Another (Wannabe) California Cop Killer, and Her Apologists: Sarah Jane Olson and Ruben Rosario

As some in Berkley/Oakland and Austin, Texas celebrate the murders of four police officers by child-rapist Lovelle Mixon, the recent release of Sarah Jane Olson, fugitive, murderer, attempted cop killer and Weather Underground activist should remind us of the origins of the sentiment “kill the pigs.”

Well-off radicals like Olson descended on poor communities in Oakland in the late Sixties, when it was hip to do so, and fomented violence there in the name of “revolution.”  When the wretched stakes for real community members wore out their welcome, these itinerant revolutionaries trotted back to their to upper-class enclaves, leaving conditions in the impoverished, urban, minority neighborhoods much worse than they found them.

There is a direct path from the careless radicalism practiced by Olson to those who are celebrating the murder of four police officers today. When someone calling himself the “Prisoner of Conscience Coalition, Minister of Information” posts anonymous internet screeds threatening police sympathizers and mocking the murdered officers, he is mimicking “kill the pigs” rhetoric that should have died out when the last Weatherman traded his dashiki for a pair of Hush Puppies, reinstatement to the family trust fund, and the tenure track.  The Hush Puppy crowd has much to answer for in Oakland this week.  So, too, has the anonymous POCC Minister.  Everything old is new again, as evinced by the instantaneous, postmortem rehabilitation of Mixon himself.


Meanwhile, amazingly, a few journalists are still defending Olson.  Last week, Twin Cities Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario fired off a “humorous” column complimenting the post-conviction conduct of both Sarah Jane Olson and Stanley Dean Baker, a confessed cannibal who murdered a social worker and was found with the woman’s hacked-off fingers in his pocket.

Rosario’s column, “Come On, Sarah Jane Olson is not Osama Bin Laden,” starts off as a jokey comparison between Olson and Baker (Which would you rather live next to, the cookie-baking mom or the cannibal?).  But in an apparent warm rush of good feelings about any convicted killer, Rosario abandons this modicum of judgment and spends the rest of the piece paying tribute to the good character of both.

Funny stuff, hacking a social worker to pieces. Rosario cracks a joke about Baker’s nickname (Fingers).  He slavishly praises one parole officer who calls Baker “brilliant,” and claims — as if it matters, or is true – that Baker never killed again. He doesn’t manage to get around to bothering to name Baker’s forgotten victim, but he does take the time to scold the public for not adequately appreciating a parole system that gives men like Baker a second chance. He also expresses outrage that Baker lost a job, once, after people learned of his grotesque crimes.  That “injustice” arouses his slumbering indignation.  Anything for a convict, you see.

Pretty appalling stuff.  But the most dishonest aspect of Rosario’s column is what he leaves out – the facts of Sarah Jane Olsen’s unfunny crimes. Olson participated in the murder of Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four.  She planted explosives under police cars that were parked in public places.  She kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach during a bank robbery, causing her to miscarriage.  Rosario doesn’t mention these facts.  He talks about her cookie-baking instead.

A week and four dead police officers later, Rosario’s whitewash of Sarah Jane Olson’s attempts to kill policemen is even less forgivable.  It’s rhetoric like this, and the unrepentant posture of Olson herself, that lives on, sadly, in neighborhoods in Oakland that can ill afford such self-destructive theatrics.

More On The Oakland Police Killings

In an article purportedly about Lovelle Mixon’s criminal record (he has been linked to one rape through DNA and is being investigated in another), the San Francisco Chronicle inexplicably chose to give the deceased quadruple murderer several column inches to assert his innocence, good intentions, and career goals.  He apparently thought he was a pretty good guy, carjackings, attempted murders, and sundry crimes notwithstanding:

Mixon’s version

Mixon told authorities that in the attempted carjacking, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not act responsible and allowed someone else to act just as bad,” according to the report. “Now I have to take responsibility for it all.”

Mixon also is quoted in the report as saying he planned to move away to “a better area, get a job, and hopefully in about two or three years get my own business, raise my kids in a responsible way.”

“I wish I could fix or make up for what happened,” Mixon was quoted as saying. “But I can’t, so I am going to attempt to make the best out of it and learn as much as possible to help me when I get out.”

At the time, Mixon had a 1-year-old son but was not paying child support because he was unemployed, the probation report said.

In 2000, he worked for six months as a grocery packer for Webvan in Oakland, making $10 an hour, the report said. The next year he spent three months as an inventory worker for another Oakland company and made $9 an hour.

How, precisely, do you call arming yourself and committing a violent carjacking “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”?  How do you “make the best” of the fact that you have beaten and could have killed an innocent victim?  How do you “take responsibility” for a crime by denying that you intended to commit it?

The real problem isn’t that Lovelle Mixon said these things.  The problem is that so many of the people who are entrusted to keep the Lovelle Mixons of the world from harming others say and believe the types of things Mixon said about himself.

A judge believes the lies of a recidivist burglar who claims he has stopped offending (with some exceptions, of course) and shouldn’t go to jail for his latest crime because he might lose his (probably imaginary) job. Naive activists buy (with your tax dollars) into the idea that violent recidivists will change their ways if only they get the chance to read a good book, and recidivists are set free to read books with them.   

And a publicly-funded radio station gives a cop killer his own show.  Did Lovelle Mixon listen to Mumia Abu Jabal’s taxpayer-subsidized cop-hating ravings on Bay Area radio before gunning down four police officers?

Pushing back against all of this pro-criminal, anti-victim sentiment is hard.  Being a cop-killer on death row gets you your own radio show and endless cachet with academicians and media types, the people who set the terms of debate about criminal justice in America.  Being a crime victim gets you silenced, first by the criminal, then by the opinion-makers.  But to the credit of the San Francisco Chronicle, they do preface Lovelle Mixon’s words with the words of the man he car-jacked.  They’re worth reading carefully:

Victim’s story

The victim, Francisco Cardenas, told police that Mixon was holding a gun as the three “got me out of my car, telling me to shut up,” court records show. As he tried to run, the assailants hit him.

“Then I saw one of them shooting his gun at me,” Cardenas said. “After that, I don’t remember any more.”

Cardenas required 16 stitches. The men drove off in a car without stealing the truck, and police arrested Mixon and the others a short distance away. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

In a sentencing report, San Francisco probation officer Yvonne Williams wrote that Mixon’s juvenile record was that of a “cold-hearted individual who does not have any regard for human life.” She said state prison was the only way to “to rein in this man’s proclivity for violence.”

Somebody needs to promote Yvonne Williams and let the rest of us see what she saw in Mixon’s juvenile record.  If Williams’ words had been taken seriously, four men might be going home to their wives and children tonight.  

And somebody else needs to ask the question: why wasn’t Mixon charged with attempted murder?  Is bad aim a murder defense?

“What Went Wrong” in the Murder of Four Oakland, CA Police [Update #1, Below, 3/24]

Yesterday morning, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about “what went wrong” in the quadruple murder of police officers in Oakland, California.  The focus of that story was police procedure — an understandable line of inquiry with four policemen’s lives lost at two crime scenes.  Today, both the Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times ran stories covering the problems that arise when violent offenders like Lovelle Mixon, the man who killed the officers, are released on parole.

The Chronicle, however, starts every story by stressing how rare it is that parolees resort to violence.  And, of course, killing four officers is a thankfully rare tragedy.  But, as the Chronicle itself notes, fully two-thirds of California parolees are returned to prison for violating parole.  That’s two-thirds of the state’s 122,000 parolees.  Is violence really “rare” in this vast group of offenders?  Why do some newspapers reflexively minimize such horrific numbers, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the murder of four policemen?  There are more than 16,000 parolees in California currently wanted for parole violations.  12% of parolees in California abscond immediately upon leaving prison.  

There is nothing “rare” about these events.

When hashing out what went wrong in a violent crime, it’s also easy to lose sight of the most important thing that “went wrong”: a criminal chose, of his own free will, to violently victimize others.  No discussion of the details of the crime should distract from this fact.  Denial-laced justifications for Mixon’s choices and behavior — ‘parolees need more re-entry services,’ or ‘it’s prison that makes people more violent,’ or (my favorite) ‘he didn’t want to go back to jail,’ — are offensive yet predictable commentaries in the aftermath of violent crime.  Here are some factors other than Lovelle Mixon’s own choices that enabled Mixon to kill four innocent public servants over the weekend:        

Factor #1:  Lenience in sentencing.  In 2002, Mixon was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and armed robbery.  He was out on parole by 2007.  Assault with a deadly weapon + armed robbery = five years in prison?

Factor #2:  More Lenience in Sentencing, and Parole:  Mixon violated parole in 2008 and served nine more months in prison but was released to parole again.

Factor #3:  Lenience in Granting Parole.  In the Chronicle: “[t]he  California’s parole system has been thrust into the spotlight by the killings, but, in fact, experts say, it has been deteriorating ever since 1977, when the state’s determinate sentencing law went into effect.  Determinate sentencing means that when a prisoner is given a parole date, he must be released. Nuances about past offending behavior and whether someone is really suitable for parole go by the board.”      

Of course, the main factor remains this: Lovelle Mixon was a monster.  

To their credit, several in Lovelle Mixon’s family have reached out to the officers’ families with condolences.  But his sister is urging sympathy for Mixon.  “I don’t want people to think he’s a monster,” she said, “He’s just not. He’s just not.”    If murdering four people doesn’t make you a monster, what does?  Assault with a deadly weapon?  Rape?  (Mixon’s DNA was identified in a rape kit the day before he went on a killing spree).  Is it really too much to ask that the rehabilitation of Mixon be deferred to a later date?  

Of course, families say such things.  Mixon was hiding in this sister’s apartment: he murdered two of the officers in the room where her four-year-old slept.  

ABC News reported that a crowd of people “taunted police near the scene of the first shooting.”  The print media has not commented on this report.  Why not?


Update #1: Victor David Hanson writes about the “Therapeutic Impulse” of excusing criminals’ actions and the Oakland police killings in an article in Pajamas Media titled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Part One.”

What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms. 

However, these anti-incarceration advocates do not count the additional costs that arise whenever a person under “community control” (or a prisoner released early) commits more crime – costs that range from additional police and justice system expenses to the injury, fear, suffering, and financial losses experienced directly by their victims and indirectly by other community members.

A friend in Atlanta describes his own “aggregate burden of crime”  (I have removed some identifying details):

“When I first moved in, and the house was about to fall down, I was burglarized twice, believe it or not.  Looking at the condition of the house, you would have thought, this guy has nothing.  But, they came in twice anyway.  Didn’t take anything, because the boys next door heard them and ran them away.  I wasn’t there.  However, they had everything electronics in my suitcase, ready to go.

I then spent about $1,300 for the installation of the security system, and $28.95 a month for monitoring.  Later on, after I bought the TV, $1,300 for flat screen, which they took, I upgraded the system and cost me another $300 – $400 dollars.  J.W. had to come by and re-install the deadbolts that are keyed on both sides.  I know the argument about flippers on the inside lock (code for the city), but I changed them to keyed on the inside.

He charged me about $250.00 for everything, because he also drilled into the windows, with those metal cylinders to stop the opening of the windows.

Now, my nerves after those next two times of coming into my house almost made me sell the house and move.  But, to where?”

That’s $350 per year for home monitoring, $1,850 for installation of safety devices, and $1300 in losses.  Not to mention the home and auto insurance rates he must pay to live in the inner city, which are substantially higher than elsewhere; the high taxes he must pay to support the police and the courts, and the immutable fact that many offenders already live on the public dime, in subsidized housing with subsidized food and subsidized healthcare, all paid by the same people they victimize. 

And what cost do you put on peace of mind, after being broken into four times?

Those are the direct costs incurred by one victim who is surely not the only victim targeted by the offenders who broke into his house.  Does anyone break into only one stranger’s home?  This is not Les Misérables: they are not stealing bread to feed a starving child.  It is a lifestyle, one that simultaneously destroys the lifestyles of decent, compassionate, hard-working people like my friend. 


Criminologists in America do calculate the “aggregate burden of crime” here, but these statistics (see here, here, and here) never make it into public debates or newspaper articles.  Why not?  Why is the debate about incarceration versus “community sentencing,” or “three strikes laws,” or other crime-stopping initiatives carried out without any acknowledgement of the financial burdens communities face when offenders are not incarcerated? 

In contrast, in Britain and Wales, the “Economic and Social Costs of Crime Against Individuals and Households” statistics have been part of the public debate about crime policy for several years.  Here are the official 2003/2004 numbers.  Costs counted include: physical and emotional impact on direct victims, value of property stolen, property damaged/destroyed, victim services, lost output (significant for murders), health services, criminal justice costs, and costs in anticipation of crime.

Rather than relying on the Pew Center Report, which deceptively promises vast savings every time a convict doesn’t go to prison, it’s time for American journalists to begin seeking out better data on recidivism, crime costs, and the actual effectiveness and expenses arising from drug courts, other community sentencing programs, and judges’ decisions to simply let offenders go without punishment.

Outrage of the Week: Crayons and Gym Memberships, or Incarceration? Which Actually Costs Less?

A really interesting article in U.S.A. Today on the national push to get prisoners out of jail and into community programs.  

In a hushed conference room overlooking the town’s main drag, eight convicted felons, including an aspiring amateur fighter, brandish bright Crayola markers.

Their goal is to match their personalities to one of four colors. Tim Witte, 27, on probation for evading arrest, eyes the task as if sizing up a fellow middle-weight on Kansas’ gritty cage-fighting circuit. Witte and two drug offenders settle on orange.

The color, indicative of a restless, risk-taking personality, is the hue of choice for most offenders, says Michelle Stephenson, the corrections officer leading the unusual exercise. . . .

The class is part of a state effort to save millions of dollars in prison costs by changing how criminals are treated. Kansas is closing some prisons, boosting support for offenders on probation and declining to return them to prison for every probation violation. . . .

Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care.

During the past several months, for example, the office spent $110 to cover an offender’s utility payments; $500 for a rent payment; $600 for six bikes the office loans to get to job interviews; $77 for a YMCA membership to help an offender improve his physical condition and $320 for eight anger-management counseling sessions.

All of the assistance is aimed at keeping offenders out of costly prison cells, although Kansas officials say they are only beginning to review whether the offenders who received the assistance have committed new offenses.

Note that very little of this long article actually addresses the “against community sentencing” side, compared to the well-funded and well-placed “pro-community sentencing” activists.  The outspoken Joshua Marquis, alone, is quoted speaking in favor of incarceration. 

Note, too, that in the article, the Pew Center Study is quoted uncritically — even though their analysis of “cost savings with alternative sentencing” leaves out the cost of additional crimes that are committed by probationers and parolees who could be in prison at the time.  

Anti-incarceration advocacy groups like The Sentencing Project have deep pockets to fund their efforts to reduce prison sentences, free offenders to the community, and roll back the clock on the fragile gains made by victim advocates against recidivists over the last two decades.  The Sentencing Project’s “research” is advocacy-based, not objectivity-based, yet it is often reported as fact.  No sooner did we get some teeth into sentencing laws that removed repeat offenders from the streets than push-back began to free even the most prolific criminals.  

As federal funding for law enforcement begins to trickle down to the states, expect much of it to be diverted into efforts that actually release larger numbers of offenders into communities.  Those who feel that their money should not be spent on “alternatives to incarceration” will need to stay on top of grants coming to their cities and stay vocal with their legislators.  It’s clear that the media — even U.S.A. Today, which usually features thoughtful crime coverage — is not doing a very good job of covering both sides of this debate.

Why Crime Victims Media Report? [Updated below, 3/11/09]

Because of this.  Why does the media report so obsessively on the last meals of convicted murderers?  This man sexually attacked a woman, stabbed her, slit her throat, and then left her to die, which took 20 hours. 22 years later, he is scheduled to die, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports — on his last meal.  

Does the reporter also tell us anything so personal about the victim?  No, he defines her, briefly, as a “former amateur diving champion,” then gets to the real point of the article: fomenting sympathy for rapist/killer Robert Newland by recounting the pathos of his prison diet.  Seasoned collard greens?  Bread pudding?  

The victim takes up less space than the description of her killer’s dinner tray.  

How about telling us how much it cost us to keep this man alive through twenty years of appeals?  You don’t need to support the death penalty to abhor the casual sentimentality piled onto predators (in fact, death penalty opponents would get a lot further with the public if they cut this stuff out).  Why do we need to know how his collard greens were prepared, but we don’t need to know what was spent on his lawyers?  

Why a pity party instead of facts, except that this is what the media has done for so long that it seems natural that death row cases are reported this way.  But it isn’t natural.  It may be “traditional” to cover last meals, but this is a sick tradition, merely a last effort to bump up the compassion factor for a man who showed no compassion.  Newspapers should save descriptions of “last meals” for editorials because they are an editorial statement: feel pity for this man.     

And why an exclusive pity party for the perpetrator alone, and not his victim?  Was Carol Sanders Beatty awake during those 20 hours?  Did she know what was happening?  Did she die alone?  Did she have loved ones? 

What was her last meal?


[Update #1, 3/11/09]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story today, “Georgia Man Executed for Murdering Woman in ’86,” with more information about Robert Newland’s crime:

Newland went to Beatty’s duplex on May 30, 1986, after a drinking binge and tried to kiss her, authorities said. When she refused his advances, scratching and slapping him, he drew a knife and slashed her neck and stabbed her repeatedly.                                                                         

They also reported on the victim’s last hours.  Carol Sanders Beatty did not die alone: with a detective’s help, she managed to spell out her assailant’s name:

Police found Beatty lying in her garden and rushed her to the hospital. A doctor noticed she was moving her lips to try to say something, but couldn’t pronounce the words.

He summoned a detective, who asked her if she was saying “Bob.” She nodded her head. When asked the last name of her assailant, the detective ticked through the alphabet. When he reached “N” she “nodded her head vigorously,” and squeezed his hand, court documents say.

She ended up spelling out “N-E-W-L-A” and when the detective asked if the last name was Newland, she nodded again and squeezed his hand. She died hours later.

Carol Sanders Beatty was executed by Robert Newland in 1986; Robert Newland was executed by the State in 2009, nearly 23 years later.  Here are people protesting the latter execution.  Note the sign that says, “Kill Fascism Now.”  Robert Newland’s defense attorney mounted a similar protest before the Georgia Supreme Court earlier this week, arguing that death was an arbitrary and disproportionate punishment for Newland — not disproportionate to what Beatty suffered, but disproportionate to the punishment (some) other murderers received in Georgia.  The argument for proportionality goes something like this: if I can come up with a list of murderers who received lesser sentences for similar crimes, then my client should receive a lesser sentence too.  Of course, you cannot go back to a conviction and find that the defendant actually deserved death, not life, or life without parole instead of life with parole.  The justice system, far from being fascist, is designed largely around this pursuit of “lesser sentencing.”  

The Georgia Supreme Court denied the request to commute Newland’s sentence to life without parole on the grounds of disproportionality.  They also rejected arguments that Newland should be held less responsible for his crime because, according to his defense attorney, he had been sexually and physically molested as a child, and because the murder was directly related to his alcohol and drug addictions.

The Case of the Missing Zero or 785 Officers

WHAT a difference a month makes. Or does it?

A few short weeks ago, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington and Mayor Shirley Franklin were working overtime to insist that residents’ concerns over crime were overblown. “The city is safer now than it has been in decades,” the Mayor callously announced when the brutal murder of bartender John Henderson mobilized residents to demand more police on the streets.

In another scolding published in the wake of that crime, Chief Pennington insisted that, “we have enough resources to deal with it,” “it” meaning crime (making him possibly the first Chief of Police in half a century to make such a claim). He suggested that citizens were simply “perceiving” crime more intensely now that the Internet enabled people to tell each other about crimes that were occurring in different parts of the city.

OOPS. The Internet certainly did that. It also enabled residents to compare notes on what they were seeing on the streets versus what the police department was posting on its website. It allowed them to ponder the often-craven ways the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing work with the Mayor to dismiss concerns about home invasions, like the schmaltzy two-step in which the AJC published a highly selective study of crime statistics one Sunday and Mayor Franklin, a mere four days later, published an editorial in the paper praising the study and using it to bludgeon residents’ concerns about home invasions.

The Internet interrupted this closed-loop system so abruptly that officials and reporters are now scrambling in its wake. Fourteen days after Chief Pennington told reporter Tim Eberly that the Atlanta Police Department didn’t need more resources to keep the city from “becoming less safe,” and one day after the AJC published its “study” showing select crimes in certain places were down, and three days before the mayor thanked the paper for showing the protesters that the city didn’t need more police officers, the AJC wedged in another article reporting that Chief Pennington also said “the city will soon need 2,400 officers.”

That is 785 more officers than the current number, 1,615. Or, to put it another way, a 48% increase in the number of police on the streets.

So according to Chief Pennington, Atlanta either has enough police on the streets right now to combat crime, or it needs to increase the size of its force by 48%. “Soon.”

PERHAPS in order to back away from this absurd and bizarre game of numbers, Pennington has now announced the formation of a task force to investigate burglaries of flat-screen televisions. Or perhaps he is really reaching out to the public.

(Shirley Franklin, who cannot run for mayor again and already has one foot out the door and firmly planted, no doubt, in some half dozen lucrative consulting contracts, doesn’t need to come up with plans to fight crime anymore and has thus said nothing.)

I sincerely applaud any effort Chief Pennington is willing to make to do something about burglary, or any other crime. And I personally think that most of the problem of not addressing criminal behavior lies with the courts, not in the police department. But there’s an element of minimizing the truly threatening nature of these home invasions by creating a “task force to investigate the burglaries of flat-screen televisions.” Why not a task force to investigate the invasions of homes?

This minimizing of crime is not incidental: it is of a piece with everything else that has been said to the citizens of Atlanta, and especially to crime victims and activists, by the Mayor and the Chief of Police since John Henderson was murdered.

So before anyone is permitted to shift the conversation to using DNA to protect television ownership, I think Chief Pennington needs to change the tone of the conversation itself. There needs to be unambiguous acknowledgment of the real problem. It’s not about “property”: it’s about the real danger created by numbly sociopathic or drug-crazed criminals who are kicking in the doors of people’s homes. It’s about never feeling safe because you know there are criminals stalking your neighborhood, waiting for you to leave for work in the morning, and wondering if your wife is going to be safe at home after the car’s not in the driveway at 9:05 a.m.

Chief Pennington needs to acknowledge this instead of playing it down by talking about property theft, even if that’s what the Mayor and many (not all) journalists seem to be trying to do.

I’M certain there are things I don’t know about Pennington, but he did have a reputation as a reformer, someone who did a great deal to clean up the force in New Orleans. I want to believe that he really wants 2,400 cops on the streets and that he believes that every home invasion (home invasion necessarily precedes ripping the flat-screen from the wall) is an intense, personal, violent crime.

Behind statistics there are always intentions. NYPD Chief William Bratton intended to lower crime, so he used crime statistics to solve crimes, not to deny their existence in the newspaper.

Bratton didn’t lecture people about the difference between “violent” and “non-violent” home break-ins or the “victimless” nature of turn-style jumping: he instituted CompStat, which, if you think about it, works precisely because it got the police thinking about property crimes as potential predictors of future violent crime.

Exactly the opposite is happening in Atlanta. But it’s not too late for Pennington to turn that message around.