Monday, March 31, 2008

Must Be Spring

In Way Too Many Places, CA

There are a lot of things you shouldn't do while driving on the freeway. Talking on the phone, texting, and, of course, shooting other drivers.

A man was killed Sunday morning on the 101 after taking a round in the head, crashing his car into an embankment and shutting down the 101/405 exchange for most of the day.

The night before, another man was shot while driving on the 710, taking a round in the arm and the leg.

But wait! There's more!

Earlier this month Debrah Lynn Lepper, a chiropractor from Montclair, was shot to death while on the 10 in Pomona. Police are still trying to piece that one together.

Before that, Bunthan Roeung was killed on the 101 after he and his friends got in an argument with the occupants of a Chevy Monte Carlo, who ended the dispute with bullets.

In February, somebody took several shots at a man on the 210 in Azusa.  Another was hospitalized a couple weeks before after getting hammered on the 91.

Get out yer guns, folks. Freeway Season is officially open.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bits And Pieces

All Across The Southland, CA

I'm tired. So instead of one big rant, you get five little ones. I'm not sure the math works on that, but whatever.

No, He Was Just Hungry - A 38-year-old man in Woodland Hills was arrested on a DUI after slamming his car into an empty restaurant. Thirty-five feet into the restaurant. That's some fine driving, Tex.

They Do It For Love - A man in his twenties was stabbed in the stomach, apparently over a woman, at The Geisha House in Hollywood. Random, gut punching violence. Chicks dig that.

Send In Hulk Hogan - The WWF Shotgun Bandits have been captured after knocking over a bank in Yorba Linda. I hear the cops took them down with a Frankensteiner and a Flying Bulldog.

One More On The Death Row Pile - James Winslow Dixon was sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of college student Christina Burmeister in 2001. Seems he and three others (who did not get the death penalty for their role in the murder) nabbed her on the way to a party, got her bank info and bled her account before slashing her throat and leaving her to die. Charming people. Now, I have to agree with his defense attorney, James Slevin on at least one point. "If one gets death they should all get death." Absolutely, Mr. Slevin. I wholeheartedly concur.

Anybody Missing A Femur? - This one's a little further afield. A suitcase full of what appear to be human bones was found by the railroad tracks down in Oceanside.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One Goes Out, Another Comes In

Los Angeles, CA

The LAPD's list of the 10 Most Wanted gang members is sort of like the Billboard Top 40, but for, you know, street thugs. When one falls off the charts, usually by being thrown into jail instead of to wild dogs like pop stars are, there's always another one waiting in the wings to take their place.

And so, as is the way of the Circle of Life, or whatever the hell those hippies are calling it these days, we have a new slot to be filled with the arrest of Soperry Chea, who was wanted for the stabbing to death of Harry Yang at a Buddhist temple in 2005.

Dude. Don't go killing church folk. Seriously, that's bad karma. Or something.

Anyway, with Mr. Chea out of the way, we have a new addition to the list, Gildardo "Shaggy" Pena of the Toonerville gang. Five-foot-eleven, 176 pounds, black hair, brown eyes. Face like a squashed melon. Wanted for the shooting death of Donald Nelson in 2005.

Congratulations, Shaggy! Hope your stay on the list is a short one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Feminine Wiles

Santa Ana, CA

Xana Diolinda Marks, 23, was taken to the hospital after slamming the stolen SUV she was driving into two cars, injuring the drivers. She had a cop guarding her. She was pretty banged up. She was wearing a hospital gown.

And she walked out the front door, anyway.

Really, can you blame her? Ms Marks has outstanding warrants for burglary and possession of stolen property. Tack onto it the inevitable charges of reckless driving, resisting arrest, and general pissing off of cops, and she's not likely to be enjoying the next few years in custody.

The police, understandably, are a little unclear on exactly how that happened. But we all know the truth.

Check out that shot in the article. Now that is one fiiine lookin' filly. I'd like to think she flashed those bloodshot eyes and Elvis sneer and someone was smitten. Probably spit out a couple teeth, too.  Pure class, baby.

I mean, who wouldn't fall for a mug like that?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sympathy (Cards) For The Devil

Los Angeles, CA

Now this is what I call a niche market.

Three Squares Greetings specializes in platitudes for the incarcerated. Greeting cards for the jailed. For example:
Merry Christmas
-
You had the choice to be “naughty or nice.” And you chose . . .
Well, at least they're honest.

This is definitely untapped territory. Lots of room for growth. And they should hire me. I could really class up the joint.


Remember in college when you said you'd drink anything?
-
Well, now's your chance! Have a glass of Pruno on me!

**

Thanks for the shiv!
-
My man's inside to return the favor.

**

They said 16 would get you 20.
-
They meant it.

**
As your day grows near, and hope may barely linger
-
Hope your last day in the chair's a real zinger!


Hey, they can't all be gems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

But She Seemed So Inconspicuous

Manhattan Beach, CA

Felicia Ellen Jones, 45, was arrested on suspicion of being the Weathergirl Bandit, so named for her habit of chatting up tellers and talking about the weather as she passed over notes demanding money at the four South Bay banks she hit in the last month.

Seems some people who know Ms Jones saw the security tapes and called in anonymous tips suggesting that she might be the lady in the photos.

And doesn't she just look fabulous in them?

Really, that outfit is... well, it's... I'm seriously at a loss for words.

Whether she was ratted out by moral, upstanding citizens of the community, or just ran afoul of the fashion police, I don't care.

I have to go wash my eyes out now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

For Immoral Porpoises

Moreno Valley, CA

There's this old joke, the kind that drags on for half an hour before the punchline, about a prince who's tasked by evil dolphins to pass a sleeping guard lion, steal some seagull chicks and bring them back. When he gets there, though, the cops grab him and charge him with, "transporting young gulls across a staid lion for immoral porpoises".

I don't think this guy knows the joke.

Darryl E. Kelly, 42, a registered sex offender in Illinois, was picked up with his 15-year-old "companion" in Moreno Valley. The girl, who hadn't been seen by her family since December, was tracked down via her cell phone records and Myspace page, which police discovered was being accessed in the L.A. area.

That devil Myspace. When will these wacky kids learn? Hopefully never or we're all fucked.

Anyway, seems the girl came out with him on her own.

The girl's mother reported her missing Dec. 17, 2007, after she had not seen her for three days, police said. She also informed officers that her daughter had been keeping company with Kelly and that she talked of moving to California.
Now that speaks volumes. I'm sorry, ma'am, what exactly was your 15-year-old daughter doing hanging out with a 42-year-old convicted rapist, again? What was so bad about home that this, even to a 15-year-old girl manipulated by a sexual predator, was the better option?

There's always more to this kind of story and it's never simple. I can't imagine the fucked up chain of events that got them here. Reminds me of a group of runaway 15-year-old girls I met, what, twenty years ago? Friend of mine had taken them in for a week after she met them down at Little Frida's in Hollywood.

Like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Four girls all clustered around the oldest, a Mama Bear trying to protect her charges as best she could. She was taking them up from Texas, moving as far as buses, hitchhiking and sleeping under freeways could take them. The usual litany of foster homes and abuse. She was understandably tight lipped, but you don't have to know much of a person's story when you can see it in her eyes.

And this sort of thing plays out every day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cadillacs And Old Lace Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Los Angeles, CA

Almost two years ago, Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt were arrested on suspicion of befriending homeless men, taking out insurance policies on them and then running them over. FYI - Self referential narcissism here and here.

Well, the murdering blue hairs (alleged) are back in the news as their trial gets underway. Prosecutors opened their case on the women presenting some compelling (to me at least and we all know how important that is) evidence, including a tape made of them while they were being held where they appear to be talking about the alleged insurance scam.

There's a bit of a snag in the proceedings, though and I'd be surprised if the defense doesn't hammer it into the ground.

They're old.

Golay hit 77 in February and Rutterschmidt turns 75 this month. Happy Birthday, Olga! We'll stick a file in that birthday cake and pass it on through. Or would a carton of smokes be better?

Anyway, the point is that any substantial jail time for them is a death sentence. Since they're already facing life with no possibility of parole, it could be a short stint in the hoosegow. This also means that plea bargains aren't really an option. Prosecutors would want some time in the can, which would pretty much be the same as the actual sentence.

And nobody wants to kill little old ladies, right?

Of course, should they kick during the proceedings this will get a lot more interesting.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sacrificing The Effective For The Easy

In Which I Rant With Great Abandon

Last Wednesday, Time Magazine published an essay from the writers for The Wire (Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pellecanos, Richard Price and David Simon) condemning the U.S. drug policy that has given that show so much fodder. Go read it, it's short. I'll wait.

Though I don't necessarily agree with their argument that jury nullification is the way to go, I do agree with their point of view. The War On Drugs is one of the most ill conceived, badly implemented, piss-poor excuses for an actual policy that the U.S. government has ever enacted. And the reason is simple. The whole thrust of it boils down to destroying supply, rather than attacking demand.

Historically, that doesn't work. Prohibition is probably the example we're most familiar with, but if you want to dig around through the poppy fields of Afghanistan, Colombia, China (Boxer Rebellion, anyone?), you'll find a lot of examples.

It's not the supply of drugs that's the problem, it's the demand for them.

As long as a demand exists there will be a supplier. Destroying existing supplies jacks up the price, which creates more profit, which leads to more people willing to get into the supply chain. The more people in the supply chain means, you guessed it, more supply.

"But what about all the folks that are getting locked up for using?" I hear you say. "Doesn't that attack the demand?"

Well, no. That's a supply control strategy, too. The supply in this case is the users. The point of it is to destroy and shove aside the user base, rather than get the user base to change. With a strategy like that the demand will continue to exist unless you actually, you know, kill them.

If anythying, the War On Drugs has made the problem worse.

Now, I think this same thinking can be applied to other things as well. Guns and gang violence, for example. We approach the problem with a "get rid of all [fill in the blank]" mentality. If you take away guns you're not going to take away violence. The problem isn't the supply of weapons, which, let's be honest can be anything (I like an oak axe handle wrapped in barbed wire, myself), it's the desire to use them.

Thing is, attacking demand is hard. You can't track it except by its results, and it takes time for those to manifest. Changing a community's mindset, changing an addict's habits, all of these things are hard work.

Attacking supply, though, is stupid easy. Easier, certainly than trying to figure out all the reasons people want to get high in the first place, or addressing the issues that drive people into uncontrollable addiction. Easier than improving the economies of the hardest hit areas, the poverty and broken homes that sends people to look for some way to tune out. It's bullets you can check off in Power Point, numbers you can crunch to show you're tough on crime. An easy way to further your political career.

It's a policy that sacrifices the effective for the easy. It's much simpler to wrap our minds around numbers and statistics than people. That A+B=C instead of the psychological, economic and medical nuances of each individual that creates the whole cascading problem. It's the same mindset that lumps people into Us vs Them, Black vs White, Bad Guys and Good Guys. We, as a general rule, don't like to think in shades of gray. We're all so much better at stereotypes.

Of course, it's easy for me to stand up and make noise. I'm good at that. You should see me drunk at karaoke some time. I do a mean Folsom Prison Blues.

I don't have a solution, and I don't believe that just one exists. We need a critical mass of solutions that all support each other. I think we're on the right track with things like medical marijuana. It opens the conversation, gets people to accept its medicinal uses. Gets across that maybe it's not the demon drug Reefer Madness makes it out to be. Acceptance is the first step to legality.

Once it's legal I think the people who are getting into it for the taboo aspect will dip. And then if you tax it, not so much that it creates a strong black market for it, you'll pull out a lot of other people.

That's what I mean by policies that attack demand. Things that change a mindset, control the thinking in ways that aren't quite so heavy handed.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a solution, but it's a start. Chip away at all those reasons people want to do it, because there's rarely just one. We're not that simple after all.

Now, my thinking isn't to get drugs or violence off the streets. I don't think it's possible. No matter how legal something is, there's always going to be someone who can get it to you cheaper or better or tax free. There's always going to be someone who pisses you off. But if we can change enough of the thinking of enough of the people, then maybe we have a chance to turn around a stupid policy that's incarcerated 1 out of every 100 people in this nation.

And that's a tall order, I know. You have to change hearts and minds, as the Army says, and they're not exactly famed for their successes. Sometimes the hearts and minds that have to be changed are our own, because we are the policy makers, whether we choose to believe that or not. Nothing's going to change unless we make it happen.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Lucha Boom Boom

City of Industry, CA

Given the racial tensions between black and Hispanic gangbangers, it's nice to see that some culture lines can still be crossed. Even if it is by donning Lucha Libre masks and knocking over banks with shotguns. Two black men, mid-20's to late 30's and wearing Lucha masks, have been robbing banks in City of Industry and Rowland Heights.

For those of you who don't know, Lucha Libre is a decades old style of Mexican wrestling where the contestants wear masks, give themselves colorful names and beat the holy hell out of each other, often with flying tackles. We're talking pre-Wrestlemania here. You can pertty much blame Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper on a silver masked wrestler named El Santo who wandered into a ring in Mexico City in 1942.

Now, confronted by this cultural phenomenon in a state that is becoming more and more Hispanic every day, the FBI has a lot of options in naming these gentlemen. Did they choose the San Gabriel Valley's moniker of the Lucha Libre Bandits? Did they call them Los Luchadores? Los Máscaras? Or, hell, even Lenny Bruce's "Masked Man"?

No.

They went with the WWF Shotgun Bandits, which, as several people have pointed out, would actually make them the World Wildlife Fund Shotgun Bandits, the old wrestling federation having changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment quite some time ago.

Thank you FBI for making things that much more surreal.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Big Guns, Small Men

Los Angeles, CA

The Harbor Gateway is a thin, two mile wide strip of Los Angeles that connects South L.A. with the port areas of Wilmington and San Pedro. To look at it on a map, you can see how it cleaves through the area, dividing the landscape between Torrance and Carson. It divides other things, too.

Yesterday, a black family in a GMC Yukon was shot at by two Latino males, critically wounding a 6-year-old child who was hit in the head. This is just the latest in a long string of tragedies involving black and Latino gang violence in the area. They've had an enormous problem for years between the prevalent Latino gangs (in particular Varrio 204th Street and East Side Torrance) and the black residents, many of whom came into the area when housing developments they were living in were torn down in the mid-90's.

In December of '06, for example, 14-year-old Cheryl Green was killed by members of the 204th Street gang when she happened to walk on the wrong side of the street. Others came before her. Others, sadly, will likely follow.

The last month Los Angeles has endured some of the bloodiest gang violence the city has seen in recent times. Not all of it racially motivated, to be sure, but definitely some of it. But therein lies a question. Are these crimes a problem between black and Latino? Or is it just the small minded, parochial mindset of street gangs whose sole world is housed in a two mile wide strip of dead end streets?

My vote's for the latter. Certainly race plays a part. But I'm willing to bet that if you had a new influx of people into the area, outsiders regardless of race, you'd have the same problem. It just wouldn't be so easily identifiable and the targets so easy to pick out.

The mindset isn't very different, of course. Racism is an outrageously stupid lumping of people into stereotypes based on the color of their skin, or the type of food they eat. Same thing applies with gender conflicts, nationalities, sexual preferences. It's that tribal mentality that someone else is "different".

When it comes down to it, this sort of killing is about as cowardly as you can get. Random, faceless. Targeting people who not only aren't in a position to protect themselves, but also aren't expecting to have to. I wonder what would happen if more people just decided to start packing and shooting back. Or getting smart and using their cars as weapons like god intended. All in the name of self-defense, of course.

Maybe we'd have more gangbangers in the morgue and fewer six-year-olds.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Man's House Is Not His Castle

Claremont, CA

There's a big difference between a two-story, four-bedroom house from 1965 and a multi-towered, concentric castle built by angry Welshmen. One will handle a siege against troops, and battering rams. The other won't.

A man shot his wife in the chest and then barricaded himself in his home along with his elderly mother at 885 Baseline Road in Claremont this morning. Police evacuated the neighborhood and managed to get the mother out. The man's wife is in the hospital in stable condition.

I doubt this will last too long. After all, once the flashbangs and teargas come out it's pretty much over.

Is it my imagination or have there been a lot of home barricades after family shootings, lately? Or am I mixing that up with the rash of family murder-suicides we've been having?