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1 in 7 American Teenagers Think They’ll Die Young

June 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

istockphoto-american-teenagers

In a brand new study published in the July issue of Pediatrics,
University of Minnesota pediatrics expert, Dr. Iris Wagman Borowsky, found that almost 15 percent of American teens believe they will die before age 35.

Dr. Borowsky also found that the adolescents who were the least hopeful that they would survive past 35, were the most likely to engage in risky behavior.

Those of us who have worked around at-risk kids have long noted that a hopeless kid is the one who is most likely to act out in dangerous ways. But seeing quantified the sheer numbers of American teenagers who believe that they will die young cannot help but shock us.

Dr. Borowsky arrived at her conclusions after she and her team analyzed reams of data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, in which the attitudes and behaviors of 20,594 adolescents in 7th through 12th grade, were tracked over a three year period.

One of the reasons the study is important is that it topples a common fallacy that most kids engage in risk-taking behavior because of their naive belief that nothing bad will happen. The reality, Borowsky found, is actually quite the opposite—and far more complex.

“While conventional wisdom says that teens engage in risky behaviors because they feel invulnerable to harm [italics are mine], this study suggests that in some cases, teens take risks because they overestimate their vulnerability, specifically their risk of dying,” Borowsky said. “These youth may take risks because they feel hopeless and figure that not much is at stake.”

Nearly 25 percent of youth living in households that receive public assistance and more than 29 percent of American-Indian, 26 percent of African-American, 21 percent of Hispanic, and 15 percent of Asian youth reported believing they would die young—compared to just 10 percent of their Caucasian peers.

“Our findings reinforce the importance of instilling a sense of hope and optimism in youth,” Borowsky said. “Strong connections with parents, families, and schools, as well as positive media messages, are likely important factors in developing an optimistic outlook for young people.”

No kidding.

Borowsky noted specifically that the kids who believed they would die young were more prone to drug use or to acquire STDs.

Yet, this same model applies when we look at the likelihood of joining or staying in gangs.

In and around the gang world, the least hopeful kids are always the most deeply involved and the most dangerous—either to themselves or others.

“Hey, you gotta die sometime.…..” I’ve heard kids say right before they go do something life-theateningly stupid. These were the same kids who told me how they had already planned what they were going to wear to their own funerals.

It is for the above reasons that programs like “Scared Straight” and the ever more draconian juvenile laws that are aimed at getting young gang members or gang wannabes to “think twice”—are so entirely ineffective.

These strategies work wonderfully for the kids who don’t need them—the hopeful kids.

But if we want to help the kids who are the most at risk (and it seems according to Borokwsky and company, there are a great many of them) we need to find much more effective methods for infusing them with hope.

Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, psychology | 12 Comments »

Got State Budget Problems? Hey, Just Cut Inmate Food.

June 29th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

prison-sandwich

For the last month, reports have been drifting in that various states
have been trimming their troubled budgets by cutting prisoners food—both in quantity and quality. For instance, Georgia cut inmates food from three meals down to two.

And, in Alabama, a federal judge ordered the Morgan County sheriff locked up in his own jail for contempt for failing to adequately feed his inmates.

Yet, while they were reported locally, the cuts have flown mostly under the national media radar.

Yesterday, however, the NY Times ran an editorial pointing to the budget cuts that are being made at the expense of those who have no power over even the food they eat:

With budgets tight, states and local governments have been looking at prisons — and prison food — as a place to save money. Three days a week, Georgia now serves inmates only two meals. And across the country, there have been increasing reports of substandard food. This is inhumane. Adequate meals should be a nonnegotiable part of a civilized penal system. It is also bad policy. Researchers have found a connection between poor food quality and discipline problems and violence. Alabama allows sheriffs to keep food money they do not spend, and the sheriff reportedly pocketed more than $200,000 over three years.

Prisoners’ rights advocates say they are receiving an increasing number of complaints from inmates nationwide who report being served spoiled or inedible food or inadequate portions. Earlier this year, a riot at Reeves County Detention Center in Texas caused heavy damage to a prison building. Inmates said it was prompted in part by poor food.

Cutbacks in food could violate inmates’ constitutional rights, notes Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, if they create a substantial risk of serious harm — a particular concern for inmates with diabetes and other illnesses.

In California I have received reports of inmates being fed food that is stale and past the marked sell-by date. (Last month, for instance, I got a call from an inmate at Ironwood state prison who told me that prisoners were staging a hunger strike because the were twice served a packaged food meal that had a sell-by date of 2007.)

Hey, maybe as alternative to underfeeding prisoners, we could cut inmate healthcare.

Oh, no, wait. In California, we’ve already cut inmate health care past the boundaries of Constitutionality.

Ooops. My bad.

God forbid that we should address budget shortfalls by quickly instituting some smart sentencing reforms in order to cut the number of people we lock up every year.

Nah, let’s just cut the portions of food we dole out.

After that, maybe we can cut education again.

Posted in Economy, prison, prison policy | 8 Comments »

Michael Jackson: the News Insanity & the Beauty

June 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Jackson – Black Or White (Official Music Video)Watch more funny videos here

I realize I haven’t said anything about the death of Michal Jackson.
For one thing, I have been traveling the past few days, but mostly I have been silent because I found it more than a bit vexing that the news of Jackson’s early and saddening death drove ALL OTHER NEWS OFF THE NETWORKS.

Iran suddenly didn’t exist.

(Hey, I suppose we should count ourselves fortunate that Meet the Press didn’t devote it’s entire newscast to the demise of the Gloved One.)

All that said, this morning after I finally managed to get enough sleep to be a bit more reflective, I rewatched a few of Jackson’s most famous videos and was reminded of his entirely unique talent—and, well, beauty. (Even after he made his face into a science project, he couldn’t erase his innate grace.)

Beat It alone is stupendous. It is, at once, extremely theatrical, and yet grounded in an artistic and emotional authenticity that, 27 years after the fact, is still spectacular to behold.

He was a very troubled man. We know that. And the repetitive necrophilia that our sheep-like national media descends to in instances such as Jackson’s death is predictably wearisome.

Nevertheless, Michael Jackson left a musical legacy that is drenched in beauty and wonder.
The discomfiting peculiarities of his personal life, and the media’s over-the-top postmortem fawning can’t take that away.

Posted in American artists, arts, media | 15 Comments »

The Arrest of Alex Sanchez – Part 2

June 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

alex-sanchez-1

I am still in Washington DC.
(I was at Bennington College going through the last ten days of my MFA program, which was wonderful! My son flew in to see his middle-aged mom graduate. Then jumped over to DC for the week. Am flying back tonight—and very ready to be home in LA and to pat dog and cat-type critters).

Meanwhile, I am monitoring the unfolding story about Alex Sanchez’s arrest.

(Frank Girardot has a PDF of the actual indictment.)

Here are a few small updates and some thoughts:

*******************************************************************************************************************

Friends and associates have organized an informational meeting on Alex Sanchez’s legal situation this Sunday at 6 pm at the Central American Resource Center—CARECEN—at 2845 W 7th St, Los Angeles.

His bail hearing is scheduled on Tuesday, June 30 at the US District Court at 312 N. SPRING ST, 8th floor. Supporters are being encouraged to attend the hearing.

*******************************************************************************************************************

Some voices have been comparing Sanchez’s legal troubles to those of Hector Marroquin, the former—and decidedly crooked—gang intervention worker who began an organization called No Guns then was arrested in 2007 after he was found to be dealing in ….guns.

On the surface, the two cases might appear to be similar—both men worked in gang intervention in LA. Both men were arrested and charged with serious illegal gang activity—Alex’s charges far more serious even than Marroquin’s.

But past the surface, the stories are very, very different.

Sanchez is genuinely beloved by a wide variety of people in LA and beyond. Marroquin, by contrast, was viewed by many as troubled—even before there was any kind of hard evidence that he was up to no good. Thus when the news broke about his arms sales, few in and around LA’s gang violence reduction field were all that surprised by the revelations as they had long suspected that the man might still be playing both sides of the street.

Not so, Alex Sanchez.

His arrest has produced shock and widespread disbelief among those who know him. (You will pardon me if I don’t take seriously those who do not know Sanchez personally, who are now shrieking, “Oh, yeah, we saw it all along!”)

Thus far, the level of support for him has remained very strong.

One of the few exceptions has been civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who has given interviews to the WaPo and to Frank Stolze at KPCC, in which Connie wondered if Alex was slipping because, “He was not willing to help gang intervention workers who were getting targeted by gangs that he had relationships with. That’s always a sign that they are backing away from the intervention role.”

Connie is a friend and I respect her tremendously. But I find this line of reasoning faulty and disappointing. A lot of people have been “backing away,” as she puts it, from the hard core street intervention to which Connie refers. In the simplest sense, this means meeting with gang members and trying to persuade them to stop shooting at each other.

Yet, some of those most expert in the field of gang violence reduction and community health— Father Greg Boyle prominently among them—have been down that road many, many times in past years and now feel that their days are more productively spent with such efforts as getting guys who want out of the gang world into solid jobs, helping their little brothers to stay in school, and aiding those emerging from juvenile facilities and prisons to make a successful—and law-abiding—transitions back into their families and communities.

The idea is to help the homeboys and homegirls create new, good lives—not to try to persuade them to better manage the old, bad ones.

I can’t say for sure whether Alex still believes in street intervention or not. I can say that, whenever I spoke to him, he seemed the most interested in programs that had to do with helping gang members and former homeboys (or wannabe homeboys) move toward the light, one might say, rather than trying to negotiate with the darkness.

In other words, if a chary view of street-level shuttle diplomacy between gangs and gang members (which is a tourniquet at best and that some experts believe actually enforces the gang structure, not disrupts it) is evidence of gang involvement, then I’ve got a list of middle-aged gang expert white people whom the Feds might want to investigate—myself included.

And while we’re on the subject of Father Greg Boyle, here’s a small snippet of what he wrote in one of the emails we have been exchanging on the subject of Alex Sanchez, and why Greg doesn’t believe that Alex could possibly be involved in an MS-13 conspiracy:

1. Here’s the story: Law enforcement–and I
include the FBI here–when it comes to the gang thing–they see only
through a glass darkly. They possess exactly half the pieces to this
jigsaw puzzle. That’s not bad news–if they were humble, they could say
to the “community”–”Look, we have only half the pieces”–then
together, truly, we’d be able able to piece this puzzle together.

2. The Bad news: they possess half the pieces, but assert that they
have all the pieces.

3. So…this is why cops tell homies that “The Mexican Mafia has
meetings at Homeboy Industries” and Blinky [Rodriquez] holds the guns
for Valley gangs ….and Alex Sanchez is “involved” in some MS conspiracy. They
hold half the pieces. They put two and two together and get 5.

We are a long way from the end of this story.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, LAUSD | 9 Comments »

Alex Sanchez Arrested: Dear FBI, WTF???! – UPDATED

June 24th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

alex-sanchez-2


NOTE: FOR UPDATE, scroll down

My friend, Alex Sanchez, the executive director of Homies Unidos, and one of the most respected gang intervention leaders in Los Angeles County (and arguably in the nation), was taken into custody by FBI agents this morning at his Bellflower home.

Alex is among those named in a federal indictment
targeting several Mara Salvatrucha gang members whom the Feds said have been involved in multiple slayings, extortion and assaults.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton, have some back story on Alex at LA Now.

The AP has this .

I am still in DC and am going to a sentencing reform conference soon on Capitol Hill, but I have feelers out for more information.

Everyone I know who knows this field—including some of those in and around law enforcement—is stunned.

Alex is an excellent and great-hearted man who has made a big difference in many lives.

He was targeted by the LAPD for years (when he was just beginning his gang intervention work) and they never were able to find anything on him—although not for lack of trying.

Now the FBI—which has made a near industry of making Mara Salvatrucha into the ultimate gang monsters—are having a go at it.

More as soon as I have it.
*******************************************************************************************************************
UPDATE: Alex has been indicted for conspiracy to commit murder for some 2006 gang related deaths. The Feds allege that Sanchez was the shot caller for a clique within MS-13 at the time.

By the way, I will be on Which Way LA talking about the issue.

Here’s the link
so you can listen after the fact, if you so desire. (I’m on at around the 7:28 mark.)

(Given that I spent most of the conversation with Warren Olney wandering around outside the US Senate chambers trying to find better cell reception, it is remarkable that I completed my sentences.)

*******************************************************************************************************************

UPDATE 2: Phone calls, emails, and text messages have been flying all day Wednesday. When Hector Marroquin of No Guns was arrested, most people I know (who are knowledgeable about such things, myself included) were—shall we say—not shocked.

With Alex Sanchez’s arrest…. I am—as are many people whom I know— praying that there is nothing that will stick. I don’t believe it, frankly. Alex is a good man.

The Washington Post has a very comprehensive article on the arrests—at least as much as we know right now.

Here are some clips:

Luis Romero, director of the Homies Unidos office in El Salvador, said the organization did not accept the allegations against Sanchez.

“We know that Homies Unidos U.S.A. is doing great work in the reinsertion and rehabilitation of young people,” Romero said.

[SNIP]

Civil rights lawyer and gang expert Connie Rice said anti-gang workers sometimes struggle to completely leave behind gang affiliations.

“The best ones are the ones who have completely gotten out of the life, but kept the relationships and still are respected,” she said. “But they are the exception and not the rule. Most of these guys are go-betweens, some act as buffers and some are still in the gang.”

Rice said she had wondered about Sanchez because he had been absent from community meetings aimed at reducing MS-13 violence.

“The thing that makes it really complicated is that Alex did really good work,” she said. “He helped a lot of kids, put a lot of kids in school.”

******************************************************************************************************************
UPDATE 3:

For the record: I do not—repeat NOT-–agree with Connie on the above matter.

********************************************************************************************************************

UPDATE 4

HERE’S what Homies Unidos sent me as their official statement:

Homies Unidos was founded in 1996 in El Salvador. Sanchez helped establish the Los Angeles office the following year.

The office has helped remove tattoos from more than 240 gang members.

FBI officials said everyone named on the indictment could face up to 25 years to life in prison, while those charged with murder could face the death penalty. No one else from Homies Unidos was named in the indictment.

*******************************************************************************************************************
NOTE: I took the above photo of Alex Sanchez at an event at Tom Hayden’s house earlier this year.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, LAUSD | 51 Comments »

Forgive Them, William Osborne

June 19th, 2009 by

osborne

    No saint, but where’s the harm in a DNA test?

Anyone with a trace of commonsense and compassion would have supported William G. Osborne’s request for a post-conviction DNA test.
That would leave out five empathy-void robes on the U.S. Supreme Court denied him. Ironically, so too the Obama administration, which filed papers opposing Osborne’s request.
Osborne wanted the chance to conduct a more sophisticated DNA test on evidence than was available when he was convicted in a 1994 kidnap, rape and assault of a prostitute in Anchorage, Alaska. A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April 2008 that he should be able to test semen found in a condom and two hairs.
Heck, Osborne even offered to pay the $1,000 tab himself. But before you get all weepy about Osborne or jump down my throat for coming to the aid of a possibly guilty rapist, consider a few facts about the case and Osborne’s troubled background. It’s a tough case. If you were either Peter J. Neufeld or Colin Starger, his lawyers at the Innocence Project at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, you probably would have preferred a more sympathetic client. But due process and the Bill of Rights don’t discriminate by zip code or storyline.

The assorted and sordid facts
.

—It’s not like Osborne is languishing in prison because he may have been wrongly convicted. He served 14 years and was paroled in 2007. Six months later, he was back in prison as part of a plea deal in a home invasion case. He and a group of masked men stood accused of raiding a home in search of drugs and money and pistol-whipping residents, bound in duct tape.

Osborne’s own lawyer in the 1994 case sold him out. She told an employee of the Alaska state crime lab that she thought her client was guilty. Here’s the quote as it appears in the writeup by the three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Counsel disbelieved Osborne’s statement that he did not commit the crime.”

Osborne gave the parole board a written confession of the kidnap/rape. The Ninth Circuit considered that seeming nail-in-the-coffin when it ruled in his favor. The panel wrote:

“Either the confessions will be proven accurate by test results, proving Osborne was in fact the passenger-rapist and his case will proceed no further, or the test results will exclude him as the source of the biological material, in which case serious questions will be raised about the validity of his confession as and whether, as Osborne now claims, he was motivated to confess falsely as the most expeditious means available to obtain release from prison.

–In a jailhouse interview with Anchorage Daily News reporter Lisa Demer, published in February, Osborne talked about what the case meant to him:

Osborne comes across as calm and articulate. He seems resigned to whatever happens. His head is shaved and he has a graying beard. Last year while in prison, he married a woman he knew from long ago. She has young twins and they all visit him in jail.

Asked why he wants the test, he said: “It’s going to resolve this case for once and for all as to whether or not I’ll be able to prove my innocence or my guilt.”

What would the test show? Osborne leaned back to think about it. “Can’t really answer that question,” he finally said.

Osborne was born and raised in South Carolina, graduated high school there. He said he was accepted into The Citadel but it was too expensive, so he joined the Army.

He was just 20 when he was arrested, had his 21st birthday in jail a few days later.

In the years since he’s been gone, his mother, grandmother, aunt and three first cousins all died. A daughter he fathered as a teenager now is a teen herself.

In June 2007, after serving 14 years of a 21-year sentence for rape, kidnapping and assault, he was paroled. Six months later, he was accused of being part of a group of masked men who stormed a home looking for drugs and money, who duct-taped and pistol-whipped hostages.

On Jan. 30, he agreed to a plea bargain that requires him to serve 10 years for the robbery and another six years still hanging over him on the old case.

“Even if I was to be found innocent, I can’t get back the time I’ve already done. It’s time lost,” he said. “So on a certain level, I don’t even care about the case anymore because it’s just gotten to the point where it’s basically something from my past.”

But he recognizes the issue is bigger than he is. He wants to win, he said, “so that the next person doesn’t have to go through this for the next 12 years.”

Daily Journal ‘s Supreme Court reporter Lawrence Hurley explained in his story why the new president came down on the side of the right-leaning justices:

The Obama administration and a number of states, including California, favored reversal because a decision to affirm the 9th Circuit would likely have required the federal government and states to revisit their procedural rules, even if they already allowed inmates access to the evidence.

California Deputy Attorney General Michael Chamberlain described the high court ruling as a “well-reasoned decision” that recognizes how the states have already been active on the issue.

“In California, we have a very comprehensive and effective mechanism,” he said.

Passed in 2000, California’s law, which applies to anyone convicted of a felony, requires the state to maintain DNA evidence for the duration of an inmate’s sentence and allows for retesting regardless of the plea. Indigent inmates can also get legal assistance to pursue such claims.

Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project told the Daily Journal the ruling was “deeply flawed and disappointing.” He said he would try to persuade the three states that don’t allow at least some limited post-conviction access – Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma – to pass laws similar to those in other states.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, Obama, Supreme Court | 19 Comments »

Blog Weirdness…. All is Fixed

June 17th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

parachute-3

For those of you who might have had the unfortunate experience
of logging into WitnessLA today with certain browsers, and finding yourselves getting unwanted file downloads for no apparent reason, all is fixed. (But for WLA to load properly you may have to clear your browser cache.)

Sorry about that. (No harm was done to animals or your computer with this glitch.)

Okay, over and out again from Bennington, Vermont—where I just watched former Poet Laureate Donald Hall, who is now in his 80′s, read some stupendous new poems about death, life, baseball, old dogs and meatloaf (but not necessarily all together) and had the privilege of introducing my friend, the entirely wonderful memoirist/biographer Susan Cheever, for her reading.)

Now back to your regularly scheduled (and very smart) Alan Mittelstaedt.

Posted in Life in general, writers and writing | 18 Comments »

Calling on Arianna and Co. to Do Their Part for California

June 17th, 2009 by

bus

    Where’s Sacramento? Who cares? You’d find better ideas for solving the budget mess on this crowded 720 bus on Wilshire Boulevard.

Pardon me, but I’m on a long ride around town trying to come up with ways to help the state budget. Here’s my list that calls on sacrifices by everyone from Arianna Huffington to annoying golfers who stifle American productivity by playing their silly game. Hold on, these taxes would also address some of the major problems, personality and otherwise, plaguing L.A. and the state.

Hypocrisy Tax: Charge every board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority $200 every time they drive a car and fail to take a bus or train to a meeting. Revenue estimate: $500,000

Mental Health Tax: Let’s admit the psychological benefits of tobacco and open smoking rooms in all public buildings. Admission would be $5 a day or $300 for an annual pass. Revenue estimate: $1 million a year.

Rudeness Tax: Charge elected officials $1,000 every time they get distracted at a public meeting and start talking to their colleagues instead of listening to a staff report or a member of the public during the ever-dwindling time for public comment. Revenue estimate: $35 million, with half of that paid by chatty L.A. City Council members.

Newspaper Burial Tax: One cause of the decline of newspapers in America today is Arianna Huffington, the Brentwood online publisher who steals much of her content by telling writers she helps their reputations instead of their pocketbooks. Now she’ll pay $2,000 for every piece she runs without compensation. Revenue estimate: $10 million.

Golfer’s Tax: Anyone with four of five hours on their hands to hit springy balls hundreds of yards around water-sucking lawns in the middle of our desert, and avoid real exercise by riding in a cart, can afford this $100-a-game fee: Revenue estimate: $30 million

Sky-is-falling Tax: Blogger and secession activist Ron Kaye must pay $1,000 a day if he ever fails to file a post that in some way pushes for felony indictments of what he likes to call the bums at City Hall who are robbing his valley residents blind. Revenue estimate: $1,000, for that day every year when he writes about the birds nesting in his yard.

Jack Weiss Lecture Series: The unloved and prickly failed candidate for city attorney shares his tips about meeting constituent needs and forging alliances during his tempestuous years on the L.A. City Council, in monthly forums in Taper Auditorium at the main public library. Admission: $25 or $100 for the annual series of five lectures. Revenue estimate: $125, assuming his family shows up.

Posted in Future of Journalism, Government, transportation | 27 Comments »

JPL Scientists Haven’t Landed a Lasting Victory

June 16th, 2009 by

Kozinski

    Kozinski’s questions aren’t going away

The feds’, in their anti-terror fervor after 9/11, whipped up some prying questions for JPL scientists to answer if they wanted to keep their jobs. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is right in siding with the workers and their privacy, but it would be better if they hadn’t short-circuited debate.

Earlier this month, the appeal court’s 27 judges refused to take the issue out of the hands of three judges and grant the Department of Justice’s request for an 11-member panel to review the matter. Expect this case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the blessings of dissenting Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and three of his colleagues. They wanted the broader hearing by the Ninth Circuit.

Big cases with broad implications for the conduct of government should not be made a tiny group, without a full hearing and discussion.

Whatever your views, it’s refreshing to read Kozinski’s dissent. The case began In 2007, when senior scientist Robert W. Nelson and 27 others, including scientists, engineers and administrative support staff, objected to a highly intrusive background check imposed as a condition of their continued employment at JPL. Unless the Obama administration sides with privacy advocates, it’s likely the case will go to the Supremes.

Kozinski would like to see the high court address this question: “Is there a constitutional right to informational privacy?”

“Does being asked to disclose information one would prefer to keep private, in order to keep a government job to which one has no particular entitlement, amount to a constitutional violation? If the answer is yes, then the government commits all manner of constitutional violations on tax returns, government contract bids, loan qualification forms, and thousands of job applications that are routinely filled out every day.”

Kozinski seems unbothered by government investigators canvassing the neighborhood in pursuit of information about an employee’s relationships and sex life.

“Does one really have a free-standing constitutional right to withhold from the government information that others in the community are aware of? I don’t think so. How then can it be constitutionally impermissible for the government to ask a subject’s friends, family and neighbors what they know about him? Surely there’s no constitutional right to have the state be the last one to know?”

So long as the snooping isn’t high-tech, Kozinski doesn’t seem to have much trouble with it.

While I can think of many reasons to worry when the government seeks to uncover private information using the special powers that private entities lack, it’s far less obvious why it should be hamstrung in ensuring the security and integrity of its operations in ways that private employers are not. The delicate knowledge handled by thousands of federal employees seems as worthy of protection as the formula for Coca-Cola.”

Posted in Civil Liberties | 11 Comments »

A Deal Any Chief Could Endorse

June 15th, 2009 by

The rowdy Lakers fans who rampaged through the streets around Staples Center on Sunday night couldn’t have picked a better time to test the LAPD: It was the eve of a federal judge’s hearing on whether to extend the consent decree

Officers handled with restraint several situations that could have gone ugly: rowdy crowds trying to tip over police cars, trashing an MTA bus and looting a gas station.

Nicely done. The peaceful outcome certainly made for a better day for police brass trying to persuade Judge Gary Feess to do away with federal oversight of the department.

Feess, of course, sounded reluctant to abandon his oversight, and asked for more information before making a decision.. Read Celeste’s posts of a week ago urging the judge to surrender his control and return the LAPD to the LAPD. The ACLU thinks otherwise, and here’s a statement from staff attorney Peter Bibring after today’s court hearing:

“We are pleased the court recognized the progress the LAPD has made but focused on the larger question at hand: Whether it’s appropriate to lift the decree when the department has not complied with all of its terms most importantly the non discrimination provisions.”

“Over the past years, the consent decree has been the engine for LAPD reform, so as not to repeat the nightmares of Watts, Rodney King and Rampart. With the monitor’s finding that the department has not yet fully complied with the decree—including specifically its policies and practices toward communities of color—now is not the time to prematurely terminate what is working to bring order to our city. When it can be confidently said that citizens of color are not overstopped, overfrisked and overarrested by the LAPD for no other reason than their race, it will be time to end the decree.”

Who can blame the judge for wanting to see all the reforms in place before surrendering control? On the other hand, maybe there’s some room for compromise. What if Chief Bratton vowed to stop endorsing candidates for city offices?

Parker Center would be a better place without such blatant pandering and politics. Not only would he avoid the embarrassment of having endorsed Jack Weiss for city attorney, but it would certainly help his relationship with the victor Carmen Trutanich.

Those of us who remember the not-so-distant past when the police secretly investigated political foes will be happy to see the chief disengaged from the political process.

How ‘bout it chief: You can tear up the consent decree if you keep your ballot choices to yourself.

Posted in ACLU, Bill Bratton, Civil Liberties | 16 Comments »

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