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The Utterly Irreplaceable Mary Ridgway

February 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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Just a little before 1 a.m., last Saturday morning,
LA County Supervising Deputy Probation Officer Mary Ridgway died of liver cancer. She was 66 years old.

She had been a Los Angeles P.O. since September of 1966, spending most of her time working in East Los Angeles.

In the last four decades, she changed—and in many cases, saved—more lives than anyone can adequately count.

I first met Mary in early 1991 and, eighteen years later, I still consider her to be one of the most remarkable people I have ever known.

My assessment of her is shared by hundreds others—from law enforcement types to guys doing time in prison, and the range in between. Mary Ridgway is irreplaceable.

Her death has blown a great many people out on the trail, myself included.

I will have a full post about Mary either Monday morning, or Tuesday morning.

But, in the meantime, for those who need this information:

Services for Mary Ridgway will be held at Forest Lawn (off the 134) on Monday, March 2, at 11 a.m.

An event honoring Mary will follow the service at the Grace E. Simons Lodge, at 1025 Elysian Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90012, up near the old LAPD Academy

Posted in Gangs, law enforcement, Obits | 10 Comments »

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gang Program Evaluations

February 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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As mentioned below, yesterday morning LA City Controller Laura Chick delivered her report that examined how the mayor’s office was doing with its gang violence reduction programs—now that a year has gone by since all the city’s gang-related dollars were yanked from the clutches of the city council and handed over to the mayor’s office for planning and administration.

Looking over what has been accomplished, Chick says, there is a bunch of planning and a little bit of implementation under Reverend Jeff Carr, the mayor’s gang czar, who was put in charge of the city’s gang initiave.

Although the blueprint has been drawn up, so to speak, she says, the house ain’t built.

Moreover there are two BIG things missing from what Carr and the mayor’s office have been doing, says Chick.

One is the failure to coordinate with LAUSD or with the County of Los Angeles. This is a big deal. In their exhaustive reports outlining what the city needed to do to lower gang violence, one of the points that both Chick and Connie Rice emphasized was an all-hands-on-deck style coordination with LA County and with the school district.

As it is, the city has precious little money to put toward gang prevention and intervention programs. However, by working together with the district and the County (and others), everyone’s money will be maximized.

Failing to coordinate , on the other hand, is likely to mean duplicated efforts, and waste.

Yet an even bigger criticism embedded in Chick’s report was her team’s observation that, nearly one year into its work, the mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development—or GRYD, as it is now known—has no system in place to evaluate its programs— even though shoddy evaluation was what made such a mess of the city’s previous gang programs.

It should be noted that Carr and GRYD have already handed out city money to various non-profits and other groups, and they are getting ready to hand out more.

“The Blueprint stressed the importance of evaluating the anti-gang services model by determining what is and is not working. A systematic evaluation is critical because the success of the program as well as future funding relies heavily on the results of the evaluation – which is why the City needs to ensure the evaluation is adequate and provides a reliable and independent assessment,” Chick wrote.

For an accurate assessment, I am told, evaluators need to be on board from Day One.

So why hasn’t this happened? Especially after the mayor’s promises for complete accountability when he first launched his gang initiative a year ago.

For months, critics have been saying privately that the mayor, Jeff Carr and their GRYD folks might we trying to exercise a teensy, weensy bit of undue control over the outcome of the evaluations….

…so that they can claim success.

Whether they have actually been successful or not.

“Los Angeles has historically awarded agencies multiple contracts year after year after year without holding them accountable by tying the dollars to proof that the desired results have been achieved,” Chick wrote in her report a year ago.

Let’s hope that isn’t happening now.

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ON A RELATED NOTE: A new report by the Violence Policy Centerand funded by the Wellness Foundation—-calls for much better record keeping on the part of So-Cal law enforcement in terms of gangs and guns.

The study concludes:

For law enforcement and violence prevention advocates to begin answering the questions…how are firearms obtained by gang members, what types of guns and/or design features do gang members favor, how do changes in the design and firepower of firearms affect youth gang violence, and, most importantly, what prevention policies can be put in place to aid in reducing firearms death and injury connected with youth gang violence…, the first step is to recognize that currently the answers to these questions are not readily available. The second is to begin identifying approaches and collaborations to begin the process of answering them.”


Agreed.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs | 5 Comments »

Jonathan Lopez, LA City College and “Free Speech 101″

February 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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In this morning’s editorial the LA Times says, at a bit more length, what we said a week ago
about the case of the the speech making class at LACC, the Christian student, Jonathan Lopez, and the idiot teacher who tried to shut Lopez up.

Here’s a clip or two:

If Lopez’s claims – including allegations that his teacher, John Matteson, called him a “fascist bastard” and told him to “ask God what your grade is” — are accurate, Matteson’s behavior was unconscionable. Even in a college classroom, where there is a tradition of professors provoking lively discussion, his words would be a violation of a professional trust. The teacher also would have crossed a legal line. As Lopez’s lawyers point out in their federal complaint, the courts have ruled that public schools may not discriminate against student speech because it is religious in character.

[SNIP]

Some might say that Lopez’s discussion of how his faith shaped his view that marriage is between a man and a woman was polemical, not informative. (A different assignment required students to deliver a “persuasive” speech.) That’s a quibble. Lopez was informing his audience about his views; that they were rooted in religion is irrelevant.

So is the fact that two students were offended by Lopez’s speech, calling it “hateful propaganda” and “preaching hate.” As long as he was opposing same-sex marriage on religious grounds — and not harassing individual students — he was making an argument that figured prominently in the public debate about Proposition 8. It’s not an argument this page finds persuasive, but we wouldn’t try to suppress it. Neither should a college preparing students to live in a contentious democracy.

On Lopez’s evaluation form, Matteson wrote that proselytizing “is inappropriate in public school.” If he’s referring to himself and other teachers, he’s correct. If he’s referring to college students expressing their views in an open forum, he deserves a failing grade in Free Speech 101.

Posted in academic freedom, Education, Free Speech | 2 Comments »

Use a Kid for a Drug Sting…Maybe Go to Jail

February 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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This is a real contender for this year’s bad judgment Olympics.
How do we hate what these school administrator’s did? Let us count the ways.

Here’s the story (Jason Song of the LA Times reports):

Porter Middle School administrators believed a boy was dealing pot on campus. So they allegedly sent a student to buy some.

The sting worked — to a point. The student successfully bought drugs and the administrators at the Granada Hills campus reported the incident to authorities.

But although Los Angeles Police Department officers are investigating the suspected marijuana dealer, they also are scrutinizing the three administrators who allegedly orchestrated the buy, said Michel Moore, an LAPD deputy chief, on Wednesday.

It is a felony to ask a minor to buy drugs.

The administrators have also been reassigned by the Los Angeles Unified School District to positions away from the Granada Hills campus, which was named a California Distinguished School in 2007, while the investigation is ongoing. In a letter to parents, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said the school’s principal, an assistant principal and dean had been removed.


Thankfully, the kid whom the administrators
recruited to be their narc, is not being investigated by anybody.

Read the rest.

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AND IN OTHER STUPID ADMINISTRATOR NEWS: It seems that the Corona del Mar school administrator who spiked the drama department’s idea of putting on the musical RENT has since relented.
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(Note: The kid in the photo has nothing to do with this situation. He’s just a random middleschooler.)

Posted in LAPD, LAUSD, War on Drugs | 3 Comments »

Laura Chick’s Gang Report

February 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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A year ago, Controller Laura Chick
released a gang report that outlined a great many changes that she believed LA should make in order to have a functional gang reduction strategy.

The biggest of those changes was to gather together the money that was splintered between multiple balkanized programs administered by various city council members, and put all the cash under one roof—namely the mayor’s office.

So what kind of progress has been made?

She will look at how the money has been allocated., what progress has already been made, what strategies have been implemented. It also looks at what kinds of systems for assessment are in place

The report comes out this morning.

Watch this space.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA city government | No Comments »

The Supremes, Undocumented Immigrants and Fake SS#s

February 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Interesting case. Good for the Supremes.

I’ll let the AP tell you about it:

The Supreme Court appeared poised Wednesday to rule that undocumented immigrants who use phony Social Security numbers to get work should not be considered identity thieves, even if those numbers belong to real people.

The court seemed likely to reject the government’s argument that, under a 2004 law that metes out a mandatory two-year prison term for “aggravated identity theft,” prosecutors do not have to offer any proof that a defendant knew the identification belonged to someone else and was not simply made up.

Should someone get two extra years in prison “if it just so happens that the number you picked out of the air belongs to someone else?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked Justice Department lawyer Toby Heytens…

The rest is here.

Here’s Nina Totenberg’s NPR report on the same case.

(Chapeau tip to Howard Bashman at How Appealing for the tip.)

Posted in immigration, Supreme Court | 9 Comments »

The American Idol Green Dot Charter School Girl

February 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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Yesterday I got a note that one of the American Idol contestants
in last night’s elimination round was a sixteen year old from one of the Green Dot schools, Animo South LA. Animo Ralph Bunch, and a “founding student,” to boot, meaning she was one of the first batch of kids when the school was just getting started.

So I TiVo’d the show and watched.

Here name is Allison Iraheta. She has hair that’s dyed a Woody Woodpecker red.

(For the record: No. This isn’t a social issue. It’s a support-the-local-kid issue.)

Last night, she sang Alone by Heart. And she blew the doors off the auditorium.

Even at 16, she’s not a naive newby. Iraheta has already won a similar competition run by Telemundo

The three contestants who go on from this round will be chosen by the American public, so there are no guarantees. But if talent has anything to do with it, Allison will be in the top 12.

Anyway, keep an eye on LA’s hometown, charter school girl.

PS: There’s also Adam Lambert the Hollywood kid, also a wild and wooley talent.

Okay, that’s it. Back to series issue. Just had to give a shout out for the local kids.

Posted in American artists, Life in general | 3 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts

February 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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1. OMG! BARACK SAID “CHARTER SCHOOLS!!!!”

Andy Rotherham at Eduwonk points out that it’s interesting to read the chattering about last night’s speech at Politico’s THE ARENA. Mostly the reviews are very good. Many were (rightly) enthusiastic about Obama’s emphasis on education. But there were a few total freak outs about Obama’s single, very short mention of his support for (gasp!) charter schools. (“And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.”)

Cálmate, people.

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2. CITING COST, STATES CONSIDER HALTING DEATH PENALTY

I’m telling you, this is the direction things are trending. From the NY Times.

(Money….DNA reversals….racial disparities….bad injection cocktails…..the NAS Forensics report…

The tide is beginning to reverse.)

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3. BUSH SNEAKS ONE BY US: CARRYING CONCEALED WEAPONS IN NATIONAL PARKS

One of the sneaky little last minute items that the Bush Administration rushed through before it high-tailed out of town on January 20, was a National Rifle Association-driven rule change to allow loaded, concealed firearms in all national parks (except those located in two states: Wisconsin and Illinois, which do not permit concealed weapons). The former rule, put in place by the Reagan Administration, required that firearms transported through national parks be safely stowed and unloaded.

Park advocates are suing to overturn this piece of junk.

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4. WILL HEARST REALLY SHUTTER THE CRON AND MAKE SF NEWSPAPERLESS?

The announcement yesterday that Hearst will try to cut, sell, or close the San Francisco Chronicle (in that order) was a shock. If the latter takes place. SF would be the first big U.S. city not to have a newspaper.

That would be a very, very bad thing.

Here’s what Recovering Journalist has to say.

And here from the NY Times.

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5. FORMER LITTLE LEAGUERS TAKE THE STAND AGAINST A.R. GRACE

In the trial that started Monday, four who played Little League in the Libby baseball fields amid piles of vermiculite, took the stand yesterday and talked about how ill they have become from asbestos exposure.

Trust me, it never bodes well when the Little Leaguers are testifying against you.

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6. REEFER-TAX MADNESS

The LA Times gets partway to sanity and and sorta semi maybe argues for a change in Federal marijuana laws as it slams Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s slightly loopy idea to Tax the State’s Tokers. (As I said, Tom’s idea is only partially whacky, as it does tend to ignore that pesky Federal law standing in the way.) Weed, as it turns out, is California’s biggest cash crop.

Hey, listen, Betty Yee, chair of the state Board of Equalization, which collects taxes in California, is totally for the idea since she estimates it would bring the state $1.3 billion a year.

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

Obama’s NSOTU: Not the State of the Union

February 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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At least that was the title of the main twitter thread during Barack Obama’s speech tonight: #NSOTU

Here are are a few of my moment to moment thoughts—or demi-thoughts:

Among my favorite lines:

“…..dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”

(What’re yours?)

PS: At the LA Times, Doyle McManus has a nice piece on Obama’s oratory.

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Forget the pre-speech nattering. Important issue? Michelle’s GREAT navy blue sleeveless, above the knee dress. (Priorities, people!)

Repubs are twittering about Capt. Sully being there. Okay. Reasonable. For me it’s the dress, for them it’s the hero. We can cheer both.

Not to be mean, but it’s a relief not to see Cheney behind the president with his snarl/grimace/smile.

“We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. ….The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.”

Okay Obama’s listened. He has to be positive so we don’t all shoot ourselves. Or stay in bed. Sad, but psychologically true.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.”

TRANSLATION: Dear America: Read Emotional Intelligence, damnit.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”

TRANSLATION: We aren’t going to die, as long as you get with the program, people. (Whew!)

“Nobody messes with Joe. “ Good reframing of Biden’s personality. If you can’t fix it, feature it. Okay, that works.

John Boehner looks like he’s reading a novel while Obama’s talking. Ayn Rand? No, maybe it’s that program that was handed out. I hope it’s the program.

Note to Joe Lieberman. Spit out the gum BEFORE the speech next time.

“This is not about helping banks, it’s about helping people.” (Line of the night, thus far.)

Energy….Health care…Education. E! H! E! Hey! E! H! E! Hey! Go Barack

I can actually see people twittering. More Repubs than Dems. Then the tweets turn up on my Twitter feed. Weird. The U.S. Congress has just turned at 13.

Okay, everyone stood up and applauded for education—as freaking well they should with a freaking 50 percent dropout rate.

They’re actually cheering about not passing along the debts. But they don’t cheer bringing the def. down? Fascinating.

Do you think this is like the party where everyone’s noisier when they’ve had a couple of drinks? (And what drinks are they serving?)

Somebody on Twitter said that Pelosi was dressed in Soylent Green. That’s harsh.

We love the bank president giving away the bonus. And we love the girl who wrote Obama. “We are not quitters.” Brilliant.

If Obama speaks to the better angels of all in the congress, will you answer from your better angels, dearest Republicans? We need to know.

After I wrote that, @Johnculberson…twittered back: “We all need to do our best to work together wherever we can for the good of the nation.” Okay, Culberson, I’m holding you to it, “whenever we can” notwithstanding.

Jindal’s on: Dear Bobby, during Katrina the gov’t was run by greedy, mendacious weasels. There’s a difference.

Props to NOLA for their charter schools. No argument there. Credit where credit is due.

Yeah, yeah, Bobby Jindal is a winning enough guy. And this was a thankless job. But he had nothing to say. Nothing. Zero. Except to say, NO, to Obama. And simply being a contra isn’t good enough in this desperate fiscal/political climate.

David Gergen reminded the viewers that that nasty ol’ unneeded Fed Gov’t gave $175 billion for Katrina recovery (and counting). Reality check, Bob, hon.

The line that still rings is this one: “It’s time for America to lead again.” Is that exceptionalist in some deep, dark way? No. Leading is a good thing…. if one moves toward the light. Hell, somebody’s got to.

Over all, a stunning, strong-minded, inspiring speech. Thank you, Barack.

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PS: It is important to note that as we cheered Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, we also just learned that his salary has been cut 40 percent, and that his pension has been terminated. Meanwhile, in 2005 when US Airways filed for bankruptcy, the company wanted to keep its exec bonuses. Fortunately the judge said NO. Heck of a job, private enterprise.

(Photo by Evan Vucci / AP)

Posted in Economy, National issues, National politics, Obama | 10 Comments »

Pasadena Officer-Involved-Shooting Raises Questions

February 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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Last Thursday an officer-involved shooting occurred
in Pasadena that still has local residents and others feeling uneasy about the circumstances.

Here is the sequence of events:

1. Last Thursday afternoon at around 4:20 p.m., two Pasadena police officers pulled over a car that officers said was driving on the other side of a residential road at Menton Avenue and Washington Avenue. Somehow the traffic stop turned violent and, within seconds, a man in his 30′s had been shot by police. He died at the scene.

2. Thursday night, a Pasadena Police Department spokesperson made a statement saying that the man had gotten out of the car and had opened fire on the police, and so they had shot and killed him.

According to the City News Service, Pasadena PD spokesperson Janet Pope Givens said, “Officers were doing a traffic stop, and everything was going okay until the driver got out and fired shots at officers.” The officers fired back, killing the man, she said.

“Several suspects from inside the vehicle fled, so a perimeter has been set up in the area while we search for them,” she said.

3. On Friday, the dead man’s name was released. He was a 38-year-old named Leroy Barnes. He had just been released from prison in April

4. Also on Friday, Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian told a new version of the story. Barnes was not the driver, he was in the back seat, the chief said. Barnes had not gotten out of the car. He did not fire first.

But he definitely assaulted the officers with a gun, said Melekian.

5. It furthermore came to light on Friday that there were at least two eyewitnesses who saw some of the action, and that their accounts were very much at odds with accounts originally given by police.

One of them was a 24-year-old named Brandon Gardner who was across the street when the shooting occurred. Gardner told the Pasadena Star-News that heard two shots and looked up to see a man fall out of the car onto his stomach.

“When he was down there, he did not move,” Gardner said. “When he hit that ground, his body was down and he stayed down. About four-seconds after, officers let out four more rounds on him.”

6. There was a video in the cop car that likely caught the circumstances of the shooting too.

The police had yet to review the tape, Melekian said. But he would hold a press conference on Monday once the department had a chance to do a bit more investigating.

It also came out that Barnes, had a fairly lengthy criminal record, although friends insisted that since his release from prison last April, he was a changed man who they could not imagine attacking police.

7. On Friday night, the multiple versions of the story—from police and from witnesses—-caused tensions in the community to rise to the degree that a planned Black History festival in Pasadena was cancelled (although many complained that the cancellation was unnecessary)

8. Monday Chief Melekian had an informal press briefing with reporters, reported Pasadena Now, and said that, while Barnes didn’t fire his gun, he pulled a gun on police with the likely intention of using it.

““A struggle ensued in the back seat of the car. Mr Barnes displayed a handgun and pointed it at one of the officers as they fought for it ,” Melekian said. “That officer fired one gunshot. The other officer believed that Mr. Barnes had in fact shot his partner. That accounts for the statement Thursday night that Mr. Barnes fired at the officer.”

Melekian also told reporters that the police officers fired a total of 11 rounds.

He also said that the video did not show the details of the struggle in the car. The Pasadena police declined to release the video.

It should be said here that I know Chief Bernie Melekian to have a reputation for being a smart, decent, enlightened cop who, as the Pasadena Chief, is respected as a straight shooter.

But the sequence of events as painted by the police continues to be troubling to community members, local activists, and the ACLU of So Cal, among others. Many are calling for the matter to be investigated independently. I even got a note from a reporter who privately expressed concern about the issue.

In yesterday afternoon’s press release, the ACLU said it was “concerned about disturbing reports from witnesses who allege that officers continued to shoot Barnes after he fell still on the street.”

“It’s troubling that the Pasadena Police Department is changing its story,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, “that raises questions as to why they gave out erroneous information to begin with, and whether officers initially lied about what happened. The residents of Pasadena must be given a clear account of what led to the shooting, and why the police initially made incorrect reports that the victim fired on them.”

Exactly.

Posted in law enforcement | 7 Comments »

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