By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – Pamela Price made history on Monday, being sworn in by Oakland Mayor-Elect Sheng Thao, who herself made history as the first Hmong to be elected mayor of a major US City. Price became the first Black elected DA in Alameda County, birthplace of the Black Panthers.
Also speaking during the ceremony in front of at least 200 enthusiastic supporters in Downtown Oakland was Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, Aisha Wahab who became the first Muslim and Afghan American to be elected to the California State Senate, and the legendary prison abolitionist and radical professor, Angela Davis.
Price following being officially sworn in, said, “This is an exclamation point in the history for Alameda County. I stand before you as our first Black woman District Attorney.”
Price, who has spent her career as a pioneer for women’s and civil rights, was elected as a progressive, change agent. After watching what happened in San Francisco, with Chesa Boudin last year, however, she and her supporters are on guard for a tough battle ahead.
“We’ve been waiting way too long,” Mayor Thao said about Pamela Price, but she could have been speaking to any number of pathbreakers in the room. “Your courage, District Attorney, to run for the seat to make sure that the people of Alameda County are not only represented but to make sure that we implement those policies that are not only punitive but are preventative.”
Later she added, “Progressive leader is not a bad word. It is not as what others have made it to be in the last few years. Being progressive means that we want progress. We don’t want the status quo anymore.”
During her speech, Price said, “For the last 10 years, the district attorney’s office has stood in the way of the progressive reforms, ushered in by our California legislature and endorsed overwhelmingly by Alameda County voters our message resonated in Alameda County because we know that the criminal justice system is not working for the hardworking people of Alameda County.”
This was her second time running for DA. She noted that her journey, an unsuccessful one in 2018, started in March 2017 “with a small group of true believers, many of whom are here tonight.”
She said, “Thanks to so many of you who for the last two years we, because of you, we were able to run our people powered grassroots corporate free campaign that defeated a well funded political machine and got the message out all over Alameda County.”
Price noted that the campaign was never about her or her place in history, but it was to “bring justice with compassion, and making the much-needed changes in our criminal justice system. We never wavered from our goal to change how justice is administered in Alameda County, our home place.”
Indeed, on a night when Price made history, she paid homage to those whose struggles came before her.
Wanda Johnson, whose son, Oscar Grant was killed more than a decade ago on a BART Train by a police officer has been fighting for justice for her son and so many others like him.
“As I was praying and as I was speaking with our new District Attorney, one of the things that came to mind was how long will we face the very things we’re facing,” Johnson said. “How long will we enter the courtrooms and not receive the justice that we so deserve? How long will our people be incarcerated at mass numbers and yet still not free, but be slaves in the prison system?”
But for Johnson, she recognized, that DA Price “has the ability to make a difference in our communities.”
She added, “so I charge you today, I charge you today to do what’s right, to stand on truth, to not allow the people to make you dizzy, to not allow the people to make you think that what you are doing is not right, but do what’s right and what you’ve been called to do and stands next to you with you.”
Also speaking was the legendary Angela Davis, who fought these battles 50 years ago when she was acquitted after a lengthy trial for murder.
Price remarked that, “As a child, I screamed in the streets free Angela Davis. It is my extreme honor to have her here and speak tonight.”
Angela Davis said that as a more than 50 year resident of Oakland, “this is the moment we have been waiting for.”
She remarked, “I have known Pamela for a very long time.” She noted that Pamela and her sister Faia were in law school together.
She said, “I have followed Pamela’s extraordinary career as an attorney, defending the rights of those who have been targeted by racism and sexism. And as an activist, as an abolitionist activist for a very long time, who has advocated for radical transformation of a system that thrives on racist driven mass incarceration, a system which judges success by the numbers of youth who are incarcerated and the number of years they spend in the juvenile justice system or in jail or in.”
She said, “ know that Pamela understands the meaning of that, effort to rob of the best of our young generation.”
Davis said that she wholeheartedly supported “our new DA” but that she “hesitated for a moment because I know that she can’t do it alone.” She referenced what happened to Chesa Boudin in San Francisco that they have to vigilant and prepared for what is coming.
Price added, “I bring a focus on civil rights and community empowerment backed by a lifetime of work in these areas. As a survivor of domestic violence and a long time resident of Alameda County, I witnessed firsthand the injustices of the criminal legal system against women perpetuated and enforced by a district attorney’s office.”
She continued, “As an award-winning lawyer, I know how to prosecute cases, and hold people and institutions accountable. I know how to win cases if we are forced to fight the justice in the courtroom.
Price concluded, “I know the pain and trauma of victims and families and the justice delayed is justice denied. I also know that none of us want to be judged by the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives. As someone with decades of experience in providing access to justice and reforming our state criminal justice system, I’m uniquely qualified for this position.”