Category Archives: Social issues

Veterans courts changing lives

by Rebecca Rosen Lum

Trained for hyper-vigilance and even violence, veterans often find it hard to adjust to civilian life. Coming home is doubly difficult for those who suffer brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or sexual trauma. For some, that leads to scrapes with the law.

Combining treatment, support, and criminal justice, San Diego County’s Veterans Court, founded in 2011, aims to help defendants avoid reoffending by offering them pretrial diversion and extra supervision. The program, now replicated in 15 courts across California, is a collaboration of the superior court, defense lawyers and prosecutors, treatment providers, and the California Veterans Legal Task Force

Steve Binder, a San Diego defense attorney who has represented vets since 1989, when PTSD was poorly understood, says they’re motivated. “They are responsible; that’s why they took bullets,” he says. “As criminal justice practitioners, it’s our job to refocus their behaviors.”

To participate, veterans must show their offense is connected with a condition related to their military serviceMost veterans courts accept felony as well as misdemeanor cases but won’t hear serious felonies like arson, homicide, or weapons assault. Recidivists and registered sex offenders are ineligible. In San Diego, the caseload is about evenly divided among domestic violence, driving under the influence, and assault, and participating prosecutors are vets themselves.

We had one Iraq veteran who went after the pizza delivery guy,” says assistant DA Harrison Kennedy. “Who does that? He showed up in court and spoke directly to the guy, saying what a terrible thing he had done. He said, ‘I wanted to hurt everyone because I was hurting.’ The pizza guy listened and said ‘I accept your apology.’”

Veterans’ support networks and their respect for structure and authority help, says Michael Leon, probation services manager for the San Mateo County specialty courts.

It’s a very complex process with a lot of players,” says Leon. But “it feels really great to feel you are doing something right.”


Veterans Court stats:

7,700 vets: served in specialized courts in California 2011-2013.

70 percent: finished the programs

75 percent: weren’t rearrested for two years

70 percent: California’s overall recidivism rate in 2012

SOURCES: Veterans Administration; National Association of Drug Court Professionals; California Forward.


This story appeared in California Lawyer magazine.


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Filed under Government, Justice, Social issues

New rabbi walking in big family footsteps

Thursday, February 7, 2013 | by rebecca rosen lum

Rabbi Barnett Brickner is more than just a third-generation rabbi.

He carries with him an illustrious family history with influence spanning two world wars, several social movements and a sea change in the Reform movement.

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Filed under Jewish community, Social issues

‘The Journey of Not Coming Back’

By Rebecca Rosen Lum
Contra Costa Times

Of the millions of Iraqi refugees seeking new homes, relatively few are making their way to the United States — and just a trickle reach the Bay Area.

They arrive exhausted and stunned, having seen their homes smashed to rubble, and relatives beaten or shot to death.

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Filed under Faith, Immigration, Social issues, War

Christian family abandons homeland amid strife

by Rebecca Rosen Lum
Contra Costa Times

Life in Fallujah was already dangerous before Samiya Bashir, her three daughters and son learned American and Iraqi forces would soon converge on their neighborhood.

Men with unfamiliar accents would stop them in their car and demand to know why the women didn’t cover their heads. One day, two men sideswiped them, forced them to stop and tried to pull one of the women from the car.

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Filed under Faith, Immigration, Social issues, War

War-scarred children embrace new life

by Rebecca Rosen Lum 
Contra Costa Times

Kate’s smooth brow buckles when she thinks about the soldiers who muscled their way into the house where she lived with her grandmother — plundering belongings, forcing their attentions on her and ordering the two to prepare meals.

“The soldiers make me too sad,” said Kate, who is a member of a discriminated-against ethnic minority group in her native Myanmar. “I don’t like.”

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Filed under Children and youth, Immigration, Social issues, War

Barriers to reentry challenge parolees looking for work, stable lives

by Rebecca Rosen Lum
Oakland Local

Some 30 people, mostly men, pack around a long table at the Private Industry Council in downtown Oakland.

The room looks something like a community college class: A span of ages, attentive, dressed neatly, but informally. But everyone in this class is either on probation or parole.

They are low-level offenders – those for whom prison Gov. Jerry Brown crafted prison realignment. They are here to find out what they need – and what they need to leave behind – to find work.

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Filed under Health, Incarceration, Social issues

Marin agency spearheads land mine removal project in West Bank

Roots of Peace, a Marin-based nonprofit on a mission to remove land mines around the world, has brokered a historic agreement to remove toxic land mines in and around Bethlehem.

The announcement came last month, some 21⁄2 years after a land mine in the Golan Heights blew the leg off an 11-year-old Israeli boy who was hiking. Following that incident, Israel got to work on a land mine removal bill and formed the National Authority for Landmine Clearance.

Roots of Peace helped promote the bill, which passed in March 2011.

Now Heidi Kuhn, founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, is in the Holy Land to help kick off the detonation and removal of more than 1 million land mines in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and elsewhere that were laid in the 1950s and 1960s. Crews have started work in the upper Arava Valley, and the Bethlehem project will follow.

“All it takes is a kid chasing a soccer ball for tragedy to occur,” said Kuhn, who arrived in Israel on Jan. 14.

The West Bank land mine removal project is supported by both Israeli and Palestinian governments, Kuhn said.

In December, Bethlehem Gov. Abdul Fattah Hamayel and a Palestinian Authority official from the Ministry of Interior met with Kuhn in Ramallah and signed off on the deal. In addition, according to a Roots of Peace spokesperson, a company based in Israel is doing the demining — a rare example of cooperation between the P.A. and an Israeli company, one Israeli official noted.

“There are an estimated 1.5 million landmines and unexploded ordnance planted in the Holy Land — preventing shepherds from tending to their sheep and children from walking the sacred lands,” Hamayel stated, according to a Roots of Peace press release. “Roots of Peace will lead the way with the historic demining and replanting consortium in the fields of Bethlehem.”

Kuhn spent months negotiating with the Israeli government, the P.A., the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations Mine Action Service.

“Two years ago, these conversations were fraught with anger,” said Kuhn, a San Rafael resident who is not Jewish.

“We don’t point fingers,” she added, referring to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “We just want to get them [the land mines] out. This makes more land available than the land they are fighting over.”

Fifteen years ago, Kuhn took on the mission of clearing an estimated 70 million landmines that endanger children and render fertile ground unusable in 70 countries.

In the West Bank and the Jordan River Valley, land mines contaminate some 50,000 acres, Kuhn said. Compounding the danger, heavy rains and mudslides can spread the explosives into areas populated by unsuspecting residents.

Human rights activists long had despaired that the Jewish state was not taking steps to rid the land of the mines. Although land mines had claimed lives and limbs, primarily of children, the government had declined to sign the 1997 U.N. Mine Ban Treaty.

“Their attitude was, ‘We cannot clear landmines because we are at war,’ ” said Noah Griffin, director of communications for Roots of Peace. Some feared a public education campaign might scare off tourists, he said.

But “things changed drastically,” he added, after young Daniel Yuval, playing with his sister on a rare snowy day in the Golan Heights, stepped on a landmine in February 2010.

“No one could turn his back on Daniel,” Griffin said.

Children are at particular risk, according to UNICEF. Youngsters step on the explosives while herding animals or searching for firewood. Any warning signs would be of no use to children too young to read.

Preliminary explorations revealed the land mines in the West Bank and Golan Heights were not part of an active military campaign but remnants of various conflicts dating back more than 60 years. For example, some were left by the Jordanian army before Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency.

The “Demine-Replant-Rebuild” project will free up agricultural and grazing lands as well as paths to sites such as Qasr el-Yahud, a sacred place for Christians, Muslims and Jews in the West Bank.

Kuhn’s role in the project, as well as her fundraising for the effort, has made a fan of Andy David, Israel’s S.F.-based consul general for the Pacific Northwest.

Kuhn “has inspired many in Israel to take action,” David writes in a letter to the activist. “I am pleased that you are now expanding your work in Israel and the Palestinian Authority … Now, the first land mine will be removed by Roots of Peace in the fields of Bethlehem.”

The success of the demining project in the West Bank “could be the beginning of peace talks,” Kuhn said.

“Peace comes from the ground up, not from the top down,” she added.  “We want to bring the world to its senses.”


Thursday, January 17, 2013 | by rebecca rosen lum

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Filed under Children and youth, Environment, Jewish community, Social issues, War

The Greening of Richmond

by Rebecca Rosen Lum
East Bay Express

Roses once grew in vibrant profusion in Richmond, the products of Japanese-American nurseries that thrived from the turn of the 20th century until World War II.

Later, the remaining greenhouse growers were put out of business by the soaring costs of diesel fuel, and by NAFTA, which rewarded their competitors in Latin America. Weeds and wildflowers now blanket the abandoned greenhouses, and shards of glass litter the ground. But Richmond, long known for its hardscrabble image, may bloom once again.

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Filed under Environment, Land use/property, Social issues

Congregation turns an eye to Oakland’s sex slavery crisis

Thursday, March 8, 2012

by rebecca rosen lum, j. correspondent

At an age when some Oakland girls are preparing for their bat mitzvahs, others are being forced by child traffickers to have sex with strangers.

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Filed under Children and youth, Faith, Jewish community, Social issues

Religious leaders show faith in Occupy movement

By Rebecca Rosen Lum
Fog City Journal


March 14, 2012

More than 40 years after the Civil Rights movement, religious leaders still have their eyes on the prize.

They are not leading Occupy Wall Street as they led the Civil Rights movement. And if churches served as a vital network for communication and planning during the days of the sit-ins, that role today has been usurped by Facebook and Twitter.

But in sanctuaries and on the streets, faith has both fueled a passionate commitment to the Occupy Wall Street movement and a passionate debate about its methods.

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Filed under Faith, Social issues