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Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No 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 »

Black Kids 8% of SF Students and 50% of “Defiance” Suspensions…LA Supervisors on LASD Indictments…and Gov. Brown Gets More Time to Drop Prison Pop

December 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

SF SCHOOL DISTRICT MOVES TOWARD ELIMINATING SUSPENSIONS FOR “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” AFTER ALARMING STATISTICS SURFACE

While African-Americans teenagers comprised just 8% of San Francisco’s public high school students in 2012, they accounted for a whopping 50% of suspensions for “willful defiance,” according to SF Unified School District data obtained by Public Counsel.

On Tuesday, in light of this data, a member of the district’s Board of Education introduced a resolution that would end suspensions for “willful defiance” by the beginning of the next school year, in addition to discipline alternatives like “trauma-informed counseling.”

Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has more on the data and what it means for San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.

The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population. Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance.

Just as The City by the Bay is challenged by sharp income divides, its schools, too, suffer from a wide gap in academic achievement between white student and those who are black or Latino.

High rates of suspension result in poor academic performance as out-of-school kids fall behind and disengage from school, said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s California statewide education rights director.

“These go hand in hand,” she said. “They are not separate.”

Suspensions, Public Counsel has said, are like an “unsupervised vacation” from school, with damaging consequences for students.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education began considering a resolution introduced by a member to eliminate, by next fall, the option to suspend students for willful defiance.

“We’ve made some progress in reducing suspensions overall,” said Matt Haney, who introduced the “Safe and Supportive Schools” resolution.

Despite that, Haney said, “the numbers for African American students remain not just troubling, but shocking.”


SUPES DISCUSS LASD ARRESTS AND POSSIBLE FUTURE OVERSIGHT

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors held a closed-door meeting to discuss the controversial arrests of 18 current and former LASD officers Monday morning. (Read the backstory here, and here.) In the regular Tuesday board meeting, the Supervisors did not report that any decisions were made during the closed session.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Seema Mehta and also with Warren Olney of Which Way LA? on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called again for a citizens’ commission to oversee the sheriff’s department. The potential blue ribbon commission will be up again for consideration by the board next month, though a third vote is needed to move forward. At the moment, only Ridley-Thomas and Molina are in favor of the commission.

Here’s more on the issue from Abby Sewell and Seema Mehta. Here are some clips:

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina earlier this year proposed setting up a citizens’ panel similar to the one that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, which was hit by misconduct convictions during the so-called Rampart scandal in the 1990s.

The other supervisors did not support the plan, saying the inspector general’s office — which was set up at the recommendation of a panel that studied jail violence — would be a more effective watchdog. Ridley-Thomas said he hopes the recent arrests will lead them to reconsider. The proposal for a citizens’ commission is slated to come back before the board next month.

“There is a model that has made [LAPD] better. It would seem to some that the county of Los Angeles would be anxious to do something similar if not better, particularly in light of today’s revelations,” Ridley-Thomas said. “…This is a cultural problem, fundamentally so, and this is tantamount in some ways to the stench of Rampart.”

[SNIP]

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who does not support creating a citizens’ oversight commission, said during the board’s weekly meeting Tuesday that he does support continuing efforts to hold wrongdoers in the Sheriff’s Department accountable.

“We know that continuing investigations are going on and very likely this is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s going to go higher up the chain of command,” he said.

Molina, a longtime critic of Baca, said in a biting statement, “Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform — they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years.”

We also wanted to make sure you did not miss the excellent Monday LA Times editorial about the arrests and underlying “deep-seated” culture of abuse in LA County jails. Here’s how it opens:

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday’s arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff’s deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department’s bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.

They do not, however, deserve to be beaten. A civilized society is entitled to punish lawbreakers, but officials with badges, guns and the authority to ensure safety and order are not vested with the right to abuse those they guard. Nor are all inmates criminals; many are in jail awaiting trial, presumed innocent until the jury verdict…


CALIFORNIA GIVEN 53 EXTRA DAYS TO FIX PRISON OVERCROWDING

On Wednesday, federal judges granted Gov. Jerry Brown an extension on the deadline to reduce the California prison population, moving the date to April 18 (from February 24). The judges also pushed back the deadline for negotiations on how to solve the overcrowding problem to January 10, but also said that they intended it to be the final extension. The good news is that the extra time does strongly suggest that the judges are rooting for the more progressive solution (rehabilitation, reentry programs), not solely the simple reduction of the numbers in the short term. (For previous WLA posts on the issue go here and here.)

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The judges previously moved the deadline to February while a court-appointed mediator works to find a long-term solution with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and attorneys representing inmates who say crowding leads to conditions so poor that they violate constitutional standards.

The judges ordered that those talks continue until Jan. 10. But their one-paragraph order warns that they plan no further extension in the negotiations “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“The court is bending over backward to accommodate the state,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the case. “We’re anxious to either complete the negotiation process, or if that’s not successful, to resume litigation at the earliest possible time.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, race, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Advocates Oppose LA’s Newest Jail Contract…New CA Foster Youth Education Data…90% of Pasadena Juvenile Arrests are Minorities…and Gov. Brown on Criminal Justice Bills

October 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY RESIDENTS AND ADVOCATES STILL FIGHTING TAFT JAIL CONTRACT

Last month, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a $75M contract to send 500 county jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. (You can read about it here.)

Advocates and residents were still voicing their opposition at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, and a new petition from Board of Supes watchdog Eric Preven asks the Supes to cancel the contract and use realignment funds for community alternatives.

In the above videos: Susan Burton founded A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project for incarcerated women after decades of cycling through the criminal justice system herself. Former gang member James Horton works for Homeboy Industries. He spent twelve years on death row before having his murder charge reversed.


NEW CALIFORNIA FOSTER CARE REPORT LOOKS AT EDUCATION CHALLENGES

Foster care kids in California face an “invisible achievement gap,” according to a report released today.

There are some alarming findings in the report, including the fact that the graduation rate for 2009-2010 high school seniors in foster care was almost 30% lower than that of their peers, and that little more than a third of foster youths perform at grade level in math.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

The study, which provides the first detailed statewide look at foster youths and their academic challenges, was made possible by a new data-sharing agreement between the state education and social services agencies. It comes as school districts across California prepare to launch the nation’s first effort to systematically address the yawning academic deficiencies among foster youths, using additional money provided by the state’s new school financing law.

“This report makes these invisible kids visible,” said Teri Kook of the Stuart Foundation, which funded the study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd in San Francisco. “The experiences they’ve had — abuse, neglect, moving from home to home — are having an impact on their ability to academically achieve.”

The report shows that Los Angeles County had by far the most public school students in foster care — 12,648 of the 43,140 students identified — with the largest number attending L.A. Unified schools. Although Latinos made up the biggest group at 43%, African Americans were disproportionately represented at 26% — more than three times larger than their share of the population —followed by whites at 23% and Asians at 2%.

The youths switched schools more often than other students — each transfer can set a student back as many as six months, research shows — and suffered far greater levels of emotional trauma than their peers. Such factors, researchers said, are key reasons why they performed worse in English, math and the high school exit exam than even low-income students overall.

Only 37% of foster youths were at grade level in math — scoring lower than all other student groups, including those with disabilities and limited English. Their high school dropout rate in 2009-10 was 8%, more than twice the rate of their statewide peers.


MINORITIES COMPRISE MAJORITY OF PASADENA YOUTH ARRESTS

Almost 90% of Pasadena juvenile arrests between 2008-2012 were of Black and Latino youths, according to data obtained by LA Daily News. The accompanying infographic does also show that the total arrests of both Latinos and African Americans were reduced by more than half from 2008 to 2012.

LADN’s Sarah Favot has the story. Here are some clips:

The data, obtained in a response to a public records request, covers 1,464 incidents. It includes the date, charges, sex, age and race of those youths who were arrested after encounters with police.

Black youths represent 16  percent of Pasadena Unified School District’s school-age population, school district records show, but account for 41  percent of the juvenile arrests, according to the data.

U.S. Census data show that the total black population in Pasadena was about 11 percent in 2010.

Black and Latino youth were also arrested more frequently than white youth for serious crimes like assault, battery, murder and arson, according to the data.

City Councilman John Kennedy has called on Mayor Bill Bogaard to have the data further analyzed by a blue ribbon commission.

“Certainly I think there’s an opportunity to look at the data, analyze the data and present that data and then in a dispassionate way determine what that data portends for making Pasadena a more livable and enjoyable city and to see if in fact there is a necessity for positive interventions to change the demographics of the high incidence of arrests among African Americans and Latinos,” said Kennedy, a former deputy police chief in Virginia.


GOV BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL DECISIONS

On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown decided on 33 bills, including SB 57, a bill that would require sex offenders who were apprehended after tampering with their GPS devises to spend 180 days behind bars.

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John have the story. Here are some clips:

Some counties with severely crowded jails have freed such offenders almost immediately after detaining them for tampering with the GPS devices, a Times investigation found this year. The bill Brown approved requires that the offenders be sentenced to 180 days and serve their entire parole revocation in jail.

[SNIP]

The sex offender bill was introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) after The Times documented a sharp increase in reported cases of such offenders removing their GPS devices. Many served little or no time behind bars after doing so, and some committed new crimes — including rape and murder — that might have been prevented if they had been kept in custody.

The monitors are required under a law approved by California voters in 2006. But “when sex offenders know that there are little or no repercussions” for disabling them, “it’s time to strengthen the deterrent,” Lieu said in a statement Saturday. “Real deterrents for sex offenders drastically reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime.”

State corrections officials said that more than 5,000 warrants for GPS tampering were issued in the first 15 months after penalties for doing so were reduced under Brown’s 2011 prison “realignment” program.

Brown also vetoed SB 649, a bill that would have given prosecutors the option to charge possession of cocaine or heroin as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Go read the rest of the criminal justice legislation highlights.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, race, Realignment | 5 Comments »

Rialto Police’s Success with Body Cameras, LASD Racial Profiling Allegations in Long Beach, , and The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

August 23rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

RIALTO POLICE SHOW HOW EFFECTIVE BODY CAMS CAN BE

The city of Rialto, CA has seen complaints against officers drop almost 90 percent, and officer use of force by nearly 60 percent, since an officer camera program was implemented in February 2012.

The NY Times’ Ian Lovett has the story. Here’s a clip:

Rialto has become the poster city for this high-tech measure intended to police the police since a federal judge last week applauded its officer camera program in the ruling that declared New York’s stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional. Rialto is one of the few places where the impact of the cameras has been studied systematically.

In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

And while Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg railed against the federal court, which ordered New York to arm some of its own police officers with cameras, the Rialto Police Department believes it stands as an example of how effective the cameras can be. Starting Sept. 1, all 66 uniformed officers here will be wearing a camera during every shift.

William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, believes the cameras may offer more benefits than merely reduced complaints against his force: the department is now trying to determine whether having video evidence in court has also led to more convictions.

But even without additional data, Chief Farrar has invested in cameras for the whole force.

“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief Farrar said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”


LONG BEACH GROUPS SAY LA DEPUTY TARGETED UNDOCUMENTED DRIVERS

Community organizations in Long Beach rallied Wednesday, calling for an investigation into an LASD transit deputy’s alleged racial profiling and illegal vehicle impounding.

The deputy allegedly targeted Latino drivers, impounding the vehicles of undocumented immigrants and those with out-of-state licenses. One woman said the deputy told her that he would continue to do so until the immigrants “went back to their country.”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Beatriz Valenzuela has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Long Beach community groups are pushing for a complete investigation into allegations a Los Angeles County sheriff’s transit deputy once stationed in Long Beach racially profiled motorists, illegally impounding vehicles and targeting a person who filed a complaint against him.

“We had a meeting with (Sheriff Lee) Baca back on March 2, but we haven’t seen any resolution to the issue,” said Laura Merryfield of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, one of the groups that organized a rally Wednesday over the issue.

A report by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild called the unidentified deputy’s alleged actions a “serious abuse of police power” that included racial profiling and denial of due process rights.

The report alleges the deputy violated the law by impounding vehicles of drivers with out-of-state or out-of-country licenses, by denying impound hearings, conducting legally flawed impound hearings and by failing to release vehicles to licensed drivers — in one case, the registered owner of one of the vehicles. It is illegal to drive without a license, but generally vehicles are not impounded unless a licensed driver is unavailable to take the wheel or the driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.


LASD DEPUTY AND JAIL EMPLOYEE CHARGED WITH COVERING UP INMATE ABUSE

Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Karin Cring and a custody assistant at Twin Towers, Jayson Ellis, were arrested Wednesday and charged with filing a false police report regarding another deputy’s alleged 2010 assault on an inmate.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the arrests and the alleged abuse of inmate Derek Griscavage. Here’s a clip:

Karin Cring, a former deputy now living in Switzerland, was taken into custody Wednesday after authorities received information that she was at a residence in Covina.

Sheriff’s investigators also arrested custody assistant Jayson Ellis, who has been on paid leave since July 2012 in connection with the investigation. Both were ordered held on $20,000 bail; Cring and Ellis were released on bail Wednesday evening, jail records show.

They have been charged with falsely reporting an incident in which authorities alleged that another deputy, Jermaine Jackson, assaulted an inmate using “a deadly weapon” — his feet.

Jackson was charged last year with causing great bodily injury, assault by a public officer and filing a false report in connection with that incident and another incident at the Compton courthouse lockup in 2009. He is awaiting trial.

Ellis, who has worked for the department since 2006, has been on paid leave, but after his arrest Wednesday, his status was shifted to unpaid leave, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

These arrests bring up a great many questions. For one thing, why were Cring and Ellis not arrested until now, when the reported assault was in 2010?  Similarly, why was custody assistant Ellis put on paid leave a full year ago, in 2012?
 
More as we find out more.


NEW LONGFORM NONFICTION RECOMMENDED READ: THE GIRL WHO WOULDN’T DIE

This month, a new journalism project called The Big Roundtable, has published a remarkable story titled The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. The narrative, which chronicles Christina Martinez’s fight for her life after she was savagely beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in Turnbull Canyon, is by award-winning former LA Times reporter, Erika Hayasaki, now an assistant professor in the Literary Journalism program at UC Irvine, and the author of the upcoming The Death Class: A True Story About Life (January 2014).

The Big Round Table is a publishing platform that exclusively features longform nonfiction—in other words, the kind of dynamic nonfiction storytelling that is now frequently ignored by the mainstream media. TBRT received its initial funding via a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $19,000 (the goal was $5,000).

Okay, here’s a clip from The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die:

If her father were alive, Christina Martinez knew, he would not approve of her riding in this car, through these unfamiliar neighborhoods, with these three men. She looked out the window. The green Mitsubishi made its way down Beverly Boulevard, but not in Hollywood. Here the street stretched through the Los Angeles outskirts of Montebello and Pico Rivera, past the East L.A. sheriff’s station, past billboards in Spanish scrawled with graffiti, past check-cashing shops, liquor stores, taco stands, and men wearing long sleeves to cover their tattoos. This was a warm Tuesday in August 2009, and the moon was bright.

Christina, who was 20, called the men in the Eclipse her friends, but they were hardly more than acquaintances. She had hung out with them a few times, and they knew her boyfriend, Kilo, whom she had been dating for two months. She had spent much of this evening with Kilo at the home of his cousin, in Bellflower, north of Long Beach. The three men had stopped by, but mostly stayed outside.

When it came time to go, Kilo stayed behind. The men offered to give Christina a ride home. She accepted, because rides were not easy to come by, and because she’d accepted rides from the driver before. Christina and her son, Alexander, only a year old, lived with her mother, farther north in Lennox, next to Los Angeles International Airport. To the west was the beach. On the way, the men said, they might walk on the sand and smoke a little weed.

Christina was small, not even five feet tall. Even with the front seat pushed all the way back, she fit comfortably in the back, behind the driver. She wore shorts, Kilo’s black T-shirt, and Etnies, size 5 ½, with pink E’s on the sides. She had dark hair, freckles, arched eyebrows, piercings beneath her bottom lip, and a star tattooed on her right shoulder. She carried a white backpack with cow designs, along with a small red bag with a turtle print. Inside were her makeup, Social Security Card, zebra-printed sunglasses, and a marijuana pipe.

The Mitsubishi turned east. Christina realized: They were headed away from the beach. They stopped for gas, some cigarettes, and two Arizona iced teas. Then they headed east again.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

No one answered. Lil Wayne spewed from the stereo.

Christina felt a twinge of uncertainty, but she let it pass. Maybe the men had another stop to make before turning west toward the ocean.

[BIG SNIP]

Now Christina could see that they were headed toward the hills southeast of Los Angeles. Mike was sweating, driving 50 miles per hour through 30 mph zones in Whittier, past Spanish-style apartment buildings, pick-up trucks and older cars, and homes shielded from the sidewalks by sculpted trees. He drove through an intersection near the mouth of Turnbull Canyon. The road narrowed and wove into dirt hills on the left, past tree branches on the right that hung over the street like claws.

Mike cocked his head. He had an indecipherable tattoo, partly inked-over, on his neck.

“I’m going to have to tie your hands,” he said.

“What?” she said.

“Tie her hands,” Mike told Eddie.

Christina looked at Eddie, confused. Suddenly, Eddie was holding a rope…

(For the rest, go here.)

If you like the story, you can donate money to fund the author’s future pieces.

Here’s a little bit more about the Big Roundtable’s format (but if you go over to their “About” page, there’s a great little explanatory video):

The Big Roundtable is a digital publishing platform that aims to connect passionate nonfiction writers with readers who will support their work. We do this through experimental methods of gathering, selecting, editing, and distributing ambitious narrative stories, and, eventually, researching the reading and sharing behavior around those stories. And by convening forums—online and in person—where writers can learn and connect for mutual support.

The inspiration for the Big Roundtable came from the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers who called themselves “The Vicious Circle” and who’d meet at the Algonquin Hotel in the early 20th century. They were vicious; we are not.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles writers, Police, race | 18 Comments »

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

July 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



WHY BOYCOTTING FLORIDA WON’T HELP

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.’)


A SCHOOL’S BIG BET ON NONVIOLENCE: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN STUDENTS AREN’T VIEWED AS THE 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.

[BIG SNIP]

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.”


RETHINKING THE EFFICACY OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POLICIES: THE NEW YORK TIMES WEIGHS IN

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?”


BACKYARD BEARS AND BOUGAINVILLEA

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



PLANNED LEIMERT PARK COMMUNITY RALLY DISRUPTED BY VIOLENCE, RALLIERS DISMAYED

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.


MEANWHILE, IN OTHER NEWS AROUND THE THE TRIAL OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN AND THE DEATH OF TRAYVON MARTIN…

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.


“WHAT DO I TELL MY BOYS NOW?” A FATHER ASKS

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.


WHAT DO WE TELL THE CHILDREN?”

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.


AND IN STILL OTHER TRIAL-RELATED NEWS…


ZIMMERMAN TRIAL JUROR MANAGES TO SIGN WITH HOT SHOT BOOK AGENT 36 HOURS AFTER THE (SATURDAY) VERDICT? REALLY? – UPDATED

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.

[SNIP]

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.


AND WHY WAS B37 ON THE JURY AT ALL? ASKS SLATE’S DAHLIA LITHWICK AND A STRING OF LAWYERS

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…


TOMORROW WE WILL BE BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING…

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 »

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman—and the Interweave of Fear, Heartbreak and Injustice that Haunts the Verdict’s Aftermath

July 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Since the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman was announced just a few minutes
after 7 pm, Pacific Time on Saturday night, there is no shortage of opinions on what the verdict meant and did not mean.

Of all that we have seen and read since Saturday night’s announcement by the all-female jury, among the essays and analyses that we feel adds the most to the collective dialogue are the following:


it’s worth reading everything on the topic by writer Jeleni Cobb who covered the trial and its aftermath for the New Yorker.

Here’s a clip from his essay about Day 10 of the trial:

Amid their frustratingly uneven presentation, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda and the rest of the prosecution have pegged their second-degree murder charges largely on the idea that Martin was losing the fight on February 26th of last year, that he shouted for help, and that Zimmerman, a vigilante would-be cop, shot and killed him anyway. In plotting their route to conviction, they necessarily bypass another set of questions. What if he wasn’t losing the fight? What if Zimmerman is the one who called for help? What if Martin did swing first? And, most crucially, is an unarmed black teen-ager ever entitled to stand his ground?

The answers to these questions have bearing that is more social than legal, but they’re inescapable in understanding how we got here in the first place and what this trial ultimately means.


Also good is this column by our usual go-to-guy from The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen. Here’s a clip from his take on the trial and the verdict, and the oceans of fears, heartbreak and knowledge of our still-tragically race-fractured nation that they triggered.

Of course the deadly meeting last year between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had at its core a racial element. Of course its tragic result reminds us that the nation, in ways too many of our leaders refuse to acknowledge, is still riven by race. The story of Martin and Zimmerman is the story of crime and punishment in America, and of racial disparities in capital sentencing, and in marijuana prosecutions, and in countless other things. But it wasn’t Judge Debra Nelson’s job to conduct a seminar on race relations in 2013. It wasn’t her job to help America bridge its racial divide. It was her job to give Zimmerman a fair trial. And she did.

[LARGE SNIP]

Without a confession, without video proof, without a definitive eyewitness, without compelling scientific evidence, prosecutors needed to sell jurors cold on the idea of Zimmerman as the hunter and Martin as the hunted. But when the fated pair came together that night, in those fleeting moments before the fatal shot, the distinctions between predator and prey became jumbled. And prosecutors were never able to make it clear enough again to meet their burden of proof. That’s the story of this trial. That explains this result. That’s why some will believe to their own dying day that George Zimmerman has just gotten away with murder.


And finally there is Monday’s essay by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. Below is a clip from the opening to get you started, but it demands a full reading:

In trying to assess the the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicted truths emerge for me. The first is that is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice. In examining the first conclusion, I think it’s important to take a very hard look at the qualifications allowed for aggressors by Florida’s self-defense statute:

Read the rest. It is painful. And essential.


PS: Oh, yes, and the most intelligent, insightful, literate rant on the verdict and its meaning comes from Charles Pierce, Esquire’s political columnist/blogger. (Charlie Pierce rants so the rest of us don’t have to.)


Demonstrators on the 10 freeway, Skipp Townsend of 2nd Call, July 14, 2013

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Community Health, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, race, racial justice | 3 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.

MAIN PART OF DOMA IS STRUCK DOWN, RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN 5/4 RULING…..PROP 8 APPEAL SENT BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

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.


SUPREMES SEND PROP 8 CASE, HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

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.




PROVISION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT GUTTED BY SUPRIME COURT DECISION

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.

[BIG SNIP]

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.


SUPREMES RULE FOR BABY VERONICA’S ADOPTIVE FAMILY NOT NATIVE AMERICAN FATHER AND FAMILY

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.


WEED AND RACE

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.”


FEDS MAY STEP IN TO FORCE CHANGE IN NYC’S STOP-AND-FRISK POLICY

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.


AND NOW ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND MUCH CHEERIER TOPIC…

NICKERSON GARDENS STARTS BRAND NEW FATHER’S DAY TRADITION TO FOCUS ON UNDERAPPRECIATED DADS

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…..


PROJECT FATHERHOOD

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.


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