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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 »

Court Rules Police Are Protected As Whistleblowers….. Judge Awards $3 Million to Parents of Zac Champommier….WWED? What Would Elmore Do?….and More Sheriff Challenger Interviews

August 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



9TH CIRCUIT SAYS POLICE ARE PROTECTED AS WHISTLEBLOWERS BY 1ST AMENDMENT

The decision on Wednesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is very interesting, and also very important.

Here’s the deal: A former Burbank police detective, Angelo Dahlia, said he was suspended after reporting that fellow officers had beaten suspects and then told him to keep his mouth shut about it. After witnessing the abuse, he first reported what he had seen to his direct superior, but was told to “stop his sniveling,” according to the court. Any further attempts were met with the same dismissal.

Next Dahlia went to Burbank PD’s Internal Affairs, and the real retaliating allegedly began.

When Dahlia finally went outside his agency and talked to investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and eventually to the FBI, he was reportedly directly threatened by one of the Burbank PD’s lieutenants who, according to the ruling, warned Dahlia, “Fuck with me and I will put a case on you, and put you in jail.” Plus there were reportedly other unpleasant retaliations.

And then he was put on administrative leave.

So he sued.

A lower court tossed out his lawsuit, contending that Dahlia’s actions did not constitute whistleblower activity, so were not eligible for First Amendment protections because, according to a 2009 ruling, Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, as a law enforcement office, reporting wrongdoing was a part of his job.

The 9th circuit disagreed. They ruled that, the moment Dahlia went outside of the Burbank PD, he should be accorded the same First Amendment protection as a private citizen.

So they reinstated his lawsuit.

This ruling, which may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down Huppert, which had denied cops most whistleblower protection, to set an important new precedent.

“The practical reality,” wrote a court member, “is that quite a few police officers are reluctant to report acts of police abuse committed by their fellow officers. The ‘officer code of silence’ describes the understanding that “an officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer. The public’s trust is diminished when a law enforcement officer abides by the code of silence to cover up misconduct engaged in by fellow officers. To strengthen the public’s confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement officers, it is essential that an officer be encouraged or required to report misconduct committed by fellow officers.”

Indeed.

Scott Michelman, attorney for the advocacy group, Public Citizen, which helped to bring the appeal, credited the decision with helping to ensure transparency when “public officials are engaging in misconduct,” writes Tim Hull, reporting for The Courthouse News Service.

“Courageous police officers like Angelo Dahlia are in many circumstances the public’s best or even only available source of information about police corruption and abuse,” Michelman said in a statement.

Sources tell us that the ruling will come as very good news to the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have filed lawsuits against the department for alleged retaliation when they attempted to blow the whistle on LASD corruption and abuse.


JUDGE AWARDS $3 MILLION TO NORTHRIDGE TEENAGER, ZAC CHAMPOMMIER, WHO WAS SHOT AND KILLED BY A DEA AGENT IN INCIDENT WITH DEA AND LASD OFFICERS

This case goes back to the tragic 2010 shooting of 18-year-old Zachary Champommier that WLA reported on here and here.

Both Frank Stoltze of KPCC and The Associate Press were in court and have reports that will give you the details.

Here are two clips from Stoltze’s story:

In a rare ruling against a federal law enforcement officer, a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday found an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent committed battery when he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of a San Fernando Valley strip mall in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded the parents of Zachary Champommier $3 million dollars in general damages. Champommier had graduated from Granada Hills High School three weeks before his death.

[SNIP]

The incident occurred as plainclothes DEA agents and L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies gathered outside a Studio City restaurant after serving a search warrant on a nearby house. The officers were in the process of detaining a man Champommier was coming to meet.

Witnesses said that as Champommier started to drive away, he struck a sheriff’s deputy. Federal attorneys argued that DEA agent Peter LoPresti shot Champommier because he believed he was a threat. The sheriff’s deputy also fired his weapon.

And from the AP:

….They said Champommier drove his mom’s car to the parking lot to meet someone he befriended on a social networking website. The friend went looking for Champommier’s white Corolla and became a suspect when he looked into an agent’s light-colored vehicle, which had seized guns and drugs.

Agents were in the process of arresting the friend when the deputy approached the scene with his gun drawn.

Champommier’s parents claimed the deputy stepped in front of their son’s car and “vaulted” on top of its hood like a Hollywood stuntman.

Fitzgerald wrote that within two seconds of the “low-speed impact” of the collision, DEA agent Peter Taylor LoPresti fired through the driver side of the window from about 2 feet away, killing Champommier.

The judge noted that LoPresti “did not articulate at trial exactly how shooting the driver of a moving vehicle while another officer was on the hood would be helpful to the besieged officer.”

He found that five subsequent shots fired by LoPresti and the deputy “unquestionably lacked justification.”

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office, said the government is considering an appeal.


WHAT WOULD ELMORE DO? NOW, SADLY, WE HAVE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION ON OUR OWN

Among my favorite tales about the gloriously talented and much-beloved crime and mystery writer Elmore Leonard, who died on Tuesday, has to do with the wonderful FX series, Justified, which is based on one of Leonard’s short stories called “Fire In the Hole.” It seems that Justified’s creator, Graham Yost, was so intent on the tone of the show remaining true to Leonard’s unique voice that he gave everyone on the writing and acting staff little blue rubber wristbands printed with WWED? “What Would Elmore Do?”

For aspiring writers—hell, for any writer—those four letters are a far better guide to good work than many graduate school degrees.

A master of the American crime thriller, Leonard’s novels raised crime writing to art.

His partly humorous, part deadly series “10 Rules for Writing,” written in 2001 for the New York Times, are worth noting:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Of the obits I’ve read thus far on Leonard, I recommend this one by mystery novel reviewer, Marilyn Stasio for the New York Times, and this one for The Daily Beast by Malcolm Jones…and this lovely essay about Leonard’s unbeatable sense of voice, by Joan Acocella for the New Yorker.


MORE INTERVIEWS WITH CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF: THIS TIME WITH PAT GOMEZ

Now that challengers in the race for sheriff, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince, have been interviewed on KABC, it’s Pat Gomez’s turn.

Pat will be on Larry Elder Thursday at 5:14 pm, and on with Doug McIntyre on Monday at 7:15 am.

We will continue to try to keep you reasonably up-to-date on events related to the race for sheriff. If we miss something please let us know.

PS: For anyone who missed the various Larry Elder interviews, then—like me—noted that the podcasts are vexingly hidden behind a pay wall, for a mere $4.95 you can buy a monthly membership to Elder’s podcast club, and listen to talk from the three previous candidates. (But don’t forget to cancel your membership when the month is up if you don’t want it to auto renew.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, criminal justice, writers and writing | 16 Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend: Be There! (My “Guns in America” Panel Is Sunday)

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend—Saturday and Sunday—on the USC campus. If you’re a book person of any kind, this is the happiest of events—and it’s all free.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, you can see me moderate a panel on Guns in America with three stellar authors: Adam Winkler, who wrote Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, and Paul Barrett who wrote GLock: the Rise of America’s Gun, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Constitutional scholar, and the author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.

These are all very bright people with a lot to say on the topic, and I promise we will have a lively and informative time.

But there’s something for absolutely everyone at this two day event.

There are panels featuring fiction writers, political writers of al leanings, poets, wildly funny book authors, deadly serious noirish mystery writers, graphic novelists…..and so on.

There’s even a panel at 12:30 on Sunday about why you should care about the mayor’s race.

It’s hard to go wrong.

For instance, there are back-to-back panels on Sunday in Mudd hall at 1:30 and 3 pm. One features such persons as my pal Tod Goldberg, plus the wildly talented authors Hector Tober, Laila Lalami, and Nina Revoyr. (Rule of thumb for the LAT FOB, if the panel has Tod Goldberg on it, you should automatically go. It doesn’t matter the topic, just go. Trust me on this. Otherwise it will be the panel you wish you’d seen.)

The other panel is moderated by David Ulin, who—along with Patt Morrison is the absolute best at the whole moderater thingy, and features my pal Tom Bissell, who is one of the smartest people I know and a great prose stylist and he designs video games. With them is D.T. Max, author of the riveting and heartbreaking book about David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and deliciously talented travel writer and essayist, Pico Iyer.

But these are just two of many. Right after our Sunday 10:30 a.m. Guns panel at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Henry Wienstein is moderating a panel called Today’s Dangerous World, that includes terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins (who in his photos has an impressively intense stare), Pulitzer winner, Mark Mazzetti, who writes about the CIA (and not comfortingly), and Jess Bravin, whose book “Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, is not calming either. In short, the panel sounds like it will be terrific!

The schedule is here. And if you happen to attend my Sunday panel, stop by and say hi.

But if you’re a reader at all, go to the festival. Just go.

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

G-Dog Movie Opens in Selected Theaters, April 22

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


This documentary about Father Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries, directed by Academy Award winner, Frieda Mock,
is opening in theaters next week.

Then it will shortly be available for purchase or download, but it’s one of those films that it’s satisfying to see in the theater, as a shared experience.

To be honest, if you live in this city, you should see this movie. If you’re a youth worker or a teacher, or a member of law enforcement, a prosecutor, a public defender, or a judge, you should definitely see this movie.

If you just plain want to feel more hopeful about the race to which we all claim membership, you should see this movie.

Here’s where you can see G-Dog thus far.

Arizona Phoenix/Scottsdale – Harkins Shea-Scottsdale

California Encino – Laemmle Town Center
Los Angeles – Laemmle Claremont
Los Angeles – Laemmle Monica*
Los Angeles – Laemmle NoHo
Palm Desert – Cinémas Palme d’Or
Pasadena – Laemmle Playhouse
San Diego – Media Arts Center

Connecticut Hartford – Cinema City at the Palace

New Haven – Criterion Cinemas @ Movieland

Montana Helena – Myrna Loy Center

New York Manhattan – Cinema Village
Ithaca – Cinemapolis
Ohio Cleveland – Cedar Lee
Columbus – Gateway Film Center

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh – Southside Works

Texas Austin – Alamo Drafthouse Village
Austin – Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane
San Antonio – Alamo Drafthouse Park North

Virginia Richmond – Criterion Cinemas @ Movieland

NOTE: Father Greg Boyle will participate in a Q&A following the 7:30 PM premiere screening on Thursday, April 25 at Laemmle Santa Monica.

Posted in American voices, art and culture, Gangs, Homeboy Industries | No Comments »

VETERANS DAY: With Gratitude & Respect for Those Who Have Served

November 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A FEW LITERARY THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you, but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time. The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.”
― Sebastian Junger, War

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil—everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.” 
― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.”
― Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn

“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. … Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation, ongoing and unadulterated by politics, may be the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders.”
Sebastian Junger, War

Posted in American voices, War, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

BOOK LOVERS ALERT: Come to the West Hollywood Book Fair Sunday!

September 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



It used to be that the LA Times Festival of Books was the only game in town
, but in the 11 years since it started, the West Hollywood Book Fair has become its own major So Cal literary event attracting big crowds and featuring a long and excellent list of authors and poets.

This year, I’ll be moderating a panel called Women in Crime at 11:45 am until 12:45. My stellar panelist are April Smith, AGS Johnson and Amelia Gray, all three are incredibly talented women, each with very different approaches to crime writing.

And then at 4 pm, I’ll be interviewing the remarkable Luis Rodriguez, author of the LA classic, Always Running, and most recently, the moving sequel It Calls You Back-—among his works.

But mine are only two out of a list of great panels.

Here’s the full schedule.

Check it out. There are many treats that await all book lovers, I promise you.

11th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, September 30, 2012
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
West Hollywood Library and West Hollywood Park
625 North San Vicente Boulevard.


Photo from Good Gay LA

Posted in American voices, art and culture, arts, writers and writing | No Comments »

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


THE NY TIMES SAYS JERRY BROWN SHOULD SIGN THE CALIFORNIA TRUST ACT

The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


SO IS THERE A $$$ ANGLE TO ALL THIS LEGAL CONTROVERSY?

Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


THE UNENDING FASCINATION WITH THE JEFFERY MACDONALD MURDER CASE CONTINUES

On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO STOP AN EXECUTION

In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

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