Many of the people on this list got here by using their considerable platforms – in the Chargers’ inner circle or the state Legislature – to speak out.

Aaron Harvey had the opposite of a platform. He had a whole system stacked against him.

Voice of the Year

Harvey began the year as part of a group of more than a dozen men facing possible life sentences in prison. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the men were gang members, and tried to use an obscure criminal code for the first time to put the men away for a crime her office admitted many of them, including Harvey, didn’t actually participate in.

When Harvey was released on bail, he started speaking out. He wasn’t a gang member, he insisted. He was just a product of a system that can land young men in a statewide gang database for walking through their own neighborhoods and being seen with other family members and neighbors who live there.

Harvey began making appearances at community colleges, press conferences, radio stations and before City Council committees, each time with the same message: The criminal system in general, and the San Diego DA’s office in particular, is broken.

A judge tossed the charges against Harvey in March. A separate judge threw out the cases of several of the other defendants.

Even with his case gone, Harvey kept the issue in the spotlight for the entire year. He appeared in a New York Times story, describing dozens of encounters with local police in which officers stopped, searched and even photographed him without any crime having been committed.

By December, Harvey was sharing a stage with Cornel West.

Just before that, Dumanis announced that she won’t be using the charge she brought against Harvey anymore. Though she’d been rebuked by two judges and, at the time the cases were thrown out, ridiculed the media and community for believing the men’s stories, Dumanis said she arrived at her decision “having listened to the community.”

That community was galvanized, in large part, thanks to Harvey.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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