Less than a year after San Francisco voters unseated progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a similar dynamic is underway in the East Bay.
Last November, civil rights attorney Pamela Price became Alameda County’s first Black district attorney in a closely watched race, in which she successfully campaigned against the status quo and on a reduction in incarceration. Although Price only took office in January, critics are always homing in on what they say is a soft-on-crime approach.
More than 100 of Price’s supporters rallied in Downtown Oakland on Sunday to emphasize their approval of the new DA and her mandate from voters to instill the reforms she campaigned on. Media criticism, they allege, has been excessively negative—even biased.
“When you show up for freedom and justice, you have to be ready for the backlash,” Price told the crowd outside the Alameda County Courthouse. “I am not fearing the backlash that they call a recall, because I believe in the engagement and the activism of this community.”
Supporters attested to Price’s long history of defending victims of sexual harassment and discrimination. To them, she is the right person for the job that Alameda County voters elected her to do less than six months ago.
Since her election in November, Price has moved to overhaul how her office handles law enforcement, reopening investigations into officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. It’s also brought high-profile cases to the fore, which has netted frustration with the new DA.
A Change.org petition demanding a recall that misspells Price’s name has over 15,000 signatures.
“There are people who wanted to recall her before she was elected,” Rivka Polatnick, a criminal justice reform activist who helped organize the rally. “There’s been efforts to undermine her. They’re following the same playbook.”
Price’s election also spurred an unusual exchange of personnel. Price has hired at least eight San Francisco prosecutors who were booted as a result of the Boudin recall, as The Standard has reported. Conversely, Boudin’s tough-on-crime replacement Brooke Jenkins has hired a number of former Alameda County prosecutors.
Criticism of Price has centered on a crime that occurred well before she took office. In November 2021, 2-year-old Jasper Wu was shot on an Oakland freeway, a killing that officials say was a byproduct of gang violence. Price’s predecessor, Nancy O’Malley, charged the suspects with murder and other gang-related enhancements.
Believing that Price’s stated preference for alternatives to incarceration will mean shorter sentences in the event of a guilty verdict, Asian American groups have rallied seeking justice for Wu and expressing anger toward Price.
Stewart Chen, chair of the Oakland Chinatown Improvement Council, said what comes out of the Wu case in the next couple of months will determine support or opposition to a campaign brewing to recall Price.
“This is the true test,” Chen said. “Her actions have to reflect her promises. We’re watching this very closely.”
Earlier this month, Price said the “tragedy is being used by people with a political agenda to divide our diverse community.” She denounced the torrent of racist messages that her office has received.
As of Wednesday, Price’s office still has not made any official decisions about changing the charges. It has arranged for witnesses to testify, with hearings expected this week.
One person in Sunday’s crowd shouted, “Justice for Jasper,” a sentiment Price repeated back.
The families of other victims have jumped to Price’s defense. Carol Ferguson Jones is the mother of Patrick Demarco Scott Jr., a disabled man who was killed at a bus stop near his South Berkeley home in 2018, in a case that remains unsolved. She said she felt neglected by O’Malley’s office, receiving no answers for years—until Price stepped into office.
“For five years, I've been trying to get in touch with the DA,” Jones said. “[Price] answered my call. She didn’t have to do what she did, but she did. Now I feel a little sense of ‘I can move on now.’ She opened up many doors, doors that should have been opened earlier.”
Price expressed frustration with the state of the office her predecessor left it in. She called on the crowd to engage friends, family and neighbors to spread the word about the work her office is doing.
“Healing is much more important and absolutely essential to public safety,” Price said. “The system was not broken in a day. It will not be fixed in 100 days.”
Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]