Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Just Mercy

Remember Black August

Pamela Price and Angela Davis, Fighting for Justice Reform

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

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

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

The Lessons of George Jackson

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

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

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

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

A Scientific Basis for Change

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

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

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

Postscript

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

Angela Davis Endorses Pamela Price for Alameda County District Attorney

Compassion of Our Hearts

Compassion of Our Hearts

I love Thanksgiving.  I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude.  I really appreciate that we dedicate time in our lives every year to be thankful for our blessings.  I am so thankful for my life.  I have lived a miracle and “He didn’t have to do it.  It could have been me outdoors or in jail,” and I know it.  I often remember to be thankful that I am not living on a hill in Haiti.  Current events make me thankful that I am not living under a building in Aleppo, Syria.

thankful-forThis year I am most thankful for forgiveness, for friends who “prayed me through” a very challenging transitional year, for new love and for something called s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l which I did “my way.”

Compassion in Our Lives

We all can be especially thankful for the compassion in our lives.  As I look around, I am surrounded by friends who show compassion every day.  I am so thankful for my sister Tonsa who takes really good care of my Mom, Mildred.  My foster sisters Gina, Rendi and Virgie took great care of my foster mother Alice. They kept her for more than a decade, long after Mama could no longer speak or move. My cousin Bonita was the solid rock of compassion for my Aunt Eleanore and Uncle John.

It warms my heart to have so many friends who have done the same for their loved ones.  My friend Hope dedicated her life to taking care of her parents, Lela and Ivan.  Since Lela passed, Hope continues to shower compassion on Ivan.  My friend Torrey showed compassion to her mother Mary for years, long after Mary forgot who Torrey was.  Torrey said “she thinks I am just a nice lady who comes to visit her.”

The compassion that my friends demonstrated for their loved ones is so inspiring.  Fania and Angela‘s gentleness with their mother Sallie B. was phenomenal. It has been my privilege to watch daughters like Dianne, Faye and Deborah take care of their mothers, Frances, Imogene and Irene. My friend Shirley‘s steadfast commitment to her Dad, Pops, before he died was comforting to us when Shirley suddenly passed away.

Compassion Knows No Lines

Compassion is not limited by gender.  My cousin Shawn‘s commitment to his mother, Sharon, was unwavering as she battled breast cancer.  How well Antwon cared for his Mother in her last days is one of the most endearing stories about him.  It was my privilege to watch my friend Marshall act with total commitment to his Mother in her final years. My friends, Darryl, Douglas and Duane each showed the same compassion for their mothers in their illnesses when they needed it most.  These are truly men of honor.

My friend Charles continues to honor his mother by taking care of his aunts.  Bishop Macklin‘s concern for his ailing mother touches the heart of every member of our congregation. My godbrother Jay stepped up right away when my foster Mom Amy fell ill and needed 24-hour care. Jay and his wife continue to be there for Amy every day.

Compassion In Action

In law, it is often hard to remember that a law firm is a business. “Beating the drum for justice” is hard work and expensive.  It is very hard to accept that we can not help everybody.  But, it was compassion that moved me to help clients like John Bumphus and Abner Morgan, Deanna Freitag and Tonsa B. What I received in return for that “help” has been life-changing courage and compassion. It was compassion that led me to step off my sabbatical and go to Stuart Florida to rescue Jasmine from jail and bring her home.

In this season, I am reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  The painful truths of our broken justice system grieve the heart. Our criminal justice system is truly an instrument of evil.  Our lack of compassion for children tried as adults and condemned to life in prison is appalling.  The failure of compassion for women who ended up in abusive relationships and then prison is beyond frustrating. Our willingness to accept the death penalty regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence is profoundly disturbing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it’s “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.” Bryan Stevenson‘s compassionate heart is a light of hope for all of us.

In Bay Area politics, we have a rising star in Lateefah Simon.  We are all so proud of her. Her life’s work is rooted in compassion.  I know that her “popularity” is rooted in compassion.  Many people came to know her because of her love for Kevin Weston. The battle she and Kevin fought to save his life touched all of our hearts. Our compassion for this brilliant young couple flooded Facebook. Out of compassion for them, our spirits soared. Our hearts were opened. We were united in community by compassion.

The Greatest Gift of All

As you experience this Thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is love.  “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13.)  I really appreciate the people in my life and our world who show compassion for others.  As I move forward in my life, I pledge to more consistently practice “random acts of kindness.” Remember that your greatest legacy may be how you showed compassion for someone else.

thanksgiving

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén