First San Francisco Prosecutor Chesa Boudin Recalled – Now Tough on Crime Forces File for Recall of Alameda District Attorney Pamela Price

Pamela Price at a press conference in September 2021, photo by David Greenwald

By The Vanguard Staff

OAKLAND, CA –  Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price is the target of a recall campaign, “joining a slew of reformist prosecutors in California and elsewhere,” according to a story in The Intercept this week. 

The recall campaign became official with the launch of a political committee, said county officials—the recall comes seven months after Price took office, and a year after another progressive prosecutor, Chesa Boudin in the city of San Francisco, was recalled by voters.

According to The Intercept, “Price is one of more than a dozen reform-minded prosecutors who have faced recalls or attempts to restrict their discretion in recent years — part of a backlash to criminal punishment reforms and fearmongering over crime by police and their political allies.”

“They were threatening to recall her when she was running for the seat,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder and executive director of the Anti Police-Terror Project, to The Intercept.

“Unfortunately in the Bay Area and in other places in the country, this is the new political tactic,” she said in the interview, adding campaigns follow a pattern: first, character assassination and right-wing attacks, and then a recall.

Price, a civil rights attorney, was elected in 2022 on a reform platform that focused on rehabilitation and addressing police misconduct and corruption within the office,” said Intercept, noting, “She promised to end use of the death penalty, stop charging kids under 18 as adults, establish a conviction integrity unit, and expand services for victims of gun violence.”

“In a story that has become familiar to prosecutors across the country who campaigned on reforming the criminal justice system, Price’s opponents began to attack her proposed policies before she took office in January. An online petition for her recall started circulating in February,” wrote The Intercept.

The Oakland Police Officers’ Association has blamed her office for worsening crime. And two prosecutors resigned from Price’s office in recent months after she decided not to lengthen sentences for defendants in two cases where children were shot and killed, one by a stray bullet, wrote the Intercept.

News media note another two dozen other prosecutors and investigators have left since Price was elected, and some went to work for San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins—who is widely seen as being close to police and was herself appointed last year after campaigning to successfully recall a Boudin.

“Price’s critics point to the departures as evidence of her failures, but turnover is typical when a new prosecutor takes office,” said Brooks, noting, “The hype-up is that this is because Pamela is somehow so problematic and that’s why there’s turnover is absolutely ludicrous.”

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón survived a second recall attempt. “The attacks on reform-minded prosecutors play up individual cases to highlight what critics say is incompetence in the offices of prosecutors like Price, Boudin, and Gascón,” said The Intercept.

Part of the backlash to the criminal justice reform movement is a law-and-order drum beat that capitalizes on and manipulates people’s fear and pain, Brooks told The Intercept, adding, “It’s a bunch of false flags,” she added. “Unfortunately, that is a tactic we know that the right uses to prevent solidarity.”

But The Intercept story noted, “Since the reform prosecutor movement took off in the mid-2010s, more than 30 bills in at least 17 states have tried to strip power from prosecutors whose policies address efforts to reform the criminal justice system. State lawmakers, often in rural areas, have sought to limit the power of prosecutors elected on reform platforms in far-away cities. The lines between substantive criticism of elected prosecutors and efforts to undermine their authority have become blurred.”

The Intercept added, “While prosecutors across the political spectrum should be accountable to their constituents, criticism of prosecutors like Price and her peers has been amplified within a larger project to oppose popular criminal justice reform, said Anne Irwin, founder and director of the pro-reform group Smart Justice. 

“The nascent recall effort in Alameda County is absolutely reflective of a national Republican playbook,” Irwin said to The Intercept.

Irwin cited “parallels to St. Louis, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, where lawmakers impeached Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner last year…(i)deological differences typically drive resignations under tough-on-crime and reform prosecutors alike, but the media did not cover staff departures or internal office drama until reform-minded candidates started winning office.”

“What’s remarkable is that there has been almost no coverage of how an elected prosecutor runs their office until progressive prosecutors were elected,” Irwin said. “Then all of a sudden, there is intense scrutiny, much of it drummed up by the folks who are backing a recall, to make a case that the progressive prosecutor is a bad manager. But can any of us look back in history and point out whether or not any other tough-on-crime prosecutors in the ’80s or ’90s were good managers?”

Irwin told The Intercept, “Voters in Alameda County watched Boudin’s recall play out. More than a year later, they saw that the recall didn’t make San Francisco a cleaner or safer place. Unlike San Francisco, Alameda County has less money and more people directly impacted by mass incarceration. Those factors could make a recall effort in Alameda County more of an uphill battle.”

“The entire Bay Area, including Alameda County, is realizing that the recall of Chesa Boudin was a false promise,” she said. “That will impact how Alameda County voters approach a recall effort against DA Price. There will be a lot more skepticism about a recall of the district attorney being the panacea.”

The news report stated, “Price’s 2022 election was in part response to a push among Oakland residents for reforms to the criminal justice system they said were long overdue. Price beat a more moderate candidate and became the first Black prosecutor with support among communities most impacted by crime. She declined corporate PAC money and raised more than $1 million for her campaign.

“Price’s predecessor and 2018 opponent, Nancy O’Malley, had been accused of misconduct and worked against some criminal justice reform efforts. Police unions heavily backed O’Malley’s 2018 reelection campaign against Price. She retired in 2021.

“As Price implemented the reforms she ran on, pushback was swift. One prosecutor resigned over Price’s reluctance to enhance sentencing in the stray bullet case and said Price’s office had mistreated victims in Asian American Pacific Islander communities. Another said she had neglected victims of violent crime.”

About The Author

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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