How we’re, somehow, meant to organize it all inside another shoebox… that we’ll stack on top of one prior, which continues collecting dust.

How do you go about putting together such a puzzle when your hands are shaking and your jaw is clenching?

We don’t grieve anymore. Or, rather: We don’t give ourselves the space to adequately feel loss — the death of a loved one, the falling out of love, the outcome of an important election.

By not retreating into ourselves, misery only multiplies over time. We need boundaries, time, and distance around our notions of grief, so we can divide that pain into manageable, digestible nuggets. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves choking on our own despondencies when we least expect it.

What we’re experiencing is the result of years of overstimulation and a saturation of trauma. We brew coffee and check our phones simultaneously, sparking our nervous systems while scrolling through the names of ten-year-olds whose bodies were pulverized by a semi-automatic weapon last month.

It’s not their fault, either. Present-day society dictates that we must be all-knowing, lively, and productive at any given moment, oftentimes juggling all three qualities at once. God forbid you to drop anyone of those proverbial balls, and you’re deemed uneducated. Uniformed, foolish. Or worse: irrelevant.

Why engage in your civic duties when you’ve been previously deemed nonessential?

I’m not entirely certain which direction I’m moving in — or want to move in.

I do know that this feeling is OK — that all of these feelings are OK.

In the absence of certainty, I’ve always found myself siding with curiosity. Inquisitiveness around anything is inherently an exercise in communing with levity and vivaciousness; it allows space for heartbreak to work itself out in softer ways. Honoring curiosity, by definition, lends itself to creating pockets of space.

I understand myself well enough now at 30 years old that the smallest satchel of joy can do wonders for human morale.

Feature image: Courtesy of Brittany Hosea-Small/Berkeley Law

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