Guest Opinion: Why I'm running for SF district attorney

  • by Ryan Khojasteh
  • Wednesday March 13, 2024
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SF district attorney candidate Ryan Khojasteh. Photo: Courtesy Ryan Khojasteh<br>
SF district attorney candidate Ryan Khojasteh. Photo: Courtesy Ryan Khojasteh

I am frustrated and concerned with the direction we're heading in. From the many conversations I've had with my neighbors, the consensus is that people feel less safe today than they did a few years ago.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins herself promised that if we recalled the last district attorney, everything would get better. Now that she's in charge, things have gotten worse. This city is demonstrably less safe — both from a factual standpoint and from a "feelings" standpoint.

That's why I am running for San Francisco district attorney in November. I believe there is a better way to achieve public safety.

Under Jenkins' administration, violent crime has been steadily rising. Robberies have increased significantly. At the beginning of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November, Czech journalists were robbed of their camera equipment at gunpoint in North Beach. This happened at a time when our city was supposed to be the safest, given the massive influx of police.

And now, there are people crashing cars into buildings and stealing ATMs. This just happened twice in the quiet Richmond district — at the CVS I frequent on Clement and the Bank of America on Balboa. People have become so brazen that even a police station was burglarized in the Fillmore.

Unfortunately, our beloved city is still seeing many high-profile crimes take place, intensifying concern throughout many different neighborhoods.

We are also facing a serious drug epidemic. Last year, San Francisco had a record 806 fatal overdoses. And our homelessness crisis has made the desperation and suffering of human beings shockingly visible.

Jenkins has dragged us into the past by reverting to the failed War on Drugs. This is why so many more have died of overdose than ever before. Using our criminal legal system as the primary means of solving a public health emergency has never worked in our country. The evidence has shown this. People die when we prioritize playing politics over sound judgment and science.

Many people aren't even reporting property crime anymore — they've given up on contacting the police. I know this from direct conversations with friends, neighbors, and business leaders. Organized retail theft persists. Auto burglaries are prevalent. Open-air drug markets have gotten worse.

Businesses citywide are suffering and leaving empty storefronts in their place. Residents, commuters, and tourists are fed up. By her own logic and rhetoric from the 2022 recall, this is crystal clear: the current DA's administration is failing us. We cannot afford four more years.

As a city, I believe we can advance public safety with a better approach that balances reactive measures to address crime and proactive measures to prevent it. We don't have to choose one or the other, we can do both.

My family's own experience with crime is what led me to become a prosecutor. I lost my uncle to gun violence. He was murdered on February 4, 1996. As the child of immigrants who fled violence and war in Iran, we don't have many family members in the United States. He was our closest relative and his murder was devastating. It was also preventable. My family and I care about public safety. We believe in accountability. We care about supporting victims of crime.

I have done that work. I prosecuted violent crimes at the San Francisco Hall of Justice as an assistant district attorney. I've kept people in custody and I've personally held the hands of victims as I walked them up to the stand to testify. Incarceration is an important tool at our disposal to protect the public and one that I've used many times as a prosecutor.

I also understand the importance of working hard to stop the pipeline to prison for our youth. Two young people killed my uncle — they were 19 and 20 years old. I wanted to make sure the kids in our juvenile justice system wouldn't grow up to kill someone's family member too. That's why I spent two years at juvenile hall to make sure troubled youth in our city were supported and rehabilitated so they did not graduate to adult level criminal activity. We worked collaboratively to meaningfully intervene in kids' lives. It worked; violent crime was decreasing.

Placing kids on a better path is good for public safety — my passion for this work stemming from my own family tragedy. I hoped the DA's office would continue this progress under Jenkins. I advocated for the continuation of evidence-based programs like "Make It Right" that reduced recidivism among children by up to 66%. Instead, Jenkins fired me and immediately began to roll back these programs.

I didn't realize that common sense was a fireable offense.

As your next district attorney, I want to pursue a better approach to lasting public safety by advancing these common sense and evidence-based solutions. I believe in following the science.

For example, under the current DA's administration, referrals to Collaborative Courts and treatment programs have been declining. These programs, like Drug Court that address substance use disorder, have proved to make us safer as opposed to temporary incarceration or probation. It's also extremely cost-effective.

Addressing substance use disorders and mental health disorders make us safer. Case management services and access to stable housing make us safer. Educational opportunities and employment opportunities make us safer.

We can hold people accountable to their own rehabilitation. If they fail, then we can proceed with traditional prosecution.

That's the difference between me and Jenkins. I have also worked in rehabilitative settings as a prosecutor at juvenile hall and in Collaborative Courts. I've seen the value of these programs. I've witnessed people graduate and head towards success as a productive member of society. I plan to expand our usage of these proven programs and implement robust data transparency with the public to build faith in this work.

Let me be clear — we will prosecute and file charges against those who commit crimes in our city. We will hold people accountable. When appropriate, accountability can go hand-in-hand with rehabilitation. We don't talk enough about this. We need to make long-term investments into preventing recidivism instead of creating a revolving door to county jail.

Both my career and involvement in politics have shown me that the DA's office cannot be successful in isolation, surrounded only by political allies. There's a reason over 60 people and counting have resigned from the DA's office in such a short time, including victim advocates and career prosecutors I learned from. When cases are shuffled around and continuity is lacking, the public suffers.

I will not run an office that prioritizes political ideology at the expense of public safety. And I will not engage in mass-firings that create a hostile work environment. In fact, I plan to promote hard-working and ethical career prosecutors from within the office to serve as chiefs.

I commit to working closely with the school board, the City College board, our partners at City Hall, and community-based organizations on policies and programs to prevent crime. It's past due for every stakeholder in our city to come together for a week-long "Public Safety Summit" where we can prioritize collaboration instead of finger-pointing.

We have a responsibility to build partnerships with everyone. We must seek solutions together, not scapegoats. We should not blame judges who are following the law for our city's challenges.

San Francisco is a city of innovation. We have always looked ahead. We don't need a district attorney who will look to the past and push the failed policies of the 1990s on us. It didn't work then, and it isn't working today.

I will be a responsible and moderating voice in this sea of toxic politics. I want my city to be the safest it can be for everyone. And I understand that can only happen if we work together and innovate our way to true public safety.

Ryan Khojasteh is a proud San Franciscan and straight ally running for district attorney in the upcoming November 2024 election.

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