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Progressive Alameda County DA faces backlash over toddler killing case

The “Justice for Jasper” protest took place outside Alameda County Superior Courthouse on Monday, April 10, 2023, in Oakland. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

A crowd of protesters turned out in Oakland on Monday to voice their anger at the Alameda County district attorney over her handling of the homicide case of Jasper Wu, a 2-year-old Chinese American boy who was shot in 2021.

Pamela Price, the progressive DA who was elected in 2022, is drawing strong criticism from members of the Chinese American community who fear she may not prosecute the alleged killers to the fullest extent. Protesters cited a recent emailed statement addressed to the “Chinese communities” in which Price sought possible “non-carceral form” of solutions to criminal offenses, triggering the backlash.

Price’s letter, which was sent to multiple Chinatown community members and Chinese-language media reporters, also received condemnation from National Asian Pacific Islander Prosecutors Association for its perceived condescending tone.

“Some people don’t know about the basic principles of constitutional law that govern our office and the justice system,” Price said in the letter.

Bob Yee, one of the rally organizers, said the goal for the rally was to empower the community to hold Price accountable.

“Price had an opportunity to unify us and provide leadership,” Yee said. “Instead, she chose to divide us.”

Jasper Wu, a 23-month-old, was killed in a gang-related freeway shooting in Oakland in 2021. | Courtesy Wu family

Yee and several other activists have formed a new coalition called Asian Americans for Community Action in Oakland, to organize the community and focus on criminal justice.

Price’s office sent out a statement emphasizing it has not yet made any decisions regarding the charges in Wu’s killing and will make decisions directly in accordance to the evidence.

“Our hearts continue to go out to the family and to this entire community regarding this horrific crime,” the statement said. “We will be transparent about this case as it proceeds through the justice system.”

Wu, a 23-month-old toddler, was shot and killed on an Oakland freeway in November 2021 amid alleged rival gang activities. Three suspects were arrested in 2022, and then-District Attorney Nancy O’Malley charged them with murder, adding certain criminal “enhancements” that underscore the heinousness of the crime. The possibility of gang involvement, for instance, could lead to a longer prison sentence in the event of a guilty verdict.

However, in her letter and a subsequent video statement, Price repeatedly clarified that she hadn’t made any decision yet about altering the charges and enhancements.

The “Justice for Jasper” protest took place outside Alameda County Superior Courthouse on Monday, April 10, 2023, in Oakland. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Monday’s protesters were not persuaded. Wu’s family issued a statement to the rally participants, which Oakland Chinatown leader Stewart Chen read aloud in both English and Chinese. In it, the family expressed concern about DA Price’s handling of another high-profile murder case, which she offered lowered sentencing plea deal, and they want to see the new DA charge the suspects to the fullest extent and seek a maximum sentence.

“As a mom, if I don’t see the criminals receive the highest punishment by the law, I can’t accept this, and I won’t forgive this,” Chen said, reading Jasper Wu’s mother’s words in Mandarin.

Stewart Chen reads a statement from the victim’s mother at the “Justice for Jasper” protest. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Wu’s case will be heard in court on April 19.

Elaine Peng, an activist in Oakland’s Chinatown and a mental health advocate, defended Price, pointing out that the DA has not said she would seek a lower sentence or zero jail time in the Wu case. Peng has worked with the Wu family since the beginning.

“She was just hoping to work with AAPI organizations to find alternative punishment solutions to make the community safer,” Peng said.

Han Li can be reached at