CVIndependent

Sat08242019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Palm Desert resident John Peters, 66, came from a confused family background—which, in anyone else, might have led to dysfunction, insecurity and/or any number of psychologically traumatic results. But this ebullient man has not only prevailed—he has triumphed.

Peters was born the youngest of four children in Intercourse, Penn. (Yes, that’s really the name.) His father died 6 months before he was born—and his mother remarried and moved, leaving behind the four kids. His two brothers were sent to an orphanage school; his sister was placed in a similar school.

“There were no social programs back then for a young mother like there are today,” Peters says gently.

Peters was too young for a placement and was adopted and raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle in an Amish community.

“The (Amish) kids were all the same (as ‘normal’ kids), just wearing different clothes,” he says. “Intercourse had a population of about 800. You couldn’t get away with anything!”

Peters’ awareness of how different his family situation was began to develop when he was around 6 years old. “I remember distinctly that a bunch of us were out playing, and this girl called me ‘adopted baby.’ I ran to tell my ‘mom,’ and she told me she wasn’t my mom, but that my ‘Aunt Ruth’ was really my mother.

“I didn’t trust anybody after that.”

Peters found out who his natural father was through a half-sister, born during his father’s previous marriage. (He didn’t connect with her until he was 48 years old. He has also reconnected with his natural sister; they became friends as adults.)

Peters’ interest in education developed when he almost flunked out of high school. “I was put in special-education classes,” he says. “My adoptive parents never went very far in school and thought high school was the top of the line. I loved history and business, but I had never learned how to study. As a senior, I think I was taking about 12 periods of shop!”

He found an outlet in martial arts. “My adopted mom had such limited exposure; she didn’t even want me to do sports,” he recalls. He learned jujitsu from a Sunday-school teacher who had military and police-work experience. Peters went on to learn Kodokan, a specific form of judo in which the competition to take down an opponent is key.

Peters left Intercourse in 1969 to move to Washington, D.C., and went to work with the FBI as a clerical employee. He completed his undergraduate degree while at the FBI, and would then go on to earn a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences, a master’s in career and technical education, an MBA in marketing and management, a master’s in public relations, a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and certificates including a teaching credential with the state of California.

Peters’ final assignment with the FBI was at the training academy at Quantico. “I left because it just wasn’t what I thought it would be,” he says.

The constant moving was also an issue, as Peters was raising his two sons as a single parent. “Mothers didn’t know what to do with me when I showed up at school functions,” he laughs.

He left the FBI to do on-the-ground police work, later becoming an expert witness and trainer for police departments across the country regarding police and correctional-institution policies. He is currently president and chief learning officer of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Inc. and has been the senior trainer and president of Defensive Tactics Institute, Inc. He also has his own consulting company. Finally, he has produced eight books and 35 videos.

Not bad for a kid raised by people who didn’t believe in education.

Although Peters traveled most of his professional life, he settled full-time in Palm Desert last year.

“I came here on business in 1984,” he says, “to edit a film about defensive tactics with flashlights for police training. I was so impressed with this area. It’s the most beautiful place.”

He bought a condo and commuted between here and Las Vegas, and then held on to it until the market rebounded. Today, he lives with his fiancée, Marilyn, in the house they purchased last year.

They met in a Cal State class. “After we met in class, I remembered her. She stood out in the crowd,” Peters says. “The day we took our exams, we talked. Then I got an email from her months later. We met for coffee. She suggested we walk together, one of my favorite activities, and I assumed she lived near me, since she wanted to start at 6:30 a.m. I was floored when I realized she had driven over all the way from La Quinta. The rest is history.”

As if he didn’t have enough going on, Peters is the president of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and loves encouraging others to pursue their dreams.

Given the headlines about the difficulties faced by law enforcement, what does Peters think we should know?

“I look at my work with police through a lens of honesty,” he says. “When ‘rogue officers’ get in trouble, whether by use of excess force or sexual misconduct, too often they are kept on the job. Some people make mistakes and need to be held accountable.

“Although cab drivers, firefighters and other professions have higher rates of death, police face ‘excited delirium’ behaviors that can be the result of a variety of causes, from dementia to drugs to mental illness. Yes, police need to police their own, but never forget that cops are targets by virtue of their uniform. With the police, the uniform itself means that their deaths are not industrial accidents—they’re murders.”

What’s next for Peters? “Writing topics I want to write; getting involved in community organizations; and part-time teaching.”

One of Peters’ most enjoyable projects was researching how Intercourse got its name. It’s a story I’ll leave for him to tell.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Shortly after last year’s presidential election, Democrats in the California Legislature drew headlines by introducing a flurry of bills attacking “fake news.” They called for more resources to teach media literacy, so public school students could better discern facts from the kind of bogus stories that proliferated online during the campaign.

Yet in the months since, all three of those bills have quietly met their demise—victims of the Legislature’s appropriations committees.

Officially, the committees—one in each house—are supposed to pull the Legislature’s purse strings, weighing how much a proposal is expected to cost, and comparing bills against one another to establish priorities for state tax dollars. Unofficially, the Appropriations Committee is where bills go to die—especially the ones the ruling party wants to bury with little trace.

This month, the appropriations committees quietly killed the last of the fake-news bills, a pile of marijuana measures, a proposal to create a “pro-choice” license plate and another headline-grabbing bill that would have allowed cities to keep bars open until 4 a.m.—an issue few lawmakers outside of San Francisco seem to regard as a burning problem.

As befits a good murder plot, lawmakers target potential victims by placing the bills on what they call the “suspense file.” Then, twice a year, the appropriations committees cull through all these bills, allowing some to proceed to a floor vote, but stopping many others in their tracks. In other committees, lawmakers publicly vote when they kill a bill, attaching their names and reputations to the decision. But there is no public vote when the appropriations committees snuff out bills on the suspense file. 

“It’s the closest thing that the Legislature has to a veto power,” said former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who chaired the Appropriations Committee from 2012 to 2014.

Sure, decisions are based on weighing the costs and benefits of the proposed policies, Gatto said. “But it’s also a cost-benefit analysis politically: How much does the House want to put a bill like this on the floor?”

Euthanizing a bill in this way shields lawmakers from having to cast a difficult floor vote—often choosing between a popular idea and one that aggravates powerful interests at the state Capitol.

Here’s a look at some of the dozens of bills that appropriations committees recently axed:

Making school spending more transparent: AB 1321 would have required every school to publish reports on how much money they spend per student. Civil rights groups said it would ensure that funds intended to help needy children are spent in their classrooms. But teachers’ unions and school administrators—influential forces in the Capitol—spent most of the year opposing the bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

Water under the Mojave Desert: Environmentalists backed AB 1000 as an attempt to block a controversial project that would pump groundwater out of the Mojave Desert and direct it to more populous communities near the coast. The bill also had the unusual support of Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But labor and business groups opposed it, and the project developer, a company called Cadiz, is a big political donor. After killing the bill, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ricardo Lara released a statement saying the project had gone through extensive environmental review, and the Legislature shouldn’t interfere. Cadiz stock then shot up 31 percent. 

Protecting whistleblowers in their midst: State employees who report government wrongdoing are protected from being fired under the Whistleblower Protection Act—but not if they work for the Legislature. So for four years, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore has introduced a bill to extend whistleblower protection to legislative employees. And for four years, the bill has been buried by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Blocking coastal oil drilling: After President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could expand oil and gas drilling into federal waters off the California coast, Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced a bill intended to block it. Her SB 188 would have prohibited the state from approving new leases on pipelines or other infrastructure needed to support new oil and gas development. The bill would have cost the state millions of dollars in lost leases. Its demise in the Assembly Appropriations Committee marked a loss for environmentalists and a win for oil companies—as well as the Trump Administration.

Watchdogging the police: Prompted by a string of high-profile police shootings, Democrats introduced a handful of bills intended to create more public trust in police. AB 748 would have made public more footage from police body cameras. AB 284 would have required a public report on two years of police shootings in California. Law enforcement groups opposed both bills, but supported another that also was killed: AB 1428, which would have provided the public with more information about the status of complaints against police officers.

In a Legislature that processes thousands of bills each year, the two appropriations committees play a critical role in culling ideas—but many could have been rejected earlier if lawmakers were more willing to say no.

“There are pressures from lobbyists, pressures from leadership, pressures from constituents, and the path of least resistance is for members to rely on this end game that plays out very quickly on a Friday,” said Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

“It allows a critical mass of legislators to get the outcome they want without having to put their name on that hard choice of saying no.”

That might explain why the Assembly Appropriations Committee quashed a bill that would have reduced the fine for rolling through a red light on a right turn from $100 to $35. Who would possibly want to vote against that?

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On this week's presidentially vetted weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips features a chat between Trumpy and Putin; Red Meat borrows money from Dad; Jen Sorenson tests various potential Democratic plans; The K Chronicles ponders a blonde-haired, blue-eyed victim of police violence; and This Modern World looks back on a perfectly normal week for the presidency.

Published in Comics

On this week's shocking weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles looks at how lynchings have changed over the years; This Modern World ponders what would happen if Trump's cabinet were completely honest; Jen Sorenson considers shamings over free school lunches; Apoca Clips announces the appearance of the Antichrist's emissary; and Red Meat experiments with crawfish and explosives.

Published in Comics

On this week's World War III-fearing weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at how government works today; Jen Sorenson debates a sarcasm alert; The K Chronicles revels in the plus side of being married; Red Meat needs help with a move; and ApocaClips takes to the seas.

Published in Comics

On this week's reindeer-infused weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World observes as President-elect Trump travels back in time to meet the Founding Fathers; Jen Sorenson examines social-justice movements through history; The K Chronicles engages in a protest; and Red Meat makes a holiday mistake.

Published in Comics

When we decided to put a story about police-involved killings on the cover of our July print edition, we had no idea that the month would be dominated by news about police-involved killings—and the killings of police.

Yet that’s exactly what happened. The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., sparked yet more outrage about the excessive use of force by law-enforcement officers. The country watched in horror as Micah Johnson mowed down police officers who were watching over a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, killing five officers and injuring nine other officers and two bystanders. Then came the murder of three law enforcement officers, and the wounding of three others, again in Baton Rouge, La., by Gavin Long.

These terrible deaths prove, yet again, that our country has some deep and serious problems. Way, way too many people are dying at the hands of law enforcement. On the flip side, while the vast majority of police officers in this country are fantastic, some troubled souls view all cops as being bad. And, of course, systemic racism is alive and well.

None of these problems will be solved overnight—especially considering the fact that one of this country’s two major parties is pushing an agenda that marginalizes LGBT Americans, Mexican immigrants, Muslims and many others. Sadly, more blood will be spilled before things get better.

That’s not to say there’s no reason for optimism. That aforementioned July cover story was about the fact that for the first time ever, the country has access to the fairly complete Fatal Encounters database of law-enforcement-related deaths—and that data can be analyzed and used to create better public policy.

It’s also important to note that violent-crime rates are much, much lower today—about two-thirds lower, in fact—than they were in the early 1990s. So even though it may not seem like it at times, our society today is way safer than it used to be.

Finally, despite all of the political rancor, many amazing people are working hard to unite us and develop understanding. For example, there’s Tizoc DeAztlan, a young local Democrat who’s working with his friend Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans, to hold a series of “Perspectives” discussion groups. Anita Rufus recently wrote about him in her Know Your Neighbors column; read that here.

You can also read Anita’s column in the August 2016 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, which is being distributed across the valley and High Desert this week. Enjoy, please, and drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.

Published in Editor's Note

The numbers of police-related deaths in the United States, as documented by Fatal Encounters, have been eerily similar in recent years.

2015: 1,356.

2014: 1,323.

2013: 1,330.

However, this statistical fluke is not what’s newsworthy: What is newsworthy is the fact that we now actually have a database of police-related deaths.

That’s right: Before Fatal Encounters came along, there was not a comprehensive database of all of the people in the United States who died during encounters with law enforcement.

By the time the Fatal Encounters effort is complete, it will include a database going back to the year 2000. As of this writing, the Fatal Encounters team has already “finished” 27 states—including California, which was finished in May. Data for the last 3 1/2 years is complete nationwide

The numbers and details contained in the Fatal Encounters database can be chilling. In 2015, of the 1,356 people who died during law-enforcement encounters in the nation, 263 of them were in the state of California. Going back to 2000, at least 48 people have died during law-enforcement efforts in the Coachella Valley alone. (See the list at the bottom of this article.)

Fatal Encounters is the brainchild of D. Brian Burghart, the longtime editor of the Reno News & Review, the alternative newsweekly in Reno, Nev. (Burghart has been a friend and colleague of mine for 20 years—going all the way back to my internship at the News & Review during the summer of 1996.)

At FatalEncounters.org, Burghart explained how the project came to be.

“May 18, 2012: I was on my way home from work when I noticed a bunch of cop cars down by the Truckee River,” Burghart writes. “… It turned out the police had pulled over a stolen car, and they’d shot and killed the driver. (Jace Herndon, 41, we found out later.) Honestly—and not because I’m one of those hard-boiled, cynical types—I wasn’t particularly surprised or offended. Criminals often come to a bad end.

“But again, I’m an editor, so I noticed when a gaping hole appeared in every single news story I read about the incident. There was no context. I kept looking for a sentence that said something like, ‘This was x person killed by police in Washoe County this year.’

“But it was never there.”

It was never there, Burghart learned, because no such database exists. Therefore, Burghart (who stepped down from the Reno News & Review earlier this year) decided to create one—using Google, news coverage, existing databases and public-records requests—going all the way back to the start of the century.

It’s safe to say Burghart had no idea what he was getting into. However, after a grant or two, a successful crowd-sourcing funding effort, tons of media coverage and a whole lot of work by Burghart and his volunteer-and-paid team, Burghart’s goal is in sight.

“When we say (a state or year) is complete, we’ve exhausted all the means at our disposal—but there are always lawsuits that will bring one that never made the press,” Burghart told me.

“Even when we get everything that we can find, I know we’re still missing stuff,” Burghart said. “… It’s just because of the peculiar ways the media choose to report this stuff. You’d think that they would say, ‘An officer shot and killed somebody’—something simple—but instead, they say, ‘An officer-involved shooting occurred. It’s crazy.”

Still, Burghart said, he’s happy with how accurate and comprehensive the database seems to be.

“I have yet to have a journalist … point out one we missed,” he said. “We’ve had grad students, not members of our team, who did an analysis using public-records requests and found that we were at 100 percent. While I know it’s not true (that we’re at 100 percent), that’s what they found.”

Burghart said his team has faced a lot of challenges finding information, especially the older info.

“We think of the Internet in 2000 as a mature thing,” he said. “But until 2005 to 2006, a lot of stuff—basically, until the advent of the cloud storage—just got purged from files. People regularly purged their older stuff, because data storage was expensive.”

Fatal Encounters—due to the extra attention given to police-related killings in places like Ferguson, Mo., in recent years—has received a lot of media coverage. This attention helped attract people like Carla DeCeros to the Fatal Encounters effort. She’s the person who is responsible for compiling a lion’s share of the California database.

“I was already researching this topic before linking up with Fatal Encounters,” DeCeros said via email. “My reasons for doing so were probably similar to those of Brian and others who’ve done this sort of work. Mainly, I wanted answers, but they just didn’t exist.

“To get answers, I realized I’d have to take several steps back and do a lot of info-gathering. Fortunately, there were others—past and present—who’d done at least some of the work already. What I was doing was building on these earlier efforts, connecting them and filling in the blanks.”

All of this, however, leads to a big question: Why hadn’t someone, like the government, been keeping track of these fatal encounters? Burghart said he has several theories.

“It’s usually just incompetence, to be honest,” he said. “Many people that I’ve talked to over the years want to find a conspiracy, but I really believe that it’s mostly government incompetence.”

California’s government has done better than most at gathering data. The state Office of the Attorney General’s “Open Justice” website offers data on deaths in custody and arrest-related deaths between 2005 and 2014. Over that period, the state database includes about 1,200 arrest-related deaths.

Over that same time period, Burghart said, Fatal Encounters has counted twice the number of deaths.

“The government tracks everything that it thinks matters. That suggests to me that the government does not believe that these deaths matter,” he said. “If a low-tech guy like me could do this, then the FBI—with millions of dollars to apply to it and super high-tech knowledge—could do it in an hour.”


Now that there is a comprehensive database of police-involved killings that is available to all, the real work can begin: People can examine the details, crunch the numbers and figure out how to perhaps decrease the alarming number of deaths.

That’s where Nick Selby comes in. He’s a law-enforcement officer as well as a consultant, writer and speaker on law-enforcement data and technology. He’s also the CEO and co-founder of StreetCred Software, Inc.

“Fatal Encounters is quite simply the database that is the most complete, the most accurate, and the most contextually complete,” Selby said. “By that, what I mean is in addition to things like name, and time, and gender, we also get some indication of what the person was doing at the time the police showed up, which is really important.”

Using Fatal Encounters data, Selby has come to some conclusions that may have major public-policy implications. He looked at a subset of fatal encounters cases—specifically, unarmed people who were killed in 2015.

“What we found was that about 7 percent were unjustified,” he said. “… If I tell you that there are 153 people who were killed by police, and they were unarmed, how many would you think would be unjustified? (Law enforcement officers) would probably tell you two or three. If you ask an activist the same thing, they’d probably tell you 30 or 40. They’re both wrong. That’s important. I thank (Fatal Encounters) for the ability to actually do that analysis.

“The biggest predictor (of fatal encounters with police) is poverty, not race—but the biggest predictor of poverty turns out to be race,” Selby said. “That’s not a police problem; that’s an American societal problem. That’s a federal, state and local policy problem.”

Selby has uncovered some fascinating trends using data: “If you take a look at just people who are suffering from mental illness—either diagnosed or apparent—disability, and drug addiction, or some combination of those three, that’s 52 percent of the people who died last year” during encounters with law enforcement.

Thanks to this information, Selby pointed to several programs that he thinks should be emulated around the country.

“No one is bringing attention to the fact that Richmond, Calif., and Albany, N.Y., and Chicago are doing these wonderful intervention-based programs on gun violence, where they identify—through social networks and other means—people at risk of being involved in gun violence, and speak to them and ask them to attend meetings. They’re cutting down their murder rate, and they’re cutting down their gun-violence rate.”

Selby also said society needs to do a better job of dealing with mental illness. Some Fatal Encounters data analyses have indicated that 25 to 30 percent of people who are killed by law enforcement are suffering from mental illness.

“Why are we not moving to do better intervention-based programs instead of waiting until there’s a mental-health crisis?” Selby asked.


In the months and years to come, Fatal Encounters’ data, once complete, will no doubt lead to other conclusions that could help inform public policy. Burghart said that he had been hoping to finish the databases of the other 23 states by the end of the year.

“Well, that was the plan earlier this year, before the whole Guardian and Washington Post thing happened,” he said.

Burghart is referring to the fact that both the Guardian and the Washington Post have created their own databases of law-enforcement-related deaths. In fact, the Post earlier this year won a Pulitzer Prize for its database—after getting the idea from Fatal Encounters, a fact that Burghart documented in an excellent piece at Gawker.com on April 26. (While the Post tipped its figurative hat to Fatal Encounters when it started its efforts, credit was nowhere to be found when the Pulitzer was awarded. In fact, both the Post and the Pulitzer citation made claims about the Post’s database being the “first” and “only” one to accomplish certain things that Fatal Encounters had accomplished well before.)

Neither the Guardian nor Post databases are going back in time to collect anywhere near 17 years of data like Fatal Encounters is, and Burghart said it’s been harder to attract help to Fatal Encounters since the Post won the award.

“It undermines the idea that this is needed, because people now believe that the media’s on top of it—although I can tell you by looking that they’re not,” Burghart said

When Fatal Encounters is complete, most likely next year, the database will include details on more well more than 20,000 police-related deaths. What’s next?

“When we have a comprehensive database going back to Jan. 1, 2000—I’ll make a decision then,” he said. “We’ve actually been asked by people in other countries to help them set up something.

“I have a lot of ideas. There are a lot of databases that should exist in this country to show the numbers behind things. There should be a database of people who die in prison and in jail. That doesn’t exist. … It’s mind-boggling that these aren’t tracked.”


Coachella Valley’s Fatal Encounters Since 2000

Stephan McEwan, 33, April 13, 2000, Palm Springs. McEwan was killed after his motorcycle crashed into a van while leading police on a brief pursuit.

Jesus-Pena “Jesse” Herrara, 32, Feb. 1, 2002, Indio. District Attorney Investigator Dan Riter shot Herrara in the head at close range.

Raymond Deleon, 36, Dec. 26, 2002, Desert Hot Springs. Two officers shot and killed Deleon; officers said Deleon tried to hit them with his car and wouldn’t show his hands.

Antonio Gastelum Sanchez, 34, Jan. 23, 2003, La Quinta. Sanchez died shortly after struggling with deputies.

Kevin W. Diabo, 24, May 13, 2003, La Quinta. Deputy Robert Burbach shot and killed Diabo after Diabo killed Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Lee and swung a baton at Burbach.

Name withheld by police, June 16, 2003, Thousand Palms. A female passenger in an uninvolved car was killed by a car fleeing deputies.

Michael Sanchez, 26, and Delonn Arenas, Nov. 21, 2003, Desert Hot Springs. Arenas died after a car fleeing deputies struck the Honda in which Arenas was riding. The passenger in the fleeing car, Sanchez, reportedly died of cardiac arrest after a foot chase and struggle with deputies.

Omar Mendiola, 22, Feb. 17, 2004, Thermal. A California Highway Patrol officer shot and killed Mendiola after an altercation on the Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation.

Lawrence Christopher Phillips, 26, Sept. 2, 2004, Palm Springs. Officer Don Benstead shot Phillips when he pulled a gun on the officer’s partner.

Scott R. Neth, 35, Jan. 16, 2005, Thousand Palms. Neth died when he crashed his car while fleeing the CHP.

Rodolfo Inzunza-Sanchez, 23, March 5, 2005, Thousand Palms. Deputies shot Inzunza-Sanchez when he allegedly refused to drop a handgun and a knife.

Israel Ruiz Hernandez, 30, June 10, 2005, La Quinta. Two deputies shot and killed Hernandez when he allegedly pointed a gun after they confronted him behind Big 5 Sporting Goods.

Julio Cesar Prado-Franco, 18, June 12, 2005, Indio. Prado-Franco was killed when he lost control of his SUV and slammed into a pole while fleeing police.

Joel Soto Campaña, 35, Aug. 11, 2005, Indio. An officer shot and killed Campaña when he allegedly physically confronted the officer, who was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance.

Fred Ray Bradley Jr., 29, Nov. 15, 2005, Palm Springs. Bradley was killed in a car crash during a brief police chase.

Merle Vernon Houston, 40, Jan. 5, 2006, Palm Springs. Police shot Houston when he grabbed an officer’s gun during a confrontation in front of Walmart.

Carlos Romero-Avena, 34, March 24, 2006, Coachella. A CHP officer shot and killed Romero-Avena when he took the officer’s baton after a pursuit.

Leonel Lopez Ramirez, 35, Aug. 1, 2006, Indio/Coachella. Deputies shot Ramirez when he threatened them with a replica firearm and a paintball gun.

Thomas Sharp, 49, Nov. 4, 2006, Cathedral City. Sharp reportedly shot himself during a police standoff.

Jorge Alberto Martinez, 64, March 19, 2007, Thermal. Martinez was killed in a head-on collision with Deputy Manuel Viegas, who was also killed.

Roberto Perez, 25, April 11, 2007, Indio. Two officers shot Perez after they responded to a family dispute in Indio.

Sergio “Checko” Lopez, 48, Oct. 2, 2007, Desert Hot Springs. Sgt. Robert Ritchie shot Lopez, who residents of a nearby homeless camp said was known as “Checko,” four times when Lopez continued to come toward the officer.

Nino Joseph Garcia Jr., 24, Jan. 15, 2008, Palm Springs. Police shot and killed Garcia when he pulled a weapon on officers.

Alexis Melendrez-Acosta, 18, May 30, 2008, Desert Hot Springs. CHP officers shot Melendrez-Acosta when he shot at them during a pursuit.

Gregory Fisher, 56, June 3, 2009, Rancho Mirage. Fisher was a passenger killed in a crash during a high-speed chase.

Robert Albert Appel, 48, May 14, 2010, Palm Desert. Appel died after struggling with deputies Martin Alfaro, Robert Garcia, Sean Dusek and Edward Chacon while he was in the midst of a delusional episode inside a gated community.

Jesus Juan “Chapo” Hernandez-Cazares, 21, Sept. 19, 2010, Cathedral City. An officer shot Hernandez-Cazares twice during a confrontation.

John Howe Jr., 57, Dec. 27, 2010, Desert Hot Springs. Howe, a pedestrian, was struck and killed by a police car.

Francisco Gabriel Durazo, 31, April 17, 2011, Palm Springs. Police had been chasing Durazo for a parole violation; police said he also led them on a chase March 18 in a stolen vehicle. Police and Durazo exchanged shots, and officers unleashed police dog Ike on Durazo, but he shot the dog to death before being killed himself.

Ricardo Avila, 37, June 11, 2011, Indio. Avila was a passenger who died on June 20 from injuries sustained when he jumped from a stolen sedan during a pursuit.

William Scott Routh, 47, Aug. 20, 2011, Cathedral City. Routh began experiencing labored breathing and later died after he struggled with officers.

Pascual Manuel Mata, 59, Oct. 21, 2011, Coachella. SWAT officer Gustavo “Gus” Araiza shot Mata when he opened fire on officers during a 25-hour standoff.

Frank Tanuvasa, 20, Feb. 23, 2012, Palm Desert. Tanuvasa was seen running away from an apartment complex where a burglary was reported. Tanuvasa was shot following a fight with a sheriff’s deputy.

Robert Shirar, 32, May 21, 2012, Indio. After crashing his vehicle on Interstate 10, Shirar threatened investigating CHP officers. They shot and killed him.

Karl Watson, 47, June 25, 2012, Indio. Police shot and killed Watson as he reportedly beat an officer who arrived at the scene after Watson murdered his ex-girlfriend.

Joshua Sznaider, 27, Oct. 6, 2012, Palm Springs. Police were called out at 7 a.m. as Sznaider created a neighborhood disturbance. He was Tasered twice and put in a chokehold as he resisted arrest. He died four days later of cardiac arrest.

Allan DeVillena II, 22, Nov. 10, 2012, Palm Springs. Officers fatally shot DeVillena after the unarmed Marine allegedly drunkenly drove his car at the officers. Despite conflicting witness statements, the district attorney declined to file charges against the officers.

Alejandro Rendon, 23, Feb. 14, 2013, Indio. Rendon, 23 was shot by Indio Officer Alex Franco after he and his partner attempted to stop the suspect while he was riding his bicycle. Franco claimed the suspect was facing him down over the hood of the police vehicle and could have been armed. Experts later testified that Rendon’s wounds showed he was shot from behind and below. The family of Rendon was awarded $1.9 million.

Ernest Foster, 37, July 4, 2013, Indio. Foster was shot and killed by an Indio police officer; authorities said he was armed, and when police confronted him, he ran away. A pursuit on foot led to a confrontation, when the officer opened fire.

Eulizez Rodriguez, 24, Aug. 22, 2013, Desert Hot Springs. Rodriguez was killed after officers pursued him for driving a stolen car. After a short foot chase, an officer shot Rodriguez after he pulled out a gun.

Luis Morin, 39, Jan. 27, 2014, Coachella. Morin, wanted on two nonviolent felony warrants, was visiting relatives. When Morin and his relatives returned home from dinner, a deputy attempted to arrest the unarmed Morin; a scuffle ensued, ending with the deputy shooting and killing Morin. A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against Riverside County.

Jesus Zuriel Orduno Luviano, 20, Nov. 2, 2014, Indio. The California Highway Patrol attempted to pull over a drunk driver. When the suspect didn’t stop, Indio police joined the chase. Luviano exited the vehicle, allegedly with a shotgun, and was shot.

Omar Rodriguez, 35, Dec. 25, 2014, Coachella. A deputy was in the area responding to a report of a “suspicious person.” Rodriguez allegedly tried to take the deputy’s baton, and was shot and killed.

Dario Colin, 33, Feb. 6, 2015, Palm Desert. Colin was killed in a crash while fleeing the CHP.

Samuel Villarreal, 18, Oct. 14, 2015, Indio. Officers were investigating an auto theft and attempted to stop Villarreal after he drove a stolen car into a parking lot. Police opened fire after Villarreal allegedly backed his car into a police cruiser.

Dominic Hutchinson, 30, Oct. 24, 2015, Cathedral City. Hutchinson was shot by officers responding to a domestic disturbance.

Juan Perez, 38, Dec. 5, 2015, Indio. Police, investigating a stolen golf cart, approached Perez, and shots were exchanged. Perez was shot and killed.

Source: Fatal Encounters

Published in Features

On this week's zingy Independent comics page: The K Chronicles receives an unexpected honor; This Modern World watches as Invisible Hand of the Free-Market Man visits Flint, Mich.; Jen Sorenson peeks in the Trump Girl Group tryouts; and Red Meat tries in vain to help polar bears.

Published in Comics

When Sonoma State University professor Carl Jensen started looking into the new media’s practice of self-censorship in 1976, the Internet was only a dream, and most computers were still big mainframes with whirling tape reels and vacuum tubes.

Back then, the vast majority of Americans got all of the news from one daily newspaper and one of the three big TV networks. If a story wasn’t on ABC, NBC or CBS, it might as well not have happened.

Forty years later, the media world is a radically different place. Americans are now more likely to get their news from several different sources through Facebook than they would from CBS Evening News. Daily newspapers all over the country are struggling and, in some cases, dying. A story that appears on one obscure outlet can suddenly become a viral sensation, reaching millions of readers at the speed of light.

And yet, as Jensen’s Project Censored continues to find, there are still numerous big, important news stories that receive very little exposure.

As Project Censored staffers Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth note, 90 percent of U.S. news media—traditional outlets that employ full-time reporters—are controlled by six corporations. “The corporate media hardly represent the mainstream,” the staffers wrote in the current edition’s introduction.

“By contrast, the independent journalists that Project Censored has celebrated since its inception are now understood as vital components of what experts have identified as the newly developing ‘networked fourth estate.’”

Jensen set out to frame a new definition of censorship. He put out an annual list of the 10 biggest stories that the mainstream media ignored, arguing that it was a failure of the corporate press to pursue and promote these stories that represented censorship—not by the government, but by the media itself.

“My definition starts with the other end, with the failure of information to reach people,” he wrote. “For the purposes of this project, censorship is defined as the suppression of information, whether purposeful or not, by any method—including bias, omission, underreporting or self-censorship, which prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in the world.”

Jensen died in April 2015, but his project was inherited and carried on by Sonoma State sociology professor Peter Phillips and Huff.

Huff teaches social science and history at Diablo Valley College. Under their leadership, the Project has, at times, veered off into the loony world of conspiracies and Sept. 11 “truther” territory. A handful of stories included in the annual publication—to be kind—were difficult to verify. That’s caused a lot of us in the alternative press to question the validity of the annual list.

But Huff, who is now project director, and Roth, the associate director, have expanded and tightened up the process of selecting stories. Project staffers and volunteers first fact-check nominations that come in to make sure they are “valid” news reports. Then a panel of 28 judges—mostly academics with a few journalists and media critics—finalize the Top 10 and the 15 runners-up.

The results are published in a book that was released Oct. 6 by Seven Stories Press.

I’ve been writing about Project Censored for 25 years, and I think it’s safe to say that the stories on this year’s list are credible, valid—and critically important. Even in an era when most of us are drunk with information, overloaded by buzzing social media telling us things we didn’t think we needed to know, these stories haven’t gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve.

1. Half of global wealth owned by the 1 percent

We hear plenty of talk about the wealth and power of the top 1 percent of people in the United States, but the global wealth gap is, if anything, even worse. And it has profound human consequences.

Oxfam International, which has been working for decades to fight global poverty, released a January 2015 report showing that, if current trends continue, the wealthiest 1 percent, by the end of this year, will control more wealth than everyone else in the world put together.

As reported in Project Censored, “The Oxfam report provided evidence that extreme inequality is not inevitable, but is, in fact, the result of political choices and economic policies established and maintained by the power elite, wealthy individuals whose strong influence keeps the status quo rigged in their own favor.”

Another stunning fact: The wealth of 85 of the richest people in the world combined is equal to the wealth of half the world’s poor combined.

The mainstream news media coverage of the report and the associated issues was spotty, at best, Project Censored notes: A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with about seven broadcast segments from Jan. 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2 and 3 a.m.—far from primetime.

Sources: Larry Elliott and Ed Pilkington, “New Oxfam Report Says Half of Global Wealth Held by the 1%,” Guardian, Jan.19, 2015

Sarah Dransfield, “Number of Billionaires Doubled Since Financial Crisis as Inequality Spirals Out of Control–Oxfam,” Oxfam, Oct. 29, 2014

Samantha Cowan, “Every Kid on Earth Could Go to School If the World’s 1,646 Richest People Gave 1.5 Percent,” TakePart, Nov. 3, 2014

2. Oil Industry Illegally Dumps Fracking Wastewater

Fracking, which involves pumping high-pressure water and chemicals into rock formations to free up oil and natural gas, has been a huge issue nationwide. But there’s been little discussion of one of the side effects: The contamination of aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity reported in 2014 that oil companies had dumped almost 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s underground water supply. Since the companies refuse to say what chemicals they use in the process, nobody knows exactly what the level of contamination is. But wells that supply drinking water near where the fracking waste was dumped tested high in arsenic, thallium and nitrates.

According to Project Censored, “Although corporate media have covered debate over fracking regulations, the Center for Biological Diversity study regarding the dumping of wastewater into California’s aquifers went all but ignored at first. There appears to have been a lag of more than three months between the initial independent news coverage of the Center for Biological Diversity revelations and corporate coverage.

In May 2015, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page feature on Central Valley crops irrigated with treated oil field water; however, the Los Angeles Times report made no mention of the Center for Biological Diversity’s findings regarding fracking wastewater contamination.”

Sources: Dan Bacher, “Massive Dumping of Wastewater into Aquifers Shows Big Oil’s Power in California,” IndyBay, Oct. 11, 2014

“California Aquifers Contaminated with Billions of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater,” Russia Today Oct. 11, 2014

Donny Shaw, “CA Senators Voting NO on Fracking Moratorium Received 14x More from Oil & Gas Industry,” MapLight, June 3, 2014

Dan Bacher, “Senators Opposing Fracking Moratorium Received 14x More Money from Big Oil,” IndyBay, June 7, 2014

3. 89 percent of Pakistani drone victims not identifiable as militants

The United States sends drone aircraft into combat on a regular basis, particularly in Pakistan. The Obama administration says the drones fire missiles only when there is clear evidence that the targets are al-Qaida bases. Secretary of State John Kerry insists that “the only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest levels.”

But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which keeps track of all the strikes, reported that only 4 percent of those killed by drones were al-Qaida members, and only 11 percent were confirmed militants of any sort.

That means 89 percent of the 2,464 people killed by U.S. drones could not be identified as terrorists. In fact, 30 percent of the dead could not be identified at all.

The New York Times has covered the fact that, as one story noted, “most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.” But overall, the mainstream news media ignored the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting.

Sources: Jack Serle, “Almost 2,500 Now Killed by Covert US Drone Strikes Since Obama Inauguration Six Years Ago,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Feb. 2, 2015

Jack Serle, “Get the Data: A List of US Air and Drone Strikes, Afghanistan 2015,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Feb. 12, 2015

Steve Coll, “The Unblinking Stare: The Drone War in Pakistan,” New Yorker, Nov. 24, 2014

Abigail Fielding-Smith, “John Kerry Says All those Fired at by Drones in Pakistan are ‘Confirmed Terrorist Targets’—But with 1,675 Unnamed Dead How Do We Know?” Bureau of Investigative Journalism,Oct. 23, 2014

Jack Serle, “Only 4% of Drone Victims in Pakistan Named as al Qaeda Members,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Oct. 16, 2014

Jeremy Scahill, “Germany is the Tell-Tale Heart of America’s Drone War,” Intercept, April 17, 2015

4. Popular resistance to corporate water-grabbing

For decades, private companies have been trying to take over and control water supplies, particularly in the developing world. Now, as journalist Ellen Brown reported in March 2015, corporate water barons, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, the Carlyle Group and other investment firms, “are purchasing water rights from around the world at an unprecedented pace.”

However, over the past 15 years, more than 180 communities have fought back and re-municipalized their water systems. “From Spain to Buenos Aires, Cochabamba to Kazakhstan, Berlin to Malaysia, water privatization is being aggressively rejected,” Victoria Collier reported in Counterpunch.

Meanwhile, in the United States, some cities—in what may be a move toward privatization—are radically raising water rates and cutting off service to low-income communities.

The mainstream media response to the privatization of water has been largely silence.

Sources: Ellen Brown, “California Water Wars: Another Form of Asset Stripping?,” Nation of Change, March 25, 2015

Victoria Collier, “Citizens Mobilize Against Corporate Water Grabs,” CounterPunch, Feb. 11, 2015

Larry Gabriel, “When the City Turned Off Their Water, Detroit Residents and Groups Delivered Help,” YES! Magazine, Nov. 24, 2014

Madeline Ostrander, “LA Imports Nearly 85 Percent of Its Water—Can It Change That by Gathering Rain?,” YES! Magazine, Jan. 5, 2015

5. Fukushima nuclear disaster deepens

Nearly five years after a tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant and causing one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history, radiation from the plant continues to leak into the ocean.

But the story has largely disappeared from the news.

As Project Censored notes: “The continued dumping of extremely radioactive cooling water into the Pacific Ocean from the destroyed nuclear plant, already being detected along the Japanese coastline, has the potential to impact entire portions of the Pacific Ocean and North America’s western shoreline. Aside from the potential release of plutonium into the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) recently admitted that the facility is releasing large quantities of water contaminated with tritium, cesium and strontium into the ocean every day.”

We’re talking large amounts of highly contaminated water getting dumped into the ocean. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, “admitted that the facility is releasing a whopping 150 billion becquerels of tritium and seven billion becquerels of cesium- and strontium-contaminated water into the ocean every day.” The potential for long-term problems all over the world is huge—and the situation hasn’t been contained.

Sources: “TEPCO Drops Bombshell About Sea Releases; 8 Billion Bq Per Day,” Simply Info: The Fukushima Project, Aug. 26, 2014

Sarah Lazare, “Fukushima Meltdown Worse Than Previous Estimates: TEPCO,” Common Dreams, Aug. 7, 2014

Michel Chossudovsky, “The Fukushima Endgame: The Radioactive Contamination of the Pacific Ocean,” Global Research, Dec. 17, 2014

6. The global impacts of methane and arctic warming

We all know that carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are a huge threat to climate stability. But there’s another giant threat out there that hasn’t made much news.

The arctic ice sheets, which are rapidly melting in some areas, contain massive amounts of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s way worse than carbon dioxide. And, as the ice recedes, that methane is getting released into the atmosphere.

Dahr Jamail, writing in Truthout, notes that all of our predictions about the pace of global warming and its impacts might have to be re-evaluated in the wake of revelations about methane releases:

“A 2013 study, published in Nature, reported that a 50-gigaton ‘burp’ of methane is ‘highly possible at any time.’ As Jamail clarified, ‘That would be the equivalent of at least 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide,’ noting that, since 1850, humans have released a total of about 1,475 gigatons in carbon dioxide. A massive, sudden change in methane levels could, in turn, lead to temperature increases of four to six degrees Celsius in just one or two decades—a rapid rate of climate change to which human agriculture, and ecosystems more generally, could not readily adapt.”

Jamail quoted Paul Beckwith, a professor of climatology and meteorology at the University of Ottawa: “Our climate system is in early stages of abrupt climate change that, unchecked, will lead to a temperature rise of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius within a decade or two.” Such changes would have “unprecedented effects” for life on Earth.

A huge story? Apparently not. The major news media have written at length about the geopolitics of the arctic region, but there’s been very little mention of the methane monster.

Source: Dahr Jamail, “The Methane Monster Roars,” Truthout, Jan. 13, 2015

7. Fear of government spying is chilling writers’ freedom of expression

Writers in Western liberal democracies may not face the type of censorship seen in some parts of the world, but their fear of government surveillance is causing many to think twice about what they can say.

Lauren McCauley, writing in Common Dreams, quoted one of the conclusions from a report by the writers’ group PEN America: “If writers avoid exploring topics for fear of possible retribution, the material available to readers—particularly those seeking to understand the most controversial and challenging issues facing the world today—may be greatly impoverished.”

According to Project Censored, a PEN America survey showed that “34 percent of writers in liberal democracies reported some degree of self-censorship (compared with 61 percent of writers living in authoritarian countries, and 44 percent in semi-democratic countries). Almost 60 percent of the writers from Western Europe, the United States … indicated that U.S. credibility ‘has been significantly damaged for the long term’ by revelations of the U.S. government surveillance programs.’”

Other than Common Dreams’ coverage, the PEN report attracted almost no major media attention.

Sources: Lauren McCauley, “Fear of Government Spying ‘Chilling’ Writers’ Speech Worldwide,” Common Dreams, Jan. 5, 2015

Lauren McCauley, “Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report,” Common Dreams, July 28, 2014

8. Who dies at the hands of police—and how often?

High-profile police killings, particularly of African-American men, have made big news over the past few years. But there’s been much less attention paid to the overall numbers—and to the difference between how many people are shot by cops in the United States and in other countries.

In the January 2015 edition of Liberation, Richard Becker, relying on public records, concluded that the rate of U.S. police killing was 100 times that of England, 40 times that of Germany, and 20 times the rate in Canada.

In June 2015, a team of reporters from the Guardian concluded that 102 unarmed people were killed by U.S. police in the first five months of that year—twice the rate reported by the government.

Furthermore, the Guardian wrote, “black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people.” The paper concluded that, “Thirty-two percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25 percent of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15 percent of white people killed.”

And as far as accountability goes, the Washington Post noted that in 385 cases of police killings, only three officers faced charges.

Sources: Richard Becker, “U.S. Cops Kill at 100 Times Rate of Other Capitalist Countries,” Liberation, Jan. 4, 2015

Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, and Jamiles Lartey, “Black Americans Killed by Police Twice as Likely to be Unarmed as White People,” Guardian, June 1, 2015

9. Millions in poverty get less media coverage than billionaires do

The news media in the United States doesn’t like to talk about poverty, but they love to report on the lives and glory of the super-rich.

The advocacy group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting analyzed the three major television news networks and found that 482 billionaires got more attention than the 50 million people who live in poverty.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the mainstream media, or pays much attention to the world of social media and the blogosphere. The top rung of society gets vast amounts of attention, for good and for ill—but the huge numbers of people who are homeless, hungry and often lacking in hope just aren’t news.

“The notion that the wealthiest nation on Earth has one in every six of its citizens living at or below the poverty threshold reflects not a lack of resources, but a lack of policy focus and attention—and this is due to a lack of public awareness to the issue,” Frederick Reese of MintPress News wrote.

From Project Censored: “The FAIR study showed that between January 2013 and February 2014, an average of only 2.7 seconds per every 22-minute episode discussed poverty in some format. During the 14-month study, FAIR found just 23 news segments that addressed poverty.”

Sources: Steve Rendall, Emily Kaufmann, and Sara Qureshi, “Even GOP Attention Can’t Make Media Care about Poor,” Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 1, 2014

“Millions in Poverty Get Less Coverage Than 482 Billionaires,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 26, 2014

Frederick Reese, “Billionaires Get More Media Attention Than The Poor,” MintPress News, June 30, 2014

Tavis Smiley, “Poverty Less Than .02 Percent of Lead Media Coverage,” Huffington Post, March 7, 2014

10. Costa Rica is setting the standard on renewable energy

Is it possible to meet a modern nation’s energy needs without any fossil-fuel consumption? Yes. Costa Rica has been doing it.

To be fair, that country’s main industries—tourism and agriculture—are not energy-intensive, and heavy rainfall in the first part of the year made it possible for the country to rely heavily on its hydropower resources. But even in normal years, Costa Rica generates 90 percent of its energy without burning any fossil fuels.

Iceland also produces the vast majority of its energy from renewable sources.

The transition to 100 percent renewables will be harder for larger countries—but as the limited reporting on Costa Rica notes, it’s possible to take large steps in that direction.

Sources: Myles Gough, “Costa Rica Powered with 100% Renewable Energy for 75 Straight Days,” Science Alert, March 20, 2015

Adam Epstein, “Costa Rica is Now Running Completely on Renewable Energy,” Quartz, March 23, 2015

Tim Redmond, a longtime editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is the founding member of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center and editor of that nonprofit organization’s publication 48 Hills.

Published in Features

Page 2 of 4