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Pamela Price Recall

Pamela Price, Alameda County's District Attorney, has made reforms to the criminal justice system in hopes of a better future. But are these reforms really the right thing to do? In the midst of calls to recall the District Attorney, it's up to the citizens of Alameda Country to weigh the pros and cons.

Illustrated by Angie Che

Written by Alyssa Gong and Vivian Chen

Edited by Lucy Yao

It was an everyday drive. Heading down highway 880 on November 6, 2021, An Wu jolted at the sounding of a gunshot in the backseat. Little did she expect what she would soon find: her 23 month old son, Jasper, dead.

The Wu family was not involved in gang violence or running from the law— they were just passing by a gang dispute between rival gangs. Thanks to a stray bullet, Jasper Wu had been killed in a matter of seconds. Originally, his perpetrators, 22 year old Trevor Green and 24 year old Ivory Bivins, were sentenced to life in prison, but D.A. Pamela Price is now giving them the option of parole. Those very same perpetrators may be allowed to roam free again on the account of “good behavior.” Now, instead of tending to their child, the Wu family tends to the succulents of their front yard in hopes of moving on.

Pamela Price became Alameda County’s District Attorney on November 8, 2022 and was welcomed into office as the first Black attorney. Her focuses include restoring public trust, reducing gun violence, lessening the over-criminalization of youths, ending the death penalty, protecting immigrant communities, holding police and prosecutors accountable, and investing in public health and social services. These progressive policies mean young Black offenders are able to reestablish themselves in society, but Bay Area families fear this may perpetuate higher crime and build an unsafe community. According to critics, if Price continues reducing offenders’ sentences in hopes of closing the racial and socioeconomic gap, her policies will induce recidivism—the likeness of offenders to reoffend. Now, there are calls for Price to be recalled and voted out of office. However, not everyone knows the facts of the matter.

Doubt and confusion surrounds Price’s policies and her work as district attorney. Seen statistically, Price’s policies seem to have the opposite effect as intended. 

The Oakland Crime YTD of 2021, 2022, and 2023, show that the surge in crime rates of the past three years in Oakland do not prove her policies successful. Violent crime such as aggravated assault, vehicle theft, and robbery either decreased or only increased slightly from 2021 to 2022. For example, aggravated assault decreased by 14%, violent crimes decreased by 7%, vehicle theft increased by 4%, and robbery increased by 1%. However, after Price was elected in November 2022, the rates of these crimes drastically increased. From 2022 to 2023, violent crimes increased by 13%, aggravated assault increased by 10%, vehicle theft increased by 36%, and robbery increased by 18%. 

Due to the increase of crime under Price’s time in office, residents of Alameda say her work is “inappropriate and irresponsible” as well as “at the cost of justice.” Furthermore, in front of the Alameda County Court, supporters of Jasper Wu’s family hold up signs saying the toddler was “2 young 2 die” and tell Price to “hold criminals accountable.” Many families, including Wu’s, feel that their losses are being overlooked and that Price is creating an unsafe community in Alameda County. As a result of this backlash, her recall campaign was launched. 

At the front of her recall is Brenda Grisham, a mother who lost her 17 year old son to gun violence in Oakland. Her son’s suspects had been identified, yet were not arrested due to lack of evidence, leading Grisham to be life-long devoted to helping victims’ families bring about justice. 

Also leading Price’s recall is Carl Chan: the president of Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. He had been physically assaulted and called racial slurs, but his assailant’s charges were dropped due to his assailant allegedly having a mental health crisis. 

A third person empathizing with Grisham and Chan is Philip Dreyfuss, partner of a hedge fund that notably is one of the top donors for similar campaigns. 

“We believe this will be a well-resourced and serious effort,” Dreyfuss said in a brief phone call. “A lot of people have been waiting for this.”

Pamela Price, of course, has her reasons to push the policies she does— a desire to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination. Her supporters believe these benefits outweigh the downsides. 

As a Black woman growing up in America, she would have had a better perspective from which to notice the prejudice and higher likelihood of growing up in poverty due to systemic discrimination which many Black people face. In addition, other people of color or marginalized groups may face systemic discrimination in different intensities as well. Pamela Price noted that the stereotype of Black people being criminals was just that, an inaccurate and harmful stereotype. This idea is backed up by a statistic from the University of Law School, which said that in 2022, amongst the defendants who were wrongly charged with crime, 53% were Black. For reference, only 13.6% of the US population is Black.

Pamela Price wants to stop incarcerating youths under the age of 18 as adults, re-address criminal violations by youths between 18-25, and implement fairer justice measures by addressing discrimination and bias based on race, sex, gender identity, or immigration status or caused by mental illness. Statistically, the ratio of Black offenders to the Black population is shockingly high. According to the 2022 UCLA Center for the Study of Women, about 71% of the people serving life without Parole in Alameda County are Black, even though Black people only make up 10% of the population. Meanwhile, only 7% of the people serving life without parole in Alameda County are White, even though they make up 40% of the population. Because the crime rate is disproportionate, it is comprehensible as to why the prevention of enhancements would be as well. In addition, other marginalized communities which she seeks to protect are likely overrepresented as well.

Along with strict rejection or support of her policies, there are also those who criticize the means by which Pamela Price tries to enact her policies. Recently, she released a group of eight pre-teens and teens arrested in connection with more than 35 robberies on the basis of the case “lacking evidence,” despite the alarming amount of robberies they have been associated with. Police reported that they were able to “spot a vehicle on the 100 block of 14th Street [in Oakland] that matched the description of a car wanted in connection with recent robberies,” while observing the juveniles drive the car before they hopped out and took off running. An argument can be made of what the punishment should be, how harsh it should be and so on, but without any consequences, how will the action be discouraged? 

Where exactly the line lies can be heavily debated. While some argue that giving weaker sentences isn’t fair to the victims who have already been hurt, others point out the case of how many Black and Brown youths were sentenced to life without parole while still not yet being an adult, effectively no longer having any life to look forward to. Complicating the matter is the fact that Black and Brown youths are overrepresented in felony arrests. 

Price states in an interview with Marisol Rubio from the San Francisco Bay Area Hispanic Chamber, “[once] you’re taken to juvenile hall, even if you’re released, you are now branded with the stigma of being a criminal and so we have over-criminalized Black and Brown youth tremendously in Alameda County [where] Black and Brown children are 86 percent of all juvenile felony arrests.” To put that into perspective, 86 percent of Black and Brown youths now have one strike out of three and are not eligible for enhancements regarding any future crimes. In addition, as an adult, they will now be viewed with the prejudice surrounding criminals and will be over-criminalized in all the upcoming opportunities, ruining their chances at pursuing future interests. 

Indubitably, whichever outcome may result, both will receive its affirmations and its doubts. If the recall is to occur, the people are passing upon the opportunity to break the cycle of socioeconomic, racial injustices within the criminal justice system. Many mindlessly claim that change must be brought upon the modern world, but this claim gives away at hypocrisy if these are the same people recalling Price for her efforts to engender progressive change. 

If the recall is not to occur, justice may never be served to the victims who faced such criminality and closure may never be given to the families of these victims. Is the future so important that the present must be ignored? Crimes are constantly increasing at this very moment and victims are suffering each and every minute by the actions of perpetrators. Yet their pain is being ignored all at the prospect of installing a reform criminal justice system. 

In the end, the question of where the line is to be drawn is a subjective question, and it is one in which voters can make an impact. Are the benefits of Pamela Price’s progressive policies worth the harm they could cause without a recall? Only the voters of Alameda County can decide, so it's up to them to decide what, as a community, they’re willing to tolerate.

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