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Rising crime in California fuels recall movement of progressive district attorneys

Rising crime in California fuels progressive DA recall movement
Rising crime in California fuels progressive DA recall movement 06:04

Fed-up communities dealing with violent crime across the state are pointing the finger at progressive district attorneys. There's been a movement across California to try to unseat reform-minded district attorneys for their so-called soft-on-crime approach.

For the first time in Alameda County history, residents are pushing to recall a district attorney less than a year into Pamela Price's term.

It comes after the high-profile recall of former district attorney Chesa Boudin last year in San Francisco. He was one of the most progressive prosecutors in the country.

Boudin's predecessor, and now Los Angeles County DA George Gascon is also a criminal justice reformer - in charge of the largest office in the country. He dodged two recall attempts in two years. The recall committee has filed a lawsuit against the county challenging its certification process.

Gascon called the recall effort an attempted political power grab.

"The majority of the people signed believed I was creating insecurity in their community and for those people, not only do I want to reach out to them, I will continue, I never stop," Gascon said.

Both regions in California have seen an increase in brazen smash-and-grab burglaries and home invasions. Gascon and Price have both been faulted for policies that critics say fuel lawlessness.

Brenda Grisham, who lost her son to gun violence in 2010, is a principal officer with Save Alameda For Everybody (SAFE), the group leading the recall effort.

"Here's the thing, I've been in Oakland my whole life, I grew up in the village, single parent ... and we've always had crime, we're always going to have crime, but the crimes that's going on now is nothing near close to what we have experienced in the years," Grisham said.

Last week, SAFE announced that it has already collected more than 70,000 signatures, about 5,000 shy of what's needed for the recall to make the ballot in June 2024. The group held a rally outside the county's administration building hoping to convince the Board of Supervisors not to approve a new proposal that would amend the county's recall charter to align with the state's election timeline and criteria.

If approved, the ordinance would go before voters in a special election on March 5. Adopting state rules would increase the signature requirement and favor holding the election in November.

At a recent press conference, Price defended her position.

"People of Alameda County elected me to do this work, and we're doing it, and - so thank you," Price said.

Her office also added that she has charged more than 7,000 cases during her time in office.

Grisham said she did not vote for Price.

"Okay that's fine they did elect you, but they didn't know what you were doing, a lot of them had no idea," Grisham said. "When she said she was running on a compassionate platform, she didn't say who she was going to be compassionate to, so she's not actually lying. She did say that, she didn't say that it was going to be more toward the criminals than the victims."

More than half of Californians say that crime in their local community is a problem, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Melina Abdullah is a co-founder of BLM Los Angeles. While the organization doesn't officially endorse elected officials, she supports Gascon's policy directives aimed at reducing sentences and mass incarceration. He also promised to hold police accountable.

"I absolutely believe that Los Angles is safer," Abdullah said of Gascon's leadership.

"Tough-on-crime policies actually don't drive down crime," Abdullah said. "Unfortunately, communities are constantly fed this narrative that that's the solution but what we know - and I'm speaking as a mother of three children - but what we know is that what actually creates safer communities is when we have strong after-school programs that virtually eliminate youth crime." 

Like Gascon, Price set out to not charge juveniles as adults. Both offices have seen senior prosecutors leave over their reform policies.

"I was elected because the people in this community didn't feel safe, unfortunately. We know that crime under my predecessor was pretty much exploding," Price told this reporter in May. "The DA's role has really no impact on crime. To create a safe community, we need to invest in alternatives to incarceration."

Price said she's dedicated to rooting out discrimination in a system that disproportionately punishes Black and Brown people.

"Anytime that we can divert someone from the criminal justice system, that is a goal, because the criminal justice system has shown to be racially biased," she said. "Often what studies have shown, and it's true in Alameda County, many times people who are perpetrators or labeled as perpetrators were actually victims."

Last month, Gascon kicked off his 2024 re-election bid. Price's term lasts until 2027.

"We don't want to see our boys in jail locked away for life, but we don't want to see them on the street, recommitting crime," Grisham said.

Oakland is seeing surging rates of violent and property crime that are higher than those of other major cities.

Grisham is working with fellow SAFE officer Carl Chan, who has lived and worked here for nearly 50 years.

"We're losing so much business, and we're losing so much confidence in people coming to our city," said Chan. "But not only that, we're starting to hear from different people in the counties, they're saying crime is like wildfire ... So that's the reason why we have to stop all this crime happening, and there have to be consequences."

The group has until March 2024 to gather enough valid signatures for the recall to go before voters.

"It will send a positive message to the people of Alameda County that we feel that they deserve something better, and then whoever comes in behind her, they're going to know that we're not playing," said Grisham.

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