‘At The Expense Of My Life.’ Aaron Harvey’s Journey From Wrongful Gang Charges To UC Berkeley Graduation
Speaker 1: 00:00 In the summer of 2014, a swarm of police arrested Aaron Harvey outside Las Vegas. The San Diego native was charged as a test case of a new law that had never been used before. It said someone could be charged with conspiracy for belonging to the same gang. As other people who had carried out a series of gang shootings, a judge dismissed the charges against him, but not before he spent seven months in jail. Now Harvey has graduated from UC Berkeley KPBS reporter. Claire Traeger tells the story of what his last three years have been. Like. Speaker 2: 00:35 I remember sitting in jail and a Berkeley commercial came on and I remember telling, uh, his name is Deandre Cooper. We were, uh, Sally's uh, on the same case. And I was like, if they ever let us out of here, I'm going to Berkeley and everybody eyes, you know, you sound stupid. Know Speaker 3: 01:03 This is Aaron Harvey in November, 2018 during his Thanksgiving break from his first semester at UC Berkeley. I interviewed him in the midst of what would be a huge challenge for him graduating from one of California's best universities. Speaker 2: 01:23 You know, sometimes I feel like if I don't graduate from this school, I can never come back to San Diego. You know what I mean? Cause it's, it's just a lot of pressure, you know, like I have to get, I gotta be on my midterm and flipped out, you know, what? I've never gotten to be on anything. So I was like, I was, you know, that was very humbling. Uh, but then at the same time, like, oh, I'll just mess up my GPA because I have to have a high GPA. Cause I got to go to Harvard, you know, for law school. And, but I'm putting all this pressure. It's like chill out. It's a midterm. It's a be like, relax Speaker 4: 02:08 The community in general, kind of dead place. A lot of, I don't know if I want to say expectations, but um, kind of a burden of, of, of being successful on him fairly early on Speaker 3: 02:24 That's colored Alexander, a community leader, who's known Harvey for a long time. He says Harvey's case, which so many people saw as unjustly putting him plus rapper, Brandon Dunkin in prison made the expectations that much higher for a true redemption story. Speaker 4: 02:47 There was a huge amount of community outpouring while they were actually in jail. Um, and so you had the community was a part of this movement to have them kind of from the very beginning, once released instead of the two of them kind of disappearing into obscurity and just kind of working on their own, um, or just being thankful enough to have been released. Um, instead of that, they ended up, you know, dedicating a large amount of their time to, you know, not only be active in the community, but to be active voices calling for a reform of the system or for addressing some of the wrongs that have happened. I think it's pretty clear that he would have been, um, just as happy if not happier without all of the attention, being able to go back to school, go to Berkeley, um, get his degree in, in, in, and decide to go in whatever direction that he wants to. So that's why I say it's unfair. I think it's unfair. Anytime a community puts their hopes, uh, on any one individual, I think it's an enormous amount of, of, of pressure and responsibility that you didn't necessarily ask them. Speaker 2: 04:05 There was a lot of good things that came out of that case and a lot of people's lives changed for the better. And you know, we got legislation passed and a lot of good things have come, but at the expense of my life though, the same time, you know, so it's like, yeah, it's great that we got all these things, but I kind of like my life as well, you know? So it's almost like, so on the same thing with like Berkeley now Speaker 3: 04:32 This was over Thanksgiving break and Harvey said, in some ways it was difficult for him to be around his old neighborhood because he felt everyone he saw was putting pressure on him. But Speaker 2: 04:44 Now they're like, oh, so when you, when you, when are you going to start law school? And I'm like, I'm only halfway done with my first year. You guys are already talking to me about law school. Like this is okay. Now I got to, you know, get to law school. Um, Hmm. I don't think I've ever really said this before, but I, I CA of course I care about social justice and you know, I pretty much dedicated my whole life to it. Right. Um, but you know, people ask me like, well, what do you want to do? And study law. And, but to be honest, like, yeah, I, yeah, of course I'm gonna study law, but really like, I'm doing all of this. Like it, it was a guy on our case. Uh, his name is Justin Anderson. He's doing life on our case. And he's like, I was like, man, he's like my brother, you know, we grew up six houses down the street from each other. And I I'm becoming an attorney to get him out of jail. Like, I'm not like things, people, people will benefit from the things that I'm doing. And, but those are like, uh, like those are like the side effects of it. Um, my goal is to get him out of like, we don't have the money to give him out of jail. Like I'm going to get him out of jail. And then after I do that, I might not want to study law anymore. Speaker 3: 06:25 I talked to Harvey again during his winter break and I could tell his college experience was taking a huge mental toll. He showed up looking tired, looking thin, and you could hear the exhaustion in his voice Speaker 2: 06:41 Four or five weeks ago. I'm ready to drop out. All right. Um, so it's, it's, it was tough. Um, I got through it, but again, I think, I don't feel like it was tough necessarily. Uh, like academically in a sense, I didn't understand the information, but there's a language that you have to decode. There's a, there's like a, you have to like demystify a lot of things up there that I wasn't necessarily aware of going up there. Um, I'm just thinking, you know, go to class, read, study, turning your paper. Um, but like building relationships with professors, who've been in relationships with the grad students who actually grades your papers to professors. Don't, I'm like, nobody told me this. Like, why am I still going talking to this professor? And he knows nothing about my work that I'm turning in. Um, I just need him for that, a recommendation like, oh, okay, this is how all of this works. And it sounds so simple, but it's very complex for a person who doesn't know. And then just the, the nervousness of like, in a sense, right? Like going to jail is easy. I could physically do that, but you asked me to go talk to a professor in office hours and I'm about to have a panic attack, Speaker 4: 08:14 Became a representative of the community in general. And so as such, you know, and unfairly, um, you know, his success was tied up in, in what people I think felt was their own success. And similarly, his failure I think, was connected and tied up in what, you know, the larger community was see as their own, as their own failure. Speaker 3: 08:35 Again, call it Alexander. Speaker 4: 08:37 He also, uh, as an individual, I think can represent kind of what it's like to be black in this country. What it's like to be an African-American in this country, um, where you do have to work harder. If you do mess up, there's going to be more attention. Speaker 3: 08:55 Harvey remembers people who've left his neighborhood in Southeast San Diego before they went to college or law school. And when they came back, they talk differently and dress differently. He resolved to not do that, but it's challenging. Speaker 2: 09:12 I call it like code switching, I guess, whatnot. Um, so when people would like still feel like, okay, he's still the same person. He's just doing other things. It kinda like motivates them. I'm like, okay, well, I can still do this too. I've had professors tell me, um, you know, okay, we need to use more academic language. And, and I challenged her well, like who set the standard for what's academic language. Right. You know? Excellent. You want me to speak white? I told, I told her one of her articles. I say, you know, I felt like we wasted my time. Its article was trash. Right. And she said, well, why was it trash? Um, and then I critiqued it, which isn't that why we're in these academic settings is to, you know, analyze your teeth. So she says, well, I'm going to need you to have a more critical analysis on this article, uh, on these articles when we were discussing in class. And I said, well, where are you? Meaning like, you just don't like the way I'm talking about it. Yes. I need you to speak more academically. Right. Um, and I told her, no. And then what does that even mean? Define that. Right. Um, who set the standard for what is, you know, the correct way of speak? Did you understand what I see? Yes. Okay. Well then that's, that's how we're going to communicate. Speaker 3: 10:40 I talked to Harvey again at the end of his first year, and he was much more confident in his abilities at Berkeley and was already thinking about what he do when he graduated. Speaker 2: 10:50 I want to, I want to go, I want to go to Ivy league school. I want to just shoot for womb. Also Harvard Yales. Columbia is NYU's. Um, if I stay in California, um, of course I'll apply to Berkeley. Um, like Stanford Davis, UCLA I'll be like, stay in California, but definitely like, honestly I go wherever, whoever accepts me, but I'm applied to products of top 10, 15 law schools, Speaker 3: 11:23 But he was also still thinking about his mental health because Harvey was arrested suddenly in a police raid and spend time in prison for gang crimes. He had nothing to do with, he has traumatic memories. Speaker 2: 11:38 Yeah. I'm super paranoid too, as well. I'm always, who is that? Why is that person looking over here? You know, like I'm always thinking that, uh, somebody is police or somebody, you know, taking pictures. I just, I dunno, like, I'm always just like super crowded in like crowded loud spaces. Um, that's, that's like the perfect recipe for like a panic attack, you know? Um, or even when you're having these like episodes of like panic attacks and anxiety attacks, uh, certain kind of like brain tricks to kind of, uh, you know, so they won't literally either last as long or be as intense kind of things. I think that was more like my second semester is, is, is really, I almost feel like I, I, uh, I put myself in position for these kind of episodes to happen because of what I'm choosing to study. Right. Um, and then I'm at Berkeley where it's just home of everything political. So like staying off social media, right. And not reading these crazy stories is leaving the news alone. Um, like don't, don't torture yourself more than what you're being assigned is automatically doing anyway Speaker 3: 13:09 Two years. And one pandemic later, Harvey graduated with a degree in political science. Speaker 5: 13:17 Congratulations. Thank you. I talked Speaker 3: 13:19 To him again this time at an outdoor park with ducks around us instead of a studio. Also his plans have changed. Speaker 2: 13:30 I think I figured out law school wasn't for me, like my first year at Cal, because the more and more I started digging into the law, working with, uh, attorneys dealing with cases and things like that. They're still finding ways to just incarcerate people. So it's like, I'm not saying that was wasted energy. I don't feel that way, but that's not good enough. Like that's not that wasn't good enough. Um, there's laws get created for us laws that created against us and they're still doing, you know what I mean? I feel like they'd been an attorney at boxes, you in like, you know, I'm dealing with the law and if the laws are moral than it doesn't matter. Speaker 3: 14:19 Now he wants to work in real estate and do development jobs that would hire people with felony records. Speaker 2: 14:27 What can I provide poor people to kind of minimize the risks they're willing to take. That's going to put them in prison. I think that's where I'm at. Speaker 5: 14:40 I'm willing to discipline a lot of people, but I was going to ask you, do you have this pressure to, you know, it's like, oh, you did this now. What's next? What are you going to do? Yeah, no. Speaker 2: 14:52 Cause people are like, yeah. So what's next. What's next? What's next? I'm like, I don't know. Maybe I just want to go to sleep. Speaker 5: 14:57 It's been a lot. Speaker 2: 14:58 It's been a long seven years. Like, and I'm I'm, I am exhausted. I'm tired, but I'm like excited too, because now I feel like I can do what I want to do. And I'm not by beholding to a school schedule, but I don't know. I felt like I could just be way more impactful outside of the law. And I think that's why I'm going. So like the pressure is there, but I don't let it dictate or consume me. I did in the beginning when I was first starting to do all of this, but I think I'm in a position now and I'm older right. To where it's almost like a I've given it my all and like, okay, like what more do you want for me and I, who, and then who are like, where are the pressures coming from? Like, who are these people? You know what I mean? Like if someone very close and dear to you has an opinion, it means a lot more than just kind of like somebody far on the outs, Speaker 3: 16:09 But he's not really just lying around. He's working with a nonprofit, helping people who've been to prison, write college essays and do their applications. Speaker 2: 16:19 We have a hundred percent acceptance rate into the UCS peak. My acceptance rates in the Berkeley is like 87% right now. So I'm, I'm like telling people, like if you go through my program, I guarantee you you'll get into a UC. Speaker 3: 16:31 I played for him a few of his old clips about applying to only Ivy league law schools about having a panic attack over the B on his midterm. And he laughed Speaker 6: 16:45 One. I was like, wow, I don't think I was. Speaker 2: 16:49 Yes. Um, I feel none of that anymore. Um, and I think it's, yeah, I just, well, one therapy, right, man, a whole lot of that. Right. Um, and just like, Speaker 7: 17:13 Bro, you're, you're human, you know what I mean? Just you're, you're human and you're trying, and Speaker 2: 17:21 It's either going to happen or it's not, Speaker 4: 17:28 Oftentimes we hold have expectations for this one individual to make us feel better about an entire system. Um, and you know, thousands and thousands of people who are in the same situation, Speaker 3: 17:39 Again, call it Alexander. And Speaker 4: 17:41 While we should definitely celebrate Aaron's success and, um, certainly be proud of all of the accomplishments that he should make. That certainly shouldn't happen at the expense of us recognizing that, um, people like Aaron are kind of the exceptions who were able to, um, be successful in spite of the system and not because of the system. Um, and all of the people who, you know, are continuing to fight cases today or who have already lost their case and in doing serious amount of time, um, on gang enhancements, um, I think is as big Speaker 3: 18:30 Now Harvey does seem lighter, less exhausted, less weighed down and with some of the ease and carefreeness, you'd expect a brand new college graduate to have, he has a young daughter and plans to move out of San Diego for a time, but says he'll eventually be back to buy a house and raise his family here. Speaker 2: 18:50 Like my moves are changing. I'm just starting to feel a lot lighter on my feet, more energy. And now that is really given me the clarity on how or what I'm going to do. So I think I will not. I think I know. And again, again, it was guilt and everything else. I was trying to take care of everything else and I wasn't taking care of myself and now I'm like, now I gotta take care of myself.