Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Justice Reform Page 1 of 4

Follow The Money

#Justice for George Floyd Poster

This week, San Francisco is leaning way forward in criminal justice reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, joined by Diane Becton, the first Black woman District Attorney in Contra Costa County, George Gascon, the former SF District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar called for the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations and endorsements from law enforcement agencies and police unions.

Wow! This hits home in Alameda County. They decided to “Follow the Money!”

2018 – Follow The Money

In 2018, Republican Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern gave $50,000 to a campaign committee supporting incumbent District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.  Ahern has been widely criticized for his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. He gives immigration status information on people in the county jail to ICE, and sets releasees up to be picked up by ICE. He also signed a letter in support of Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General. 

DA O’Malley is the only check on Sheriff Ahern, a fact that is particularly significant today. You see, Sheriff Ahern just placed Alameda County under curfew and is arresting peaceful protestors everywhere! Under Ahern’s leadership, the Santa Rita County Jail has earned a reputation as “the most dangerous place in the County.”

In 2018, political committees formed by law enforcement unions spent over $200,000 to help DA O’Malley hold onto her seat. Donors included local and state police unions of every size from around the state. Many of them also gave directly to O’Malley’s campaign.

In the last few days of the 2018 campaign, these political committees sent hit pieces with graphic images of child molesters throughout southern Alameda County to scare primarily white folks in believing that I was “soft on crime.” Apparently, it worked.

A Clear Conflict of Interest

Elena "Ebbie" Mondragon killed by Fremont Police in March 2017
Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, Credit: CBS SF

DA Nancy O’Malley also accepted a $10,000 contribution to her DA campaign from the Fremont Police Officers Association. She received it at the same time she was investigating Fremont officers – including the union president – for the murder of 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon. Naturally, O’Malley cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing after she got the contribution.

In 2018, Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert accepted $13,000 in campaign contributions from the Sacramento police union while she investigated them for the murder of Stephon Clark. Needless to say, her office did not charge any of the officers involved in that killing.

On a press call Monday, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton acknowledged “We work very closely with law enforcement and we have to evaluate whether some of those same officers have committed crimes. . . . Across California there are dozens of law enforcement unions, representing rank and file police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, and correctional officers. and these unions play a major role in state and even local politics.”

According to courthousenews.com, Becton notes the current rules of professional conduct say elected prosecutors should avoid soliciting support from attorneys representing accused officers, and should recuse themselves from prosecutions that could give rise to a conflict of interest. But they are not precluded from benefiting financially or politically from groups that pay the attorneys’ fees for accused officers.

Too often, prosecutors act as if they are above the law. They rarely recuse themselves. They routinely fight efforts for independent outside investigation of cases where officers are accused of using deadly force.

Police Own Our Cities

Last year, the San Francisco Police Association spent over $700,000 trying to buy the DA election. As I pointed out then, every American city, county and state has a powerful police association, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers. They defend crooked cops and threaten elected officials.

Technically, it is a union formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for officers. In the real world, however, POAs are laser focused on doing whatever it takes to control elected officials. POAs are political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.

In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies. As we can see, these policies undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, look for the POA to be fighting back and holding the line. Usually in lockstep with the local District Attorney.

Waking Up the Democratic Party

In a real surprise twist, somebody is waking up the Democratic Party. Following the press release by Boudin, Gascon, Becton and Verber Salazar, the California Progressive Caucus took a position. In a call to action, the Caucus said:

“Since the power of the Democratic Party rests in good measure on its ability to raise almost unlimited cash that can be funneled into campaigns, that is where we should start with solutions. We must decline money from law enforcement organizations and stop funneling money to those Democrats that refuse to make Black lives a priority. We must declare loudly when law enforcement organizations are opposing measures to save Black lives and then we must mobilize support to counter them.”

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?” In fact, the Democratic party has been heavily invested in the fight for criminal justice reform. Only on the wrong side of history – on the side of the police.

The California Progressive Caucus knows how to “follow the money.” Calling out centrist Democrats who accept police union money is a welcome development. Too often, police unions have been able to use their money to buy protection for bad cops and repressive policies.

Unfortunately, Alameda County is not alone in trying to protect bad cops and racist practices. Still, as San Francisco and Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties move forward, maybe we’ll take another look around. In the light of George Floyd’s murder, we know that is way past time “wake up. “

Warning: A Dark Piece

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our National Hypocrisy

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

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

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

We Are All Expendable

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

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

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

A Dark Piece

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

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

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

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

Who Will Make The Change?

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

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

Death in San Leandro

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

Death in San Leandro

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

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

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

Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police

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

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

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

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

California’s New Law

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

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

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

Death in Alameda County

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

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

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

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

2018 Police Killings in Oakland

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

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

The Conflict of Interest

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

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

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

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

A Test for California Law

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

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

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

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

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

Coalition for Police Accountability Logo
Coalition for Police Accountability

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

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

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

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

Essential Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

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

50 Years Today

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

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

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

A Lost Kid

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

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

50 Years Today

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

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

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

Foster Kids Need A Heart

Did you know that:

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

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

CASA - Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Children

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

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

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.

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