Monday, March 23, 2009

Oakland Police Deaths Require Public Investigation

The deaths this past Saturday of four Oakland police officers at the hands of Oakland resident Lovell Mixon has shocked our community (read the coverage in the SF Chron). Literally thousands of people in our community knew these officers personally as family members, friends, and neighbors. It will take a long time to process such a dramatic loss. In time, however, it is vital that the public learn more about what happened to produce this astonishing tragedy. Here are a few thoughts toward that goal.

As all the media coverage has emphasized, Mixon was on parole, but this provides little insight into why he responded to police with lethal violence. Some 60,000 people a year enter parole in California after the completion of their prison sentence. While nearly 70 percent will be returned to prison before the completion of their time on parole, only a tiny minority are sent back for crimes of violence.

Rodney King was also on parole when he was stopped and beaten after a car chase with the LAPD. Can you imagine how differently that story might have played out had the media labeled him "parolee Rodney King" rather than "motorist Rodney King"?

We still do not know why police stopped Mixon. He had apparently missed a parole appointment, a minor violation of parole that regularly occurs without resulting in an arrest. If Mixon was targeted for arrest because of his perceived risk to the community, the police should have been much better prepared for possible violence.

We may never know why Mixon responded with such violence. He had spent six years in one of California's toughest prisons, and his family suggests he did not want to return, but the most he could have faced for a parole revocation was one year, was he really willing to kill and die just to avoid what more likely would have been six months or less back in prison?

His sister movingly told the press that Mixon was "not a monster", but the real question is why did he have an AK47 assault weapon in his personal armory.

More than 60,000 California prisoners come back to the community on parole every year. More than 70 percent return within three years, most for minor crimes and parole violations. Would we be better off leaving the vast majority of released prisoners to seek services if they choose to (perhaps with state vouchers) while concentrating California's professional parole agents on a small portion of prisoners whose profiles suggest a sustained risk of violence?

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