Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: August 2021

Back to School in A Pandemic

Pamela Price for Alameda County District Attorney - Back to School: Ending the Pipeline to Prison
Pamela Price, Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

This week, across Alameda County, students are going back to school in the midst of a pandemic. Parents everywhere are at least concerned, if not fearful of what it means to go back to school in a pandemic. Student safety is a primary issue as COVID-19 and the Delta variant continue to ravage the human race. Trying to balance the consequences of learning loss with the health risks created by the pandemic has been extremely challenging for anyone trying to raise a child. The disproportionate impact that COVID has on communities of color is also amplified as decisions are made about safe learning environments and the available resources to protect children.

I am extremely sympathetic to the plight of parents and educators having to make hard choices and decisions in this season. My birth Mom and two of my foster Moms were educators, and they instilled in me the value of education. As the descendants of slaves who were prohibited from learning or knowing how to read or write, Black Americans have a “special relationship” with “getting an education.”

I know from my own life journey that “education is a game-changer.” We owe it to our children to give them the best possible education.

What Can the District Attorney Do?

As Alameda County District Attorney, I can support educators’ efforts to repair the harm caused by the pandemic by promoting restorative justice in our schools. Studies show that restorative justice provides students the chance to be productive, instead of violent – replacing harm by engaging everyone involved. Restorative justice gives students the tools necessary to become responsible residents, and address conflict with conversation instead of behaviors that could lead to interaction with law enforcement. Violence against women in adulthood often stems from our failure to address violence in our schools and on our playgrounds.

I am very proud of the support my law firm provided to Attorney Fania Davis, the founding Executive Director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). Fania founded RJOY in 2005. In the fall of 2008, we helped her make her final transition from law to RJOY. RJOY works to interrupt cycles of youth violence and incarceration by promoting institutional shifts toward restorative approaches. It actively engages families, communities, and systems to repair harm and prevent re-offending. RJOY also focuses on reducing racial disparities and punitive school discipline policies.

Fania Davis, Founder and Executive Director Emeritus, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) endorses Pamela Price

Fania Davis has endorsed me for Alameda County District Attorney. Fania leads a stellar and growing list of education leaders in Alameda County that have endorsed my campaign for DA.

Educators Across Alameda County Endorse Our Campaign

School Board members Sarabjit Cheema (New Haven Unified), Jamie Yee (Pleasanton Unified) and Melissa Shuen-Mallory (New Haven Unified)

“More and more schools are embracing a restorative justice approach to find the reasons why a student may break rules. We need to address the causes versus resorting to punishment,” said New Haven Unified School Board member Melissa Shuen-Mallory. “It is paramount that we have the top prosecutor leading on the reform in the criminal justice system. Pamela’s model of compassionate justice is the best choice for Alameda County DA.”

Trustees Kevin Jenkins (Peralta District), Van Cedric Williams (Oakland Unified) and Mike Hutchinson (Oakland Unified)

Other educators across Alameda County agree with Shuen-Mallory. Many have endorsed our campaign to create a district attorney’s office that ends the over-criminalization of our youth.

School Board members James Aguilar (San Leandro), Michael Kusiak (Castro Valley) and Sara Prada (Hayward Unified)

“Pamela understands what it is like to be trapped in the pipeline. She knows the importance of restorative justice in our schools and transformative justice in education policy. It’s imperative our schools and criminal justice system work to not criminalize youth lives — particularly Black and Brown youth,” said San Leandro School Board Trustee, James Aguilar. “Having a District Attorney who embraces proven methods of reform will not only improve students’ lives, it will significantly improve community safety.”

We Must Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The school-to-prison pipeline has contributed to a reported 11,532 incarcerated youth in California – the highest numbers in the nation.

The school-to-prison pipeline is the culmination of “zero-tolerance” discipline policies, suspensions and school-based arrests. It thrives on the policing of non-violent behaviors like smoking on campus, uniform violations and cell phone use. These practices disproportionately impact Black and Brown students. In fact, the suspension rate for Black males in California schools is 12.8% compared to 3.6% for all students.

It is key that we work to build an education system that replaces punitive disciplinary policies with restorative justice. We need a justice system that stops charging and/or incarcerating youths under the age of 18 as adults. We must support educators and education leaders fighting for these changes. I am committed to reducing the racial disparities which lead to high rates of incarceration, suspension, and expulsion.

We have much work to do to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in educating our children. I stand ready to work with educators across Alameda County to interrupt tragic cycles of youth violence. Those cycles lead to destructive behavior in adulthood, incarceration and a breakdown in public safety. We must break the school-to-prison pipeline to protect public safety and advance justice for all. We must also do everything possible to ensure that our children can go back to school without risking anyone’s life.

Remember Black August

Pamela Price and Angela Davis, Fighting for Justice Reform

Black August began in the 1970s to mark the death of imprisoned Black Panther, prison activist and author, George Jackson. George Jackson died in a prison rebellion at San Quentin State Prison on August 21, 1971. His memorial service was held at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland on August 28, 1971. His death sparked demonstrations here and around the country to protest the conditions under which he lived and died. In Attica, New York, prisoners launched a silent fast to commemorate Jackson’s life and mourn his death. Three weeks later, they staged what would become the most significant prison rebellion in American history.

Black August is a time to honor freedom fighters, and martyrs of the Black freedom struggle. It’s a moment of respect for those whose lives were lost in the struggle. A moment to appreciate those who are still dedicated to ending mass incarceration, racism and double standards in the criminal justice system. 

Angela Davis is an international symbol of the fighting spirit of Black August. While organizing on behalf of George Jackson and two other prisoners accused of murder, Davis herself wound up behind bars. In 1971, Angela was charged with criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and first-degree murder. A massive international movement formed to free her and she was cleared of all charges. The experience solidified her already deep determination to fight for fundamental change in America.

The Lessons of George Jackson

George Jackson was only 29 years old when he died. He was serving a “1 year to life” sentence. He was 18 in 1961 when he was arrested for participating in an armed robbery. Another 18-year old used a gun to steal $71.00. George admitted that he was in the car. Both young men pled guilty to the crime. Apparently, because George had a lengthy juvenile record, his life was considered “expendable.” He was only 19 when he was convicted and sent to San Quentin State Prison.

In the 9 years before his death, George Jackson co-founded a Black Panther Party chapter and the Black Guerilla Family at San Quentin. George became a committed activist who resisted racism and physical assaults inside prison walls. His eloquent prison writings were published and became immensely popular with an international audience concerned with the conditions of incarceration in American prisons and the unequal and harsh prosecution of Black, Brown and indigenous people. Prior to his death, he spent years in solitary confinement. By accounts from those who knew him, George Jackson was charismatic, intelligent, strong and soft-spoken.

In 1970, barely a year before his death, he was accused of killing a correctional officer at Soledad State Prison. The State never completed the case against him. He was killed a few days before the trial started.

The tragedy of George Jackson’s young life and death speaks loudly to our current movement for criminal justice reform. The idea that an 18-year-old should be incarcerated for “1 year to life” for being an accessory to a crime seems barbaric today. That he should die in prison less than 10 years later sounds like a tragedy that should have somehow been avoided. But it was, and continues to be the reality for too many Black, Brown and poor young people whose lives are considered “expendable.” Fifty years after the death of George Jackson, we are still fighting deeply embedded racial injustices and economic disparities in our criminal justice system.

A Scientific Basis for Change

In his book, “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson says that “none of us want to be judged by the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives.” But, that is exactly what happened to George Jackson. Today, the neuroscience tells us that “adolescents often lack the ability to make mature judgments, control their impulses and consider the consequences of their actions.” In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), 543 U.S. 551, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the research of the American Psychological Association (APA) and rejected the death penalty for a 17-year-old. The APA also presented its early MRI research on brain function indicating that the brain continues to develop through young adulthood in areas that may bear on adolescent decision-making.

Point No. 4 of our 10-point platform incorporates the scientific research that was accepted by the United States Supreme Court, more than 15 years ago. We will not charge juveniles as adults. Nor should we expect a magical transformation in their decision-making the day that they turn 18. There is a transitional period that for some may be completed by age 25. For others, it may continue well past age 25.

When I am elected to serve as District Attorney of Alameda County, I commit to (1) stop over-criminalizing our youth; (2) stop charging and/or incarcerating youths under the age of 18 as adults; and (3) establish age-appropriate programs to prevent and address criminal violations by young people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Postscript

The incarceration, life and death of George Jackson shows that incarceration, as practiced in America over the last 60 years, does not work. It does not create positive outcomes in the lives of the person incarcerated, their victims, their families or their community. It does not make us safe. We must develop and embrace alternatives to incarceration that repair the harm, the person and the beloved community. All of us, and especially our children, deserve nothing less than our best efforts.

Angela Davis Endorses Pamela Price for Alameda County District Attorney

The Party Line

Janani Ramachandran, Assembly District 18 Candidate
Janani Ramachandran, 18th Assembly District Candidate

The Party Line

One does not need to look to Ohio to find a split in the Democratic Party. In my very own home district, California Assembly District 18, there is a spirited contest between grassroots progressives and the Democratic Party machine. On the one hand is a young South Asian woman, Janani Ramachandran, a corporate-free candidate, who claims Oakland as her base. On the other hand, Alameda resident Mia Bonta, an Afro-Latina, is riding the wave of popularity and corporate largesse created by her husband, Rob, in his quest to become California Attorney General.

Janani speaks compassionately of “standing in the gap” for immigrants, vulnerable women and children. She is a fierce advocate for tenants’ rights, understands the compelling urgency of criminal justice reform right here in THIS County, and is unapologetically unafraid to stand up for Oakland. Janani has enthusiastically embraced my 10-point platform and endorsed my candidacy for Alameda County District Attorney. Mia Bonta has not been heard from yet, and frankly, I’m not sure where the party line will be drawn in my race yet.

The Alameda County Central Committee’s Party Line

As an elected representative to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, however, I am restrained from endorsing Janani. Janani impressed me early on with her positive energy, fighting spirit and the brashness of youth. She brings all that and a good education to bear on her candidacy. Her positions on the Coliseum and Howard Terminal projects and solidarity with the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) align with mine.

Still, “the party line” says that I cannot endorse Janani because our Committee has endorsed Mia. Many delegates like me who actually live in Oakland voted to endorse Janani. But, as the former District Assemblyman, and now Attorney General, Rob Bonta cast a long shadow over the process. Rob personally campaigned for Mia, calling and texting delegates. Rob’s two main surrogates were outright bullies, trying to make sure that Mia got the Democratic Party endorsement. And yes, there was a serious problem with the ballots in the first endorsement vote which resulted in “no endorsement.”

I reached out to both Rob and Mia during the endorsement process. After all, I am Rob’s Woman of the Year for Assembly District 18 for 2017. The only response I got was that I should talk to Mia’s campaign manager at that time. Apparently, they realized that because I am a corporate-free candidate, a member of the California Progressive Caucus and I’ve been a proud Black woman all of my life, my conversation about Mia’s candidacy might feel challenging.

Where I Draw the Line

My dear friend Simona likes to say, “we’re here now.” Ballots have dropped, people are already calling me and asking my opinion, and decisions about whom to support have already been made. As you review your unusually short ballot, you only get 1 of 2 choices. I hope that you had an opportunity to hear both candidates in one of the many candidate forums, away from television ads and slick mailers. I’ve received 3 pretty and large pieces of mail from Mia’s campaign already.

A friend did an analysis of the contributions to Mia’s campaign and the contributions to Janani’s campaign. Mia has raised almost $700,000, mainly from corporations and corporate executives from outside of our district. The gaming industry has donated a lot of money to Mia’s campaign, obviously wanting to impress Rob. He has a long relationship with the gaming industry and holds regulatory power over gaming as Attorney General.

In contrast, Janani’s contributions are all corporate-free and come from much smaller donations. Janani has raised just over $200,000.00 for the special election and $160,000 for the 2022 election.

But as Mason said to Dixon, “this is where I draw the line.” I want someone to represent our beloved Assembly District 18 in Sacramento who will resist the State control of the Oakland Unified School District like it was her own and support our teachers, who will be passionate about intervening in gun violence in our community, who will support meaningful criminal justice reform and not take any contributions from police unions. Ideally, our representative will not be beholden to people who show open disdain for Oakland, and her tenure will not forever be tied to the power of one man – her husband.

What’s On the Line

This is a special election which means it’s a wild card election. “Money can’t buy you love” in California politics. And especially not in the 18th Assembly District. We are more radical than the people of Richmond who rejected Chevron’s million dollar campaigns to buy the Richmond City Council in 2012 and 2014. Mia Bonta did win Round 1 by 15 points. But, I suspect she will learn that running for office as a Black woman does not usually give you a leg up. According to the 2018 Oakland Equity Indicators report, Black people in Alameda County are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than White people, and almost 25 times more likely to be incarcerated than Asians or other ethnicities.

What’s on the line, however, is important to note. The California Democratic Party’s policy for state electeds is that once someone becomes an incumbent, the entire party must support that person. Remember, “the party line.” Whomever wins this special election will become an incumbent, entitled to all the privileges of incumbency. They will likely hold the seat for 12 years, until they term out in 2032. Rob Bonta never had a serious challenger after he won in 2012. If Mia Bonta wins, she may not ever have a serious challenger, and a family dynasty from the tiny island of Alameda will represent most of Oakland, all of San Leandro and Alameda, for literally decades. Notably, the local City of Alameda Democratic Club endorsed Janani.

In the end, for me, a critical question is whether we elect a corporate-free candidate, or a candidate primarily financed by casinos, corporations and other elected officials. Grassroots democratic clubs, allies and respected elected officials from across the State have endorsed both candidates. Hopefully, together, we can turn out more than 21% of the voters. If you want to see a real fight in the Democratic Party, don’t go to Ohio. Come to the 18th Assembly District.

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