Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Mother’s Plea for Justice

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The silence in the courtroom was deafening. Everyone in the court and that included this writer was riveted by the impassioned, tear filled plea from the mother of Eron Michael Mull. Jocelyn Mull had asked this writer to accompany her to court to see for myself how the juvenile system had gone badly awry in handling the killer of her son.
Mull was an eighteen year old African-American gunned down in a cross fire between two suspected gang rivals last January outside an after hours party near Hollywood. Mull had no gang involvement, was a highly talented musician, and had scholarship offers to several universities. The outpouring of grief for Mull was just as heartfelt. His funeral drew more than 2000 students, teachers and friends. He was Mull’s only son. Mull made the plea for remembrance within arms length of the young man who confessed to the murder.
Mull could easily have been another of the legions of nameless, faceless young black victims of chronic murder violence that has plagued L.A. and other big cities. His mother’s teary eyed court plea for her son likely would have drawn a momentary touch of public attention, sympathy and then just as quickly been forgotten. But this was different.
Mull’s plea was not solely a plea from an aggrieved mother for the remembrance of her dead son. It was a plea for justice. Mull’s killer did not come to court from a jail cell but from his home. He was not in court to be sentenced but for the court to determine if or when he would be tried as an adult. At the close of the hearing, he walked out of court and went back home where he has been detained since June. The home detention triggered Mull’s rage and plea for justice. Mull’s killer did not commit a petty, non-violent crime but potentially a first degree murder. He has suspected gang ties and is accused of prior handgun brandishing. In many states, including California, teens much younger than Mull’s killer who have been charged with murder and accused of prior gun use are routinely jailed for long stretches in juvenile or adult jails, tried as adults, convicted, and receive lengthy sentences. In the past, some have received death sentences and in a few cases been executed. The Supreme Court narrowly outlawed juvenile executions in March 2005.
Mull’s killer would not suffer that fate and that’s a good thing. But that still doesn’t ease the personal pain of Mull’s mother and the deep sense that a grievous legal wrong has been committed by the court’s allowing her son’s confessed killer to remain out of jail. And then adding to her anguish by handling the case with kid glove, snail paced lethargy.
This is hardly unique. According to reports from multiple state agencies, and a ten year Longitudinal Analysis of Juvenile Detention programs by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, since the late 1980s home detention for juveniles while awaiting trial or a court disposition of their case and who were accused of even serious felony offenses has sharply increased. This is in part a cost saving measure, and in part a way to reduce overcrowding in America’s bulging jails and juvenile detention centers. Juveniles sentenced or confined to home detention wear ankle bracelets that emit an electronic signal sent to a remote command center whenever an offender ventures outside the home or other confined area set by the courts. In theory if the signal goes off that’s a potential violation, if it’s verified than police are notified and the offender can be arrested.
But there’s a giant loophole. Police are often not notified if a juvenile is under home detention and are only aware of it when a detainee violates home detention rules and they make an arrest. Home detention violations are not uncommon. There have been frequent reports of juveniles committing or accused of crimes while supposedly confined to their homes.
Still, home detention is a sensible and humane penal method for dealing with non-violent, low risk juveniles and adults. But Mull’s killer hardly fits that bill.
Jocelyn Mull is no lock em up and throw away the key crusader. She is a dedicated educator and community activist. She’s well aware of the well-documented gaping racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. Young black males are more likely than young whites who commit violent crimes to be jailed, too languish in preventive detention, be tried as adults, convicted and then warehoused in adult prisons for long sentences.
Mull’s sole concern is that the tiny cracks that permit young men who kill either through legal sloppiness, a technicality, laxity, or expediency to at least for a time evade justice be filled. She is campaigning to prevent the use of house detention for violent felony cases. Until that change happens, the tacit message is that when young blacks kill other young blacks, black life is deemed cheap and devalued. In her emotional plea Mull repeatedly noted that her son’s killer would spend the holidays at his home. Her son won’t. And that’s not justice.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why I Called for a Christopher Model Commission on Inglewood Cop Killings

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Beleaguered Inglewood police chief Jacqueline Seabrooks dropped a faint hint in her July 25 press conference that she would welcome an independent agency to take a hard look at the policies and procedures of her department. Seabrooks dropped the hint that the department welcomes outside intervention mostly in response to the call this writer made for a Christopher style Commission in Inglewood.

She had little choice but to welcome an outside look at her department. Three very questionable fatal shootings in three months, piles of complaints from citizens of police abuse, harassment, and misconduct, and a department under intense public and media fire. This screamed for some kind of action to dispel the fervent feeling that the Inglewood police are wildly out of control.

The shooting of postal worker Kevin Wicks by the same cop who gunned down a black teen weeks earlier was the last draw. Almost no one believes the chief’s vehement contention that the department is capable of conducting a fair and impartial investigation of itself.

This has nothing to do with the heat, passion and fury over the Wicks shooting, or even distrust of Seabrooks. It has everything to do with the history of cops investigating other cops who are alleged to have committed or actually are guilty of misconduct, and especially misconduct that involves the overuse of deadly force. These investigations rely heavily on often tightly orchestrated statements, or carefully scripted reports from the officer or officers about the incident, cursory review of citizen complaints, forensic evidence and a crime scene reenactment that’s heavily weighted to support the under fire officer’s version of the incident. Meanwhile, the statements and testimony from witnesses that contradict the officer’s version of the incident are often treated with skepticism, disbelief or are outright dismissed.

Often police officials tip their hand and publicly declare even before the first scarp of evidence is gathered that the shooting or physical confrontation was probably justified. The result of police investigating themselves is virtually preordained. The accused officer is almost always exonerated. If the officer kills or maims the shooting is almost always ruled in policy.

But the stain of these investigations is not totally scrubbed away when an officer skips off scot free. There are the grieving families, the inevitable and costly lawsuits, and increase in public ill-will toward the police.

There are even more deadly consequences. Questionable cop shootings and their subsequent pro forma stamp investigations stir turmoil and unrest, and deepen the distrust and cynicism of blacks and minorities toward the police. They reinforce the deep seated belief that cops are only out to cover up their dirt and that the lives of minorities are cheap.

The Wicks shooting doesn’t have to follow that predictable and infuriating script. Inglewood officials have a made-in-heaven chance to rewrite that script. The call for a Christopher Model Commission was a good call in the wake of the Wicks shooting. The Christopher Commission was established by L.A. officials after the beating of black motorist Rodney King in 1991. It tore apart all LAPD policies and procedures, but it took the hardest look at the department’s lax use of deadly force, and the almost total absence of any checks and balances and punishment for such use.

Inglewood officials, led by Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, took a big step in the direction of bringing in independent scrutiny when it agreed to push for an Independent Counsel to take a hard look at the Inglewood police shootings. Here are the crucial questions that an Independent Counsel must ask and Inglewood police officials must answer:

What is appropriate use of force?

Under what circumstances should an officer use deadly force?

What type of force is necessary in specific situations?

What type of training do officers receive on when to use or not use deadly force?

What is excessive force?

What are the current department policies on the use of force?

What are the alternatives to deadly force, and when should they be used?

What are the investigation procedures into the use of deadly force?

What punishment is imposed when deadly force is found to be out of policy?

Inglewood police officials did the right thing when they expressed deep regret over Wick’s killing. They can do the right thing again by putting iron clad guidelines and rules in place on the use of deadly force. This will do much to insure that they will not be back again in a few months or even weeks to express regrets to yet another family for a police killing that should never have happened.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Southeast Symphony Orchestra’s Message Is Simple: The Classical Music Experience is Our Experience Too
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Despite what some mistakenly think, classical music is our experience too. That’s the black experience. For six decades, the Southeast Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles has had this ambitious goal: to nourish the classical music experience among African-Americans, provide a venue for artists and musicians to play and for audience’s to learn and enjoy classical music, as well as to train the next generation of young African-American classical musicians. The orchestra under the direction of nationally renowned musicologist, conductor and concert artist maestro Charles Dickerson will hold its 60th anniversary season closing concert on Sunday, July 20 at 3:00 PM at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with a powerhouse afternoon of American classical music gems. They include Gershwin’s American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess. The program will feature some of Los Angeles’s renowned black virtuoso performers.
In spite of the symphony’s phenomenal work over the years to deepen the experience of classical music among blacks, there’s one comment that has always stuck with me when the subject is classical music and African-Americans. A couple of years ago when I mentioned that I would attend a classical music performance at a local concert hall, a good friend snapped who, you and three other blacks. She did not mean to offend with her quip. In fact, we both laughed at it. But underneath the pithy and dismissive retort, lay a world of misunderstanding, ignorance, and flat out rejection of the towering, but largely ignored role and importance of blacks in the world of classical music. Put bluntly, far too many blacks still regard classical music as exclusively a white European music form. Or put even more bluntly, many sneer at it as white man’s music that has no relation to the black experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.
African-American Heritage in Classical Music ( lists 52 composers, conductors and instrumental performers - Africans, African Americans and Afro-Europeans spanning five centuries. These artists are unknown to most of us, yet are so numerous the web site can present only a fraction of them. They have made enduring contributions to classical music. Several have composed, conducted and performed classical music. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) of Guadeloupe is one of those multi-talented musicians. Cuban classical guitarist Leo Brouwer (born 1939) is another. Over 100 sound samples can be heard at the Audio page and at the biographical pages on the web site and others.
Classical musical world giants Ludwig Van Beethoven, Antonin Dvorak, Camille Saint Saens, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, and others have either befriended black classical music artists or incorporated jazz, spirituals, and/or African rhythms in their compositions. Living legend Wynton Marsalis has virtually made a second career in music recording Haydn, Teleman, and other classical music composers trumpet concertos.
The numbers of black singers, dancers, symphony conductors, and virtuoso performers that now regularly grace the symphonic, and Opera hall and ballet stage today is legion. The number of black symphonic groups has increased nationally.
Dickerson, and the dedicated board members and core of loyal patrons of the Southeast Symphony, have labored in the shadows for years to fund and sustain the orchestra and its community outreach programs. It’s strictly been a labor of love, in this case driven by their profound love of classical music and the belief that classical music can enrich the black community and the lives of those that hear, enjoy and play it.
Fulfilling the mission hasn’t been easy. Southeast Symphony does not get the mega foundation or corporate dollars that the big, prestigious, and deeply endowed philharmonic orchestras receive. It must rely on small donations to maintain and grow their efforts.
The July 20th gala concert is the way to help them.
But this is more than a concert. It’s a statement that African-Americans have been and will continue to be in the pantheon of the classical music world. It’s a bold declaration that the black experience has been and continues to be a vital, dynamic, and profoundly enriching part of classical music. The orchestra fully intends to make sure the world knows that.
The Southeast Symphony Orchestra’s message then is simple: The classical music experience is our experience too.

See you at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Sunday July 20th.

Ticket Information: 323-293-7372 310-973-2488 310-519-1806

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Triple Burden for Jamiel Shaw Sr.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Jamiel Shaw Sr. carries a crushing triple burden. He was in ear shot of the spot several doors down from his house where his son Jamiel Shaw Jr. was gunned down some weeks ago. The young Shaw was a highly sought after high school football and track prospect. His murder was Shaw Sr.’s first crushing burden. His son’s alleged killer is a reported gang member who earlier had been released from the Culver City jail, and he is an illegal immigrant. The pain and fury Shaw Sr. felt over the killing and the fact that the alleged killer is an illegal immigrant propelled him to crusade for the passage of Jamiel’s Law. The law would severely modify Special Order 40 which forbids LAPD officers from stopping and detaining suspects solely on suspicion that they are illegal immigrants. The fact that the alleged killer was an illegal immigrant and the uphill fight to get Jamiel’s Law passed is Shaw’s second burden.
The law and his fight to get it enacted is controversial, conflicting, and has inflamed and divided many blacks and Latinos. There‘s no question, though, that Shaw Sr. battles for the law out of the sincere desire to see that no other family suffer the pain and loss of a son or daughter to gang violence due to a screw up by authorities in the mishandling of known violence prone gang members of dubious legal status in the country.
The Shaw Jr. killing ignited an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy, support, and goodwill from city officials, church and community leaders, civil rights groups, and anti-gang violence activists. It also ignited a non-stop barrage of local and news stories on the pain and plight of the Shaw family. The media was properly gentile and deferential in its coverage of the killing. The danger is that could change. This is the third crushing burden dumped on Shaw Sr.
All it took to change that and add this burden were some unflattering shots, and pictures, and scrawl on Shaw Jr.’s My Space blog that purportedly shows him mugging and flipping gang signs, markings, and speaking gang code lingo. The inference is that Shaw Jr. was not the clean cut, upstanding highly praised, scholar-athlete that the media and the thousands that empathized with Shaw Sr. were led to belief. The even more painful inference is that Shaw Jr. was not an innocent who was gunned down by a hateful, vengeful gang member but that his alleged gang involvement, even affiliation, made him an inviting target for a hit.
There is absolutely no proof that any of this is true. There are thousands of young persons that talk the talk, swagger, posture, know the gang code lingo, dress the dress. Yet they are no more likely than Barack Obama to join a gang let alone be involved with gang violence. A near textbook example of this rush to judgment when any young black displays what is allegedly gang trappings is the case of Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce. He was slapped with a ludicrous $25,000 fine by the NBA for supposedly flashing a gang sign on the court. (Pierce is universally lauded for his community and charitable work) This certainly applies to Shaw Jr. But that means little once the rumor mill shifts into high gear. The innuendos, hints, and finger points fly with abandon.
It’s easy of course for many to think and believe the worst about young African-American males such as Shaw Jr. given the top heavy, relentless spew by much of the media of stereotypes and negative typecasting of young black males as gang bangers, drive by shooters, and inherent underachievers. When that happens no matter how false the assertions of gang involvement and how blurred the circumstances of a young man’s killing may be, the damage to the young person’s family and his reputation is done. In the case of Shaw Sr., he’s had to watch with piercing outrage as the memory of his slain son is tarred, tainted, and dragged through the mud. And when the alleged killer is eventually tried he will have to sit in court and listen as defense attorneys for the alleged killer sully his son’s name even more by dredging up his MySpace scrawls as alleged proof of Shaw Jr’s gang membership.
Shaw Sr. has had to suffer the devastation of the loss of a son that he had invested so much of his life into turning into a proud and productive adult. Then he’ll have to fight a controversial fight to get a law passed that many say is futile, wasteful and unnecessary. Now there’s the character assassination of his murdered son. This is a crushing triple burden that no parent should have to bear. Yet, sadly it’s one that Shaw Sr. has been forced to bear.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Byoune Killing Raises The Question: Do Police Rush to Judgment When They Investigate Themselves
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Inglewood, California Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks faces a dilemma that many big city police chiefs face when their officer’s gun down unarmed civilians under dubious circumstances, and those civilians in almost all cases are young African Americans or Latinos. In this case the victim was 19 year-old Michael Byoune. The deep suspicion is that police routinely bend, twist and massage testimony and evidence to whitewash and ultimately exonerate officers. The way to counter that is to conduct a thorough and honest investigation and if the officer(s) are found guilty of wrongdoing impose swift punishment. But that almost always draws loud protests from police unions and some city officials.

The Byoune killing by any standard was a bad shooting. In fact, it evoked instant comparisons to the killing of bride-groom-to-be Sean Bell by NYPD officers in 2007. Bell, as Byoune, was a young African-American male. Bell and Byoune were unarmed. There is no indication that he, as Bell, was involved in any gang or criminal involvement. From tapes and news clips, Inglewood police officers riddled the car that Byoune was in with bullet holes. The car Bell was in was also riddled with gunfire.

The police killings of young blacks such as Bell and Byoune spark momentary outrage and demands for federal or local investigations, and prosecutions of the officers. That presents two problems.

The first is getting police officials to conduct an investigation that’s not weighted heavily toward the police version of the events when there is considerable witness evidence and testimony that contradicts the officer’s version. The second is getting a prosecution and then a conviction of the officers involved. The acquittal of the three NYPD officers charged in the shooting death of Bell was stark proof of that.

The frequent media portrayal of young blacks as crime-prone, drug-dealing gangsters, the gang and murder violence that continues to wrack many black neighborhoods in Los Angeles and other cities and the glorification of the thug lifestyle by many young blacks reinforces negative racial perceptions. This makes many whites, non-blacks, and even many blacks guarded, suspicious and fearful of blacks. It's still virtually impossible to convince many jurors, that some police lie, beat, maim, and even kill unarmed suspects. That goes for judges too. A New York Supreme Court judge acquitted the officers charged in the Bell shooting.

Since there are no ironclad standards of what is or isn't acceptable use of force, or what degree of force is excessive, it often comes down to a judgment call by the officer. That creates just enough doubt that if the victim no matter how innocent he may appear to be was not the aggressor, than he at least put up enough resistance to the arrest to justify some use of force to restrain him, or worse the use of deadly force.

The near universal failure of police officials to take punitive action against officers that overuse deadly force almost always starts with the investigation. Eye witnesses are not sworn.
And invariably when evidence contradicts the officers' version of events, police officials reflexively rely on the testimony of the officers to sustain their version of what happened.

This insures that police officials will rule in nearly every case that the officers did not violate any department policies or procedures on the use of deadly force. Chicago is an immediate and tragic example of that. The past couple years, Chicago police have shot a civilian on average once every 10 days. More than 100 people have been killed in the last decade; 250 others have been injured. But only a tiny fraction of shootings are ruled unjustified -- less than 1 percent, police records and court testimony indicate. The secrecy in which the investigations are conducted and the perfunctory ruling that a shooting was in policy means that it is virtually impossible to determine how many are in fact legitimate. The Chicago police that killed were cleared almost in every case and that pattern is the same in dubious police shootings in other cities.

A fair and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding police killings, and that certainly includes the Byoune killing, must have one aim. That is to find out what went so horribly wrong that police had to resort to gunplay and then insure that there’s no repeat of the tragedy. These are the tough questions that then should be routinely asked in a truly impartial police investigation.

Did the officers give a warning before opening fire? Did they attempt to find out if the victim had a gun or weapon, or even in the case of Byoune was his car a deadly weapon, and was it an actual threat to the officer? Do eyewitnesses corroborate the officer’s version of the shooting?

The Byoune and Bell killings, as well as those of the other young blacks, demand answers, honest answers. Police officials should give them. When they don’t they simply reinforce the suspicion that police rush to judgment to exonerate wrongdoing by their own.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Byoune Killing Casts another Bad Glare on Inglewood
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Inglewood police chief Jacqueline Seabrooks did the right and smart thing. She headed off an almost certain demand from outraged family members and community activists for a federal investigation into the killing of 19-year-old Michael Byoune. Seabrooks expressed condolences to Byoune’s family and promised a full and vigorous investigation into the killing of Byoune by Inglewood police officers. Seabrooks got ahead of any possible call for federal intervention for two good reasons. The killing for some observers evoked instant memories of the gunning down by NYPD officers of Sean Bell in 2007. The would-be bride groom, Bell, like Byoune, was a young African-American male. Bell and Byoune were unarmed. There is no indication that he, as Bell, was involved in any gang or criminal involvement. From tapes and news clips, Inglewood police officers riddled the car that Byoune was with bullet holes. The car Bell was in was also riddled with gunfire.

There is no indication whether the officers issued any warning to Byoune before opening fire. Byoune was killed when he attempted to flee for his safety after shots had been fired from unknown shooters in a block adjacent to the parking lot where he was killed.

Now that Seabrooks has promised a full probe into the killing, the questions that she and Inglewood city officials must answer are: did the officers follow standard procedure and give a warning before opening fire? Did they attempt to find out where the shots were coming from and if indeed Byoune was involved in the shooting? Was there any evidence that the car that Byoune was in was a car that fit the description of a car or cars that the shooters were driving? Did eyewitnesses corroborate the officers version of the shooting, namely that they thought Byoune might have been involved in the shooting? Did the vehicle that he was in actually endanger the officer’s lives as he attempted to exit the parking lot?
Were the officers involved in the shooting removed from their street assignments pending the outcome of the investigation? And if, any officer (s) involved in the shooting are found guilty of violating department policy and procedures on the use of force, what of any punishment will the chief impose on them?

This is an especially crucial and sensitive point for in nearly all officer involved shootings, even the most questionable ones, and even where officers are found to have used excessive force, the punishment has often been minimal or totally lacking. This reinforces the deep suspicion that police officials look for ways to exonerate officers rather than to hold them accountable for violating department policies and procedures. This in turn deepens the fear and distrust that many African-Americans and Latinos have toward the police.
There are many more questions that Inglewood officials must ask and answer about the Byoune killing. It’s even more important that accurate answers be given especially given that Inglewood police have been hammered in past years for incidents involving excessive force and charges of misconduct.

They include the videotape beating of Donovan Jackson in 2002, followed by a series of questionable shootings of unarmed suspects, and the allegation that of some Inglewood officers engaged in shakedowns and trading sexual favors. This is yet another prescription for a full blown crisis of confidence in the methods of policing and the professionalism of the department.

The shooting of Byoune by any standard was a bad shooting. And though there is yet no evidence that Inglewood police officers acted with reckless endangerment in killing Byoune, the Byoune family and others will be watching closely to see what if anything Inglewood police officials and city officials ultimately do about his death.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Gross Overkill on a Supervisor’s seat
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Talk about gross overkill. What else could anyone call dumping a record $2.5 million dollars (with $1.5 million more on the way) by a special interest group in this case Los Angeles labor unions into the campaign kitty of State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas. The unions get away with this naked effort to buy a supervisor’s board seat through a thinly veiled skirt of the campaign finance rule limits by funneling the cash through independent committees. It’s all perfectly legal, and it’s all perfectly a sham to nab a seat.
Local unions have always pumped lots of cash into the campaigns of candidates that they believe are the most labor friendly. But they generally stayed within some recognizable bounds of spending proprieties. The Ridley-Thomas spending plunge obliterates that fine line.
It’s no surprise why. The supervisors manage the biggest county government in the nation. The more than 100,000 employees on the county payroll are the largest in the country. But the county is also tens of millions in the budget hole. That means two things. There will be deep slashes in spending on health and social services. With a projected nearly $200 million budget deficit for the county health department, for instance, the board talks of closing nearly all of the dwindling number of county-run health clinics but one. Other strapped county service agencies will be hit hard to make up for the shortfall.
That in turn means employee freezes, cuts in employee benefits and wages, and in an even worse case scenario, layoffs of county employees. Labor unions want and need the most dependable labor friendly guy they can get to keep a hawk like watch over any and every effort to gut employee contracts and staunch the pain of employee cuts. The $4 million that the labor unions are shoving to Ridley-Thomas is added insurance that they’ll get a supervisor who will keep a sharp eye on the supervisors when they start welding their budget slashing machete. With millions at stake in labor benefits, and jobs, the cash the unions are shelling out to grab the election seems like a relatively small price to protect fully labor’s back.
Parks is the last one that unions want on the board. He is a business friendly, fiscal conservative and he would be much more likely to take a long look at union contracts, and pensions and to fight anything that’s construed as excessive giveaways to county unions. He loudly protested that this kind of heavy handed spending on one candidate in a local race decidedly un levels the election playing field. He screams that the hefty union pay-off to Ridley-Thomas is proof that he’s in the hip pocket of labor.
His complaint can’t be waved off. Parks is no slouch when it comes to fundraising. He nearly doubled Ridley-Thomas’s total in the first quarter of this year, but much of it came from business groups. And it still pales in comparison to the king’s ransom Ridley-Thomas got from labor. In hard campaign dollar terms it amounts to six dollars for every one dollar that Ridley-Thomas got from non-labor campaign donors.
Ridley-Thomas’s suddenly swollen campaign war chest means that Parks now will have to work that much harder to pump the spigots from business groups and other campaign donors. The prospect that Parks could get even more cash from business groups is another big reason that labor upped the dollar ante for Ridley-Thomas. This is important for yet another reason. Running for an L.A. city or county office has become virtually a millionaire’s derby, and politicians spend nearly as much of their time arm-twisting, cajoling, pleading with, and jawboning donors to pony up money. A massive check from a special interest group gives the recipient a huge leg up over his or her opponent. They can bankroll tons of crucial ads, TV spots, and churn out reams of literature touting bragging about their accomplishments, make inflated election promises, and most importantly, beat up on their opponent. Almost certainly, much of Ridley-Thomas’s media hit will be to depict Park’s as a business industry shill.
For his part, Ridley-Thomas scoffs at the charge that he’ll be a compliant yes man on the board for labor unions. He says that he has business support too. He does. But the endorsements of a handful of prominent business leaders and the relatively small amount of money they’ve contributed to his campaign hardly add up to any semblance of balance between business and labor interests.
When the supervisors get around to making the inevitable tough decisions on labor contracts, wages and benefits, and possible job cuts, the hard fact is that labor will expect Ridley-Thomas to toe its line on resisting any cuts or give backs, no matter how bad a shape the county’s finances are in, and how fiscally prudent the cuts are.
But there’s much more at stake for labor in getting Ridley-Thomas on the board than just insuring a reliable labor vote in the coming board battles over pay and benefit issues for county employees. Los Angeles labor unions have been in the forefront of the continuing fight nationally for a living wage for newly organized union employees from security guards to hotel workers. The battles have been hard fought and labor’s successes have been mixed. With the economic meltdown and cites and counties facing massive budget cuts, the fight for a living wage will intensify, and the success or failure that unions have in that fight in L.A. County will be closely watched by unions in other states.
Labor unions can’t be faulted for doing what they do best and that’s tossing their cash at a candidate that they think will do their loyal bidding once in office. Business groups do the same. The problem is that the far over the top kind of heavy cash that the unions shoved out to Ridley-Thomas reinforces the deep public suspicion and even public disgust that candidates and their votes are for sale to the highest bidder. That may not be the case with Ridley-Thomas. At least he says not anyway. Yet, with $4 million in his pocket the voter’s eyes should stay riveted on him to see if he really means it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and frequent contributor to the Sunday Viewpoints. He can be reached at

Monday, April 21, 2008

Much Mythmaking About Special Order 40
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A beleaguered LAPD chief William Bratton after weeks of being pounded and badgered by assorted right-wing talk radio show yakkers, and anti-immigrant rights groups, immigrant rights groups, and the L.A. City Council says that he’ll soon tell what LAPD officers can and can’t do in regards to the much attacked, much defended and much misunderstood Special Order 40. The controversy and the muddle has spawned much mythmaking about what the Order actually says and what it allows officers to do.
The Order specifically says that LAPD officers can’t initiate any “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person,” and with the objective of arresting or booking a person for “illegal entry” into the United States.

In plain English, the Order and the policies and procedures that the LAPD top brass put in place decades back to under gird how the Order is interpreted and enforced on the streets prohibits officers from asking a person about his or her alien status and from notifying the ICE about a person’s undocumented status unless the person has been arrested.

That line has been widely cited by those that want the Order dumped and has stirred the anguish of Jamiel Shaw Sr., whipped up frenzy among anti-immigration reform activists, and gave right wing talk hosts the wedge they needed to pound the city council and Bratton and sneakily push their anti-immigration reform agenda. The part of the Order that they have sloppily misread or deliberately ignored never forbade LAPD officers from participating in task force investigations, responding to requests from the ICE for information regarding suspected illegal aliens, or assisting ICE agents in the execution of arrest warrants.

That’s just the start of the public and political mythmaking on the Order. It does not bar an LAPD officer from notifying ICE of the immigration status of a person arrested for a crime if the officer learns of that information. Further, nothing in the Order bars an officer who is investigating an individual for criminal activity other than an immigration violation from asking that person about his or her immigration status and then advising ICE.

The Order was never intended to prevent officers from not checking whether anyone being investigated for or arrested for a criminal offense, let alone arraigned and held in the county jail pending prosecution, from notifying ICE about the possible illegal status of the suspect. Even on the hotly disputed and debated point that the LAPD officers can’t ask a person who has been arrested for a crime about his or her alien status, there is nothing in the Department’s policies and procedures that explicitly prohibit that.

There’s nothing in the policies and procedures of Special Order 40 that prohibits LAPD officers from interacting with ICE agents for investigative purposes. This includes the issue that has caused the most confusion and inflamed public opinion and that’s officers providing the names of known gang members to the ICE in response to a request from the agency for information. There is also nothing in Special Order 40 that forbids LAPD officers from joining in a task force with ICE where the feds are investigating criminal violations of immigration laws at the same time that the LAPD is investigating violations of state criminal laws relating to say drug dealing or violent crimes. LAPD officers are certainly not prohibited from assisting the ICE to arrest a gang member for whom a warrant had been issued.

Here’s an added check list of what LAPD officers can do to nail gang members and violent criminals that are suspected illegals. They can:
*Respond to requests from ICE to provide information regarding an individual’s criminal activities or whereabouts.

*Assist ICE to execute arrest warrants for violations of the immigration laws.
*Provide tactical assistance when ICE is planning to conduct any operation that will prevent criminal acts and violence.

*Can provide the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with the names of gang members or those suspected of involvement in criminal acts that are suspected illegals to ICE once the criminal investigation process has started.
The problem is not and never has been that Special Order 40 ties the LAPD in such tight knots that it has been hapless and ineffective in dealing with violent gang members who may be illegals. The problem is the muddle in interpretation and enforcement of the Order. LAPD officers have gotten confused and mixed signals from LAPD officials about what they can and can’t do on the streets with criminals suspected of being illegals.

As it turns out they can do a lot to get them off the streets and eventually out of the country. It doesn’t take a full blown, divisive, and racially polarizing campaign fueled by myths and misunderstanding about the Order to do that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Swatting SWAT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant that LAPD chief William Bratton called for a fresh look at the practices and gender make-up of SWAT in 2005, the howls went up from the LAPD Police Protective League, and the reflexive opponents of any LAPD change that Bratton was out to gut SWAT. This was silly, hyper-defensive, and politically motivated. Bratton was hardly out to dampen down the effectiveness of SWAT. The unit has had a solid record in handling tough situations with tact, professionalism, and most importantly a relative minimum loss of life.

The problem is that SWAT has made glaring operational mistakes in some very volatile situations. The equally big problem is that SWAT simply does not reflect the changing face and gender of the LAPD. The department in its blunt report dissecting SWAT said so. It called it insular, a good ole boy, and self-protective unit. Translated that means the unit is an iron-clad closed shop outfit, that brooks no outside interference, direction, and has doggedly resisted the entrance into SWAT of any other than hand-picked, elite male officers. This is a sure fire prescription to reinforce the clubby “them versus us” mindset and code of silence that has bedeviled the LAPD for decades.
This is the mindset that Bratton has sworn that he will do whatever he can to end during his second term at the LAPD helm.
But judging from the horrified reaction to the report and the changes that it recommended to break down the insular culture of SWAT, Bratton will have his work cut out for him on this. He’ll have an even tougher job in trying to make operational changes, or better still policy changes, on the thorny issue of the use of force. While SWAT has been lauded for handling most stand-off situations without resort to gunplay, on a few occasions when it has used force the result has been disastrous.

The most glaring and tormenting example of this was the accidental slaying of 19 month old Susie Pena, in a South L.A. hostage standoff in 2005. That forced a deep soul search within the department and within SWAT on when and when not to use force, and how much force is appropriate in tense situations. It also forced the LAPD top brass and the police commission to look at something else about SWAT. And that is when force may be inappropriate, or flat out overkill, in a situation where innocent civilians are injured or slain as a result. The question is how accountable are SWAT commanders and officers for the killing, and what if any punishment is meted out when a shooting is ruled out of policy.

The report found that in almost all cases where there was the questionable use of force by SWAT, the shooting was not found out of policy. The couple of times that the shootings were ruled out of policy there was no indication what, if any punishment there was to the shooters?

This is no small point. This begs for a policy change and that change is that the department must establish clear and firm guidelines on when an officer, in this case a SWAT officer, can and can't use deadly force. The vague rule is that an officer can use deadly force when he or she feels their life is endangered. What does that really mean?

That's the first step to confronting this problem. The second is discipline. A chief must have full authority to punish an officer found guilty of using excessive force. That includes SWAT officers. This too must be addressed and changed.
The overuse of excessive force is still the single biggest thing that poisons relations between the police and minority communities. It has sparked deadly racial turmoil and civil unrest in Los Angeles and other cities.

Bratton should be applauded, not stoned, for having the foresight to examine all parts of the LAPD to see what works, what doesn’t work, and where appropriate changes can be made to make those parts work even better.

No one is condemning SWAT for the way it handles things, nor is anyone calling it an out of control bunch of Cowboys. It has repeatedly been praised for getting it right most of the time. However, it’s those times when it doesn’t that the report simply says demands some change. After all we all want to see SWAT be the absolute best that it can be. Don’t we?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hang in There Tavis Smiley, Don’t let the Black Obama Thought Police Run You Out
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

As late as this past January, black talk show host Tavis Smiley was the darling of black America. Three months later he’s the butt of black America. The tip off that Smiley’s personal stock has plunged was his abrupt announcement that he was quitting his long standing post as political commentator on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner morning show. The Joyner show is virtually the airwaves Bible for legions of blacks. For more than a decade, Smiley was the show’s black political and social issues voice. He was widely considered the go to guy for blacks on cutting edge social and advocacy issues.

So what is Smiley’s great sin? He had the temerity to be less than a court cheer leader for candidate Obama. He compounded the sin with the black Obama thought police by having the added temerity to invite and warmly greet and thank Hillary Clinton for speaking at his annual State of the Black Union (formerly State of Black America) forum in February. Then he had the added added temerity to publicly criticize Obama for offering to send his wife Michelle as a fill-in.

That did it. The howls went up that Smiley was A. anti-Obama B. A closet Hillary backer C. an egoistic, self-absorbed, full of himself, bad host and ingrate. One columnist summed up the chorus from the black Obama thought police with this plunge the knife in the back title “Who Died and made Tavis King?” That title and the sentiment behind it would have been nothing short of heresy in January.

But putting the suddenly hate Smiley tide aside for a moment. There are two shames and tragedies here. The first is that if an African-American, and it makes no different whether it’s a Smiley, or anyone else, even dares breathe a kind word about Hillary Clinton they will be run out of Dodge on a rail. Heaven forbid if they declare that they will vote for Clinton. No matter how many reasoned arguments they give—her experience, grasp of the issues, programs, and positions, staunch history in support of civil rights, women’s rights, and social justice issues and Obama’s paper thin if not outright dubious record on all of the aforementioned. Then remind the Obama chorus that the last time they looked the strength of democracy and the first amendment is the right to back a candidate of their choice and not be subjected to a verbal public lynching for making their choice.

The second shame and disgrace is that those blacks that exercise their democratic right to pick the candidate they think will do the best job and not blindly back a candidate based solely because he’s black are considered race traitors. This is almost a text book variation on the old Orwellian Animal Farm saga of when the formerly oppressed flip the power table and suddenly become the new masters. They think, act and behave like the bunch that they kicked out of power. They are just as oppressive, stifling and thick headed toward any views and opinions that don’t conform to theirs.

Given the history of the racial scorn heaped on them, blacks should be the absolute last ones to impose a racial code of conduct on other blacks. Unfortunately, in their absolute dogmatic, unyielding, Obama mania, they have turned what in any other season would be a healthy give and take reasoned dialogue and even debate on political issues into finger pointing, name calling, bashing, and yes as Smiley unhappily said “hate” toward any black who disagrees that Obama is the second coming of Dr. King.

Here’s the challenge to Obama. Smiley has given him countless opportunities on his TV show, website, radio show, a presidential debate, and other public venues that he’s hosted to amply express his views. That hardly sounds like an inherent political enemy. Why not issue a statement simply saying that Smiley’s a stellar and consistent media and public voice for black causes, and a man worthy of respect and admiration. But most importantly, he has the right to hold and voice his political opinions on the presidential candidates and that even includes principled criticism of candidate Obama.

He has the right to do that without being vilified and verbally assailed. This in no way diminishes his credibility or value to black America. In other words, knock off the “hating” on Smiley (and others). Tavis, let me know when, but more likely if, that statement is ever issued. Meanwhile hang tough, and don’t let the black Obama thought police run you out.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Race Is Still the X Factor for Obama
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There’s a good and bad note for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama in the recent exit polls of white voters in Democratic primaries. The good note is that by a lopsided majority of six to one whites said that race was not a factor in considering whether to back Obama or not. That pretty much conforms to virtually every poll that’s been taken since Obama tossed his hat in the presidential ring a year ago. His red state Democratic primary and caucus wins and the handful of endorsements he’s gotten from the red state Democratic senators and governors seem to bolster the poll findings as well as his camp’s contention that the majority of whites have bought his race neutral change and unity pitch.

The bad note for him, though, is buried in the racial rose tinged poll numbers. In fact, they were actually buried there even as he rolled up big numbers in his primary victories in Georgia, Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. Blacks make up a substantial percentage of the vote in those states, and he bagged eighty to ninety percent of their vote. But much less noted was that Clinton got almost sixty five to seventy percent of white votes.

It wasn’t just the reverse racial numbers for Clinton and Obama. Obama does incredibly well in netting the vote of college educated, upscale whites. But Clinton does just as well in bagging support from lower income downscale, and rural white voters. This has huge potential downside implications for Obama in a head to head battle with John McCain in the red states. A significant percent of the voters there are lower income, rural and less educated whites. Obama banks that he can pry one or two of the red states from the GOP. Yet, if he can’t convince Clinton’s white vote supporters, and they are Democrats, to back him, the chances are nil that he’ll have any more success with Republican and independent white voters in these states.

A hint of that came in the Democratic primary in Ohio. Clinton beat out Obama in the primary, and she did it mainly with white votes. But that wasn’t the whole story. Nearly one quarter of whites in Ohio flatly said race did matter in voting. Presumably that meant that they would not vote for a black candidate no matter how politically attractive or competent he was.

An even bigger hint of the race difficulty could come in Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary. The voter demographics in the state perfectly match those in Ohio. A huge percent of Pennsylvania voters are blue collar, anti-big government, socially conservative, pro defense, and intently patriotic, and there’s a tormenting history of a racial polarization in the state. Pundit James Carville has even described Pennsylvania as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between. Carville’s characterization is hyperbolic, but devastatingly accurate. Take the state’s two big, racially diverse cities out of the vote equation, and Pennsylvania would be rock solid red state Republican. While polls show some fluctuation in Clinton’s decisive lead over Obama there, she still has a solid lead.

The near unanimous backing that whites give to the notion of voting for a black candidate for president also deserves to be put to a political test to see how much truth there is to it. The question: “Would you vote for a black candidate for president?” is a direct question, and to flatly say no to it makes one sound like a bigot, and in the era of verbal racial correctness (ask Don Imus), it’s simply not fashionable to come off to pollsters sounding like one. That’s hardly the only measure of a respondent’s veracity. In a 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Yale political economist found that white Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near twenty year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.

Republicans and independents weren’t the only ones guilty of dubious Election Day color-blindness. Many Democrats were too. In House races, the study found that Democrats were nearly 40 percent less likely to back a black Democratic candidate than a white Democrat.

Obama’s Democratic primary and caucus wins certainly show that many white voters will vote for him. They obviously feel that he has the right presidential stuff. But a large number of whites aren’t quite ready to strap on their racial blinders even for a candidate who has leaned way over backward to run a race neutral, bipartisan, unity campaign. The big question is just how many whites will refuse to strap on the racial blinders on Election Day. That’s still the X factor for Obama.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saving Lives is Silliness? A Stunt? Dr. King Had an Answer for the L.A. Times Editors on the Murder Moratorium
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

On April 16, 1963 a group of prominent white Alabama churchmen wrote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. an open letter demanding that he call off demonstrations against segregation in Birmingham. The churchmen ridiculed Dr. King’s efforts by branding the demonstrations “untimely” and “unwise.” King’s first reaction was to shrug off their belittlement as the rantings of yet another pack of do nothing, obstructionists and nay sayers who delight in sitting on the side lines and taking cheap shots at any effort made for change. They, of course, won’t lift a finger to contribute time, energy or their dollars to groups and individuals that are trying to make positive change.

King made an exception and responded to his frozen in the sand critics with his famed Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “The demonstrations seek to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” King went further and said radical action was needed to wake up citizens and involve them in the change fight.
His response spoke to the ages and applies to the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

They blasted the call by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, the L.A.Civil Rights Assn. and other civil rights leaders for a 40 Hour King Assassination Memorial Moratorium on Killing as “silliness” and a “stunt.” It supposedly sullied the name and legacy of Dr. King. The tip off on the Times misunderstanding, or deliberate distortion, of the goal of the moratorium was its incredibly, sloppy, wrong headed, and idiotic earlier news headline (“City Council rejects ban on homicide”). The Times couldn’t even get the story of what the Council did right. The Council approved the call to end killing for 40 hours (the 40 hours marked the 40 year anniversary of the assassination) as a tribute to King.

King, of course, passionately and eloquently argued in countless speeches, letters, and interviews for non violence and ending killing whether in Vietnam or the streets of America’s cities. In an article published 12 days after his murder, and what stands as his last admonition from the grave, his voice still rang out loudly for an end to killing.

The moratorium in his name was not a silly, utopian, or wasteful call to end homicides. It was simply a challenge to L.A. residents that have seen many neighborhoods in the city torn by murder violence to pay tribute to the man who is one of world history’s foremost and most beloved champions of non-violence. The call during the period of reflection and thought on the meaning of King’s life and death by violence was a call to residents to commit, engage, and dialogue with friends, relatives, and loved ones in the schools, at work and on the streets, about ways to prevent violence in our city.

It was a timely opportunity for citizen and community engagement, even empowerment, in the ongoing and tormenting fight against murder violence. The moratorium was a rare chance for Los Angeles to provide a working example and a model for peace and nonviolence for other cities torn by murder violence. The moratorium showed what could be done when citizens join in the fight to take back their streets.
We talked with many persons old, and especially, young. They, unlike the tin ears and blinded eyes of the naysayers and head shakers on the Times editorial board got the point. They did not ridicule or belittle the moratorium call. They are the ones that are most at risk from violence. They hardly considered any effort to reduce that risk as silly. They understood that if the moratorium saved even one life during the forty hour observance then the correct word that starts with the letter “s” to describe it is not stunt or silliness but success. This sailed way over the head of the Time’s editors.

Unfortunately, the moratorium did not attain one goal, namely no homicides during the 40 hour period. There were several fatal shootings. But the moratorium did attain the larger goals of calling attention to Dr. King and his struggle for nonviolent solutions to conflicts, and in engaging the community to continue the search for proactive solutions to the murder plague in L.A.
Does this sound like something that’s silly or a stunt?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable
The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable,civil rights leaders, and family members of victims of violence call for a 40 Hour King Assassination Moratorium on Killing. It begins at 6.01 PM Friday April 4th, the exact time and date King was killed forty years ago. It ends at 10.01 AM Sunday.

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable also will host a “ 40th Anniversary King Assassination Dialogue on Violence Roundtable” on Saturday April 5. Community leaders, elected officials, law enforcement are invited to dialogue on specific initiatives that the community can implement to reduce murder violence.

Honor King on the Fortieth Anniversary of his Assassination with a 40 Hour King Assassination Moratorium on Killing. Pt 1
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

“a check of the hospitals in any Negro community on any Saturday night will make you painfully aware of the violence within the Negro community.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Forty years ago on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. There is a chilling parallel in his assassination and the recent murder of Jamiel Shaw and the near killing of Lavarea Elzy. They, as Dr. King, are innocents. The victims in the recent spike in the mostly black on black and Latino on Latino murder violence in Los Angeles has stirred hand wringing, head scratching and finger pointing among LAPD officials, local elected officials and community residents in a desperate effort to get a handle on the violence.
But whether it was the assassin’s bullet that claimed the life of one of history’s most prominent and beloved fighters for peace and justice, or an innocent such as Shaw it’s still painful, heart wrenching and screams for an answer. The King led civil rights movement provided two answers to the violence plague. The first was King’s fight for racial justice and economic uplift. That meant far more than simply integrating a lunch counter or drinking out of a white’s only fountain. It meant ending the disparities in the criminal justice system, a full court attack on failing public schools, providing affordable health care and housing for all, decent jobs at decent pay especially for young black males that face near Great Depression chronic levels of unemployment, and comprehensive family support programs to prevent family break-up. Economic and racial equality are essential to boosting self-esteem, self-worth, and community caring values among young African-Americans and other minority youth. That would be a giant step toward cutting down the carnage that has plagued many poor black and Latino urban neighborhoods.
Even before James Earl Ray’s bullet tore through King’s neck, he had denounced the attacks against stores, shops and police by young blacks following a march by striking Memphis sanitation workers. King’s horror of violence by blacks or whites was never far from his mind. But he knew that simply calling for an end to the violence was an empty gesture if he and other civil rights leaders weren’t willing to lead by example and make nonviolence the heart of their philosophy, practice and preachment, and if need be sacrifice their lives rather than resort to violence.
King’s second answer to ending the carnage in Los Angeles and other urban neighborhoods was to instill in young blacks a reverence for life. He and other civil rights leaders understood that a big reason it was so easy for blacks to slaughter each other with impunity was that their lives were devalued by the killers and by larger society. This indifference to life created an internal hostile climate that was fueled by the endemic high unemployment and poor education among many poor black and Latino youth.
Though black-on black murder did not top the murder charts in some big cities during the heyday of the 1960’s civil rights movement, the seeds of the violence were there. The seed remained the economic and social neglect and destitution of the inner cities. King did not explicitly call for a moratorium on urban killings during his lifetime. The issue for the civil rights leaders then was still the fight to end the vestiges of Jim Crow discrimination and the developing battle against poverty.
The assassin’s bullet that felled King sent the horrible and grotesque message that if violence could claim a King, it could claim anyone’s life. The only thing that could stop it was a deep, intense, and sustained commitment by society to work toward peace and social justice and by African-Americans to fully repair and restore pride and devotion to family and community.
Forty years after the murder of one of the world’s leading martyrs for peace and justice, what better way to pay tribute to his sacrifice than with a 40 Hour King Assassination Moratorium on Killing. A community, South L.A., and a city, Los Angeles, that can start and end 40 hours with not a single recorded murder is a community and a city that has shown that forty years later it can still embrace the message of peace and nonviolence that King preached and that ultimately cost him his life. It’s a small gesture time wise, but a monumental feat human life wise.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable
will host a community discussion on “Sexual Predators and LAUSD Classrooms: The Steven Rooney Case May Be The tip of Tipberg”
Parents, Teachers and Adminstrators Urged to Come Forth and Discuss the Issue.

Saturday 10:00 to 11:00 AM, March 22
Lucy Florence Coffeehouse
3351 W. 43rd St. L.A. Leimert Park

Passing the Trash
The Dirty Secret of School Sexual Abuse
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Passing the trash doesn’t have anything to do with a garbage pickup. It’s the practice that school officials, teachers and administrators whisper about among themselves when school districts routinely move a teacher or administrator accused of sexual misconduct to another school, file no charges against the accused, make no public disclosure about the charges, and even make a financial settlement with the accused if they move on. Invariably, the offending teachers are dumped in the poorest of the poor mostly black and Latino inner city schools.
The practice of shuffling sexually tainted teachers and administrators is a dirty secret and a national disgrace. Yet dozens of school districts engage in the practice. Hundreds of teachers accused of or that are guilty of sexual abuse of students have skipped away scot free or with minimal disciplinary action. This practice has left countless student victims and their parents in emotional rage and turmoil. The practice recently bit the Los Angeles Unified School District hard when Steven Rooney an administrator was charged with the sexual molestation of a 13 year old middle school student.
The Rooney case was a textbook example of the all too prevalent wink and nod of many school districts toward sexual abuse. Rooney was under investigation for a prior suspected sexual offense against a teen student, yet was shuffled around to several South Los Angeles inner city schools. Finally he was dumped at Markham Middle School in the heart of Los Angeles’s Watts district. There was no public disclosure that Rooney might be a problem. Rooney’s arrest brought howls of rage and protest from dozens of parents. Embarrassed school officials scrambled fast and offered profuse apologies, promised to set up a task force and conduct a rigorous investigation.
The problem though is that the Rooney case may be just the tip of the iceberg. The great likelihood is that there are other teachers and administrators that have committed acts of sexual abuse within the LAUSD and parents, students, and even teachers and administrators may be totally in the dark about them. And it’s not just the Los Angeles school district.
Education researchers estimate that fifteen percent of the nation’s 50 million school children could be the victims of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse involves not just inappropriate physical contact between teachers and students but involve sending emails, text messages, and digital photos, as well as My Space postings, seductive notes, and even anonymous gifts. A majority of the cases go unreported out of fear, shame, embarrassment, and reluctance on the part of some teachers and administrators to blow the whistle on their co-workers. Some districts dread the prospect of costly liability suits and settlements, and the adverse publicity from sexual abuse cases.

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable
will host a community discussion on “Sexual Predators and LAUSD Classrooms: The Steven Rooney Case May Be The tip of Tipberg”
Parents, Teachers and Adminstrators Urged to Come Forth and Discuss the Issue.

Saturday 10:00 to 11:00 AM, March 22
Lucy Florence Coffeehouse
3351 W. 43rd St. L.A. Leimert Park

Even when abuse is documented or strongly suspected, the discipline is often spotty, inconsistent and arbitrary. From 2001 to 2005, states suspended or revoked the licenses of more than 2500 teachers and administrators guilty of sexual misconduct. A handful such as Rooney was jailed. In far too many other cases, the offending teachers and administrators were transferred within the district, or got jobs with other school districts, and were given glowing recommendations. There was no known public disclosure in most of these cases. There is no federal law that bars teachers accused of sexual malfeasance from moving from one school district to another.
The school districts where the sexually suspect teachers resurface did not know that they were ticking sexual time bombs. Some states have moved aggressively to get a better handle on teacher and administrator sexual abuse. They mandate fingerprinting, criminal background checks, and the automatic revocation of a teacher’s license for conviction of sexual molestation. Many other states have done little to crack down on school sex cases.
There are still more gargantuan loopholes in the laws. The FBI’s background checks disclose felony convictions only. In many teacher sexual cases, the charges are reduced to misdemeanors. And sexual accusations are reported to police and child welfare authorities only when there is sufficient proof of abuse. Since much of the abuse is through the internet, in secret, and the victim is threatened there is no smoking gun proof of abuse. This insures that thousands of sexual abuse cases slip through the cracks. That’s what happened in the Rooney case.
The LAUSD, as other districts, were not simply clueless. They are hamstrung by their own vague and lax provisions in dealing with suspected or actual sexual abuse. The LAUSD, for instance, conducts investigations into suspected abuse only after a criminal investigation is completed. There is no mandatory transfer of teachers and administrators under a sexual abuse cloud to non-classroom assignments during the district investigation. There is no mandatory public disclosure of the results of investigations in sex cases involving teachers and administrators. There is no determination whether teachers and administrators in sexual abuse cases are disproportionately dumped at the worst performing South Los Angeles schools. These loopholes scream for closure.
In a 2007 national survey, the Associated Press found that sex cases were on the rise in many states. California was at or near the top of the list. The Rooney case and others like it show why teacher and administrator sexual abuse remains the nation’s dirty secret.