During a town hall meeting on Wednesday night at Merritt College, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Pamela Price, who is running to replace her, presented their platforms on convicting juvenile offenders, racial socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system, and law enforcement accountability. Both O’Malley and Price took different stands on these topics, but also spoke passionately about their common goal: to bring justice if they win the race for District Attorney next June.
“Justice done right is what we need in Alameda County,” Price said in her opening statement as she emphasized need for change in the District Attorney’s Office. “We must create, we can create, a new culture of transparency and fairness in the District Attorney’s Office.”
Meanwhile, O’Malley highlighted the strategies that her office uses and the new programs that it provides. “The district attorney’s job is to seek justice and that is at the core of every single little thing that I do. It is certainly in the core of what I do and every prosecutor, investigator and person who works in my office,” O’Malley said.
Price has been a civil rights attorney in Oakland for 26 years. She graduated from Yale University in 1978 with a B.A. in political science and in 1982 attended the UC Berkeley School of Law where she earned her J.D. and an M.A degree in Jurisprudence and Social Policy. In 2016, Price was elected Alameda County Democratic Central Committee for the 18th Assembly District. As an attorney, Price has argued sexual harassment cases relating to both education and employment. Price also represented the young woman known as “Celeste Guap,” who last year sued the Oakland Police Department over allegations of officers’ sexual misconduct. The Oakland City Council approved to pay $989,000 to settle her claim, which was initially $66 million.
O’Malley first joined the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as an attorney in 1984. She worked her way up to Chief Assistant District Attorney in 1999, then to her current positon in 2009. She has prosecuted hundreds of felony matters ranging from child sexual assault to domestic violence and murder. O’Malley is known as an advocate for victims’ rights, and created the Restitution Program, ensuring that those convicted repay their victims for losses, and the Alameda County Family Justice Center which provides legal, health, housing and psychological services for victims of crimes. Last September, O’Malley filed charges against five Oakland police officers, one Livermore officer and one Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy who were involved in the police sexual misconduct scandal.
Wednesday’s debate was moderated by KTVU news reporter Paul Chambers. Each candidate had a few minutes to answer each question, followed by a short response from their opponent. Chambers’ questions throughout the night came from the about 50 Merritt College students and community members in attendance. At the end of the event, the audience was allowed to ask more questions.
The topic of racial and social economic disparities within Alameda County’s criminal justice system found its way into almost all of the questions asked during the debate. When asked by the moderator if she agreed with critics who say that there are racial disparitiesin charging decisions produced by her office, O’Malley said she recognizes that racism exists in the United States, but said her office staff are correcting that by being in the community and building trust.
“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. “Putting in programs that are really lifting up individuals and breaking barriers that prevent from moving forward are at the forefront of all we are doing.” She said her office spends $22 million a year to help people who have been involved in the criminal justice system.
Price, on the other hand, argued that young African Americans are disproportionately represented in the county’s felony arrests. She said that in 2014, Alameda County was one of only nine countries in the United States where the District Attorney only charged Black and Latino teenagers as adults. Price said that she would never file a motion to charge a child as an adult. “We have a judicial system and criminal justice system that unfortunately has gotten it wrong to many times, and unfortunately gets riddled with racial disparities. Until we fix that, we should not be charging kids as adults,” Price said. “When you send them to adult prisons, you are creating a criminal for life.”
The topic of last year’s sexual misconduct scandal came to light when Price questioned why O’Malley had no idea that her star witness had, at one point, gone to a treatment facility in Florida, leaving the District Attorney unable to prosecute any officers involved in the scandal. At the time, Price had alleged that Guap had been sent there by members of the Richmond Police Department in an attempt to interfere with ongoing investigations and O’Malley’s attempts to charge the officers.
O’Malley said that as soon as she found out, she was on the phone making some calls in hopes of getting Guap released from the center. “A weakness I have—and I’m not even sure it’s a weakness—that falls on my shoulders. But I can’t see into the Oakland Police department or any other police department. I do rely on them following the law,” O’Malley said.
Price said that some may see her own lack of experience in holding a public office as a weakness. “I’ve never worked in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office,” Price said. “I am coming in as a brand-new person. I think it’s a strength, but I recognize that some may say that it is a weakness.” Price said that if she is elected, she will call experts who will show her how to run an effective, justice-driven office.
The event was hosted by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). “Our main hope is an educational event, which we cohosted with young people in law enforcement. This is a good opportunity so students can meet both of them,” said OPD Captain Sekou Millington, chapter president for NOBLE.
Prince White, the program and policy campaign coordinator of Urban Peace Movement, an organization that builds youth leadership in Oakland, was present at the meeting with 10 to 12 of his group’s members. White did not endorse a candidate, stating that he was not interested in choosing a candidate, but was interested in issues.
“We are trying to hold our DA accountable. We are making sure that the District Attorney is doing what they are supposed to be doing and administrating people’s justice, because they are the people’s representative,” White said. “Putting people in jail and police brutality—none of that stuff makes the community safer. What does make it safer is mentorship and support.”
California State University, East Bay and Merritt College student Diana Rodriguez, 23, sat at the very back of the crowded room. Rodriguez was born and raised in Oakland and is studying criminal justice. She said it fills her with excitement to educate herself before voting for a District Attorney for the first time.
“I decided that I had to come and be familiar with the opportunities,” Rodriguez said. “And maybe, who knows? Someday I’ll be District Attorney.”