40 years for four shots

Brandon Spencer is paying a 40-year price for four shots that killed no one

By Olga Grigoryants and Daina Beth Solomon

brandon-spencerLike any proud father, James Spencer is eager to show off photos of his son.

Seated at a desk in his Inglewood apartment on a recent Friday evening, the 59-year-old shuffled legal documents, news clippings and letters until he unearthed a photo of a young man wearing a white dress shirt and a black tie — Brandon Spencer at age 18, suited up for work as a security guard.

Now the younger Spencer wears a different uniform. He has recently begun serving a 40 year prison term for opening fire at a Halloween party two years ago at the University of Southern California. 

When neighbors, friends and family heard that Spencer had been charged with four counts of attempted murder, many reacted with disbelief. They thought: “Nah, it can’t be Brandon.”
[Read more…]

South LA police brutality vigil turns into protest

People gathered in Leimert Park to give a moment of silence and also vocalize their anger at police brutality | Alex Kanegawa

People gathered in Leimert Park to give a moment of silence and also vocalize their anger at police brutality | Alex Kanegawa

Initially designed as a peaceful vigil for victims of police brutality, the high-profile shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Ezell Ford in South L.A. turned Thursday’s National Moment of Silence into an outlet for anger.

Crowds swelled in Leimert Park to voice their frustrations, just days after a LAPD officer shot and killed Ford, 25, a little less than 5 miles away from the gathering. Like Brown, Ford was also unarmed.

A community activist known as Feminista Jones—whose real name is Michelle according to USA Today—was, like many, glued to the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. She took inspiration from a planned vigil in New York to create an event called National Moment of Silence, popularized through its hashtag, #NMOS14.

From Long Island to San Diego, the event was designed to be, according to the Los Angeles Facebook page, “not protests, not rallies, just peaceful gatherings of friends.”

The L.A. gathering was held in Leimert Park, an area significant to African-Americans in South Los Angeles. People from outside the greater L.A. region also came to show their support, such as Joanna Lopez from the Inland Empire. Lopez came out for her 4-year-old son who is half-black and half-Latino.

“I feel like if I don’t step up, no one will,” Lopez said. “He will soon be a young man, and I would like him to feel safe.”

At around 4:00 p.m., a large crowd comprised mostly of African-Americans gathered peacefully with a variety of signs that read, “We stand with Ferguson,” and “Black lives matter.”

The gathering was led by citizens such as Najee Ali and members affiliated with Revcom, who gave speeches on police injustice against people of color throughout the country. When the group called for a moment of silence for victims of police brutality, the crowd raised their hands—a nod to Brown who, according to witnesses, was shot with his hands in the air.

NMOS14 was meant to be a quiet vigil, but anger and impatience ran high in Leimert Park, especially after the recent death of Ezell Ford, who was shot by the LAPD on Aug. 11. After the moment of silence, speeches by Ali and Revcom members were met with cheers and calls to “stop just standing around.” Actress Jenifer Lewis, who grew up around Ferguson, took up a microphone and recounted that “she was one of those people.”

“I want you all to take to social media, write so many letters to the White House that they can’t get out the door,” Kuenta said as she stamped her foot. “We need to tell the authorities to stop shooting our children.”

This prompted the crowd to march down Leimert. LAPD officers were nearby, and a drone even flew above the demonstrators, but authorities kept their distance.

The vigil-tuned-protest caused some mixed feelings from Breanna Jordan, a teacher who came to honor one of her students who was shot, unarmed, by police last year.

“Protest is good, but eventually these things die down. I want to see how we can organize to actually make change,” Jordan said. “All this yelling, I understand why some people are upset, but at the end of the that that’s just going to start nothing.”

Others, such as Alphi Black, want to see more action taken in situations of transparent police brutality. Black is from St. Louis, Mo. and is temporarily living in Los Angeles. She came to Leimert Park because she wanted to give support even though she couldn’t be in St. Louis.

“I’m going to be honest, in Ferguson there’s a lot more than peaceful protest that’s needed. It’s ground zero—the anger and energy is higher there, the police are agitating the situation. I’m not saying violent protest is needed, but if they are meeting us with violence, then we deserve to retaliate.”

For many people in the crowd, angry emotions stemmed from personal connections—such as Lopez’s fear for her son and Lewis’s childhood around Ferguson. The gratitude expressed by Deric Lewis, Michael Brown’s cousin, served as a reminder that the gathering was of a united community. Lewis even gave thanks to the media, who were initially slow to cover events in Ferguson until national outlets arrived on Tuesday.

“I came to show my support along with these people,” he said. “So thank you for coming out here to let people know what’s going on.”

Beyond the anger, some people called for peace. Mir Harris took up a microphone to tell the crowd to be mindful of how they treat others in their daily conversations. Change, it was implied, starts with individuals showing respect to each other in their communities.

For those who were critical of the approach, Harris made her feelings clear: “Don’t worry about who’s in front of the camera. Fuck knowing my name, just know that I’m as passionate as you are.”

Though NMOS14 was supposed to be merely a vigil, the high emotions that ran in Leimert Park strengthened the ties between those from both inside and outside L.A., and hardened people’s resolve to support the people protesting in Ferguson against racial injustice and police brutality.

This article was originally published on Neon Tommy.

An unexplained death in South LA

The South L.A. apartment where the LAPD found Stanley Thiesfield | Daina Beth Solomon

The South L.A. apartment where the LAPD found Stanley Thiesfield | Daina Beth Solomon

When police officers arrived at a two-room apartment just south of USC last fall to investigate complaints of foul odors, they found a body decomposed beyond recognition.

Something else caught their attention, too — the black electrical cord knotted around the man’s neck.

A Los Angeles Police detective declared the apartment a crime scene and set about collecting mail, business cards, fingerprints, DNA samples — anything that might offer clues about the dead man’s life, and how and why he’d died. A driver’s license revealed a name: Stanley Thiesfield.

Almost a year later, the fact that Thiesfield died at age 59 remains one of the only conclusions of the investigation. 
[Read more…]

USC student tells of racial profiling in South LA

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa is a University of Southern California junior double-majoring in computer science and physics. But as a black man two inches over six-feet-tall, he gets asked what position he plays on basketball team more often than his major. The question comes up so often that he has given himself his own, unofficial basketball number.

“If you hear about a point-guard named number six, that’s actually me,” said Oduguwa.

But the assumptions aren’t always so harmless.

Oduguwa learned the hard way when officers from the USC Department of Public Safety stopped him one night outside of his apartment and, without explanation, asked to see his ID.

After being question, Oduguwa realized that he was suspected of choking a young woman in the building across from his own. It wasn’t until a friend vouched for Oduguwa that he was finally released. [Read more…]

Brandon Spencer’s father speaks out against son’s 40-year sentencing

James Spencer at a press conference in Leimert Park | Camille Requiestas

James Spencer at a press conference in Leimert Park | Camille Requiestas

Brandon Spencer, a 21-year-old South L.A. native, was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison last week for four counts of attempted murder. On Halloween night in 2012, Spencer opened fire at a party at the center of campus at the University of Southern California.

Spencer’s father, James Spencer, has declared the sentence unjust. He held a press conference at Leimert Park on Tuesday to protest the decision, saying it was motivated just to placate USC.

Listen to his comments and the response from the District Attorney in a story from Annenberg Radio News

[Read more…]

Obama announces My Brother’s Keeper initiative for young men of color


Obama announces My Brother’s Keeper | Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama pledged $200 million last week to My Brother’s Keeper, a collection of programs across the country designed to help young, at-risk men of Black and Latino backgrounds to become successful. He said one objective is to guarantee that “every child in America” can access “a world-class education.”

In California, young boys and men of color experienced the lowest graduation rates and the highest incarceration rates. They are also the most likely to be involved in violent crimes. Many state organizations are stepping up to participate in My Brother’s Keeper, including The California Endowment. The group has committed $50 million to improve education and provide healthcare programs.

To hear from the California Endowment’s spokesman and other commentators on the possible impact of Obama’s initiative, click play on an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

South LA protest pays tribute to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis

A scene from the protest | Isaac Moody

A scene from the protest | Isaac Moody

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network staged a protest in South Los Angeles yesterday in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, both African-American 17-year-olds from Florida who were killed in 2012. At the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, community members rallied to draw attention to the criminalization of youth of color as well as the pipeline that can lead to incarceration. The rally was accompanied with massive posters of the boys’ photos along with bold statements like “We are all Trayvon” and “The whole damn system is guilty.”

“There’s a green light to shoot and murder, to criminalize and incarcerate Black and Latino youth in this society, that’s gotta stop,” said one protester. Click play to hear more of the charged voices and opinions from the event.

South LA woman pleads not guilty to attempted murder

Patricia Cormack's residence in South L.A.'s Hyde Park. | Google Maps

Patricia Cormack’s residence in South L.A.’s Hyde Park. | Google Maps

A 55-year-old woman described by neighbors as a friendly church-goer who had taken care of foster children pleaded not guilty Friday to the attempted murder of her boyfriend and his brother at her home in South L.A.’s Hyde Park.

Patricia Cormack is being held on ­­­­­­­­­$4 million bail, said a district attorney spokeswoman, and will appear next in court on Jan. 24.

The pre-dawn shooting on Dec. 30 left Derek Everett and Darryl Ward hospitalized with multiple wounds, police said. The criminal complaint filed by the DA describes the weapon as a handgun.

Officers found the men, both in their fifties, asking for help shortly after 5:30 a.m., said Detective Ernie Mendoza. Police detained Cormack the same morning and searched her home before arresting her on $500,000 bail. Detectives haven’t revealed the suspected motive for the shooting.

Neighbors on a quiet block of 74th St. with well-kept single-family homes said they were surprised to find police cars, ambulances and helicopters rushing to their block that morning.

Megan Faux, who has lived across the street from where the shooting occurred since 2000, said Cormack regularly attended services on Sundays and bible study on Wednesdays at the City of Refuge church in Gardena. Faux also said Cormack had taken care of girls in foster care.

One neighbor on the block said Cormack was a “pleasant lady” who would greet her on the street. Another said she often saw Cormack walking a small, fluffy white dog.

Cormack’s next-door neighbor awoke Monday morning to the barking of his Rottweiler-German shepherd and saw police arrive to assist the wounded men.

“The first guy came out, put his hands up, saying, ‘She shot me,’” he recalled. The second followed, then Cormack emerged without resisting arrest, he said.

The brothers lived at the residence and had helped take care of Cormack’s mother before she died a couple of months ago, said the neighbor, who requested anonymity. The family owned the house for at least 30 years, he said, as long as his own family had lived on the block. Lately, Cormack had talked about wanting to move out.

Cormack’s two-bedroom white stucco house with a Mediterranean red tile roof showed no sign of a scuffle on Monday afternoon, at least from outside. A green watering hose was curled on the trimmed lawn. A silver Mercedes with a crucifix hanging from the rearview mirror was parked in the driveway behind what appeared to be an old, rust-colored Dodge bearing a blue-and-yellow California license plate. Children’s playthings, including a Disney-themed toy car in hot pink, were scattered near the arched entryway.

In 1994 Cormack pleaded guilty to drug possession with intent to sell, according to county records. The charges were dismissed four years later after she completed a court-ordered program and probation. If convicted for attempted murder, Cormack could face a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Reach the author at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dainabethcita.

South LA neighborhood in the aftermath of the Martha Sanchez shooting

Photo courtesy: Sinduja Rangarajan

Photo Credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Brenda Ramirez and her husband had finished work and were driving home when they saw police and a crowd gathered around a South Los Angeles discount store a block away from their upholstery shop.

Enrique Espino, a high school student, was sitting on his couch watching TV when he heard his neighbors run out of their homes. Eva Alvarez, who was working in her bail bond store, saw an ambulance on her store’s surveillance camera and sprinted towards the shop across the street.

Their neighbor, Martha Sanchez, had been shot. [Read more…]

October 22nd Coalition protests police brutality in South LA

Oct22CoalitionAt the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson on Tuesday, protesters wearing hoodies in commemoration of Trayvon Martin drew honks from passing cars as they waved signs and chanted. Their message? That police brutality needs to end.

The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation has organized this “National Day of Protest” every Oct. 22 for the past 18 years. (It takes its name from the date of the first protest in 1996.)

The coalition aims to “give ground to the families, people who have lost loved ones by the hands of police,” said one protester.

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News to learn more: