Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Justice Reform Page 1 of 3

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!

Who’s Killing Us?

Who's Killing Us? Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Protest, Parkland, Florida 2018
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Who’s Killing Us? No this is not a song. It’s a serious question that we need to answer in America. More importantly, we need to admit that too many people are being killed in America by guns.

The news this week is the same news we heard last week. The same insane incessant scourge of gun violence overwhelms us. The same “thoughts and prayers” that were issued by legislators around the country last week are re-issued this week. To a different family. To a different grieving community. To the same shocked nation.

Too Many Guns

Across this country, legal and illegal guns are everywhere. Despite efforts to regulate access to guns, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Increased criminal penalties and harsh sentences have had no impact whatsoever on the access to guns or the number of people killed by guns.

According to one 2012 study, Americans own at least 270 million guns. The second gun-ranking country, India, a country over three times our population, only has 46 million guns. And, the vast majority of the world’s countries have fewer than 10 million privately-owned guns. This disparity is based on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The devastation to our country because of this law should compel us to take bold action to address our national crisis.

Too many lives are lost, in schools, in our homes and on the street. There are so many preventable deaths that only happen because there is a gun available. In fact, there are always way more gun suicides than gun homicides in America. In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides. 22,938 people committed suicide with a gun in 2016, while 14,415 people died in gun homicides. We broke a record in the number of deaths by gun in 2017, and two-thirds of those who died were by suicide.

A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14, 92% of young people from 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were in the United States.

Who’s Killing Us?

We wake up every day to another mass shooting. The face of death by gun knows no boundaries of age, race, sex or religion. Our senses have been shocked over and over again since the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999. Over the last 20 years, we have watched this type of random mass shooting increase in frequency. The number of lives lost in each incident is completely unpredictable.

In December 2012, a gunman murders 27 people – including 20 six and seven year olds – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman kills 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in June 2016. Another gunman kills 58 people at a concert on the Las Vegas strip in October 2017.

Who's Killing Us? Nine victims killed at Emanuel AME Church
Nine victims shot & killed inside Emanuel AME Church, June 2015

Racially motivated attacks have become commonplace as well. In June 2015, a white man wanting to start “a race war” kills 9 Black people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In October 2018, a man expressing hatred for Jews kills 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The shocking attack in El Paso, Texas this month was the latest one.

#EnoughIsEnough

Who's Killing Us? Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parents
Parents wait for news after shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

On Valentine’s Day 2018, a gunman kills 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This one woke up young people across the country. #EnoughIsEnough. They took on the National Rifle Association (NRA) with fierce energy. Their attack on the influence of the NRA in the political and media world left that organization reeling.

Watching the young activists who survived the Parkland massacre step up and demand an end to gun violence in America was inspiring. They courageously rejected the stupidest idea that we should arm teachers as a solution to the problem. They have been uncompromising in their insistence that we stop the violence now.

For more than 20 years, Congress prohibited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from conducting any research on gun violence in America. It was NRA pressure that led to the restriction on research. The CDC interpreted the ban to include all research on gun violence prevention, and so has not funded any research on this subject since 1996. In April, however, a Congressional committee allocated $50 million dollars to study ways to prevent gun violence, giving $25 million to the CDC.

Every 16 Hours

A recent study found that “intimate partner homicides ― when a person murders their spouse or romantic partner ― increased each year between 2014 and 2017.” The reason: guns. The study found that since 2010, intimate partner homicides by gun increased 26% while the murder of women by other means has decreased. According to one estimate, a woman is fatally shot by her boyfriend, husband or ex every 16 hours.

Who's Killing Us? 6-year-old Millie Drew Kelly killed by her 4-year old brother
6-year-old Millie Drew Kelly killed by her 4-year old brother

Our children are also suffering from both legal and illegal guns. On April 11, 2019, 6-year old Millie Drew Kelly died after her 4-year-old brother accidentally shot her in the head. This kind of tragedy is a regularly re-ocurring event in America. In December 2018, a 6-year-old girl in Missouri dies after her 12-year-old brother accidentally shot her in the head. October 2018, in Virginia, a 7-year-old boy finds his grandfather’s gun and accidentally shoots his 5-year-old sister. March 2018 – an 8-year-old in Ohio loads a .22-caliber rifle and opens fire on his 4-year old sister. She miraculously survives.

Who's Killing Us? 4-year old Na'Vaun Jackson accidentally shot in head
4-year old Na’Vaun Jackson. Credit: Ramon Price

In Oakland, 4-year-old Na’Vaun Jackson accidentally shoots himself in the head when he finds a gun in the house. Although Na’Vaun survived, his family and the entire neighborhood are traumatized.

Repeal the Second Amendment

In this moment, we are having a national conversation about gun violence and gun control. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for “the simple but dramatic action” of repealing the Second Amendment. He argues that will move us closer to stopping gun violence than any other possible reform.

It is long past time to repeal the Second Amendment. Repeal will remove the legal justifications that have thwarted every gun control measure ever proposed.

The Second Amendment is part of the Constitution as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep slaves under control. Just like we abolished slavery, we need to abolish the Second Amendment. It is a vestige of our history, just like Jim Crow and mass incarceration, that is still killing us.

So, who’s killing us? It seems that we are all playing “russian roulette” with guns in America. Today, it’s Walmart. Tomorrow, it could be Safeway. Until we collectively decide that #EnoughIsEnough, our racist past will undermine our future. Once again, I say it is past time to Repeal No. 2.

The 2019 CDP Chair Race-Part 2

Kimberly Ellis – 2019 CDP Chair Candidate

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the 2019 California Democratic Party (CDP) Chair Race. For the full background on the 2019 CDP Chair race, check out Part 1 first.

Why Kimberly, Not Kamala?

Kimberly Ellis is a Black woman and the former Executive Director of EMERGE California. She is running for Chair of the California Democratic Party for the second time. Kimberly’s message about redefining what it means to be a Democrat is inspiring, particularly in light of the party’s failures for at least the past two decades.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a strident advocate for the leadership of Black women. My favorite hashtag is #BlackWomenLead. Because I am a Black woman who has been on the front lines of the fight for civil rights for more than 40 years, I know how transformative our leadership can be. I supported Kimberly Ellis in 2017 and I support her in 2019.

So, you ask, how can you support Kimberly, but not Kamala?

The answer, unfortunately, is based on Kamala’s record and my own personal experience. In 2017, Kamala Harris did not support Kimberly Ellis. She did not endorse her or vote for her. In 2019, Kamala Harris still has not endorsed Kimberly Ellis. And Kamala controls at least 6 votes in the CDP Chair’s race. The fact that Kimberly Ellis is the only candidate in the race who can actually challenge the CDP’s pervasive culture of sexual misconduct is obvious. Yet, Kamala is standing silently on the sidelines watching the action.

Kamala’s Silence is Complicity

But then, standing by silently is Kamala’s habit and practice. In 2016, when Sen. Holly Mitchell was fighting like a demon to repeal California’s unjust sentence enhancement laws, Kamala stood on the sidelines. That year, Sen. Mitchell sponsored SB966, the 2016 version of the RISE Act. It died in the Legislature. It finally passed in 2018. Kamala did not support the bill.

Sen. Holly Mitchell is the most powerful compassionate inspiring Black woman to grace the California Legislature in decades. For more than a decade, she 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.

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 & her son, Mario Woods (Credit: Vic Lee, ABC7News)

In 2016, the Black community in San Francisco was incensed about the police killing of 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 shooting. Kamala rejected their appeals and stood by silently on the sidelines of the controversy. I shall never forget how shocked I was when I learned that Kamala refused to meet with Mario Woods’ mother.

My Own Disappointments

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 law enforcement agencies were implicated in sex trafficking of a minor. Even 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 promptly incarcerated on felony charges there, Kamala rejected our appeals to get involved. She stood by silently as criminal cases were either never brought or quickly dismissed.

In 2010, I represented a group of 10 women sexually harassed at work. They were all employed at the California Dept. of Corrections. Two of my co-counsel were staunch Kamala supporters. When she became Attorney General (with our help), they thought she would listen to them. She did not. We had our clients write to her directly describing their pain and injuries. We thought she would listen to them. She did not. In fact, she 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 the 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 testify about what happened to her. The lead plaintiff Martha Berndt lost her case at trial. The case was weakened both by the extreme passage of time (13 years) and our assignment to a ridiculously sexist trial judge. Kamala stood by silently as these women suffered years of unnecessary and cruel litigation.

But She’s a Black Woman

In my experience, with one exception, Kamala has not stood with progressive Black women.* In the 2018 race for Oakland Mayor, there were 2 Black women running for the seat. Kamala did not support either one of us. In the 2018 race for Assembly District 15, there were 2 Black women running for the seat. Kamala did not support either one of them.

Kamala’s prominent support for the incumbent DA in the 2018 race for Alameda County District Attorney is perhaps the most shocking. That DA’s record on racially-biased prosecutions is abysmal. I ran for DA in response to the lack of police accountability and racial injustices that have devastated our community for decades. Kamala did not ever respond to my request for a meeting. According to the President of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), a statewide organization of Black women that has always supported Kamala, Kamala did not even return her calls.

The Struggle is Real

In conclusion, my decision to reject Kamala Harris as a candidate for President is based “empirical evidence” and real life experience. Perhaps she will have a last minute change of heart and decide to support Kimberly Ellis in her quest to become the first Black woman CDP Chair. If you support Kamala and believe she should stand with Black women, please reach out to her and let her know that Kimberly Ellis deserves and needs her help. Before the vote on Saturday, June 1st please!

Here’s how you can contact Kamala on Twitter, Messenger, by phone or e-mail:

Twitter: @KamalaHarris
Messenger: @SenatorKamalaHarris
Phone: (415) 981-9369
E-mail: erica@scnstrategies.com

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

*Kamala endorsed Public Defender Genevieve Jones-Wright for San Diego District Attorney in 2018 less than 3 weeks before the June 2018 election.

Repeal No. 2

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Protest, Parkland, Florida 2018

The news this week is the same news we heard last week. The same insane incessant scourge of gun violence overwhelms us. The same “thoughts and prayers” that were issued by legislators around the country last week are re-issued this week. To a different family. To a different grieving community. To the same shocked nation.

Someone asked me after reading “Every 16 Hours” last week, what is the call to action? The call to action is simple: Repeal the Second Amendment. Repeal No. 2. The Second Amendment is the hard rock that supports every argument that we should continue to allow people to be killed with guns.

The Second Amendment was added to the Constitution as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep slaves under control. Just like we abolished slavery, we need to abolish the Second Amendment. It is a vestige of our history, just like Jim Crow and mass incarceration, that is still killing us.

The Second Amendment Is Killing Us

This week, two teenagers opened fire at a high school in Colorado. They killed Kendrick Castillo, 18, and wounded eight other students. A gunman killed Riley Howell, 21, inside a University of North Carolina-Charlotte lecture room. Two people were killed and four others were injured in the attack.  The national news is abuzz with tributes to these two young men for bravery. The media sensationalizes their lives and murders.

Less sensational but just as deadly are the events here at home in the Bay Area. In Oakland, on Friday night, someone shot and killed 30-year old Tristan Carson, a clothing designer and event promoter at the intersection of East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue. No suspects, no motive. Just another young life lost to gun violence.

On Tuesday morning, a gunman shot and killed a 47-year-old man in Pittsburg as he stood outside his car. The shooting was the City of Pittsburg’s 8th homicide in 9 months, and the 5th in less than 6 weeks.

Today, May 9th, in San Ramon, police and FBI descended upon California High School to investigate threats of a gun attack. Someone scrawled three graffiti messages threatening to shoot up the school on May 9th. Two of the messages included racist slurs about Black people.

In Oakland, 4-year-old Na’Vaun Jackson is still recovering.

Na’Vaun accidentally shot himself in the head when he found a gun in the house. He survived but his family and the entire neighborhood was traumatized. There is a GOFUNDME page to help the family survive the financial devastation of this tragedy. The man who left the gun in the house has been arrested and will likely go to jail.

It Is Time to Repeal No. 2

What do all of these events have in common? Guns. Across this country, guns are everywhere. Despite our efforts to regulate and control access to guns, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Increased criminal penalties and harsh sentences have had no impact whatsoever on the access to guns or the number of people killed by guns. Legal or illegal, guns kill, wound and maim too many people every day.

It is long past time to repeal the Second Amendment. That will remove the legal justifications that have thwarted every gun control measure ever proposed. We have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were in the United States.

The United States stands alone in its allegiance to gun violence. In 2010, the number of gun homicides in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. In comparison, there were only:

173 in Canada

155 in the United Kingdom

158 in Germany

142 in France

30 in Sweden; and

11 in Japan.

How Do We Repeal No. 2?

The devastation to our country because of the Second Amendment should compel us to take bold action to address our national crisis. It will not be easy – it may not be quick. Going through Congress requires a 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate and approval by 38 states. Bypassing Congress means we need 34 states to call for a Constitutional Convention to pass the repeal legislation and then 38 states to approve it.

The last time a Constitutional Amendment was repealed was in 1933. It took legislators less than a year to repeal the 18th Amendment which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It was a national conversation that led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

In this moment, we are having a national conversation about gun violence and gun control. In the words of retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the simple but dramatic action of repealing the Second Amendment will move us closer to stopping gun violence than any other possible reform.

To support the movement to repeal No. 2, sign a petition at MoveOn, find and support a youth group in your community that is committed to getting this done. In this season, young people are on fire to stop the violence and they should not listen to anyone who tells them it can’t be done. The future of this country is in their hands.

In the immortal and wise words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.” Let’s get this done as soon as possible. #RepealNo2.

“I Reject the Chief’s Conclusions”

“I reject the Chief’s principal conclusions in this matter.”

Those few words summarize the February 19, 2019 report by Oakland’s Compliance Director, Robert Warshaw. Those few words should end the career of OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in Oakland.

Robert Warshaw 2016 – Credit: Darwin Bond Graham

The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” should be the OPD cover-up of the murder of one Joshua Pawlik. A year ago, on March 11, 2018, Mr. Pawlik was shot 22 times with AR-15 rifles by four (4) OPD officers. His crime – he had a gun.

I have long come to know that if you have a gun and you encounter a policeman in Oakland you will die. Mr. Pawlik’s case is so very similar to that of Demouria Hogg. Both men were apparently asleep when awakened by OPD officers. Both men had guns in their possession and they were immediately shot and killed when they woke up. A gun is a death sentence.

Or, consider consider the case of Alan Blueford who was alleged to be found near a gun and shot dead. Or the case of Sahleem Tindle, who was also observed near a gun and shot dead.

If you are even near the gun, and there is an OPD or Bart officer present, you will die. If they think you have a gun, you will die.

Mr. Pawlik’s murder, however, disturbed Mr. Warshaw. Mr. Warshaw is the Court-appointed monitor, who for the last 10 years has been getting paid to monitor OPD under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement aka our Consent Decree. What seems to have disturbed Mr. Warshaw is that there is a video of the murder which OPD ignored. Apparently, the video is inconsistent with the officers’ statements.

According to to Mr. Warshaw, the OPD investigators did not

(a) did not use the video to question the officers;

(b) did not address the inconsistencies between the video and the officers’ statements; and

(c) used their questions to support the justification of the officers’ actions.

According to Mr. Warshaw, the video shows minimal movements by Mr. Pawlik, consistent with someone waking up. The video “does not show an overt threatening action on his part.”

Why Fire the Chief?

According to Mr. Warshaw, Chief Kirkpatrick went “above and beyond” in her efforts to discount the video evidence and exonerate the officers. Chief Kirkpatrick also rejected the disciplinary recommendations of the department’s internal Executive Force Review Board for the officers and the commander in charge of the situation, Sgt. Francisco Negrete. According to Chief Kirkpatrick, Sgt. Negrete’s “errors in judgment” were not significant enough to sustain the recommended discipline even though they likely cost Mr. Pawlik his life.

Chief Kirkpatrick came to Oakland in the midst of one of the worst police misconduct scandals in our history involving the murder of an officer’s wife, sex trafficking and the rape of a minor by police officers. So far, we have 3 lawsuits arising out of OPD’s cover-up of various parts of this criminal activity. Chief Kirkpatrick’s only response to our troubles was to promote the commanders who led the cover-ups and close the promotional ceremony to the public.

These are the men that she has come to rely upon and protect as the Chief.

Oakland police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick greets officers as she arrives to the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Oakland to attend a department promotion ceremony in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 14, 2017. The promotions of Roland Holmgren to captain, John Lois to assistant chief and Kirk Coleman to captain has raised eyebrows after the trio were referenced in a damning report about how OPD mishandled the Celeste Guap investigation. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Chief Kirkpatrick claimed that she came to Oakland as “a reformer.” But she admitted to reporters in her first press conference that she had not even read the Consent Decree and she had no plan for how to comply with it and end Court oversight. Apparently, she still has no plan. And it would appear that Mr. Warshaw has lost all confidence in her judgment.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Whether the Chief goes or stays, the City will pay. We will pay.

The City paid $1.2 million to settle the civil lawsuit for the murder of Demouria Hogg. Mr. Pawlik’s family has already filed suit, and no doubt, we will pay to settle that case. Federal Judge Orrick, upon receiving Mr. Warshaw’s report, appointed his own investigator to take another look at Mr. Pawlik’s murder. His Order directs the City to start paying for this investigation.

We will continue to pay for Mr. Warshaw’s services. Since his appointment in 2009, we have paid his two companies more than $8 million, on average almost $1 million a year. The Chief’s base salary is a whopping $270,000 a year. The four officers who fired 22 rifle shots at Mr. Pawlik are still on the payroll.

On March 6, 2019, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley issued her report simultaneously with OPD’s report, finding no problems with the investigation and exonerating the OPD officers. Nothing new there either.

I say, fire the Chief and let’s hold the monitor accountable for holding our police accountable. He seems to be the only one with any official power interested in doing so at the moment.

Why I’m Running For DA

My friends’ first question is not why am I running for DA. The first question is “have you lost your mind?”  No, I have not lost my mind.  I know who I am and I know why I’m running.  So here it is.

No Police Accountability

Exhibit ACourt-Appointed-Investigators-Report-on-City-of Oakland’s Response to Allegations of Officer Sexual Misconduct.  This scathing report exposes the total lack of accountability we have in Alameda County for police misconduct. It is particularly disturbing because OPD is under a consent decree that requires the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Commander to inform the DA of possible criminal conduct by officers. Yet, neither the City Attorney nor the District Attorney have taken any responsibility to enforce this provision of the Consent Decree. This persistent problem has cost our City millions of dollars.

Our DA says she had no knowledge of the investigation of police sexual exploitation going on right under her nose. The Court’s report verifies this claim. Nancy O’Malley had no idea that sex trafficking by the police was happening in Alameda County. It has been reported that two investigators in her office were part of the problem. She says she was completely unaware of the ongoing investigation until she read about it in the newspaper. To me, that is a gross dereliction of duty on her part.

When Officer Brendan O’Brien killed himself in September 2015 and left a note, he was still under suspicion of killing his wife. The question is why the DA did not ask “what’s in the suicide note?

Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The Court report leaves no doubt that various members of OPD, certainly including former Chief Sean Whent, the Internal Affairs Division and CID Commanders engaged in obstruction of justice. When asked if she intended to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice, DA O’Malley said flatly “no.” Surely, this is why OPD felt completely comfortable covering up these crimes. There simply is no history of accountability for police officers in Alameda County.

“Is this because I was little?”

The Court finds that OPD did not properly investigate because of “an implicit but evident bias against the victim.” The report says “put simply, CID and IAD wrote off this victim.” Regrettably, I observed a similar bias in the DA’s response. While our County’s female leaders did not come right out and blame the victim, no one acted like they gave a damn about Jasmine. It was as if her exploitation was not taken seriously. Ultimately, the DA left Jasmine to languish in a Florida jail for 17 days.

Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

When DA O’Malley famously announced “I would charge these officers but I don’t have a witness,” Jasmine was facing a felony and 15 years in prison. She was tricked into going to Florida in the first place by the Richmond Police Department.

The fact is the Richmond police sent DA O’Malley’s star witness across the country. Richmond PD placed Jasmine in a situation where she was held against her will, assaulted and arrested because she wanted to come home.  If I were the DA, I would absolutely demand a thorough investigation of possible witness tampering. I would absolutely do everything in my power to hold whomever sent my witness to Florida accountable. More importantly, I would do everything in my power to bring her home. The same bias that OPD exhibited was obvious in the DA’s response to Jasmine’s incarceration in Florida – they wrote her off.

No Criminal Justice Reform

In 2014, Proposition 47 passed in Alameda County by almost 74% of the voters. We recognize that we cannot solve our problems by locking everyone up. DA O’Malley vigorously opposed Proposition 47.  She called it “a frightening fraud with irrevocable and far-reaching consequences.” How can we expect her to implement legislation she considers “a frightening fraud?”

In 2012, California voters passed realignment legislation to reduce the numbers of people in prisons and bring them home. The measure, Proposition 36, passed in Alameda County with 78.6% of the vote.  Yet, in 2016, DA O’Malley proposed to spend only $1.72 million of her $73 million budget on re-entry services.

In 2015, the DA’s office prosecuted almost 41,000 adults and 1001 juveniles.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of the adult cases reviewed for charging resulted in some type of prosecution. So, if you get arrested in Alameda County, there is a 93% chance that you will be prosecuted for something. In contrast, Homeless Court meets six times a year and helps about 300 people a year.

The vast majority of the prosecutions (59% – almost 29,000 cases) were for misdemeanor crimes. The misdemeanor numbers include thousands of women arrested for prostitution. In 2015, the Safety Net Program – a program to create a safety plan for at-risk and high-risk victims of commercial sexual exploitation – only reviewed 83 cases.

The New Jim Crow in Alameda County

In 2015, almost 1500 juvenile cases were presented to the DA. Of those 1,001 (67%) resulted in prosecutions. Felony arrests of African-American kids were a startling rate of 25 per 1,000 compared to 2.3 per 1,000 for White kids. Only 112 kids were referred to a restorative justice program. Only 80 kids participated in our Collaborative Mental Health Court. In 2014, Alameda was one of only 9 counties in the State where the DA only charged Black or Latino kids as adults. “The New Jim Crow” is alive and well in Alameda County.

Why We Have to Make A Change

We have got to change the picture of justice in Alameda County. The days when the DA can “talk the talk” and not “walk the walk” have to be over. As Adam Foss says, we need prosecutors who want to change lives, not ruin them. We need better public safety outcomes. Alameda County has the 4th highest homicide rate for young people (ages 10-24) in the State. Whatever she’s doing is not working.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are about sending folks back to jail.  Since 2012, we have rejected that approach in Alameda County. We want to bring people home and rebuild families and restore our community. We want to end the horrendous racial divide that has infected our judicial system. We want to treat and teach our kids how to be kids. That’s how we need to spend our money – by investing in our people. We need Justice Done Right in Alameda County.

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

A cultural shift is happening across the country.

On Wednesday, June 14, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson pled guilty to one felony and resigned.  Many of us started calling for his resignation and prosecution in January. It only took six (6) months for it to become reality.  Prosecutorial accountability in action!

Why Peterson Had to Go

In May, a civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from office.  The grand jury relied upon the fact that Peterson misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money.  But, Peterson has done more than steal $66,000 over the last five years. Peterson represented an old way of thinking about criminal justice that is not in line with the people who live in Contra Costa County.

Mark Peterson advocated against criminal justice reform at every turn. Voters in Contra Costa County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 36, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57. These bills all helped relieve the overburdened California prison system.  In 2012, Peterson opposed Prop. 36, which reformed California’s draconian three-strikes law. He told the Mercury News that the 3 Strikes law “gives prosecutors a powerful bargaining position.” He also opposed Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.

Peterson is both ignorant and dismissive of the structural racial inequities in the criminal justice system.  After the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown in Ferguson, Peterson wrote “All Lives Matter,” and argued that “crimes are perpetrated disproportionately by poor people of color.

As the District Attorney, Peterson decided to charge Black children in Contra Costa County as adults 12 times more often than white kids. While African Americans make up 9.6 percent of the total county population, they represent 41 percent of the juvenile probation population. Peterson regularly overcharged and prosecuted Black, Latino and poor women for petty theft crimes while excusing his own felonious conduct.

The Flip Side of Unequal Justice

While Peterson has showed a disdain for the people he represents and serves, he has shown favoritism to bad actors in law enforcement. He conducted the most perfunctory investigation of the Richmond police officers who were allegedly complicit in a massive sex trafficking ring.  He initially refused to prosecute any of them.

Peterson turned a blind eye to the community’s concerns about sexual exploitation and obstruction of justice. The Richmond Police Department initially denied and later admitted that it arranged to transport the 19-year-old survivor-victim witness to Florida.  Once there, she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and incarcerated facing a possible 15-year sentence under extremely dubious circumstances.  Peterson’s office made no effort to assist me in securing her release from jail or returning her to California.

Peterson’s 2014 investigation of the murder of Richard “Pedie” Perez, an unarmed man shot by Richmond Police Officer Wally Jensen, was so flawed that the family and much of the community remains outraged that a murderer may have gotten away. There is compelling evidence that Officer Jensen initiated a physical confrontation by repeatedly tackling Pedie. Pedie was unarmed and intoxicated. After tackling Pedie, Jensen backed up, pulled his gun and shot Pedie three times, killing him.

Peterson also refused to investigate whether the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) was defrauded in connection with a $1.6 billion school construction bond program. There is compelling evidence that the WCCUSD provided contractor SGI with rent-free office space, a 10 percent markup on general contracting reimbursements and reimbursement for office furnishings, supplies and cellular service. An investigation also found that SGI received substantial increases in pay, averaging 69 percent, when 10 or 20 percent would have been reasonable.

The Michael Gressett Scandal

In 2015, Peterson rehired his friend and supporter, Deputy DA Michael Gressett. In 2008, Gressett was charged with a violent sexual assault against a female co-worker involving an ice pick and a handgun. Eventually, Contra Costa County paid $450,000 to settle the victim’s civil case for rape. She accused Gressett of sodomy and false imprisonment. The criminal case against Gressett was dismissed on a technicality. Later, the Attorney General’s office decided not to refile the criminal case because the victim had moved to Florida and refused to return to California to testify against Gressett.

How The Community Brought Him Down

Peterson’s downfall was the culmination of months of organizing and a community that “woke up.” Citizens, everyday people became aware of his actions and rejected his reasoning. First it was activists holding a public trial in front of his office in January. Peterson was “found guilty” on a 7-count indictment. To his credit, County Supervisor John Gioia stood up to represent the interests of his community and called for Peterson’s resignation.

Then it was the civil grand jury recommending his removal. Next, it was a vote of no-confidence by the prosecutors’ union. Local editorial boards called for his resignation. Most people were absolutely appalled by the fact that Peterson intended to run for re-election.

Peterson’s resignation is a victory for the people of Contra Costa County. The community found its voice and used its voice to reject lawlessness by its chief law enforcement officer.  Peterson’s prosecution proves that law enforcement officials can be held accountable under the law.  All it takes is a will to look, speak up and act out! #Stay Tuned & StayWoke.

 

Justice-By-Geography

My mouth fell open when I read this! Shocking! In Alameda County? It surprised me and not much about our judicial system surprises me.

The Prosecutor’s Power to Charge Children

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57. It passed in Alameda County by an overwhelming 77% majority.  One of the main changes in the new law is to eliminate the prosecutor’s discretion to charge children between 14 and 18 as adults. It repealed California Proposition 21, which was passed in March 2000. Proposition 21 gave prosecutors the authority to decide whether to try a child as an adult.

In a “direct file” case, the prosecutor had the sole authority to decide whether to charge a child as an adult. Under the old law, the decision had to be made within the first 48 hours of an arrest. As a result, prosecutors often had minimal information about the circumstances of the crime or the child. In addition, there was almost no opportunity to interview key witnesses before making the decision.

At the same time, placing a child in the adult prosecution track has dire consequences for his or her “rehabilitation.” First of all, children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities. Furthermore, children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than those in juvenile facilities.

Disparity Gap in the Rates of Direct File

Fortunately, organizations like the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the National Center for Youth Law sounded the alarm on this practice.  Based on their research, they concluded that prosecutors were charging kids as adults at alarming rates. The prosecutor’s power to charge kids as young as 14 as adults was completely unregulated in California and most of the nation. Not surprisingly, the practice primarily impacts kids of color who were 90% of all “direct filed” cases.

These youth law advocates conducted a comprehensive survey and comparison of California counties. They found that the type of justice you receive in the juvenile system depends on where you live – hence, justice by geography! Furthermore, since 2003, there has been a growing disparity gap in the rates of direct file prosecutions of children by race in California.

Statewide numbers reveal that in 2014, for every White child charged as an adult, there were 3 Latino and 11 Black kids. What is shocking to me is that in Alameda County, prosecutors did not charge a single White kid as an adult in 2014.  Yet, in the same year, Alameda County prosecutors charged 14 Black or Latino kids as adults. Alameda is one of the nine counties in the State where only Black or Latino youths were subject to direct filing.

The Road to Recovery

Our road to recovery from juvenile injustice in California is likely to be long and difficult. With the passage of Prop. 57, the decision to prosecute a child as an adult is now decided by judges. Those of us who question the wisdom of this approach wonder whether we are going backward instead of forward. We know that in real world, judges have usually supported prosecutors.  Indeed in Alameda County, most of the sitting judges were prosecutors. So, some of us are concerned that “the fox is already in the henhouse.”

The response to our concerns was that the judge must make his decision in public and give a statement of reasons for the decision. Now, the prosecutor must make a motion to transfer a child to adult court. The judge must hold a hearing and evaluate whether the child should be tried as an adult. The hope is that increased transparency will lead to more accountability and better outcomes for kids.

In the meantime, it is unclear whether any of the kids charged, convicted or sentenced under the old law are entitled to relief.  In fact, once they were charged as adults, they were subject to the same pressures to plead guilty as adults. According to the AG’s records, 88% of the kids charged as adults are convicted and sentenced as adults.

Can We Save Children We Already Condemned?

Kurese Bell in San Diego County is a case in point. Kurese was only 17 when he and a friend, 18-year-old Marlon Thomas, robbed two marijuana dispensaries. At the second one, they unintentionally got into a shootout with a security guard inside the building. Eighteen year old Marlon was killed. Because Marlon’s death occurred during a robbery, 17-year old Kurese was charged with murder as an adult. Kurese was convicted in January 2017, after Prop. 57 became effective. If he is sentenced as an adult, he is not likely to have a parole date for 25 years.

Kurese’s case was a “direct file.” Ironically, the District Attorney of San Diego is the only DA in the State who supported Prop. 57. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a former Juvenile Court Judge.  She says that she believes that a judge should hear both sides as to why a juvenile should be treated as an adult.

Earlier this year, Kurese’s lawyer, Patrick Dudley, took the courageous step of asking the Court to apply Prop. 57 retroactively to Kurese’s case.  The motion was granted!  The judge applied Prop. 57 and granted Kurese a transfer/fitness hearing in which the presumption is that Kurese is “fit” for a juvenile court disposition.  The prosecution must prove that he is not. A hearing is scheduled for May 12th.

Whether we will see similar steps to achieve justice in Alameda County by applying Prop. 57 retroactively remains to be seen.  Certainly, given our history of racial disparity in charging children, justice would appear to demand it.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén