The system fails us

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Twenty-eight years after surviving a mass shooting at 101 California St. office building, Alan Hinman still felt panic when he arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday morning.

“I’m fighting PTSD just sitting here,” said Hinman, sitting in a circle with six other crime victims, several attorneys, and two top attorneys who gathered in the San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office that day.

The survivors spoke in measured tones and occasionally paused to wipe their eyes, told Boudin and Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton how traumatic moments of violence changed their lives.

They portrayed persistent anxiety, broken marriages, difficulties in keeping a job, endless phone calls with people from bourgeois bureaucracies, eating disorders, insomnia, and most importantly, the annoying feeling that no one seemed to be listening.

While the speakers did not set out specific policy goals, most had the same message: victims need a complex range of ongoing services, and currently the state criminal justice system cannot deliver them.

Organized by the nonprofit Prosecutors Alliance of California – a coalition of progressive district attorneys working to avoid mass incarceration – the event came at a time when the political tide was turning in California. After a series of high-profile electoral victories by reform-minded prosecutors and a year of protests that highlighted racist injustice in law enforcement, prosecutors in many counties are now under pressure to tackle crime.

Boudin, in particular, has become a polarizing figure, loved by people who share his vision of compassionate condemnation and distraction programs, but heavily criticized by local residents who view him as overly indulgent and indifferent to crime victims.

Sitting on the sidelines are crime survivors whose stories and voices are often co-opted by one side or the other – an issue several of them noticed on Tuesday.

“We are not a monolith,” said Tinisch Hollins. The San Francisco-based executive director of the nonprofit Californians for Safety and Justice lost two brothers to gun violence in 2013 and 2017. Hollins said she had experienced other forms of abuse and that her family never recovered from their grief. A third brother died on August 16, and investigators found he likely had committed suicide, Hollins said.

The survivors, who spoke for two hours in the courtyard of Boudin’s office in Potrero Hill, came from different backgrounds and told very different experiences, although their stories had a common theme: everyone had ended up in bureaucratic purgatory at some point, unable to get compensation for pain and suffering or quarreling with a picky insurance company or filling out mountains of forms. And everyone still survived the aftermath of the crime, whether it happened last year or decades ago.

Boudin said he was surprised by these parallels.

“One of the things that was really illuminating was how common their experience was, no matter what year, regardless of district or district attorney or police chief – their needs are not being met,” Boudin told The Chronicle.

“As a criminal justice system, we need to remember that victims are more than pieces of evidence. They are real people with real harm that goes well beyond the completion of any specific criminal case or police investigation. “

His proposed solution: Investing in support services, perhaps financed by savings made by reducing the population of the prison state.

Of the seven survivors who gathered on Tuesday, two had witnessed mass shootings, killed three family members with firearms, one had suffered sexual assault in childhood and another suffered a traumatic brain injury after an assailant hit her with the butt of a pistol.

Jenifer Redmond of Sacramento arrived with a small pile of leaflets describing the murder of her 19-year-old daughter Sarayah Jade Redmond on September 25th last year. Sarayah was visiting a friend at the Creek apartment complex on West El Camino Avenue and Stonecreek Drive in Sacramento when someone was gunshot through the window.

“Nobody still needs to be arrested and held accountable for stealing their life,” said the flyers under a collage of photographs of Sarayah.

Redmond said she was desperate when her daughter’s story disappeared from the news media and realized that if she wanted to solve the crime, she might have to do the legwork herself.

“My job is to help other mothers, other fathers, other siblings who are forgotten,” she said on Tuesday in a trembling voice.

Becton said that like Boudin, she got out of the conversation and saw the need for more robust services. She also found that the survivors were not determined to punish their perpetrators.

Although one of the speakers, Norma Marquez, said she was grateful that her ex-partner was jailed for a week after a domestic violence incident – giving her time to apply for a restraining order – others said they would even like alternatives see imprisonment for acts of violence.

“I… am very aware that stories like mine, about a young white woman walking around and being arbitrarily attacked… her experience.

“And,” she added, “that directly contradicts my view of the world.”

Rachel Swan is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @rachelswan



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