Friday, May 16, 2014

L'Oreal provides the makeup to hide the monster Lauren Book has become

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

It is often said a picture is worth 1000 words. This particular picture speaks volumes. This picture was taken some time during the international embarrassment known as the Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony, a.k.a. “Bookville.” Standing in the forefront is the notorious Ron Book, along with his daughter Lauren, standing defiantly. Behind them is a homeless camp created by the very policies these two worked to create, along with two people the Books forced to live under the bridge. Together, Ron and Lauren Book campaigned to create the most onerous residency restriction laws in the country in Dade County, forcing a number of registered citizens to live under a bridge. Years after the homeless camp was dismantled, homelessness remains a problem among a significant portion of Miami's registered citizens.

Much of the focus over the years has been on Ron Book, while for the most part his daughter Lauren has been pretty much relegated to the view of her of Ron’s lackey or puppet. After all, Ron was by far the more visible and vocal of the two. Ron is the powerful and corrupt South Florida lobbyist, while Lauren has always been invoked whenever Ron needed a victim to justify his policies. Ron is even the president of Lauren's Kids, a victim industry organization named for Lauren. We seemingly forget the role that Lauren has played in the debacle that was Bookville.

Lauren's annual “Walk in My Shoes” campaign turned into campaigns and even legislation designed to further erode the rights of the accused. In fact, the state of Florida passed the “Walk in Their Shoes Act,” which expanded the admissibility of collateral crime or “similar fact” evidence in cases where a person is charged with child molestation or a sexual offense. In other words, the Act allows hearsay evidence such as a prior allegation, even a false allegation, as evidence in abuse cases.

It was brought to my attention that L'Oreal Paris has an annual award event entitled, “Women of Worth,” and Lauren Book was given the award in December 2013. Considering the recent controversial actions that Lauren Book has taken, the L'Oreal company should reconsider giving an award to a person like Lauren Book. It is obvious that Lauren, in her quest to fight “monsters,” has become Nietzsche's proverbial monster herself.

Consider her more recent actions. Last month, during Lauren's annual Walk in My Shoes campaign, Lauren stopped to give her blessing to a pocket park that was built specifically to force registered citizens to move out of a community, driving untold numbers of registrants into homelessness. “I can't tell you how many times I ask parents, ‘Do you know who's living next door?' and they're afraid to look,’” Lauren said. “So, it's being educated within the law: know who's around you and use examples like (Bayberry Lakes), where you build a park to keep a vulnerable section of your community safer.” Lauren is now encouraging other communities to build pocket parks in order to force registered citizens out of communities. She wants to make the rest of Florida like Miami-Dade County.

More recently, Lauren put her support behind a controversial bill that would literally play scarlet letters on the driver's licenses of registered citizens. The state of Florida already marks the driver's licenses of registered citizens with the number of the statutes under which they were convicted. Under the new law, those the state considers “sexual predators” will have the term sexual predator written on their licenses in scarlet letters. It is interesting that Lauren Book invokes both the term scarlet letter and the TSA in the following statement:

 “This designation is a tool that we as community members – from law enforcement officers to TSA agents to teachers, daycare workers, doctors, nurses and everyone in between – can use to further protect the children and families of Florida… I believe a statutory reference is too benign. This is a scarlet letter that clearly states ‘WARNING! Keep this individual away from children!’ They are a clear and imminent danger, and parents and families have a right to know.”

If there is a true imminent danger to our society, it is individuals like Lauren Book using her position and the law to harm other individuals. Perhaps the most distressing of all is the fact that Florida passed a bill this year that gives victim industry advocates like Lauren a place on a committee that determines which registrants become candidates for civil commitments upon their release from prison.

I guess to some small degree we can reasonably expect a makeup company to do a very good job of screening candidates for some meaningless award created by their company. In our society, it seems the victim industry is rarely, if ever, scrutinized for the policies that they support or advocate. What Lauren Book advocates for is summarized by a picture. Lauren Book advocates for the suffering of human beings. Lauren Book is just as responsible for the Julia Tuttle Causeway sex offender colony as her father was. It was not just Ron we thought of when I and fellow members of SOSEN started calling the colony “Bookville” in 2009.

However, I also feel it is our responsibility as citizens to scrutinize those who use of emotional stories to justify sweeping laws that cause potential harm to thousands of citizens. It seems Lauren Book has failed to heed Nietzsche's warning, choosing to become a monster to fight those she considers monsters. Not even all the makeup produced by the L'Oreal Corporation could cover a Miami sized blemish on Florida's sex offender policy. Giving Lauren Book such an award is as much a faux pas as naming Hitler time magazine's Man of the year.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Grand Theft O.C. - The Ballad of Tony Rackauckas

I don't live in Orange County, but I've been there. I enjoyed a couple of trips to "The OC" after my mom passed away about 3 1/2 years ago. The beaches are nice and there is a lot to see and do. I even visited a couple of the parks while I was there on 2011. The year 2011 was a landmark year for me, as I had to rebuild my life after losing my mom and my fiancee the year before. Apparently, 2011 was a landmark year for Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas.

Tony Rackauckas has been the District Attorney for the OC since 1999. Apparently, no one has run against him in 12 years, and after rumors he wasn't even wanting to run for a fourth term, is now reportedly "eager" to run for a fifth term. And so far, it seems he'll be running unopposed again. I'd think after the debacle that has been his fourth term in office, he'd consider retirement. But I digress.

Around the time I was visiting Orange County, a debate was brewing over an idea to ban Registered Citizens from Orange County's parks (or, as the OC Register was calling it, "Pervs-in-Parks" bans). In the spring of 2011, as I was enjoying a trip to Orange County, Rackauckas and his sidekick, Susan Kang Schroeder, succeeded in persuading the county to pass a sex offender park ban. "We are setting up a safety zone by keeping parks and recreation zones safe from predators," Rackauckas said. It was good PR for the DA's office, and before long the "pervs-in-parks bans" were catching on all across the county.

It is important to note that the county ban only affected county parks, like the Orange County Zoo or Dana Point Harbor, a site I visited on one of my trips to the OC; thus, each municipality had to pass their own ordinance. The justification for pushing the ordinances was the belief that "the county ban could drive sex offenders into city parks that aren't covered by similar ordinances." This belief was classic fearmongering at its finest.

It seemed like an easy ride. After all, as Frank Zimring from UC Berkeley put it, "Who's going to lose votes being against child molestation?" Tony and Susan were touring the county (to be fair, Orange County is a huge county, about 3/4 the size of Rhode Island), singing the same ballad to woo the masses. But not everyone was responding to this tune.

The city of Irvine was reluctant to pass the ordinance. "Larry Agran noted Irvine is America's safest city, so by default it would already have America's safest parks. He feared the ban might occupy city cops who have proven they have a winning enforcement formula already. As part of the staff recommendation, Agran urged that a determination be made to whether pervs in Irvine parks is even a problem. Councilwoman Beth Krom, meanwhile, reportedly wondered whether the law would create a false sense of safety in parks." Irvine did eventually pass a ban, but it only applied to registrants with minor victims. Rackauckas was "befuddled" by the reluctance to pass an outright ban, citing the ordinance does not block "rapists, pornographers, and flashers from cruising" the parks.

In the summer of 2011, as I was taking my third trip to the OC, a terrible tragedy occurred that put a greater damper on Tony's political career. A homeless man named Kelly Thomas was beaten to death by a half-dozen Fullerton police officers. Normally, this is the kind of case that is easily swept under the rug, but in this instance, Kelly Thomas happened to be the son of a former OC sheriff's deputy. I imagine these cases are not easy for prosecutors, but Tony seemingly botched the case from the very beginning. Kelly Thomas's mother sued Rackauckas for hindering her right to examine public records relating to her son's death. Tony and his underling Susan had the choice to devote their efforts and resources into either jailing killer cops or to keep drunken mooners and teen sexters out of OC parks. The right choice should have been obvious.

While the Kelly Thomas case was making headlines across the US as an example of police brutality, Rackauckas and Schroeder continued to put their primary efforts into the sex offender park bans. Rackauckas expected someone who would be arrested under the park ban law would sue. It didn't take long for challenges to appear, and not just from a registrant arrested for visiting a park (seeing how there were so few arrests stemming from the ordinances, it should not come as a surprise).  A lawsuit was filed against four OC cities in federal court, and in Novermber 2012, the appellate division of the OC Superior Court ruled the law violates the state Constitution. The city of Lake Forest, one of the four cities in the lawsuit, quickly repealed the ordinance it had just passed a few months prior to the suit.

As Tony's pet project was being defeated in the courts, the efforts to punish the six Fullerton killer cops was floundeing. Despite the involvement of six officers in the arrest and beating of Kelly Thomas, only two cops, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, were formally charged for the crime. (A third cop, Joseph Wolfe, was also charged but the DA dropped the case.) The case was a high profile case, so Tony Rackauckas decided to try the case himself, something he apparently had not done since the OC was preparing for Y2K. There is only one sport I can think of where a person who has long since retired from active rotation is thrown back into the starting lineup, and that sport is the WWE. Pro wrestlers never truly retire, they come back on occasion to help get the younger talent over.

The prosecutor's office is not the WWE. Tony should have let someone who has tried an actual case since Clinton was in office take over. It seems Tony was simply going through the motions for the sake of putting on a show for those demanding Justice for Kelly Thomas. This case should have been a home run, a fastball right over the plate. But the mighty Tony struck out. Fullerton's killer cops were acquitted despite the overwhelming evidence of police brutality. "Tony's very factual," said Ron Thomas, Kelly's father. "He takes up a lot of time with his words. I thought he lost the jury several times because of long pauses," he said. The prosecution, Thomas said, failed to quickly address attempts by defense attorneys to portray his son as a volatile drug user... You have to at least counter what the defense is doing.... We didn't do that. We didn't bring in the positive...Tony didn't sell his case." How can someone botch such a sure-win? If you have read my rant up till this point  answer should be obvious.

Just a couple of days before the acquittal of the Fullerton killer cops was read, the California Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling that sex offender park bans were unconstitutional. In the midst of the Kelly Thomas murder case, Rackauckas still found the time to make a statement vowing to fight for his precious park bans all the way to the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case, so the appeals court ruling stands as the highest ruling.

After Rackauckas botched the Kelly Thomas murder case, there were questions as to whether Tony's next song would be his swan song. But so far it seems Tony is still running largely opposed. If someone would oppose him, would Tony win? After all, he apparently has survived scandals in the past, such as an investigation by the OC grand jury, the firing (and lawsuit) over firing a cop investigating a wealthy contributor to Rackauckas's election campaign, the accusations of using his office to aid opponents of a political rival, flack over failing to address an assistant prosecutor's remarks comparing a Jew to Hitler, Rackauckas "misplacing" a loaded gun, and flak over aiding a corrupt political rival. However, if Tony was to win reelection, there is the chance OC could be stuck with someone even worse than Tony.

A concern among many behind the scenes at Orange County's law enforcement network is the possibility of Tony's faithful minion Susan Kang Schroeder possibly inheriting the DA position should Rackauckas decide to retire mid-term, as has been apparently rumored for years. Schroeder has been called "unprofessional" and even "satanic" by those who have dealt with her over the years. "If Susan Schroeder becomes the district attorney of Orange County, our criminal justice system will be in peril," said one veteran law enforcement official who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm serious."

I suppose Tony Rackauckas and his faithful sidekick will still push sex offender issues and try to find other ways of "protecting kids," especially now that an ex-Fullerton cop who got away with murder is teaching kids how to swing a bat. Maybe Tony can address the fact that another law he endorsed, Jessica's law, increased homelessness for registered citizens by about 2200% (that is, 22 times over) in the years since it passed.

I think the commentary from The Liberal OC is a fitting end to this ballad.

"We have to wonder if it isn’t time for Rackauckas to retire. His decision to take the lead in the prosecution of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinell is but one example of the misguided actions of a 70 year-old-man trying to recapture the glory of his youth. His zeal in perusing a blanket ban of all sex offenders from parks, and gang injunctions that assign guilt by association to suspected gang members, only reinforces the view that Rackauckas has spent much of his recent years in office chasing headlines. We can only hope that Mr. Rackauckas doesn’t decide to throw a Hail Mary pass, and take on the prosecution of Carlos Bustamante in an attempt to reclaim his lost glory. But perhaps that is what Mr. Bustamante is praying for."

We can only hope that the Ballad of Tony Rackauckas comes to an end with Tony and Susan ousted from public office in disgrace.

Don't expect much more talk about the park bans, by the way. The OC Register is reporting that OC cities like Laguna Hills may reverse park bans under threat of litigation from Janice Bellucci/ California Reform Sex Offender Laws and the ACLU; the county has quit enforcing the park bans after the California Supreme Court denial.