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campus violence

The UCLA Shooting, Compton’s Confounding Homicide Spike, The Push for More Relative Caregivers in LA, and Juvie Solitary

June 2nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday morning at UCLA, an unnamed man shot and killed a well-liked 39-year-old engineering professor, William S. Klug, and then killed himself. The gunman has not yet been identified. Klug was described by those who knew him as a loving father, who taught his son’s Little League team, and exemplified “courage, loyalty, and character.”

As early news traveled across campus that shots had been fired, students and law enforcement feared an active shooter situation.

The LA Times Editorial Board says that once news broke that it was a murder-suicide, and not another high-casualty campus shooting rampage, America shrugged off the all-too-common firearm tragedy. Here’s a clip:

The massive police and emergency response proved unnecessary, but there was no way the LAPD could have known that when the panicked call came in. And this is where we are – the anticipation that a shooting on a college campus was going to turn out to be a mass tragedy, and that a major city’s law enforcement response is geared up for that eventuality.

In this case, it was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America. And so two families, and two circles of friends, and a community of students and faculty are left to their grief, and their confusion, and maybe a touch more fear than usual at the recognition that violence can and will strike so close to home.

Ultimately, we should be glad this was a tragedy for fewer people than feared when the phrase “campus shooting” first popped up on screens. But that society will just shrug this off is tragic in its own way. That the nation accepts gun violence as commonplace, as a reasonable trade-off for some romanticized view of every gun owner as a soldier against tyranny, is the continuing tragedy.

And so the deaths will mount.

For more information on the shooting, head over to KPCC.


So far in 2016, there have been three times as many murders in Compton as there were this time last year. Nearly half—seven—of those killings occurred in May, alone.

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the majority of the murders have been gang-related.

Last September, the US Department of Justice announced that Compton as one of five cities that would receive two years of help from the feds, through a program called the Violence Reduction Network. Through the program, the sheriff’s department (which has jurisdiction over Compton) is receiving, personnel, and other support to reduce gun violence, sex trafficking, and other serious crimes.

So far this year, Oakland—another city that has received assistance from the feds via the Violence Reduction Network—has reduced homicide by 40% compared with the same period last year. Other cities have had similar successes, with the exception of Chicago, where gun violence numbers are up 50% this year.

In response to the murder spike, the LASD has increased the number of deputies deployed to Compton and launched a campaign calling on community members to call in tips.

The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz and Angel Jennings have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

The violence threatens to undo some of the progress the city has made in recent years to shed an image that has been associated with gangs and crime. And the shootings are testing a pledge made by federal authorities in October to help the city curb crime by providing extra resources to “make meaningful and long-lasting improvements to the daily lives of Compton residents.” At the time, the announcement of federal help was hailed as a “game-changer” by Compton Mayor Aja Brown.

At a town hall meeting last week, city and local law enforcement officials reassured anxious residents that they were doing all they could to combat the problem. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department says it has boosted patrols. And city leaders said the federal program, the Violence Reduction Network, has already begun providing much-needed training and resources that will help deter crime.

“We want people to know that we’re looking out for you,” said Satra Zurita, a local school board member who is helping the city manage the federal program. Zurita and her sister, City Councilwoman Janna Zurita, knew the mother of one of the recent homicide victims. “It hits very close to home.”


In Compton, Satra Zurita said the federal partnership has helped get some “gang-bangers, pimps and young girls off the street.” The attention of multiple agencies, such as the Department of Justice, the FBI and the district attorney’s office is positive, “because you are communicating and resources match up,” she said.

Recently, the city applied for a $1-million grant from the Justice Department that would provide technology that detects and pinpoints the location of gunshots when they occur and youth intervention services over three years. In addition, Compton is working on an application for a smaller grant that would offer training for authorities who deal with those who are mentally ill.

“People think that the [federal program] comes and cures all,” Zurita said. “But what it does is provide expertise and resources, and that helps in the long run.”

The recent violence has yet to hit the levels seen more than a decade ago, when Compton recorded more than 70 killings in a single year. Since then, homicides have fallen dramatically. Last year’s tally of 13 killings was the lowest in more than a decade, according to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department.

After the LASD took over the job of policing Compton in 2000, after the Compton Police Department was shut down by the City Council.

There is no clear answer as to why homicide numbers have surged this year,
but CityLab’s Brentin Mock says ongoing sheriff’s department scandals likely aren’t helping to build community trust.

Mock also points out that while the grant money from the federal program was supposed to go to youth intervention services, it’s not clear how much of the grant is being spent on policing Compton, versus bolstering youth programs. Youth Justice Coalition and other advocates have called for more funding to help LA’s at-risk kids succeed through education, employment, mentoring, rehabilitation, and other much-needed programs and services.

Here’s a clip from the CityLab story:

In 2015, Compton received a $1 million grant when it was selected to become one of the pilot cities for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network. This means more money, equipment, and trainings on how police can pinpoint or even predict where shootings are likely to happen to help target their monitoring practices. Beyond the sheriff’s department, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are all setting up shop in Compton, a city of fewer than 100,000 residents.

The L.A. Times reports that this also means more funding for youth intervention services. However, neither the sheriff’s department nor the federal agencies have been forthcoming about how much funding is going towards policing versus youth programs.

That lack of transparency is troubling given the historical distrust between communities of color and police, which the L.A. county sheriffs have not done much to change. Some believe that the homicide reports are being played up as a ploy to justify the further militarizing of a police force in ways that might further incense these communities. Compton’s murder rate may have tripled since last year, but the 15 killings in the city this year is far below what the landscape looked like a few decades ago, when homicide numbers were closer to 100 annually.

Hamid Khan, campaign coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, tells CityLab that such murder reports entail “a certain level of sensationalism.”

“When talking about the levels of violence, we have to look at how many resources are allocated to policing the community as opposed to what’s provided for what public safety really looks like for these communities,” says Khan. “More money is budgeted for policing versus how much money is budgeted for youth programs, but [Compton is] still being written about like we’re back in the ‘80s again.”


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to explore ways to increase the number of relative caregivers and boost family members’ engagement in the lives of kids in foster care.

The motion, submitted by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, directs the head of the Department of Children and Family Services and the Interim Chief Probation Officer, in collaboration with the Office of Child Protection and the courts, to look at what’s working elsewhere in the nation (like partnerships with community-based organizations), in order to develop family-finding programs.

The board’s proactivity on this issue is particularly important as the state starts to roll out major child welfare reforms, including the elimination of long-term group homes. Relative caregivers will likely become crucial to the new law’s successful implementation.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has the story. Here’s a clip:

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others point to evidence that shows that living with relatives or other non-related extended family members can have behavioral and educational benefits for children, as well as an increased likelihood of permanency.

“I want the first placement to be the best placement,” Kuehl said. “The reason I want to move it up in time so that we’re looking right away for relatives and appropriate family friends is that the children are already seriously traumatized by the removal. If there are any family members or family friends that they have a connection with, we can really mitigate those traumatic events.”

Under the sweeping congregate-care reforms (CCR) outlined in Assembly Bill 403, California is poised to restructure the way it provides care to the nearly 58,000 children in its child-welfare system. Starting in 2017, California counties will be encouraged to seek family-like settings for these children. Instead of group home placements, children will be placed with foster families or in short-term residential treatment centers when clinically necessary.

In the near future, that means the county must find more homes for these children. Los Angeles County hopes to it can make up the difference with more relative caregivers, an area where it has seen some success.

According to data from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at U.C. Berkeley, almost 44 percent of children in the county’s child welfare system were living in the home of a relative at of the start of the year.

This number is well above the national average of 29 percent and the state average of 36 percent.

“We want all kids to be placed with relatives if at all possible,” DCFS Director Philip Browning said. “Congregate care reform is going to require that we be much more sensitive to making placements with relatives.”


Today, the California Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 1143, a bill that would end solitary confinement for kids locked in juvenile detention facilities.

The bill would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union.

A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year. Last month, LA County moved to drastically restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile camps. Proponents hope that the move will influence the state legislature to pass the revived bill.

“This bill protects the basic human rights and dignity of youth residing in local jails and juvenile camps,” said Leno. “It also protects public safety by ensuring that youth get the educational and rehabilitative opportunities they need to come home with the best chance of success in life.”

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, Mark Bonini, president of Chief Probation Officers of California, and Sue Burrell, the policy and training director at the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, explain why this bill, which took five years of negotiating for consensus between advocates and corrections officials, is such a crucial step toward protecting vulnerable kids. Here’s a clip:

SB 1143 is the product of five years of robust and sometimes challenging dialogue. At first, we disagreed about terminology and the operational impacts of the bill. But it became increasingly apparent that all of us were more concerned with the greater purpose, and by listening to one another, we were able to develop a mutually satisfactory set of best practices.

The bill creates a statewide definition for room confinement in county and state juvenile correctional facilities – the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from staff. The bill also calls for such confinement only being used after less restrictive options have been attempted, unless there is a threat to the safety or security of staff or other juveniles.

It is generally limited to four hours and requires that specific steps be taken to reintegrate the young person back into regular confinement as soon as possible. Finally, the bill bans the use of room confinement as punishment or convenience or when it compromises the mental and physical health of the young person.

Posted in campus violence | 19 Comments »

Los Angeles School Police Announce Important Reforms to Decriminalize School Discipline….& More

August 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a drastic change in approach when compared to the policies and protocols that ruled the day in the Los Angeles Unified School District as recently as three years ago, the head of the district’s school police, Chief Steven Zipperman, announced on Tuesday that his force will no longer criminalize the less serious forms of school rule breaking—a move that is expected to significantly reduce student contact with the criminal justice system.

Instead, multiple categories of student actions that previously would have led to citations or arrests, will be now be handled by referring the student to rehabilitative forms of intervention by school officials.

These newly re-classified behaviors include such infractions as tobacco possession, alcohol possession, possession of small amounts of marijuana, minor damage to school property (under $400), trespassing on school property, and most fights between students, which usually account for 20 percent of school arrests.

The policy of treating non-serious student misbehavior as criminal behavior was part of the zero-tolerance mania that came into fashion 25 years ago when fear about youth gang violence was hitting its apex, then continued to ramp up further in the panic after school shootings like Columbine in 1999.

The new policy, said Zipperman, “contains clear guidelines” that will help LASP officers “in distinguishing school discipline responses to student conduct from criminal responses.”


Tuesday’s reforms are the latest in a series of hard-won changes that began to gain traction after national reports showed that the broad-brush of zero-tolerance did not, in fact, make schools safer, and that contact with police was a strong predictor of school performance and whether a kid would graduate from high school or drop out. (A single arrest doubles a student’s chances of dropping out of school.)

Significant progress was made in Los Angeles in 2012, when police agreed to dial back much of the disastrously punitive policy of truancy ticketing, in which thousands of students per year were issued $250 tickets, often resulting court fees on top of them, for being late or absent from school. Instead, students with chronic absences began being referred to school counselors, rather than courts.


The urgency for reform was further recognized after data surfaced showing that school arrests and school suspensions in California consistently cut disproportionately against students of color and those with disabilities. In 2013, in Los Angeles, for example, LA School Police made nearly 1,100 arrests, 94.5 percent of those arrests involved students of color.

That same year, black students represented just 10 percent of the student population, but accounted for 31 percent of the LASP arrests.

Manuel Criollo, Director of Organizing for the Strategy Center’s Community Rights Campaign, called Tuesday’s announcement a “civil rights breakthrough” that would help “curb the school to prison pipeline in Los Angeles.”

Supervising Juvenile Court Judge Donna Groman put it another way.. “Juvenile court should be the last resort for youth who commit minor school-based offenses,” she said in a statement. “The education system is better equipped to address behaviors displayed at the school level through restorative justice and other alternative means.”

Groman, along with presiding judge of the LA Juvenile Courts Michael Nash, was among the prominent players who actively supported California-based pro-bono law firm, Public Counsel, and the Community Rights Campaign, in their two years of negotiation for Tuesday’s changes.

“There are enough studies that show bringing them into the justice system is really more of a slippery slope that leads to negative outcomes and poor futures,” Judge Nash told the New York Times this week. “The people who are in these schools need to deal with these issues, not use the courts as an outlet. We have to change our attitude and realize that the punitive approach clearly hasn’t worked.”


The LA School Police joined Oakland, San Francisco and Pasadena in enacting these much-needed reforms.

However, with more than 640,000 students and nearly 1,100 schools, the LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation. (New York’s system is the largest.) And its school police force is America’s largest, As a consequence advocates hope that Tuesday’s reforms will lead the way for similar reforms statewide and elsewhere in the U.S.

“If fully implemented,”said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director for Public Counsel, “this policy will move Los Angeles in the right direction to becoming a nationwide leader in putting intervention and support for struggling students before arrests and juvenile court time.”

May it be so.



In a startling new study just released by UC Irvine, Assistant Professor of Sociology Kristin Turney finds that children’s emotional and health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration. “In addition,” says Turney, “given its unequal distribution across the population, incarceration may have implications for racial and social class inequalities in children’s health.”

The study will appear in the September edition of the Journal of Health & Social Behavior, a publication of the American Sociological Association.

Here’s a clip from the ASA’s pre-publication write-up:

With more than 2 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This mass incarceration has serious implications for not only the inmates, but their children, finds a new University of California-Irvine study. The study found significant health problems, including behavioral issues, in children of incarcerated parents and also that, for some types of health outcomes, parental incarceration can be more detrimental to a child’s well-being than divorce or the death of a parent.

“We know that poor people and racial minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest of the population, and incarceration adversely affects the health and development of children who are already experiencing significant challenges,” said study author Kristin Turney…


The likelihood of having an incarcerated parent is especially high in certain groups. “Among black children with fathers without a high school diploma, about 50 percent will experience parental incarceration by age 14, compared with 7 percent of white children with similarly educated fathers,” Turney said.

Compared to divorce, parental incarceration is more strongly associated with both ADD/ADHD and behavioral problems in children; compared to the death of a parent, parental incarceration is more strongly associated with ADD/ADHD….


A veteran war reporter, American freelance journalist, James Foley repeatedly went deep into conflict zones to bring back stories of the suffering and hardship of people most affected by the conflicts. He went to bear witness. Then he disappeared into Syria nearly two years ago on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

On Tuesday, the Islamic extremist group ISIS released a video appearing to show Foley’s execution.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at least 69 other journalists have been killed in Syria since the fighting there began.

Posted in American voices, campus violence, children and adolescents, Civil Rights, Education, juvenile justice, LAUSD, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 12 Comments »

Supremes & the Voting Rights Act…Kids Witnessing Violence…And More

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The U.S. Supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday about a particular part of the voting rights act that conservatives see as intrusive to state’s rights and liberals see a crucial to prevent state laws aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.

Lawrence Hurley at Reuters explains the central issues that will be heard on Wednesday. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters.

During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation who formerly worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the “terrible history” that warranted Section 5′s intrusion on state authority was over.

Adam Liptak at the NY Times has a Q & A that lays out the basic facts of the Voting Rights Act, its history, its importance, and the heart of Wednesday’s question.


Author/journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written a must-read op ed for Sunday’s NY Times that I didn’t want you to miss.

Kotlowitz wrote the award-winning classic, There are No Children Here, and was one of the reporters on This American Life’s 2-part series on the affect of violence on the students of Harper High School in Chicago.

The Op Ed is about the effects that witnessing violence has on anybody, and in particular kids who live in high violence areas.

As he makes his point, Kotlowitz uses facts and figures from his home city of Chicago, where violent crime is way up right now. But the same principals he talks about certainly hold true in Los Angeles. Ditto Oakland, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a clip from Kotlowitz’s essay.

EVERY year, the Chicago Police Department issues a report with the macabre title “Chicago Murder Analysis.” It’s a short but eye-opening document. Do the calculations and you realize that in the past 15 years, 8,083 people have been killed, most of them in a concentrated part of the city. There’s one particularly startling revelation that gets little notice: in 2011, more than four-fifths of all murders happened in a public place, a park, an alleyway, on the street, in a restaurant or at a gas station.

When Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old public school student and band majorette who just a week earlier had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, was killed on Jan. 29, she was standing under an awning in a park with a dozen friends. They all saw or heard it when she was shot in the back. One of them, in fact, was wounded by the gunfire. Which brings me to what’s not in the “Chicago Murder Analysis”: Over the past 15 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, an estimated 36,000 people were shot and wounded. It’s a staggering number.

We report on the killers and the killed, but we ignore those who have been wounded or who have witnessed the shootings. What is the effect on individuals — especially kids — who have been privy to the violence in our cities’ streets?

I ask this somewhat rhetorically because in many ways we know the answer. We’ve seen what exposure to the brutality of war does to combat veterans. It can lead to outbursts of rage, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, a profound sense of being alone, a growing distrust of everyone around you, a heightened state of vigilance, a debilitating sense of guilt. In an interview I heard recently on the radio, the novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien talked about how the atrocities and nastiness of battle get in your bones. The same can be said for kids growing up in Hadiya’s neighborhood.

The ugliness and inexplicability of the violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you. With just one act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance. But it’s hard.

There’s lots more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. But here’s one more clip from the end of Kotlow essay:

In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets.


Early this past Saturday, around 30 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies and supervisors from Malibu/Lost Hills Station engaged in an “active school shooter” training on site at Topanga Elementary School in Topanga Canyon.

The LASD teams were joined by personnel from other agencies like the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, writes David Katz for the Malibu Times.

The training was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing efforts to prepare and train for events involving active shooter incidents at schools or other locations.

More than 30 officers and deputies cycled through several training scenarios involving armed shooting suspects with multiple adult and child victims.

Department sources say such exercises with “training scenarios’ are very valuable in fostering cooperation and communication between agencies likely to be called out, as well as giving officers practice in these high intensity emergencies and their specialized challenges.

(Full disclosure: Topanga Elementary where my son went to elementary school. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there on Saturday morning to observe.)

Photo of LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, by Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

Posted in campus violence, PTSD, race, race and class, racial justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Friday Round-Up: Miramonte Gets Messier, Private Prisons Lose Biz…and More

February 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


KPCC’S Tami Abdollah with Shirley Jahad broke the $40 K settlement story and the opening paragraph pretty much says it all:

The Los Angeles Unified School District agreed last June to pay about $40,000 to settle its dismissal case against former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, who has since been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, including spoon-feeding his semen to children.

It turns out that it doesn’t matter if Berndt is convicted of all 23 counts, he still gets his pension, health care benefits for the rest of his life, and presumably the 40 grand—according to his unbreakable union contract.

Read and/or listen to the whole thing.

Then in Friday’s LA Times, Howard Blume, Angel Jennings and Richard Winton, follow up on the Berndt settlement story, and take it farther by delving into the unbelievably careless way the non-semen spooning Miramonte teachers were treated.

Here’s one clip from their story, but there’s lots more:

“When teachers were told that they were being transferred, dozens of teachers were in tears,” union President Warren Fletcher said. “They are part of the fabric of this community.”

The union accepted the transfers, Fletcher said, on the understanding that the move was temporary and that no innocent teacher’s employment record would be marred. L.A. Unified, he said, broke both promises, by categorizing the teachers’ relocation as an administrative transfer. Such paperwork frequently results from a disciplinary action…..


Here’s So Cal Connected’s summary of the segment, which airs tonight, Friday:

They look the same, dress the same, get the same training and wear the same badge, but they’re not full-time cops, and they’re not even paid. Meet the members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Reserve Corps, the regular citizens who back up the city’s 10,000 cops and whose numbers are on the rise.


Okay, did anyone really think that private prisons would not end up presenting weird and creepy conflicts of interest if crime went down and we started having more sensible sentencing laws?

Llewellyn Hinks-Jones for the Atlantic Monthly has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Over the last 30 years, Texas built over 90 prisons, quintupling the number of detention centers in the state and earning the title of highest state incarceration rate in the process.

As much as Texas ended up an outlier, it was by no means alone. All across the U.S. during the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, depressed villages and hamlets in need of an industry, from the Mississippi Delta to the Appalachian Coal Belt, signed up to build oversized detention facilities on the outskirts of town, surrounded by barbed wire and klieg lights, in the hopes of bolstering the local economy with taxes, jobs and associated retail.

But ever since the nation’s crime rate began leveling off in the late 1990s, with the total state prison population decreasing for the first time in 40 years, there haven’t been enough inmates to populate these new-found penitentiaries….


David Cole, an expert in Constitutional law, has written an essay for the New York Review of Books about whether or not the Prop 8 challenge, that will now go to the Supreme Court (presuming that SCOTUS takes case), was premature.

There was much discussion of this issue when Ted Olson and David Boies first talked about taking on this case. Olson and Boies argued that this was exactly the right time.

In any case, Cole’s essay on the issue is worth reading. Here’s a clip:

… rights organizations have stayed away from the federal court system. They have instead sought to obtain legal rights for same-sex couples state by state, going first through the legislatures and only thereafter through the courts; and even then, only in the state courts, relying on arguments based on state law that could not be reviewed by the Supreme Court. The strategy has proved quite successful. Since 2004, six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York) and the District of Columbia have recognized same-sex marriages. On February 8, Washington’s state legislature passed a bill that will make it the seventh such state once the governor signs it. Twelve more recognize some sort of partnership status that gives same-sex couples all or most of the benefits and obligations associated with marriage..

Yet many other states have moved in the opposite direction. By June 2011, 29 states had banned gay marriage by constitutional amendment, and another twelve by state statute. (Some states, like California, have both recognized same-sex civil unions and banned same-sex marriage.) In short, we are far from reaching any national consensus on the issue….

Photo by the AP

Posted in campus violence, Education, LAUSD, LGBT, prison | No Comments »

Why Did So Many of Our Boys Kill Themselves Last Month?

October 5th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The nine young men listed below are members of a tragic fraternity.
They were all tormented, teased and/or bullied for being gay.

They all killed themselves— most of them just after a particularly bad bout of teasing or social humiliation.

All nine boys ended their lives during the month of September 2010.

Billy Lucas (15) September 9, 2010. Indiana
Cody J. Barker (17) September 13, 2010. Wisconsin
Seth Walsh (13) September 19, 2010. California
Tyler Clementi (18) September 22, 2010. New Jersey
Asher Brown (13) September 23, 2010. Texas
Harrison Chase Brown (15) September, 25 2010. Colorado
Raymond Chase (19) September 29, 2010. Rhode Island
Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010. Massachusetts
Caleb Nolt (14) September 30, 2010. Indiana

As Time Magazine reported last week:

According to a study from Penn State University, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and “queer” youth (a catch-all term for gender and sexually non-normative people) are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Of all American teens who die by their own hand, 30% are LGBTQ.

This newest heartbreaking and alarming rash of suicides is prompting conversations about what can be done to help young men and women, like the above 9, before things turn tragic.

Programs and events are also springing up to address the issue. In the last few days, MTV has done interviews on the topic with young stars like Daniel Radcliff (of Harry Potter fame), who has been involved in something called The Trevor Project, a 24-hour hotline for LGBTQ kids who need help or are hurting.

This past Sunday at Emerson College in Boston, 800 students gathered for what they called a Love Is Louder rally.

Writer Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” project on YouTube, where he invited gay adults to tell kids about how much better their lives got after they graduated from high school.

In LA on Tuesday night, a candlelight vigil is being held from 7 – 8 pm in West Hollywood at the West Hollywood Park, 647 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069

Each of us, however, can participate by doing whatever it takes to make sure that, in our individual circles, the voices of love, caring and acceptance speak much louder to our children than the voices of bigotry.

It would be nice if our lawmakers found the moral courage to do the same.

Posted in campus violence, LGBT | No Comments »

USC Hit & Run Suspect Caught: She Is a Mother

April 3rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

As you probably know by now, the police have arrested the suspected driver of the hit and run vehicle that killed USC student, Adrianna Bachan, and injured her friend and fellow student, Marcus Garfinkle.

LAPD arrested 30-year-old Claudia Cabrera, whose husband was allegedly the passenger who got out and yanked Marcus Garfinkle out of the car’s windshield and tossed him to the pavement. Police report that Cabrera’s 7 month old baby was in the car when she hit Adrianna and Marcus.

Cabrera’s husband, Josue Luna, 31, is still being sought.

Annenberg Television News recorded the entire press conference
at which Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell explained the arrest and the $235,000 reward that likely caused the cruicial tipster to come forward. ($100,000 of the reward was offered by an anonomous doner.)

Here’s the press conference.

Much appreciation to LAPD’s South Traffic Division who took the lead in this investigation.

Posted in campus violence, crime and punishment | 27 Comments »

LA Teenagers Talk Candidly About Violence

February 3rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

At my school there’s over 4,000 kids and you’re pretty much on your own. There’s no one you could talk to. If they see violence they [teachers and administrators] don’t talk about it. They act as if it doesn’t happen or sometimes they’ll just simply threaten us, saying that they’re gonna split our lunches or we’re gonna take away your snack, which they’ve already done and it’s kinda like what more do we have left? You’re gonna stop feeding us? Britawnya, 17, Warren High School in Downey

I think more understanding from the teachers [would help], because at my school a lot of students feel like some of the teachers don’t get what they’re going through and they just think that everything is OK so why aren’t you getting the good grades. The teachers that do put more understanding and try to speak to students, they really end up helping a lot of people that I’ve known change and it was because of them, because the teachers took the time to understand and not just pick on them like you know, why aren’t you doing this why aren’t you doing that, get out of my class, you’re acting up. Solange, 17, Leuzinger HS, Lawndale

Around that area there are like the Crips and the Bloods … there’s always violence no matter what time of day. Just yesterday there was a fight about to break out in the morning as soon as I was walking to school. It gets tiring after a while. It has to stop. I mean I want to go on and get out of here and move on with my life and this violence and gangs it’s not letting me do what I want, it gets in my way. Juan, 17, Fremont High School, Los Angeles

The kids quoted above were part of a panel of high school students who came together to discuss the results of a 1000-student survey about Los Angeles County teenagers and violence. The survey was conducted this past fall by LA Youth, a newspaper written by and about LA teenagers. Results were released in the paper’s most recent issue.

Among the survey findings:

**42 percent of the teenagers surveyed had seen or experienced shootings,

**59 percent saw or experienced someone being threatened.

**Two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they experience violence at least one a month, with eight percent reporting experiencing violence daily.

**75 percent of the kids surveyed said the violence around them has changed their actions.

(For instance, 37 percent of the teenagers surveyed said they won’t go out after dark.)

Unfortunately, 42 percent do not feel comfortable reporting the violence they see at school to the school authorities.

And, in a statisticthat particularly surprised some of the staff at LA Youth, the majority of teen respondents (69%) were not aware of any violence prevention program available in their communities.

(Good job getting the word out, people. Mayor’s office, I’m talking to you personally.)

These results, by the way, were not merely from kids living in the County’s most violent neighborhoods. They were kids from Pacific Palisades to the SF Valley, Beverly Hills and Pacoima, as well as East and South LA, and all points in between.

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Posted in campus violence, Education | 5 Comments »

Yes, Actually, There is a Solution: Parent Revolt.

May 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

LAUSD student demonstrators for smaller schools, 2005

Friday, Antonio Villaraigosa said that he’s going to give up on his quest for mayoral control of LA schools
—a reality based decision. The four new FOA (Friends of Antonio) LAUSD board members clustered around AV at his press conference like a back-up group behind the lead singer. Along with them for the photo op was Board Prez, Marlene Cantor, a well-meaning, if ineffectual leader, and Julie Korenstein, who always seems to pay far more attention to her manicure than, say, school governance. (And, no, that isn’t a metaphor.)

Conspicuously absent, was recently reelected board member Marguerite LaMotte, whose antagonism toward the mayor (she likened his school takeover attempt to the “Tuskegee experiments”) and the burgeoning charter school movement are often breathtaking in their virulence.

At the event, the mayor and the board members talked cheerily of “common goals,” … smaller, safer schools ….parent involvement …increased input from teachers….yadda, yadda, yadda. It was nothing that we hadn’t heard….oh…a zillion times.

(Did I say I was optimistic about the future effect of the newly Antonio-tilting Los Angeles school board? My bad.
I’m over it.)

ON THAT SAME DAY, there was, however, one genuinely promising development on the LA public school front: THE GROWING PARENT REVOLT.

You see, Friday was also the day that a group called the Courage Campaign, along with the 2006-formed LA Parents Union, sent out a mass email
urging all LA parents and any other concerned parties to sign a petition demanding that the school board start breaking up the district’s big, failing schools into smaller more manageable ones. And to do it now. Not later.

Interestingly, the petition isn’t just another passive plea. It carries with it an unstated threat: IF YOU WON’T DO IT, WE WILL. You don’t think so? Take a look at Locke High School, babe.

As threats go, it’s a pretty good one. And, in terms of pure drama the unfolding Locke High School saga is definitely the best show in town.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a quick rundown of the details….

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Posted in campus violence, Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 10 Comments »

Violence and Creative Writing

April 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Yesterday morning, Liam Rector
, the director of Bennington College’s MFA Writing program, sent out links to this article to those he thought might be interested, myself included. It’s a thoughtful and sobering piece from Higher Ed Magazine, that talks about what happens when creative writing teachers come across unusually violent content in the writing of their students. It pertains, obviously, to the writing of Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, who was also an English major, but it goes much further, into the issue in general. It’s called, “When Creative Writing Provides a Clue,” and it’s a worthwhile read, comments included.

Posted in campus violence, Education, literature | 8 Comments »

Virginia Tech – another story

April 17th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


When something truly terrible happens,
as it did at Virginia Tech yesterday, there are bound to be collateral effects that unfold later on in ways that we can’t at the time imagine.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean that relates specifically to Los Angeles.

The incident occurred nearly two years ago, in July of 2005. A 19-month old little girl named Suzie Pena died when her dad, Raul Pena, was pumped up on Tequila and cocaine, plus a night of fighting with his common-law wife and stepdaughter. Then, for reasons no one entirely understands, he got into a shootout with the Los Angeles Police Department. After hours of standoff, a department SWAT team blew through the back doors of the used car dealership where Pena was holed up inside a small interior office with his gun and his toddler daughter and, in an attempt to take out the dad, the cops shot the little girl too. The SWAT guys found her amid the smoke and debris curled in her dead father’s arms.

I was asked to report on the story, and so spent a great deal of time deconstructing the actions of the police, most specifically SWAT. At some point when I was talking to then LAPD Assistant Chief, George Gascon, trying to yank apart how everything happened, he brought up the school shootings at Columbine
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Posted in campus violence, Civil Liberties, Police | 9 Comments »

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