Oakland District Attorney candidate calls for change, accountability
At a town hall in Oakland, California, organized by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the two candidates for Alameda County District Attorney challenged each other on their progressive approaches to criminal justice. Civil rights attorney Pamela Price took incumbent Nancy O’Malley to task for what she said were racial disparities in the D.A.’s charging practices, and O’Malley highlighted her decades of experience in the office.
“My track record has been creating the future since I entered the office, and changing the paradigm of the D.A.’s office and changing the paradigm of criminal justice, and I’ll continue doing that,” O’Malley told KTVU in a post-debate interview.
O’Malley joined the D.A.’s office as an attorney in 1984, and rose through the ranks until she was elected D.A. in 2009. Price, who has worked in Oakland as an attorney for 26 years, acknowledged her lack of experience in public office, but pitched it to the roughly 100-person crowd as an advantage, suggesting that “coming in as a brand-new person” would be “a strength,” and that the lack of institutional connections might better help her bring change to the office.
Issues pertaining to racial and socioeconomic disparities dominated the evening, according to Oakland North. Both candidates agreed the county’s cash bail system needed reform, and praised programs that divert low-level offenders out of the system. It is estimated that roughly 25 percent of Alameda County residents have a criminal record.
Price accused O’Malley’s office of being one of few in counties across the country of charging Black and Latino teens as adults, while addressing white teens as juveniles. If elected, Price vowed to never charge a juvenile as an adult: “When you send them to adult prisons, you are creating a criminal for life.”
When asked about the racial disparities in her office’s charging decisions, O’Malley pointed to the programs created by the office under her watch that she said are “lifting up individuals and breaking barriers,” in part by strengthening the D.A.’s bond with the community.
“I meet with the community organizations and the community providers to help strategically plan out how we can better change the paradigm — of hoping people don’t fail, to building pathways to success,” O’Malley said.
Price represented Jasmine Abuslin, the 19-year-old at the center of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to criminal charges against seven Bay Area police officers for allegedly having sex with Abuslin, a sex worker, and for exchanging details about upcoming raids for sex. At the town hall, Price accused O’Malley of opting “not to investigate or charge any of the commanders” involved in the scandal, while O’Malley said she is in fact investigating police misconduct. O’Malley brought charges against five officers, one sheriff’s deputy, and one retired officer involved in the scandal in 2016.
The town hall will be just one of many opportunities for the candidates to spar leading up to next June’s election.