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Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A CALIF JUDGE’S DECISION THREATENS THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

[BIG SNIP]

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM DEEMED GAY-PROMOTING PLOT”

First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

.

Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


WHEN KILLERs ARE KIDS, A CASE FROM THE POV OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.


Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Sheriff Baca’s Racked Up Absences from LA During Jails Scandal, Flawed Civilian Oversight of LASD, Automatic Arrest-Tracking Software…and More

September 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF BACA’S WELL-TIMED AND FREQUENT TRIPS AWAY FROM LOS ANGELES

As we look toward the Jails Commission report Friday, LA Weekly calls our attention to data showing that Sheriff Lee Baca was absent from the county for over a month between January and July at the height of LASD’s expanding scandal. The information came to light as a result of a records request by eagle-eye county-watcher Eric Preven.

LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Instead of providing answers to dozens of black-and-blue L.A. County jail inmates and the ACLU, or addressing his deputies’ brutal, gang-like policing tactics…

… Baca apparently split town as much as his travel budget would allow, making himself into some kind of international ambassador for feel-good cop philosophies like “public trust policing” and “education-based incarceration.” (Although we’re really not sure how anyone takes him seriously on those issues, considering that the level of mistrust between his department and the Los Angeles public is at an all-time high.)

Baca’s travel record shows that he took a total of 18 trips between January and July, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on flights and hotel rooms so that he could sprinkle his L.A. Sheriff’s wisdoms all across the globe.

Here, his five strangest/silliest appearances in 2012 so far:

Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.: Meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey
April 13-14 in Seattle, Washington: The Pacific Institute Spirit Board Meeting
April 21-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada: Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay
May 18-22 in Doha, Qatar: Doha Forum
June 22 in Washington, D.C.: Keynote Speaker at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Conference


SHORT-COMINGS OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF LASD

The LA Times reports flaws in civilian oversight of the sheriff’s dept. Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Revelations of brutality by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and cover-ups inside the jails have exposed significant shortcomings in the department’s civilian watchdog system, which was created to prevent such misconduct.

The watchdogs have come under scrutiny from county supervisors and investigators for a commission examining jail abuse. The investigators found that neither of the two main civilian monitors regularly analyzed data that tracks violent encounters between deputies and inmates or examined how the department handled inmate complaints.


ALMOST INSTANT PHILADELPHIA ARREST DATA SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX

Pennsylvania reporter Andrew McGill developed an arrest-tracking tool called Philly Rap Sheet. “It’s a small entry in the growing tradition of data-journalism innovation on the cops-and-courts beat — from chicagocrime.org to EveryBlock to Crime L.A. and many more,” writes Adrienne LaFrance of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. This may be a good thing to consider for compiling statistics in other parts of the nation. While this technology is pulling data from public records that anyone can access, there seem to be some questions of ethics in regard to publishing—via mass email alerts—the names of those who later get their charges dropped or their records expunged.

LaFrance interviewed Andrew McGill on his arrest-tracking tool. Here’s a clip from the Q & A:

LaFrance: So what’s your vision for this thing?

McGill: I don’t know. It’s tough. I want to add historical data. So I spent a little bit of money to get data back to around 2005, which is not that far back, but at least it’s historical data. I want to backload that in. But in terms of the next step, it’s tough to say.

I want to get into a little bit more analytics. I think it’d be nice to add more realms of information to cross reference. I might look again at some things and see if I can pull some more data out of the existing sheets. Geography-wise, I do have what police district arrests are in, and I haven’t done a lot with that. So I want to try to start doing that, and maybe have a newsletter. Right now, I just have alerts.

LaFrance: And as a reporter, those are so helpful, I’m sure. You can be tracking all the murders.

McGill: That’s what I have set up for my alert. Unfortunately, it also pulls in attempted murder and stuff like that. I want to be able to get a summation newsletter out that you sign up for and say, “Okay, you’re in this neighborhood, and these crimes happened in your vicinity, and this is how it compared to last year,” and you would get this once a month or something. I don’t want to inundate people, but I think there’s room for a little more statistics pushing.


FREE MUSEUM DAY! (MUSEUMS ARE GOOD.)

By the way, this Saturday is Smithsonian’s “Museum Day Live!”, a day of free museum entry across the nation. Of course, there are lots of museums and art exhibits you can visit for free all year long (like the California Science Center’s permanent exhibits and the Getty), but for those participating museums you can’t visit any time, you can download two free tickets per person here. Beware: this weekend is Carmageddon Part 2, so take that into consideration and plan accordingly.

Posted in art and culture, journalism, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

Bill to Lift Media Ban on Interviewing Inmates, LAUSD Police Still Ticket Too Many Kids, and More…

May 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS MAY VOTE TO GIVE MEDIA MORE PRISON ACCESS (IT’S ABOUT TIME)

A controversial new California bill, if passed, would rescind the 1996 ban on in-person interviews of inmates by the media. The purported intent of the ban was to keep inmates from promoting themselves and attaining celebrity status, it has actually served to shield areas of the corrections system that need serious reform from public scrutiny.

This LA Times editorial has the details. Here’s a clip:

Under court order, the state is finally addressing the overcrowding problem by sending newly convicted nonviolent offenders to county detention facilities. But there are indicators that inhumane conditions persist; hunger strikes have arisen to protest the state’s use of Security Housing Units, where suspected gang members are isolated in tiny cells under solitary conditions that psychologists consider mentally destabilizing. Some inmates have been warehoused in these units for decades.

How bad is the situation? In truth, we don’t really know, because inmates in these units have no visitation, telephone or interview privileges. A much-needed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would change that.

AB 1270 allows the media to request interviews with California inmates, including those in Security Housing Units. Officials at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could still turn down these requests for reasons such as excessive risk to the reporter or prison guards, but they would have to submit a written explanation for such denials.

KPCC Air Talk’s Larry Mantle interviews Julie Small, KPCC’s Sacramento Reporter, and  Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association and General Counsel and Legislative Advocate on the issue.


SCHOOL POLICE STILL WRITE TOO MANY TICKETS FOR MINORITY KIDS, SAYS STUDY

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity has compiled data pointing to the fact that not only did LAUSD school police write an excessive number of tickets for African American and Latino students in 2011, but that 40% of those tickets were for kids under the age of 14. There were 438 citations given to middle-school-aged African Americans, 1394 citations given to Latinos, and 28 given to all other ethnicities for things like tardiness, vandalism, and disturbing the peace.

KPCC’s The Madeline Brand Show addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

The district recently reported that during the last three years school police issued more than 33,000 tickets for alleged violations like vandalism, tardiness, and disturbing the peace.

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity is one of several groups compiling data about school policing throughout the country. It reviewed L.A. Unified’s numbers and found that 40 percent of those tickets went to kids 14 and younger — mostly middle schoolers.

The Center also found that school police wrote an overwhelming number of tickets at schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.


ALTERNATIVE HIGH SCHOOL GIRL PROFILES PEERS WHO’VE BEEN LOCKED UP

Through the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. High School, Claudia Gomez interviews students who have been incarcerated to shed light on juvenile corrections and those youth that have come out on the other side.

The California Story’s Jake de Grazia interviews Claudia Gomez about her work at Free L.A. Here’s a clip from the introduction, but the entire interview is extremely worthwhile:

South Los Angeles has a long history of feeding California’s overflowing prisons. And for a school that accepts previously incarcerated youth, the goal is to prevent young people from flowing back in. This is the story of a young woman who wants to make change through intimate conversations widely broadcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. site:

FreeLA High School, a partnership between the John Muir Charter School, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Workforce Investment Act, is dedicated to helping young people earn a high school diploma and find work with a focus on careers in social justice movement building. We serve 16-24 year olds based on their probation requirements and difficulty enrolling in other schools. Most of our students have been pushed out of several other high schools before coming to FreeLA, including Probation School or Los Angeles County Education programs within juvenile facilities.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, Education, jail, journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, race | 3 Comments »

Saving “LA Youth”—The Nation’s Largest Youth Newspaper Needs Help ASAP

May 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

We want our kids to be informed, thinking, confident compassionate, educated people, such a goal is in everyone’s interest, for heaven’s sake, and yet increasingly, as the economy continues to wobble, the commitment to this obviously worthy goal on the part of those with resources seems to be faltering.

It doesn’t help that education has been slashed to a horrific degree. while, at the same time, nonprofits that serve kids and families at risk have watched their funding shrink down to nothing.

And now LA Youth, the Los Angeles based newspaper for and by kids— the largest of its kind in the nation, and an institution that always seemed safe—-is right at the edge of closing its doors at the end of this school year, one more possible casualty of the economic tsunami of 2008.

(Thanks again, Wall Street. Really. Your giant vampire squid-osity is a gift that keeps on giving.)

However, all is not lost. What LA Youth needs to rescue it from disaster is $500,000 in operating funds, and then it can make do with some of the other grants it will receive for specific programs.

They’ve already raised some of what they need, but it ain’t close to enough. They must hit that $500K mark by May 15.

I’ve been a friend and admirer of LA Youth for years now, and have spoken to kids and read essays by other kids, who explain in detail how their lives and sense of self would be far, far different had it not been for the mentoring they received as writers/editors/mentees for this stellar organization.

The video above is by a teacher at Locke High School, where LA Youth runs a weekly program. Just listen. She explains how writing for the newspaper allows kids—many of whom come out of risky personal circumstances—to discover that they count for something, that they have a voice, that what they think/feel/perceive/know can matter.

Put another way, a lot of kids who were struggling in school have now graduated from college, because of the intellectual/emotional lifeline this program tossed to them.

Okay, that’s the pitch. You can check out LA Youth here, and CLICK HERE to donate, if you are so moved. I am told that every little bit helps. (And if you happen to know a wildly wealthy philanthropist, feel free to drop a hint.)

Posted in academic freedom, American voices, journalism, media | No Comments »

HACLA Banditry, Race & Pardons, Deputy Assaults, & Kids Pay for Parents’ Sins

December 5th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

SO CAL CONNECTED EXPOSES OUTRAGEOUS HOUSING AUTHORITY CORRUPTION, HEAD GUY IS OUSTED—AND WALKS AWAY WITH $1.2 MILLION

This is just incredible.

Earlier this year, investigations by KCET’S So Cal Connected exposed corruption and fraud at the Los Angeles Housing Authority—or HACLA—the agency responsible for providing shelter for the city’s poorest residents, and for overseeing LA’s Federal public housing projects. Then this past week, the show broadcast a whole new round of investigations into the shocking level of waste and abuse of tax payer money by top managers at the agency..

So Cal Connected’s investigation, plus audits by City Controller Wendy Gruel, resulted in the ouster of HACLA head guy Rudolf Montiel. However, it turns out that, instead of being sanctioned, Montiel was given a $1.2 million departure package by the HACLA board, reports the LA Times.

KCET has an interactive database here that allows you to check out the HACLA managers’ thousands of dollars worth of dinners, gifts and “employee incentives.”

There’s lots more to this story, so stay tuned.


PRESIDENTIAL PARDON’S: YOU’RE WA-A-A-AAAY MORE LIKELY TO GET ONE IF YOU’RE WHITE—AND WELL CONNECTED

Dafna Lindzer and Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica did this important 2-part series that it co-published with the Washington Post

Here’s how Part 1 opens:

White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, a ProPublica examination has found.

Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president’s ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data.

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

“I’m just astounded by those numbers,” said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office’s practices that would have skewed the recommendations. “I can recall several African Americans getting pardons.”

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

ProPublica’s review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the “attitude” and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

And here’s Part 2, a fascinating piece which tracks the circuitous process of trying to get a pardon for a well-connected, well-off guy who eventually did get the 12th pardon of George W. Bush’s presidency.

ProPublica’s editors write that this is “the kind of journalism that demands action.” Yep.


WHEN LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ASSAULT INMATES, THEY MAY GET FIRED, BUT THEIR CASES OFTEN DON’T GET PASSED ALONG TO THE DA’S OFFICE FOR PROSECUTION

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, who have been covering the jail abuse scandal for the Times, report that the “L.A. County Sheriff’s Department does not always share with prosecutors the results of investigations of possible inmate abuse.”

Here’s a clip:

Even as a sergeant shouted, “Stop hitting him! Stop hitting him!,” Deputy Marcos Stout continued punching an inmate in the head. Then, with the inmate on the concrete floor, Stout landed his knee on the man’s skull.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department described the deputy’s actions as “callous and brutal behavior toward a helpless and unresisting person.”

Though Stout’s excessive force was egregious enough to get him fired, prosecutors did not charge him with a crime — but not because they concluded that the violence wasn’t criminal, according to interviews. They never knew about it.

In several cases in recent years, deputies who were disciplined or even fired for abusing inmates escaped criminal scrutiny because Sheriff’s Department officials chose not to give the evidence to the district attorney’s office, opting to handle the cases internally.

Law enforcement experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said the department should routinely conduct criminal investigations of brutality claims and forward the results to prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“Just because you’re part of the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t mean you can commit battery with impunity,” said Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and current professor studying police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.


U.S. CITIZEN FLORIDA STUDENTS ARE REFUSED INSTATE COLLEGE TUITION PRICES IF THEY CANNOT PROVE THEIR PARENTS ARE LEGAL IMMIGRANTS

This story by NYTimes Opinionator contributor Linda Greenhouse truly falls into the You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding category.

Here’s how it opens:

In the current race to the bottom to see which state can provide the most degraded and dehumanizing environment for undocumented immigrants, Arizona and Alabama have grabbed the headlines. But largely unnoticed, it is Florida, home to nearly one million Cuban refugees and their descendants, that has come up with perhaps the most bizarre and pointless anti-immigrant policy of all.

Beginning last year, the state’s higher education authorities have been treating American citizens born in the United States, including graduates of Florida high schools who have spent their entire lives in the state, as non-residents for tuition purposes if they can’t demonstrate that their parents are in the country legally.

Yes, you read that correctly – although when I first came upon a description of the policy a few weeks ago, I was sure that I had misunderstood something. It’s a basic tenet of equal protection law that the government can’t single out citizens for disfavored treatment without a good reason. The Supreme Court is serious about this, even ruling unanimously a decade ago that an Illinois village violated an individual homeowner’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection by demanding from her a bigger easement than it required of her neighbors as the price of connecting her home to the municipal water supply.

A few feet of land more or less may not have made a life-changing difference to the plaintiff in that case. But consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. The disparity is similar at the state’s community colleges, although the price tags are lower. It is the difference between a college education and none.

It seems grossly unfair, as the Supreme Court acknowledged 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe when it held that Texas could not deprive undocumented children of a free public K-through-12 education, to blame children for the wrongdoing of their parents. Unfair and, as Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed in his concurring opinion, socially self-destructive, in creating a permanent underclass of uneducated people.

Posted in immigration, jail, journalism, LA County Jail, Must Reads | No Comments »

Heartbreak: “Restrepo” Co-Director Tim Hetherington Killed Covering Libya

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“In it’s desire to sanitize war, society dehumanizes it….I’ve come to realize the war machine is, in fact, very human. Take a group of young men, train them together, put them on the side of a mountain and they will kill and be killed for each other.”

– Tim Hetherington, November 2010

The brave and brilliant photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who co-directed with Sebastian Junger the profoundly affecting and deeply humanizing war documentary, “Restrepo,” about U.S. soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, was killed Tuesday in Misrata, Libya.

This is terrible, terrible news.

Here are the details from Reuters.

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington, the co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary “Restrepo,” died in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata on Wednesday, doctors said.

Getty photographer Chris Hondros was in critical condition in intensive care, doctors at the hospital where he was being treated said. He had suffered brain injuries.

The photographers were among a group caught by mortar fire on Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare leading into the center of Misrata, the only major rebel-held town in western Libya and besieged by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces for more than seven weeks.

“It was quiet and we were trying to get away and then a mortar landed and we heard explosions,” Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera said.


UPDATE: Chris Hondros has died of his injuries. Hondros was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2004 for his photos of conflict in Liberia, and got the Robert Capa Gold Medal for photography in 2005 (among others) for this amazing set of images.


This is from the Human Rights Watch statement:

Hetherington was a brilliant photographer and videographer who covered many of the world’s most critical human rights stories: conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and now Libya. In every assignment, he demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity to his subjects, a tender insight into their human ordeals, and a keen sense of how visual imagery could be used to effect positive social change.

“Tim Hetherington was much more than a war reporter,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He had an extraordinary talent for documenting, in compassionate and beautiful imagery, the human stories behind the headlines. We are saddened by his death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and countless friends.”

Roth reiterated Human Rights Watch’s call on the Libyan government to cease unlawful attacks against civilian areas in Misrata.

Hetherington lived in Monrovia, Liberia for eight years during the brutal civil war that engulfed Liberia and neighboring countries. The film that Hetherington co-directed, “Liberia: An Uncivil War,” and his book, “Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold,” did more than any other body of work to tell the complete story of the conflict, focusing on individual Liberians and allowing them to tell their own stories in their own words.

And here’s Hetherington in his own words in an OpEd from last year.

Posted in journalism, War | No Comments »

Teaching Gay History, Angry Judges & More

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE PASSED BILL TO REQUIRE TEACHING GAY HISTORY IN SCHOOLS

The AP gets this story exactly right:

California conservatives were outraged in 1966 when the state Board of Education adopted a new junior high school history textbook. The book’s inclusive treatment of the civil rights movement and influential black Americans would indoctrinate students, undermine religious values and politicize the curriculum, they said.

Forty-five years later, gay rights advocates say similar arguments are being advanced to defeat a bill that would make the state the first to require the teaching of gay history in public schools. The California Senate approved the landmark measure last week, but it needs to clear the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yet the debate about what children should learn about sexual orientation mirrors earlier disputes over whether groups such as 20th Century German immigrants, women, Muslims and Jews would have a place for their heroes and heartbreaks in the history books.

The AP points out that, right now, California requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor.

Advocates point to studies that suggest that bullying dramatically decreases in schools where gay history is added to the curriculum.


STUDY SUGGESTS THAT NORTH CAROLINA SHOULD REPEAL THE DEATH PENALTY

A new study by an Appalachian State University professor finds that the state’s death is expensive, ineffective and racially biased—and should therefore be repealed.

The Winston-Salem Journal has the story. Here’s a clip.

The study was done by Matthew Robinson, a professor of government and justice studies. Robinson analyzed data from more than 20 studies on the death penalty and released his findings Monday at a news conference in Raleigh.

“In the past six years, three states have abolished the death penalty: Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey,” Robinson said in an interview after the news conference. “They did it for the same reason. They found racial bias, they found it to be costly, they found it to be ineffective and a threat to innocent people.”

Robinson said the studies he looked at were remarkably consistent in their conclusions — that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, is racially biased and has led to people being wrongfully convicted.


TOUGH LOVE JUDGE FIGHTS BACK, THREATENS IRA GLASS WITH LAWSUIT

A few weeks ago the radio show This American Life profiled a Georgia drug court program that, in the words of the producers, ” we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.”

The show, called Very Tough Love, reported by TAL’s host, Ira Glass was an excellent and very affecting piece of journalism that was very critical of Judge Amanda Williams who presides over the court and seemed, by all accounts, to misuse her power as a jurist.

Judge Williams didn’t take very kindly to Glass’s criticism and was very vocal about her displeasure. First she released a press release about her vexation. Now, most recently, through her lawyer, Williams has publicly accused Glass of libel, plus has threatened a lawsuit.

Listen to the story here. Then read the letter from Williams and company, and Ira Glass’s response.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Death Penalty, journalism, LGBT, media, Must Reads | No Comments »

Post Fireworks Round-Up

July 6th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Later this week, I’ll have a new story on the mess that is LA County probation
and some additional information on the circumstances surrounding the heartbreaking death of Zac Champommier.

But for now, here’s a round-up of weekend news that I thought you’d find of interest.


IF DEATH ROW INMATE TROY DAVIS PROVES HIS INNOCENCE, THEN WHAT?

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court granted Georgia death row inmate, Troy Davis, a new hearing before a federal judge in which Davis and his attorneys would be able to to try to prove Davis’s innocence of the 1989 murder of an Atlanta police officer. [Back story on Davis's case here.] It is, as the AP points out, “a chance afforded no American facing execution in nearly half a century.”

But the AP also discusses the fact that it isn’t at all clear what is to happen even if Davis and company persuade the judge that Davis didn’t do the crime.

Some experts say the judge could order a new trial. Others say the judge could make a recommendation to the Supreme Court that Davis be freed from prison. There’s also a possibility the judge could find Davis innocent, yet rule he’s powerless to spare Davis’ life.

“There is some ambiguity,” said John H. Blume, a Cornell Law School professor who specializes in death penalty appeals. “Whenever you’ve got something this new, that hasn’t happened all these years, you’re really making your best guess.”

Read the rest.


REASON # 4598 WHY SO MANY PEOPLE ARE GOING ELSEWHERE FOR NEWS OTHER THAN TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA

For weeks, I have found myself in a state of quietly growing rage at the way the so-called journalism establishment has taken endless snide little potshots (and some not-so-little shots) at Michael Hastings and his scoop-of-the-season Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General,” in which then-General Stanley McChrystal and his aides made the smart-mouthed remarks that cost the general his job.

And so who did the ever vigilant Washington press corps attack after the release of excellent Hastings article? Why Hastings of course.

Thus it was relief to read Eric Alterman’s scathing round-up of nearly all the instances of what Rolling Stone’s Matt Tabbai had earlier and accurately described as Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

Here’s a representative clip:

But almost as impressive as the article itself—and, of course, the commotion it caused in the administration’s Afghan policy resulting in McChrystal’s firing and his replacement by Gen. David Petraeus—has been the Washington journalistic establishment’s reaction to it. Reporter after reporter has complained that by accurately reporting what McChyrstal and his aides said in explicitly on-the-record conversations to a reporter with a tape recorder and/or notepad in his hand, Hastings has violated the tenets of professional journalism. (A few of the reporters did this, it should be added, after stealing his work for their own websites.)

And about that work-stealing issue that Alter mentions: I flagged it at the time, but was astonished to find that few others seemed to notice. Here’s what Alterman says on that matter:

The other decidedly comical aspect of the journalistic establishment’s reaction to the piece they so disdain was the eagerness a few of them showed in trying to steal it. Not only did website after website post the highlights of the general’s shocking quotes before Rolling Stone did, but two of them—Politico and Time—stole it outright, posting the results of months of research and tens of thousands of dollars of investment on their own sites without even bothering to ask permission from the people responsible for them.

Asked by an NPR reporter whether this behavior “cros[ed] a line,” Bill Grueskin, who is dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism, replied, “I think they crossed the line in the same way that a bank robber who goes into a bank and takes money out of the cashier’s drawer crosses a line.” New York Times media reporter David Carr titled his column on the controversy “Heedlessly Hijacking Content,” and termed it “a clear violation of copyright and professional practice, and it amounted to taking money out of a competitor’s pocket.”

And do keep in mind that these people who excoriated Hastings (but thought nothing of stealing his work), are the same folks who regularly beat their breasts about the icky “non-professionalism” of bloggers.

Right. Sure. Whatever you say, boss.


A YEAR OUT OF PRISON BRUCE LISKER MEETS WITH ONE OF HIS JURORS

On LA Observed, Photojournalist Iris Schneider has been doing an occasional and quite wonderful series on Bruce Lisker, who was released from prison nearly a year ago after serving 24 years for murdering his mother, Dora Lisker. Monday Schneider posted her latest installment in which she accompanied Lisker when he met with Lorraine Maxwell, one of the twelve jury members who convicted him when he was 17-years-old of the 1983 murder.

Earlier installments are here, here and here.


THE LA TIMES GETS AERIAL EXPERT’S REPORT THAT CONTRADICTS OFFICIAL ACCOUNT OF HOW THE STATION FIRE MIGHT HAVE BEEN STOPPED

The LA Times’ Paul Pringle has gotten his hands on a very credible report that suggest that the official account of the way the disastrous Station Fire was handled may be troublingly inaccurate.


OBAMA TELLS CONGRESS: HANDS OFF FEDERAL RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS

The NY Times editorial board rightly approves of Obama’s threat to veto any spending bill that slashes money from his Race-to-the-Top school reform program. Find the cuts elsewhere people.


CLAY SHIRKY EXPLAINS WHY THE (INTERNET) KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

If you don’t recognize the name of web prognosticator/author/astonishingly fine thinker Clay Shirky, suffice it to say that, if you are interested in the whole Future of News thingy, he’s the guy you want to read. He has a brand new book out, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, which is already selling at a rapid clip.

To get a glimpse of what’s inside, read his essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal titled “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

Or better yet, read the interview in the Guardian in which the self-described techno-luddite interviewer admits she finds herself hanging on Shirky’s every word.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, media, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Wednesday’s Fresh Picks

April 14th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

CSU-STANISLAS-STUDENTS


CSU STUDENTS GO DUMPSTER DIVING AND FIND SHREDS OF PALIN CONTRACT CONTROVERSY…

It all started on Friday when some enterprising political science students from the California State University at Stanislaus decided to poke around in a trash bin outside the university’s administration building, and found some shredded documents and something that appeared to be a contract. They fished the rest of the documents out and discovered that six pages out of a nine-page document were still intact and, indeed, appeared to be some kind of speaker’s contract. The speaker—while not named— was coming from Anchorage Alaska on June 25, the date that Sarah Palin was set to show up on campus for a $500 a plate dinner being put on by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation.

Those six pages spelled out all kinds of fun details of what the speaker required—from flex straws for water to a diagram showing how furniture should be arranged for the post-speaking photo shoot with audience members. (The Sacramento Bee has most of that.)

The find was relevant because, for the past month, there had been a on campus about Palin’s appearance, what she was being paid, and where the proceeds of the night were going. And, in response to inquiries on the subject, both university officials and foundation administrators had been extremely non-disclosing.

The biggest kerfuffle was about whether or not the public had the right to see any relevant speaker’s contract for an event such as this one being held on the campus of a public university. In response to a Public Records Act request, CSUS officials reportedly claimed there was no contract anyway, which is what led students to go dumpster diving. Et voila!

The divers turned their finds over to State Senator Leeland Yee, and a joint press conference was held early on Tuesday featuring Yee and students Alicia Lewis, and Ashli Brigg, now cleaned up and wearing heels. By afternoon the docs were handed over to Attorney General Jerry Brown who has launched an investigation.

The San Francisco Chronicle (among others) has reported on the unfolding story here and here.

“This is not about Sarah Palin,” Brown said in the statement his office put out Tuesday. “She has every right to speak at a university event, and schools should strive to bring to campus a broad range of speakers. The issues are public disclosure and financial accountability in organizations embedded in state-run universities. We’re not saying any allegation is true, but we owe it to the taxpayers to thoroughly check out every serious allegation.”

Yee likened the whole thing to a mini-Watergate-–which overstates the matter’s importance by about 1000 degrees. But it is nonetheless an intriguing story to follow, in part because of the pro-active student participation, but also because it has implications that, as Brown said, go to the heart of what our public universities do and do not owe us in terms of information and accountability.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SMART STUDENTS, BILL BOYARSKY PROFILES USC’S NEON TOMMY FOR TRUTHDIG

Respected LA journalist Bill Boyarsky looks at how Annenberg’s student-run digital publication, Neon Tommy, is filling some of the gaps left by traditional media and finds himself heartened by young reporters’ and editors’ “nothing can stop me” attitude.

Here’s how Boyarsky’s column opens:

My search for the I.F. Stone of the 21st century took me to the campus of the University of Southern California and the highly energized office of the Web-based news operation Neon Tommy, sponsored by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

The university, long shackled with a reputation for conservatism, might be considered an odd place to look for a potential successor to Stone, a crusading liberal journalist ostracized by the mainstream media during the Cold War who nevertheless broke major stories in his own I.F. Stone’s Weekly. But USC is changing. And even the old conservative USC produced progressives such as my personal hero, Carey McWilliams, who was editor of The Nation from 1955 to 1975. Truthdig’s editor, Robert Scheer, is on the Annenberg faculty.

I wanted to talk to some of the Neon Tommy staff because I think that the salvation of journalism rests with young people who are talented, ambitious, intelligent, obsessive and crazy enough to jump into what is rapidly becoming a low-paying, insecure business. As Alan Mutter said of young journalists in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, “The starving-artist lifestyle may be colorful and appealing for a while, but it gets old fast if you are bunking on a friend’s sofa, living under the same roof you did in junior high and lying awake at night wondering how you are going to repay your staggering five-figure student loan.

Read the rest. It’s hope producing.


ARIZONA PASSES STRICTEST IMMIGRATION LAW IN NATION, TURNING COPS INTO ICE AGENTS

And not all law enforcement is thrilled. The LA Times has the story. Here are the first few ‘graphs.

Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what foes and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants, directing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.

The measure, long sought by opponents of illegal immigration, passed 35 to 21 in the state House of Representatives.

The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, said it simply “takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job.”

But police were deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief’s association opposing the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.

Immigrant rights groups were horrified, and contended that Arizona would be transformed into a police state.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio must be ecstatic.


AVERAGE PEOPLE TURN TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO DODGE DRUG WAR VIOLENCE

The Houston Chronicle reports—almost offhandedly at the end of a news article—that in the ever escalating Mexican drug gang battles that have, in many cases, frozen traditional media in the area, people are turning to social media to communicate news and dangers. (Chapeau tip to Grits for Breakfast for flagging this piece.)

Here’s the relevant clip:

With the traditional media gagged by gangster threats and officials’ desire to downplay events, common citizens have largely taken to reporting on the violence on their own though You Tube, Twitter and blog postings.

State and local officials first blamed such “social networks” for fueling unfounded fear.

But Reynosa officials started twittering in late February about gunbattles and other “risky situations.” And the official Web site of Tamaulipas state, of which Reynosa is the largest city, has begun carrying news about such clashes.

“It could be a gunshot, it could be a grenade, it could be a threat,” Triana, who directs Reynosa’s Twitter efforts, said of what merits a tweeted alarm. “We are just trying to advise people so they don’t run risks.”


Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, immigration, journalism, media | 50 Comments »

Short Takes: Jails, the 2nd Amendment…and the National Enquirer

February 19th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

National-Enquirer

JUDGE DENIES DEPUTY UNION REQUEST TO STOP RELEASES FROM OC JAIL

Okay, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk has declined to buckle under to the OC Deputies’ union’s law suit asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the OC sheriff from letting any more inmates out from the jail early in response the the state’s corrections reform law that kicked in Jan 1. But the judge said he would revisit the thoroughly bollixed up issue in mid March. For her part, the OC Sheriff has been applying the law retroactively, even though anybody with a grasp of logic who read the law could see that this was not its intention—as California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated with admirable succinctness.

As should be evident by now, I’m for the parole revisions and the new provisions that allow prisoners—both in prison and in jails—to earn a few days or weeks off their sentences by engaging in productive and rehabilitative programs. Such programs are statistically likely to decrease inmates likelihood of reoffending,. And, by the way, the amount shaved off their sentences is comparatively minimal.

But I do not see any reason why we have to start dumping people out of jails by the hundreds, freaking everyone out, when the law says to do no such thing. If for no other reason, its a lousy PR move.

Here’s what Jerry wrote on the retroactivity issue.. It’s a little long to paste the best of it here, so you’ll have to click through.

To make matters more bizarre,
some of the crafters of the law are saying that they never meant it to apply to jails. (Well, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, if you didn’t want your law—good ol’ SB 3X 18 —to apply to jails, then it might have been wiser not to have written into it the words, “This bill would also revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities, as provided.”

The Wave has an informative take on the quarrel.

And the LA Times Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton have more of the details on the judge’s decision:

A judge on Thursday denied a request by the union representing Orange County deputies to end the early release of jail inmates but signaled that the decision would not be the last word on the issue, setting a hearing for further arguments next month.

In turning down the bid to temporarily block the releases, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk noted that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has the final say in choosing how to address the new state law that went into effect Jan. 25.

The judge set a hearing for March 12 on arguments for a preliminary injunction.

The law reformulated good behavior credits for state prison inmates, accelerating their release. But it also has caused confusion among local law enforcement officials, many of whom have been advised by county counsels to release inmates early, an interpretation that was backed up this week by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.


SPEAKING OF THE CONSTITUTION: THE SUPREMES WILL HEAR A 2ND AMENDMENT HAND GUN BAN CASE NEXT MONTH

The Wall Street Journal has this in Friday’s paper about the upcomng case the Supreme court will hear regarding the ban on handguns in Chicago and Oark Park, Ills.

The WSJ reports that the case has brought together a surprising mix of allies on the left and the right. Not a bad thing.

(Now if we could just have a similar left/right collaboration in Congress Over something. Anything.)



NATIONAL ENQUIRER OFFICIALLY IN THE RUNNING FOR PULITZER

As well they should be. Yes, there are ethical issues caused by their policy of paying sources. But they should still be in the running for their reporting on John Edwards. Speaking personally, I don’t think they deserve to win. But I do believe they should be shortlisted.

The Huffington Post (which is getting WAY too celebrity driven of late) has the story:

The Pulitzer Prize Board has officially accepted The National Enquirer’s submissions for breaking the John Edwards scandal, according to sources close to the Board. In a historic move, the Pulitzer Board conceded that the self-proclaimed tabloid is qualified to compete with mainstream news outlets for journalism’s most prestigious prize. The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: “Investigative Reporting” and “National News Reporting” for The National Enquirer staff.

[SNIP]

Before The Enquirer submitted its nomination, the Pulitzer’s long-time administrator Sig Gissler attempted to pre-empt this campaign by telling reporters that the tabloid is not eligible due to various technicalities. Gissler, however, showed great humility and fairness by reading The Enquirer’s submission and admitting that the paper is eligible to compete. Gissler has given The National Enquirer the legitimacy it long deserved for breaking a political scandal of national significance.

The National Enquirer single-handedly broke the stories about Edwards’ affair with a campaign staffer, their out-of-wedlock child, the expensive cover-up and the federal grand jury investigation of possible misappropriation of campaign funds. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the other reporters covering Edwards’ campaign did little if anything to follow up on the published stories in The Enquirer.


Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, Future of Journalism, journalism, Social Justice Shorts | 1 Comment »

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