Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Warning: A Dark Piece

Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Credit: Yilmaz Akin / Provided by Subminimal

Warning: this is a dark piece in a dark time.

As I think about what to write this morning, I recognize the need to express the shame, horror and fear of this moment. Almost 100,000 people dead from COVID-19. Millions of people have no way to pay for food or rent. Millions of elders are at risk of death or homelessness. Yet, we cling to the shreds of a dying democracy and a fantasy called “getting back to normal.”

The shame is that we as a nation seem oblivious to the tragedy of so many unnecessary deaths in our midst. Part of struggling to stay sane in this season means trying to maintain some sense of normal life for ourselves and our loved ones. I quote my sister often these days: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Our efforts to maintain stability in the midst of obvious chaos make it appear that we are unaffected by the massive death toll. Yet, we are all affected in some way. Truly, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It may be a relative or friend that you know has COVID-19. You may have a loved one who died from COVID-19 or a loved one you fear may die from COVID-19. We are all affected. But to the outside world, it looks like we are insistent on “getting back to normal.” It seems like we are willing to die for “business as usual.” It is only a facade created to make us all feel better while making us all look worse than we are.

Our National Hypocrisy

The New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
New Jersey Veterans Home, 4/8/20
Credit: Michael Karas / NorthJersey.com / USA Today Networks

The Memorial Day holiday highlights the hypocrisy of the moment. This is a holiday to commemorate those who died while serving in the military. Politicians preen themselves to acknowledge military service on this day. We are all taught to say “thank you” in the presence of veterans. Yet, last week, we learned that a COVID-19 experiment killed at least 26 veterans receiving care at VA medical centers. Others required ventilators to survive at higher rates than veterans who were not administered the death drug. These veterans died too, at the hands of the military.

Ironically, the experimental treatment imposed on these veterans by our government reminds us of the tragedy of the Tuskegee experiment. From 1940 to 1972, a government study left 399 Black men with untreated syphilis. The government did not tell the men they were being used as guinea pigs. Even when doctors recognized penicillin was an effective treatment in 1945, the “study” continued for another 27 years.

We Are All Expendable

What COVID-19 exposes in America is that we are all expendable. That includes veterans in hospitals, in prisons and without homes. At least 8-10% of those imprisoned in this country are military veterans. One 2012 study found the mortality risk for veterans released from prison is 12 times higher than the general population. No doubt the mortality rates for all returning citizens in the post-COVID-19 season will skyrocket. There is no protection from COVID-19 in prison. As clergy woman Melissa Cedillo notes, “The American prison system today is a new iteration of this long-standing white supremacist goal —  to control and dehumanize people of color, the impoverished, the marginalized.

Outside of prison, COVID-19 is killing Black people at three times the rate of white people. And as Dr. Fauci notes, this is not “news” and there is nothing we can do about it in this moment.

In fact, we are all expendable: veterans, nurses, health care workers, domestic workers, gig workers, low-wage workers, small business owners, homeless people, incarcerated people, Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, all of us. Indeed, in January 2019, according to Forbes magazine, 78% of all American workers were living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” That was last year, before the pandemic hit us. Now, for at least 40 million people, there is no paycheck. No health insurance. No savings, only student loans, enormous medical bills or credit card debt.

A Dark Piece

I warned you – this is a dark piece. This is bearing witness to the collapse of an economic system coming apart at the seams. A democracy that has succumbed to celebrity fascism. A failing education system erected on inequity based on race and social status. Suddenly, the rest of the world considers America “a shithole country.” As writer Marley K. points out:

“America is the rich nation where people can starve to death, children can sleep in cars and no one is bothered by it, where citizens get sick and can’t afford to get well, and where people who work all their lives can’t afford to grow old and die in peace.”

 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

We face the closure of the Post office, a national institution since 1775 and a place of employment for Black people since the end of slavery. According to writer umair haque, we have actually become “too poor” to save ourselves. And we are still only at the beginning of the pandemic. With states rushing to “re-open” the economy, the death toll will only rise. We are simply not seeing the body bags that were widely displayed on television during the Vietnam War. But people are in fact dying: 100,000 people so far to be precise.

Who Will Make The Change?

We already have the answers. We already know what must be done. It starts with Medicare for All. We must have a guaranteed basic income for all. We must have a Green New Deal. It is up to us to destroy the “inherently unequal” school system that Thurgood Marshall challenged and start over. We must end mass incarceration and dismantle our criminal injustice system. This pandemic must result in a fundamental re-ordering of our priorities and how we pay for them. The question is who among us will be alive to make it happen.

Like I said: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Death in San Leandro

Steven Taylor, Killed by Police  in San Leandro
Steven Taylor Killed by San Leandro Police, April 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt

Death in San Leandro

I live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.

Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.

This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.

Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police

There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.

Gwen Woods and her son, Mario Woods
Courtesy: ABC News

Steven Taylor’s murder in San Leandro is so so reminiscent of the murder of Mario Woods by police in San Francisco.

The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.

California’s New Law

In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”

The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.

Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.

Death in Alameda County

Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.

Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.

In March 2017, Fremont police officers shot and killed Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, a 16-year-old passenger in a botched police attempt to arrest the driver of the car. Ebbie was shot 5 times with AR-15 styled rifles when plainclothes officers fired into the moving vehicle.

While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”

2018 Police Killings in Oakland

In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.

In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**

The Conflict of Interest

Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.

Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?

Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”

The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**

A Test for California Law

Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.

The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.

I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.

** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.

Attorney Larry White Opinion: OPD Reform Was Not Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

Coalition for Police Accountability Logo
Coalition for Police Accountability

The following editorial by Larry White, Attorney for the Coalition for Police Accountability was originally published in the Mercury News on March 13, 2020.

Larry points out how former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s actions after she was fired confirm that police reform was not possible under her leadership. 

Anne Kirkpatrick was fired from her job as Oakland Police Chief last month by Mayor Libby Schaaf, on recommendation of the independent Oakland Police Commission. The Coalition for Police Accountability called for her dismissal a year ago and the Police Commission had been considering it for months.

Kirkpatrick is not happy; it’s not my fault, she says, it was that greedy Robert Warshaw, the Monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. He held us back, just so he could make more money.

Essential Background

Some background is essential. The City of Oakland gave to a federal judge ultimate oversight over the city’s police department when it agreed to the NSA in 2003. The arrangement was to last no more than five years and result in real reform of the Oakland Police Department. It’s still going on but the OPD under Kirkpatrick actually went backward in compliance and is doing worse than it did three years ago.

None of it is my fault, Kirkpatrick says. What we really need, is the (Bill Barr and Donald Trump) U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Warshaw, she asserts, because it’s all his fault.

So many things are wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, in any well governed city, a police chief, even a former chief, does not involve herself in politics. That’s a dangerous road for a city’s chief law enforcement officer to go down.

And then there’s the fact that the Monitor is not in charge of the NSA, he’s not even a party to the NSA; he’s just an employee of the federal court. But even more alarming is that Kirkpatrick (who has a law degree) doesn’t seem to understand that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government.

Calling on the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch, to “oversee the overseer” and to investigate a federal court is directly out of some extreme right wing playbook, something that perhaps Trump might do in the terrifying event that he gets reelected. The Department of Justice cannot “oversee” a federal court–at least not while we still have a democracy.

The parties to the NSA are the City of Oakland, a group of plaintiffs represented by two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris. They have called for the firing of Warshaw and the City has not tried to end the NSA. At this point the only way it can be ended is if the parties agree that the OPD has complied with the NSA requirements. In order to do that, we need an effective police chief who is actually committed to reform.

Oakland Police Department Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in by Mayor Libby Schaaf at City Hall in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Oh and one more bit of demagoguery that needs to be called out. Kirkpatrick says that Warshaw had been accused of sexual harassment “yet he was allowed to keep his job.” These charges were investigated and Warshaw was fully exonerated.

Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

The NSA process is far from perfect and the sooner it is history the better. But first its goal -reform of the Oakland Police Department – must be met. That could never have happened under Anne Kirkpatrick.

I Feel Like Going On

“Though trials may come on every hand, I feel like going on.” Marvin Winans

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. August 28, 1963. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

This was a rough week. It started on Saturday, April 4th as I remember the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. That awful night in Memphis traumatized the entire country. It was such a game-changer for me personally. Yet, here we are, some 52 years later and barely a mention of the event that shook America to its core. It seems that the pandemic “trumps” everything.

Fast forward to April 8, 2020 – a day that will live in infamy for me and so many others. The day that Bernie Sanders “suspended” his campaign for the U.S. Presidency.

The end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign marks a sobering reality. The American economy is in shambles. The federal government is under the control of the tangerine reincarnation of Hitler and the federal bench is infested with far-right-wing fanatics appointed for life. For me, the inescapable reality is that the “beloved community” that Dr. King preached about will not come to pass in my lifetime.

It is a sobering thought. Not in my lifetime.

Dr. King’s words from his final sermon on April 3, 1968 rang in my ears all day on April 8, 2020:

“I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Not in my lifetime.

Biden Is Not Bernie

Even if Joe Biden can hold it together until the election (not a certainty), he seems almost certain to wither under Heir Trump’s blistering attacks. Biden has already promised to veto Medicare for All. He makes this pledge at a time when Black people are dying at three times the rate from COVID-19 than other races. The racial disparities that have always been a matter of life or death for Black folks will continue to flourish in a Biden presidency.

For me, the urgency of a Bernie Sanders presidency was exactly the urgency to address the health gap, the wealth gap, and the justice gap that is the reality for far too many Americans and particularly Black people. These are not issues that Joe Biden has pledged to address. Nor does he even appear capable of addressing.

It is well known that Black women in America are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. That well-known fact is perfectly ok in Trump’s America and it will continue to be so in Biden’s America.

On the day I heard the bad Bernie news, I was already enraged by reports that Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at catastrophic rates compared to our percentage of the population and other races. In March 1966, at the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) in Chicago, Dr. King noted that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

Dr. King would be devastated by what is going on in Chicago today, and reflected across this country. Death is the most “brutal consequence” of racialized injustice.

Painful Brutal Consequence

Racial differences in health care, particularly the treatment of cancer, is very personal to me.

In 2012, my Dad died at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati Ohio from small cell lung cancer. The treatment and care he received at Jewish Hospital was painfully substandard.

We got the lung cancer diagnosis on a Friday and he died four (4) days later on Tuesday. He was never transferred or treated in the oncology unit. They said they did not have enough beds. The IV medication was applied sparingly during the last four days of his life. We were not given proper instructions on how to use the respirator and hence, we did not use it while he desperately struggled to breathe the entire last weekend of his life. In the minutes before his heart stopped, they couldn’t get the dialysis machine to work. In the meantime, the deadly toxins stimulated by the chemotherapy treatment they gave him exploded in his blood.

As his kidneys failed and the cancer took his life away, I watched helplessly as the nurse struggled (unsuccessfully) to make the dialysis machine work. My father was not a priority that day and he died.

“I Feel Like Going On”

I admit, after fighting for civil rights for more than 50 years, I’m tired. I’m frustrated by the America that writes a bad stimulus check to Black folks over and over again. I’m angered by politicians that make false promises to get our votes and then runnnn back to the comfortable lily white world where they live. I am outraged by those who turn a blind eye to poverty, homelessness and injustice.

Still, I feel like going on. I know that this pandemic will end. I don’t know when it will end. Don’t know how. We know that when America gets a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. But this too shall pass. I know that. And today, I feel like going on.

You see, the history of Black people in America has given us tenacity, resilience, courage in the darkest hour, faith in God and hope for tomorrow. We are the survivors of the Middle Passage. My people were “built for slavery and killt for bravery.” And we’re still here.

Even knowing that the beloved community will not likely come to pass in my lifetime. I won’t get there with you. But I feel like going on.

Bishop Marvin Winans Sings “I Feel Like Going On”

A Luta Continua.

COVID-19 Alert: ILWU Protects Us

ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members fighting COVID-19
ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members

Oakland is in a crisis. This is a COVID-19 Alert! The ILWU (International Longshoreman & Workers Union) Local 10 has sounded the alarm again!

Last week, ILWU Locals 10 and 34 stopped the owners of the Grand Princess cruise ship from off-loading COVID-19 contaminated waste into Oakland. The ILWU is also insisting that the companies profiting off of their labor and our land at the Port of Oakland take necessary steps to protect the workers at the Port and our community. 

The longshoreman and port workers are on the front lines of our national transportation network. At the same time, they are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Most of them live in this community. If they are exposed to the coronavirus, they will carry the virus into the community. 

What Do They Want?

What the ILWU is asking is really simple:   

Disinfect their worksite: the equipment, work areas, terminal bathrooms, mechanic shops, tools, machines, turnstiles, gates and every place they work on the Port. 

Some of the companies that use our Port are refusing to properly disinfect the worksite. We know in the face of this highly contagious virus, employers as well employees have to take extra steps to stop the spread. But the workers are simply not equipped to disinfect the entire worksite. And it’s not their responsibility. The responsibility is on the employer. 

By taking a strident and firm stand against working in a contaminated environment and sounding the alarm on management, the ILWU protects us – the entire Bay Area – from a higher risk of infection with COVID-19.

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) represents the companies operating at the Port of Oakland. We need to contact PMA, Port officials and Assemblymember Rob Bonta to demand that the companies do their part to protect our community. 

Who You Going to Call?

Dan Kaney is the Northern California Area Managing Director for PMA. Call him at 510-891-4628 or e-mail: dkaney@pmanet.org.

Danny Wan is the Executive Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1100 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/danny-wan.

John Driscoll is the Maritime Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1243 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/john-c-driscoll-maritime-director. 

Amy Tharpe is the Director of Social Responsibility for the Port of Oakland. Call her at 510-627-1302 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/amy-tharpe-director-social-responsibility.

The Port is located in Hon. Rob Bonta‘s Assembly District (AD18). His District Director is Tonya Love. Call her at 510-286-1670 or e-mail: Tonya.love@asm.ca.gov.

COVID-19 Alert: the ILWU Protects Us!

It is still true that we know so little about the disease. What we do know is more people will get infected and too many will not survive if we force people to work in areas infected by the coronavirus without protection. 

This is a preventable public health crisis happening in our community right now. We may not be able to get out the house but we can still call or e-mail. Make the call asap. Send an e-mail. Let’s support the people who are working hard to protect us. 

50 Years Today

50 Years Today, it’s February 24th. I’m in juvenile hall. For at least the 3rd time. 50 years ago today I was a foster kid with no where to go. So, they put me in juvenile hall. And 50 years today, my foster Mom, Alice Aaron, decided to open her heart and her home to take a chance on me. Known affectionately as “GinaMama”, she was every kid’s dream grandmother – she loved all of us unconditionally.

Still, it’s 1970. This is not a good year for me. Or our country. The country is at war – both externally and internally. As US troops fought a losing battle in Vietnam, the US government fought a winning battle against the people. I jumped feet-first into the fray at the young age of 13, not realizing the danger or the full scope of the battle.

You see, at age 11, I was overwhelmed with grief by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On December 4, 1969, I am energized by anger when Chicago police assassinate Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. And the fight was on. I help organize a sit-in to protest those awful murders at my high school and I am promptly expelled. By January 1970, I am a ward of the court and on track to become a regular at juvenile hall.

A Lost Kid

Before February 24th, I’m shuffled between foster homes, group homes and juvenile hall. Things fell apart pretty quickly in my life. Placements were a blur but always challenging. And I did not hesitate to run away when I felt uncomfortable or threatened. That kept me going back to juvenile hall until the social worker could find another place. And then GinaMama stepped up and said she would take me. Her unconditional love would protect, inspire and renew my spirit.

In 1970, Angela Davis was on the run and Black activists were feeling the impact of Cointelpro. The government had declared war on Black activists and no one was safe. In March 1970 I am arrested in a Black Power demonstration. My friends had sense enough to run. I “stood my ground” and ended up in the middle of the brawl with the police. That did not look good for GinaMama – made her “a bad” foster parent. And so by July 1970, I had a new “placement” – one with bars and bed chains.

50 Years Today

50 Years Today: Civil rights attorney Pamela Y. Price (1974 & 2016)
Civil Rights Attorney Pamela Y. Price (1974 & 2016)

Fast forward 50 years. I am a survivor of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I dropped out of high school and then graduated, by the grace of God. By grace, I get accepted to Yale and graduate with a degree in Political Science. Move to California to go to Berkeley Law School, graduate and pass the bar (the first time)! Again, totally by the grace of God. In 2002, I achieve every lawyer’s dream – I argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.

Everything that I am started with a decision by a grandmother who had a lot of responsibilities and few material possessions. She was the matriarch of her family and already had 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren. They all depended on her. Yet, she made room in her home and her heart for a rebellious “mouthy” 13-year-old. She did it unconditionally even when I disappointed and embarrassed her. And she did it multiple times, allowing me to come back when the authorities finally released me a year later.

Foster Kids Need A Heart

Did you know that:

  • There are over 500,000 children in the United States Foster Care System.
  • 1 out of every 5 lives in California.
  • 3 out of every 10 of our Nation’s homeless are former foster youth.
  • 70% of foster youth dream of going to college. Only 3% actually make it.
  • 83% of children in foster care are held back in school by 3rd grade and 75% are working below grade level.
  • 35% of foster youth have experienced four or more school changes and each school move results in a six month loss of educational progress.
  • 51% are unemployed at age 22.

These statistics tell the story of too many lost kids. 50 years ago today, I was a lost kid. The lesson is that we cannot give up on our kids. You never know how far a kid will go. We must address the crisis of our lost kids with programs like Soar For Youth and CASA.

CASA - Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children

We must also remember that the universal healer of all trauma is unconditional love. And we need a “GinaMama” for every kid. If that’s you, God Bless you.

Today, I honor Alice Aaron, Amy Jenkins and Lorena O’Donnell. They never gave up on me. 50 years later, I can begin to tell the story.

Mayor Pete Is Not the One

Alfred E. Neumann for President, Mad Magazine (December 1956) bears uncanny resemblance to South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete.
Alfred E. Neuman for President, Mad Magazine, December 1956

In 2019, the number of people running for President was overwhelming. The running joke of any politician was “I’m not running for President.” Of all the candidates who survived 2019, Mayor Pete is not The One.

First, let me disclose. I am an ardent supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders. I committed early to support Sen. Sanders because I believe that he is the person in the presidential race whose agenda is most closely aligned with the values of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Now let me speak my truth.

A Double Standard

Mayor Pete is the Mayor of South Bend Indiana. South Bend is an American city with a population of roughly 100,000 people. He was elected as Mayor for a second term in November 2015. Voter turnout was a low 14%. Mayor Pete was elected with a whopping total of 8,515 votes.

Compare Mayor Pete’s victory with the recent wins of Black women Mayors. In 2019, there were only 5 Black women Mayors in cities with a population of over 500,000.00. Topping the list is Lori Lightfoot, who was elected Chicago Mayor with 364,965 votes. The remaining four big City Black women Mayors include London Breed in San Francisco, Vi Lyles in Charlotte, NC, Muriel Bowser in DC, and Catherine Pugh in Baltimore. Breed won in the hotly contested 2018 special election with 89,580 votes. She won in the 2019 general election with 125,200 votes. Vi Lyles won her first race for Mayor in 2017 with 72,073 votes. Murial Bowser was elected to her first term as DC Mayor in 2014 with 96,666 votes. Catherine Pugh won her election in 2016 with 134,848 votes.

The next 4 Black women Mayors of major cities with populations of way more than 100,000 people include Atlanta (Keisha Lance Bottoms), New Orleans (Latoya Cantrell), Baton Rouge (Sharon Weston Broome) and Rochester (Lovely Warren). My point is, had any one of these accomplished Black women jumped up and announced she was running for President, she would not have made it past the first round of the Democratic Party chopping block. And we would still be laughing.

When placed in the context of women Mayors of color, Mayor Pete’s candidacy is an outright insult to Black women. But wait, there’s more.

Buttigieg: “I’m Not Asking For Your Vote”

Mayor Pete’s tenure as Mayor of South Bend since 2011 has been a disaster for Black folks there. According to a 2017 city study, two in five African Americans in South Bend live below the poverty line, which is almost double the national poverty rate for African American households. In a city that’s 27% black and 15% Latino, 90% of South Bend’s police officers are white.

Tiana Batiste Waddell speaks during a meeting with police and Mayor Pete.
Photograph: Robert Franklin/AP

In June 2019, on Father’s Day, a white policeman shot and killed 56-year-old Eric Logan. The officer claims that Mr. Logan attacked him with a knife but the officer did not turn on his bodycam. The family says Mr. Logan had no history of violence or thievery and he did not match the description of the suspect. A lawsuit is pending.

In August 2016, in a case of mistaken identity, South Bend officers burst into the home of a Black family, beat 17-year-old DeShawn Franklin out of his bed and tased him with a stun gun. Police went to the wrong house and mistook DeShawn for a domestic battery suspect. A federal jury found the police had violated DeShawn’s constitutional rights, but only awarded DeShawn and his parents $18.00 in damages. The lawyer who represented the family was expected to pay the City’s legal fees.

An exchange with Mayor Pete and Black activists in South Bend protesting Eric Logan’s murder says it all. In a video that went viral on Twitter last summer, Mayor Pete makes the arrogant statement “I’m not asking for your vote.” The quick response from a Black woman is “You ain’t gonna get it either.” Please check out the video.

Buttigieg Cannot Win Without Black Voters

In a January 2020 poll of Black voters, Mayor Pete holds steady at 3%. That same poll shows him with a strongly favorable rating of only 6% among all the Democratic candidates. Only Amy Klobuchar scored lower on that measure with 4%.

Nonetheless, if Mayor Pete thinks he can win the nomination or the Presidency without significant support from Black voters, then he is really stupid. Or racist. Or both?

Mayor Pete’s donor base of affluent white gay men laid the foundation for him to run his race. His wealthy LGBT backers come from Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and other industries, as well as the political elites, many of them billionaires. His campaign stayed alive in 2020 when more seasoned political players like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker could not.

Still, the most reliable voters in the Democratic Party are Black women. And quite frankly, some of us think it’s absolutely ridiculous that Mayor Pete thinks he can actually be our President. In the words of one wise girlfriend, “honey, this is no time for new booty.”

Will somebody please tell Mayor Pete that he is not “The One.”

Kamala Is Not “The One”

Sen. Kamala Harris Illustration
Illustration by Tyler Comrie; Source Photograph by Al Drago / Getty

This is a love letter to Black women: Kamala is Not “The One.”

Many Black women across the US are quite disturbed in the days since Kamala Harris dropped out of the Presidential race. Some Black women are even devastated by her decision. Others are crying “foul” and shame on the Democratic Party. I’m writing to you because your anguished despair about Kamala troubles me.

I am a Black woman who has been on the front lines of the fight for civil and human rights for more than 50 years. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a strident advocate for the leadership of Black women. I know how transformative our leadership can be. My favorite hashtag is #BlackWomenLead.

Full Disclosure

First, let me disclose. I am an ardent supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders. I committed early to support Sen. Sanders because I believe that he is the person in the presidential race whose agenda is most closely aligned with the values of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

Second, once upon a time, a long time ago, I supported Kamala Harris. I “maxed out” financially in the primary for her first Senate race. We were all so excited about electing a Black woman to the US Senate. And, when she ran for California Attorney General, some of my closest friends told me they felt that Kamala was “The One.”

As the Political Director for a local chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the statewide BWOPA Board, I helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to elect Kamala to the Senate. Our statewide President, Dezie Woods-Jones, declared early that we would support Kamala and raise money for her. And if you know Dezie who is a force of nature herself, you do not tell Dezie “No.”

I did, however, share with Dezie and my BWOPA sisters, that I had serious misgivings about Kamala. And I had to defend my decision to support Kamala with those who knew that she had even then, betrayed us as Attorney General.

The Betrayal of Black Women

In California politics, with very few exceptions, Kamala has not supported progressive Black women running for office. In 2017 and again, in 2019, we fought to elect Kimberly Ellis as the Chairwoman of the California Democratic Party. Kamala did not support Kimberly Ellis in 2017 or 2019.

In 2018, 2 Black women ran for Oakland Mayor. Kamala did not support either one of us. In the 2018 race for Assembly District 15 to represent Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and West Contra Costa County, there were 3 Black women running for State Assembly. Kamala did not support any of them. As a result, today, there are no Black representatives from the Bay Area in the California Legislature.

In three local races in 2018, Oakland Mayor, Assembly District 15 and Alameda County District Attorney, Kamala provided major support for all of the white women who won.

Kamala Supported Racist Prosecutions

Kamala’s prominent support for the incumbent Alameda County DA in 2018 is the most shocking. The incumbent DA’s record on racially-biased prosecutions is abysmal. I ran for DA in response to the complete lack of police accountability and the glaring racial injustices that have devastated Alameda County for decades. The racial disparities in arrests and prosecutions for both adults and juveniles, in Oakland, in particular, are well documented.

The white woman who was re-elected has never been held to account for her old-school “good ole boy” brand of justice. She supports money bail, rejects gun violence reduction strategies, endorses Republicans and refuses to investigate or prosecute corrupt cops. Kamala did not ever respond to our requests for a meeting. According to BWOPA President Dezie, Kamala did not even return her calls.

Kamala’s Silence Is Complicity

Former California Senator Holly Mitchell is the most powerful compassionate inspiring Black woman to grace the California Legislature in decades. For more than a decade, Sen. Mitchell worked tirelessly with civil and human rights advocates to heal and restore our communities from the devastation caused by our racist and broken criminal justice system. Kamala Harris was silent on most of the groundbreaking criminal justice legislation sponsored by Sen. Mitchell. While Senator Holly Mitchell fought like a champion to repeal California’s unjust criminal penalty laws, Kamala stood silently on the sidelines.

In 2015, when Assemblymember Kevin McCarthy introduced AB86, a bill to make California the first state in the nation to have its top law enforcement officer independently investigate deaths in police custody, Kamala actually opposed the legislation. Under the plan, the state attorney general would appoint a special prosecutor to direct an investigation whenever the police kill a civilian. Several other states, including New York, have since adopted this policy.

Gwen Woods, Mother of Mario Woods
Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods. Credit: ABC News

In 2016, the Black community in San Francisco was incensed about a series of police killings of unarmed Black and Brown residents, including Mario Woods. In a series of community meetings, Kamala’s most loyal supporters called upon her to do exactly what AB86 called for – convene an independent investigation of the Woods shooting. Kamala rejected their appeals and stood by silently on the sidelines of the controversy. I shall never forget my complete shock when I learned that Kamala refused to meet with Gwen Woods, Mario Woods‘ mother.

Kamala Did Not Support Sexual Assault Survivors

From 2003 to 2016, I represented dozens of women employees in the California Department of Corrections sexually harassed at work. In one case with 10 women, two of my co-counsel were staunch Kamala supporters. When Kamala became Attorney General (with our help), my co-counsel thought Kamala would stand up for our clients. She did not. We had our clients write to her directly describing their pain and injuries. Kamala turned their letters over to the lawyers in her office defending the case. Those lawyers used the letters to ridicule our clients.

By 2015, three of those cases had been dismissed and one of our clients had committed suicide. We settled most of the remaining cases in 2015 for almost $2.8 million. The estate of Judy Longo – the woman who committed suicide – received a mere $250,000, largely because Judy was not alive to say what happened to her. The lead plaintiff Martha Berndt lost her case at trial. The case was weakened by the passage of time (13 years) and our assignment to an incredibly sexist trial judge. Kamala stood by silently as these brave women suffered years of unnecessary and cruel litigation.

In August 2016, a coalition of community organizations that I worked with called upon Kamala to convene an independent investigation of the Bay Area police sex trafficking ring. Seven (7) law enforcement agencies were implicated in sex trafficking of a minor. When the young woman at the center of the police misconduct was spirited away in the dead of night by the Richmond Police to Florida and incarcerated on felony charges there, Kamala rejected our appeals to get involved. Later, as criminal cases against the police sexual predators were either never brought or quickly dismissed, Kamala stood by silently.

Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton
Sen. Kamala Harris Dubbed “Hillary 2.0” Credit: Washington Examiner

Her Campaign Was Not Well-Conceived

When Kamala Harris entered the presidential race, she certainly assumed that all Black women would support her. She thought we would forget the many times she betrayed us. When Kamala hired Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff to work in her Senate office in 2017, she likely believed that Hillary’s supporters would flock to her. She did not anticipate that many of the white women who supported Hillary would abandon her to support Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Kamala’s calculation that voters and donors would choose her, a first term junior senator, over her more seasoned and senior Senate colleagues, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (12 years), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (12 years), Sen. Cory Booker (6 years) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (6 years) was obviously a huge miscalculation.

Kamala Is Not “The One”

This is a love letter to Black women. Kamala Harris Is Not “The One.” Especially for my sisters and brothers who are in despair because Kamala withdrew from the presidential race, please know that Kamala Harris was not with us nor for us. It is critical that we learn to “watch what they do, not what they say.”

I hope I live to see the first Black woman President. I know that she will be a woman with the courage of her convictions and the compassion of a queen. #BlackWomenLead

What About the POA?

San Francisco District Attorney Elect Chesa Boudin
San Francisco District Attorney Elect Chesa Boudin (Credit: Chesa4DA Campaign)

In the wake of the much-celebrated victory of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the question arose “what about the POA?”

San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) Logo
The SF POA spent $700,000 in the SF DA race

Most people, unfortunately, don’t even know what “the POA” is. POA stands for Police Officers Association. Every American city, county and state has one, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers.

It’s a union. Technically, as a union, it is formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for its members. In the real world, however, POAs have taken a more sinister role to control the politicians elected to govern our cities, counties and states. POAs are really political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.

The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the United States organized for the purpose of advancing the interests of America’s law enforcement officers through legislative advocacy, political action and education.” NAPO supports its member organizations across the country.

Holding the Line Against Reform

Predictably, these police associations lead the resistance to criminal justice reform, bail reform, decriminalizing marijuana and anything else. So, when the SF POA spent $700,000 in a local election, no one should be surprised. Phil Matier reports that “much of the $700,000 spent by the San Francisco Police Officers Association against progressive district attorney candidate Chesa Boudin came from out of town, even out of state.”

Elections are when the POAs take off the gloves and step out from the cover of secrecy. They have no problem being in the light to attack a politician they don’t like. What we have to remember, however, is that after the election, they are still there. Some slink back into the darkness to watch and wait for the next attack. They sometimes politely (and quietly) threaten elected officials with whom they disagree. And even without the express threat, most politicians are wary of offending the POA.

SF POA is different – they’re special. They stay on the attack. Even when the previous District Attorney George Gascon was not running for office or did not have an opponent, the SF POA bought radio ads to attack him. We should presume that it will attack Chesa as he gets into the business of reforming the DA’s office. Openly and viciously. Even though their election strategy backfired, the smear tactic of fear and lies usually works, so it’s still in their playbook.

The Benefit of the Battle

In SF, the POA lost the battle for SF DA. One benefit of the battle, however, is that the POA was exposed in the light of day – for all to see. This represents an opportunity for progressives everywhere to highlight the role that the POA plays in every community. In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies that undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, not just a District Attorney race, look for the POA to have a hand in fighting back and holding the line.

For example, the National Police Association states it has “a mission of combating the influence of anti-police activists and helping to hold them accountable.” It “use[s] the law as a method to highlight abuses by antipolice elected officials, change behavior, and seek corrective action.” One example of its work in 2018 was to request an investigation of San Jose’s independent police auditor. NPA directly challenged the auditor’s “fitness” to serve in his appointed role.

We all know that knowledge is power. So, we need to make sure that everyone knows how the POA uses its power in the shadows. They defend corrupt cops and threaten elected officials. They are both well organized and extremely well-funded. Their goal is to maintain the infrastructure of mass incarceration at all costs. The POA is clear in its mission. Progressives need to be just as clear about the POA.

A Women’s Safety Panel

Mario Woods Protesters attend SF Police Commission meeting chaired by DA candidate Suzy Loftus
Emond Juicye (middle) activist, and Minister Keith Muhammad listen to Suzy Loftus, President of the San Francisco Police Commission at the beginning of the SF Police Commission meeting held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center January 20, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Emma Marie Chiang

I just got triggered again. A Women’s Safety Panel?

It’s a fundraising event organized by supporters of San Francisco DA candidate Suzy Loftus. Loftus is the candidate of choice for disgraced SF police chief Greg Suhr, and SF Mayor London Breed. The San Francisco Democratic Party has also endorsed Loftus. Loftus is by definition “the establishment choice.”

So, it’s not surprising that her supporters have invoked the victim safety song to elevate her candidacy. It’s a tried and true tactic for white women running for office. In her story about Tiffany Caban’s race, Melissa Gira Grant writes in The New Republic, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” White women “have embraced and promulgated a feminism that sees the police and prosecutors as allies in women’s empowerment.”

It worked in New York. There, Melinda Katz, a career politician who favors increased police surveillance and the death penalty with no courtroom experience won the race for Queens DA.

“A Women’s Safety Panel” vs. Criminal Justice Reform

We saw the same traditional campaign of fear and racism here in Alameda County in 2018.

In the race for Alameda County DA, domestic violence survivors attacked and defamed me as “a threat” to their safety. DV survivors rallied in front of incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley‘s office denouncing my candidacy. Of course O’Malley’s staff and supporters attended the rally, and the local media covered it. Never mind that I am personally a DV survivor. Or that I was arrested for defending myself in my own home from an abusive partner, prosecuted by the DA’s office and fortunately acquitted by a jury at trial.

Forget that I co-founded the Bay Area Defense Committee for Battered Women in 1979, while still in law school. We advocated in the courts for DV survivors, particularly those prosecuted in Alameda County. My understanding of and commitment to self-defense for battered women was developed years before my own arrest for defending myself.

Never mind that I have MY receipts for thousands of dollars that I donated to the non-profit Family Violence Law Center before it was subsumed into the Alameda County District Attorneys’ office.

Too often, facts don’t matter in politics. Too often, what matters is who you know and how long have you been in the game. In SF, Suzy Loftus has been a fixture in the SF police community for decades. She is a protege of Sen. Kamala Harris and a proud member of Kamala’s “squad.”

Kamala's "squad" - Suzy Loftus Twitter Post of Loftus, Buffy Wicks, Debbie Mesloh, Kamala Harris and a friend
Buffy Wicks, Debbie Mesloh, Kamala Harris, Suzy Loftus and friend
Credit: Suzy Loftus on Twitter Image

The Return of Kamala

Loftus worked for Harris in SF and then in Sacramento at the Department of Justice. Loftus is a former deputy DA who spent years supporting SF’s unique contribution to mass incarceration. The SF DA’s racial disparity study found that between 2008 and 2014, Blacks were only 6% of the population, but were 41% of those arrested, 43% of those booked into jail, 38% of cases filed by the DA and 39% of new convictions.

Loftus was with Harris in 2009 when the DA’s office withheld information about a corrupt police technician. A SF judge condemned the office’s indifference to “the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.” And, when Harris unsuccessfully retaliated against the judge, Loftus was a leader on her team.

Loftus was also with Harris while Harris was Attorney General. As AG, Harris supported the death penalty while refusing to support Proposition 47, or statewide standards for police body-cameras or investigations of police for shooting civilians or sexual exploitation of minors.

Loftus was there when Harris refused to meet with Gwen Woods.

Loftus clearly enjoyed personal success as Kamala’s protege. In this election, however, Loftus claims a commitment “to reform our broken criminal justice system.” Her campaign started, however, as a “tough on crime” challenge to incumbent DA George Gascon. Gascon is the only DA in California to endorse Proposition 47 and advocate openly for criminal justice reform.

Black Women & Greg Suhr

Greg Suhr’s support for Loftus is not surprising at all. Loftus is the former Chair of the SF Police Commission and currently works for the SF Sheriff. She supported Suhr in the storm created by the exposure of racist and homophobic texts by SFPD officers in 2015. Her new-found commitment to criminal justice reform did not lead her to support the 17-day hunger strike by the Frisco 5 calling for Suhr’s removal in the wake of Mario Woods’ murder.

Suzy Loftus, Mayor Ed Lee and SFPD Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin announce resignation of Greg Suhr
Mayor Ed Lee (middle) announces the resignation of SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr on May 19, following the fatal shooting of Jessica Williams, by SFPD earlier that morning, as Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus (left) and SFPD Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin (right) stand by the mayor’s side during a press conference in City Hall.
Photo: Joel Angel Juárez

When Mayor Ed Lee was forced to let Suhr resign after SFPD shot and killed Jessica Williams, an unarmed Black woman, Loftus was there. It was the third fatal shooting by SFPD of a person of color in 6 months, including Jessica Williams, Luis Gongora and Mario Woods. According to Matier & Ross, the meeting to arrange Suhr’s resignation and the appointment of a new interim Chief, ended with a round of hugs and handshakes, and did not include the two Black female SF Supervisors.

Dog Whistle for Racism

Not surprisingly, progressive Black activists in SF are not supporting Suzy Loftus for DA.

“If Suhr is a supporter of yours and you’re running for District Attorney, it shows me you’re about prosecuting black and brown folks and any of the corruption going on in the department,” said Equipto, a San Francisco rapper and activist and one of the Frisco 5 hunger strikers.

Let’s be clear: “a women’s safety panel” is a dog whistle for racism. It’s a call to white supremacy, and particularly white women, to support the continued over-incarceration and criminalization of Black and Brown people. Regrettably, some Black women have unknowingly bought into that narrative, apparently thinking that only the white woman can save us. What my sisters need to understand, however, is that resistance to sexual harassment and violence is deeply rooted in the intersectional oppression and resistance of Black women.” 

Many “woke folks,” like myself, have endorsed Chesa Boudin for SF DA. Chesa has a history of fighting for bail reform, for the rights of immigrants and restorative justice for victims. He has a clear commitment to address the grossly unjust racial disparities in San Francisco. Chesa is the only one who personally knows the impact of the criminal injustice system on everyday people.

Ballots drop in SF for this election in less than 2 weeks. To help elect Chesa Boudin in this critical race for justice, please make a contribution here!

At the end of the day, let’s pray that SF is really as progressive as some people think it is!

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