The Oakland branch of the NAACP is calling on local elected leaders to declare a public safety emergency in Oakland because of rampant crime in the city impacting minority communities the hardest.

“Everyone is in danger” in Oakland, the NAACP argued in a statement released Thursday. “Failed leadership, including the movement to defund the police, our District Attorney’s unwillingness to charge and prosecute people who murder and commit life threatening serious crimes, and the proliferation of anti-police rhetoric have created a heyday for Oakland criminals.”

If criminals face no consequences for their actions, “crime will continue to soar,” according to the NAACP.

Crime in Alameda County’s biggest city, Oakland, is up 26 percent overall from last year at this time. The city’s violent crime index, which is a combination of killings, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, is up 15 percent. Slayings in Oakland were down 13 percent year over year as of July 24.

“Failed leadership, including the movement to defund the police, our District Attorney’s unwillingness to charge and prosecute people who murder and commit life threatening serious crimes, and the proliferation of anti-police rhetoric have created a heyday for Oakland criminals.”

NAACP statement

In response to the statement, Price said her office is “disappointed” Bishop Bob Jackson and the Oakland chapter of the NAACP “would take a false narrative on such an important matter. We would expect more from” them.

The same minority communities hit hardest by crime are facing biases in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. The divide is playing out countywide with at least two factions facing off over whether to recall Price, who is being criticized for being too lenient on criminals.

Price says she is reforming a biased criminal justice system.

Price faces her critics

Price and Oakland police met with Oakland Hills residents this past Thursday night in Montclair for a public safety meeting as a recall effort grows. About 400 people attended.

A leader of the recall effort said Thursday in an interview that her main issue is how Price treats the families of violent crime victims.

Brenda Grisham, whose son was killed in Oakland violence in 2010, is helping to lead the Save Alameda For Everyone recall effort, based on paperwork filed with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

One reason for Grisham’s displeasure is what she says is Price’s unwillingness to give victims’ families a say in the sentencing of those convicted of killing their sons and daughters. Price also disregarded victims’ families at a meeting in April at a local church, Grisham said.

“I’m loyal to the families,” said Grisham, who started a foundation in memory of her son and who is part of Family Support Advocates, a group of local mothers who have lost children to violence.

A petition on to gauge support for a recall of Price had garnered more than 24,400 signatures as of Monday morning.

Save Alameda For Everyone will officially collect signatures as the effort moves ahead. The recall effort has the support of the Alameda County Republican Party Central Committee, which passed a resolution in May supporting it.

The Alameda County Democratic Central Committee is considering a resolution this week to oppose a recall, a member said by email.

Bound by state law on sentencing

Florence McCrary, who lost her only son Terrence Paul McCrary Jr. to a stray bullet in Oakland in 2016, is also angered by Price’s actions.

Price met recently with Family Support Advocates and came unprepared, Florence McCrary said. Price did not know the substance of the cases the mothers wanted answers on, which McCrary said angered them.

But the district attorney cares deeply about victims’ families, according to Price’s office, adding that the district attorney is not light on crime. It is a change in state law that is guiding sentencing in criminal cases like the ones Price has faced criticism for, her office said.

Price has become a lightning rod for the issue, though all district attorneys across the state must abide by the same law.

YouTube video
District Attorney Pamela Price responds. (Alameda County District Attorney’s Office/YouTube)

Price’s office said that in the past, too many enhancements were filed, disproportionately affecting Black residents and prompting changes to state law around sentencing.

“The criminal justice system really has not been working well for a long time,” said Rivka Polatnick, a resident of Alameda County for more than 50 years and a Price supporter who worked on her campaign to be elected district attorney.

She said it has not worked for underserved communities such as Black and poor people.

“The statistics are alarming,” Polatnick said.

She said, “We need someone who is going to do something about it” and Price is that person.

“I don’t feel the answer is to go back to mass incarceration,” Polatnick said.

Sending a message to criminals

Leaders with the NAACP in Oakland said criminals know that no one will come to help people in danger in Oakland because the city needs more police officers and the 911 system doesn’t work.

“There is nothing compassionate or progressive about allowing criminal behavior to fester & rob Oakland residents of their basic rights to public safety,” NAACP leaders said. “It is not racist or unkind to want to be safe from crime.”

Part of the solution, according to the NAACP, is to provide jobs, training and mentors for youth so they have alternatives to crime.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.