Wanda’s Picks August 2021: Interview with Pamela Price

California’s Assembly District 18 – a large portion of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro – has been historically represented by African Americans, like Elihu Harris, Barbara Lee and Sandre Swanson. Prior to redistricting, the District 18 assemblymember was considered the seat where Black people could be elected to office from the community. District 18 was at one time the seat of the Black Panther Party, and the area continues to be a major site of Black creativity and activism. It is crucial that we keep the district’s representation from and of the community and get big tech dollars out of our elections. Here we see in West Oakland a beautiful 2020 mural of the women of the Black Panther Party, designed and painted by muralist Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith on the home of Jilchristina Vest. – Mural: Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith

BYOJ – Bring Your Own Justice!

by Bay View Arts and Culture Editor Wanda Sabir

Good morning and welcome to Wanda’s Picks, a Black arts and cultural program of African Sisters Media Network. We are really excited today to be speaking to one of our community scholars, Ms. Pamela Price, Esq., who is running again for district attorney for the County of Alameda.

Wanda: Good morning, how are you?

Pamela: Good morning, Sister Wanda, I’m great! Good morning, blessings to you. 

Wanda: Good morning. So, we just had an election, a special election and today is a benchmark for your campaign. And what brings us to the conversation is a law that just went into effect around licensing for people with felony convictions that nobody knows about, so thank you so much for joining us to talk about all those things.

So, let’s start with you. Tell us about a Black woman and the law. What brought you to this particular commitment to our community, because you are certainly “practicing justice with compassion,” as you say in your tagline.

Pamela: Thank you so much. What brought me here is the injustice of our society both in terms of the civil remedies and how most of my life has been spent. My practice has been as a civil rights attorney since 1991, in this community representing everyday people and holding people and institutions accountable. So, for my law firm, our motto is “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Where we could. we made a difference in bringing justice, I often told my clients, it’s a BYOJ system. 

Back in the day, we used to go to the party and it would be a BYOB party and you had to bring your own bottle! Well, in justice it’s a BYOJ – you bring your own justice system. So that’s what motivates me is the courage of everyday people to stand up for what’s right sometimes even when they’re standing alone.

Wanda: That’s really beautiful. Are you a native to the Bay Area? 

Pamela: No, I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, back in the Midwest, and was raised there. Got arrested in my first civil rights demonstration there and went through some very challenging times and once again became acutely aware that the system does not always do us justice and that you need a real advocate dealing with certain situations that are quite common in our community. And so, I was very challenged as a young woman, but I survived and made it literally from the streets of Cincinnati to Yale college by the grace of God.

Wanda: Wow, well did you have any role models? I mean (laughs) do people just choose law as a career? 

Pamela: (laughs) I had wonderful role models. I was at Yale, and I had the privilege of working on a committee called Yale Attica Weekend for Life, and we sponsored a program, a weekend of protests at the Yale Law School and we brought in the lawyers who represented the prisoners who participated in the Attica Uprising. Attica, many people don’t know, was the largest prison uprising in the history of this country and resulted in the deaths of many people unnecessarily.

The family sued and Lennox Hinds, Margaret Burnham and Haywood Burns represented the Attica prisoners and when we asked them to come speak to us at the Law School, they did. As a young sophomore at Yale I got a chance to see these Black lawyers who were on the front lines of justice. 

Pamela Price for Alameda DA! In her first run for the office in 2017, Pamela Price and her team were strategizing to change the district attorney’s office into a vehicle that could turn this criminal justice system around. She developed a 10-point platform to lay out how the district attorney’s office could actually provide justice in the community with the recognition of how the criminal justice system has impacted Black and Brown people in the Bay.

They were serious and it made an indelible impression upon me – to know that lawyers who looked like me could stand up for people and fight and were serious about it impressed me tremendously. 

Then, I was privileged to be represented by some very creative lawyers in the first sexual harassment lawsuit under Title IX who actually showed me again in real life what it meant to be a lawyer for the movement and to make the law apply to real people and to have a real remedy for everyday people. 

So, I had wonderful examples of what it meant to be a lawyer; also, seeing some people we were opposed to would show me what kind of lawyer I did not want to be. Charles Hamilton Houston said: “A lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite.”

Wanda: This is so cool! We’re definitely going to have you on again because we’re going to make this a regular conversation about what’s happening both locally and nationally that Black folks need to know about around the legal system, because you’re going to be, hopefully, having a column in one of our Black papers, The Post. You know how they have “Dear Abby”? Well, this is “Dear Miss Price.” 

This is what you all need to be bookmarking here folks, all right, telling everybody about. And there’s some things happening right now that people need to know about so they can share with friends and family. Unfortunately, I’m sure all of us know someone who has been touched by the criminal system and is still being criminalized by that system after they served time. 

Or maybe they weren’t even convicted; they were just held and had that particular projection, felony, and then it never happened because you could be held without being convicted, is that the language for it? 

And there’s so many people – we learned about it last year people during the pandemic – who were being held and not convicted who died from COVID-19. Women who were pregnant lost children and their lives. It’s just horrible what happened and is still happening to people inside. 

California has the highest rates of conviction and highest rates of recidivism in the country and the prisons are overcrowded – these prisons were built and within a short period of time they were overcrowded.

I wanted you to bring us up to speed on some things that are happening, particularly the one about the law about licensing, and then I want you to come back and talk about your 10-point program. When we think 10-point platform, 10-point anything, we think, you know, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense

Pamela: Some of us do, some of us definitely do. True, very true. The conversation that we talked about was around AB 2138, and you’re absolutely right. We know that in California nearly 8 million people, approximately one in three adults, have an arrest or conviction record. California has the highest rates of conviction and highest rates of recidivism in the country and the prisons are overcrowded – we had these prisons that were built and within a short period of time they were overcrowded. 

We’ve had a history at least since the 1980s of people going to jail or prison and then being released and then going back. We have, as I said, one of the highest recidivism rates in the country along with that, one of the drivers of that, is that people who have had been impacted by the criminal justice system are not able to get employment upon their release because they have a prior conviction. In California about 30 percent of all jobs require a licensing certification or clearance by some oversight board or agency.

We’ve got about 42 agencies and they cover approximately 1,773 different occupations, ranging from auto mechanics to hairstylist to nursing and across the board. And so those 42 agencies have had policies and restrictions on the ability of somebody to get a license if you’ve even had contact with the criminal justice system – some of them didn’t even necessarily require convictions, just an arrest was sufficient. That had to be reported and was used to stop people from getting a license. 

That has been a driver of injustice in California. There was a law that was passed, pressed forward by advocates for criminal justice reform in 2018, and it was passed but was essentially stayed. Some laws pass and they’re effective immediately – like, we just had Juneteenth. Joe Biden signed the executive order and then Friday people got off work! It was suddenly effective immediately.

It’s finally looking like AB 2138 is in play! If you or anyone you know is seeking or has been denied a license or work due to experience with the criminal justice system, please get in touch with the Public Defender’s Office in Alameda, All of Us or None, the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights the Ella Baker Center or Roots Community Center and get help now!

[AB 2138], through amendments, was held up for two years so that it did not go into effect until July of 2020. 

But what happened in July of 2020? We were in the midst of COVID. So we know that people were not in a position, and still the implementation of the law has been delayed because everything is behind now. So, if you’re bringing an application for a license or certification, there’s a huge backlog. 

A year later, we’re about to be in July 2021, this may be the first time that this law will start to take effect. So this conversation is very timely – people should know that you can now apply. There’s been a huge change of law that now allows people to apply for a license in a profession or occupation that they want to pursue.

Wanda: This is so important, and it just makes you wonder why there would be such laws on the books in the first place similar to the laws around or the statutes that say slavery is still legal for certain folks in this state. People don’t seem to realize that states have constitutions, cities have constitutions and the federal government has a constitution, and they are not saying the same thing – they don’t have to agree. The state of California is like its own country, the city of Oakland is like its own country, the county of Alameda is like its own country.

So how do we create more of a synergy between these different municipalities that are redistributing the same people over and over again, right? But it depends on what pocket we’re in or municipality we’re in. It depends on the laws that govern our movement and our privileges and what we can do and what we can’t do.

Pamela: This is true. And you know the effort has been made at the state level, which has been very helpful, passing a number of laws that addressed the inequities in the criminal justice system. But it has to start at the county level or the city level and then work its way up. 

A huge change of law in AB 2138 and finally taking effect, now allows people to apply for a license in a profession or occupation that they want to pursue.

Generally, when it starts at the state level, it’s got to work its way down to the county and the city level and then that’s where implementation actually has to happen. It doesn’t do us any good to have a law on the books at the state level, which is good – we’ve got 2138 now – but people on the ground have to implement it; the county people have to implement it. We’ve got to have resources at the county level and at the city level to actually make it real for people.

Wanda: Yeah, are there resources in place for this?

Pamela: I don’t believe so. It wasn’t even supposed to be in effect until July of 2020 and then COVID hit, so it’s unclear what’s happening with the law at this point and how it will be implemented. That’s why this is so important for you to have this conversation so that people are at least aware of it, because the implementation’s been so delayed that now we have to let people know: “Hey, this law did get passed and it does apply to you, or to someone you know, who may want to be a nurse or you know may now be eligible to get that mechanic’s license” that they were denied before.

Wanda: Wow, so if a person is interested, maybe are affected by this particular change in the law, how would they go about challenging – like, they want to get the license, and let’s say people aren’t aware of this and so they’re having trouble. Where do people start around using this AB 2138 law to help facilitate their career goals? 

Pamela: Well, locally it was sponsored by the Public Defender’s Office which is a point of contact; All of Us or None, which is another point of contact; the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; the Ella Baker Center; and Roots Community Center. Different nonprofits in the Bay Area all pushed for this and presumably people are now able to contact them. 

I know the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights has an economic development project that may well be able to provide free legal services for someone who needs help with the denial of an application or to present an application. Often what you have to do is first be able to present the application, and one of the benefits of the law now is it does improve the procedures by which these applications can be processed and denied or granted as well as the revocation process. 

We’ve had situations where someone may have had a job and then it popped up that there was an arrest or conviction that was decades old and that ended up with the person being fired. Previously, before AB 2138 was passed, there was very little process by which people could challenge the revocation, but there is now a procedure, so even if someone has had their license revoked by one of these agencies, they’re required to give you the right to appeal and to explain to you your appeal rights or what the process is.

Wanda: That’s excellent, that’s really excellent. Are you a member of any of these particular organizations or boards that you mentioned? I’m thinking you’re probably a member of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights because you’re a civil rights attorney. 

Pamela: Yeah, I’m a long-term member of the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. I was the interim executive director and I was a board chair for two terms, but I’m a member now. I moved on because it’s important that we have new people, and you know everybody is able to participate. I did mine, about 10 years of service, and now there are others carrying the ball; but I’m proud to remain a member of the organization, and they do great work. 

Administration of justice really is part of the foundation of the fabric of the whole community. 

Wanda: Right, I know that you are connected to the Movement Center, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None. The Movement Center opened in Oakland, and you were there and you said that you had been an intern! And I was like all these people coming through like you and Bryan Stevenson and I’m like dang that organization has touched so many great lives, I mean you know, you all just go off and blow up – justice and civil rights activism and for being for the people. Which brings us to your 10-point program. Talk about that. 

Pamela: When I decided to run for district attorney of Alameda County initially in 2017, we sat down and said, OK, what are the things that we believe need to happen to turn this criminal justice system around. And we developed a 10-point platform which represents some of our best thinking about how we use the power of the district attorney’s office to actually provide justice in this community and turn some of the injustices around and recognizing how the criminal justice system has impacted Black and Brown communities and how the administration of justice really is part of the foundation of the fabric of the whole community. 

So, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It touches all of our lives regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation – it touches everything. We wanted to try to capture the best thinking at that time and the most important things that need to be addressed by the reform of the criminal justice system and we developed a 10-point platform. And in this campaign for an election in June of 2022 we revised it, updated it and brought it back.

And I’m particularly proud of, and our discussion today goes to this, point No. 9, which is that I commit to fully fund and implement effective reentry programs for returning citizens and assist in removing barriers to employment and education, which is what I want to do as an advocate for AB 2138 and the implementation of it in this community. 

I would address ineffective and inequitable criminal justice related fines and fees – we know that we’ve privatized our pain and that people are profiting off of the pain of the community where folks may have made a mistake or may have been unfairly convicted; we know that our criminal justice system has often over-criminalized Black and Brown people, has the power of charging and punishment, has been visited upon people unfairly. 

As a district attorney I want to create institutional support for family reunification and access to housing, to job training and opportunity, to healthcare and legal services – that speaks to my background both as a member and a leader in the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. I’ve seen how important those services are as well as my roots, which do go back to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. I was the first intern hired by Ellen Berry back in the day when we were in two little offices in San Francisco, and now you all have a huge building, which I’m so proud of! 

I am part of a national movement of progressive prosecutors who are disrupting the criminal justice system the way that it has been operated and used to the detriment of everyone in the community

Wanda: Wow, that’s so awesome. I want to let people know how they can be in touch with you and see what you’re up to and also support your bid for district attorney for the county of Alameda: PamelaPrice4DA.com. And I notice that purple has a significance for you and then I mentioned initially that today, June 30, is also an important day for your campaign. But I just wanted to read what the late honorable Ronald V. Dellums says about you that you have as a quote: 

“Pamela Price has committed to not prosecute one child as an adult when she is district attorney; she will end the racial disparity in prosecutions and mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. These times call for courageous and transformative disrupters of systemic racial injustice. Pamela Price is exactly who we need right now as Alameda County district attorney.” Did he say this in May 2018? 

Pamela: Yes, he did, shortly before he died. Within the last year he called me “that little troublemaker” (laughs) and that was before we all started talking about making good trouble. Ron Dellums was someone that was committed to justice and particularly justice for Black and Brown people. 

I’ve been an activist since I was 13 years old and got arrested in my first civil rights demonstration, as we talked about, and I came up at a time where we absolutely needed disrupters of the injustices that were happening to our people, and I just happened to be blessed enough and fortunate enough to be able to get a great education at Yale and then to go to UC Berkeley and get a great education in the law. 

And I understood, as Ron has often understood, that to whom much is given much is asked. And we didn’t get these blessings, you don’t get to be in these positions just to be there. You have to be there with a purpose and on a mission. 

And yes, I am part of a national movement of progressive prosecutors who are disrupting the criminal justice system the way that it has been operated and used to the detriment of everyone in the community – and that’s so important. 

And when we say disruptive, it’s a way of saying we really have to break the school to prison pipeline, and we have to break the prisoner poverty pipeline – and that requires disruption. We will build something new and better and that’s part of the mission as well. 

Wanda: Yes, well, next time we have you on, we’ll talk about what’s happening practically that people need to know about, like AB 2138. Do you want to say anything about Assembly District 18? I also want you to talk more about what does it mean, what the district attorneys do. I know you said that the current one, she’s not running; O’Malley is not seeking a reelection. How long has she been in the position, 30 years? 

Pamela: Yeah, she’s been in the district attorney’s office for 30 years. And the way that career works, you work your way up. She became chief deputy assistant district attorney under Tom Orloff, who was there for a long, long time, and then she’s done the last 10 years as a district attorney herself. 

So, this is the first time since the 1940s that we have not had an incumbent run for election when there’s going to be a contested election. The practice has been passed down – pass it down, pass it down, and it was passed down to Ms. O’Malley from Mr. Orloff and was passed down to Mr. Orloff from the guy before him and the guy before him. 

I’m the only corporate-free candidate in the race who is committed to not accepting money from law enforcement associations or police associations.

When I ran in 2017, I was the first person to run for the seat since 1966. What that means is unless you were 21 years old in 1966, you’ve never voted for a district attorney. That person’s name might have appeared on the ballot, but that was the only name on the ballot, so we had to really bring people into the 21st century and let folks know that it is an elected position.

You mentioned today is June 30 – this is our first fundraising deadline. When we look at progressive prosecutors across the country where they have lost, it’s because they’ve been outspent. And unfortunately, in our electoral politics, money is the name of the game. But I say money is the microphone for the message, because unless you’re able to raise enough money to get your message out, the forces that want to maintain the status quo, they have the money; they don’t have to raise funds – and Ms. O’Malley had the money. 

People like Tom Orloff were able to give her $10,000, and folks have been invested in maintaining the status quo, so that’s easy. It’s someone when you’re trying to beat that disruptor that Ron Dellums called on. You got to raise the money, and so, today is our final fundraising deadline day. We’ve been very successful and very blessed to have support. 

I’m the only corporate free candidate in the race who is committed to not accepting money from law enforcement associations because those police associations have been major funders of district attorney campaigns. We know in 2018 the Fremont Police Department gave Nancy O’Malley $10,000 while she was investigating multiple shootings by Fremont police officers, including the president of the union – and then the union gave her $10,000. Of course, the president was cleared of any wrongdoing along with his officers. 

So we have got to get money out of politics, and I’m ultimately committed to that, which is why I’m corporate-free because if you allow corporations to buy seats, then you are essentially overriding the voice of the people. We saw that dynamic in the Assembly District 18 race, which you mentioned. We had a couple of corporate-free candidates who were challenged to raise the amount of money that they needed to be able to win the election. 

Assembly District 18 is the bulk of Oakland, all of San Leandro and all of Alameda, but it does not include Piedmont or the North Oakland area north of MacArthur Boulevard. 

And then we had one candidate who was able to receive contributions not only from corporations but from entities with interests from all over the country, all over the state, as well as being funded substantially by her husband, who happens to be our attorney general. So the amount of money that we saw flowing into Assembly District 18 for this assembly district seat is unprecedented. 

What we see now is we thought in the city of Oakland last year in that election Lyft and Uber and the amount of money that is being spent to control our elected officials in Oakland and Alameda County is pretty disturbing, quite frankly, and we should all be paying attention to that. It was disturbing in November of 2020 and, if you look at this race – Assembly District 18, we had the runoff yesterday – there’s a lot of money flowing into our little assembly district. 

And for those who don’t know, Assembly District 18 is the bulk of Oakland, or Oakland is the majority partner in it. It’s all of San Leandro, all of Alameda and most of Oakland – it does not include Piedmont or the North Oakland area north of MacArthur Boulevard. 

That’s the bulk of Oakland and it’s a very important seat. It’s been historically a seat held by African Americans. Elihu Harris was the assemblyman, Barbara Lee held that seat, Sandre Swanson held that seat. Prior to redistricting it was considered the seat where Black people could be elected to office from this community. And so it has deep roots in the African American community. 

And Rob Bonta’s election in 2012 – he was the first Filipino, I believe, to hold the seat – he has obviously vacated the seat as the attorney general but the effort to have his successor be his wife, Mia Bonta, has brought tremendous pressure into the district and a lot of money has flowed into this district. 

But let me say this: It’s really important that the people get to vote. The people of Assembly District 18 have spoken. 

Wanda: We’ll see what the final numbers are because they’re still coming in, we’ll know when the official announcement is made. At the moment, Mia Bonta is winning. She has the most numbers. So, we will have you on again, and I’m looking forward to that column in the Post!

And good luck on your benchmark for fundraising today. People can go to your website and donate – doesn’t have to be huge numbers, just consistent, you know, whatever you’ve got. Five, 10, 15, 20, a hundred, a thousand – it all helps. 

So folks, I am totally for Pamela Price for district attorney. I voted for her back in 2017. She’s a great woman and she’s doing some fabulous work. You take care, and thank you so much. We’ll be in touch and have you on again. 

Pamela: All right, thank you, Ms. Wanda, you, too. You take care, you be safe. 

Wanda: Thank you. Peace and blessings.

Bay View Arts and Culture Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wanda@wandaspicks.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.