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Not in Our Name: Southern California Muslims Gather To Discuss the Terrorist Attacks…& Their Fears of Reprisal

November 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


When a large and frightening terrorist attack occurs, like the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, we are all deeply shaken—and angry.

For many U.S. Muslims, however, there is the additional worry that some of their fellow countrymen and women will conflate ISIS with Islam in the wake of the attacks.

On Saturday night, young Muslim Americans gathered in Los Angeles at the Islamic Center of Southern California to listen to speakers on the topic, then to talk about their own anger at ISIS and their personal fears about backlash,

Still earlier in the day, there was a press conference at ICSC, featuring various local Muslim luminaries, including Dr. Najeeba Syeed, an award winning Assistant Professor of Interreligious Education at the Claremont College of Theology, who is known for her skill at conflict resolution.

“We are in solidarity with you. Parisians, we are in solidarity with you.” said Dr. Syeed, her voice full of emotion.

Similar sentiments were express in a notice on the ICSC website calling members to the Saturday evening meeting, and to the candlelight vigil that occurred earlier. “As Muslims, we unequivocally condemn ISIS and its latest heartless, faithless act of terrorism that has killed over 120 innocent people, injured scores more and betrayed Islam’s core teachings and values, ” read the notice.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has more on the ICSC meeting. Here are some clips:

Terrorism and its ripple effect on Muslim young people was one the main topics discussed Saturday night at the Islamic Center of Southern California, which brought together several speakers to condemn the terrorist attacks in Paris.

“There is absolutely no tolerance or room for this type of behavior, these types of actions in the faith of Islam,” said Center Chairman Omar Ricci, who called on Muslim youth to show pride in their faith and to resist those who might want to recruit them into radical groups. Many Muslims, he said, actually choose careers in law enforcement and the armed forces because they feel a special responsibility to protect the United States.


Edina Lekovic said her 4-year-old son was puzzled to see his mother turn serious as she made dozens of calls about the violence in Paris.

“He loves superheroes, and I had to explain to him that there were bad people who happen to also be Muslim – I couldn’t hide that from him – who did something awful and hurt other people and I had to work to do everything I could to help people who were hurting.”

Muslim kids could also face bullying, Ricci said, suggesting that parents confront anti-Muslim comments when they come across them in person or on social media.

While we’re on the topic of bullying, it bears mentioning here that a study released at the end of last month found that Muslim students in California schools report bullying at twice the rate as non-Muslim students. The study, which was statewide, found that 55 percent of Muslim students surveyed said they’ve been “bullied or discriminated against,” which is double the number of students who reported being bullied nationally.


Also on Saturday night, hundreds of San Diego-based Muslim Americans and friends gathered at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel for a yearly fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of San Diego. But, what would have normally been a festive occasion, of necessity, turned into a forum to discuss the horrific news that Friday brought, as speaker after speaker condemned the terrorist attacks in Paris in the strongest terms.

Speakers also spoke about the greater role their community must take to root out extremism.

Tatiana Sanchez of the San Diego Union has more. Here’s a clip:

Jérôme Gombert sat watching news reports about the assaults in the hotel lobby just minutes before the banquet commenced. He looked on quietly as images of the carnage in Paris unfolded before him.

The native Parisian said he’s been hit hard by the violence. He remembers frequenting the Bataclan concert hall — where the majority of victims were killed — before moving to San Diego 20 years ago. He walked the streets and ate at the restaurants now pictured in the news.

“They attacked the average Parisian’s life,” he said.

“It’s crazy that (the dinner) is today after what happened at home, but it’s still important to understand that there’s no connection between that and the reality of the Muslim religion,” he said. “It’s a peaceful religion, it’s a beautiful religion in many ways.”


In September of 2001, when I was still writing for the LA Weekly, my editors asked me to report on how Muslim Americans in Los Angeles were fairing after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The answer was, in short: it was damned scary to be Muslim and American in LA—or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter—during that period. For what it’s worth, here’s a clip the opening of the story I wrote nearly a decade and a half ago.

The King Fahad Mosque, located on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, is a gracefully domed structure with an imported marble facade, a 72-foot-high gold-leafed minaret and intricately painted Turkish tiles adorning the place both inside and out. The facility was completed in late August of 1999, funded by a donation from Prince Abdul-Aziz, the son of Saudi Arabia‘s ruler, King Fahad bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. I spent much of the past week there. The following snapshots are the result.

On the morning of September 11, Tajuddin Shuaib wakes up at 5:30, performs the first of his five daily prayers, then falls back to sleep. He wakes again just before 7 a.m., then, as is his habit, flips on the TV as he gets out of bed. He likes to watch CNN while he gets ready to go to work. For Tajuddin Shuaib this means driving to his office at the King Fahad Mosque, where he has been its director and spiritual leader — or Imam, as he is called — since the facility opened three years ago.

On normal days, Shuaib leaves his house around 7:30. But on September 11, like most Americans, Shuaib finds himself immobilized by shock at the images that are playing across his TV screen. Like most Americans, he exchanges frantic, disjointed phone calls with members of his congregation. Like most Americans, Shuaib prays for the safety of the people who might still be caught in the collapsing towers. But unlike most Americans, Shuaib also mouths a special prayer as he watches the expanding devastation: “Please don’t let a Muslim be responsible for this horror.”

“As an American,” he says later, “I was sick inside at what I saw. As a Muslim, I was scared to death.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., Shuaib finally drives to the mosque and sees some of his fears coming to pass. At the building‘s front, a 30-ish woman clutches an oversize Magic Marker with which she scrawls the word MURDERERS in huge letters on the white marble. When she spots Shuaib, she begins screaming. “Murderers! Go back where you came from, Palestinian murderers!”

While another mosque official calls the police, Shuaib attempts to talk the woman down. “Ma’am, look at me,” he says. “Do I look like a Palestinian?” The woman stops shouting long enough to stare at him. Shuaib is a black-skinned man who was born in Ghana. He is also humorous, intelligent and possessed of the charm of a natural storyteller. “It‘s true,” he continues, hoping the woman isn’t armed with anything worse than the marker, “Palestinians come to pray here. We also have Egyptians and Pakistanis and Arabs and Africans and Sudanese. The whole United Nations comes to pray here.” The woman starts to shout again, but Shuaib keeps on talking. “The thing is, I am as upset as you are because I have family in New York and I have not been able to speak to them. But I‘m also terrified because, unlike you, I can be a target.”

By the time the police arrive, Shuaib has talked the woman’s fury into remission. Nonetheless, the officers search her car and find cartons of eggs plus a pile of stones. They ask Shuaib if he wants to press charges. He shakes his head no. Her anger spent, the woman turns sheepish and asks if she should clean the wall.

“That‘s okay,” Shuaib says wearily. “We’ll clean it up ourselves.”

On Wednesday, the mosque‘s community liaison — Usman Madha, who emigrated here from Burma 35 years ago — is crossing the street when a car slows to a stop right in front of him and the driver motions him over. Madha approaches the car with trepidation. He recognizes the driver as a Culver City resident who, for the past three years, has been vocally opposed to the mosque’s presence in the community. But to Madha‘s surprise, the man only extends his hand to shake. “For whatever it’s worth,” he tells Madha tersely, “I don‘t hold you guys responsible for what happened in New York City.”

Later, Shuaib and Mahad continue to field a weird mixture of phone calls — a few obscene messages, a few calls of support, and a couple of inquiries from the press. Most of the calls, however, are from worried congregation members who want to know if it’s safe to come to the mosque. The King Fahad Mosque is the primary Islamic center for L.A.‘s Westside, and typically draws a crowd for each of its five daily prayer services, plus upward of 500 worshipers for the big service at midday on Friday. But since last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, the place has been almost deserted.


In Los Angeles, hundreds of students gathered at Cal State Long Beach on Sunday afternoon, to honor the memory of Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old CSULB senior who was studying at the Strate College of Design in Paris for a semester. Gonzales was one of 19 killed when gunman opened fire at the popular Parisian bistro La Belle Equipe on Friday where Gonzalez was eating with three friends.

Anh Do and Javier Panzar, writing for the LA Times, have more on that story. Here’s a clip:

[Gonzalez's three] friends managed to escape, but Gonzalez was wounded and later died of her injuries at a hospital, said Jeet Joshee, associate vice president for international education at the university.

Friends and family described Gonzalez as a diligent and committed worker with lofty dreams, including studying abroad in Paris.

She worked as a teaching assistant at Cal State Long Beach and as a shop technician, overseeing lower-division students on their design projects.

“She was a warrior, she fought for her dreams,” said student Alysia Elnagar, who took a basic design class in which Gonzalez served as an assistant.

“Even as a freshman, she exhibited leadership. She owned the stage whenever she presented,” recalled David Lee, design instructor who taught Gonzalez in foundation drawing and advanced drawing classes. “Her magic and beauty was so effortless.”

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »


November 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Friday night we grieved with our brother and sisters in Paris. Today we stand beside them.

With the same sad but determined hearts, we stand beside our brothers and sisters in Beirut.

Posted in Life in general | 5 Comments »

WitnessLA is Going on Vacation This Week—-Sort Of

August 31st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

We’re taking this week off—or mostly off.

We’ll still post a mini-story or two most days, so check back. But, the volume will be far lighter.

WitnessLA will be back in full after Labor Day. And, in the days and weeks to follow, we’ll have some important coverage on juvenile justice issues, plus a brand new story relating to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that we promise you’ll want to see.

So stay tuned.

And enjoy the last days of summer.

Celeste & Taylor

Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

South Dakota Firefighter Killed Battling Northeastern California Wildfire

August 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

David Ruhl, a South Dakota firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service,
was killed Thursday while fighting the Frog Fire in Modoc County.

Ruhl’s permanent position was Engine Captain on the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest in Rapid City, South Dakota. He was married with two children. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 14 years and previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Late on Friday, Governor Jerry Brown and decreed that the capitol flags be flown at half mast, and issued a statement that read in part:

“Anne and I were saddened to learn of the tragic death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Dave Ruhl who left his home state to help protect one of California’s majestic forests. Firefighter Ruhl will be remembered for his service and bravery and we extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues with the U.S. Forest Service.”

The Frog Fire that Ruhl was helping to battle is one of a dozen large wildfires burning in California.

Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency.

We at WLA join the governor and David Ruhl’s family, friends and firefighting colleagues in grieving for his loss.

Posted in Fire, Life in general | No Comments »

LOVE WINS: U.S. Supremes Rule Same Sex Marriage Legal Throughout Nation

June 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod- ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be- come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza- tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

So wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the closing paragraph of his 28-page majority opinion for Friday’s landmark 5-4 ruling, with Kennedy casting the deciding vote.

Here at WLA we received a flood of press releases following news of the court’s historic decision. Out of everything, we particularly liked this simple statement from U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley, Calif):

“I have officiated the marriages of several same-sex couples, and I have seen the love in the eyes of those whose hands, and whose lives, I have joined,” said Cárdenas. “For the Federal government to have told those Americans that their love is lesser or, worse yet, illegal, has been an embarrassment to our nation and a violation of our founding principles. All people are created equal. All love is equally valuable. Today the Supreme Court confirmed what loving families have known in their hearts, Love Wins.”

Indeed. Love wins. At last.

Posted in LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 16 Comments »

San Jose Veteran Officer Killed by Suicidal Shooter After Answering Call for Help

March 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

When 14-year veteran San Jose police officer Michael Johnson
was fatally shot Tuesday evening, he was responding to a call for help from a family member who reported a despondent drunk man, possibly suicidal, possessing one or more guns.

The SJPD community is reeling as they mourning the loss of a fellow officer who gave his life in the line of duty, on a callout to protect the safety of others.

The San Jose Mercury News has additional details.

Here’s a clip:

San Jose officers were initially called at 6:48 p.m. Tuesday by a female family member who said that [shooting suspect Scott] Dunham was intoxicated, despondent and possibly meant to harm himself or others, {SJPD Chief] Esquivel said. As the officers approached the apartment building on Senter Road and spotted a person on a balcony, they were fired upon without warning.

Police dispatch recordings show that officers told dispatchers they believed the man they were searching for had one or two handguns in the apartment.

At one point, as they approach the apartment, an officer says, “we have movement from the blinds at the apartment.”

An officer calmly reports that a male has stepped out onto the balcony, describing him as having gray hair, a gray mustache and a black T-shirt. Seconds later, the “shots fired” call can be heard, followed almost immediately by the “officer down” call.

Dispatchers immediately called for the area to be secured and put out a citywide call for assistance. Another officer reported that shots were fired at the suspect, and that he possibly “went down as well.” Esquivel confirmed the gunfire exchange and the possibility that Dunham was wounded.

“This person had the nerve, the audacity, to shoot at our officers who were on a call for assistance,” Esquivel said.

An outpouring of grief flowed from both members of the public and law enforcement agencies throughout California and across the nation Tuesday night. Hundreds of social media users sent their condolences to San Jose police through the department’s Twitter account.

WitnessLA joins San Jose in grieving for their brave officer.

Posted in law enforcement, Life in general | No Comments »

Happy President’s Day – Check Back for More News Tonight

February 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.


A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year

December 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Jason Lee singing John Prine’s classic “Christmas in Prison”

WitnessLA Will be dark until Monday, January 5 (unless there’s breaking news that we simply cannot ignore).
So we’ll see you bright and early Monday morning in 2015. Until then, we hope your days are full and happy ones.

Here’s some music to help:

A song from the Living Sisters’ terrific new holiday album, “Harmony Is Real : Songs For A Happy Holiday.”

The Temptations wonderful version of Silent Night.

And then two that we seem to post every year, just because….

The Pogues doing their wonderful Fairytale of New York

And finally Rufus Wainwright singing Minuit Chrétiens acapella as his famous mother Kate McGarrigle looks on with utter delight at her son, at this, her last concert before her death of cancer, one month and 5 days later.

Posted in Life in general | 4 Comments »

Robin Williams, R.I.P….. The LAPD Commission Votes on Beck Tuesday: What Will Happen?…..Why Juvenile Justice & Education Must Partner Up….& More

August 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


There are certainly other comedians who are—were—as funny as Robin Williams. But, as his friends, colleagues and admirers struggled to express their shock and sorrow at comic/actor Williams’ death on Monday—possibly by suicide—each seemed also to need to explain why, really, really there was nobody like him.

This was particularly true when it came to the high-wire act of Williams’ stand-up improvisation.

An improvisational genius, wrote both the LA Times Kenneth Turan and the NY Times’ A.O. Scott. “Genius” is an overused word, but in Williams’ case, that about nails it. At his riffing best, his speed at associating was so dazzling, his impersonations so intuitive and fearless, his intelligence so incandescent, in watching him, one felt one was observing the most astonishing of magic tricks.

Chris Columbus, who directed Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, and was close friends with the comedian actor for 21 years, explained it another way.

“To watch Robin work was a magical and special privilege. His performances were unlike anything any of us had ever seen, they came from some spiritual and otherworldly place….”

Yep. And his performances elicited not just humor but joy. It may sound sappy, but there you have it. Plus there is his marvelous body of work as an actor, his tireless performances for American troops, his years of leadership in fundraising for the homeless with Comic Relief, and his many private acts of sweet-natured kindness, (many of which are now appearing in essays and remembrances, like this story at CNN and this one at Next Avenue).

All these reasons and more are why the loss of Williams on Monday feels so intolerable.

Among the other remembrances worth reading is one by LA Times’ Turan who tells of his few but inevitably indelible encounters with Williams over the years. But there are lots of good ones.


AirTalk’s Larry Mantle’s interviews KPCC’s Erika Aguilar, Frank Stoltze about what they’ve learned about Tuesday’s vote on Beck, and to the LATimes’ Ben Poston, who was part of the team who reported on the LAPD’s misclassifying aggravated assaults as lower level crimes, then to Raphe Sonenshein, the Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles, who is a Beck fan.

Listen in.

To get you started, here’s a clip from the intro:

The Police Commission is meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] to decide whether to reappoint LAPD Chief Charlie Beck for a second five-year term.

Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row and Beck has played an important role in keeping Los Angeles safe in the face of budget and departmental cuts. But Beck has also come under fire for favoritism and inconsistency in dishing out discipline. Of late, he has been embroiled in a scandal of sorts involving a horse the department bought that was subsequently revealed to have been owned by Beck’s daughter. And over the weekend, the LA Times published an analysis finding that the LAPD has misclassified some 1,200 serious violent crimes as minor offenses.

How does the reappointment process work? What criteria does the five-person Police Commission use for making their decision? What’s your opinion of Chief Beck’s performance thus far?


Fifteen years ago, national youth justice expert and educator, Dr. John Mick Moore, was working as a special education director in King County, Washington, when he began to notice that more and more of his school’s special ed students were winding up in the juvie justice system, plus they were “a larger percentage of dropouts.” Then five years later, in Kings County the two systems began talking to each other. New programs were instituted. Grants were procured. And the fate of formerly lost kids began to improve.

Now, Moore, writes about the fact that, despite much good rhetoric, he doesn’t see this kind of practical partnership in most areas of the country, and why that must change.

Here’s a clip:

In spite of all this good work for the past 10 years, I’m still not seeing education as an equal partner when I visit jurisdictions across the nation. I hear phrases like “dual jurisdiction youth” or “crossover youth” focusing on social welfare and juvenile justice. This work has added tremendous value but education seems to be an afterthought. I have never seen a youth who had significant issues with those two systems who didn’t have significant issues with education. It is obvious that juvenile justice and education will never successfully reform current practices and local outcomes without becoming full partners.

So, why now? What’s the big hurry? The big hurry is that everyday we are losing ground on our nation’s economy and the democratic way of life. Ten years have passed since the “Silent Epidemic” was brought to our attention. Each year a youth is incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of dollars are consumed while lost income reduces the nation’s tax base. Each youth who cannot read, write and make educated decisions jeopardizes the core of our democratic process — an educated population of voters. I regularly express to my colleagues that juvenile justice and education must end the failed practice of isolation and begin to function as true partners on behalf of our youth.


And while we’re on the topic of that “pipeline,” we don’t want you to miss this hour-long special on lifers by NPR’s Latino USA, with Maria Hinojosa and Michael Simon Johnson, which features a story about a group of lifers trying to slow down the school-to-prison pipeline with what they call the FACT program, Fathers And Children Together, bringing locked-up fathers back into their children’s life so that having an incarcerated parent no longer guarantees the cycle will continue.

It’s a fascinating special and a promising program.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Charlie Beck, Education, juvenile justice, LAPD, Life in general, prison, prison policy, School to Prison Pipeline | 1 Comment »

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