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.”