A helping hand in the form of a packed duffel bag for L.A.'s homeless
by Barbara Jones
Volunteers will fan out across Los Angeles this weekend to distribute duffel bags chockful of food and other necessities to 2,600 homeless men, women and children in an annual effort to help some of the city's most vulnerable residents.
The Giving Spirit will be coordinating handout of the “survival” packages from the San Fernando Valley to downtown L.A., so those pitching in can make a personal connection with those they meet on the streets, said Tom Bagamane, founder and chairman of the 14-year-old nonprofit. A special effort will be made to reach women and children and those outside of the traditional support network.
“We really try to seek out those on the fringes,” Bagamane said. “We also want to give our volunteers time to spend quality time with our clients, to have one-on-one conversations. “The touching of hands or a heart goes just as far as the wonderful things in their kits.”
According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Los Angeles has one of the nation's largest homeless populations — nearly 53,800 residents, although most aid organizations say that the number is much higher. From 2012 to 2013, the report said, the city's homeless population increased by 11,445, a jump of 27 percent.
Bagamane said The Giving Spirit has been overwhelmed with volunteers for its winter campaign — the group also distributed 1,700 survival backpacks last summer — and now is desperate for cash donations. As of Friday afternoon, the charity was about $65,000 short of its $250,000 goal for the year.
“Our message is that we leave judgment at the door,” said Bagamane, who estimated his group has helped 28,000 people since it was created. “We don't care how they got there. These are people who are cold and tired and hungry and desperate. Anything we can do to give them hope is great.”
Send checks to The Giving Spirit, 11908 Montana Ave., #205, Los Angeles, 90046, or visit www.thegivingspirit.com .
Son of accused Wichita airport bomb plotter calls father a ‘really happy guy,' report says
A man who identified himself as the son of the aviation technician arrested Friday for allegedly plotting to detonate a car bomb at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport says his father was "a really nice guy," The Wall Street Journal reported.
Damien Loewen, 24, who told the paper he is Terry L. Loewen's son, said in a phone interview that his father was "really laid back, really happy guy."
"I never thought this would happen," he said.
Investigators allege that Terry L. Loewen planned to attack Wichita's Mid-Continent Regional airport in a plot aimed at supporting Al Qaeda.
Loewen, a 58, worked at the airport for Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested before dawn Friday as he tried to drive onto the tarmac. The materials in the car were inert, and no one at the airport was in any immediate danger, authorities said.
Loewen, who lives in Wichita, had been under investigation for about six months after making online statements about wanting to commit "violent jihad" against the United States, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said. An undercover FBI agent befriended Loewen, striking up conversations about terrorism and Loewen's admiration for those who plotted against American interests.
Loewen planned to die in the explosion, a fate that he said was inevitable in his quest to become a martyr in a jihad against America, according to court documents.
"Since early summer, he was resolved to take an act of violent jihad against U.S.," Grissom said.
Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests were expected.
His wife and attorney declined comment after the hearing.
His brother-in-law, David Reddig, described Loewen as a "good guy." He said Loewen helped him pay off the debt on his truck and took care of his home and chickens after an eye injury kept him from working.
Loewen was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property and attempting to provide support to terrorist group Al Qaeda.
Hawker Beechcraft spokeswoman Nicole Alexander confirmed Friday that Loewen worked at the company's aircraft maintenance facility at the airport.
Loewen's neighbors said several law enforcement agencies converged early Friday morning at the modest brick home where Loewen and his wife live, just a few houses down from a local elementary school. Some neighbors said the couple mostly kept to themselves and didn't participate in neighborhood events.
Janine Hessman, who lives nearby, said she didn't know Loewen well but liked his wife and spoke to her often. But if the allegations are true, she said, "I don't really have any sympathy for him."
Loewen was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property and attempting to provide support to terrorist group Al Qaeda.
Death of British woman Lynne Spalding found in US hospital stairwell linked to alcohol abuse
by Kashmira Gander
A British woman whose body was found in a hospital stairwell in America over a fortnight after she went missing died because of chronic alcohol abuse, a coroner has confirmed.
Lynne Spalding disappeared from her room at San Francisco General Hospital on 21 September 2013 after she was admitted on 19 September for a bladder and urinary tract infection.
The mother-of-two was reported missing from her room two days later, and was found 17 days later in a locked stairwell by a member of the hospital's staff.
She had been dead for days when she was discovered.
San Francisco assistant medical examiner Ellen Moffat said in a new report that the 57-year-old most likely died of a chemical imbalance due to complications from chronic alcohol abuse.
The report also states that Ms Spalding was confused and delirious on the day she disappeared, not aware of what day it was or why she was in hospital.
Ms Spalding's friends and relatives spent days scouring the streets of San Francisco with flyers because they were thought that the hospital had been searched.
Several employees with the city sheriff's department, which provides hospital security, were reassigned after Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi acknowledged that a thorough search for Ms Spalding was never conducted.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco mayor, Ed Lee, announced an independent investigation into the hospital's security and patient safety protocols.
“A thorough independent review is required, and we will do that,” Mr Lee said. “The city is responsible for what happened here.”
Ms Spalding was originally from Peterlee, County Durham but had lived in the US for 23 years.
Speaking after her discovery, family spokesman David Perry said: “Her loss will be felt greatly, not only in her family but across San Francisco because everyone knew Lynne Spalding here.”
Montclair Police aims to improve community relations
by Liset Marquez
MONTCLAIR -- Police Chief Michael deMoet wants a better way of interacting with residents of this city.
Upon his ascension as the lead law enforcement official earlier this year, he worked to implement a community relations division, a program which aims to immerse law enforcement personnel in events and programs.
Now in place, police officers conduct open meetings with the public to exchange ideas and information, listen to issues and concerns; and enhance relations with residents and the business community, deMoet said.
“We developed a mission for the community relations division which is to improve the quality of life for residents and maintain an environment in which commerce can thrive in partnership with community and civic groups, a philosophy that involve proactive problem solving,” he said.
The department was a bit stagnate and morale was down but it was shifting, it was on the upturn, the chief said.
After reviewing the department's operations, he determined several areas of improvement were needed, particularly in community outreach.
“We always did a good job of attending events, but we really never reached out to find out what the needs of the community were,” deMoet said. “I believe we didn't have an adequate form of communication with the community, business community. What we lacked was just that strong connection with the community.”
After some structural changes within the organization, deMoet selected Lt. Brian Ventura to lead the division. He also shifted reserve officers, the chaplain and the crime suppression unit directly under Ventura's supervision.
“We selected people based on whether they grasped and understood the concept of community-oriented policing, whether they valued community service and participation in community,” deMoet said. “We wanted people that were innovative and could bring new ideas to the police department.”
The responsibilities haven't lied solely on Ventura. The department's command staff have helped communicate this vision on a regular basis and developed a strategy of continuous reinforcement, he said.
“Community-orientated policing instills a sense of ownership, where each member becomes a stake holder,” deMoet said.
DeMoet admits this is not a new concept, with many department implementing their own goals, but promotes partnerships developed partnerships with the city.
Once a month, members of the division have lunch with seniors, they are involved in a bevy of city events and work with public works to improve public safety.
The partnership has also extended to the fire department. Four officers have been assigned to an arson investigation team and will become vital in the future, DeMoet said. The department will also hold an active shooter drill at Montclair Plaza in the near future.
“If we are doing our job right, hopefully it leads to a reduction in crime,” he said.
And in the age of technology, community policing also needed to involve social media, said Lt. Brian Ventura.
“In early September, the chief challenged us to bridge a gap that we have with social media in our community. How could we reach out to our community members through the use of social media,” Ventura said.
Montclair looked at several social media platforms and ultimately decided Nixle was the best option since it allows Police to communicate with residents and business owners in real-time, he said.
The service is free to subscribers and the police department.
Residents and businesses can sign up to receive notifications from the police through email or even alerts on their phone, Ventura said.
Montclair councilmembers praised deMoet on the changes.
When Councilwoman Carolyn Raft was campaigning for her re-election last year, she said she heard from residents who raised their concerns about relations with the police.
“The community, the people, want to interact with the police officers, they want to respect them. I'm very proud that they are doing these things,” she said.
Councilman Bill Ruh said he appreciated the chief initiative to create the division but also the department's commitment to implement it.
“The sense in the community, especially when younger residents, is instead of seeing a policeman as someone to fear, they see it as someone to welcome,” he said.
New York's Community-Police Togetherness Era to Begin
by Kristen Meriwether
NEW YORK—The mayoral election in 2013 will be remembered for a lot of things, but no issue proved to be more influential than stop and frisk. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's opposition to the police department's controversial tactic propelled him, in part, to a historic victory.
In 2013, a landmark federal court ruling and a set of bills passed in City Council. These will influence policing in the city going forward. Bill Bratton, De Blasio's pick for police commissioner, will be at the helm of the nation's largest police force as the impact of these changes ripples to the rank and file.
Over the summer, the City Council passed two bills aimed at reforming the practice. One bill mandated that an inspector general oversee NYPD's policies and practices. The other enabled citizens who felt they were racially profiled to sue the city, albeit not for monetary damages.
Shortly after the council passed the bills, a federal judge ruled stop and frisk was being done unconstitutionally and ordered a federal monitor to oversee how the practice was being conducted. The city appealed, but de Blasio has said he will drop the appeal when he takes office and moves forward.
The council bills as well as the court case fueled de Blasio's campaign message of “ending the stop-and-frisk era” and bringing police and communities back together.
Bratton will begin his second tenure on Jan. 1 and will work on mending the fences between the police and communities of color that have been damaged during the Ray Kelly and Michael Bloomberg years.
Just days after being selected for the post, Bratton began to reach out to the community by visiting Reverend Al Sharpton in Harlem. Bratton will likely continue meeting with community leaders and pull from his experience in Los Angeles where he was lauded for bringing the police and community together.
Bratton's experience with a federal monitor back in Los Angeles will help as he and de Blasio begin the new era in policing in the city.
Our Opinion: One year later ...
... and what has changed since the deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown? Not much, except that another 173 children under the age of 12 have died as a result of gunshot wounds.
"The Newtown killings horrified the country and provoked angry debates over access to the most lethal firearms," noted the Washington Post. "A year later, the anger and grief caused by the deaths continue to be felt. So, too, do the ripples from the other killings ... Like Newtown, every one of these killings has provoked a special kind of despair among the survivors -- parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, police officers, teachers, pastors. And as in Newtown, all of these people have continued to mourn, regret, reflect on and agonize over the deaths as their first anniversaries have come and gone."
We would be remiss if we didn't point out that in the year since Sandy Hook, some things have changed -- nearly all U.S. states have passed at least one new gun law. But as the New York Times noted, of those 109 new laws, only 39 tighten gun restrictions while 70 relax them. This year, 22 states also loosened restrictions on carrying weapons in public. The right to carry is now legal in all 50 states.
"Far from the catalyst for gun control that many thought it would be, Sandy Hook lit a fire under gun enthusiasts, who, threatened by a slew of stricter laws and determined not to let the government tamper with their right to bear arms, have made it easier to own and carry a gun in America than it has been in decades," noted Politico.
As we know, after a few weeks of silence following the murders at Sandy Hook, gun rights enthusiasts came out in force to shout down any talk of sensible gun controls. When the president proposed legislation to expand background checks, ban assault rifles and limit magazine purchases, thousands of gun activists swarmed state capitols in all 50 states to simultaneously protest gun control legislation and celebrate the first national "Gun Appreciation Day," noted Politico.
Perhaps it's time to refocus the discussion, noted the American Psychological Association.
"The prevention of gun violence might include efforts focused on guns -- because guns are such a powerful tool for violence -- but should also include other strategies such as conflict resolution programs and improved mental health services," urged the APA. "Measures to keep prohibited persons from accessing firearms, such as licensing handgun purchases, background checks for all gun sales and close oversight of gun retailers can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals."
And Garen Winemute, a professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis and a member of the NRA, told NBC News there are actionable ways to cut down on gun violence, and they include not having a gun in your home; keeping guns in the home locked up and unloaded; keeping high-risk adults away from firearms, particularly those with a history of violence or crimes involving alcohol abuse; and teaching kids, especially in high-risk populations, alternatives to violence for solving problems.
While efforts to make our communities safer have stalled on the legislative front, grass-roots organizations are bringing together people from across the political spectrum to find ways to bring an end to the violence.
"It's time for each of us to ask if we have personally done everything in our power to make sure something like Newtown doesn't happen again and/or to take a conscious step to help victims, wherever they live, to deal with adversity and loss," wrote David Schonfeld, of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, for Boston University's Point of View.
Schonfeld, who directs the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and was a member of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, noted now is a good time to reassess what steps we have taken both to prevent a repeat and to help the community and the country heal.
"There is a risk that when unthinkable tragedies occur repeatedly, we stop thinking about them. Ironically, we turn the unthinkable into something that we can think about, but simply choose not to," wrote Schonfeld. "Once we accept it as normal, then we permit ourselves to stop doing everything in our power to change the status quo. We give ourselves permission to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep."
In Newtown, family members of those murdered one year ago today have quietly gone about finding ways to confront their grief and prevent what happened to them from happening to others.
"We live with that loss every single day, so the one-year mark is just another day for us," Nicole Hockley told the Washington Post's Carla Baranauckas . Her son, Dylan, 6, was one of the 20 gun downed at Sandy Hook.
Hockley and her husband, Ian, are advocates for a number of causes, including autism awareness, and have been deeply involved in Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit formed by Newtown community members and surviving parents and spouses to help the community through the atrocity and to prevent the causes of gun violence.
"Everyone has to find their own way through loss," Hockley said. "For my family, it's about honoring Dylan's life and providing a legacy for him that honors him and others through making positive change and helping other people."
Hockley told the Post she and others in Sandy Hook Promise don't want to be seen as sad victims.
"We want this to go from a state of inaction and helplessness to a feeling of hope and things that we can work on together to help prevent this from happening elsewhere, not only to prevent another Sandy Hook from happening but to prevent the hundreds of thousands of acts of violence that occur with a gun in this country every year."
Sandy Hook Promise introduced in November Parent Together, a grass-roots effort "to help implement solutions in their own communities that can prevent gun violence in the future."
"We are going to educate and empower parents and adults across the country to help implement solutions in their own communities that can prevent gun violence in the future," Hockley told Baranauckas. "That's in the areas of mental wellness, community connectedness, parenting and gun safety. There's a lot that can be done just at the community level to prevent an act of violence from happening, that doesn't require legislation."
There is also hope that mental health issues are being taken more seriously by the government. On Dec. 10, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration will set aside $100 million to be used "to increase access to mental health services and improve mental health facilities as part of the Administration's ongoing commitment to help individuals experiencing mental health problems." In addition, the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the 2009 Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act will force all insurance companies to cover mental health services in the same way that they do more traditional medical care.
Small steps are giving us hope that something can be done to protect Americans from the lethality of firearms and vigils such as those being held around Windham County today are a chance for people to connect and work together. The vigils are part of a nationwide day of remembrance to honor the victims and to read the "Sandy Hook Promise," which is a pledge for people of all political perspectives to work together to reduce the causes and incidences of gun violence.
Locally, the vigils are being organized by Gun Sense Vermont and other concerned citizens. It's grass-roots organizations such as Gun Sense that will have to take the lead on sensible gun control and safety, seeing as on both a state and national level, legislators are, on average, afraid to tackle the issue.
"Washington is not the only place that change can happen," Winemute told NBC News. "Change can happen in the home, in a doctor's office, in a state legislature. Lots of people are talking. There are an array of organizations committed to making change happen, and that's never happened before."
While today is time to reflect on those who died in Newtown, it is also a time to reflect on the deaths of others. Whether from suicide, murder, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, accidents or neglect, it shouldn't matter. What should matter is that we recognize, as a nation, we have an obsession with firearms, and that obsession has cost us dearly; too many precious lives have been lost. And it's a time to realize that others will not do the job for us. Each and every one of us concerned by gun violence has to make their voices heard and find ways to address this calamity that takes the lives of more than 80 Americans every day.
The School Shootings You Didn't Hear About—One Every Two Weeks Since Newtown
by Brandy Zadrozny
In the year since Newtown, at least 24 school shootings have claimed at least 17 lives, according to a Daily Beast investigation. On Friday, a day after this investigation, a 25th occurred in Colorado.
In the year since 20 first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, another school shooting has taken place in America every two weeks on average.
These events aren't necessarily the types of tragedies that come to mind when one thinks of “school shootings”—madmen in fatigues roaming school hallways, strapped with automatic-style guns, murdering indiscriminately—nor do they receive the media attention of such mass shootings. But they can be similarly traumatizing for students and staff, and they have led to at least 24 injuries and 17 deaths over the past year, The Daily Beast has found.*
(*We published this article on Thursday, Dec 12. Friday Dec 13 brought reports of yet another school shooting, this one at Arapahoe High School, in Centennial, CO. One student was transported to a hospital with a gunshot wound and listed in serious condition. The shooter is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.)
Using data culled from media reports and collected in part by the gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, we tallied 24 school shootings during 2013—that is, shootings that occurred on school campuses when students were present. Shootings that took place after hours on school grounds were not included.
Our count includes shootings that resulted in no fatalities as well as those where the only victim was the shooter, such as the case of 17-year-old Joseph Poynter, a junior at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, who in April brought a gun from home and “placed it to his right temple and discharged one round into his head” in front of a classroom full of students, according to police reports.
Two thirds of these shootings took place on high school and college campuses. The remainder took place in middle schools or elementary schools, like the one in which Adam Lanza killed 20 students, six adults, and then himself a year ago this week. The shootings occurred in 15 states across the country, with the highest concentration in Florida (five) and Georgia (three).
Corresponding data for previous years doesn't exist, making it difficult to determine whether the national debate spurred by the Newtown tragedy has led to any real change.
By one count, there has been a decline in students carrying guns on school property. The most recent data from the nation-wide Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows a record-low 5.4 percent of students in grades 9-12 carried a gun on school property, less than half the rate in 1993. Still, according to the most recent Gallup poll, one in three parents of K-12 children say they fear for the physical safety of their kids at school—a sentiment that jumped 33 percent right after the shootings at Sandy Hook and has yet to recede.
On the legislative side, at least 540 separate bills related to school safety and security made their way through the 50 states this year. That's “certainly an increase” from previous years, “particularly in relation to guns and weapons,” says Lauren Heintz, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a group that tracks legislative action.
Of those 540 bills, 106 laws were enacted, putting preventative and planning measures in place including gun-safety classes; security personnel; safety plans and drills; and the commissioning of studies and advisory councils on school safety.
School boards and local governments have also adopted new policies—including hiring uniformed police officers and arming teachers and other school staff—in an effort to ensure student safety. The NRA offered such a plan in response to the Newtown massacre. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the gun group's vice president Wayne LaPierre said as he unveiled their plan to hire armed guards at the nation's schools.
And in fact, at least 33 states took this approach, introducing 80 bills in 2013 that would arm school teachers or staff. Bills authorizing the carry of guns (with certification and training) passed in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.
Proponents of such measures are bolstered by anecdotes of school shootings like the one at Atlanta Georgia's Price Middle School in February. A 15-year-old student there shot another boy in the back of the neck and was immediately disarmed and apprehended by an armed resource officer.
Other groups like the National School Safety and Security Services, a school safety consulting firm, warn against arming teachers. There's a difference between trained law enforcement officers and “having teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other non-public safety professionals packing a gun in school with hundreds of children,” President Kenneth S. Trump said in a news release in 2008. The “arm anyone mentality” he says, resurfaces periodically, following instances of school violence.
As for a response on the federal level, Trump says there has been “limited to no action compared to what we saw after Columbine.” Following the 1999 tragedy in Littleton, Colo., which ended in 12 deaths, schools rushed to install metal detectors and clear backpack rules and to put zero tolerance policies in place. As Trump explains, President Clinton, supported by Congress, also put programs in place including resources for school-based policing, violence prevention, safe schools mental health programs, as well as school emergency preparedness and crisis planning.
Immediately following the Newtown shooting, President Obama announced a plan calling on Congress to pass legislation that would have banned assault and high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks.
The bill died in the Senate.