The Victim’s Wishes

By all accounts, Jen Angel was as sincerely devoted to her progressive beliefs as anyone could be. It didn’t prevent her murder.

Angel was running errands for her business on Monday, including a stop at the Wells Fargo branch near Webster and 21st streets, her fiance, Ocean Mottley, told the San Francisco Chronicle. According to a spokesperson with the Oakland Police Department, around 12:30 that afternoon, “an individual broke into” Angel’s car while she was in it and stole an item from her, then ran back “to a waiting vehicle.”

Angel jumped out of her car and gave chase, police said. “While the victim struggled for their belongings, they were knocked to the ground and sustained injuries.” According to a crime brief published by the San Jose Mercury News on Monday that did not name Angel as the victim, she was somehow snagged by the suspects’ car door, “and was dragged more than 50 feet before falling free in the middle of the street.”

One might wonder why she gave chase, why she tried to get her possession back. After all, was she not privileged, a white woman, owner of a successful business, having her an “item” stolen by someone who apparently needed it more, needed it so much that he was willing to commit a crime to get it? But in the heat of the moment, it can be understood and forgiven. Perhaps it was something too important to lose. Perhaps it was just a visceral response. Whatever, Angel fought for her “belongings,” and the thief for his.

After being in an induced coma, Jen Angel died.

According to a message sent by the friends and family of Jennifer Angel, the founder of Oakland’s Angel Cakes bakery, Angel died at 5:48 p.m. Thursday evening after doctors confirmed that she had lost all brain function. Her death follows several days on life support at Highland Hospital, where she was cared for after an Uptown Oakland robbery attempt during which Angel was gravely injured.

Every needless death is a tragedy, and Jen Angel’s is no different. May her memory be a blessing. But what now of the thief who first robbed her and then, in the process of fleeing, killed her?

We know Jen would not want to continue the cycle of harm by bringing state-sanctioned violence to those involved in her death or to other members of Oakland’s rich community.

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. The outpouring of support and care for Jen, her family and friends, and the values she held dear is a resounding demonstration of the response to harm that Jen believed in: community members relying on one another, leading with love, centering the needs of the most vulnerable, and not resorting to vengeance and inflicting more harm.

Jen believed in a world where everyone has the ability to live a dignified and joyful life and worked toward an ecologically sustainable and deeply participatory society in which all people have access to the things they need, decisions are made by those most directly affected by them, and all people are free and equal.

Whether Angel would hold that view in the face of death is a question that will never be answered with certainty, as she’s not in a position to disagree with her family. But it’s likely her family is right about how she would feel, knowing her better than any outsider and surely in a far better position to express her wishes than anyone else.

But is that the answer? Has the perpetrator of this crime done this to others? Will he do it again? Will another person die because of him? Will another person be robbed of something they value, and not share Angel’s view that the needs of the most vulnerable should be centered, even if that’s not how she behaved when it was her turn to be the victim?

Criminal law is not a personal matter between the criminal and victim, but a matter between the criminal and society. While retribution, vengeance as Angel’s family call it, is a factor in the mix, so too is deterrence, individual and general, and isolation, so the criminal doesn’t do the same to others who might not share Angel’s extremely good will toward her robber. If her killing takes a bad dude off the street where he would commit a crime against another person who would prefer not to be robbed, prefer not to be killed, would that be wrong of society?

If the Oakland Police Department does make an arrest in this case, the family is committed to pursuing all available alternatives to traditional prosecution, such as restorative justice. Jen’s family and close friends ask that the media respect this request and carry forward the story of her life with celebration and clarity about the world she aimed to build. Jen’s family and friends ask that stories referencing Jen’s life do not use her legacy of care and community to further inflame narratives of fear, hatred, and vengeance, nor to advance putting public resources into policing, incarceration, or other state violence that perpetuates the cycles of violence that resulted in this tragedy.

It sounds as if Jen Angel lived a life very much worth celebrating, and that it would be wrong to use the killing of such a good and decent person to inflame fear and hatred. To ask that her death be treated with the gentility with which she lived her life is a wonderful legacy of Jen Angel’s love of humanity. But does that love of humanity extend to the next person to be robbed or murdered? Unfortunately, that’s the trade off when it comes to crime, and the next victim no more deserves death than did Jen Angel.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *