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Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

U.N. Investigator Wants to Examine California Prisons…Domestic Violence Services Victim to Gov. Shutdown…New Study on Low-income Students…and More

October 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(VIDEO: Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” discusses America’s prison system at TEDxMarionCorrectional.)

U.N. TORTURE INVESTIGATOR CONCERNED ABOUT ISOLATION IN CALIFORNIA PRISONS

U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez is seeking access to California’s prisons (and to individual prisoners) to make sure that the state’s use of solitary confinement does not violate international human rights laws.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

“We should have more justification” for putting prisoners in isolation, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur (reporter) on torture told The Times’ editorial board Friday. He called for greater scrutiny of prison systems that routinely put inmates in solitary confinement.

[SNIP]

Mendez said he has agreed to investigate the cases of individual prisoners kept in the state’s isolation cells, to make sure they are being treated according to international law. He asked in May to inspect California prisons, but his request must be cleared by both the U.S. State Department and Gov. Jerry Brown, and Mendez said he has had no response.

[SNIP]

Mendez raised concern about any policy that keeps prisoners in their cells more than 22 hours a day with little social contact, for months or years at a time.

He said solitary should be used as discipline for only the most serious infractions, with safeguards that allow for independent review. Isolation should be unrelated to the crime for which an inmate was sentenced and never used as a means to carry out a sentence.


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CENTERS SUFFER DURING (AND AFTER) GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Largely underreported during the government shutdown, domestic violence and rape crisis centers suffered suspended grant funding and furloughs, and were forced to cut down on crucial services and housing for those in need. Centers worry they will face the same hardships if the government closes up shop again in January.

Washington D.C.-based journalist Dierdre Bannon has the story for the Crime Report. Here’s a clip:

…since the new legislation only finances the government through January 15, many service providers worry that in less than 90 days they could once again be denied access to grant money that helps them keep their doors open.

“When an average of three women are killed in the United States every day by a current or former intimate partner, it is unconscionable to allow life-saving domestic violence programs to shutter their doors and put their crisis lines on hold,” Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote in a statement to The Crime Report.

Providers contacted by The Crime Report said they were still awaiting a full assessment of the shutdown’s impact, but several pointed out that their organizations had been left feeling financially insecure and uncertain about their future—particularly with another possible shutdown on the horizon.

“That kind of insecurity does not inspire confidence in boards of directors, and that could have a sweeping and long-lasting impact on organizations,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Southworth added that even though the government has reopened, it’s not clear when grant payments will be disbursed because it will take time to get those systems back up and running.


MAJORITY OF KIDS IN 17 STATES FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES

California is among seventeen states with more than half of public school students coming from low-income households, according to a study the Southern Education Foundation released late last week.

The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann has more on the study. Here are some clips:

In America, what you earn depends largely on your success in school. Unfortunately, your success in school depends largely on what your parents earn. It’s an intergenerational Catch 22 that’s at the heart of modern poverty.

…In 2011, there were 17 states where at least half of all public school students came from low-income families, up from just four in 2000. Across the whole country, 48 percent of kids qualified as low income, up from 38 percent a decade earlier.

To be crystal clear, the researchers were not analyzing poverty rates per se. Rather, they tracked at the percentage of children in each state who received free or reduced school lunches, which are only available to students whose families earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that amounted to about $41,000 in 2011—a figure that might feel dire in New York City, but less so in New Mexico. In the end, we are talking about families poor enough to get for some amount of federal food help.

[SNIP]

…whenever you hear about “America’s failing school,” remember these maps. Poverty—or in many cases, near poverty—is the 50 pound backpack dragging down U.S. students.

And here are some notable clips from the study itself:

Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have lower tests scores, fall behind in school, dropout, and fail to acquire a college degree. These gaps in learning and achievement have not improved in recent years, while the numbers of low income students have escalated in the South and nation. Test scores for the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – the most reliable comparative test of academic performance across the states – suggest strongly that there has been little or no change in the wide differences in learning between students according to income from 2003 to 2011.

[SNIP]

Within the next few years, it is likely that low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States. With huge, stubbornly unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the South and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between haves and have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects.

There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem. The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.


CELEBS HELP INCREASE AWARENESS FOR LA’S HOMELESS GAY YOUTHS

Jamie Foxx, Elton John, and other celebrities appear in a heartrending new PSA to call attention to LA’s homeless LGBT youth epidemic.

Advocate’s David Reynolds has more on the above video. Here’s a clip:

Directed by Trent Kendrick and produced by Michael Fossat, the short film follows a young boy who is thrown out of his house by his parents after they discover he is gay. The PSA, titled Any Given Tuesday, shows the boy forced into a series of heartbreaking scenarios, including prostitution, drugs, and attempted suicide, which is the terrible road many youth must face once they are forced to live on the streets. According to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 40% of the city’s homeless population is LGBT youth.

Jamie Foxx, Lisa Ling, James Wood, Elton John, and David Furnish appear in the PSA to raise awareness of this issue. Actor David Millbern, producer and costar of Here TV’s upcoming sitcom From HERE on OUT, also lends his talents in the short film to support the cause.

By the way, on Friday, the New Jersey became the 14th state to allow gay marriage. (Way to go, NJ!) For further reading, head over to Richard Socarides’ story for the New Yorker.

Posted in Education, LGBT, prison, social justice, solitary, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Victims of Bullying More Likely to End Up In Criminal Justice System…Child Abuse in Army Families Up 40%…and “Orange is the New Black”

August 5th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

VICTIMS—NOT JUST THE BULLIES—HAVE A HIGHER RATE OF CRIMINAL INVOLVEMENT LATER

Victims of chronic childhood bullying (especially women) have significantly higher rates of substance abuse, arrest, incarceration, and more, according to a new report by University of North Carolina associate professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology Michael G. Turner.

Here’s a clip from the Crime Report’s story on the study:

For the analysis, researchers broke respondents into four groups: non-victims, those who were bullied before the age of 12, those who were bullied after the age of 12 and those who were bullied throughout their youth.

Of the 7,335 youths surveyed, almost 14 percent of those who reported being bullied throughout their childhood and teen years were incarcerated as adults. Just 6 percent of non-bullying victims, 9 percent of childhood-only victims and 7 percent of teen-only victims spent time in prison.

The analysis also notes that women bullied throughout their youth are more likely to be arrested and convicted than men who experienced regular bullying.

And here’s a clip from the report itself:

Despite sustained decreases in rates of violent offending, scientific attention remains focused on understanding the causes and consequences of violence, as well as evaluating efforts to prevent such behaviors. One violent-related behavior that continues to receive significant attention is bullying and bully victimization.

Identified as the persistent harassment (physical, verbal, emotional, or psychological) of one individual over another, accompanied by a power imbalance, bullying has been documented as affecting approximately 30 percent of youth in the US population. Empirical evidence related to the impact of bullying indicates those who bully and/or experience a bully victimization reportdisproportionately higher levels of adverse social, psychological, legal, and mental health outcomes.

[SNIP]

Compared to non-victims, subjects who were repeatedly victimized by a bully reported significantly higher rates of involvement in each of the legal outcomes(i.e., substance use, delinquency, arrest, conviction, incarceration).


ARMY CHILD ABUSE SKYROCKETED 40% IN 3 YEARS

Reported cases of child abuse in active duty Army families were 40% higher in 2012 than in 2009, according to a recent Army Times investigation. The Army Times suggests that the spike may be attributed, in part, to the return of thousands of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan (a number of whom suffer from PTSD), but that spouses of deployed Army soldiers left to take care of the household are often the culprit in child abuse cases.

The Huffington Post’s Eleanor Goldberg has more on the child abuse upsurge. Here’s a clip:

While the military has not drawn any concrete conclusions as to why such crimes are on the rise, some experts say that abusers may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which could lead to their taking their frustrations out on their children. Others cited in the report were quick to note that this type of maltreatment doesn’t always come at the hands of the spouse wearing a uniform.

A 2007 Pentagon study concluded that mothers were three times more likely to mistreat their children while their soldier husbands were away, than when they were home.

Whatever the cause, the disturbing spike raises questions about how the Army investigates such cases of child abuse and the effectiveness of its advocacy programs.

And here are a couple of clips from the Army Times investigation:

The causes are not fully explained or understood anywhere, but the spike in abuse and neglect cases dovetails with the grind of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a policy of allowing people with criminal backgrounds into the ranks.

The Army offers a number of programs providing support resources to Army parents under stress, but officials concede difficulties in preventing abuse cases.

“We have problems identifying them before it becomes a tragedy,” Robichaux said.

[SNIP]

The 2009-12 spike coincides with the end of combat in Iraq, a drawdown in Afghanistan and the return of tens of thousands of troops to their homes. Some soldiers who harmed children may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress.

But child abuse cases plagued the Army even as the wars were at their peaks and stateside posts were practically ghost towns. The stress on spouses left to deal alone with domestic issues often was at the root of child abuse cases.


“ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” A GLIMPSE INTO WOMEN’S PRISON

Recently released Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black” follows yuppie (and one-time drug money smuggler) Piper Chapman’s fifteen month incarceration in a low-security women’s prison. While still maintaining a healthy amount of humor, “Orange” effectively portrays real issues US prison inmates face and makes the locked-up women relatable through the eyes of Piper.

Aimee Lee Ball has an interesting comparison of “Orange” the show, with the realities of women’s prison experienced by the real Piper (Piper Kerman) whose memoir the show is based on. Here’s a clip:

Most treasured are photographs of the women with whom she served, women who, despite the counsel of her lawyer to remain aloof, became friends. As she reviewed them, she mentioned sad details: one who was bipolar, another who got pregnant shortly after being released. “The backgrounds of women in prison include physical abuse, addiction and mental health issues, to a much larger extent than male prisoners,” she said. “Larry was phenomenal, but there were plenty of women in Danbury whose husbands were locked up in other prisons. One of the heartbreaking things I saw was the envelopes in the mailbox with kiss marks on them, addressed to another federal penitentiary.”

Much of “Orange” presents what she calls the astonishingly low standard of living for prisoners: rats in the dorms, mold in the showers, inedible food. (She developed a recipe for prison cheesecake, using confiscated margarine, vanilla pudding and powdered coffee creamer.) But she’s well aware that many people do not care about the quality of life for prisoners.

“As one warden said, we’re throwing people in jail that we’re mad at instead of people we’re scared of,” said Ms. Kerman, who serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association, an advocacy group founded in 1845. “Most women are not there for violent offenses. Like almost all the women in that place, I endured things like groping from the guards, but no prisoner ever laid a hand on me, and I didn’t witness any physical violence.”

Posted in children and adolescents, prison, PTSD, social justice | No Comments »

Solitary Kids, Leimart Park Stop (Finally!), Gangs and Immigration, and Gay Scouts

May 24th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE ON REFORM BILL FOR KIDS IN SOLITARY

A bill that would define and limit the use of solitary confinement for kids in juvenile facilities—SB 61, authored by Sen. Leland Yee—made it through the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday and is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate next week.

Here’s a clip from the update from Sen. Yee’s office:

In 2011, a CDCR internal audit found that youth were often locked up in their cells for over 21 hours a day. In one 15-week period, there were 249 incidents of solitary confinement, and in one case, a youth received only one hour out of his cell in a 10-day period. In local juvenile facilities, there have been reports of youth locked up in isolation for 23 hours a day.

“I felt completely unwanted and unnoticed” said Tanisha Denard, who was held in solitary confinement as a juvenile. “It is by far the worst feeling I have ever experienced.”

“The mission of the juvenile justice system is to offer youth an opportunity for rehabilitation while also promoting public safety” said Dr. Laura Abrams of UCLA. “The use of solitary confinement is counter to these goals. Not only does solitary confinement undermine rehabilitation efforts, but also as the potential to return a young person to society with exacerbated trauma and mental illness that can manifest in violence toward self or others.”

FYI, here are some of the provisions of SB 61:

- Define solitary confinement as the involuntary placement in a room or cell in isolation from persons other than staff and attorneys.

- Provide that solitary confinement shall only be used when a minor poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or the security of the facility, and all other less restrictive options have been
exhausted.

- Provide that a minor or ward shall only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address the safety risk.

- Empower existing county juvenile justice commissions to report on the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

(For more recommended reading, Sen. Yee has an excellent editorial on the bill over at U-T San Diego.)


METRO STOP AT CULTURALLY IMPORTANT LEIMART PARK

The LA Metro board finally approved funding for an underground metro station in historic Leimart Park, an significant addition to the Crenshaw line that LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas has been pushing hard for since 2011, along with outgoing LA Mayor Villaraigosa.

KPCC’s Corey Moore has the story. Here’s a clip:

The action comes a day after the L.A. City Council committed $40 million in Measure R funds for the station in the culturally historic African American community. And now, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will fund the rest, which in total, amounts to $120 million.

Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushed to make this happen, along with L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion. MTA members voted in favor, 10 to 1. Metro plans to choose a contractor for the project next month.


HARMFUL IMMIGRATION REFORM AMENDMENTS DISCARDED

Several discriminatory immigration reforms were shot down earlier this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including an amendment authored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have banned undocumented immigrants suspected of gang affiliation from becoming legal citizens, even if they had no criminal record. Another rejected amendment by Sen. Grassley would have allowed law enforcement officers to profile based on nation of origin.

Here’s a clip from gang intervention non-profit Homies Unidos Director Alex Sanchez’s letter to supporters:

Thank you for standing up for justice and dignity. Your calls to the Senate Judiciary Committee members helped to defeat three dangerous amendments to the immigration reform bill: Sessions 32, Grassley 43 and Grassley 49. These amendments sought to increase and normalize the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement in our communities. Session’s amendment would have mandated 287(g) nationwide, while Grassley’s amendments would have penalized young people accused of gang membership and allowed profiling based on national origin. Thank you for pushing back against these harmful amendments. We could not have won this without you.

Despite the good news, Graham 3 passed. The amendment requires additional screening for individuals applying for “registered provisional immigration” (RPI) status who are from certain regions or countries deemed national security threats by the Department of Homeland Security. This will likely target individuals from predominantly Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Middle Eastern countries and is a setback against the fight to end racial profiling.

LA Times’ Sandra Hernandez has more on the defeat of Grassley’s amendment targeting suspected gang members. Here’s a clip:

Deporting immigrants who have serious criminal records makes sense as a matter of public safety. The Times’ editorial page has supported such policies. But Grassley’s amendment wouldn’t have furthered that goal. Instead, it sought to exclude immigrants who are suspected of gang membership from legalizing simply because their names appeared on a gang database or on an injunction.

Los Angeles pioneered the use of gang injunctions and databases as a way to help neighborhoods plagued by violence regain control of their streets. But these lists and civil restraining orders aren’t perfect tools. Individuals can find themselves on such lists because of factors like tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant.


BOY SCOUTS END EXCLUSION OF GAY YOUTH

The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to end their policy banning gay youth from participating in the program. There is still a ban on openly gay adults acting as leaders, and gay youth can still be forced out of the group when they turn eighteen, but this is a welcomed step in the right direction.

NY Times’ Erik Eckholm has the story. Here’s a clip:

The decision, which followed years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the decision also put the scouts more in tune with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.

The decision is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, ensuring continued lobbying and debate in the months and year to come. The group put off the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders, and those on both sides of the debate predicted that, with the resolution’s passage, the Boy Scouts would soon be forced to start allowing gay adults, whether by lawsuits or embarrassment at the twisted logic of forcing an Eagle Scout who turns 18 to quit.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, immigration, juvenile justice, social justice, solitary, transportation | 2 Comments »

Louisiana Prison Capital of the World, Brian Banks Exonerated, and more…

May 29th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

 
LOUISIANA LEADS THE WORLD IN INCARCERATION RATES

Louisiana has more people behind bars per capita than anywhere else on earth, with a rate of one in 86 residents incarcerated. From the for-profit prisons that keep their facilities over-crowded to keep cash flowing, to the minimal rehabilitation opportunities at the local level, to the preposterously lengthy prison sentences–New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight part series sheds light on the poor infrastructure that makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

NOLA’s entire series is worth reading, but here is a clip from Part 4: Unusual Punishment:

Brian Martin is serving 24 years behind bars — without the possibility of parole — for a car burglary. The 22-year-old had two other burglaries on his record when he was arrested near Abita Springs on June 8, 2011, after stripping a BMW of its stereo and steering wheel. If charged as a three-time offender, he could have received life without parole. His attorney, Doyle “Buddy” Spell, persuaded prosecutors to consider only the two most recent car break-ins, taking a life sentence off the table, but doubling the 12-year maximum for a first-timer.

Martin, a drug addict with a mop of unruly blond hair, will be 46 when he is released from prison in 2036. “I would suggest that we just threw away a life and that the punishment did not fit the crime,” Spell said.

Sentences of several decades, or even life, for nonviolent crimes are not unusual in Louisiana. The state’s prisons are filled with Brian Martins — petty criminals who in another state would have received a much shorter sentence or no jail time at all. Unusually tough sentencing laws are one major reason Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“We see the only goal that is being reflected accurately might be retribution,” said Katherine Mattes, a professor at Tulane Law School and interim director of the university’s Criminal Litigation Clinic.

In Texas, no bastion of liberalism, a two-time car burglar would be guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a maximum of six months. California’s famous three-strikes law does not kick in unless at least one of the crimes was a rape, murder, carjacking, residential burglary or other major felony. There, Martin would have received no more than a year behind bars.

In Louisiana, about 160 habitual offenders whose most recent crime involved nothing more harmful than marijuana are serving 20 years or more. More than 300 people serving life without parole in Louisiana have never been convicted of a violent crime.


LONG BEACH MAN EXONERATED OF RAPE CONVICTION

Brian Banks was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction with help from the California Innocence Project. His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was secretly recorded admitting the accusation was false during a meeting with Banks. Now Banks suing California for his false imprisonment.

KPCC’s Patt Morrison had Brian on the show to tell his story. Here’s a clip:

Banks, who was 17 at the time of his trial, pleaded no contest to the charges in order to avoid the possibility of facing 40 years to life in prison in a conviction. He spent six years in prison and was under very restrictive parole until his accuser was recorded saying she wasn’t raped and that she is afraid of coming forward because she might have to return the $1.5 million her family won from the Long Beach Unified School District in a civil suit.

“I received a Facebook friend request last year from the woman who accused me of raping her, where she wanted to reconnect and, in her words, ‘let bygones be bygones,’” said Banks. After receiving this message, Banks hired a private investigator to set up and record their meeting, in which his accuser admitted to falsely accusing him. “From there I took that information to the California Innocence Project, who accepted my case. The rest is history, and here I am today, a free man,” said Banks.

Justin Brooks is the defense attorney handling Banks’ case. He said that in the history of the California Innocence Project, they have never taken a case of someone who had already been released from prison.

The Daily News has the story on Banks’ lawsuit against the state, and includes a video of the emotional hearing. Here’s a clip:

Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.

If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.

Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.


KIDS FROM MORE AFFLUENT COMMUNITIES WITHIN LAUSD MAY BE BETTER PREPARED FOR THE SATS

Andrea Lopez, 17-year-old LA Youth writer, felt extremely under-prepared for the SAT prep course she attended at UCLA. Lopez was surprised that she could be one of the top students in her grade, and still be so far behind other students from the same school district. Like many other kids in minority communities, she began to worry that her Sylmar public school education was not adequate enough to get her into a good college.

Here’s a clip from the LA Youth story:

I thought I had a great vocabulary, but I had never heard words like “spurious,” “cogent” and “plaudits.” It’s disappointing that the schools I’ve been to didn’t give me as good an education as these kids. Usually I’m proud of getting some of the best grades in my classes, but I was jealous of what these students knew.

I realized that these kids probably grew up with parents who spoke English and used impressive-sounding words. But having Spanish-speaking parents, I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary on my own. I’ve never been ashamed of having parents who weren’t born here or didn’t graduate high school but sometimes I wish they were more educated so they could help me in school.

Be sure to read the rest of Andrea’s story–it has a very inspirational ending.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LAUSD, National issues, prison, prison policy, Probation, Reentry, Sentencing, social justice, Social Justice Shorts, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Violence Prevention: Barking With the Choir and Standing With the Despised

November 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Nearly 20 years ago The California Wellness Foundation was one of the first organizations of consequence
to promote the recognition that violence was not merely a crime problem. It was a serious public health issue.

As part of their focus on the topic, every year Wellness puts on a Violence Prevention Conference at which around 300 people drawn from all over the state gather to discuss the myriad complex facets of this problem that so deeply affects the health and well being of California’s communities.

Among those who attend are directors of programs that address some aspect of the issue, a smattering of law enforcement (This year Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, head of LAPD’s South Bureau, was on a panel), academics, researchers, and other experts in the field.

Each year at the conference, Wellness presents three Peace Prizes, which honor three people with a $25,000 cash award….”in recognition of his or her outstanding efforts to prevent violence and promote peace in their local communities.” The 2011 winners were Ray Balberan, Priscilla Carrasquilla, Manuel Jimenez, all of whom work in different capacities with former gang members and/or kids who are headed that direction. (You can read more about the winners here).

The topics vary from year to year. This year, the subject of realignment came up frequently in public discussions and in private conversation. Another big conference topic was juvenile probation. The Chiefs of Probation for Alameda and Yolo counties were both on a panel. In fact, Alameda County’s Chief of Probation, David Muhammad, was one of the conference’s two keynote speakers and his straight talk about what works and what doesn’t for lawbreaking kids had direct and urgent implications for LA County’s troubled juvenile camps. (I’ll have much more to say about David Muhammad in a later post.)

The other keynote speaker—the one who opened the conference—was LA’s own Father Greg Boyle.

I’ve posted some (very) rough iPhone video snippets from his speech. Please ignore the recurring hand-held jiggles and the less than felicitous framing, and just give yourself and treat and watch. As speakers go, they don’t get any better than Fr. Greg.

As the first clip below opens, Greg is talking about an encounter with a particular Homeboy Industries staffer. He also covers why he may title his next book “Barking with the Choir,” and why we must stand with the despised and the easily thrown away.

This next clip, #2, contains a story about homeboys and texting.

(NOTE: I turned off the video before the story of texting homeboys was over, so quickly switched it back on for the 55 second tag to the tale that you’ll find below.)

You’ll find one more instructive (and funny) homeboy story here in clip #4.

This next video opens with a short talke featuring the actress Diane Keaton at the Homegirl Cafe, and ends with…well…..just watch it.

Even for some reason you don’t want to watch to all six videos, do watch this last one, # 6. It’s only a little over five minutes long. I’ve heard Greg tell the story encased in the clip many times, but I still can’t hear it without crying off all my eye makeup. Thursday night was no exception.

Truth be told, I lived this story along with Greg. I was very close to the kid in the tale known as “Puppet,” and even closer to his girlfriend. I remember that Greg was out of state when all this happened. Thus I was the one who rushed to the hospital to hold down the fort, emotionally speaking, in those first hours.

Despite the pain of it, this story is—as are all Greg’s stories—about hope, and about why the issues talked about at last week’s conference matter so very much.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Gangs, Probation, Public Health, social justice | 1 Comment »

California Wellness Foundation Picks New CEO

November 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday, the California Wellness Foundation announced it had named Kaiser Permanente
executive Dr. Diana Bontá as President and CEO.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the Wellness Foundation is unique in California in that, for 19 years, it has funded—to the tune of $125 million— such projects as gang violence reduction programs, juvenile reentry strategies, and a long list of other juvenile justice issues when few others wanted to take a chance on the kind of at-risk populations that these essential programs served. In short, they have demonstrated their deep commitment to the problems and challenges that we crazy juvenile justice fanatics care about and, as a consequence, lives have been saved, futures altered for the better.

Thus when Wellness’s outgoing president, Gary Yates—always a champion of the foundation’s violence reduction initiatives— announced he was leaving, there was much discussion about whether the new Prez—whomever he or she was—would support the same kind of programs.

Word is that with Dr. Bontá, Wellness has found a winner, who, in addition to her executive experience, is a skilled and passionate advocate for the health and well being of the state’s underserved and marginalized communities and residents.

So, welcome to Dr. B!

Posted in health care, Public Health, social justice | No Comments »

Oscar Romero is Finally—Officially—Remembered

March 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Oscar-Romero-AP

Yesterday— 30 years ago—Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador,
was assassinated, sparking El Salvador’s 12-year civil war.

For the first time in all those 30 years, El Salvador has commemorated his murder—as the LA Times reports.

And for the first time, an El Salvadoran government leader-–in this case the president—apologized for the assassination. The WaPo has that part of the story.

(A SIDE NOTE: Romero, if you remember, was one of those objectionable characters whom the Texas textbook revisers recently scrubbed from the state’s school curriculum.)

Here is how Garrison Keillor writes about Romero’s importance for Writer’s Almanac.

Romero was appointed San Salvador’s archbishop three years before, in 1977, at a time when violence in El Salvador was rapidly escalating. The conflict was largely one of class warfare: the landed wealthy — who were aligned with the rightist government and paramilitary death squads — against the impoverished farm workers and other laborers who had begun to ally themselves with leftist guerilla groups looking to overthrow the government.

Romero had a reputation for being bookish, conservative, and even for discouraging priests from getting involved in political activism. But within weeks of becoming bishop, one of his good friends was killed by the death squads. His friend was an activist Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who’d been devoted to educating peasants and trying to bring about economic reforms. He was gunned down on his way to a rural church, along with a young boy and elderly man he’d been traveling with. It was a clear moment of conversion for the previously apolitical Oscar Romero, who suddenly felt that he needed to take up the work his friend had been interrupted from doing.

Romero canceled Masses all around the country that week, and invited all to attend the funeral Mass on the steps of the National Cathedral, which he presided over along with 100 other priests. One hundred thousand people showed up at the cathedral for the funeral. He also broadcast his sermon over the radio, so that it could be heard throughout the country. He called for government investigation of the murders going on in rural areas, and he spoke of the reforms that needed to happen in El Salvador: an end to human rights violations, to the regime of terror, and to the huge disparity in wealth, with the landed classes getting rich from the labor of the poor. He announced to his congregation that he wanted to be a good pastor, but he needed everyone’s help to lead.

He was called to Rome. The Vatican didn’t approve of his activism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in international issues, International politics, social justice | No Comments »

Social Justice Shorts: Thursday

December 17th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Picture-4

(NOTE: The HP ad above was featured on the same page that contained Emily Bazelon’s Slate article below about the sexting and cyberbullying cases, and the juxtaposition struck me as…..um….amusing.)

LOOK, I TOO THINK JOHN YOO IS IN LEAGUE WITH SATAN, BUT GET A GRIP!

A group of lawyers and law students are demanding that Deputy Attorney General David Carrillo, who works in AG Jerry Brown’s office, drop his plans to teach a constitutional law class with the UC Berkeley professor John Yoo next semester.

In case you’ve dozed off on the matter, John Yoo is the guy who wrote the infamous torture memos to justify the actions of the Bush administration when he was a US Justice Department lawyer from 2001 to 2003.

The SF Chronicle has the story. Here are some clips.

By instructing a class with Mr. Yoo, you are helping to legitimize his illegal and unethical actions,” organizations led by the National Lawyers Guild said Tuesday in an open letter to Deputy Attorney General David Carrillo, a doctoral candidate and instructor at the university’s Boalt Hall law school.

They asked Carrillo either to teach the course by himself, if the school will allow it, or to leave it to Yoo. Signers included the law school’s chapter of La Raza Law Students Association and the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture.

Oh, please. I’m all for prosecuting Yoo. If someone can find a legal way to wrap the law around him and squeeze a bit, that’d be excellent. (Unfortunately, I don’t think they can.)

But, otherwise, if some nice liberal guy from the AG’s office wants to teach with him, leave them the heck alone. Good education—particularly a law school education—-thrives on differing points of view.


IN FLORIDA, CLEMENCY IS NOT DEAD

The horrible murders committed by Maurice Clemmons , and the subsequent attacks on Mike Huckabee, have not exactly encouraged the notion of clemency. Nevertheless, Wednesday a Florida woman named Jennifer Martin who was serving 16 years for manslaughter, was set free by a four person parole board that included Florida governor Charlie Crist.

ABC news has the details.

The video of Martin’s first day out is from the St. Petersburg Times.


THE 9TH CIRCUIT, THE SUPREMES & THE “PERILOUS FRONTIER OF CYBERLAW”

(I just like writing that: “….the perilous frontier of cyberlaw.“)

Anyway, regarding the two new Supreme Court cases we’ve already talked about here: the Ontario cop sexting case, and the issue with the rights of mean kids who cyberbully, Slate’s legal writer, Emily Bazelon, has written a good column that explores the two cases recently accepted by the Supremes, and notes that the California’s 9th Circuit of Appeals is smack in the middle of both of them. In each instance, the judges of the 9th came down on the side of the rights of the individual.

(In the case of the mean girls, I think they’re right. In the case of the sexting cop…. hmmmmm… maybe yes, maybe no.)

In any event, Baselon’s column engages in an informative discussion of both cases. Here’s a clip:

Before Jeff Quon got a pager from the Ontario Police Department, where he’s a sergeant, he signed a blanket statement that he had he had “no expectation of privacy or confidentiality” when using city equipment for e-mail or the Internet. But then his supervisor put in place an informal policy that undercut the official one. The supervisor told cops who had the pagers that they could send 25,000 characters worth of text messages a month and then after that, pay for the extra messages—and if they did, avoid an audit. Quon went above the character limit a few months in a row, paying each time. Then his chief started to wonder about whether Quon was wasting time on the job and asked the pager service for the texts. It turned out that lots of them were notes about sex Quon had written to his girlfriend. Quon sued, arguing that the search of his texts was a violation of his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches at work.

In June 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with him.
He had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court said, given what his supervisor told him about paying for extra messages—the department’s “operational reality.” The court also found that there were other, less intrusive ways for the police chief to figure out whether Quon was frittering away his time: Warning him ahead of time to quit sending so many messages, asking him to count the characters himself, or asking him to cross out the personal parts before the department reviewed them.

This ruling, by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw for a panel of three judges, implicitly recognizes that company pagers and e-mail accounts often turn into personal ones. Sometimes, that saves employees’ time: If I’m not toggling back and forth between my Slate e-mail account and Gmail, my day is more streamlined (or so I tell myself). If your boss says you can use company technology for your own business, then you should be safe from unnecessarily intrusive searches—even if he’s contradicting some official blanket disclaimer in which you signed away your privacy rights without really paying attention.


SF SUPERVISOR CHRIS DAILY DROPS F-BOMB ON GEORGE GASCON’S HEAD

Also in the SF Chron, it seems that new San Francisco police chief, George Gascon, was roundly cussed out by Supervisor Chris Daly.

(Gascon, if you’ll remember, a longtime LAPD cop, used to be the Assistant Chief under Bill Bratton. Before he took the SF job, Gascon was rumored to be the front runner to replace Bratton as the L.A.C.O.P. So we in LA we are justified as viewing him as one of ours.)

In any case here’s a clip that explains the situation:

Supervisor Chris Daly got up from his seat, approached Gascón, cut him off to introduce himself and was heard dropping the f-bomb as he left the chambers in a huff. Gascón looked surprised, said it was nice to meet Daly and continued testifying.

[SNIP]

Apparently Gascón hasn’t reached out to Daly since taking the job several months ago, despite his focus on cracking down on drug dealing in the Tenderloin, the heart of Daly’s district.

“I don’t know if it’s good politics or not, but if I was a new department head, I would certainly reach out to every decision maker,” Daly told us.

He said he appreciates the focus on the Tenderloin, but disagrees with the “nickel and diming” approach of going after low-level users which is overcrowding jails and causing the Sheriff’s Department to go over budget. He’d like to see the bigger fish nabbed instead.

We heard reports that Daly said “F- you, F-you!” as he left the chambers. So was the f-bomb directed at Gascón? “I was muttering to myself, yes,” Daly confirmed. “I think probably it was more like f-ing a-hole. It wasn’t directed at him, and you know, I’m sure very few people could hear it.”

Evidently it was more than a few.

Posted in social justice, Social Justice Shorts, torture | 18 Comments »

Sex Offenders in Church & Other Social Justice Shorts

October 16th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

POLICE-ADMINISTRATION

SHOULD SEX OFFENDERS BE BARRED FROM CHURCH?

That’s the question that Time Magazine and a convicted sex offender name John Nichols and his attorney are asking. Here are clips from the Time story.

North Carolina is a proud member of the so-called Bible Belt of states that take their religion seriously. So some eyebrows were raised when James Nichols was arrested for attending church.

His offense? Nichols, a convicted sex offender, had chosen to worship at a church that has a nursery where kids play while their parents pray. Now Nichols, 31, who only recently got out of prison, is fighting back, challenging the legality of a new law that took effect in December prohibiting registered sex offenders from coming within 300 ft. — nearly a football field’s length — of any facility devoted to the use, care or supervision of minors.

Read the rest.


LAPD’S NEW HEADQUARTERS STILL NEEDS A SNAZZY NEW NAME

The new headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department is open for business even if every single person isn’t yet moved out of the old and into the new.

But, while there is more boxing, packing and unpacking ahead, the so-called Police Administration Building has at least already had its literary debut. (It is featured in Nine Dragons, the new Michael Connelly novel released earlier this week.)

The official dedication ceremony will be later this month.

In the meantime, the LA Times’ Patt Morrison gives a nice little run down about some of the building’s featires. But she also makes the point that the new LAPD building needs a name. I agree. And it shouldn’t be the Police Administration Building.

She writes:

C’mon, LA — New York has ”One Police Plaza,” and even though it sounds like a name dreamed up by a studio production design team, it’s a whole lot better than ”police headquarters.”

Mayor Tom Bradley was a cop himself, but with his war with Chief Daryl Gates during his mayorship, he’s too contentious a figure to have his name on the LAPD’s building. ”Parker Center” is out of the question; the city would sooner name its new edifice after Pretty Boy Floyd. It’s possible that in time, the city might name the building after Bratton, but I expect City Hall is pretty wary of going that route.

In the meantime, you know that if the city doesn’t come up with a name, Angelenos will, on their own, find some nickname, and nicknames, once they stick, are almost impossible to get un-stuck.

Suggestions?

Well???


THE DAMAGE WROUGHT BY ZERO TOLERANCE IN SCHOOLS

Friday’s NY Times has a good editorial on the abuses of over-the-top Zero Tolerance policies.

Here are clips:

Zachary Christie is back in his first-grade class. Delaware’s largest public school district has rescinded its order to punish him (and send him to a disciplinary school) after he came to class with a Cub Scout camping utensil that contained a small foldout knife.

This was a painful experience for the 6-year-old, and we are relieved that the school district has now amended its overly zealous disciplinary code. But far too many other communities are inflicting even greater damage on young children: handcuffing them or shipping them off to juvenile court for getting into minor skirmishes or for being unruly or disobedient at school.

In 1994, Congress required states to pass laws mandating expulsion for students who bring firearms onto school property. But many states overreacted and began to criminalize minor offenses.

More here.



PRISON TEACHERS GETTING LAID OFF (NATURALLY)

Since no one else has the good sense to make a fuss about the state’s absurdly penny-wise-and-pound-foolish plans to lay off around 800 teachers and support staff in California’s prisons, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 are doing their best to call attention to the stupidity of cutting or reducing programs that are proven to help prisoners stop returning to prison (thereby saving WAY more money than could possibly be saved by cutting the teachers).

The Fresno Bee has the story.

(Jerry Brown and protesting against insurance companies—after the jump.)

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Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, social justice | 81 Comments »

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