RODNEY KING: 1965 – 2012
He wasn’t a very strong person, and maybe not even a particularly good person. Certainly he was a man who battled with wounds of the psyche. Nevertheless Rodney King has a place of significance in Los Angeles history that makes his death oddly startling and saddening. King understood his importance, and seemed to be in genuine pain about his inability to fully rise to its occasion—to be the hero some people wanted him to be. Instead he seemed, on his best days, be a mostly ordinary, somewhat demon-haunted guy who—despite what a Simi Valley jury said—changed the city simply by the fact of having unwillingly endured the vicious beat down he received at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers on March 3, 1991, a beating that fractured his bones in 59 places, and nearly killed him.
Still, although he may not have had most of the hero’s virtues he believed his moment in LA history demanded, what King did possess was a deep vein of decency, dignity, and real compassion, all of which was particularly visible in his “Can’t we just get along” speech in the midst of the ’92 riots.
Because of this, and because of his crucial role in our collective LA history, we cannot help but mourn Rodney King’s passing. He was a member of the family.
The LA Times Joe Mozingo has a very good obit of King. Here’s a clip:
“Rodney King has a unique spot in both the history of Los Angeles and the LAPD,” Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. “What happened on that cool March night over two decades ago forever changed me and the organization I love. His legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence wrought on this city and its Police Department.”
G-DOG: HOMEBOY MOVIE DRAWS MAXIMUM CROWD AT LA FILM FEST
It was a very full house at the American premiere of G-Dog, the documentary film by Oscar winning director Frieda Mock, about Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries, the gang intervention program that Father Greg founded more than two decades ago. Evidently, a great many LA people decided that watching a movie about the guy who urges us to claim kinship with the men and women whom others often tell us that we should despise—namely former gang members and felons—was an excellent way to spend Father’s Day.
As UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap said on screen when she was interviewed in the course of the film, the approach that Boyle and Homeboy practicies produces remarkable results, which was much of what the movie portrayed. Leap (who is a nationally recognized expert in trauma response, gang violence, and at-risk youth) is in the midst of a 5-year longitudinal study of Homeboy, and has noted that, for those who come into its programs, Homeboy has a highly unusual 70 percent retention rate, with only 30 percent reoffending. (The statewide prison recidivism rate is the mirror opposite, with 65 to 70 percent reoffending.)
Thus the film was a portrait, not just of Father Greg, but of the healing and transformative therapeutic community that Homeboy Industries’ programs and its businesses have become, and also of some of the daunting challenges the organization still faces, with its ongoing struggles to balance its fiscal realities with the wrenching needs of the people who daily walk through its doors.
In any case, when I know of another showing of the film, I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, here’s a clip from what the LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote about the film:
….. writer/director/producer Freida Mock — an Oscar winner for her film on the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital — wisely focused on the year 2010, when financial problems almost put Homeboy out of business. While trying to save the lives of young men and women, Boyle finds himself trying to save even his own job, and at one point jokes about having to tell his mother he could be collecting unemployment.
Boyle had critics early on who scornfully called his work “hug-a-thug,” but as the program evolved and drew the support of law enforcement officials like LAPD Chief Charlie Beck — who thinks of Homeboy as an important ally — the correspondence went from hate mail to fan mail. Boyle’s gospel was that for people with dysfunctional families, substandard schools and no job prospects, gang life is a natural allegiance, but the cycle can be broken with tough love, accountability, community and a show of respect….
HUNDREDS ESCAPE OR WALK AWAY FROM THE NEW JERSEY HALFWAY HOUSES THAT NJ GOVERNOR CHRISTIE FAVORS
The NY Times has a very, very long article about New Jersey’s use of privately run halfway houses favored by NJ Governor Chris Christie as a way of keeping the state’s incaceration costs down and then providing better services to certain inmates in their last few months of incarceration. However, it seems that more than 450 of the half-way house residents escaped last year, some committing very serious crimes, including murder, after vanishing
However, upon reading further, it seems that “escape” isn’t quite the right term, as the facilities aren’t lock-downs, thus anybody can pretty much walk away. By the end it is unclear if the places are a terrible idea from which Christie’s pals are gaining monetarily bigtime, or a good idea that needs better triage, so as to keep the more dangerous people in a locked facility to the end of their term.
On the other hand, since the people in the halfway houses are going to be released in a few months anyway, if they are kept in a locked facility for those last three months, where they will get little or no treatment, can we really say it will lessen the chances they would act out violently? Or what is it that the Times reporters are actually implying or suggesting?
(They feature a tragic story of a young woman who became infatuated with a halfway house inmate who had a past of poor impulse control, had committed armed robbery, and had made at least one violent threat against a woman friend in the past. Anyway, the sweet young woman, who we are told was good with animals, tried to break up withe inmate. His response was to escape the halfway house and kill her. A terrible, terrible story, to be sure. However, it is not at all clear what we are to take from this, or even what would have helped avert this tragedy. Perhaps the state of New Jersey should have locked the guy up indefinitely. However, that’s a sentencing issue, not a programmatical one.)
Take a look for yourself. I found it initially heartening that the NY Times had taken on such topics as private prisons, post-incarceration half-way houses, and corrections as big business. However, whatever conclusions the Times reporters intended us to draw, I’m afraid got lost in the welter of ominous and yet contradictory information they kept piling on us as readers.
Here’s a clip:
After serving more than a year behind bars in New Jersey for assaulting a former girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred in 2010 to a sprawling halfway house in Newark. One night, Mr. Goodell escaped, but no one in authority paid much notice. He headed straight for the suburbs, for another young woman who had spurned him, and he killed her, the police said.
The state sent Rafael Miranda, incarcerated on drug and weapons charges, to a similar halfway house, and he also escaped. He was finally arrested in 2010 after four months at large, when, prosecutors said, he shot a man dead on a Newark sidewalk — just three miles from his halfway house.
Valeria Parziale had 15 aliases and a history of drugs and burglary. Nine days after she slipped out of a halfway house in Trenton in 2009, Ms. Parziale, using a folding knife, nearly severed a man’s ear in a liquor store. She was arrested and charged with assault but not escape. Prosecutors say they had no idea she was a fugitive.
After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.
At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.
ETHIOPIAN GOV’T MAKES USE OF SKYPE AND ALL INTERNET PHONE SERVICES PUNISHABLE BY UP TO 15 YEARS IN PRISON
We don’t usually do international stories, but this one is alarming and needs to be widely talked about.
The Ethiopian government, Al Jazeera reports, has criminalized the use of Skype and other VoIP services like Google Talk. Using VoIP services is now punishable by up to 15 years in prison. This law actually passed last month, but mostly went unnoticed outside of the country. Ethiopian authorities argue that they imposed these bans because of “national security concerns” and to protect the state’s telecommunications monopoly. The country only has one ISP, the state-owned Ethio Telecom, and has been filtering its citizen’s Internet access for quite some time now to suppress opposition blogs and other news outlets.
As for Skype and other VoIP services, the new law doesn’t just criminalize their usage, but the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology now has “the power to supervise and issue licenses to all privately owned companies that import equipment used for the communication of information.” It’s worth noting that, as TechCentral points out, the new law also prohibits “audio and video data traffic via social media.” It’s not clear how exactly the government plans to enforce this restriction, but a potential 15-year prison term will likely keep most people from using Skype in Ethiopia anytime soon.
G-Dog Photo by Christine Duong Mason for WitnessLA