Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: September 2019

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!

The Record Player Answer

Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate delivers the record player answer
Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate, September 12, 2019. Credit: ABC News/Screenshot

There are so many things wrong with Joe Biden’s record player answer, I hardly know where to begin. But I am a trial lawyer. So when I hear a strange answer, my first response is check what was the question. So, here’s the actual question:

“But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Again, I’m a trial lawyer. So, there are 4 correct answers to any question:
“Yes,”
“No,”
“I don’t know,”
“I don’t remember.”

Biden did not pick one of those 4 answers. He could easily have said, “Yes, I think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery and here’s what I think we need to do.” Or “No, I don’t think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery. And let me tell you why not.” Instead, he started rambling.

This Is What He Said

Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. From the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out – the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need – we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are – I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have – make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not day care. School.

We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t – they don’t know quite what to do.

Play the radio, make sure the television – excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the – the – make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school – a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

How Did He Ever Get There?

So, he started with institutional segregation and ended with shaming Black families for not knowing “quite what to do” when it comes to raising children.

Now, I’m the first to acknowledge raising kids is hard, for some of us the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Every gray hair on my head has nothing to do with trying cases for 30 years – I owe them all to raising my own daughter Malika.

I’m also clear, however, that the challenge to raise independent productive and kind children has little to do with your race, class or education. Indeed, suicide rates for young people in America are soaring in recent years. And, how many mass shootings in the last 30 years in America have been carried out by Black teens? To my knowledge, the mass school shooters are almost uniformly white male teenagers. Most of them came from so-called “good homes” which is code for straight white married parents.

But I digress. The point is that Biden’s answer is not even remotely responsive to the question. It sounds like “Black lives are still undermined by the legacy of slavery because they don’t know quite how to raise their kids.” That’s both stupid and insulting.

The question, again, is what responsibility do Americans bear, not Black people. While most commentators focused on “the record player answer,” woke Black folks heard the implicit bias and victim-blaming.

The Legacy of Slavery

News alert Mr. Biden: Black people are not responsible for America’s racism.

Black people are responsible for the incredible wealth that America enjoys today. 250 years of free slave labor, another 100+ years of extreme exploitation of labor, and the last 50 years of second-class citizenship (being locked out of equal access to education, affordable housing, health care, high-paying jobs) has all helped white Americans tremendously. Everything Black people have achieved in America came at a premium. In the last 100 years, we paid more for loans, housing, transportation, food, health insurance, health care, education, you name it.

On the flip side of that same coin, in the past 400 years, whites have enjoyed what we refer to today as “white privilege.” Starting with the Land Act of 1820 which made it possible for settlers to move west and south through the 1950s, whites received massive government subsidies for housing, transportation, health care and education.

Whites enjoy preferential treatment in the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice. This fundamental principle is embedded in the pillars of the justice system. White privilege is reflected in the arrests, charging, prosecution and incarceration of Black people everyday in every state, county and community in America.

Joe Biden either doesn’t know our history or he doesn’t really care to address it. Maybe he really does not understand what is now commonly referred to as “the wealth gap.” The fact that an average white family has 41 times more wealth than the average Black family, that 72% of while familes own their homes compared to just 44% of Black families, and the average white worker earns 30% more than the average Black worker – did not just happen overnight or by happenstance.

The Record Player Answer?

Biden could have at least tried to be consistent. He could have repeated his statement from 1975 (which was the preface to the question):

“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today for sins of my own generation and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

But it’s no longer “politically correct” to shield oneself with the mantle of white privilege. To be fair, a recurring theme in Barack Obama’s major speeches on race as President was the “moral shortcomings” of the Black family. In his work “The Black Presidency,” author Michael Eric Dyson calls out this message in the few times that Obama talked to the nation on race in America. (See Chapter 6, “Dying to Speak of Race”.)

Perhaps Joe Biden “helped” Obama write those speeches. I don’t know. What I do know is that just like Black people should not tolerate “victim blaming” by Obama or before him, Bill Cosby, we damn sure should not tolerate it from Joe Biden.

It’s also simply not acceptable to equate poverty with Black people. Even Black people who have been financially or professionally successful still experience the demeaning face of racism daily. Black people are disproportionately poor due to America’s racism. But poverty is endemic to capitalism in America. Income inequality between the wealthiest 1% of the country and the rest of us (the 99%) has increased dramatically in recent years. This national crisis was highlighted in the Occupy Movement in 2011 while Joe Biden was Vice President.

Biden’s assumption that the only poor people in this country are Black people is an antiquated view of our current situation, consistent with someone who thinks we still have record players.

The question is “what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?” The record player answer does not even come close to looking like an analysis of the problem. Joe Biden needs to study the history of racism in America and the continuing inequities (including those he fostered), then try to answer the question. Until he does that, Black folks in particular would be wise to consider the alternatives.

As Maya Angelou taught us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén