We’re seeing another major flare-up for a reform-minded district attorney, as Alameda County DA Pamela Price says she’s “reviewing” murder charges in the shooting of toddler Jasper Wu, but also says the “racist messages" she’s received are “unprecedented.”
Emotions are going to run high no matter what when someone kills a 23-month-old toddler, as was the case with the November 2021 freeway shooting where young Jasper Wu was hit by a bullet and killed on I-880. It was suspected at the time the the child was caught in the crossfire of a freeway gang shooting, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed when three suspects were arrested this past December for the shooting, and then-Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley brought murder and other felony charges against the suspects within three days.
But emotions are going to run a whole lot higher when a newly elected DA, in this case Alameda County DA Pamela Price, says publicly that she’s “reviewing” those felony charges, and uses the phrase “non-carceral forms of accountability." Folks, this controversy may blow up so much it makes the Chesa Boudin donnybrooks look like a C-SPAN hearing on Department of Interior salmon fishing regulations.
A statement from Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Y. Price on the Jasper Wu case. pic.twitter.com/MWkXwLikGj— AlCo DA's Office (@AlamedaCountyDA) April 6, 2023
The pre-recorded video above (pointedly, not a press conference, she does not take questions) shows Price doing her best to seem sympathetic to Wu’s family, and exasperated with Oakland freeway shootings. But she also says that her office is “still reviewing the case,” and insists that the suspects will be “charged with very serious crimes, and they will be held accountable.” She does not at any point say the magic word “murder,” and that has her critics howling.
And they’re howling with racism as well, Price says. “The kind of racist messages that my office has received, and directed at me personally, is unprecedented,“ she says. “This particular tragedy is being used by people with a political agenda to divide our diverse community.”
A leader of the Asian American community asks for update on Jasper Wu case, toddler killed in gang crossfire. Alameda County DA Pam Price responds by discussing measures to help violent criminals avoid jail time. “Insulting,” says retired prosecutor. https://t.co/SVXyyv3t25— Dan Noyes (@dannoyes) March 30, 2023
This started flaring up last week, when KGO’s Dan Noyes obtained an email from an undisclosed “member of the AAPI community” who forwarded Price’s response to KGO. And in the response, Price’s office wrote “Our office is currently working on a partnership with the Asian Law Caucus to support AAPI victims of violence in ways that open up broader possibilities for healing and non-carceral forms of accountability."
2/2 The 23-month-old died in the crossfire of a rolling gang shootout on 880. NAPIPA criticizes Price’s “misleading and condescending statements” and questions why she raised “non-carceral accountability” in discussing Jasper’s killing. pic.twitter.com/iRxr92FTMK— Dan Noyes (@dannoyes) April 6, 2023
Noyes also reported (and BTW Noyes seems like he’s on a warpath with the Alameda County DA) that a legal advocacy group has fired off an angry letter in response. “The National Asian Pacific Islander Prosecutors Association (NAPIPA) denounces Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price's recent email to the Chinese community” the letter says. “In that email, she alleged that ‘vocal members of the local Chinese community and media’ were misinformed and spreading misinformation.”
NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Magallon has obtained and published the email they’re complaining about, and it can be seen below. You can judge for yourself how well Price is handling these communications.
The National Asian Pacific Islander Prosecutors Association is demanding an apology and transparency from the #AlamedaCounty D.A. after reading the attached email received by a community member concerned about the #JasperWu case. They say the email is condescending and divisive. pic.twitter.com/aJyvMUcZJO— Stephanie Magallon (@MagallonNews) April 7, 2023
I’m no district attorney, but there are some obvious calculations. Politically, “soft on people who killed a two-year-old” is a narrative on which opponents will sieze. But from a legal and political standpoint, overcharging and then botching a case is pretty high-risk too. After all, if it was a gang shooting, killing a 23-month-old in a toddler seat was probably not the shooter’s intent. A murder case may be weaker without proof of intent to kill 23-month-old Jasper Wu himself.
This will be tried by jury, but it's already being tried in the court of public opinion. DA O’Malley brought murder charges, DA Price says she’s “reviewing” what charges to bring. So the court of public opinion trail will continue, and there may be some trolls along for the ride.