Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: BWOPA

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

Simple Justice – Abolish Juvenile Fees

juvenile-defendants-jailedI am standing in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.   There are many other advocates for justice who came to speak in favor of a moratorium on juvenile fees.   I remind the Supervisors first, that Black Women Vote and Black Votes Count.

I represent BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Richmond-Contra Costa Chapter.  Why is that so important?  Because these types of fees have devastated Black and Brown families for decades and no one said anything.  And too often, when we have a conversation about institutional racism, there is no Black voice at the table.

What Are These Fees?

In California, juvenile administrative fees are imposed on families whenever a child comes into contact with a County’s juvenile justice system.  In Contra Costa County, the fees include cost of care when a child is placed in any detention facility and electronic monitoring fees when a child is released but still under probation supervision.  The law allows counties to charge parents for public defender services as well as the cost of drug and substance abuse testing.

The fees are first determined by the probation department.  The parent then receives a letter telling her that she owes money as a result of her child’s arrest and incarceration.  The probation officer is supposed to tell the parent that she has a right to a statement of the fees, and there is a time limit to contest the fees.  The officer is also supposed to tell her that she has a right to a hearing in the juvenile court, and warn her that if she fails to appear, the probation officer will recommend that the court order her to pay the entire amount.  (California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 903.45)

Creating Racially-Based Economic Disparity

The imposition of these fees on low-income families clearly undermines the family’s integrity.  It also reinforces the economic disparities so prevalent in our society.  If the parent does not pay the costs, eventually the debt goes into collections and may become a judgment against her.  In Contra Costa County, the probation department has records of almost $17 million of uncollected juvenile fees.  The uncollected fees  go back as far as 1990.  Probation admitted that its practices and policies for the collection of these fees (both the ones previously collected and the $17 million uncollected fees) might not exactly comply with State law.

In a recent bankruptcy case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote ‘burdening a minor’s mother with debts to be paid following his detention . . . hardly serves the future welfare of the child and hardly enhances the Probation Department’s attempt to transform him into a productive member of society.”  (In re Maria G. Rivera.)  In that case, the son was incarcerated for 593 days.  The family got hit with a bill of almost $20,000.00.  The mother paid ½ of it.  When she filed bankruptcy after several years, Orange County opposed her discharge in bankruptcy of the remainder of the fees.  The Ninth Circuit questioned the County’s actions, stating  “the County raises yet another obstacle to Rivera’s efforts to provide her son with the support about which the County claims to be so deeply concerned.”

“Not only does such a [juvenile fee] policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.”  In re Maria G. Rivera, No. 14-60044 (9th Cir. 8/10/16).

“The New Jim Crow” in Contra Costa County

Researchers have documented that in Contra Costa County, a Black child is 8.4 times more likely than a white child to be arrested.  That same child is 10.7 times more likely than a white child to be referred to the juvenile court, 10 times more likely to be found delinquent, 15.7 times more likely to be detained before a hearing, and 23.3 times more likely to be incarcerated.  (CA Dept. of Justice, published online at www.data.burnsinstitute.org).

Pervasive racial disparity in the juvenile justice system creates massive racially-based economic disparity for families caught up in the system.  Black and brown families are devastated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system overall.  The realities of “the new jim crow” are particularly heart-breaking when it comes to our children.  Research concludes that legal indebtedness contributes to poverty “in three ways: by reducing family income; by limiting access to opportunities such as housing, credit, transportation, and employment; and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement.”  (Harris A., Evans H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, American Journal of Sociology, 115, p. 1756.)

A Step Forward

On September 25, 2016, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took an important  first step.  The Court adopted a full moratorium on juvenile fees.  The Board suspended the assessment and collection of all fees.  Contra Costa joined two other Bay Area counties that have taken similar action.  Alameda County repealed the policy.  Santa Clara County adopted a moratorium.  This is a victory for all children and families.  The policy hit Black, Brown and low-income families the hardest.

Advocates to Be Grateful For!

This victory is a direct result of advocacy by the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, the University of California Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic and the Reentry Solutions Group.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the advocacy of everyone who participated in this effort, including Supervisor John Gioia.

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