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LA Sheriff Scott Interview, LA Supes to Scrutinize Youth Indigent Defense, LASD IG Addresses Public, and Obama’s New Initiative for Young Men of Color

February 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, the new LA County Sheriff, John Scott, discusses why he was chosen as interim sheriff, and what he hopes to accomplish in the next ten months (when a permanent sheriff will be elected). Here’s a clip:

PM: Are more indictments coming?

JS: I’ve asked for a meeting with the federal prosecutor to see whether I can find out.

PM: You have at most 10 months before a new, elected sheriff comes in. What problems need fixing, and why did the Board of Supervisors believe you were the man to do it?

JS: They were looking for an individual who was not going to run for the position, and I had the unique perspective of working both L.A. and Orange County with [some] similar issues: problems in the jail and badges [issued to politicians or supporters].

The image has been tarnished. Things were done that are being investigated that certainly we’re accountable for, but the vast majority of deputies are doing a very professional job.

One of my goals is to restore an image but also the confidence of our public. Then we have accountability. Some things that were in place when I left, I want to restore.

We had SCIF, Sheriff’s Critical Incident Forum, a quarterly look at all the different factors that go into an operation. We determined if there were spikes or trends, and we analyzed why is this high or why is this low. It’s good to take metrics and analyze them and take good ideas and apply them across the board.

PM: Of the 60 reforms recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, how many have been done?

JS: Close to 50.

PM: So the hard parts are left?

JS: It’s hard in terms of financing. We have to find funding for some of the last components. Policy change and supervisorial monitoring are things we can do pretty quickly, but when you talk about a culture that exists, that takes more than a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

PM: And you’ve been brought in to do the hard stuff and deliver bad news?

JS: I’ve done it before and I’m willing to do it again, because it’s the right thing to do.

PM: We may elect a sheriff in June, or there may be a runoff in November. How can you work with that timing uncertainty?

JS: My game plan is to push as much through as I can in 10 months. I feel it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a clear [winner] in June. I’m looking at this as a 10-month program, but I’m concentrating heavily on the first four months. I’ll [also] be reaching out to each of the candidates about their own plans and goals as we move forward.


The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion (by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how panel attorneys—private attorneys assigned to kids the public defender’s office cannot represent—are compensated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the Supes’ decision. Here are some clips:

Under-age criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer are generally represented by someone from the county public defender’s office. But when that office is already representing another defendant in the case or a special circumstance arises, lawyers from a separate panel step in to remove the potential conflict of interest.

Advocates argue that the switch creates another problem: The private lawyers the county contracts with for these cases, known as panel attorneys, are paid less — a flat rate of $319 to $345 per case — and may not represent their clients as vigorously.

“Children charged with crimes are not only entitled to competent representation but an opportunity to avoid the prison pipeline if it is at all possible to do so,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the review.


The review will include looking at the compensation systems in other counties and the resources and training given to attorneys. It will also consider a set of guidelines for defense attorneys proposed by Michael Nash, presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.


The new Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, spoke to the public for the first time at a town hall meeting on Monday. Huntsman, who took the role of independent LASD watchdog at the beginning of the year, discussed jail violence and recent indictments, and his intent to bring accountability to the department.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s been a question of what sort of oversight the department should have. An elected official, the sheriff is an atypical law enforcement leader in that he or she is accountable only to the voters – not a civilian oversight board, or elected officials, or an institutional watchdog.

Nevertheless, creating a way to monitor the department has been the goal of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for several years. Supervisors have power over the law enforcement agency’s budget, but not much else. The answer was to create the office of the Inspector General and hire former public corruption prosecutor, Max Huntsman, to the post.

At a town hall organized by the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress, Huntsman acknowledged that while he lacks formal power, he’s hopeful that he’ll have the necessary tools to inspire change at the sheriff’s department.

“I can’t force change. I can’t order the sheriff’s department to do anything,” Huntsman said, noting to the audience that local and state law gives the sheriff sole authority over his or her department. “The power that I have comes from you.”

Huntsman noted that the vast majority of sheriff’s deputies are “heroes,” and that his job is to bring attention to those who fall short. He outlined his vision for the new office as a bridge between the community and the sheriff’s department.

…By hiring attorneys, retired police officers, and investigators to staff the inspector general office, he said he hopes to gain credibility with both the public and the department. The primary role will be to monitor department’s activities, audit expenditures, select which investigations to pursue, and lobby for changes, he said.

(Read on.)


On Thursday, President Obama will launch an initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline for young men of color across the nation. The initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” will connect businesses and non-profits to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color “reach their full potential.”

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb has the story. Here’s how it opens:

President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison.

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country.

The effort will seek “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. “The initiative will be focused on implementing strategies that are proven to get results.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Obama, Public Defender, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

For Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday

January 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

To celebrate this day, three versions of A Change Is Gonna Come.

A 2013 version by a fine new voice, Amos Lee, performed at Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concert.

An old and gorgeous version by the incomparable Ms. Aretha Franklin.

And the singular version that, in 1964, guaranteed Sam Cooke immortality.

Here’s a 2007 NPR story about Sam Cooke’s masterpiece.

See you tomorrow with lots of news.

Posted in Life in general, race, race and class, racial justice, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

No, We should Not Boycott Florida….A School’s Bet on NonViolence ….NYTimes on CA’s Hunger Strike….

July 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The deeply painful issues that have arisen for so many Americans around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent exoneration of George Zimmerman, are complex in nature and require honest dialogue and sustained, practical action if real change and healing is to begin to take place.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see people, whom one expects would know better, grasping for simplistic, feel-good gestures that don’t accomplish much of anything, but instead distract us from the far more difficult long-term work that is needed to help prevent future Trayvon Martins.

The new movement to boycott Florida is one of those unhelpful feel-good gestures.

We at WLA are relieved to see that the LA Times editorial board has come out roundly against this mis-aimed move.

Here’s a clip from the LA Times editorial on the matter:

….What would be the goal of a boycott against Florida? [California State Assemblyman Chris] Holden claims his target is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a statute similar to those on the books of more than 20 other states, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense without first trying to retreat from danger.

There is legitimate question about the wisdom and fairness of such laws, which, this page noted this year, encourage a dangerous shoot-first mentality. President Obama on Friday was one of many who called for a reconsideration of such laws in the wake of the Martin killing and the acquittal of Zimmerman. We join those who are concerned about “stand your ground” laws.

But if the wrong to be punished and corrected is the adoption of such laws, it would be odd and unjust to direct a boycott at Florida alone, and not other states with such laws, merely because Zimmerman’s trial was racially charged and closely followed by the public. If the target was not the statute but rather this particular judge’s handling of the case or this six-person jury’s finding, a boycott of the entire state seems not merely wildly out of scale but wholly unrelated to the perceived wrong.

Also read this essay by our pal Rob Greene on the boycotting-Florida issue. In it he talks about why this notion of boycotting entire states—either Florida or Arizona—is wrongheaded, however momentarily emotionally satisfying it might seem.

(And, while you’re at it, be sure to read this essay for Time Magazine by author/civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander about what the Trayvon Martin case revealed about young men of color being viewed, not as having problems, but as being “a problem.’)


In a desperately poor, dangerous part of Philadelphia, Memphis Street Academy decided to ditch its metal detectors and focus on supporting students, instead of being fearful of them. Violence dropped by 90 percent.

Jeff Deeny, writing in this week’s Atlantic Monthly, has this hopeful and very instructive story about what happened when a troubled school changed its strategy and, in so doing, changed its students feelings about their school, and about their own potential. Here’s a clip from the beginning…and one from the very end.

Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts. But rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed the metal detectors and barred windows.

The police predicted chaos. But instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year, the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.

The school says it wasn’t just the humanizing physical makeover of the facility that helped. Memphis Street Academy also credits the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a noncoercive, nonviolent conflict resolution regimen originally used in prison settings that was later adapted to violent schools. AVP, when tailored to school settings, emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance. There are no aggressive security guards in schools using the AVP model; instead they have engagement coaches, who provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.


Allowed to respond anonymously to questionnaires, 73% of students said they now felt safe at school, 100% said they feel there’s an adult at school who cares about them and 95% said they hope to graduate from college one day. These are the same Jones Jail kids who 12 months ago were climbing over cars to get away from school (Memphis Street Academy has since staggered dismissals and is using AVP techniques on the grounds as kids leave–nearby bodegas have stopped locking their doors when school lets out).

When asked about the security changes at Memphis Street Academy a ten-year-old fifth-grader sums up her experience: “There are no more fights. There are no more police. That’s better for the community.”


In this Sunday’s New York Times, Jesse Wegman, the paper’s new editorial writer on legal matters (hired in April of this year), had some things to say about the ineffective and Constitutionally-questionable way that California still insists on handling solitary confinement in its prisons.

Here’s a clip:

At Pelican Bay, the overwhelming majority of the men in solitary don’t even have a record of violence; they are placed in solitary for their “gang associations,” despite the fact that such associations have hardly any predictive value for a prisoner’s likelihood to be violent.

The little hope these inmates have of leaving solitary lies mostly in what prison officials call “debriefing,” or snitching on other gang members. (California officials say that about 200 inmates statewide have been classified for return to the general prison population under a pilot program that considers behavior and other factors besides debriefing.)

Opponents of solitary do not deny that certain inmates are too dangerous or disruptive to live among the general prison population. The issue is whether depriving thousands of people of virtually all human contact for years on end, without real opportunities to get out, goes beyond any reasonable standard of proportionality in punishment. “They want to make these people suffer — it’s exactly what the goal is,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “Whose interests are being undermined if you let someone for the first time in a year talk to their mother?”


At LA Observed there is an excellent photo of a backyard bear lounging over a fence attractively draped with bougainvillea. (I mean, for those of you interested in backyard bears and bougainvillea, of course.)

The bear looks very cheerful.

Posted in CDCR, Charter Schools, Education, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

MORE POST TRIAL NEWS: Violence at an LA Prayer Vigil……”What Do I Tell My Boys Now?”….Zimmerman Juror’s Speedy Book Agent Deal……..and more

July 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


A well-organized, well-attended prayer vigil and community rally that began at Leimert Park early on Monday evening, was disrupted by a rowdy, angry and violent group of mostly young men on Tuesday night. The destruction-intent group was described by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at an 11 pm press conference in the Crenshaw area as being made up about 150 people who reportedly vandalized Walmart, jumped on cars, broke windows in other nearby stores, and assaulted random people, including an attack injurying KCBS reporter Dave Bryan and his cameraman.

“The right of the many has been abused by the action of the few,” Beck said. The chief warned that on Monday he had allowed the protestors a lot of latitude, but that the latitude was about to vanish. “Parents, don’t send your children to protest in and around Crenshaw tomorrow,” Beck warned.

Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the 11 pm press conference by saying, “The verdict has ignited passions, but we have to make sure it doesn’t ignite our city.”

Garcetti was joined by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who spoke on similar themes. “Twenty-one years ago we witnessed what can happen when there’s a reaction to a verdict. I stand today to say a word about nonviolence…It’s the most effective way to communicate how to address injustice…”

Next up was City Councilman Bernard Parks who, like the other three, urged moderation: “You can protest. Your voices will be heard.” Parks asked demonstrators to focus on the “tragedy in Florida.” Instead, he said, “some people are trying to “create their own tragedy in the city of Los Angeles.

“This will not be tolerated after tonight.”

Community organizer Najee Ali, who was one of Monday night’s main rally organizers, was shaken by the melee caused by the splinter group or groups.

“I’m on my way home from one of the…craziest nights of my life,” he tweeted and posted on his Facebook page. “Its sad seeing our young people like that. To see them and what they did to innocent people was devastating.”

All officials stressed that the violent group was very much in the minority.

For additional reports see the LA Times and Natasha Vargas-Cooper from Buzzfeed.


Along with the ongoing news reports, editorials and the Op Eds, a series of pain and grief-laden essays by parents continue to appear. Here are a couple we didn’t think you should miss—one from New York, the other from LA.


Among the most emotionally affecting in the newest crop is this essay by NY Times columnist, Charles Blow. Here’s a clip from the essay’s end. But please read the whole:

…Sometimes people just need a focal point. Sometimes that focal point becomes a breaking point.

The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies — like stop-and-frisk, and in this case neighborhood watch — regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.

As a parent, particularly a parent of black teenage boys, I am left with the question, “Now, what do I tell my boys?”

We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly.

So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?

And can they ever stop walking away, or running away, and simply stand their ground? Can they become righteously indignant without being fatally wounded?

Is there anyplace safe enough, or any cargo innocent enough, for a black man in this country? Martin was where he was supposed to be — in a gated community — carrying candy and a canned drink.

The whole system failed Martin. What prevents it from failing my children, or yours?

I feel that I must tell my boys that, but I can’t. It’s stuck in my throat. It’s an impossibly heartbreaking conversation to have. So, I sit and watch in silence, and occasionally mouth the word, “breathe,” because I keep forgetting to.

But read what Blow wrote in the lead up—especially if you are a parent. Even more, if you are the parent of a boy, whatever color.


LA Times columnist Sandy Banks told how she is struggling painfully with similar questions, as do her friends. Again, please read the whole thing. But here’s a representative clip:

What do we tell the children?

That’s the cliched question we trot out when we’re confounded by cases like this. This time, for black parents at least, it’s more than rhetoric.

Lawrence Ross is an Inglewood author who travels to colleges around the country, counseling and encouraging black students. Ross is also the father of a 14-year-old boy, whose favorite show of independence these days is walking alone to the 7-Eleven near their gated community.

Ross has spent years teaching his son to be safe and not fall prey to others’ fears:

If you’re driving and the police stop you, put both hands on the dashboard, so the officer can see you don’t pose a threat. If you’re in the elevator alone with a white person, speak so they’ll know you’re articulate and they don’t have to fear you.

But the verdict delivered a message that mocks those parental pretensions: “The world has just been told that my son is [going to be] the aggressor,” Ross said. “That he has no right to exist without question or explanation. That’s devastating to me.

“I want him to walk out in the world as a productive and kind adult, without burdening him with all the sociological issues this country brings.” But he also can’t afford to let naivete disarm his boy.

“What is the safe point? That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes this resonate so strongly.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a mother, my heart tears open reading these accounts.

My own son is now 27, married, and living in the Bay Area with a fabulous job. In his skateboarding, fence jumping, late-night-walking, risk-taking, hormone-fraught teenage years, he mostly wore a beanie, not a hoodie.

And, most crucially, he is white.

But these essays still make me sob, and make me thankful that my cherished tall boy, the light of my life, is grown. To be honest, I’m also grateful that in his edgiest, scariest adolescent moments (and without going into detail, suffice it to say, that there were a few very scary times) I never had to deal with the added fear that race still brings into the mix.

Many of my other friends cannot say the same. And I grieve with them.

I grieve for all of us.



TUESDAY UPDATE – Book agent Sharlene Martin decides to recind the deal to represent Jurer B37 after watching the woman’s interview with Anderson Cooper, calling the contract a “grave mistake.”

LA Times reporter Hector Tobar makes an interesting observation in his story on Tuesday about the fact that a Zimmerman trial juror, the woman known as “Jurer B37,” somehow magically managed to have signed with a book agent by first thing Monday morning, meaning she and her attorney husband were very, very busy on Saturday night after the verdict, and on Sunday—either that OR the agency-representation-signing timeline is a little less attractive and ethical than anyone has yet admitted.

Here are the relevant clips from Tobar’s story:

Over the weekend, while thousands of people in various cities across the United States were protesting the George Zimmerman trial verdict, one of the six jurors in the trial was apparently quite busy on the phone—with a literary agent.

The not guilty verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin came on Saturday evening. And on Monday morning, the woman known as “Juror B37,” and the juror’s husband, had signed an agreement to be represented by the Los Angeles-based Martin Literary Management agency, as announced by the agency’s president, Sharlene Martin.


Anyone who’s ever tried to reach a literary agent over the weekend will question the timing of said announcement, which came less than 36 hours after the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all counts. Is it possible that Juror B37, or her husband, was in contact with the agency before the six-woman jury even began to deliberate? And might a desire to transform her experience as a juror into a marketable story have influenced B37’s view of the case?

Good (and very discomforting) question.

Just so you know, Tobar, in addition to his work at the LA Times, is a talented and well-regarded novelist, meaning he’s familiar with such things as getting agents on the phone over any given weekend.

So, yeah, all you jurors, make literary and TV movie deals, if you can manage it. God speed! But it would have been comforting to know that all the deal hustling waited at least until after the deliberations over a very painful murder trial had been safely completed.


Aside from the oddly-timed book deal deal it seems B37 is a bit of a quirky girl.

Here’s a clip from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick’s story that questions “Why her?” with regard to B37′s selection.

Less than two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, juror B37, one of the six members of the anonymous panel, signed with a literary agent to shop her book about the trial.

The news comes with a bonus video: juror B37’s entire voir dire captured on film and promoted today by Gawker. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Sadly the GAWKER voir dire video has since been yanked from YouTube, but here's another.] The process by which counsel on each side of the case interviews prospective jurors is revealing in all kinds of ways, and a useful lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system. In the case of B37, it is also master class on how to not know anything about something everyone else knows about.

Start with the general observations already raised in Gawker: B37 consumes no media beyond the Today Show—no radio, no Internet news and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were “riots” after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as “an unfortunate incident that happened.”

But the tape raises another question that should be debated in every trial advocacy class in America: What were the lawyers, especially the prosecutors, thinking when they seated her? Why didn’t prosecutors use one of their peremptory challenges to nix her? She’s contrarian, she raised serious ontological doubts about the nature of truth-seeking, and she was only ever truly animated on the subject of rescue birds…


We have several stories that got bumped because the Trayvon stories seemed pressing.

Among other things, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the LASD’s jail building proposals will be presented….so stay tuned.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, media, race, race and class, racial justice, Youth at Risk | 8 Comments »

DOMA Unconstitutional! ….Prop. 8 Dismissed for Lack of Standing……Also The Supremes on Voting Rights…..A Young Father’s Parental Rights.

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The New Yorker has a photo of Edie Windsor learning of the decision.


DOMA is found unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages,” writes Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority.

Here’s a link to the DOMA opinion.

And this is from the live blogging at SCOTUSBlog:

“What this means, in plain terms,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSBLOG, which has been live-blogging the rulings, “is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.”

Adam Liptak of the NY Times writes this:

Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal from the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages there are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.


Here’s the Prop 8 ruling.

Here’s the plain English version from the NY Times:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Here’s Greg Stohr at Bloomberg:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and potentially clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.

The decisions in the two cases sustain the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. With a 5-4 procedural ruling in the California case, the court reinstated a trial judge’s order allowing at least some gay marriages there. And by invalidating part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act by a different 5-4 majority, the court rejected many of the justifications for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently.

Interestingly, the decision on Prop 8 features a different 5/4 configuration with Roberts writing for the majority.

Here’s David Savage of the LA Times:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined [Roberts] to form the majority.

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Okay, that’s it for the moment. Lots of good national coverage. This is an excellent day for equal rights in the nation.


The web and my email box are loaded with angry expert opinions and cries of anguish over Tuesday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Garrett Epps from the Atlantic writes about the dispiriting decision in appropriately blistering terms:

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.) But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality. An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes. The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.


The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.


This Solomonic/halving-the-baby decision is a heartbreaker however you look at it.

Dan Frosch and Timothy Williams write about the ruling for the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law devised to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision, which reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, found that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that made it more difficult for American Indian children to be removed from their families. That landmark legislation effectively ended the practice of taking Indian children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools and foster care.

The court’s majority held Tuesday that the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had relinquished his parental rights before the girl’s birth and her biological mother had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.

Four months after the child’s birth, the father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption.

The girl was in the process of being legally adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Mr. Brown. The child, now nearly 4, has been living with Mr. Brown in Oklahoma for the past year and a half. The state courts found that both the Capobianco family and Mr. Brown had provided the girl with safe, loving homes.

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of the dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from child welfare groups, adoptive parents and Indian tribes, all of whom have sought a clearer legal standard of how the Indian Child Welfare Act should be applied when it appears to conflict with state law.

Posted in children and adolescents, How Appealing, LGBT, race, race and class, racial justice, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Racially Biased Justice in the News: Weed Arrests, NYC’s Stop & Frisk….and a Happy Dad’s Day Story

June 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

It’s been three and a half years since Michelle Alexander’s essential book, The New Jim Crow, appeared in book stores
and laid out, with an avalanche of unignorable facts, her thesis that Jim Crow and racial segregation have been replaced by a racially biased justice system where discrimination masquerades as public safety with shattering effects.

The following stories that hit the news recently are examples of the problem that Alexander pointed out, each with their own complexities.


Earlier this month we wrote about the ACLU’s report showing the racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.

Following up on that report, the NY Times ran an editorial over the weekend urging law enforcement, both on a state and local level, to do away with the kind of arrest policies that are the most likely to produce these disasterously biased outcomes that the report outlines.

Here’s a clip:

Researchers have long known that African-Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though studies have repeatedly shown that the two groups use the drug at similar rates.

Of the more than eight million marijuana arrests made between 2001 and 2010, nearly 90 percent were for possession. There were nearly 900,000 marijuana arrests in 2010 — 300,000 more than for all violent crimes combined.

Nationally, African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites. The disparity is even more pronounced in some states, including Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, where African-Americans are about eight times as likely to be arrested. And in some counties around the country, blacks are 10, 15 or even 30 times as likely to be arrested.

This nationwide pattern is evident in all kinds of communities — urban and rural, wealthy and low income, in places where the African-American populations are large and in places where they are small.

As the report notes, police officers who are targeting black citizens and black neighborhoods are turning “a comparatively blind eye to the same conduct occurring at the same rates in many white communities.”


As the more than five-year-old lawsuit challenging New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy finally comes to a close, the Department of Justice has told the federal judge overseeing the case she has the DOJ’s permission (read: encouragement) to slap the city with federal oversight if she rules its actions violate the Constitution.

Should that come about, it will be met with much resistance by such people as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly who both say that the policy has made the city safer and has lowered the kind of serious crime that affects minorities in the city disproportionately.

Delvin Barrett and Sean Gardiner of the Wall Street Journal, among others, have the story that will continue to unfold this week. Here’s a clip:

The New York Police Department faces the prospect of a federal monitor for the first time in its history, after the Justice Department issued an opinion in a civil-rights trial concerning the city’s policy of conducting street stops.

The tactic, known as stop-and-frisk, has received intense scrutiny in New York, where officers have conducted more than five million such stops in the past decade. While 52% of the city’s population is black or Hispanic, those groups make up 85% of those stopped, according to NYPD data.

Officers can stop, question and sometimes frisk people on the street when they have reasonable suspicion of a crime. But three federal class-action lawsuits have questioned whether New York’s execution of the tactic violates the U.S. Constitution.

In an opinion filed Wednesday night, the Justice Department said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin could impose an outside monitor on the NYPD if she finds that officers violated the law in conducting stops. The opinion is tied to the first of the three cases to go to trial. Judge Scheindlin hasn’t yet ruled.



Nickerson Gardens is a community where, in the past, too many kids have been wounded by the lack of adequate fathering. Now, however, a growing number of men in Nickerson are working hard to be the kind of fathers to their own kids that they never had. Sunday, on Father’s Day, the community acknowledged those dads with what organizers hope will be a yearly celebration.

KPCC’s Erica Aguilar has the story.

Here’s a clip:

For the first time, families from Nickerson Gardens housing development gave a formal ‘Thank You’ to the dads in the community at Sunday’s inaugural Father’s Day luncheon.

“In these communities, the fathers, they just feel nobody kind of care about them,” said Donny Joubert, who organized the event.

Joubert works for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, which manages the development. When you talk to guys at Nickerson Gardens, they refer to him as “Uncle Donny.” Joubert said he relates to the young fathers; he grew up there and is a dad himself.

“We got a bunch of young men that we know that is struggling, job to job, dealing with situations at home, but still trying to be there for their kid,” he said.

The event was called “Honor Thy Father.” About two-dozen dads were showered with ‘man bags,’ as one father called it. The gift bags were filled with some dad essentials like shiny silver watches, shaving kits, and of course white socks.

“Nobody never do nothing for the fathers, so this is a great,’ said Kevin White, a single father, whose sons are 17 and 18 years old.

White said he and his ex-girlfriend share custody of their teenage sons after they decided a long time ago that their relationship just wasn’t working. The towering man behind a dark pair of sunglasses twists a long silver chain hanging around his neck. White said that his 18-year old son starts his first year at Virginia Tech in August…..


According to the U.S. Census Bureau 24 million kids in America-–one out of every three—grow up with their biological fathers absent from thier homes.

That’s why fledgling events like the one above, and programs like Jordan Downs’ Project Fatherhood, are so very important—-and are indeed a cause for celebration.

NOTE: Project Fatherhood (which we reported on here) was featured at the Fatherhood Solutions conference held Friday and sponsored by the Children’s Institute.

Posted in children and adolescents, Community Health, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice | No Comments »

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

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chief Charlie Beck to Hold Press Conference About Dorner Case…and More

February 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck is holding a press conference Tuesday at 9 am to “provide an update to the Christopher Dorner case and on the reopening of the investigation.”

Along with Beck, LAPD Captain Phil Tingirides plus his wife, Sergeant Emada Tingirides, will “address the media with their experience as protected employees during the Dorner manhunt.”

To refresh your memory, Captain Tingirides sat on the Board of Rights panel that recommended Dorner’s dismissal and was one of the dozen department members whose families were threatened most specifically in the “manifesto” that has been attributed to Christopher Dorner. (There were upwards of 50 officers and their families who were considered at risk, but with some, the risk assessment was considered to be much higher. Tingirides was one of those at the high risk end.)

Interestingly, Tingirides, who is white, is married to an LAPD officer (Emada Tingirides) who is black—a fact that one imagines was not lost on those planning the press conference, given the intense and painful conversations about the LAPD and racism that the whole Dorner matter has brought back to the surface. (Emada Tingirides worked at the department’s Harbor division with Dorner.)

In any case, it is a good thing that Beck is having press conference at this juncture. (I understand there was a contingent inside the department advising him against it.) Now let us see what comes of this morning’s discussion.

It is also encouraging to note that the chief and other command staff members have made a point of scheduling upcoming open meetings in South LA to hear what community members have to say about about the department, and what they want to see changed.

NOTE: While we wait for the outcome of the press conference, here’s this morning’s interview between Phil and Emada Tingirides and CBS’s John Miller, who was one of the highest ranking civilians at the LAPD under Bill Bratton. We learn, among other things, that some of the South LA’s gang members and former gang members offered to act as a protection detail for the Tangirides couple and their six kids, when the Dorner threat was announced. (Tangirides kindly but firmly turned the homeboys down.)

UPDATE: I’m snowed under with another project, thus I want to refer you to reports from the press conference by: KPCC.…. The LA Times The Daily News.


In an Op Ed for the Washington Post, LAPD Lieutenant Sunil Dutta, who worked for LAPD’s Internal Affairs (among other postings), says it’s time to have civilians—not cops—investigate the police. And he explains why he thinks this is right for both the community and for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Here are some clips:

….The department’s problems aren’t all in the past, either: In November, a jury awarded former officer Pedro Torres $2.8 million after finding that officials retaliated when he verified claims about an allegedly racist supervisor. During the past decade, 17 officers have won million-dollar-plus verdicts in lawsuits claiming harassment, discrimination and retaliation. African American officers, including some supervisors I’ve spoken with, say in private that they don’t feel like they are part of the system and don’t trust it.


I worked as an internal affairs investigator in the LAPD for about three years. When I visited police divisions to look into complaints against officers, I was usually greeted by the same question: “Who are you going to burn today?” Officers often believed that internal affairs was out to get them on flimsy charges.

At the same time, when I interviewed community members who had filed complaints against officers, I was disappointed to learn that, despite my reassurances and best efforts to conduct impartial inquiries, many complainants believed that a fair investigation was simply not possible. Nor do misconduct investigations satisfy a skeptical public. If an officer is exonerated, the community often believes that malfeasance is being covered up.

Police serve the community — any concerns about their integrity must be transparently, expeditiously and judiciously resolved. Relying on cops to police cops is neither efficient nor confidence-inspiring.

The solution? Abolish internal affairs units and outsource their work to external civilian agencies.

Police have slowly started to incorporate civilian oversight in their misconduct investigations. For example, the LAPD’s office of inspector general has oversight over the department’s internal discipline. Yet, while the inspector general’s staff receives copies of every personnel complaint filed and tracks and audits selected cases, it does not have the authority to impose discipline. Nor do most civilian review boards, which are not empowered to conduct independent investigations. This leads detractors to say that such boards are ineffectual.

Police have long resisted external oversight….

Anyway, read on.

And for more on Sunil Dutta, who is quite an interesting guy (whose writing has appeared in the past here at WLA), I refer you to Wikipedia.


Ajay Singh of the Highland Park Patch, snagged a Q&A with Captain Bill Murphy, the LAPD Northeast Division commander who ended up being in charge of providing police protection to officers and their families targeted by Christopher Dorner.

In this interview with Capt. Murphy we learn such things as the fact that the department briefly considered temporarily relocating the threatened families to a military base, but quickly realized the impracticality—what with kids and schools and…”they had pets and what not.”

There are lots of other interesting nuggets of that nature.

Oddly what Singh did not appear to ask Murphy is about the matter of shooting the two newspaper delivery women.

I’ve interviewed Bill Murphy many times in the past and have always found him to be a straight shooter unafraid of treating the press like grown ups, and who, when he can’t talk about something says so, and why, without any kind of dodging.

So I wondered at the oversight.

In any case, the interview is still quite worth reading.


Okay, this ongoing story about members of the Pasadena Police Department’s homicide squad is the brewing police misconduct scandal that seems to be getting lost amid...well….everything else. But it’s been hitting the press intermittently since last summer, with Pasadena Star-News’s Brian Charles taking the lead in the reporting.

Now the LA DA’s office has taken action, as has the alternate public attorney’s office, after Judge Larry Fidler declared a mistrial in a murder case, and evidently admonished Detective William Broghamer and Officer Kevin Okamoto for their “egregious” conduct during an 2007 homicide investigation.

Charles reports:

A defense attorney for one of the defendants in that case said the county’s twin investigations will likely expose deep rooted corruption.

“They shouldn’t have a homicide department,” Attorney Andrew Stein said Thursday. “The department needs to be cleaned out from the top-down. I don’t understand how anyone could allow this culture to exist.”

So what exactly have Detectives Broghamer and Okamoto and another of their colleagues, a Detective Keith Gomez, been accused of doing?

Here’s another clip from Charles’ story:

Earlier this month [Pasadena PD Chief] Sanchez placed Okamoto on paid leave after [Judge] Fidler said the officer hid exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. Broghamer was placed on desk duty after the same judge admonished him for his conduct during an interrogation in which he threatened to take a witnesses’ child away from her if she didn’t recant earlier statements.

Under duress, the woman changed her testimony; Okamoto signed paperwork authorizing the woman to receive $6,450 in taxpayer dollars for “relocation expenses.”


Okamoto, Broghamer and Detective Keith Gomez have been the subject of complaints filed by attorneys, witnesses, jurors and suspects. Allegations of kidnapping, assaults, death threats, soliciting of bribes, evidence suppression and malfeasance are contained within the complaints.

You might want to read that last sentence again.

To further elucidate, here are some links to stories that give windows into a few of the jaw-dropping accusations against the three detectives:

Here for example, is the story about the three detectives allegedly kidnapping and beating a witness who wouldn’t say what they wanted him to say regarding a case they were investigating.

And….here’s the story in which a criminologist reports that he was asked by Detective Okamoto to withhold evidence from the defense and “mislead” the defense attorney.

And…here’s the thing about Detective Okamoto allegedly forcing a female witness to change her testimony about a murder defendant, using a whole series of convincing threats and a quid pro quo-ish set up that looks an awful lot like a bribe.

We’ll check in on this story in the future, so stay tuned.


As the prospect of the Prop 8 case being argued before SCOTUS a little over a month away, Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News writes about his intriguing interview with former San Francisco Federal Judge Vaughn Walker who originally heard the Prop 8 legal challenge.

Here’s a clip:

On a May day in 2009, Vaughn Walker was going through one of his weekly routines as a federal judge, reviewing a stack of new lawsuits assigned to his San Francisco chambers, when one case caught his eye: Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

At the time, Walker had no inkling that history might rest in those pages, that one of the most important legal collisions in the nation over same-sex marriage might hang in the balance. In fact, at first, all Walker noticed was then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s name.
But it did not take long for the veteran chief judge, himself quietly but openly in a longtime gay relationship with a doctor, to realize that he had inherited the legal challenge to Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The silver-haired judge with the iconoclast’s reputation would be center stage in the gay marriage controversy.

“That’s when I had the —-’Oh (my)’ moment,” Walker told this newspaper during an interview last week, recalling that he was already mulling retirement when the lawsuit landed on his desk.
The case temporarily took retirement off the table for Walker. And now the Proposition 8 showdown has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on March 26 and, to some extent, review Walker’s handiwork before ruling by June. Walker, after conducting an unprecedented trial, in 2010 declared the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, saying the law had no social justification and singled out same-sex couples for discrimination.

A federal appeals court agreed with Walker, although it took a much narrower approach in invalidating Proposition 8. Still, Walker’s role has shaped the nearly four-year legal battle over same-sex marriage rights in California.

Read on. It’s good stuff.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, race, race and class, racial justice | 14 Comments »

After a Year of Hearings, CA Lawmakers Issue Alarming Report on Status of Boys & Men of Color

August 8th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

After a year’s worth of packed regional hearings in Oakland, Los Angeles, Fresno and Coachella, the California State Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color returns to Sacramento on Wednesday, August 8, to issue a 50 plus-page report that describes all the ways that too many of California’s young men of color are not thriving—and what must be done about it, if California itself is to thrive.

The report’s findings deal with discouraging disparities in educational opportunities, in employment, in the disproportion of black and hispanic kids in the juvenile justice system…and more.

The report also has a list of policy and legislative recommendations

Thus far, members of the bi-partisan committee, headed by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, have produced 19 bills that coincide with the committees findings, all of which are currently pending in the state legislature. Most have to do with correcting the policies of zero tolerance and punitive discipline in schools, which have been shown to do far more damage than good.

Harder to address will be some of the juvenile justice issues (which we’ll be covering over the next year).

Scott Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the report and its findings.

Here’s a clip:

In California, by a 36 to 27 percent ratio, young African-American men without a high school diploma or its equivalent are more likely to be found languishing in prison than working a regular job. Young Latino men are roughly 40 percent more likely than white men to wind up serving time in an adult prison. And African-American kindergartners are more than three times as likely as their white playmates to believe they lack the ability to succeed in school.

These are just some of the disturbing findings that will be brought to light in a report Wednesday when the California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color presents its working action plan at its sixth and final hearing in Sacramento.
The report is part of a sweeping effort, the first of its kind in California, to accurately assess the myriad ways in which young men of color across the state are falling behind when it comes to success in school, access to health care, employment and a host of other critical public health, safety and criminal justice issues. The report also lays out a breathtaking array of policy suggestions, legislative proposals and ideas for ways policymakers can improve the health outcomes of the state’s most vulnerable and at-risk individuals.

Christiana Hoag of the AP has still more. Here’s a clip:

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Sandre Swanson, the Oakland Democrat who heads the subcommittee. “Young men of color in trouble cost the state of California billions of dollars. There’s a moral question to be addressed here, too.”

The report, which was the culmination of a series of five hearings the subcommittee conducted around the state over the past year, termed the issue “a serious threat ” to California’s future success in light of statewide demographic trends.

An aging population, declining birth rates and growing number of minority residents will force California to increasingly rely on its young workforce as its economic mainstay, and about 71 percent of the state’s under-25 population comprises black, Latino, Asian, Native American and Pacific Islanders.

Males in those groups tend to fare worse than other population segments, “trapped in a cycle of prison, poverty, and disadvantage,”

The report said. “Deteriorated schools and neighborhoods, poor health, dysfunctional social support and limited job opportunities hamper their progress … improving opportunities for all young adults, particularly those of color, is a state imperative.’”

The final hearing on Wednesday will LIVE STREAM from 1pm to 4pm.

Photo by WitnessLA

Posted in children and adolescents, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Public Health, race, race and class, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

POTUS & Pardons, Undocumented Lawyers, & $$ for Faith-Based Prison Rehab

July 19th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Barack Obama has not, thus far, been big on handing out presidential pardons. In fact, since 2008, 7000 requests for presidential commutations of sentences have been denied, a whopping 22 times the refusal rate for Ronald Reagan during his entire eight years in office.

Recently, however, the Obama administration has snapped awake on the matter and ordered the Justice Department to launch its its first ever comprehensive analysis of the way in which recommendations for White House pardons are processed.

In so doing, the administration is also looking into the commutation request by one particular Alabama inmate, Clarence Aaron, a man whose case many believe is a sad illustration of the biased manner in which recipients of POTUS pardons and commutations are selected.

A story by ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer dealing with Aaron’s case and with the the troubling workings of the pardons office, is the latest in an excellent series co-published with the Washington Post, in which Linzer has been investigating the matter of presidential pardons in general, focusing attention on an arena that rarely draws notice, except when some wealthy or well-connected felon gets pardoned (or his sentence commuted) by an exiting president or governor.

Here’s a clip from this week’s story:

The Office of Pardon Attorney has been at the center of growing controversy since December, when stories published by ProPublica and The Washington Post revealed a racial disparity in pardons. White applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities. African Americans had the least chance of success.

A subsequent story published in May recounted the saga of Clarence Aaron, a first-time offender sentenced in 1993 to three life terms in prison for his role in a drug conspiracy. In 2008, the pardon attorney recommended that President George W. Bush deny Aaron’s request for a commutation even though his application had the support of the prosecutor’s office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him. The pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, did not fully disclose that information to the White House.

The handling of Aaron’s case prompted widespread criticism that the pardon office– which has rejected applications at an unprecedented pace under Rodgers–is not giving clemency requests proper consideration.

Aaron filed a new commutation request in 2010, which is pending. In the past two months, his cause has been taken up by members of Congress, law professors and prominent civil rights advocates, many of whom have called for a broader investigation of the pardon process.

For more on Aaron’s case, check this story and this interview on PBS’s Frontline.


State Attorney General Kamala Harris has just waded into the undocumented law student legal controversy. Howard Mintz writing for the San Jose Mercury News has the story on this latest chapter in what has been an ongoing and interesting tale that will set precedent if it is decided in 35 year old Sergio Garcia’s favor.

Garcia’s dilemma is yet another example of the problems faced by California residents who were brought to the U.S. as very young children and thus are Americans in all ways—except for the one way that counts, legally speaking.

Here’s a clip from Mintz’ story:

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday sided with an undocumented immigrant’s bid to become a lawyer, telling the state Supreme Court that the law school graduate has a legal right to get his license to practice.

In a brief filed in the Supreme Court, Harris backed the cause of Sergio Garcia, a 35-year-old Chico area man whose immigration status has clouded his right to be licensed by the State Bar. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and it invited Harris’ legal views on whether state or federal laws forbid licensing an undocumented immigrant.

“No law or policy prevents this court from admitting Garcia to the State Bar,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “In fact, admitting Garcia to the Bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society.”
The State Bar Board of Examiners also has recommended that the Supreme Court allow Garcia to be licensed.

Garcia originally came to the United States as a toddler and returned to Mexico at around eight-years old, returning here for good when he was 17 to finish high school. He has been waiting 18 years for his visa; his father and most of his siblings are already U.S. citizens.


As California’s prison rehabilitation programs continue to vanish due to budget cuts , the late Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries announced that it has made a deal with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to launch faith-based training programs in two California prisons, made possible by a big new grant from a wealthy local rancher.

The Californian has the story. Here’s a clip:

Monterey County’s two state prisons are among those starting a faith-based program aimed at keeping parolees from returning once they are freed.

Prison Fellowship Ministries announced last month that businessman and rancher Wayne Hughes and his wife, Wendy, have donated more than $2 million to its Urban Ministry Institute Christian outreach program.

“Deep budget cuts have pretty much eliminated programs to rehabilitate our state’s prisoners,” Wayne Hughes said. “Wendy and I are stepping up to the plate to expand a program that will make a huge difference in our prisons and, ultimately, in our cities.”

According to Prison Fellowship Ministries, the program — a partnership with World Impact, a Christian missions organization, is in its planning stages at the Correctional Training Facility and Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. However, the program is set to begin locally this fall.

The program — under agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — is spread out into 16 nine-week courses run by trained Prison Fellowship volunteers. Upon completion, participants receive a Certificate in Christian Leadership Studies.

Prison Fellowship said its goal is to add 32 more classes across the state prisons. Thus far, 265 inmates have enrolled in the program.

NOTE: Unbiased studies on how effective faith-based programs of this nature are in reducing recidivism have produced mixed outcomes, particularly if dropouts from the programs are counted when figuring success rates. But among self-selecting graduates of the programs they have proved to be valuable and since they are mostly cost-neutral for the prisons, they are, for many, a very welcome addition.

Posted in Obama, prison, prison policy, race, race and class | 1 Comment »

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