by Kolby LaMarche
The recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin reflects the backlash to progressive approach to crime and justice reform. It also highlights a stark divide, frustration, and concern among the electorate who support progressive reform but reject the assumption that it must come at the expense of public safety. Now, in Chittenden County, if we reclaim progressivism, we have an opportunity to reject failed policies while enacting meaningful and long-lasting change.
As a progressive Democrat, I care deeply about justice, law enforcement accountability, institutional reforms, and safe and unified communities. However, in Burlington, so-called progressive reforms have sprung up only to backfire on neighbors and harm the most vulnerable in our community. As I wrote about previously, concrete change comes from building consensus, holding space for all voices of the community, and making policy happen through due process, not performative politics.
Unfortunately, the faux avatars of progressivism grossly neglected the people and have instead branded themselves the sole agents of change. Their record of ineffective policies and the lingering concerns of neighbors reveals the opposite. A failed attempt to ‘defund the police’ by the City Council landed Burlington in a violent crime crisis, causing officers to leave in droves and starving Burlington of public safety resources. More importantly, State’s Attorney Sarah George is paving the way for crime to run rampant while leaving victims unheard and without justice. However, the recent grass-roots victory in San Francisco gives hope to neighbors concerned about crime.
In dismissing changing realities, the faux-progressives are quick to assert that those concerned with crime are simply old white folks. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The former chairwoman of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a member of the AAPI community, Mary Jung, led the recall effort of Boudin. In fact, according to the City Journal, “Asian-Americans played a key role in ousting Boudin.” This may be due to Boudin’s refusal to prosecute violent attacks toward the AAPI community as hate crimes, instead opting for lesser charges for the sake of his faux-progressive agenda. This version of progressivism isn’t empathetic or anti-racist. Its purveyors are actively harming BIPOC by promoting untested policies which seek to quell the very injustices and struggles they inadvertently perpetuate. It has become a cycle of performative and reckless action followed by detrimental consequences that benefit absolutely no one.
Boudin failed to crack down on violent crime against the AAPI community while claiming to champion racial justice and progressive reform. Other cases are closer to home.
Abdullah Sall, a Muslim immigrant from Liberia, was employed as an administrative assistant in the State’s Attorney’s office under previous office holder and former VT attorney general T.J Donovan. Soon after Sarah George took office in January of 2017, Sall was fired. A report released by the Vermont Human Rights Commission later found that George discriminated against Sall “based on his national origin, race and color.” While George highlighted that Sall’s work performance had been worsening, so too had the performance of other white employees. The commission noted that “no one with White privilege, no matter how educated or how well-meaning is immune from implicit bias or committing an unwitting discriminatory act.” Instead of holding space for Sall’s lived experience and apologizing for the bias which she so clearly held against him, George doubled down and vowed to continue fighting Sall.
Faux-progressives in power are creating self-inflicted crises, then covering up their mistakes by finger-wagging and grandstanding behind the shield of racial justice.
Crime affects everyone, and we feel the harm radiate throughout communities. Someone you may know could have been accosted in downtown Burlington. A store you frequent may have seen a rise in thefts. Or you may have heard gunshots near your home – I sure have.
Balancing reform and public safety is difficult. Leadership must adapt to and with the climate of crime; they must ensure the safety of the public foremost and work collaboratively to achieve change. To meet the safety challenges of our time, we require leadership that will bring justice to victims and seek rehabilitation where appropriate to re-incorporate struggling folks into our society.
While I am concerned about the state of progressive politics and patiently await a shift in its direction, I believe we can still do what is most important for our democracy: bring neighbors together. Hope remains so long as we can build an inclusive coalition for change.
Our communities need and deserve attention. We must demand an approach to progressive change that is both responsive and accountable.
The author is a former Burlington Republican. Incumbent Sarah George is facing a challenge in the August 9 Democratic primary for Chittenden County State’s Attorney.