Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Jr.

Stop The Violence Now

A Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, starting at 5:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will decide a question of urgent priority. The question is whether to establish a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Or whether to accept Mayor Libby Schaaf‘s goal to reduce violent crime by a mere 10% using the same old failed methods. A coalition of community groups along with Councilmembers Lynette McElhaney, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan are calling for people to show up at the Oakland City Council meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you should contact Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks.

Why This, Why Now?

It’s 1999.  I’m standing in front of City Hall with my two young grandsons. Both of them are still in elementary school. We are part of the Acts Full Gospel Church‘s weekly rallies against gun violence in Oakland. The faith community wants the killings in Oakland to stop. We want City Hall to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

In 2001-2002, there is a rash of killings of young Black men in a part of Oakland known as “Ghost Town.” I sue the City on behalf of the family of 21-year-old Chance Grundy. A man murdered Chance because Chance witnessed a murder and cooperated with the police. The police let it be known that Chance was a cooperating witness. The murderer let it be known that he wanted Chance to “sleep with the fishes.” We lose the case. It turns out that (in real life, not like in the movies) the police have no duty to protect witnesses even when they know the witness is in danger.

Fast forward to January 11, 2013.  My friend Brenda Harbin‘s beloved grandson, Ken Harbin, Jr. is shot and killed. Four people are killed that day in Oakland. In the wake of Ken’s murder, we stand on street corners with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.). Once again, we ask the City to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

Every grandmother and mother’s nightmare, the loss of a beloved child.  A dream struck down and unfulfilled by a senseless act of violence.

America’s Gun Violence Problem

America’s “gun culture” is totally unique. We own way more guns privately than other countries, and we have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. Gun violence has long been deemed a public health crisis. 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 from the United States.

In 2010, the number of homicides by guns in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. By comparison, there were only 173 gun homicides in Canada, 155 in the United Kingdom, 158 in Germany and 142 in France. Sweden had only 30 homicides by gun. Japan had only 11 people killed with guns.

Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig/ABC News

Currently, the U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm.  A young man here aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than his counterpart in the eight largest industrialized nations in the world. These include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and 33,636 deaths due to firearms in the U.S. That same year, guns were used to kill only about 50 people in the U.K. More people are killed with guns in the U.S. in a day (about 85) than in the U.K. in a year.

The Race-Based Rationale for Guns

Efforts to control guns in America have stumbled on the “right to bear arms” clause in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. What is often overlooked is the history of the Second Amendment. It was added as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep the slaves under control. The Supreme Court has interpreted and protected the Second Amendment regardless of the consequences.

In 2002, Michael Moore wrote, produced, directed and narrated Bowling for Columbine.  The film highlighted the racist underpinnings of the Second Amendment. However, the Film’s main point, that our violent crime rate is substantially higher than other nations, seems to have been lost over time.

Support the Department of Violence Prevention

Gun violence in Oakland has remained steady.  In 1999, the County Board of Supervisors passed a strong gun control law. The Board reacted to a “rash of gun-related violence” in Alameda County. The Board found that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic proportions in Alameda County.” That law was immediately attacked based on Supreme Court decisions. While the case was pending, the County retreated and announced that gun shows would be allowed on County property.

Our Mayor opposes the proposal to create a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). We need to support the goal to reduce homicides by 80% and achieve an 80% clearance rate within 3 years. The Mayor wants to increase funding for law enforcement,  but “budgets are statements of priorities.” Our priority has to be to reduce gun violence, domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

We need the DVP. Let’s make 2017 the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland. We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

Your Blessing Is On the Way

Your Blessing Is On the Way

I run up the stairs in my office to the lobby.  Robin Morgan sits there waiting.  I am so excited.  Today is closing argument in Morgan v. Amtrak and I love closing argument.  I know how long Robin has been supporting her husband, Abner Morgan.  I tell her to “hold on, your blessing is on the way!”  Little did I know that “her blessing” would not come for another seven (7) years.

Morgan v. Amtrak – the Racial Harassment Case

Robin’s husband Abner was an electrician for Amtrak in the Oakland Yard.  He worked there for five (5) years.  Abner walked off the job when the foreman told him to “get your black ass in here.”  That “direct order” from a racist foreman was the last straw for Abner.  For years he and his co-workers had complained about racism in the Yard.  Their complaints had even triggered Senator Barbara Boxer to request an investigation by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The OIG investigation confirmed that Amtrak subjected Black men working on the Yard to harsher discipline, more dangerous job assignments and abusive treatment.

Amtrak fired Abner in 1995.  At the trial in 1998, one of the white foreman came forward and testified that one Amtrak supervisor regularly performed something he called “the shufflebutt ni–er dance.”  The foreman testified that the white supervisor did his dance in the office at night for the other supervisors’ entertainment.

pyramid-of-prejudiceWe presented evidence of the most despicable racism in any workplace.  The jury found that Amtrak’s management was “grossly unprofessional” and engaged in “questionable ethical conduct.”  The jury also found that the response from Amtrak’s EEO Office was “woefully remiss.”  But, the jury still ruled in favor of Amtrak.

 

Our Trip to the Supreme Court

Fast forward to 2000.  I’m standing in my guest bedroom crying.  We had won the appeal in the Ninth Circuit.  Amtrak had filed a petition for hearing in the United States Supreme Court.  We opposed it.  After months, the Court granted the petition and accepted the case.  I was so upset.  We had waited so long and won the case on appeal.  Robin and Abner had three children: two teenagers and a mentally disabled adult son.  Abner’s firing meant they had to survive mainly on Robin’s income for years.  They had suffered great hardships.  My firm had been tested by the years of unpaid legal services as well.

I called my mentor Howard Moore, Jr., the famous civil rights lawyer who raised me from a pup  lawyer.  The conversation with Howard was very short.  I told him through my tears that the United States Supreme Court had granted the petition for hearing.  Howard said “that’s great kid.  Congratulations! This will be great for your career.” And hung up.

I had no idea what Howard knew.  I would be one of the few Black women in history to argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.  We spent six (6) months preparing for the oral argument.  Bill McNeill and the Employment Law Center offered their assistance as soon as it became public that it was my case.  My team included Bill and his lawyers Jory Steele and Willie and Shelley Gregory.  Of course, Howard agreed to serve as my co-counsel on appeal and sponsored my request to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court bar.

The Fight for the Case

It was not long before lawyers around the country contacted me.  Some offered help with the briefing and strategy on how to win the case.  Others simply wanted to take the case.  There was intense pressure on me to let an “experienced” Supreme Court lawyer handle the case.  I quickly learned that “Supreme Court lawyer” was an exclusive all white male club.  So, I called Howard again.  This time, the conversation was equally short but not so happy.  Howard was angry.  When I told him that people wanted to take my case and argue it for me, he said “If a woman with a degree from Yale and two degrees from UC Berkeley can not argue her own case in the Supreme Court, she should give all of her degrees back.”  And he hung up on me again.

morgan-v-amtrak-1And so that was decided.  Abner Morgan, to his credit, co-signed Howard’s statement by saying that I was his lawyer and he was not going to let anyone else argue his case.  I got it.  So I gathered my wits, my spirit, took charge of the situation and got us all to Washington, D.C.

morgan-04

I argued the case in January 2002.  We “claimed the victory” in my office in Oakland and again in the hallowed halls of the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled in our favor in June 2002.  We WON!

The Final Outcome

Winning in the Supreme Court meant that we got to try the case again.  It took another two years to get through the appellate process and back to the trial court.  In May 2004, we tried the case a second time.  pam-with-abner-morganThis time, the jury got it right and awarded Abner $500,000.

After nine (9) years of litigation, Amtrak finally settled the case later that year.

Robin’s blessing finally arrived.  What I can say to anyone reading this who has ever been tested, from a woman of faith who has been blessed and highly favored over and over and who believes in the power of prayer, “hold on. Your blessing is on the way.

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