After learning that a 19-year-old man, Ishmael Jenkins Burch, has been arrested and charged with the murder of Oakland baker Jen Angel during a robbery earlier this year, Angel’s close friends have renewed their calls for a process of accountability and healing that doesn’t involve incarceration.
Angel was a steadfast opponent of policing and prisons who routinely attended protests and gave cupcakes to those in need. A group of her close friends who have come together, working under the name the “Estate of Jen Angel,” say they want to honor Angel’s wishes.
“We’re committed to carrying out Jen’s legacy and the vision of the world that she pushed every day to create in her daily life, and we know that does not involve moving towards punishment and harm and retrenching racist and damaging practices,” said longtime friend and fellow activist Pete Woiwode. “We’re eager for the district attorney to take that seriously and move towards potential opportunities for restorative justice.”
The formation of Angel’s estate was just one example of her knack for organizing and intentional decision-making. According to Woiwode, she hand-picked and routinely updated members of her estate and their roles in case something unexpected happened to her.
On February 6, Angel was robbed in her car on the 2000 block of Webster Street in Oakland. In an attempt to retrieve her purse, she chased after the perpetrators’ vehicle and was caught in the door. Burch, who police say they identified as the driver by cell phone data and surveillance footage, allegedly drove away, dragging her more than 50 feet. She died in the hospital three days later from blunt force trauma to the head.
Despite their grief, Angel’s friends are trying to understand what drove Burch to allegedly commit the fatal robbery.
“I don’t know if Mr. Burch is involved or not, but he is a very young Black man—19 years old, who was 18 years old on the day Jen was killed,” said Ocean Mottley, Angel’s fiancé. “I don’t know what it’s like to be Black, but I know what it’s like to be young and poor and desperate and thinking I needed to commit crimes in order to survive.”
Mottley attended a recent court hearing and said he noticed members of Burch’s family crying, and he hopes, moving forward, he and others who were close to Angel can connect with Burch’s family to try to heal together.
Given that there is a lack of programs that offer restorative justice in place of traditional incarceration, Angel’s friends aren’t sure how the case against Burch should move forward. Regardless, they are unified in their desire for Burch to be given an alternative to imprisonment that could help him learn new skills and contribute to a healthier community.
Mottley pointed to Restore Oakland, a coalition of organizations and community members that work to address systemic violence and oppression, as a potential resource for individuals like Burch. Mottley said he spoke with the district attorney’s office about getting funding for such programs. Restore Oakland advocates for divestment from prisons and investment in healthcare, permanent supportive housing, and other basic resources, which Angel’s friends believe are necessary to foster safer communities.
Julie Barr, a close friend of Angel’s, said the DA’s office acknowledged their desire for an alternative to traditional incarceration.
“If there were some sort of alternate place to prison where he [Burch] could work and have education and learn, and if he wants to become a better human,” Barr said, “I’d love for him to have that opportunity if he wants it.”
The district attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But District Attorney Pamela Price ran for office last year on a platform that included less of a focus on traditional forms of punishment and a willingness to try out restorative justice processes.
Angel Cakes was just one incarnation of Angel’s commitment to community building and serving those in need. A lifetime of advocacy efforts included the creation of alternative media like a punk rock Zine called Fucktooth and a revolutionary magazine called Clamor, and her work as an anti-war activist and organizer with the Bay Area’s Anarchist Book Fair.
“Set a plate of cupcakes in the middle of the table and already, the world is more just,” Woiwode said. Her friends pointed out that Angel was often present with cupcakes at a variety of social justice events, including providing cupcakes at the homecomings of individuals released from jail.
“My favorites [times] were when you’d pop into the bakery and she’d say something like, ‘Oh, why don’t you try this taco Tuesday one. You know, taco seasoning! Or what about a lime martini?” said Woiwode.
Angel Cakes is still in operation on 5th Street, serving desserts inspired by Angel’s radical vision.