San Francisco Chronicle
Slain baker’s loved ones oppose jail for assailants
Days after Oakland bakery owner Jen Angel was dragged to her death in a brutal robbery gone wrong, her friends and family are grappling with the senselessness of the tragedy, but say they’re determined to let the world know what she would have wanted: for the perpetrators not to be jailed.
On Friday, Oakland police officials said they were investigating the incident as a homicide, and that they suspected two people were involved.
The confrontation unfolded in a matter of moments in a parking lot near a Wells Fargo bank in Uptown Oakland. Angel was leaving her parking spot when she was cornered by a pair of thieves, who smashed her car window and ran away with her belongings, her fiance, Ocean Mottley, said.
As she chased after the car, she got caught in the vehicle’s door and was dragged more than 50 feet, her head smashing on the sidewalk as the car sped away.
Three days after the encounter, Angel lay in Highland Hospital, surrounded by dozens of friends, community members, and her fiance. After two failed attempts to remove her from life support, she was declared legally dead on Thursday.
As of Friday, the pair of suspects — whom police reportedly described as known to the department — had not been apprehended.
Friends who knew her not just as an esteemed culinary artist but also as a community organizer and punk journalist said given Angel’s lifelong commitment to restorative justice, she would not have wanted those responsible, if they are found, to be imprisoned.
“I think Jen would affirm that of course that’s what people have been trained to believe is the answer, to lock people up,” said Emily Harris, a close friend of Angel’s who works as a human rights and anti-prison director. “But we know that if the people who cause her harm are sent to jail, all we’re doing is perpetuating more harm.”
In announcing her death, her family and friends underscored what they said was her desire to eschew punishment if anyone were to be implicated in her death, writing that the family was committed to pursuing all the available alternatives to imprisonment.
“As a long-time social movement activist and anarchist, Jen did not believe in state violence, carceral punishment, or incarceration as an effective or just solution to social violence and inequity,” they wrote.
Harris, who described Angel as her first political mentor, said Angel believed that punishing people through mass incarceration, including the violence and isolation of imprisonment, only stymied real healing, both for the perpetrators of crimes and their victims.
“That doesn’t mean that there isn’t accountability that we would want for (the perpetrators),” said Harris. “What (that) could look like isn’t about putting a person into further harm … (but) understanding how we’re going to prevent this from happening to the next Jen Angel.”
Harris has already reached out to an Oakland-based nonprofit, Restore Oakland, that implements methods of restorative justice for situations not unlike what happened to Angel.
And even though friends like Harris say they’re outraged by the callousness of what happened to their cherished friend, they say an approach that leads with love and understanding — and a belief that “no one is disposable” — would be what Angel would have wanted.
These were convictions Angel embodied throughout every aspect of her life; as a small business owner in a neighborhood of Oakland challenged by violence and mounting racial inequity; as a fervent political advocate of alternative media; as the heartbeat of a Oakland community dedicated to collectivism; and as a punk teenager in the late 1980s branching out of a small town in Ohio through DIY zines.
Angel’s philosophy was kindled early on, as her early work as a writer showed. At 16, she created a fanzine that circulated widely across Ohio tackling issues of social justice, politics, identity and sexual freedom. They were topics that resonated with Matt Leonard, a punk teenager who was living in Seattle and became pen pals with Angel; They only met by accident in person more than 20 years later, after they both moved to the Bay Area.
“Someone’s personality through the written word may or may not be what they are like in person, but even more than I had expected from her writing, she exuded kindness and inclusivity. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met who has lived life with such integrity,” said Leonard.
“Jen was always building the world that she wanted to see,” said Pete Woiwode, a longtime friend and a local political organizer. “Where everyone has dignity and the resources they need to live a good and joyful life.”
When a speeding car crashed into the window of Angel’s bakery in 2019, causing extensive damage to her business, she did what she did in every moment of conflict, scarcity, or struggle, Woiwode said: She turned toward her community — for support, fundraisers and guidance. She didn’t move her bakery and didn’t involve the police.
Friends say now, almost a week since the devastating encounter and a day after her death, they are thinking of the even-keeled community activist who encouraged people around her to lead with heart and explore their own anarchic ends.
They said they were imagining her in the kitchen making handmade gnocchi for dozens of friends as she nursed a glass of red wine; at their doorsteps with a box of their favorite cupcakes; taking vacations to warm places with her mother, as she had done just a month ago. They are also imagining that Angel would have known exactly what to say and what to do if it had been anyone else but her on that day.
“She’s the person who we would have gone to,” said Harris. “She is the person we gone to.”