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Helen Keller Park Gets New Community Center

photo 4 photo 2Mike Ealey, Helen Keller Park Supervisor, remembers throwing his first pitch at the West Athens neighborhood park in 1966. And this week, Ealey got a chance to inaugurate a brand new community center that will ensure Helen Keller Park will continue to serve as an anchor for the community.

“Today is a blessed day,” he said to the crowd of several dozen people gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The new Helen Keller Community Park Community Building is a 4,000 foot LEED Gold certified facility featuring a new computer lab, arts-and-crafts room, outdoor patio, reception area, full kitchen and new parking lot.

photo 1“It takes a village to make all of this happen,” noted Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who helped fund the nearly $7 million investment in the center. “Today is a good day at Helen Keller Park.”

Proving that it takes a village to make something great, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles Chapter and Warner Bros. Entertainment donated $10,000 for a screening room that features a 5×9-foot screen, projector, and surround sound equipment. It will be one of the featured attractions as programming for the park begins in January. There will be movie nights, job training and an after school program and teen club just to name a few of the activities.

Nigel Daly, chairman of BAFTA, who was recently invited into the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to film, said he was honored to be welcomed into the community and told the crowd that he was “One proud Brit.” BAFTA has partnered with the county for nine years on programs teaching children Shakespeare and other arts related programs.

And more is to come at Helen Keller. Just over a year ago, it was discovered that the park was contaminated by construction waste and it was closed. And so, clean up crews have been hired to clean the top layer of soil from the entire park and replace it by the fall of 2015 with drought tolerant plants and a carpet of green grass.

“Our hope is that Helen Keller Community Center will quickly become a hub of activity in this wonderful community,” said Russ Guinea, director of LA County Parks and Recreation. “This is a place where people of all ages can feel welcome.”

It’s yours! Cutting the ribbon on Helen Keller Community Center! @mridleythomas

A video posted by Los Angeles County Parks & Rec (@lacountyparks) on

Board Approves Sheriff’s Oversight

After two years of debate, discussion and impassioned testimony from residents, reform advocates and former jail inmates, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a citizen’s oversight commission for the Sheriff’s Department. Broadly framed, the purpose of the commission will be to ensure heightened public scrutiny of the department. The commission, first proposed by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and then Supervisor Gloria Molina, became a reality under the newly constituted board. Supervisor Hilda Solis co-authored the motion with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

Allegations of excessive force, significant litigation costs and a moral imperative to ensure constitutional policing in the jails and communities illustrate the need for an oversight entity, the majority of Supervisors agreed.

Although he was not present at the board meeting, newly sworn in Sheriff Jim McDonnell has stated his strong support for such a commission, promising to work closely with the commission and forge a positive working relationship with the panel.

With the nation highly shaken by the publicized shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, the creation of an oversight panel – long a best practice in municipalities across the country – gained new urgency. “Ferguson” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, has become a byword for a host of issues that Los Angeles County must proactively seek to avoid.

Board of Supervisors Meeting – Item 2 / Civilian Oversight“The sheriff’s department has long required a level of scrutiny that has been missing. The time has come,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “New department leadership has been elected with a mandate for reform that embraces accountability and transparency and recognizes that an independent advisory oversight commission is an important tool in restoring public confidence.”

“For more than two years, the county’s citizens have called for creation of a citizen’s oversight commission,” said Supervisor Solis. “Across this county, the public trust in the people charged with keeping us safe has fallen to a new low.  Under the new leadership we have a chance to restore the trust given the county”.

Supervisor Solis added that the creation of an oversight commission is a fiscally prudent step, one that ultimately will result in better policing, fewer lawsuits and therefore more resources to be used on pressing policy matters.

The vote for the Citizen’s Commission, calls for the creation of a working group that includes the Sheriff, the Inspector General and one appointee of each Supervisor, that will come up with recommendations on the oversight commission’s mission, authority, size, structure, relationship to the Office of the Sheriff and to the Office of the Inspector General.

“An advisory citizen’s commission would ensure that all segments of our community feel a greater investment in our Sheriff’s Department and that they are able to work with us in ensure that the LASD’s policing is effective, fair and constitutional,” noted Sheriff McDonnell in a letter of support.

Each supervisor will appoint a commissioner to the panel. In addition, it calls for a funding and staffing plan for the commission and for a formal agreement between the Sheriff’s Department, the Office of the Inspector General and the board.

Supervisor Kuehl also noted that a commission would increase public trust, and protect both sworn officers and inmates, adding:  “It’s certainly been shown to be effective in other counties.  It’s also a smart policy. We need a single centralized body to cut through this confusion and monitor the department.”

More than 50 speakers testified before the Board on the issue, the overwhelming majority in support of the commission. Speakers included Rabbi Jonathan Klein of Clergy & Laity for Economic Unity, Marsha Temple, executive director of the Integrative Recovery Network and Kim McGill, executive director of the Youth Justice Coalition and Patrice Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End sheriff Violence.

 

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December 2014

Supervisor Shows Support for New Federal Sex Trafficking Bill

Girl Traff

I would like to commend Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for authoring the Combat Human Trafficking Act, which was introduced recently in the United States Senate. The bill seeks to penalize adults who buy sex from trafficking victims and strengthen victim’s rights. While many federal, state and local efforts have focused mainly on prosecuting the traffickers, it is time we start looking at the buyers who fuel this crime. After all, sex trafficking is a demand-driven industry.

The Combat Human Trafficking Act would ensure that federal law enforcement officials are properly trained to investigate and then prosecute these buyers. It also views those who are being trafficked for what they are: exploited women and children-not criminals.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14.There are few topics more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, our society is still misinformed about this issue. Many still refer to it as prostitution. But, this is modern day slavery and a multi-billion dollar industry driven by unscrupulous adults.

We must put an end to this notion that people—mostly women, girls and boys—are commodities to be bought and sold. This bill will help protect victims while punishing the adults who profit and derive enjoyment from this despicable trade.