Wednesday, July 30, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

American voices


CA to Spend BIG $$ on Youth Lock-ups. So Can We spend it Well?…..”Getting Life” – What It’s Like to Be Wrongfully Convicted…….

July 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA PLANS TO SPEND $79 MILLION ON YOUTH, & ADVOCATES PRESS FOR $$ TO GO TO COUNTIES WITH CLEAR REHAB GOALS

Right now the California Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) is working on structuring an RFP so that it can give away $79 million to various counties in the state for the construction of new juvenile facilities.

The $79 mil is the second round of post-realignment funding for county youth lock-ups; $220 million has already been awarded to 14 California counties.

With this new round of money, research and advocacy organizations like the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the National Center for Law, and the Ella Baker Center see a rare opportunity to stimulate reform through the enticement of funding, so have been trying to educate and persuade the BSCC about what kind of youth facilities are likely to produce the best results.

According to Kate McCracken, CJCJ’s Director of Policy & Development, the the BSCC’s Executive Steering Committee, which is responsible for developing the crucial RFP, has “demonstrated openness” to crafting a competitive process would give the edge to county proposals that are designed with “clear rehabilitative goals.”

Ideally, McCracken writes, “the language of this RFP will guide the way counties develop their own proposals, and is thus essential to the development of long-term dispositional options and rehabilitative services available to young people in the community.”

Thus she hopes “the RFP will be rooted in what we know works for young people.”

“Research has proven time and time again that facilities are not effective when they have artificial environments, living quarters designed to confine large numbers of youth, and minimal programming space. If California is going to spend $79 million dollars — plus matching funds from the counties — on more juvenile facilities, let’s do it in a meaningful way.”

Some counties, like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, are already committed to juvenile programs that emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over conventional youth corrections facilities.

Los Angeles County, which has the state’s (and the nation’s) largest juvenile justice system, was stuck for years in a punitive pattern that has resulted in years of federal monitoring along several class action lawsuits. Now LA County’s juvenile probation is moving toward some reform, with such programs as the in-the-works transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick. But, the tentative move in the direction of rehabilitation over containment is nothing close to system-wide.

If the purse-string-holding BCSC were to make clear that future $$ will be linked to reform, such fiscal incentives cannot help but have a salutary effect on counties like Los Angeles and others that may have made some improvements, but need to make many more.

“The future of California’s juvenile justice system is in the 58 counties,” writes McCracken, “as we observe pockets of innovation throughout the state that require support and incubation in other counties. There is significant evidence that a continuum of community-based services is the most effective approach to serving youth, as well as promising programs available to promote a new way of justice in California. This RFP is just one example of an opportunity for the state to rethink its approach to justice and challenge the status quo with innovative development.”

Yep. Exactly.


CHP HEAD MEETS WITH CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS OVER FREEWAY BEATING VIDEO

Concerned about a building furor over the bystander-taken video of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a woman next to the 10 freeway, on Tuesday, CHP head Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders.

KPCC’s Frank Stolze has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an indication of the agency’s increasing concern over the videotaped altercation between an officer and an African-American woman on the 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders in Los Angeles.

“I believe that right now, we are somewhat wounded because of what people have seen,” Farrow told reporters afterward outside the CHP’s West L.A. office. “I was deeply concerned when I saw the videotape. I was shocked.”


AN INNOCENT MAN TELLS OF HIS 25-YEARS BEHIND BARS, AND MORE

Michael Morton’s memoir, “Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace,” about the wrongful conviction that led him to serve a quarter century in prison for murdering his wife, has just been released to reviews that, thus far, are uniformly glowing.

For instance, here’s a clip from the review by Jesse Sublett of the Austin Chronicle:

Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton’s new memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny. The “peace” part of the title is no exaggeration, either. For everything he’s been through, Michael Morton seems to be a very well-adjusted person with a sense of Zenlike calm…

Morton’ wife, Chris, was bludgeoned in their bed while he was at work. When he returned home to find the family home surrounded by yellow police tape he became frantic. Morton was arrested soon after and railroaded by Williamson County D.A. Ken Anderson, who withheld crucial information and documents from the defense. Morton was eventually cleared by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. After that, the DNA led officials to the actual killer.

Here’s a clip from what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said about Morton’s book:

A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.

Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.

Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.

Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history….

Parade Magazine has an excerpt from “Getting Life”.

Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

The door closed.

Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.

This was different.

It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.

Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years.

My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.

I was innocent.

Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.

I could not have been more wrong.


Posted in American voices, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, Probation, Realignment, State government, writers and writing | No Comments »

Sex Trafficked Boys Overlooked as Victims….Trials for Sheriff’s Department Members Indicted for Hiding Federal Informant Schedules for May…..Pulitzers…and More

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

It is heartening that kids who are involved in sex trafficking are now being seen—for the most part anyway—as victims to be protected and helped, rather than lawbreakers subject to arrest.

Unfortunately, this understanding that kids are the victims in the equation does not apply equally to both genders, writes Yu Sun Chin in his reports for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

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

All seven candidates for the office of LA County Sheriff squared off again on Monday night. KNBC 4 reports on some fiery moments.

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.


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

Much is rightly being made over the fact that one of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was awarded jointly to the Guardian US and the Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations.

It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting went—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.

Both prizes are cheering signs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we’re on the subject of Pulitzers, I happen to heartily approve of the Pulitzer judges’ choice of Donna Tartt’s deliciously Dickensian novel The Goldfinch as the winner for the prize in Fiction.


And, speaking of literary prizes, here are the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, announced this past Friday night.

(I was on the judging panel for the Current Interest Prize and my fellow judges and I are very proud of our winner—Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital—as well as all five of our finalists.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 29 Comments »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend!!!

April 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

That glorious time has come ’round again: the LA Time Festival of Books is this weekend!

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.

PAUL TREMBLEY, a wildly talented author whose books include his darkly funny dystopian novel, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, and his two-book mystery series featuring narcoleptic detective, Mark Genevich. Trembly is fearless. Don’t miss him!

Early Monday we’ll be back with plenty of news. But this weekend it’s all about literature!

C’mon down!

Posted in American artists, American voices, writers and writing | No Comments »

Peter Matthiessen: May 22, 1927 – April 5, 2014…Into the Mystery

April 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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 historyThe 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.

If you want to know more, the LAT’s David Ulin has written a lovely appreciation.

And here’s a bit of Matthiessen in his own words.

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.

― Peter Matthiessen


Photo by Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, literature, writers and writing | No Comments »

Losing Joe McGinniss: December 9, 1942 – March 10, 2014

March 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Journalist/author Joe McGinniss died unexpectedly on Monday, March 10.
He’d been battling prostate cancer, but it was the pneumonia following chemo that took him away with shocking suddenness.

Everyone who knew him is reeling.

(I knew Joe through his wife, writer and editor Nancy Dougherty, who is a very dear friend of mine, a wordsmith-sister, so I am reeling and heartbroken too.)

If for some reason you don’t recall his name, what you need to know first is that Joe McGinniss changed journalism.

Really.

With his 1969 book “The Selling of the President,” about the marketing of Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign, he blasted open what was possible in the world of political writing. With his beautifully composed, ferociously reported (and still quarreled over) “Fatal Vision,”” published in 1989 about the Green Beret doctor, Jeffery McDonald, who was accused of murdering his wife and two children, McGinniss advanced the form of the true crime narrative as literature.

After the news of Joe McGinniss’ death broke, the usual tributes and obits streamed to the surface. As is often the case, most do not seem to capture the man, but they at least list his formidable accomplishments, even if from a great distance. (This, by the AP’s Hillel Italie is probably the best of 40,000 feet obits.)

Atlantic Monthly columnist Andrew Sullivan’s essay on McGinniss is a welcome exception.

Here’s a clip from what Sullivan wrote:

Joe McGinniss was responsible not only for several books that are rightly understood as landmarks of journalism – he was also the case study of arguably the most famous essay about journalism, Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” He was a deeply curious and ferociously independent writer, compelled by the minutiae of the human comedy and riveted by the depths of human tragedy.

I think of him as some kind of eternal, unstoppable foe for Roger Ailes, whose media campaign for Nixon in 1968 presaged so much of what was to come – and still reins supreme – at Fox News. And yet Ailes and Joe were extremely close friends their entire lives and Joe would defend him – if not his network or politics – tenaciously as the years went by. That was how Joe was. Once he loved you, he loved you. And I was blessed by some of that love.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White, as Ann Althouse notes. And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn’t write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.

But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin….

About his book on Palin: as usual, Joe went where the story led him. Political columnist Dave Weigel, writing for Slate, has posted some of his memories of meeting with McGinniss when the author was researching the former Alaskan governor in her home state, and how unexpectedly Weigel’s source turned into a valued friend.

Weigel’s musings are a good read and give another small shard of insight into this irreplaceable author…journalist… father…husband…friend….who had so much more still to write.


Photo courtesy of JoeMcGinniss.net

Posted in American voices, Life in general, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

WLA on Madeleine Brand Show Wed. Talking About Baca & LASD….Closing the Camp Kilpatrick Sports Program?…. How Has Prez Done on Criminal Justice?….Farewell to Harold Ramis

February 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON MADELEINE BRAND SHOW AT 12 NOON WED TALKING ABOUT LEE BACA & THE LASD: UPDATED

I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).

UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.

You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.

(And here’s a link to a sort of teaser interview that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me about the story.)

Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!


CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.

We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:

A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.

For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.

The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.

But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.

It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.

Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….

We agree. Read the rest here.


NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING

In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.

Here’s a clip:

I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.

It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.

Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.

In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..

[HUG SNIP]

“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”


A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!


Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny.
It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.

Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LASD, Life in general, Obama, Probation, racial justice, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 12 Comments »

Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

With Gratitude to Wanda Coleman: 1946 – 2013

November 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


“Like Wallace Stegner, I am in the ‘universal’ tradition of writers who concern themselves with The Truth—never mind that it is apt to hurt someone, in some way, most likely me.”

– Wanda Coleman, The Riot Inside Me

After Wanda Coleman died on Friday, most of those writing obituaries to honor her noted that she was widely thought to be the poet laureate of Los Angeles. Certainly, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who fit that bill better than Coleman.

Yet, for me, author and LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, goes more to the heart of the matter of her significance to LA literature in this essay he wrote remembering this woman he rightly described as a force of nature:

Coleman was the conscience of the L.A. literary scene — a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s…..

…She was the keystone, the writer who shifted L.A. writing, irrevocably and to the benefit of all of us, from an outside to an inside game, a literature of place.

The importance of this can’t be overstated; without Coleman, there’d be a lot less here for the rest of us. She taught us to write about the city we saw, the city in which we lived, to turn our backs on the stereotype and stare down the reality instead.

In terms of worldly accomplishments, Coleman wrote 22 books, won an Emmy for her TV writing on “Days of Our Lives,” won a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry in 1984, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1999. Her collection, “Mercurochrome,” was a finalist for a 2001 National Book Award.

Literarily speaking, she was, to use a faddish word, a disrupter. As Ulin suggested, she challenged the rest of us to ground ourselves in the real, to make art out of only that which mattered, to cut the B.S. or get outta the way.

Thankfully, for anyone with any sense, she was impossible to resist.


If you’d like to hear a bit more of Coleman’s work, listen to this 2012 reading on KCRW of some of what she wrote in response to the Watts and the Rodney King riots.

Posted in American artists, American voices, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

A Breast Cancer Survivor “Pampers” Other Women….Veterans of the Gang World Tell Their Stories….and More on Tanaka Supporters’ Lawsuit

October 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR ORGANIZES “DAY OF PAMPERING” FOR OTHER WOMEN STRUGGLING WITH THE DISEASE


Isabel Guillen was 32-years-old and was raising her four kids
on her own when, on February 7, 2010, she was diagnosed with stage 3-B breast cancer, and nobody seemed to be able to tell her what her chances were of surviving.

In the year before her diagnosis, Isabel gone to the doctor multiple times, worried about a lump in her breast. Yet, incredibly, the docs she saw kept telling her the lump was nothing to worry about. A cyst. Nobody bothered with a needle biopsy. Even when the thing grew from 1 centimeter to 9 centimeters.

It was only when an alarmed nurse cornered a doctor who was examining Isabel, and pestered the man into finally doing a biopsy, that the cancer was discovered. By then, Isabel was told there was no choice but to do unilateral mastectomy. The surgery was followed by 7 months of chemo and radiation.”

Isabel got so sick with the chemo that she had to ask to be laid off by both of her jobs, working for LAUSD, and also for Homeboy Industries. Since she was also too sick to go on job interviews, she was denied unemployment.

So while Isabel worried about what might become of her kids if she died, she also had to worry about how in the world she would pay her bills.

“But I was lucky,” she told me. “I had a lot of friends and family around me who were really supportive. My friends even put on a fundraising benefit for me, which helped me through the worst months. But when I went for my treatments, I saw a lot of women who were as sick as I was, and were from the same kind of neighborhoods I grew up in, but they had no support. They had nobody.”

(Isabel grew up in what were then the Pico-Aliso housing projects of Boyle Heights, a community that, at the time, was one of the poorest and most violence-haunted in Southern California. I first met her in Pico-Aliso when she was 15-years-old, and I was reporting on the area’s gangs.)

Now, three-and-a-half years after her surgery, Isabel is thus far cancer free. She is back working at Homeboy, where she just finished doing field interviews for a substance abuse/mental health project grant project.

But she hasn’t forgotten the needs of the women she met during the months of her doctor visits and treatment.

So this Sunday, Isabel is putting on the 3rd of what she calls “Chavalyta’s Pamper Me Day.” (Chavela and Chavalyta are Spanish variants on the name Isabel.)

This means that 20 women (and a few men) who are struggling with (or recovering from) cancer will receive a day of “pampering.” They’ll get massages, facials, hair-styling, hair and beauty makeovers, and other forms of happy indulgences—plus a gift basket stuffed with goodies to take home.

“We’ve found it really lifts the women’s spirits, and raises their self-esteem,” Isabel told me. “Just feeling good about yourself for a little while can make a big difference.”

All this pampering will take place Sunday, Oct. 27, from 11 am to 4 pm, Aliso-Pico Recreation Center at the corner of 4th and Gless Streets in Boyle Heights.

So for anyone desiring to donate gift items for Sunday’s pampering project, Isabel may be reached at Homeboy Industries, 323-526-1254.


HOMIE STORYTELLING NIGHT: FORMER GANG-INVOLVED MEN AND WOMEN TELL THEIR STORIES

Also on this coming Sunday, Oct. 27, at 7 pm, a special storytelling night with homeboys and homegirls who have transformed their lives.

Father Greg Boyle will be there (and so will WLA.) All proceeds from the night benefit Homeboy Industries.

Sun, October 27, 7:00 pm at The Echoplex
1154 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026. All tickets: $20.00


MORE ON THE SUPPORTERS OF FORMER LASD UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA & THEIR RETALIATION LAWSUITS

Several news outlets have followed up on our story earlier this month about the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who are newly suing the department. They claim that Sheriff Lee Baca is retaliating against them because they have openly declared their support for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is challenging Baca for the office of sheriff.

Here are some clips from the LA Times story by Seema Mehta.

….Capt. Louis Duran, has filed a complaint against Baca with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a precursor to a possible lawsuit. Of the nine captains who have publicly backed former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his bid to replace Baca, four were transferred to other jobs earlier this month, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Attorney Brad Gage, who represents Duran and other members of the department claiming to be victims of retaliation, said he expected to sue the Sheriff’s Department next month.

[SNIP]

A representative of Baca said any transfers were driven by the department’s needs and the employees’ performance.

“There is absolutely no retaliation. This is politics at its lowest form, and the facts will bear that out,” said spokesman Steve Whitmore.

[SNIP]

Duran said in a phone interview that he was a long-time supporter of Baca’s who decided to back Tanaka because of his work righting the budgets of both Gardena, where Duran grew up, and the Sheriff’s Department.

The 33-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department said his career has suffered since summer, when he publicly backed Tanaka. He said he first was removed from his post of five years, as a captain of the Aero Bureau, and assigned to the vehicle theft program, which he said resulted in a “considerable” loss of salary. Earlier this month, he said he was transferred again, to the office of the assistant sheriff, where he has no assignment, no staff, no office, no desk and no chair.

“There is no job for me there. There’s nothing. Lately I’ve been so disheartened, I’ve been burning time, I just haven’t been going in,” he said. “It’s basically purgatory.”

We spoke to Attorney Brad Gage who told us he is representing Louis Duran and several other veterans of LASD’s Aero Bureau (Serg. Casey Dowling and Lt. Robert Wheat), along with Commander David Waters, and others.

According to Gage, still more Tanaka supporters, such as Captains Kevin Hebert and Robert Tubbs, are filing lawsuits with another local attorney, Arnold Casillas.

Posted in American voices, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, women's issues | 65 Comments »

Santa Barbara Gangster Turned Philosophy Professor….Long Beach Schools Reject Zero Tolerance…& More on the Special Counsel’s Report

October 9th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


GANG MEMBER….SURFER…PHILOSOPHY PROFESSOR: THE EVOLUTION OF MANNY RAYA

Santa Barbara’s Mission and State has produced another one of their wonderful non-fiction narrative tales, this one written by Karen Pelland about a confused kid named Manny Raya whose caring but overstressed immigrant mother let him run in the streets, until he inevitably joined a gang and began winding up on the wrong side of the law, his life trajectory decidedly unpromising.

But as luck would have it, several adults—notably two local cops and a philosophy professor—saw something special in the kid and reached out to him. Now Raya has a master’s degree in philosophy and is a sought after philosophy instructor at Santa Barbara City College. And he’s a surfer.

How 32-year-old Raya recalibrated his trajectory (with a little help from Plato) is a story worth reading.

Here’s a representative clip from the story’s middle to get you started:

Joining a gang was not something Raya set out to do.

“It was confusing,” he admits. “As a kid you’re trying to figure out who you are, and you’re trying to separate from your family.” In Raya’s tiny world, that meant one thing: the streets. “The gang to me was everything,” he says. “I didn’t see options. What, I was going to be a gardener?”

Jumped in (delivered a ritual beating) to the Westside Projects gang at 15 with the street name “Fozzy,” Raya’s transition from carefree boyhood to troubled-filled adolescence did not go unnoticed by his mother.

Their relationship had always been open and respectful, but this was something Ms. Raya didn’t understand. “I know you’re better than this,” Raya remembers his mother saying. “You need to stop this somehow.”

It was a puzzling moment for the young man. “I love my mom so much,” he says, “but I was showing my love elsewhere. I remember thinking I had this strength and confidence about myself, and I just wanted to be a man!”

The police, particularly members of the gang task force, also saw a confused kid with potential. “You could tell that he was always torn between his [blood] family and his street family,” says Santa Barbara Police Department Officer Alex Cruz, who arrested Raya after the delivery van incident and who would arrest him many more times.

Cruz, who joined the police department in 1994 and was assigned to the fledgling gang task force in the late ’90s, often got phone calls from Raya’s worried mom. So, Cruz would head out looking for him.

“He had somebody that cared about where he was and whether or not he was in jail,” says Cruz. “Some kids just don’t have that support.”

Lieutenant Ralph Molina, who worked alongside Officer Cruz on the gang task force for years, remembers that “Manny had potential, you could see it.”

Molina says he encouraged the gang unit to really get to know the kids and their families, to talk to them about life, to build mutual respect. “You’d be amazed at some of the things they’ll tell you if you have a rapport with them. They’ll tell us they’re not getting love and attention at home; they’re getting abused at home, physically, sexually… and guess what? If they’re in the streets, the homeboys will give them all the love and attention they want.”


TUESDAY, LONG BEACH SCHOOL DISTRICT VOTES TO ADOPT A KID-FRIENDLY, SCHOOL DISCIPLINE SYSTEM

Several news outlets reported on this story, including the Long Beach Press Telegram.

But this story from non-profit Liberty Hill’s blog, nicely captures the importance of LBSD’s decision to turn away from its previous discipline policies that had resulted in 83,691 students being suspended in the 2011-2012 school year. Here’s a clip:

“Restorative Justice allows a student to see the larger picture of his/her defiance,” said Barbara Lindholm, Principal at Reid High School. “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” A student from Poly High School and a leader from Khmer Girls in Action, Malachy Keo, echoed Principal Lindholm adding, “I’ve had disagreements with teachers before. Restorative Justice practices would have helped me and my teachers see each other’s point of view and build better relationships.”

As the majority of students in Los Angeles County, young people of color have a vital role to play in making our neighborhoods safer, our economy stronger and steering our city and state towards success. Yet low income and young men of color have the lowest life expectancy rates, highest unemployment rates, fewest high school and college graduates and most murder victims of any demographic group in the county. This reality starts in school policies that unfairly target students of color for suspensions which ultimately lead to truancy and drop-outs.

“This vote is an important first step in our effort to ensure that every student has an opportunity to thrive,” said Kafi D. Blumenfield, President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation. “Passage of this resolution signals that Long Beach truly wants all students to lead healthy, successful lives.”



IN HIS REPORT, SPECIAL COUNSEL MERRICK BOBB TALKS ABOUT THE “GREY FOG” IN THE LASD & THE POSSIBLE NEED FOR FED INTERVENTION

In the introduction to his 33rd semiannual report on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb kindly gave a shout out to WitnessLA, talked about former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s “gray fog” and the possible need for federal intervention to produce true reform at the LASD. Here’s a clip:

….[During the years before his departure] the former Undersheriff apparently exhorted some LASD deputies to work in the so-called “gray zone” or, as I prefer to call it, the gray fog, where objects can be seen only dimly and the guideposts to distinguish right from wrong cannot be read. When the gray fog finally began to burn off, the Sheriff and Undersheriff faced calls for resignation. Although there may have been over-delegation and unwarranted reliance on the Undersheriff by the Sheriff, and despite the LASD being a paramilitary organization, it is worth noting that the assistant sheriffs and chiefs and commanders and captains, with two or three exceptions, did not exactly mutiny or protest when the Undersheriff seemed to overreach.

To attempt change in LASD culture and practice from the outside, the levers have been pulled and the pressure points pushed. The Los Angeles Times and Witness LA, as well as the Department of Justice, have lit up dark corners at the LASD and kept the spotlight unremittingly focused. Yet while vigorous investigations and solid news and editorials are necessary, they are not always sufficient to bring about change. It is frustrating when some recommendations to curb the callousness (or worse) toward some suspects and inmates by a small minority of LASD employees have never been adopted or vanished into the gray fog. In all the years I have served as Special Counsel, I recall only once when I was told things about rotation of deputies in the jails or intentions “sincerely” to change one’s ways that the speakers knew to be less than truthful, and this was at the latter stage of the gray fog years.

Time and again, it is been shown that the power to control an elected sheriff is a near impossibility, to the frustration of many—in particular, to the Supervisors. Despite good- faith efforts to be aware of and respond to problems, the Supervisors at the end of the day lack the power to order the Sheriff or Undersheriff to run a constitutional jail, whether directly or through a blue ribbon commission or a civilian commission or Special Counsel or OIR or an Inspector General or otherwise. It may be that the federal government needs to be added to the mix….

Posted in American voices, Gangs, juvenile justice, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

« Previous Entries