The Difference: Being Black or White and a MurdererPosted by Christina Gomez on April 1st, 2009
The killing of four Oakland police officers and Lovelle Mixon, the 26-year-old who had a shoot out with Oakland police March 21, has been keeping me up at night. Not because I fear for my life or because I am concerned about “cop killing” becoming a trend. But, because as an advocate for youth in the criminal justice system, I am realizing what these youth are up against when it comes to receiving a second chance after being released from incarceration.
This point has become most apparent to me when seeing the widespread lack of understanding about the life of someone re-entering society after prison. Two things people should consider when understanding our criminal justice system:
1) The juvenile justice system is built upon the philosophy that youth don’t have the mental capacity to fully understand the impact of the decisions that result in their detainment. Therefore, they deserve a second chance. The system exists to rehabilitate those too young to be held fully accountable for their crimes.
2) The criminal justice system is built upon the philosophy that you are old enough to not only be held accountable for your decisions, but also to be punished for your actions. It is not rehabilitative. However, when you have completed your time, you should no longer receive scrutiny or punishment.
But many of our laws are contradictory to the basic philosophies of redemption. The Higher Education Act, for example, prohibits those who have been convicted of drug crimes from qualifying for financial aid to attend college; and the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act deems those who have been convicted of a drug or violent felony ineligible for subsidized housing programs. Yet, housing and higher education are two things necessary to achieving a crime free and successful future. With this said, it shouldn't be a surprise why life for many former prisoners so hard after incarceration, and why returning to a life of crime often becomes the destiny for so many leaving prison and re-entering society.
Two programs in Oakland that are member of our Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY) – One Fam and the Mentoring Center – work with young black and brown men and women re-entering society after incarceration. Both programs provide life skills training and help young men and women assess the decisions they make that lead to less than adequate life outcomes and jail time. The programs reduce recidivism and help create confident people who positively contribute to their communities through community service and other services.
Unfortunately for Lovelle, he was not touched by such programs.
It has been interesting and sad to see how the very fact that Lovelle was an ex-offender has led him to be deemed him a "devil" by the mainstream media and the general public and unworthy of an investigation into the factors that created a 26-year-old who apparently desperately did not want to return to the system that may have helped turn him into a “cop killer.” When I think back to the news coverage that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the young white Columbine killers, received in April 1999, I wonder how the news coverage might have been different if Lovelle was white. How would his life have been examined then?
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold embarked on a shooting massacre that resulted in the deaths of 12 students and a teacher, and the wounding of 23 others, before committing suicide at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Next month is the 10-year anniversary. It was the fourth-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
In the days following the Columbine Massacre, the media profiled Eric and Dillon. Major talk show host from Geraldo to Oprah aired profile specials and many people, particularly parents of white teenagers began asking the question, "How did this happen?" Primetime specials analyzed their upbringing and created a list of "signs to look for” if other parents might potentially be raising "Erics and Dillons." Every reason possible was explored for their behavior in an effort to avoid calling them “devils” and “cold-blooded killers.”
But not Lovelle. To discuss the contributing factors to his behavior – and explore the influences and incidents in his past that may have shaped him into the young man he became – would be "insensitive" to the police who lost their lives, many have said. It would only provide an excuse for a man many believe did not deserve to live after his actions March 21, and perhaps even before that. Investigators in the case allege he may have raped a 12-year-old girl in February.
After Columbine, a memorial commissioned by the community was erected on the hill across from the school where the massacre took place. Fifteen crosses were erected – 13 for the students who lost their lives and the teacher who died trying to save them. And two crosses for Eric and Dillon, their killers. As mad and outraged as many were, people actually felt sorry for the two young men. People knew something had to have been wrong with the young men and there was no public outcry or protest for the crosses put up for the killers.
Fast forward to a week ago in Oakland. The Uhuru House holds a memorial to pay tribute to Mixon’s life lost. They are scrutinized by not only the public but also by the media and are now in jeopardy of losing their furniture store, which funds programs for the youth and employs folks in the community.
Looking beyond the ongoing investigation into his past crimes, what remains as plain as day is the contributing factors to Mixon's recent lifestyle. He couldn't find a job because after serving time his life was under a microscope as a parolee and his skills were limited due to incarceration. Such things have led men to walk into previous places of employment and murder former coworkers before killing themselves. Mixon ended up killing police officers; men who take an oath to protect and serve, and willingly put their life on the line to keep the general public safe knowing all the while that they could be killed while on duty.
Why do people believe Mixon killed? According to the general public, because he was just evil. Why did Eric and Dillon kill? The list is endless and without the same certainty that many give to the Mixon rationale; they were depressed, on drugs, part of a “Trench Coat Mafia,” or victims of bullies. However psychologist have a different conclusion, one that is far more disturbing than Mixons despair. They were diagnosable psychopaths.
In my opinion, the Columbine boys were far more sadistic and deserve less sympathy. Their upbringing was impeccable. They came from homes with two loving parents, had more than adequate living conditions, and had friends – there were no contributing factors other than these two boys plotted a methodical massacre. Unlike Mixon, they planned to kill that day; they researched bomb making, staked out the school and accumulated a fair amount of ammunition prior to the killings to execute their plan. Everything was premeditated.
Life was not so sweet for Mixon, no matter how horrid his alleged crimes are. This discussion is simply about the way these two different crimes are viewed in the public sphere. In the end, Mixon had no job, no home to call his own, and no network of support adequate enough to help steer him in the right direction. There were no weeks of planning to kill four cops. In those seconds before he shot those cops he knew two things – his freedom after five years in prison was going to be taken away, and he had a gun. The rest is now history.
To find out about One Fam or The Mentoring Center or to make a contribution to these programs visit: www.onefam.org and www.thementoringcenter.org.