Independent Investigations into Police-Killings, Restorative Justice in LA, Broken City Poets, and Streetcraft LAJanuary 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
STATES WEIGH ESTABLISHING OUTSIDE INVESTIGATION OF POLICE-INVOLVED DEATHS
Several states, including California, are considering legislative measures that would require outside investigation of killings by police officers, which are ordinarily investigated by the local District Attorney’s office. In the wake of non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there is rising concern that the connections between county district attorneys and law enforcement agencies may create a conflict of interest.
If passed, the California bill, authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would transfer the investigation to a state Department of Justice panel that would then issue a recommendation to the local DA’s office as well as the California Attorney General. (Read more about the bill, which is still in its early stages, on Assemblymember McCarty’s website.)
New Jersey, Missouri, Colorado, and New York are all also looking into taking these particular investigation responsibilities out of the hands of district attorneys, following in the footsteps of Wisconsin where an independent panel must review officer-involved deaths.
But reactions to such legislation are mixed.
The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson has more on this interesting and complex issue. Here are some clips:
Maki Haberfeld, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that such changes don’t get at the real issues involved in American policing and use of force.
“Political decisions are based on how little I can pay to satisfy people: ‘Let me create a new entity and I will call it the special prosecutor or whatever,’ ” she said. “That’s a reactive approach, not proactive: There is a need to invest in recruitment, selection and training and then we will have less need for investigations.”
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said there is no need to pass laws such as the one in Wisconsin. “I think it would be better to have a common-sense approach and utilize outside agencies on an as-needed basis,” he said.
But Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands, Calif., police chief who heads a research organization called the Police Foundation, believes more states will follow Wisconsin.
“I just don’t see that it would be overly problematic for most police departments,” he said. “Best practices would indicate that you wouldn’t investigate yourself in criminal investigations.”
But Mr. Bueermann said that a balance must be struck, arguing that too much scrutiny of split-second decisions can have consequences on the streets. “When police feel they are being judged inappropriately or too harshly, there is a phenomenon called ‘de-policing’ and they stop being proactive and become entirely reactive,” he said.
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE TRANSFORMING LOS ANGELES SCHOOLS
As the restorative justice school discipline model spreads to school districts across the nation, suspension numbers are rapidly shrinking. Last year, in Los Angeles, suspensions were down 89% from five years ago, thanks, in part, to swapping out harsh zero-tolerance policies, and engaging students, their peers, and teachers in conflict resolution activities. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District mandated that all schools adopt the restorative justice system by 2020.
The AP’s Christine Armario tells the story of Augustus Hawkins High School in South LA, which was built in 2012, and has experienced a dramatic discipline turnaround in just a few short years. Here’s a clip:
In the last three years, Marcquees Banks has been taken out of class twice and sent to another school for getting into fights.
The third time he got into a scuffle, something different happened: A counselor at Augustus Hawkins High School in South Los Angeles pulled Banks and the other teen aside and told them they needed to talk.
Seated face to face, Joseph Luciani asked them to explain why they’d fought and how they felt — part of the school’s new approach to discipline that is catching on in urban districts and focuses more on students working out their differences with counselors than suspensions.
“I realized we had a lot of similarities,” said Banks, 17, who said his father is involved in a gang and his mother jobless.
YOUNG “BROKEN CITY POETS” USE POETRY AND JOURNALISM TO MAKE SENSE OF LIFE IN BANKRUPT STOCKTON, CA
The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks (a non-profit that helps kids in SF and around the world find their voices through spoken-word poetry) together commissioned Bay Area slam poet and activist, Josh Merchant, to teach workshops mixing poetry and investigative journalism to Stockton kids.
The goal was to help kids find and use their voices to cope with issues in their struggling city. We encourage you to watch the resulting documentary, Broken City Poets (above), in its entirety.
DIVERTING LA TEENS FROM TAGGING INTO A SAFE SPACE FOR ART AND ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT
The Santa Monica non-profit, Streetcraft LA, redirects gifted young taggers from the streets, teaching them how to channel their talents to earn an income—selling their designs on clothing, wall art, and other merchandise. Streetcraft LA has provided a positive and profitable outlet to around 75 Los Angeles kids, who are either at risk or have spent time behind bars for tagging.
KPCC’s Adrian Florido has the story. Here are some clips:
Bobby Rodriguez started tagging when he was 13, spray painting illegal graffiti art from San Pedro to San Bernardino. Life in that world led to other illicit activity and several arrests…
Today, at 25, Rodriguez is an aspiring commercial artist, thanks in part to the efforts of a Santa Monica-based nonprofit called Streetcraft L.A.
Streetcraft co-founder Jonathan Mooney calls it a social venture, designed to show talented but troubled kids like Rodriguez that their art can be a source of legitimate income.
“There’s this misconception that graffiti is gang related,” Mooney said, adding that most is not. “It’s often creative young people who don’t have a different channel for their creativity.”
In the two years since Streetcraft was founded, about 75 young artists have taken its classes, though the organization doesn’t track how many kids give up illegal tagging after going through its program.
Streetcraft co-founder Mooney said the nonprofit is also working to become something of a diversion program for kids arrested for graffiti.
“We have begun the process of building a relationship with folks in the juvenile justice system to see Streetcraft as a way to perhaps give a kid a second chance to apply that creativity in a different way,” he said.