Oakland Police Massacre Casts Ugly Glare on Ex-Felon Desperation

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Mar 23, 2009

Editor’s Note: The killing of four police officers in Oakland shows the desperation of an ex-felon. Lovelle Mixon was trying to avoid going back to jail and at the same time unable to find any employment that would give him a second chance. It’s a story repeated all over America, even if it does not always end in a killing spree as it did in Oakland, says NAM contributing editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard in Los Angeles on KTYM 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com.

A general consensus is that it was a deadly mix of panic, rage, and frustration that caused Lovelle Mixon to snap. His shocking murderous rampage left four Oakland police officers dead and a city and police agencies searching its soul about what went so terribly wrong. Though Mixon’s killing spree is a horrible aberration, his plight as an
unemployed ex-felon isn’t. There are tens of thousands like him on America’s streets.

In 2007, the National Institute of Justice found that 60 percent of ex-felon offenders remain unemployed a year after their release. Other studies have shown that upwards of 30 percent of felon releases live in homeless shelters because of their inability to find housing. And those are the lucky ones. Many camp out on the streets.

A significant number of them suffer from drug, alcohol and mental health challenges, and lack education or any marketable skills. More than 70 percent of all U.S. prisoners are literate at only the two lowest grade levels. Nearly 60 percent of violent felons are repeat offenders. They are a menace to themselves and, as the nation saw with Mixon, to others. In some cases, they can be set off by any real or perceived slight, insult, or simply lash out from bitter rage. Mixon was one and he made four Oakland police officers victims and left a terrible trail of grieving and distraught families and a shell-shocked city and police department.

The answer to the Mixons isn’t easy and simple. The need is to strike a fine and delicate balance between public safety and ex-felon rehabilitation. A big obstacle to making ex-felons law abiding, productive citizens is the continuing inability of many ex-felons to find jobs. City officials in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, and Atlanta have been repeatedly challenged to take action to end employer discrimination against ex-felons. The demand has been to restrict what employers can and can’t ask on job applications.

In a revealing study in 2003 and duplicated again several years later, Northwestern University Professor Devah Pager hired groups of African American and white young men with identical resumes and experience to pose as job applicants. Some were told to say they had a drug felony. The study found that when they checked the felony conviction box on applications, it reduced the white applicants' chance of an interview by 50 percent. For black applicants, their chance of landing the job was reduced by two-thirds.

To counter employer discrimination against ex-felons, nearly a dozen states, counties and cities have enacted laws in recent years to sharply limit what employers can ask applicants about criminal records. But that reform effort has stirred fierce resistance from employer groups. Washington, D.C. is a near textbook example of that.

Nearly 3,000 former prisoners are released and return to the district each year. Most fit the standard ex-felon profile. They are poor, with limited education and job skills, and come from broken or dysfunctional homes. Researchers again found that the single biggest factor that pushed them back to the streets, crime, violence and, inevitably, repeat incarceration was their failure to find work.

In 2007, the District of Columbia city council passed a measure that would have banned discrimination in employment as well as housing and education against ex-felons. It was vetoed by then Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The heat on Williams came from business groups that claimed that they’d be sued by rejected applicants.

Similar legislation has been kicked around in Congress since 2005. It hasn’t fared much better. The bill called the Second Chance Act is a relatively mild measure to pump about $100 million to local and state agencies for education, job and skills training, counseling, and family unification programs to stem the high rate of recidivism among
ex-felons.

President Obama has often spoken of the need to unhinge the revolving door of felon release and re-incarceration. He backs the Second Chance legislation. But with the economy and the financial crisis dominating the White House and Congressional agendas, the likelihood that ex-felon aid will get immediate attention is slim.

In the meantime, the ranks of the felon underclass will continue to balloon. At last count, there were an estimated 12 million people in the United States with felony convictions. That’s nearly 10 percent of the working-age population. And with jails bulging and states desperately trying to figure out how to cut jail costs and increasingly resorting to early release, more ex-felons will be on the streets. The current estimate is that more than 600,000 offenders are now being released from prisons yearly.

Mixon, unfortunately, was one of them. And others like him are ticking time bombs that endanger themselves and others. Oakland tragically showed that.

Related Articles:

First Response: Oakland Young People React to Police Killings

The High Cost of Police Brutality

I'm Not Surprised At All: Bay Area youth respond to Oscar Grant shooting and protests




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KTucker on Apr 17, 2009 at 10:28:45 said:

There is no excuse for Mixon. I am a ex-felon. I fully served the sentence imposed upon me for my conviction, and been living without incident in the community for 20yrs.
I was layoff in August. I can't find a job because of my conviction. I believe everybody, but murderer and rapist deserve a 2nd change. After 5 to 7 years a record should be expunge or put in a file where the prosecutor can see it.


KTucker on Apr 17, 2009 at 10:26:33 said:

There is no excuse for Mixon. I am a ex-felon. I fully served the sentence imposed upon me for my conviction, and been living without incident in the community for 20yrs.
I was layoff in August. I can find a job because of my conviction. I believe everybody, but murderer and rapist deserve a 2nd change. After 5 to 7 years a record should be expunge or put in a file where the prosecutor can see it.


Pear Fence on Mar 25, 2009 at 16:28:27 said:

I just got laid off for the third time in two years, and I'm collecting unemployment for the second time in two years, and the county I live in has a 20% unemployment rate. I think I'll go out and commit a series of violent sexual assaults that culminate in a running gun battle wherein I, and as many others as possible, die in a hail of lead. Nah - changed my mind. I think I'll try to get yet another job and keep voting for competent, honest politicians instead.

What does a job have to do with this? Is there any proof that Mr. Mixon was looking for a job? He missed three separate appointments with his parole officer - that isn't the kind of stellar attendance record that gets The Man too excited. And he wasn't shoplifting food, or stealing clothing - he was raping little girls. And he was pulling armed robberies years and years ago, before he entered the criminal justice system and became an unemployable parolee.

Even if one buys the 'justifiable rage made me into a cop killer' argument, how exactly do you explain away Mr. Mixon's lifelong criminality? How do you argue that a twelve-year-old girl was a rational target for his rage? Bah.

Explaining away Mr. Mixon's crimes is, frankly, offensive and disgusting. He was a violent man who preyed on those weaker than he was. In escalating vileness, he was a thief and a robber and a rapist and a child molester and a murderer. His death is, in isolation, nothing to mourn or celebrate. His life is something to mourn, and the horrors he inflicted on others is something to mourn, but his death - in and of itself - is not tragic or lamentable or sad. It does not need to be 'explained' in terms of macro-economic theory, and doing so is an affront to the tens of thousands of parolees who DO NOT rape, or murder, out of frustration. You owe an apology to every parolee who did their time, honored the terms of their early release, and got a decent job.


Pear Fence on Mar 25, 2009 at 14:53:26 said:

I just got laid off for the third time in two years, and I'm collecting unemployment for the second time in two years, and the county I live in has a 20% unemployment rate. I think I'll go out and commit a series of violent sexual assaults that culminate in a running gun battle wherein I, and as many others as possible, die in a hail of lead. Nah - changed my mind. I think I'll try to get yet another job and keep voting for competent, honest politicians instead.

What does a job have to do with this? Is there any proof that Mr. Mixon was looking for a job? He missed three separate appointments with his parole officer - that isn't the kind of stellar attendance record that gets The Man too excited. And he wasn't shoplifting food, or stealing clothing - he was raping little girls. And he was pulling armed robberies years and years ago, before he entered the criminal justice system and became an unemployable parolee.

Even if one buys the 'justifiable rage made me into a cop killer' argument, how exactly do you explain away Mr. Mixon's lifelong criminality? How do you argue that a twelve-year-old girl was a rational target for his rage? Bah.

Explaining away Mr. Mixon's crimes is, frankly, offensive and disgusting. He was a violent man who preyed on those weaker than he was. In escalating vileness, he was a thief and a robber and a rapist and a child molester and a murderer. His death is, in isolation, nothing to mourn or celebrate. His life is something to mourn, and the horrors he inflicted on others is something to mourn, but his death - in and of itself - is not tragic or lamentable or sad. It does not need to be 'explained' in terms of macro-economic theory, and doing so is an affront to the tens of thousands of parolees who DO NOT rape, or murder, out of frustration. You owe an apology to every parolee who did their time, honored the terms of their early release, and got a decent job.


Linda on Mar 24, 2009 at 13:35:45 said:

===Similar legislation has been kicked around in Congress since 2005. It hasn’t fared much better. The bill called the Second Chance Act is a relatively mild measure to pump about $100 million to local and state agencies for education, job and skills training, counseling, and family unification programs to stem the high rate of recidivism among
ex-felons.===

This is why I mourn the loss of real journalism.

The bill to which the writer refers was signed by Bush on April 9, 2008 and funds have now been made available for the first round of grants.

The solicitation for the first round of grants was released on February 27. Additional solicitations are forthcoming.


mike goldberg on Mar 23, 2009 at 23:15:40 said:

It's a tragedy when people who want to work can't find work, and we see what it can lead to, whether it's police officers, their own family, or someone else who pays the price. But I don't really want to limit employer's rights to know about people's bankgrounds or their discretion about who it is safe or prudent for them to hire. If the gov't can't get private industry to help thru positive incentives, then they should help provide the work themselves more directly. It's that important.


flaherty danny on Mar 23, 2009 at 19:53:13 said:

keep kids in school at all costs,but dicrimination ect i call bullshi* on that.This piece of garbage is a killer simple as that lets excecute them by the boatloads


flaherty danny on Mar 23, 2009 at 18:46:10 said:

keep kids in school at all costs,but dicrimination ect i call bullshi* on that.This piece of garbage is a killer simple as that lets excecute them by the boatloads


PRichard on Mar 23, 2009 at 17:00:38 said:

Discrimination ? WELL - guess what .....
As a employer, I DAM right have a right to know who I may have working for me ....
IF U feel so strong about it - U hire him/
SLEEP in UR house/ E t c...........
There are some that make out ok - However,
few and far between. Don't want a "sticky" finger person working my cash register..


Vega, Daniel on Mar 23, 2009 at 15:46:57 said:

This is why we need to stop the discrimination. Think about it, if people aren't working, they will commit crimes resulting in pain, anguish and jail time which is stupid because taxes pay for prison but since no one wants to pay taxes we whine and moan when cons are released to make room for others, some which can not find jobs.

You made your bed, now sleep in it

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