Oakland has always been a gritty city—the tough-luck twin to wealthy San Francisco. Under newly elected Alameda County District Attorney Pam Price, Oakland could be headed for a fate much darker than gritty. Price has been following the de-prosecution and decarceration playbook of radical district attorneys across the United States. If she stays on that course, Oakland is in for a “hella tough time,” to use the language of the Bay Area.
Price took office this year with no prior experience as a prosecutor, having spent her entire career as a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer. If that sounds familiar, it should: Price’s background matches the career history of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Like the equally inexperienced Krasner, Price ran for office attacking the police and promising to dismantle what she perceived to be the systemic racism of the criminal justice system. Krasner has brought disastrous results in Philadelphia, which has set its all-time record for homicides during his tenure.
Price has already begun shedding staff. She has fired or placed on leave experienced prosecutors and investigators. One veteran prosecutor who resigned bluntly stated that Price’s policies made it impossible to “adequately and ethically protect the rights of victims.” The exodus from the Alameda District Attorney’s Office echoes that of the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. Gardner’s policy of putting the interests of criminals over victims led to a staff turnover of more than 100 percent during her first few years in office. In that time, St. Louis has gained the dubious distinction of having the nation’s highest murder rate. Losing competent prosecutors appears to have a major effect on crime, unsurprisingly.
Though still new to her office, Price has already picked a fight with a sitting judge over her decision to cut a lenient deal for a charged criminal. Delonzo Logwood was accused of killing three people in a murder-for-hire and robbery scheme. Instead of trying Logwood for murder, Price offered him a chance to plead to one count of voluntary manslaughter and a 15-year sentence. Judge Mark McCannon refused the plea agreement, noting that the district attorney’s office offered no explanation for its leniency; the judge was also concerned that the case’s long-time lead prosecutor was not present for the plea. It turned out that Price had ordered the lead prosecutor to stay away; she subsequently resigned from Price’s office.
Price reacted to being called out by the judge by blasting the court on social media. She also stated her intention to get every criminal case removed from the judge’s courtroom because he was allegedly not impartial. The judge denied the motion to have him removed from Logwood’s murder case.
Price’s stunt parallels the conduct of Chicago’s chief prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, in the Jussie Smollett debacle. Smollett was the actor who staged a highly publicized fake hate-crime attack on himself when his job was in jeopardy, igniting protests and nationwide attention. Foxx attempted to dismiss charges against Smollett for filing false reports, only to have a judge reject her approach and appoint a special prosecutor; Smollett was ultimately convicted and jailed for his crimes. Foxx’s response was to attack Smollett’s conviction, saying that the “justice system failed,” and that the effort to prosecute Smollett was a racist attack . . . on her. While Foxx claimed victimhood, Chicago recorded the most murders in the nation in 2022.
A pattern is emerging across the United States, proceeding on two tracks. On the first track, electing a radical, de-prosecuting prosecutor in a city with a history of poverty and violence leads to escalating violence. Take a look at Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago for examples. On the other track, electing a so-called progressive prosecutor in a wealthy city leads to escalating property crimes and general civic disorder, as witnessed by the debacle of San Francisco under since-recalled district attorney Chesa Boudin. Or, for an unlucky city like Portland, you can elect a radical prosecutor and watch both violent crime and property crime explode.
The only silver lining for Oakland is that voters there may learn from their neighbor’s mistake. San Franciscans realized what was happening to their city and recalled Boudin after a few years. In Oakland, victims’ rights activists are already calling for the recall of Price, before more damage is done. Maybe someone from San Francisco snuck across the Bay Bridge to Oakland with a simple message: “Save yourselves before it’s too late.”
Photo by Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images