Los Angeles Residents Turn out To Exchange Guns for Gifts

On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, nearly 400 weapons were surrendered at a recent Gift for Guns exchange program in Compton, with more than $38,000 worth of Target and Ralphs market gift cards given away. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheriff Lee Baca co-sponsored the event, offering residents an opportunity to surrender their firearms safely and anonymously. People turning in guns received a $200 dollar gift card for an assault weapon, $100 dollar gift card for a handgun, rifle, or shotgun and a $50 dollar gift card for a non-operational gun.  At the end of the day, 22 assault rifles, 193 rifles, 5 shotguns, 144 hand guns, and 22 non-operational guns were collected. The collected guns will be melted down at the Sheriff’s Department Annual Gun Melt and used for construction materials or “Peace Angels” sculptures.

“We must continue to strive for ending gun violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “I can think of no better way to have spent the 84th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday than working to convince residents to give up their weapons, improve the safety of their neighborhoods and buy something valuable like food or clothing. Nothing good comes at the point of a gun.”

City and County Officials Call for a New Year’s Eve without Gunfire

With the tragedy in Newtown heavy in the air, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined law enforcement officials, city and other county leaders to urge New Year’s revelers to celebrate responsibly and forego one of the most season’s most dangerous and deadly rituals: shooting a firearm into the air at the stroke of midnight.

“This is a matter of physics,” the Supervisor said. “What goes up must come down.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck elaborated, emphasizing that a bullet falls to earth at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour — more than enough force to kill.

With guns collected from the Los Angeles City gun buyback held Wednesday on display, Beck, Sheriff Lee Baca, County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City attorney Carmen Trutanich also emphasized that discharging a firearm, even when aimed up into the air, is a felony and subject to stiff consequences. “Don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve in my jail or in Lee Baca’s jail,” the police chief said.

“Think twice about it,” Lacey urged the public. “Don’t be reckless.” She added that offenders risk a $10,000-fine, three years of incarceration and forever losing the right to own a gun.

“This is not a matter of playtime,” the Supervisor said. “Don’t let your celebration cause someone else to lose his or her life. We have had way too much tragedy and don’t need anymore.”

Second District Residents Win ”Beat the Odds” Scholarship

As a newborn, Roneisha Pugh was placed in the care of a grandfather who looked after her until he died of complications from AIDS. Pugh and her brothers were then sent to live with an aunt who cared for them until she died of cancer. That tragedy left Pugh and her brothers at the mercy of her aunt’s alcoholic husband who, Pugh says, was physically and mentally abusive.

But Pugh, who lives in Inglewood, was determined to succeed. So she moved out of her uncle’s home and found the love and support she needed with extended family. She went from nearly failing out of school to being among the top 15 students in her class now at St. Mary’s Academy. She won an award for her dedication to community service, and is now focused on going to college and becoming a doctor.

“Getting out of that situation was the best thing that has happened to me,” said Pugh, who is 17. “I am beating the odds and becoming one step closer to my goals.”

Pugh was one of five teens awarded with the 2012 Beat the Odds $10,000 scholarship sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund at its 22nd Annual Gala in Beverly Hills. The Beat the Odds Scholarship and Leadership Program provides high school students with a college scholarship and numerous support services, including mentoring, internship placements, leadership development, college counseling, and SAT prep.

More than 450 education supporters including Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, Children’s Defense Fund President, Marian Wright Edelman, a wide range of Hollywood entertainers, and community organizers attended the event.

But the real stars of the evening were Pugh and Yahydia Iñiguez, Richard Kent, and fraternal twins Jade and Jalen Woods. One-by one, an emotional documentary based on the life of each recipient was shown before the large crowd followed by an award presentation.

Fraternal twins, Jade and Jalen Woods, have drawn strength from each other. At the age of four Jade and Jalen’s parents separated, forcing their mother to move them to a shelter in Arizona. When they returned to California bouncing from their mother to their father, the bitterness between their parents made it difficult to remain focused in school. But the siblings pulled through and today they are leaders in their community. Jade is the Chairperson for the Children’s Defense Fund- Los Angeles Youth Policy Advisory Committee. Jalen, a star athlete, has earned more than 45 trophies and MVP awards for basketball. The two, who attend Frederick K.C. Price III School in South Los Angeles, maintain grade point averages above 4.0. and are eager to go to college.

To learn more about the Beat the Odds Scholarship Program please visit:

Advocates Plead for a Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence

Eva Flores had never spoken publicly about her son’s story. But at a recent Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, the young mother from Maywood worked up her courage to talk about the beating her son suffered last August at the hands of sheriff’s deputies. He was pepper sprayed, handcuffed and suffered several broken bones in his back and his nose after being beaten, she said, by sheriff’s deputies. Since that day he has suffered from headaches.

“My son deserves respect and dignity; nobody deserves to be treated this way,” she said in Spanish. “I am concerned for the safety of my son and I don’t want this to happen again.”

Flores was one of more than 100 people that attended the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to push for the formation of a citizens’ commission on jail violence to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ever since the department came under intense public scrutiny for allegations of violence in the County jails, Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that the Board establish a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee the department. At the meeting Tuesday Supervisor Gloria Molina said she was “leaning” in the direction of supporting the citizens’ commission.

The group of advocates, called the Coalition to End Sheriff’s Violence in LA County Jails, is made up of nearly a dozen organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Youth Justice Coalition and the California Drug Policy Alliance. It was formed in response to the violence that has been plaguing Los Angeles County jails and the need to have civilian oversight of the treatment of inmates.

Patrisse Cullors, founder of the coalition, also became an advocate for personal reasons. Her brother was beaten so badly while in custody that he blacked out. She said he was later denied water and meals. He did not have a history of mental illness when he went into jail, but now he needs medication to handle the trauma he endured, Cullors said.

“It changed my family’s life,” she said. “The citizens’ commission is crucial to holding the sheriff’s department accountable and restoring any sort of faith in the community. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the people who are inside jail. But every single one of those people has a family that loves them. This is a community issue.”

The Rev. Peter Laarman, a member of the coalition and executive director of the organization Progressive Christians Uniting, said they will not stop until long term structural change happens.

“This will take courage and persistence to make the change we need and it will be difficult because it will shake the foundation of the sheriff’s department,” said Laarman. “We know that it is not simply the passion for change but the persistency in advocacy that will achieve an outcome that will serve the people of our county.”

We Must Reduce Gun Violence

The pain and the horror of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues to haunt the nation. So, in an attempt to reduce gun-related violence Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has requested the creation of a taskforce made up of law enforcement, public health, mental health officials and the countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CCJCC) to develop a comprehensive plan on curbing firearm-related violence in Los Angeles.  “The Newtown, Connecticut massacre is yet another horrific example of the gun-related violence we have endured as a nation,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Just the other day, I met with a grieving mother who lost her 14-year-old daughter in a senseless shooting. We cannot continue to adhere to policies that allow such easy access to guns. We can respect the 2nd Amendment but we must also endeavor to save lives.”

According to the Los Angeles County Coroner, 75 percent of all homicides in Los Angeles County in 2009 were caused by use of a firearm, a trend that is mirrored nationally. In addition, a 2010 report by the Department of Public Health identified homicide as the leading cause of death for 15-44-year-olds. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings and more than 300 million guns in this country—nearly enough for every man, woman and child.

The motion calls for strategies to reduce the stigma related to mental illness and mental health treatment. The motion also calls for enhanced enforcement of existing laws regulating the possession, sale and purchase of high caliber, high capacity weapons as well as make recommendations on revisions to existing laws and regulations governing the sale, purchase, transfer and possession of firearms and ammunition.

The Board also requested that the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) will conduct a survey of each of the 80 school districts to make sure they are in compliance with their school safety plan. In addition, the county’s state and federal legislative advocates will report back with proposed legislative solutions for the county.

“I am hopeful that out of this senseless tragedy, we will find the courage and resolve to end this epidemic of firearm related violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.