Guest Commentary: Ash Kalra Should Be California’s Next AG

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Assemblymember Ash Kalra introduces Racial Justice Act in March

By Molly O’Neal, Manohar Raju, Oscar Bobrow, Tracie Olson, David Epps, Michael Ogul and Sajid A. Khan

As public defenders who represent people and serve families most impacted by our criminal legal system, we call upon Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Assemblyman Ash Kalra as California’s next Attorney General.

Mr. Kalra is a dedicated public servant and reformer who possesses the diverse experience and unique talent to unify people and lead our state into the next frontier of criminal justice. Appointing him as Attorney General will help ensure healing from decades of systemic racism, public safety for all, the end of mass incarceration, and a reimagination of policing in our communities.

Mr. Kalra served 11 years as a Santa Clara County deputy public defender representing the indigent.  He battled in courtrooms where the death penalty, the prosecution of kids as adults, and life without the possibility of parole sentences were commonplace. He witnessed the inequities of cash bail and misguided 3 strikes and drug laws that fueled our mass incarceration epidemic. He saw firsthand how communities of color are disparately targeted and treated inhumanely by law enforcement.

Most importantly, Mr. Kalra sat in jail interview rooms with the people, most often black and brown, that he represented.  He talked to their families.  He heard their stories of trauma, poverty and police brutality.  He learned about their context, not just their criminal conduct.  These human contacts cultivated Mr. Kalra’s unique insight into how the criminal legal system harms our communities but also fostered expertise on how to repair our institutions to ensure equity, justice, and safety for all.

Mr. Kalra served eight years on the San Jose City Council, the 10th largest metropolis in the United States and the hub of Silicon Valley. He helped manage a multimillion-dollar budget, worked with a diverse constituency, and invested himself in remedying community struggles like homelessness.

As a city councilperson, Mr. Kalra was a voice for police accountability. He pushed for a body camera policy, for data collection on curb sitting, and for stronger investigatory powers for the Independent Police Auditor.  Throughout his time as a city councilor, Mr. Kalra developed acumen in how systems like education, public welfare, behavioral health, and criminal justice intertwine and impact the safety and well-being of our communities.

Mr. Kalra then took his spirit of service to Sacramento as an Assemblyman in 2016, the first Indian American to ever serve in the California State Legislature.  In just a few years at the Capitol, Mr. Kalra, through his special ability to rally people and cultivate widespread support, has helped enact a wave of groundbreaking reforms to make our system more humane, strip away constructs of mass incarceration, and combat police violence and the manifestations of systemic racism.

Mr. Kalra voted to end the practice of prosecuting 14- and 15-year-old kids as adults. He voted to amend the outdated and overbroad felony murder rule that resulted in people serving unfair sentences. He has pushed legislation to curtail enhancements that perpetuate excessive prison terms and over incarceration.  He authored and helped pass necessary legislation to make juries more diverse and reflective of the community. He spearheaded legislation to ban police choke holds.

Most recently, Mr. Kalra authored and led the charge to enact The California Racial Justice Act, cutting-edge legislation that will push our state to overcome insidious racial disparities in the criminal legal system from policing to charging to trials to sentencing.

Mr. Kalra, a son of South Asian immigrants and an immigrant himself who grew up in San Jose, will also value and protect California’s 11 million immigrant people. He will honor the lives of California’s children, half of whom have at least one immigrant parent.

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, Californians took to the streets to interrupt the status quo, demand that Black Lives Matter, stop mass incarceration, and end police brutality.  And for these changes to manifest, California needs an Attorney General that can unify, build coalitions, and persuade others not yet in the fold to appreciate the need for reform. The person most uniquely qualified and ready to answer these imminent demands is Ash Kalra.

Molly O’Neal, Santa Clara County Public Defender, San Jose, CA

Manohar Raju, San Francisco Public Defender, San Francisco, CA

Oscar Bobrow, Solano County Chief Deputy Public Defender, Vallejo, CA

Tracie Olson, Yolo County Public Defender, Woodside, CA

David Epps, Santa Clara County Alternate Defender, San Jose, CA

Michael Ogul, Past President, California Public Defenders Association, Fair Oaks, CA

Sajid A. Khan, Deputy Alternate Public Defender, San Jose, CA


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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