ACLU: Thousands serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent crimes
by Brenda Gazzar
More than 3,000 people in federal and state prisons around the nation are serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses, of which nearly 80 percent are drug related, according to a new American Civil Liberties Union study.
About 20 percent were convicted of nonviolent property crimes such as theft, according to “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” which was released last week and is the first report of its kind, said ACLU officials.
Only about 20 percent of the world's countries are known to have life-without-parole sentences. The vast majority of those have stringent restrictions on when they can be issued, said researcher Jennifer Turner, who penned the assessment.
“This report shines a light on how unfair and disproportionate our sentencing is becoming in this country for over 3,000 that are serving life without parole,” Turner said. “These cases reflect only the most extreme manifestation of a dysfunctional and unfair system that doles out extremely lengthy punishments that don't fit the crimes.”
Among the U.S. crimes that have resulted in life without parole are possession of a crack pipe, possession of 32 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute, serving as a middleman in the selling of $20 worth of crack to an undercover officer, shoplifting several digital cameras and taking an abusive stepfather's gun.
Of the at least 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses nationwide as of 2012, the ACLU estimated that 65 percent are black, 18 percent are white and 16 percent are Latino.
While blacks are disproportionately represented in prison and jail populations nationwide, “the disparity is far worse for those serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes,” Turner said.
About 83 percent of the life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent crimes surveyed by the ACLU were prescribed due to laws requiring mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment, habitual offender laws, statutory penalty enhancements or other sentencing rules, the report stated.
Nearly two-thirds of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses were in the federal system, of which 96 percent received the sentence for drug crimes, according to the report. Under current law, California does not sentence prisoners to formal life without parole for nonviolent offenses, though prisoners with such offenses may die while incarcerated after being given lengthy terms and having parole repeatedly denied.
“When you send someone to prison with no realistic hope of being released, there is no incentive or motivation to do anything positive,” said USC Law Professor Heidi Rummel. “I think it's a shame. We decide to throw people away, no matter what their circumstances before the crime, no matter the reasons they committed the crime or no matter how significant their rehabilitation and ability to give back might be.”
Giving people indeterminate sentences, where prisoners have the opportunity to be released after serving a certain number of years if they demonstrate they are no longer a danger to society makes prisons better places to be and prisoners better people to have in the community, Rummel said.
Among those serving life without parole in a federal prison in California is Michael Fitzgerald Wilson, who is doing his time in U.S. Penitentiary-Victorville in Adelanto. Wilson owned a car dealership in Dallas with his brother, when they and six others were arrested and charged with participating in a crack cocaine conspiracy, according to the ACLU report.
To determine the amount of drugs involved in Wilson's case, the judge multiplied numbers noted in a ledger found in a co-conspirator's apartment by the number of weeks prosecutors claimed the conspiracy had run and came up with 54 kilograms of crack. However, only one kilogram was actually recovered, and that was only near a co-conspirator's home.
Several of Wilson's co-conspirators testified against him in exchange for a reduced sentence. Then-President Bill Clinton commuted the sentence of the one other co-conspirator to receive life — the only white person in the case, the report said.
“Because I had never been to prison before ... you never think you're about to get life,” Wilson was quoted in the report.
And while about 100,000 people serving life nationwide technically retain the possibility of parole, the “steady elimination of meaningful parole consideration” in recent decades has transformed many life sentences into life-without-parole sentences, Turner said.
Over the last decade, the California Board of Parole Hearings has denied 98 percent of all the lifers' parole petitions it has heard.
Confessions of a Chattanooga serial killer
Too many deaths to count. Now one more looms. His own.
by Tyler Jett
18 years later, phone call put end to unsolved Chattanooga killing
Detective Tim Carroll took a phone call on April 20, 1995, from a caseworker in the St. Louis County Jail. Kenneth Korpecki said he represented an inmate who wanted to confess to a murder, a very old murder.
"Tell him it was a Pizza Hut," Carroll heard another man on the line say to Korpecki.
The detective was familiar. Eighteen years earlier, someone had shot a black man dead and wounded his white girlfriend in the parking lot. It was the Chattanooga Police Department's only unsolved killing from 1978.
Officers still talked about the case, Carroll said, and one lieutenant even kept a posterboard depicting the crime scene behind his desk. Investigators believed the case would remain unsolved forever.
But now, in St. Louis, Joseph Paul Franklin took the phone from his caseworker and told Carroll that he was the one who did it. Franklin, already convicted of blowing up a Chattanooga synagogue and killing several interracial couples throughout the country, said he would confess to the crime if Carroll visited him in jail.
Why now, Carroll asked. Why 18 years later?
"I would like to have the most death penalty cases pending against anybody," Franklin told him.
Five days later, Carroll and Detective Mike Mathis arrived for the interview, and the jail guards groaned. This process would require the full staff.
Per the jail's guidelines, Franklin had to remain isolated from other inmates. When he moved throughout the jail, two guards escorted him, and the rest of the guards kept all other inmates under lockdown.
Finally, Franklin walked in the room. His head was shaved, and he wore black, horn-rimmed glasses.
"He looked like your typical Neo-Nazi," Carroll said earlier this month.
Franklin demanded that Mathis leave the room. They had never spoken before, and Franklin said he didn't trust him. So now it was just Carroll and the killer, one on one.
The interrogation was straightforward.
"When you first spotted this black male and this white female, what was your intentions?" Carroll asked about the night in question.
"Uh," Franklin said, "to kill 'em."
"That's why you followed them?"
"Yeah. As soon as I saw 'em, you know, I decided to kill them."
"Have you ever -- "
"I was on a search-and-destroy mission for race mixers."
After a 30-minute interview, Carroll and Mathis drove back to Chattanooga, but the case would not be closed for three more years. Finally, on March 4, 1998, Franklin appeared in Hamilton County Criminal Court.
In front of Carroll, he confessed to first-degree murder.
As a black man and white woman drove from the Martin Theater to a Pizza Hut on a July night in 1978, they thought they were alone.
Nancy Diane Hilton, 18, and William Bryant Tatum, 20, had been dating for about eight months. Hilton visited Tatum in Whitwell, Tenn., almost every weekend, often content just to watch the quiet University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior varsity basketball player shoot hoops in the gym.
Come November, Tatum told his mother, he was going to marry Hilton.
But on this night, the couple didn't notice a green car following them, pulling up behind them in the restaurant's parking lot, watching them enter through the back door. They weren't there to eat, and they didn't stay long. Hilton, a Pizza Hut employee, chatted with co-workers while her boyfriend made a phone call.
Meanwhile, Joseph Paul Franklin stopped his car on a road behind the Pizza Hut, located at 4511 Highway 58. He propped his hood up 6 inches so other drivers would think it was broken down. Then he walked over to the restaurant's parking lot and found a patch of tall grass a couple of yards from the front of Hilton's 1974 Mustang.
Franklin crouched down with a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and waited in the dark.
About 10 minutes later, Hilton and Tatum walked out of the restaurant. Before getting into the driver's seat, Tatum asked Hilton which road he should take. As he talked, Tatum turned and stared right at the tall grass, right at the man in the dark.
Franklin aimed, curled his finger around the trigger and squeezed, sparking a blast of .00 buckshot -- a load potent enough to stop a running deer in its tracks. Thirteen thick BBs erupted out of the muzzle in a tight circle, instantly slicing through the air separating Franklin from his target.
"Nancy!" Tatum yelled.
Franklin, convicted serial killer, death row inmate, self-described reformed racist, once traveled the country targeting Jewish people and interracial couples. Back then, he was convinced that the Bible advocated exterminating those whom Franklin felt were inferior. He was on a mission from God, he said.
Now, Franklin sits in the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. Thirty-six years ago, Franklin hid in the bushes outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue and opened fire, killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon. Sixteen years ago, Franklin confessed to the murder and went to trial.
A jury found Franklin guilty, and he received a death sentence. He has been waiting to die ever since. After today, the waiting may end. Barring a reprieve from the Missouri Supreme Court or Gov. Jay Nixon, Franklin will be put to death by lethal injection one minute after midnight on Wednesday.
He says he doesn't want to die.
He wants forgiveness, from everyone.
In addition to Gordon, Franklin has been convicted of killing seven other people, but he is better known for those he wounded. In 1978, Franklin camped outside a Lawrenceville, Ga., courthouse with a sniper rifle. Franklin was angry at Hustler publisher Larry Flynt for publishing photos of a naked interracial couple.
When Flynt and his lawyer left the court in the midst of an obscenity case, Franklin opened fire, striking the lawyer and paralyzing Flynt.
Two years later, Franklin also hunted civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, putting a bullet through his back outside a hotel in Fort Wayne, Ind. Jordan survived.
Usually, though, Franklin's targets were selected at random. That, he says, is how he twice happened upon Chattanooga.
The first time, on July 29, 1977, he slid 50 pounds of water gel explosives and five sticks of dynamite through the crawl space of the Beth Sholom Synagogue, located at 20 Pisgah Ave. Though no one was inside, Franklin's bomb reduced the building to splinters, crumbling almost everything except the Torah, which somehow remained intact.
Exactly one year later, Franklin returned. This time he shot Tatum in the chest and Hilton on the right side of her body.
In the years that followed both crimes, Franklin's identity remained a mystery.
"It was a frightening time," said Phil Lutin, 72, an engineer who helped rebuild Beth Sholom and one of the only active members of the congregation who was alive back then. "It was also a time that made you angry."
Though Franklin has been imprisoned for three decades, Lutin says it's important to remember the terror he once caused in this city. He says younger generations -- Jewish or not -- need to remember what can come from intolerance.
"I also think it's important to look back and see how far we've grown," he said.
Eventually, while already incarcerated for other crimes, Franklin confessed to the Chattanooga bombing and shooting. In addition to the killings he has been convicted for, law enforcement officials believe he has done more damage.
Though he doesn't know the exact total, Franklin estimates his death count sits somewhere between 20 and 25. And he can still recount all the details of his killings, launching minutes-long monologues in a Southern accent when prompted. If asked about his living conditions, he is quick to laugh.
"I would like to get out of here, to tell you the truth," he said last week through a prison phone.
Jack Levin, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University who specializes in hate crimes and serial killers, cannot think of a serial killer other than Franklin who was motivated by racism. In 1984, during a confession to Chattanooga Detective Charlie Love, Franklin said he bombed the local synagogue because, "God wanted me to do it."
But Franklin has had a lot of time to think about all those bodies, about Tatum and Hilton and the families of his victims. He has spent 33 years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. Today, he spends his days working out alone, or walking alone, or reading and studying and meditating alone. And, with all these moments to himself, he thinks about why he killed so many people.
He says he was driven to evil by schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. He says that, given the chance, he would walk out of prison and help the families of his victims.
"I apologize for the harm that I have caused them and ask for their forgiveness, first of all," he said. "That's most important. I wish there was something more I could do."
Franklin's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, filed a motion last week with the Missouri Supreme Court for a stay of the execution. Franklin is set to be killed Wednesday through the injection of a drug called pentobarbital. The Missouri Department of Corrections has not released much information about the compounding pharmacy making the drug, and Herndon has expressed concern about how it gets made.
She also wants more information about what happens if the drug somehow fails to kill Franklin. It could leave him in severe pain, Herndon argued, or maybe even brain damaged.
For his part, Flynt also has argued against the death penalty for Franklin, the man who put him in a wheelchair. And, on Nov. 9, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion on Flynt's behalf to learn the identity of the anesthesiologist scheduled to inject Franklin on Wednesday.
Jeanetta Williams, the president of the NAACP's branch in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Franklin killed two black men in 1980, wrote Gov. Nixon last week, asking him to commute Franklin's death sentence. He should live longer behind bars, Williams argued.
Those in Chattanooga who survived Franklin's wave of destruction, however, don't feel the same way. Lutin says the death penalty is necessary, not just for convicted criminals like Franklin but for others. Killing Franklin might stop someone else from launching a similar campaign, Lutin said earlier this month, sitting inside the rebuilt Beth Sholom Synagogue.
"If you ask me, 'Should we take someone's life?' I would think my faith says, 'No.' But deep down in my heart," Lutin said, "I'm not sorry that he will no longer be in the population."
Joseph Paul Franklin was born James Clayton Vaughn Jr. in Mobile, Ala., in 1950. His dad left when he was 5, according to his biography "Dark Soul of the South," by Mel Ayton. Franklin's mother, meanwhile, used to beat him, often slapping him from behind while he ate.
"She didn't want to give anybody a moment's peace," Franklin said last week. "She didn't want anyone to relax at all around her. She always wanted a fight."
He says he was quiet in school. An outcast. A loner.
Growing up, he found old pictures of his mother's relatives from Germany. They were dressed in Hitler Youth uniforms. Then, when he was 18, he read in the newspaper about the death of George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party.
He didn't know many black or Jewish children at the time, he says. But he began reading about Rockwell's group, and he stole a copy of "Mein Kampf" from the library, and he became fascinated. He joined the American Nazi Party.
Soon after, he got married twice, had a daughter and changed his name to honor Nazi Propaganda Minister Paul Joseph Goebbels, as well as founding father Benjamin Franklin.
In August 1977, he drove to Madison, Wis., to find Judge Archie Simonson, whom Franklin had read about, and whom he believed was too lenient on black defendants. Franklin decided this would be his first murder.
But while in town, he got into an argument with someone in another car. He walked over to the car and killed the driver, a black man, and the passenger, a white woman. From then on, he decided, he would target interracial couples.
His actions would garner headlines across the country, he thought, and other white supremacists would read about it, and they would follow in his footsteps.
In the moments after the killing, though, he was scared of getting caught. He said he felt traumatized. He said he could no longer stand the smell of gunpowder.
"But eventually," he said, "I got over it."
For four years, he traveled the country in what he described as a one-man race war. Finally, police captured Franklin in Lakeland, Fla., when a nurse recognized him as a wanted killer while he sold his blood at a plasma center.
Soon after, Franklin arrived at Marion Prison in Illinois, where 15 black prisoners jumped and stabbed him. He survived the attack, but he said he has spent much of his life ever since in solitary confinement.
He said his attitude toward his crimes began to change in 1985, when he borrowed "How You Can Keep Your Mind Well" by Roy Masters from the prison library. As he read the book, he realized he exhibited the traits of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder.
He wrote Masters' organization, asked for more books and meditation tapes. But as he studied more, he realized that Masters was Jewish. He threw away the material. But, Franklin said, he still wanted to learn from Masters. He needed the books.
"A person who was a Jew, unbeknown to him, saved my life," Franklin said. "I would not be standing here today talking to you if it had not been for Roy Masters."
Later, during a 1997 pretrial hearing to determine whether Franklin was fit to stand trial in the St. Louis case, his defense attorneys called to the stand Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who has studied hundreds of murderers, including Ted Bundy. After meeting with Franklin twice, Lewis testified, she determined that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a mental disorder that makes it difficult to think clearly, and to understand what is real and what isn't.
Today, Franklin argues that this diagnosis helped him understand who he was, and how to control his rage.
"I had the ability to commit the crimes and do that stuff," Franklin said of his past. "But I could not tell right from wrong. I actually thought I was keeping the commandments of the Lord."
In Chattanooga in 1978, back when Franklin says he was evil, the shot from his gun cut through the upper right part of a black man's chest, through his heart and a lung. There, in the Pizza Hut parking lot, Bryant Tatum cried out.
Immediately, Franklin aimed at Tatum's girlfriend. But Nancy Hilton, standing behind the open passenger-side door of her Mustang, responded to Tatum's voice. She ducked to look through the car's front seats, to the other side, where Tatum stood.
She didn't see him.
But in that moment, as she ducked, she later told an investigator, the man with the gun fired another shot. He hit Hilton on the right side of her body, but he didn't strike a vital organ.
"If you'd been standing up," the investigator said, "more than likely it would have hit you."
"Yeah," Hilton responded.
After taking his second shot, as Tatum lay dying on the pavement, Franklin ran away. He would not confess to the crime for 18 more years, when he called the Chattanooga Police Department from prison in 1995. Until then, Tatum's family was left to wonder who his killer was.
His sister, Barbara Vaughn, always knew the motive: Tatum died because he was black.
"Why wouldn't you think that?" she said. "He hadn't done anything to anybody."
Vaughn has never spoken publicly about her brother's death, but she decided this month to share her story because she thinks it's important younger generations try to comprehend the pains of prejudice, though she says you won't ever really understand such pain unless you experience it yourself.
Vaughn also wants younger family members to know about her brother. He was quiet, she said. But if you knew him, he loved to tease.
And he loved basketball -- boy, did he love basketball. If he wasn't home, he was at the gym. He taught other children in Whitwell how to play. Though he was on the junior varsity team at UTC at the time of his death, Vaughn said, he hoped to one day join the varsity squad.
Once, in high school, Tatum gave up his starting position and jersey when the team was one short so that a senior could play his final game. If he were alive today, he would be 55 years old. Vaughn thinks he would have been a coach, but she can't be sure.
"Twenty years old," she said. "He was just starting to be the man he was going to be."
Vaughn doesn't know much about Franklin, other than the fact he killed her brother. She said she doesn't need to. She found out he was going to die from her daughter. To Vaughn, the death penalty makes sense. It's what the killer gave her brother.
"He's had 35 years to live," she said of Franklin. "He had options. I don't know that they were good ones, but he had options. He took Bryant's away."
For his part, Franklin says he shouldn't die.
"You really do generate bad karma by committing violence, murdering people like that," he said. "It was the wrong thing to do. I just didn't realize it at the time. I thought it was a great thing. I would like to have a chance, though, to make amends."
Still, this day may be his last. If he dies, he says, that will have been the Lord's will. He says he has repented, and he says God has forgiven him.
And once he does die, whenever that is, Franklin believes he will go to heaven.
Community-oriented policing on Minneapolis' Northside
by Douglas Fehlen
Depending on where you live, work and shop, you may have noticed something different in recent months during your daily commute or trip to the market. Since spring, 17 officers have been assigned to foot, bike and squad patrols on a newly created Northside beat. This increased police presence is designed to deter crime while helping officers become more familiar with neighborhoods on a block-by-block basis.
According to Tim Hammett, a crime prevention specialist for the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) in the city's Fourth Precinct, this is but one aspect of MPD efforts to implement community-oriented policing initiatives on the Northside. A community-oriented approach to policing involves establishing collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and the people, organizations and businesses in a designated area.
“The beat officers are tasked with getting to know the neighborhoods they serve more closely and developing relationships with the people in those communities,” says Hammett. “Their mission is to provide a presence on the street and get to know the residents and business owners who live and work there. By doing that they obviously become more knowledgeable about the local scene and are better able to carry out the enforcement function because they simply know more about the neighborhood and who's who by virtue of community connections.”
Additional officers are currently assigned to some of the major corridors, like Lyndale, Penn and West Broadway Avenues, but they go out into the more residential areas as well. In addition, a specialized community response team within the Fourth Precinct responds to residents' needs. These specialized police units typically address livability crimes such as street-level narcotics dealing and prostitution.
The concept of community-oriented policing came into prominence in the 1970s following a period in which law enforcement was viewed to have been alienated from the general public. High-profile clashes between officers and citizens contributed to the sense that policing had become too reactive with justice being doled out by officers of the law who were not a part of communities served, but isolated from them.
While change has not been immediate, the notion that policing should be done with the active collaboration of neighborhood stakeholders has taken root in communities throughout the United States. Initiatives have been implemented in large urban areas and small towns alike, spurred in part by grants provided by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which is an office of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In many ways, community-oriented policing incorporates a back-to-basics approach that was commonly seen in past, one in which officers made the rounds in a community so that people knew the police and police knew the people. In the intervening years, law enforcement has benefited from a rapid influx of technological tools that have helped efforts to fight crime in some respects, but hurt in other ways.
Hammett notes that the city has rolled out all kinds of technology initiatives in the effort to cut crime on the Northside, including ShotSpotter, surveillance cameras on West Broadway and electronic monitoring at a strategic information center. He notes that these are important tools for protecting the public, but that relationship building in the community also has a role to play. “I think the idea is to combine those two in the most effective way possible, utilizing the available technology while going back to the basics of community policing.”
Hammett is integrally involved in the MPD's community-oriented policing efforts. As a crime prevention specialist involved in the city's SAFE program, he is continually going out and building relationships with community members, organizing effective crime prevention groups in the form of block clubs and facilitating communication between city residents and police.
As part of its community-oriented policing techniques the MPD has been able to establish partnerships with many Northside groups and organizations, including Project Lookout, MAD DADS and the West Broadway Business Association. Law enforcement officials also collaborate with each of the neighborhood associations, either directly with the board of these organizations or crime and safety committees within groups. Such partners can be helpful in disseminating information and establishing connections in the community that otherwise might not be made.
Hammett sees opportunity in these relationships. “Law enforcement agencies should be in tune with and understand the communities in which they work and have positive relationships with the people in the communities that they serve,” he says. “Doing this facilitates a flow of information and makes for a healthier law enforcement environment all around.”
“Officers who are familiar with the communities in which they work and the people in those communities are so important,” Hammett emphasized, “because it builds trust between the community and the police, and also makes police much more informed and able to predict where problems may occur and take preventive measures that can stop crime in the first place.”
RIVERSIDE: Police need caution with mentally ill, activists say
by Brian Rokos
Riverside community activists on Monday, Nov. 18, discussed ways to prevent encounters between people with mental illnesses and police officers from turning deadly.
Mental-health professionals also discussed partnerships between police agencies and mental-health workers that have proven successful in de-escalating situations and talked about training that officers in Riverside County and city have received.
The forum was a community meeting at the Cesar Chavez Community Center at Bobby Bonds Park in Riverside, organized by the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability.
No one from the Riverside Police Department attended to challenge any of the statistics or opinions put forth by the panelists or approximately 50 audience members. Coalition co-chair Deborah Wong said police declined an invitation. She hoped that police officials, who have been available to the media to discuss how they handle encounters with the mentally ill, would attend future meetings.
“The door is open for discussion,” Wong said.
Three members of the Community Police Review Commission, City Councilman Andy Melendrez — whose son is a Riverside police detective — and representatives from community groups also attended.
The forum came two months after Hector Jimenez, 50, was shot Sept. 13 by three officers as Riverside police say he lunged at them while holding a knife. In the aftermath, his daughter Thalia wondered why police couldn't have found other means to subdue him such as a K-9 dog, Taser or beanbag shotgun.
Jimenez was mentally disturbed, possibly because of alcohol abuse. Officers negotiated with Jimenez for several minutes before he was killed.
Since that time, Police Chief Sergio Diaz has ordered that all uniformed officers carry Tasers and reinforced in training that less-lethal methods of gaining compliance can be used before someone attacks officers.
Monday, Coalition co-chair Michael Dunn described two other incidents that ended with Riverside police killing mentally ill people. The Community Police Review Commission found both to be within department policy, he said.
“In hindsight, could these deaths have been avoided? I'd like to think so,” Dunn said.
John Brandriff, a former Community Police Review Commission member and past City Council candidate, said “It's possible that if we stand back, take a deep breath and call someone more experienced, maybe they would not have happened.”
Panelists said officers should use force other than guns when they can.
Andrew Roth, a civil rights attorney, said there are not enough consequences for officers who kill mentally ill people.
“What's missing is motivation for police officers to engage in alternative tactics,” he said.
Roth offered opinions that police officials may well find difficult to accept. He said he favors a policing model in which officers “take more (physical) risks and slow things down.” He also referred to what he called “the myth of the split-second decision” that police officials often cite when describing the decision-making process in officer-involved shootings.
Brandriff said Riverside police “do an excellent job. This is not about police bashing. We need to integrate them into the discussion.”
He said police need to be trained in mental-illness issues at the level of SWAT, K-9 and bomb-disposal officers. Such training would reduce what some people say is the need to have mental-health professionals ride with police in order to defuse situations.
“I say train our own people. We're a big city,” Brandriff said.
Deborah Johnson, deputy director of forensics with the Riverside County Department of Mental Health, said Riverside police receive three days of intensive training each year in dealing with mentally ill people on top of other mental-health training. She said officers show a great deal of interest in the training.
The training includes conversations with mentally ill people and their families, and going through real-life scenarios.
She said 95 percent of police interactions with mentally ill people have a positive result.
Another panelist, Linda Boyd, trains police officers in her job with the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.
Police departments in Long Beach, Pasadena, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Burbank and Alhambra, among others, have mental-health workers ride along. Many of the departments have the workers available 20 hours each day, she said.
Riverside County has been unable to provide even one mental-health worker to Riverside police after the lone worker who used to ride along left the job.
Boyd said she tries to create “win-win” situations: Police are able to detain mentally ill people who are taken into custody safely.
“You have to understand from a police perspective, that officer safety is always first,” she said.
Officers are taught two things, Boyd said: take your time and keep your space. “If there's no officer safety compromised, what's the rush?”
She said firm commands, rather than what she called “big boy, big girl voices,” are more effective with the mentally ill. Questions should be asked slowly because it takes them longer to process questions when they might already be dealing with multiple “voices.”
Audience member Paul Chavez, a frequent speaker at Community Police Review Commission meetings, said public safety should come before officer safety.
“No one forced them to wear the badge,” Chavez said.
One member of the audience said School Resource Officers should receive training to deal with students who could be suicidal.
Organizers said they plan at least two more forums.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the community to voice their concerns and ideas,” Melendrez said.
Monday's forum was co-sponsored by the Riverside branch of the NAACP, the Eastside Think Tank and The Group.
Attendees also included Woodie Rucker-Hughes, president of the NAACP's Riverside branch, Bob Garcia, chairman of the Casa Blanca Community Action Group, Riverside police Chaplain Steve Ballinger (who said he was not representing the police) and community activist Mary Shelton.
Why Did So Many Black Women Die? Jonestown at 35
by Sikivu Hutchinson
35 years ago, on November 19, 1978, 73-year-old Hyacinth Thrash awoke to a nightmare in the jungles of Guyana. In one of the largest murder-suicides in world history, 918 people from her Peoples Temple church lay dead before her eyes, poisoned by a lethal cocktail of cyanide and fruit punch. The images from this gothic scene of carnage have become indelible: bodies, clad in simple workaday clothing, stretch into the distance in rows, face down on the ground. Seldom discussed and less widely known, however, is the fact that they are overwhelmingly black bodies.
Rendered “anonymous,” they represent complex extended families of children, elderly women, young women, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and nieces. They came to Jonestown, Guyana from communities all across the U.S., drawn by the utopic promise of life in a communal settlement, envisioned by a charismatic white messiah, as a socialist refuge from American racial apartheid. One of the most haunting scenes from the massacre's aftermath is that of an adult with their arm around a child, protective in the throes of death. Thrash was the sole survivor on the premises.
Although the gruesome final snapshot of Jonestown is burned into the American popular imagination, the prelude to the massacre is not as well known. Founded by the Reverend Jim Jones in the 1950s, Peoples Temple was a multiracial Pentecostal congregation with roots in Indiana. Over the course of two decades the church would establish operations in Ukiah, San Francisco and Los Angeles before relocating the bulk of the congregation to Guyana in the late ‘70s, ostensibly to avoid government persecution for its radical views.
About 75% of Peoples Temple members were African American, 20% were white and 5% were Asian, Latino and Native American. The majority of its black members were women, while its core leadership was predominantly white. As per the cultural cliché, black women like Thrash were “the backbone” of Peoples Temple, the primary victims of Jonestown, and the population with the deepest investment in the philosophy, ethos and mission of the church.
It is troubling that of the scores of book length personal accounts, critical analyses and sociological appraisals on Peoples Temple and Jonestown only a few are by black women (the best of these have been compiled at the “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple” site). Thrash and Leslie Wagner–Wilson are currently the only two black women survivors to publish books on their experiences. Wagner-Wilson managed to escape Jonestown before the massacre with several of her family members.
As early African American members of the church when it was based in Indiana, Thrash and her sister tithed 20% of their income to Peoples Temple. Thousands of dollars in property sales, Social Security, disability, and welfare benefits from Temple members were funneled into the church's empire. Despite being elderly and infirm, Thrash and her sister followed Jones from Indiana to Ukiah, San Francisco and Guyana before Thrash became disgruntled with the divide between Jones' rhetoric of racial equality and the white-people-first reality of church leadership, though she nonetheless chose to remain.
Unpacking why so many black women died in Jonestown requires taking a critical look back at the racial underbelly of the Jonestown age. It demands confronting hard truths about the dangerously gendered seductions of organized religion; particularly given the global appeal that 24/7 prayer movements and charismatic Pentecostalism have for women of color.
According to a 2012 Kaiser Foundation/ Washington Post poll, black women are among the most steadfastly religious groups in the nation. Only 2% said that being religious was not important to them at all (compared to 15% of white men), while 74% said that it was extremely important. Numerous surveys have touted the decline of American religiosity within the past decade and yet, in an era of black economic depression, the need to be devout or churched-up has not diminished for most African-American women, despite the often patriarchal, heterosexist orientation of the Black Church.
The widening wealth gap between blacks, whites and Latinos, coupled with the downward mobility of the black middle class, only amplifies the role of religion in black life. Because charismatic faith movements thrive in the presence of socioeconomic and political turbulence black religiosity is flourishing (as the breakout popularity of the new reality show Preachers of L.A. attests).
Peoples Temple rose to prominence in San Francisco during the turbulence of the post-civil rights, post-Black Power, post-Vietnam War era. A self-proclaimed Marxist who fetishized black liberation struggle, Jim Jones actively courted the support and approval of the Bay Area liberal political establishment. He skillfully mined the language of social justice, racial equality and anti-sexism in an era in which disillusion with the possibility of freedom from institutional oppression ran high.
He touted a liberation theology ethos (what he called ‘apostolic socialism') which married the “best” parts of the Christian social gospel with a vision of communalism and egalitarianism that more closely aligned with his inherent atheism. Initially this rhetoric was actualized in an array of social welfare programs (such as free community meals, housing and health care) for church members, though it would ultimately be perverted through a systematic pattern of paranoia, abuse and persecution fueled by Jones and his inner circle.
Numerous accounts document how Temple members were party to and complicit in the public abuse, harassment, humiliation and sexual exploitation of fellow parishioners. Some members vigorously defended these practices up until the final act of murder-suicide, an event that had been promoted and rehearsed several times. When the fated day came, Christine Miller, an African-American woman in her 50s, was the sole objector caught on the so-called death tape, challenging Jones' death decree until she was shouted down by zealous African-American Temple members.
It's difficult to listen to or read these accounts without feeling the deep complicity of the community. As many survivors have stated, Peoples Temple was initially an uplifting experience because of its ability to unify members around the common cause of social justice. Its message of racial harmony and cultural diversity resonated with white counterculture folk, aging white radicals, and progressive Christians looking for an alternative to the insularity of mainstream traditions like the Black Church and people of color from all walks of life.
But this veneer of equality hid a pernicious race and gender hierarchy in which the Temple's vaunted inner circle was comprised of white women who were atally loyal to Jones and his perverse will. This tight knit cadre of white women was Jones' brain trust, acting as his psychological henchwomen and enforcers, handling Temple funds, intimidating potential defectors, and seducing VIPs out of political expediency.
To paraphrase San Diego State University professor Rebecca Moore—whose sisters Carolyn Layton and Annie Moore were two of Jones' main lover/lieutenants—if any Peoples Temple constituency had the power to stop the Jonestown massacre, these women did. But in eschewing the bourgeois trappings of “proper” white femininity they wound up reinforcing a white supremacist social order that some African-American members likened to that of the plantation, complete with Miss Ann wielding the whip.
In many regards, Jones became the charismatic white Jesus father-figure that so many black women are besotted with today. In The Onliest One Alive , Thrash speaks of how Jones' straying from the Bible was the fatal flaw of Peoples Temple; if he'd only been more of a God-fearing Christian, instead of a false prophet who set himself up as God, then surely the massacre wouldn't have happened.
She believed she was spared from the massacre because “guardian angels” were protecting her and “God was in the plan.” But where was God for the 918 dead, some of the devoutest women on the planet?
L.A.'s Homeless: Making The Invisible Visible
Over 58,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County. That's more than the entire student body at USC.
We cannot just walk by our thousands of neighbors in need. (mil8, Creative Commons)
But while USC students receive the benefits of a world-class education, hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of donated resources each year and an international community of support, a population larger than us goes without a place to sleep every night, forgotten by most.
It's easy to conjecture who is homeless: someone who didn't work hard enough, someone with drug or alcohol problems.
But the idea that people always experience homelessness because of their own faults is a troubling presupposition, and one that simply isn't true.
The impact of recession still lingers: unemployment sits at 8.9 percent in California, compared to 7.3 percent nationally. L.A. has become one of the top 10 most expensive cities for renting a home in the country and only 46 percent of residents can afford to buy a home. Shelters are desperately overcrowded and can only house 26 percent of the homeless population on any given night. To top things off, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which help keep food on the table for 14 percent of all American households, will be cut by $5 billion this month. That's over 47 million people—men, women, children—who are going to be affected.
Surely, it cannot be just drugs, alcohol or poor character that makes thousands of Angelinos homeless every night.
And in fact, many other factors can be identified: nine percent of people experiencing homelessness are survivors of domestic abuse; 12 percent are veterans; and 18 percent have physical disabilities. Thirty percent are mentally ill. Thirteen percent are family members, including children.
And there are at least 819 youth unaccompanied youth—many of whom have been through the foster care system or have been kicked out of their homes for identifying as LGBTQ—living on the streets without any family at all, more than twice the figure from 10 years ago. The growing, yet invisible, problem of youth homelessness, is affecting young adults ages 18-24 more significantly than ever before, in part because of rising student debt and a still-weak economy.
The homeless population in L.A. is fluid. While most of the overnight shelters and missions are located on the infamous “Skid Row,” just four miles from USC, during the daytime individuals without homes venture to other parts of the city to look for resources. Some of these individuals come to the neighborhood around USC to utilize the support systems of local churches and service agencies. Others utilize USC resources such as the libraries and the USC Dental Clinic.
Students and staff respond to the homeless on campus in a variety of ways, but for the most part the relationship between the campus community and these visitors is amicable. Many community service-oriented student groups work to address homelessness, as it is such an obvious challenge in our community.
Student groups like Alpha Phi Omega and USC OUTReach do clothing, canned food and book drives to benefit local residents in need. SC Homelessness Initiative organizes services projects, educational forums and advocacy campaigns to raise awareness about homelessness in L.A. and to educate other students about how best to bring about positive social transformation. Other students are connected with a local faith-based collective called “A Compassionate Response to Homelessness and Hunger.”
Our contact with Skid Row is also changing over time, as the neighborhood increasingly gentrifies. Today, old hotels are being renovated into new buildings, restaurants are opening and new residents are bumping up against Skid Row.
A key example of this pressure is a housing project known as The Star Apartments. The building, owned by the Skid Row Housing Trust, will offer housing for the homeless, in an effort not only to restore their humanity, but also to save money over the years by removing the need for individuals to cycle in and out of service agencies.
Although new housing seems like a positive move, The Star Apartments and other developments also come with complicated tensions. Some parks downtown now impose hefty regulations on loitering and camping. With increased police presence and bans on shopping carts, the city effectively discourages many individuals experiencing homelessness from simply existing in public spaces.
Rather than pushing out the homeless from L.A. or Skid Row—an area that attracts so many homeless and low-income individuals precisely because of its high concentration of services—the city could instead promote a partnership with new and old residents. Gentrification could be paired with positive community development and shared job opportunities.
As a community of concerned individuals, we cannot just walk by our thousands of neighbors in need or profit from new developments without considering those who might be affected. We can provide more than just a few dollars or sandwiches: we can get involved with service activities that make sustainable differences; we can educate ourselves and our friends about the deeper roots of homelessness; and we can lobby our lawmakers to stop hurting the people they are supposed to help.
This November, the SC Homelessness Initiative invites you to join National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. If you're outside of the L.A. area, you can help by joining the United Way's online letter campaign to advocate for the food stamps program.
If you're local, join us in preparing and serving meals, distributing hygiene kits, learning about Skid Row and celebrating the art and abilities that can empower us all to make things better for the homeless in L.A. and across the country.
A full schedule of events is available here.
To learn more about homelessness and services for the homeless, visit the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority .
Reach the SC Homelessness Initiative here.