Community sets new course for South LA’s ‘death alley’

SOUTH L.A. (CBSLA.com) — Part of South L.A.’s infamous “Death Alley” is getting new life.

Statistics show the two-mile stretch off Vermont Avenue has been the site of dozens of killings over the last decade.

For the past year, architecture professor Marcela Hicks and students from L.A. Trade–Technical College have been cleaning up part of the stretch near Florence Avenue to spur reformation — both physically and symbolically.

Now that the alley is open, so are minds, says Hicks. And on Saturday, community members sat down with entrepreneurs and architects to set the neighborhood on a new course.

The group that gathered was led by design strategist Matthew Manos — every table throwing out different ways to use the space.

“We sometimes see ideas for community gardens, so places where people can come together and cultivate fresh food,” Manos said. “We have even seen ideas for completely new schools that are totally unconventional. And then we have had ideas for businesses that exist on Mars.”

CBS2/KCAL9’s Laurie Perez reports the lot could also see parks, festivals, art exhibits or pop-up stores with locally-made products.

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New lighting in crime-riddled housing developments leads to drop in crime rates

Magee Hickey | July 12, 2017

FORT GREENE, Brooklyn — Let there be light and crime will drop.

That’s what officials and the New York City Housing Authority are learning after they installed new, better lighting in one of the city’s most crime-riddled housing developments.

“I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Edna Grant, 78.

For most of the past 58 years, Grant has been living in NYCHA’s Ingersoll Houses. She never would have ventured out after dark, but now, with the newer, brighter LED lights just installed, Grant eagerly showed PIX11 News the pansies she’d planted in the community garden — and it was after 9 p.m.

“It’s definitely better to have this lighting,” Grant added.

Brooklyn City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo fought hard to get the money for the enhanced lighting.

“Our seniors and our entire community didn’t feel safe after dark until this lighting was installed,” Cumbo said.

The Ingersoll Houses used to be one of 15 NYCHA developments responsible for 20 percent of all the crime in NYCHA’s more than 300 complexes, so better lighting was a first step in slashing that rate.

Burglaries and grand larcenies are down in Ingersoll compared to the same period last year.

“This area used to be very dark and not safe,” said Gerald Nelson, NYCHA Vice President in charge of Public Safety,. ” But look at that basketball court now — it is bright.”

These 524  LED lights cost $5.3 million to install. Playground also have better lighting now, so adults feel more comfortable letting children play after dark.

“It is nice for the parents and the kids to have light in the playground,” said Sabur Ansari, who was visiting relatives at Ingersoll.

Now that the lights are on, the next project will be installing closed-circuit cameras inside and outside Ingersoll’s 20 buildings. That is expected to be completed by year’s end.

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New West Baltimore police station unveiled after $4.5 million public-private renovation

During the 2015 unrest in Baltimore, the Western District police station was the setting of multiple clashes between protesters and police officers. After the worst of the rioting, the station was blocked off from the community by barricades and watched over by National Guard troops.

Today, the Western District is a very different place. A garden with community seating, where residents can access free Wi-Fi, stretches across the front of the building. Words such as “trust” and “rebirth” are carved into the cement walkway. There’s a room at the front of the building for community events, and a state-of-the-art gym and locker room facilities at the back for the district’s officers.

The steps out front now carry a Thurgood Marshall quote: “In recognizing the humanity in our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”

The changes are part of a $4.5 million renovation of the building unveiled Wednesday by city officials, top police brass, community leaders, and the nonprofit and business leaders who made the work possible through a public-private partnership.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh, said the city had allocated $1.47 million toward the project. Some of that funding has yet to be spent and will be used for new roofing and a new heating and cooling system. He said the rest came from private donations.

Former Under Armour executive Scott Plank, whose War Horse Cities development company led the project and whose family foundation was a major donor, said his goal was to leverage his and other local business and nonprofit leaders’ expertise to enhance the physical home of the police force in West Baltimore.

Plank said his intention was to help officers move from “warriors to guardians” by enhancing their work environment, improving their own well-being and health, and providing them with more tools to engage the community. It was also to draw residents into the police station as a positive hub of community activity, he said.

“We don’t know much about being a police officer, other than frankly what I know about TV or the movies. And I’ve certainly not lived in West Baltimore,” Plank said. “But we know a lot about bringing people to a place.”

The Western District, which covers about 3 square miles, is one of the city’s most violent areas. There have been 27 homicides in the district this year, out of 184 citywide. There were 60 homicides in the district in 2016, the most of any district.

Maj. Sheree Briscoe, the Western’s commander, said Plank and the other donors did an “outstanding job” on the renovations.

“Prior to now, this wasn’t a welcoming experience,” she said of the station.

Officer Luke Shelley, a patrol officer in the Western District, said he appreciates the renovations, too — particularly the gym.

“Exercise I think is the best anti-depressant in the world,” Shelley said, noting the “high volume of stress” that comes with police work in the city. “I’m glad for all the support.”

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the public-private partnership will “stand as an example to the rest of the country.”

The project was announced in May 2016, about a year after the unrest, as a way to improve the relationship between police and the community in West Baltimore, which had been exposed as raw and badly damaged by the unrest that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was found unconscious at the Western District station with fatal neck injuries suffered while in police custody in April 2015.

The building, a squat two-story facility in the 1000 block of Mount St. in Sandtown-Winchester, was built in 1958. In addition to the new exterior, community room and gym and lockers for officers, the renovations include new holding cells and interview rooms, a collaborative workspace for multiple law enforcement agencies, updated technology and a 24-hour lobby with security glass for front desk officers.

Interior spaces evoke the Under Armour aesthetic many in Baltimore are familiar with from the local apparel giant’s stores, headquarters, advertisements and overall branding: bold lettering, catchy phrases, inspirational quotes. Along one wall near the officers’ lockers, images of Ray Lewis and Cal Ripken Jr. line the walls. Briscoe said she’s going to get some images of inspirational sports women as well.

Briscoe said about 50 community members collaborated to guide the renovations, to ensure they included things the community wanted.

Several community members who were involved in the process and present during the unveiling Wednesday said the final product was better than they’d imagined.

Frances Muldrow, 63, a longtime activist who has spent all her life in Sandtown and lives across the street from the station, said she was impressed and happy with the changes, even though the construction on the building kept her up at times in the past year.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this extensive,” she said. “Hopefully, now that this is a first-rate station, maybe the officers take pride in it — and in the community.”

She said she’s heard some complaints from community members about so much money being spent on the police, and not directly on the community, but she said private benefactors can spend money on whatever they want — and the changes to the station will benefit the community.

Marsha Bannerman, 67, who has lived on the same block as the station her entire life, said she has good memories of interacting with officers and using the space around the police station growing up, and hopes to have more such experiences in the coming years.

“I’m just so pleased, and I encourage the community to come and sit at the reflection garden,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful thing. I never thought I would see the day where I would see the Western District go through this transformation.”

Inez Robb, the Western District Community Relations Council president, said she and other community leaders “see a new beginning, we see a transformation” occurring in the new station and in the Western District more generally, particularly since the 2015 unrest.

“We see more people interacting, engaging with one another, talking to one another, being concerned,” she said. “This is a great start.”

Arlene Fisher, who serves on the Democratic State Central Committee and as president of the Lafayette Square Association, said the renovations were great.

“It’ll bring more people in, but it also shows people pride. Because the building is rehabbed, it’s a liveable building now — and it shows people a different view of police.”

Toward the end of the unveiling, Plank said the renovation “is hopefully one of many” — noting there are eight other police districts in the city that could use some upgrades but making no promises of investment there.

In addition to the J.S. Plank and D.M. DiCarlo Family Foundation, which Plank runs with his wife Dana DiCarlo, donors to the project included Under Armour, the Baltimore Ravens, Comcast, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the Bozzuto Group, the Sylvan Laureate Foundation, the Abell Foundation and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Officials had estimated the project would cost $2.4 million last year, but “the actual cost of the project increased as the scope changed and the work progressed,” according to Steven Jennings, chief financial officer for War Horse.

Also on Wednesday, Davis announced a new $80,000 contract between the city and Behavioral Health System Baltimore to provide a new “police officer health and wellness program” that provides officers with a range of counseling and health services, from family and financial counseling to legal advice and care related to drug and alcohol abuse.

“We know a healthy employment is more likely to serve the residents of Baltimore better and more professionally and have a rewarding experience,” Davis said. “For as large of an agency that we are, this has been a real need, a real gap that we’ve had for far, far too long, and I think this partnership with BHS will fill that gap and we will have employees who will not hesitate to get help when life’s demands and life’s challenges knock on their doors.”

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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Chicago youth hope to ‘increase the peace’ to combat violence

When he woke July 5 to news that more than 100 people had been shot in the city of Chicago over the long Independence Day holiday weekend — 15 of them fatally — 16-year-old Carlos Yanez shrugged it off.

“After a while, you just get used to it,” Carlos said. “I mean, what can you do? We don’t have no one helping us. What can we do?”

Gun violence plagues Chicago, a city of more than 2.7 million, where nearly 2,000 people have been shot so far this year.

Though the number of shootings is slightly down from last year, the problem has caught the attention of the Trump administration, which has ordered more federal agents to assist state and local law enforcement in the Midwestern city. But Carlos said an increased police presence and a national spotlight on the violence have not helped those living in these South Chicago neighborhoods.

‘Gets worse and worse’

“It’s been going on and it just gets worse and worse,” he said, the resignation clear in his voice. “Chicago’s broke, CPS (Chicago Public Schools) is broke and yet they are funding all these cameras on every street corner, all these speed bumps, all these turnabouts. All these new cop cars, all this new equipment, but yet they still can’t fix the violence.”

It is violence Carlos himself has narrowly avoided. He said even though he’s not affiliated with a gang, he’s dodged bullets five times. Many of those around him have been injured, or died.

“Just a couple of months ago, a 28-year-old man was killed right on this block,” said Berto Aguayo, standing outside a church in the predominantly Hispanic Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Aguayo is a community organizer with The Resurrection Project, a nonprofit organization that, among other things, is trying to work at the grassroots level to combat the violence.

“I lived two blocks away from here. I was a gang member in this community back in my younger days. I’ve lost friends to gang violence. I lost my first friend when I was 13 years old. And that’s a typical story of people here on the South Side of Chicago. Death is a constant fear.”

But on a balmy Friday evening, fear seems far away from these streets in the neighborhood Aguayo grew up in.

‘Increase the peace’

Instead of gunshots, drumbeats and chants fill the air as he leads a group, mostly of young people, on a protest march to “increase the peace.”

“This idea originated back in October 2016, when a 16-year-old girl was killed in front of our office,” Aguayo explained. “It became a point of the community being fed up. Young people were fed up with the violence they were witnessing.”

He said that became a catalyst for the Increase the Peace campaign.

“Youth decided, hey, why don’t we camp out on a street corner on a Friday night that is usually plagued by violence on a Friday night. What we try to do here is really stay on a block, and have a positive presence, and promote peace through our young people,” Aguayo said.

“It’s bringing people together, not ostracizing anyone,” Deztinee Geiger said. “The ostracization is what causes people to pick up a gun a lot of the time.”

Geiger is one of the youth leaders of this event at St. Joseph’s church, the first of several planned for Fridays this summer throughout different neighborhoods.

‘Respond with positive energy’

Carlos, the 16-year-old who also is one of the youth organizers of the Increase the Peace campaign, said the message is simple: “You don’t always have to respond with violence. You can respond with positive energy.”

But Carlos and Geiger both realize that marches and backyard cookouts can only go so far.

“The root of the problem is lack of resources, which results in violence,” Geiger said. “So therefore to fix the fact that violence exists, you have to fix the fact that there are a lack of resources.”

One resource Geiger thinks would help is a youth or community center, so those most at risk have a permanent place to go for positive activities. But with or without those resources, Geiger said the primary goal is to “change the narrative” of the violence shaping the city.

“I don’t think the violence will shape us. I think the leadership by young people is going to shape us. I think that what’s beautiful about this is that it’s not focused on violence,” Geiger said.

But it is violence that continues. On the weekend Geiger spoke to VOA, 41 people were shot in the city, three fatally, underscoring the need to “increase the peace.”

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Court holds expert testimony on abusive head trauma sufficiently reliable

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas in a case of first degree felony injury to a child, ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the evidence from expert witnesses concerning abusive head trauma. The Court reasoned that “with respect to appellant’s contention challenging the reliability of the expert’s testimony of abusive head trauma based solely on a constellation of symptoms”, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that the trial court “did not abuse its discretion by admitting that evidence” and that the expert’s testimony in this case was “sufficiently reliable”.

Wolfe v. State, 2017 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 215

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Production and possession of child pornography conviction upheld

In a case involving a 45-year-old defendant and a sixteen-year-old victim, the United States Court of Appeals for the ninth Circuit found “sufficient evidence was presented by the government
to sustain” defendant’s convictions for the production and possession of child pornography. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that “the legality of his sexual relationship with a sixteen year old under Washington state law precluded prosecution under federal law”.

United States v. Laursen, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 1592

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Denial of defense opportunity to authenticate evidence of electronic communications held impermissible

The Court of Appeals of Mississippi reversed and remanded defendant’s convictions for two counts of gratification of lust and one count of statutory rape due to finding that the trial court had erred when it “denied the defendant the opportunity to authenticate evidence of electronic communications on social media in an attempt to establish the defense theory regarding
a victim’s motive to fabricate”.
White v. State, 2017 Miss. App. LEXIS 81

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Court rules vouching testimony objectionable

The Court of Appeals of Iowa reversed and remanded defendant’s conviction for sexual abuse in the second degree involving a child due to trial counsel’s failure to “perform an essential duty when he failed to object to testimony indirectly vouching for the complainant’s credibility and truthfulness”. The Court reasoned that the “probability of a different result
is sufficient to undermine our confidence in the outcome of the proceedings”.
State v. Jernagel, 2017 Iowa App. LEXIS 8

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Kamala Harris and Rand Paul: To shrink jails, let’s reform bail

July 24, 2017 | Kamala D. Harris and Rand Paul

Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old New Yorker, was arrested on charges of stealing a backpack in 2010. To ensure he would show up for trial, and because of a previous offense, the judge set bail at $3,000. But his family could not afford to pay. So Mr. Browder was sent to jail on Rikers Island to await his day in court. He spent the next three years there before the charges were dismissed. Haunted by his experience, Mr. Browder hanged himself in 2015.

Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.

Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life.

As criminal justice groups work to change sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, we must also reform a bail system that is discriminatory and wasteful.

Excessive bail disproportionately harms people from low-income communities and communities of color. The Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia in 1983 that the Constitution prohibits “punishing a person for his poverty,” but that’s exactly what this system does. Nine out of 10 defendants who are detained cannot afford to post bail, which can exceed $20,000 even for minor crimes like stealing $105 in clothing.

City records show that Mr. Browder’s mother owned her own home in theBronx. that she borrowed $210,000 against the home in 2011, and repaid…

Wasn’t Kalief Browder actually held in jail on a probation charge? While he initially was subject to a $3,000 bond, wasn’t he also subject…

Meanwhile, black and Latino defendants are more likely to be detained before trial and less likely to be able to post bail compared with similarly situated white defendants. In fact, black and Latino men respectively pay 35 percent and 19 percent higher bail than white men.

This isn’t just unjust. It also wastes taxpayer dollars. People awaiting trial account for 95 percent of the growth in the jail population from 2000 to 2014, and it costs roughly $38 million every day to imprison these largely nonviolent defendants. That adds up to $14 billion a year.

Bail is supposed to ensure that the accused appear at trial and don’t commit other offenses in the meantime. But research has shown that low-risk defendants who are detained more than 24 hours and then released are actually less likely to show up in court than those who are detained less than a day.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

It is especially troubling that our bail system does not keep us safer. In a study of two large jurisdictions, nearly half of the defendants considered “high risk” were released simply because they could afford to post bail.

Our bail system is broken. And it’s time to fix it.

That’s why we’re introducing the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform or replace the bail system.

This should not be a partisan issue.

First, our legislation empowers states to build on best practices. Kentucky and New Jersey, for instance, have shifted from bail toward personalized risk assessments that analyze factors such as criminal history and substance abuse. These are better indicators of whether a defendant is a flight risk or a threat to the public and ought to be held without bail.

Colorado and West Virginia have improved pretrial services and supervision, such as using telephone reminders so fewer defendants miss court dates and end up detained.

These nudges work. Over the second half of 2006, automated phone call reminders in Multnomah County in Oregon, resulted in 750 people showing up in court who otherwise may have forgotten their date.

Instead of the federal government mandating a one-size-fits-all approach, this bill provides Department of Justice grants directly to the states so each can devise and carry out the most effective policies, tailored for its unique needs.

Enabling states to better institute such reforms also honors one of our nation’s core documents, the Bill of Rights. In drafting the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits excessive bail, the founders sought to protect people from unchecked government power in the criminal justice system.

Second, our bill holds states accountable. Any state receiving support must report on its progress and make sure that reforms like risk assessments are not discriminatory through analyses of trends and data. This will show that it’s possible to demand transformation, transparency and fairness.

Finally, this bill encourages better data collection. Data on the pretrial process is notoriously sparse. By collecting information on how state and local courts handle defendants, we can help guarantee that reforms yield better outcomes.

The Pretrial Justice Institute, an organization that works to change unfair and unjust pretrial practices, estimates that bail reform could save American taxpayers roughly $78 billion a year. More important, it would help restore Americans’ faith in our justice system.

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We need to look at our criminal justice system

July 24, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. — For the third time during his term as Richmond’s law enforcement leader, Police Chief Alfred Durham updated the city on crime statistics so far in 2017 emphasizing his frustrations with the court system.

Durham reported that major crimes were up 7 percent from this time last year. There were 4,786 major crimes in 2017 compared to 4,483 in 2016. Violent crime was up 4 percent in the city. The crimes with the largest increases were auto thefts, which jumped up 26 percent, and homicides, which rose 8 percent. However, the number of rapes decreased 38 percent and the reported cases of arson were down 35 percent. Robberies also ticked down slightly compared to last year.

Durham said 10 of the “violent killings” aren’t reflected in that total since three of the homicides are being investigated by Virginia State Police and the others are categorized as manslaughter, officer-involved, pending, and justified.

Often, some of the major crimes committed within city limits were by repeat offenders, according to Durham.

“We need to look at our criminal justice system,” Durham said from behind a podium at Richmond Police Headquarters on West Grace Street, Friday morning. “It appears from our standpoint as a police department there’s the attitudes of the violent offenders in our city, that they don’t fear the criminal justice system.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring said the job of a judge and juror can be difficult especially when tasked with sentencing a criminal.

“Judging isn’t easy just like deciding a case as a juror,” Herring said. “In Virginia, there are advisory sentencing guidelines that reflect an appropriate sentences and those jurisdictions are applied statewide.”

Richmond Police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney are in discussions with state and federal partners about Project Exile, a program in which a suspect caught with an illegal gun received an automatic prison time of five years.

Critics said Project Exile disproportional targeted low income and minority communities.

“Project Exile never stopped. Both offices feel the need to re-invigorate it. You can expect an increase of cases adopted in late summer and early fall,” Herring explained.

Herring said he’s seeking additional funding to help spread the word of Project Exile like on billboards, busses and through the media like seen during Exile’s height in the 1990’s.

A majority of incidents in Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority area (RRHA) occurred in the Gilpin, Whitcomb, and Creighton neighborhoods, according to data.

Durham said Mayor Levar Stoney continues to seek additional funding of officer positions, which he said will get two walking beats funded in the Mosby Court neighborhood in the fall. Additional walking beats in public-housing neighborhoods Durham hoped to add in the future.

On a weekly basis, more than 740 officers are working on Richmond’s streets, with an additional 50 officers in training. But Durham said that leaves about 35 positions that are unavailable to work due to military, sick, or administrative leave.

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