There has been much dark news of late; we can all agree on that sad fact. But in the wee hours of this morning there was a piece of miraculously, mind-blowingly good news when the Nobel committee announced that this year’s prize for literature went to one Robert Zimmerman—who is mostly known as, Bob Dylan.
Here’s a snippet of what the New Yorker’s David Remnick wrote after he heard:
….Then came the news, early this morning, that Bob Dylan, one of the best among us, a glory of the country and of the language, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ring them bells! What an astonishing and unambiguously wonderful thing! There are novelists who still should win (yes, Mr. Roth, that list begins with you), and there are many others who should have won (Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov, Auden, Levi, Achebe, Borges, Baldwin . . . where to stop?), but, for all the foibles of the prize and its selection committee, can we just bask for a little while in this one? The wheel turns and sometimes it stops right on the nose…..
This past weekend, the University of Southern California hosted the annual LA Times Festival of Books and, amazingly, the weekend rain didn’t discourage the crowds that showed up by the thousands on the USC Campus, drawn by this stupendous yearly event that celebrates books.
I was on a Sunday morning panel called Crime, Justice & Redemption, with authors Joe Domanick, Shaka Senghor, & Sam Quinones (plus O.C Registor reporter, Margot Roosevelt, as the excellent moderator).
And, indeed, the combination of personalities and the enthusiastically interactive crowd produced a very dynamic, informative, and occasionally creatively quarrelsome conversation.
Among other topics, the panel discussed a personal experience of solitary confinement, the relationship between childhood trauma and crime, an unusual form of marketing heroin in the heartland, the challenge of post-incarceration reentry, the art of reforming the Los Angeles Police Department—and more.
Since I can’t magically transport you to the audience of Sunday’s event, I can at least strongly recommend the very good books of my fellow panelists, all of which will likely be of interest to those who care about, or work in and around, crime and justice-related issues.
LIFE AFTER MURDER
Solitary confinement and post prison reentry are both matters with which author Shaka Senghor has had personal experience.
Senghor is a very warm, very intelligent man whom the audience liked right away. He also is a man with a complicated history. Seignior is a former prison inmate who shot killed a man when he was an angry and frightened 19-year-old, after he’d been shot four times himself a few months before.
Senghor spent 19 years in prison, four-and-a-half of those years in solitary confinement, where he was on lockdown in his cell for 22 or 23 hours a day, he said. During his time behind bars, he educated himself by reading voraciously. He also struggled to come to terms with the terrible fact that he’d taken someone else’s life.
Now Senghor has become a leader in the world of justice reform, and the author of an unforgettable book that inspires as it educates.
On the panel, Senghor spoke about the real life effects—and related subjects— with emotional precision and authority.
HEROIN HITS THE HEARTLAND & THE LIES TOLD BY DRUG COMPANIES
On Sunday, Sam Quinones talked about, among other things, how in certain areas of the country, the magnitude of the heroin problem was initially masked because of the way white parents managed to keep their kids’ heroin deaths from becoming public.
Quinones’ intensely researched Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opium Epidemic, was on a bunch of 10 Best lists from last year, and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Awards—all for good reason. It paints very personal pictures of drug traffickers who pioneered a new business model for dealing heroin to America’s heartland, of law enforcement officers trying to deal with the fast-spreading epidemic, and of families devastated by addictions that, in many cases began with prescription opiates that were overprescribed by doctors who believed the preposterous lies of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies who claimed medical that such drugs were non-addictive and safe.
Dreamland is a page-turner that makes for very engaging reading, whether you think this topic is for you or not. Here’s an interview with Quinones by the PBS Newshour that will give you an idea of what you missed on Sunday.
REFORMING LAPD BLUE
We’ve already written here about Joe Domanick’s highly-praised and wonderful book about the Los Angeles Police Department, Blue: the LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. Blue was also, very deservedly, a finalist for this years LA Times Book Awards.
Last year we pointed to BLUE’s “page-turning narrative borne aloft by a string of vivid nonfiction characters,” including, of course, the agency’s most recent chiefs, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck.
But, while the heart of the book is a grand tale of the multi-layered struggle to reform the LAPD, Domanick also uses LA’s police department as a lens through which to examine the state of U.S. policing in general, and the crossroads at which it has presently arrived.
So, for LA residents interested in policing and criminal justice, this is an obvious must read.
On the panel, Domanick talked about the value and challenges of community policing, new ways of approaching use of force by officers and more.
And here’s an interview with Domanick from December 2015, in which he explains what has so fascinated him about the LAPD and its recent history. (Joe’s interview starts at about the 32 minute mark.)
PRIZE-WINNING STORIES OF MURDER & MAYHEM!
One last thing: While we’re on the subject of the LA Times Festival of Books, on Saturday night, the winners of the LA Times Book were announced.
(You can find the winners here.) I have often been privileged to be a judge for the awards, and this year I judged in the Mystery/Thriller category.
You can find our four fabulous finalists below, and they are all books I can recommend without hesitation to those of you who, like me, sometimes choose to relax by reading about fictional murder and mayhem.
Our winner, however, was a book that my fellow-judges and I chose with almost instant unanimity.
It isThe Cartel by Don Winslow, a novelistic depiction of the blood-soaked and hallucinatory disaster that is the war on drugs and, although Winslow’s tale, that is Tolstoy-esque in scope, is present as a mystery thriller it has the informative urgency of the best narrative nonfiction.
These days my friend Fabian Deborah says those words in front of a wide variety of audiences. Sometimes the audiences are well-heeled adults at a fine art event. Other times Fabian might talk to a class of local elementary school children who, at first, stare at him nervously, like deer getting ready to bolt. But gradually his ability to be absolutely present with them starts to settle the kids down. By the end of class, a surprising number of students have painted pictures representing traumatic events in their lives that their teachers knew nothing about.
Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1975, Fabian’s family migrated west when he was five-years-old to what was then Pico Gardens and Aliso Village, the largest public housing project west of the Mississippi. His mother found low-paying piece work in a downtown factory sewing dolls. His heroin addicted father earned money transporting drugs from Mexico, a profession that cycled him in and out of prison.
During the height of the Los Angeles gang crisis, Pico-Aliso, as the mile-square area of the projects was called, was the home to six warring gangs, making it the most violent neighborhood in the city, according to LAPD stats of the time. Gang shootings took place almost nightly.
Fabian, who was a thin, sensitive kid, also coped with violence inside his household on the occasions that his dad happened to be home. When the hitting began, the boy would hide himself away with the small notebook he was never without, and he would draw. The worlds he created on paper became his one dependable form of protection from the emotional hurricaines that so often bore down on him.
At age 13, he found additional refuge in the streets by joining one of the Eastside’s most infamous street gangs. His street name was Spade. “You join a gang when you lose hope,” he explains. “I lost hope early.”
I got to know Fabian in the early 1990′s when I was researching a book about gangs in the projects, and the work of Father Greg Boyle. By that time, Fabian was trying to pull away from gang life and was starting to transition from spray-painting graffiti to working on color-drenched murals.
He had also begun smoking crystal meth to dull the pain that even a casual observer could see he carried. And, like his father before him, Fabian cycled in and out of juvenile, then adult lock-ups.
Hoping to steer Fabian’s obvious talent in a positive direction, Father Greg introduced him to Wayne Healy,a prominent Los Angeles-based Chicano-Irish muralist and painter. Healy liked the young man and took him under his wing as an apprentice. Through the relationship, Fabian began to discover himself as an artist. Even so, he couldn’t seem to shake whatever psychic injuries his early years had embedded. And he couldn’t shake the drugs.
In 1995, Fabian’s self-loathing became so overwhelming that, on one awful afternoon, he decided to kill himself. On impulse, he choose a particularly messy strategy. He sprinted into the oncoming lanes of traffic on the I 5 freeway assuming he’d be run down by some commuter going 70, and that would be that. Through blind luck, however, he made it across three lanes unscathed. But then, in lane four, he saw a turquoise Chevy Suburban coming at him. As he stared at the shiny grill of the truck bearing down on him, Fabian had a sort of religious experience in which some greater force somehow got him to the center divider, allowing the Suburban to whoosh by without doing harm.
The near-fatal freeway dash became a turning point. Fabian recommitted himself to painting. Then, a year later, he got clean and sober for good. A year still after that, in early July of 2007, I saw him for the first time in a decade. He showed up at a poetry reading that was part of a writing project I was involved with, in which some of his former homeboys were participating. “I’ve been completely clean for a year,” he told me after I spotted him at the back of the room and rushed to greet him. “I’m painting. I’m doing good.”
Indeed he was. And his work was remarkable.
Fast forward to today. Now that he’s saved himself through art, Fabian shows others how to find their own refuge and healing through the transformative power of creative expression. He gives talks about what painting can accomplish to at-risk teenagers in Chile, to transfixed students at Otis College of Art and Design, to the struggling former homeboys and homegirls who show up at his new downtown LA art studio.
He also has a day job as the Director of Substance Abuse Services and programing for Homeboy Industries, where he helps former gangsters in trouble with drugs save themselves through more prosaic means.
With the rest of his waking hours, Fabian spends time with his kids, and works on his extraordinary paintings, which have grown increasingly recognized for the way in which they illuminate the world that shaped him, a world that gave him both his wounds and his art.
“Drugs were my addiction,” Fabian told a class recently. “I would suffer without them. Now art is my addiction and I suffer when I don’t paint. So what do I do when I’m struggling? I paint. It’s something that no one can take away.”
Two stories above the intersection, behind a reinforced steel door and two deadbolts, Fabian Debora’s Skid Row art studio, La Classe Art Academy, reflects the chaos and cacophony of the streetscape below.
Debora clicks on overheard lights. What was outside is now in: the graffiti, the drifters and the gangsters, and a cross-section of those who call downtown Los Angeles home.
The sense of having been swallowed by the city is uncanny. Debora’s studio is a cornucopia of these streets, past and present. In one painting Einstein, grinning mischievously, is tagging “L.A.” on a wall; a skateboard deck featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe hangs above a desk littered with paint pens; a memorial shrine with religious candles and dead roses is tucked in a corner. Smoke from a fresh sage bundle is curling into the air.
Canvases are propped on easels and stacked against one another on the floor. On one, a brown-skinned girl leans in against her older brother on the streets of Tijuana, smiling impishly. On another, Debora, arms outstretched, in fiery oranges and reds, stands life-size against a chain-link fence, offering his view of the Los Angeles skyline to his son. This studio space is the inside of Debora’s mind.
Every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m., Debora opens his studio to clients from Homeboy Industries, the nonprofit job-services organization that works with ex-cons and former gangsters, and to teenagers from Learning Works, a charter school associated with Homeboy. Debora says the art academy is in its fetal stage, “barely getting its breath,” but the students roll in.
“I carry many feathers,” Debora explains. “A gang member, a drug addict, a felon, but I have redeemed myself through the power of art. It has given me my self-worth.” He pauses, then adds, “I feel it is my responsibility to use my art as a vehicle in helping kids and even adults to heal and recognize value in themselves and their surroundings.”
They come because they want to. Attendance is not mandatory. Three folding tables, covered in tagged-up butcher paper, brushes and paints, fill the studio. An easel with the day’s exercise faces the seats. The level of the students’ capabilities varies, yet no one hesitates. They stroll in, get seated and begin working on their projects. The Isley Brothers harmonize in the background and heads bob.
Debora doesn’t dictate instructions; he simply makes himself available and waits to be asked for guidance. The students thrive in an atmosphere where they are not judged and have nothing to prove.
“Whoever shows up on any given day is who I work with; it happens organically,” he says. “I’m not looking to work with the professionals, I want the stumblers.” When Debora laughs, the right side of his mouth hitches up in a wistful, childlike grin.
Debora has come a long way from tagging his moniker, Spade, on the L.A. River’s bed. He has crossed oceans and borders, visiting Rome and various countries in Central and South America, telling his dark origin story and rendering his images of Los Angeles. His artwork has been featured in exhibits, both solo and group, across the country.
In 2013 Debora painted a mural on the ceiling of the American Airlines terminal at LAX to celebrate the opening of a Homeboy Café. Macy’s has hired him to live-paint murals for events and conferences. From 2007 to 2012, Debora worked as a teaching assistant to Ysamur Flores-Peña at the Otis College of Art and Design. Edward James Olmos awarded him a scholarship and featured Debora’s story in a 2007 documentary, Voces de Cambio. Since 2008, the walls of Homegirl Café on Bruno Street have rotated his works.
People in the art community focus on the relevance and meaning behind Debora’s art. Isabel Rojas-Williams, executive director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, a nonprofit that preserves, documents and restores the murals of L.A., says, “I have seen his techniques grow and expand over time. Every day he is more accomplished than the day before. … Choosing art as his way to express himself, using his brush, the walls and the canvas, Fabian is writing our history.”
Williams came to the United States in 1973 from Chile. In 2012, she was approached by the U.S. Embassy in Chile about sending someone there to speak with at-risk youth, and she immediately thought of Debora. He traveled to Chile, spoke with government officials, facilitated art workshops and met with kids.
“Fabian made a tremendous impact on those kids in Chile, not only as an artist or a mentor but as a human being,” Williams says. “He showed with his art how it is possible to transform absolutely any experience.”
Debora saunters through his studio with his hands in the pockets of his creased Levis. Bending over a student, he whispers in Spanish about las oportunidades de arte. His inky black hair is meticulously braided and hangs between his broad shoulders. Before he answers a question, he always pauses and looks off to the side. His replies are soft, yet every word is weighted. His eyes are almost black, smooth and wet like glass. They miss nothing. The same skill set that served him on the street serves him in class. He’s watchful, aware and anticipatory.
Read on. It’s worth it. Fabian Debora is the real deal.
RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT ANNA DEAVERE SMITH TURNS HER CREATIVE FOCUS ON RACE AND THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE
Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.
When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.
The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.
The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.
All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”
Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”
As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.
Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.
Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.
Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.
In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.
“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.
“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”
Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.
AND IN OTHER NEWS….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD LOOKS AT HISTORY & CALLS FOR REAL OVERSIGHT OF THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.
Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.
Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.
In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.
Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.
There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.
To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.
LAPD’S MODEL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT IS THE NATION’S LARGEST
While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.
According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.
Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.
On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.
“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”
If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.
Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.
The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.
Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.
The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.
“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”
AMENDMENTS TO JUVIE SOLITARY BILL DON’T SWAY CRITICS
The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.
Here’s a clip:
In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.
But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.
At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.
Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.
There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.
The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.
CURTAIN RAISED FOR POP-UP ART EXHIBIT AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONVERSATION SPACE, MANIFEST JUSTICE
As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”
Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)
At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.
There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.
Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.
From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.
When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”
That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.
Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.
Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.
Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.
Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”
Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.
Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.
Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.
Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).
“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:
Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.
But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.
There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.
Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.
RICHMOND, CA, POLICE CHIEF STRESSES COMMUNITY POLICING OVER SHOW OF FORCE
When Richmond CA hired Chris Magnus, an openly gay white guy from Fargo, North Dakota, to take over its scandal ridden police department, local cops and members of Richmond’s primarily minority communities were….how to put it?….skeptical.
But Magnus didn’t blink at the initially less-than-enthusiastic reception. He immediately disbanded the department’s “street teams,” units of heavily armed officers deployed in high-crime areas. He didn’t like the impression that the the street teams gave of being an occupying army that arrested people for small amounts of drugs and other minor crimes. Instead, he asked his officers to attend community meetings and employed a system he called a “Neighborhood Beat Policing” model. “Our goal is to build continuity of presence and the strongest possible relationships between officers and the public in every area of the city, he wrote on the Richmond PD website.
Now crime is down and morale in the Richmond PD is up.
Magnus also eliminated the seniority system that allowed officers to choose the areas they would patrol. He required officers to take on more responsibilities on their beats beyond responding to calls. Beat officers are required to attend neighborhood meetings and to maintain a high profile at churches, schools and businesses. They’re encouraged to hand out their mobile phone numbers and email addresses to residents.
“A lot of people were skeptical at first … I know I was skeptical. I mean, not only was he coming from outside the department, he was coming from Fargo, of all places,” said Officer Virgil Thomas, a 19-year veteran of the force and the newly installed president of the police union. “But he came in with a plan and stuck to it, and the image of the city and of the police has changed dramatically. Morale has improved greatly.”
Controversy erupted in December, however, when at a local protest over events at Ferguson and in New York City, Magnus held up a sign reading “#blacklivesmatter.” But even that criticism dissolved quickly.
The [police] union initially objected to the police chief’s participation in the Dec. 9 demonstration. The association’s lawyer said Magnus’ appearance in uniform “dishonored the department” and violated a law barring political activity on duty. But Thomas said the union backed away from those claims after sitting down and talking with Magnus about the demonstration.
“We talked about it, and I understand what he was trying to do,” Thomas said. “He’s trying to bridge the gap, like we all are.”
It helped, of course, that policing in Richmond is effective under Magnus’ stewardship.
The city in 2014 recorded 11 murders, the lowest rate per capita in recent decades. It was the fifth straight year the murder rate declined in Richmond. Violent crimes and property crimes alike have plummeted, as have officer-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice recently added Magnus to a panel of experts investigating police relations with the community in Ferguson, Missouri.
ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: A RASH OF KILLINGS
While the relationship between members of the Richmond PD and those it serves has blossomed, in Albuquerque matters appear to be going in a less positive direction.
In 2007, crime was higher than the national average in Albuquerque, NM, and the city’s police department was having trouble recruiting police officers, despite the perks the APD offered to those who signed up. Pressured, the department higher-ups started cutting corners. They stopped consistently using psych exams for applicants, and began taking men and women who had washed out of other departments, and others whom the department’s training officers warned had….issues.
By 2011, the rate of fatal shootings by police in this city of five hundred and fifty thousand, was eight times that of New York City. More half of those killed were mentally ill. No officer had ever been charged, and few were disciplined.
Writing for the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv tells the story of one of those fatal shootings. It’s a tale that involves threats, intimidation, the DOJ and one more shooting last March. But this time the shooting of a homeless mentally ill man named James Boyd was caught on video and, in January, resulted in charges.
Here’s a clip from Aviv’s story:
Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.
Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.
Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.
When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.
Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.
At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.
RECKLESSNESS & DEADLY FORCE
Nick Pinto at RollingStone has another feature on the Albuquerque police, which has the details on the James Boyd shooting.
Here are some clips from Pinto’s story:
…On the afternoon of March 16th, 2014, Albuquerque police received a 911 call from this part of town, a man complaining that someone was illegally camping in the foothills. Two Albuquerque officers responded and, sure enough, encountered James Matthew Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. Boyd was clearly not well, ranting, telling police that he was an agent for the Defense Department.
Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. But as Officer John McDaniel approached, Boyd wouldn’t show his hands and McDaniel drew his gun. When the officers moved to pat him down, Boyd pulled out two small knives; the cops stepped back and called for backup, setting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.
Not present, Boyd’s family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge. Keeping Boyd surrounded, often with guns drawn, officers tried to get him to surrender his knives. Finally, after three hours, Boyd prepared to come down from the hills. “Don’t worry about safety,” he told the police. “I’m not a fucking murderer.” But as Boyd packed his stuff, both hands full of possessions, Detective Keith Sandy — who hours before, on arriving at the scene, boasted on tape that he was going to shoot “this fucking lunatic” with a Taser shotgun — tossed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal weapon designed to disorient and distract. Another officer fired a Taser at Boyd, and a third released a police dog on him. Boyd drew his knives again. Advancing on him, officers ordered Boyd to get down on the ground. Boyd began to turn away, and Detective Sandy of the ROP squad and Officer Dominique Perez of the SWAT team each fired three live rounds at him, hitting him once in the back and twice in his arms. Boyd collapsed, face down, crying out that he was unable to move. “Please don’t hurt me,” he said. Another officer fired three beanbag rounds from a shotgun at Boyd’s prone body. The K-9 officer again loosed his German shepherd on Boyd, and the dog tore into his legs. Finally, officers approached and handcuffed him.
After roughly 20 minutes, Boyd was transported in an ambulance to the University of New Mexico hospital. In the final hours of his life, Boyd had his right arm amputated and his spleen, a section of his lung and a length of his intestines removed. At 2:55 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was the 22nd person killed by the Albuquerque police in just more than four years.
Boyd’s death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city’s police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn’t anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd’s death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal….
Finally, a group of families whose loved ones had bend killed by members of the APD persuaded the Department of Justice to take a look at what was going on with the high number of deadly shootings.
Reviewing 20 fatal police shootings from 2009 to 2012, the [DOJ] report found a majority of them to be unconstitutional. “Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat,” the report found, noting that “Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.”
PROP 47 ALREADY BRINGING DROPS IN JAIL POPS ACROSS CALIFORNIA
It’s early still, but the effect of Prop 47 on the state’s jail populations, thus far, has been to lower them. This drop is particularly welcome after jail numbers had been driven higher due to the state’s 2011 AB 109 realignment strategy that shifted the incarceration burden for certain low level offenders to the various counties.
Inmate populations are falling in once-overcrowded California county jails since voters decided in November that certain drug and property crimes should be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
While some are avoiding jail, many of those who are sent to county lock-ups for crimes not covered by the ballot initiative dubbed Proposition 47 are spending more time there because jail officials no longer must release them early due to overcrowding.
Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties are among those with fewer early releases, according to an Associated Press survey of the 10 counties that together account for about 70 percent of California’s total jail population.
LUIS RODRIGUEZ & THE POWER OF WORDS
KCET’s So Cal Connected is doing a story on Los Angeles poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, on Wednesday at 8 pm. If you’re around, be sure to tune in. Rodriquez is the best known for his classic memoir Always Running– La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, about how he escaped Los Angeles gang life in the 1960′s. It’s a wonderful book, and one that dozens of disaffected kids I’ve met over the years told me was the first book they’d ever read, cover to cover, a book that introduced them to the joys of reading ever after.
Rodriguez has also published poetry, fiction, and other works of nonfiction, along with acting as the publisher for Southern California poets and writers. If that was not enough, he founded and runs Tia Chucha’s, a bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar, teaches writing inside California’s prisons, and mentors at risk young men and women looking to get out or to stay away from gang membership. He changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.
“Luis is a great man,” Father Greg Boyle once said to me, summing the matter up with simplicity.
Yes, He is. And we’re so lucky to have him here in LA. So, check out So Cal Connected Wednesday evening, and get to know him.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ICONIC LA WRITERS…WE ARE GOING TO MISS REPORTER/COLUMNIST RICK ORLOV, R.I.P
Respected LA Daily News city hall reporter Rick Orlov died on Monday of complications of diabetes and the city’s reporting community is completely in shock.
Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say about Orlov on Twitter:
ROBIN WILLIAMS, RIP, THE LOSS OF A STAGGERING TALENT
There are certainly other comedians who are—were—as funny as Robin Williams. But, as his friends, colleagues and admirers struggled to express their shock and sorrow at comic/actor Williams’ death on Monday—possibly by suicide—each seemed also to need to explain why, really, really there was nobody like him.
This was particularly true when it came to the high-wire act of Williams’ stand-up improvisation.
An improvisational genius, wrote both the LA Times Kenneth Turan and the NY Times’ A.O. Scott. “Genius” is an overused word, but in Williams’ case, that about nails it. At his riffing best, his speed at associating was so dazzling, his impersonations so intuitive and fearless, his intelligence so incandescent, in watching him, one felt one was observing the most astonishing of magic tricks.
Chris Columbus, who directed Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, and was close friends with the comedian actor for 21 years, explained it another way.
“To watch Robin work was a magical and special privilege. His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen, they came from some spiritual and otherworldly place….”
Yep. And his performances elicited not just humor but joy. It may sound sappy, but there you have it. Plus there is his marvelous body of work as an actor, his tireless performances for American troops, his years of leadership in fundraising for the homeless with Comic Relief, and his many private acts of sweet-natured kindness, (many of which are now appearing in essays and remembrances, like this story at CNN and this one at Next Avenue).
All these reasons and more are why the loss of Williams on Monday feels so intolerable.
Among the other remembrances worth reading is one by LA Times’ Turan who tells of his few but inevitably indelible encounters with Williams over the years. But there are lots of good ones.
ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE TALKS TO REPORTERS ABOUT TUESDAY’S LAPD COMMISION MEETING & THE VOTE ABOUT WHETHER TO OFFER BECK ANOTHER 5 YEAR TERM
AirTalk’s Larry Mantle’s interviews KPCC’s Erika Aguilar, Frank Stoltze about what they’ve learned about Tuesday’s vote on Beck, and to the LATimes’ Ben Poston, who was part of the team who reported on the LAPD’s misclassifying aggravated assaults as lower level crimes, then to Raphe Sonenshein, the Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles, who is a Beck fan.
The Police Commission is meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] to decide whether to reappoint LAPD Chief Charlie Beck for a second five-year term.
Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row and Beck has played an important role in keeping Los Angeles safe in the face of budget and departmental cuts. But Beck has also come under fire for favoritism and inconsistency in dishing out discipline. Of late, he has been embroiled in a scandal of sorts involving a horse the department bought that was subsequently revealed to have been owned by Beck’s daughter. And over the weekend, the LA Times published an analysis finding that the LAPD has misclassified some 1,200 serious violent crimes as minor offenses.
How does the reappointment process work? What criteria does the five-person Police Commission use for making their decision? What’s your opinion of Chief Beck’s performance thus far?
YOUTH JUSTICE EXPERT TELLS WHY THE WORLDS OF JUVENILE JUSTICE & EDUCATION MUST TRULY PARTNER UP TO END THE “SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE,” NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT
Fifteen years ago, national youth justice expert and educator, Dr. John Mick Moore, was working as a special education director in King County, Washington, when he began to notice that more and more of his school’s special ed students were winding up in the juvie justice system, plus they were “a larger percentage of dropouts.” Then five years later, in Kings County the two systems began talking to each other. New programs were instituted. Grants were procured. And the fate of formerly lost kids began to improve.
Now, Moore, writes about the fact that, despite much good rhetoric, he doesn’t see this kind of practical partnership in most areas of the country, and why that must change.
Here’s a clip:
In spite of all this good work for the past 10 years, I’m still not seeing education as an equal partner when I visit jurisdictions across the nation. I hear phrases like “dual jurisdiction youth” or “crossover youth” focusing on social welfare and juvenile justice. This work has added tremendous value but education seems to be an afterthought. I have never seen a youth who had significant issues with those two systems who didn’t have significant issues with education. It is obvious that juvenile justice and education will never successfully reform current practices and local outcomes without becoming full partners.
So, why now? What’s the big hurry? The big hurry is that everyday we are losing ground on our nation’s economy and the democratic way of life. Ten years have passed since the “Silent Epidemic” was brought to our attention. Each year a youth is incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of dollars are consumed while lost income reduces the nation’s tax base. Each youth who cannot read, write and make educated decisions jeopardizes the core of our democratic process — an educated population of voters. I regularly express to my colleagues that juvenile justice and education must end the failed practice of isolation and begin to function as true partners on behalf of our youth.
HOW PAROLED LIFERS ARE HELPING TO SLOW DOWN THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE
And while we’re on the topic of that “pipeline,” we don’t want you to miss this hour-long special on lifers by NPR’s Latino USA, with Maria Hinojosa and Michael Simon Johnson, which features a story about a group of lifers trying to slow down the school-to-prison pipeline with what they call the FACT program, Fathers And Children Together, bringing locked-up fathers back into their children’s life so that having an incarcerated parent no longer guarantees the cycle will continue.
It’s a fascinating special and a promising program.
According to Chin, although boys represent over 50 percent of the kids commercially trafficked for sex in the U.S., they are still too often seen as perpetrators not victims by law enforcement.
Here’s a clip:
For years, the sex trade was ‘their’ problem, a heinous part of culture in poorer nations. But attention here to sex trafficking has slowly increased in recent years with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other federal state laws.
Still, males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.
However, the percentage of male victims may be higher due to the underreported and subversive nature of the crime, said Summer Ghias, program specialist for the Chicago-based International Organization for Adolescents.
“We’re conditioned as a community to identify female victims more readily,” she said, “because that has been the more prominent focus of the anti-trafficking movement.”
Despite these high percentages of commercially sexually exploited boys, a 2013 study by ECPAT-USA indicates that boys and young men are rarely identified as people arrested for prostitution or rescued as human trafficking victims, and are arrested more for petty crimes such as shoplifting.
Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.
THOSE INDICTED FOR THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN WILL BEGIN TRIAL IN MAY SAYS JUDGE
In a hearing on Monday afternoon, Federal Judge Percy Anderson ordered that trials begin in mid-May for LA Sheriff’s Department defendants charged for their alleged part in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.
At the same hearing, Anderson agreed to grant a motion to sever the trial of Deputy James Sexton from that of the six other defendants (lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long., and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo.)
As expected, Anderson denied a list of other motions brought by attorneys representing Sexton and several of the others, including motions to dismiss charges. (WLA reported on some of the motions filed by defendants here and here.)
As the cases speed toward trial, the main question that hangs in the air is whether the U.S. Attorneys Office will eventually indict any of the higher-ups who are said to have ordered the hiding of Brown, or if only those allegedly following those orders (including whistleblower Sexton, who will now be tried separately from the other six) will be threatened with prison terms and felony records.
KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Paul Tanaka as part of Stoltze’s continuing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates for KPCC.
Here’s a clip:
Early on, Tanaka had little interest in being a cop. It’s hard to imagine now, but the buttoned-down Tanaka once wore a ponytail. “A lot of people had long hair back in the 1970s,” he explains.
He also adhered to the cultural rules in his strict Japanese-American household in Gardena, earning a black belt in Aikito and respecting his parent’s wishes.
“In an Asian family, you’re going to be a doctor or an attorney or a CPA,” says Tanaka, sporting a dark suit and tie on a recent afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Torrance.
He was an “A” student, studying accounting at Loyola Marymount University and holding down two jobs — one as a janitor, one making sports trophies — when his life changed. He spent a day on patrol with a sheriff’s deputy as part of a class and fell in love with policing.
It took years for Tanaka’s father to fully accept his eldest son’s decision. The young man had to adjust too:”One of the more traumatizing things was I had to do was cut my hair.”
Early in his career, Tanaka says he faced racial epithets in a mostly white department. He ignored most, chalking it up to ignorance. Over the years, the certified public accountant gained a reputation as detail-oriented — a commander who knew more about your job than you did.
Tanaka grew close to Baca, who eventually appointed him undersheriff. Tanaka became the heir apparent. The jail violence scandal that surfaced three years ago changed all of that.
Did he know about deputy abuse of inmates when he ran the jails from 2005-07? Tanaka claimed ignorance to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.
“It was never brought to my attention,” he said in his testimony.
What about violent deputy cliques inside Men’s Central Jail?
“That was never, ever mentioned as a problem,” he said.
CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CONTINUE TO UP THE ANTE WITH EACH OTHER IN DEBATE MONDAY
Last Monday night’s mistaken fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of aspiring television producer, 30-year-old John Winkler, during a hostage stand-off, could not help but provide an emotional backdrop for the debate, some of those present reported.
It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reportingwent—not to any conventional news outlet—but to reporter Chris Hamby who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, non-profit news site that is one of many throughout the U.S. (WitnessLA included) that have filled in the gaps left as traditional news organizations cut back their coverage, often leaving vital issues underreported.
As always, there are loads of wonderful author panels to attend, both Saturday and Sunday, with the LAT book awards held Friday night at 8 pm. Again this year, the free-of-charge event will be held on the USC campus.
On Sunday at 11 am, I’m moderating a panel filled with excellent mystery authors and, I promise, if you’re intrigued with the genre at all, this panel is the place to be. (At Seeley G. Mudd Hall)
My panelists are:
MILES CORWIN, a great LA nonfiction writer who, a few years ago, decided to cross over into crime fiction with spectacular effect. His latest novel, Midnight Alley, has a narrative that moves like lightning while remaining satisfyingly grounded in the real—and often conflicted—details of a cop’s life.
SARA GRAN, the author of Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, her second book featuring her deliciously original detective protagonist, the coke-snorting, dream-haunted, DeWitt, who, as one reviewer put the matter, is “a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious.” Gran’s the real deal.
DENISE HAMILTON, the queen of LA Noir whose latest stand-alone novel,Damage Control, is a beautifully written psychological thriller that, like her highly-regarded Eve Diamond novels, is laced with needle-sharp and deeply human So Cal social commentary.
Impassioned non-fiction-writer, novelist, naturalist Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday at 86 of leukemia.
For those of you unfamiliar with the man, or his work, a few facts:
Called a “shaman of literature,” Matthiessen has written 33 books, most of which were greeted with some kind of acclaim or other. He is, however, best known for such books as his cultural critique/thriller novel set in the Amazonian jungle, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and his account of a stone-age culture, Under the Mountain Wall, which Truman Capote would credit with influencing his conception of his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. Matthiessen’s meditational account of a 250-mile trek across the Himalayas, The Snow Leopard,” was his biggest seller, and his 900-plus-page novel Shadow Country, took 30-years of rewriting before he felt he’d gotten it right.
His nonfiction account of the rise of the American Indian Movement, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, got him sued by an FBI agent and the former governor of North Dakota for libel, and caused the book to be yanked entirely from sale for nine years. Finally, after three different courts told both plaintiffs to pound sand, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the matter on appeal, the paperback edition of the book was, at last, published in 1992.
Matthiessen co-founded one of the most famous literary magazine’s in history—The Paris Review—as a cover for his brief career as an undercover agent for the CIA. (His politics swung to the left shortly after that.)
After winning two National Book Awards for the same nonfiction book, the The Snow Leopard, he won the award again a few years later, this time in fiction for Shadow Country. And, yes, he is the only writer ever to have pulled off such a triple play.
(Oh, yeah, and his novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord was a finalist for the award.)
Readers often credit his books with having changed their lives. (I would fall into that category.)
A generation or two of naturalist writers were clearly influenced by his writing.
His final novel, In Paradise, which he told interviewers would probably be his last word, will be published on Tuesday.
Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born
The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one sees that there is a source fro this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home … The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is so overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas”, of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own “true nature”; each man is his own savior after all.
Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions – such as merit, such as past, present, and future – our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.