Out with a bang

December 31, 2008

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The biggest understatement about Ventura County, in my estimation, is that 2008 has gone out with a bang … literally. This year we’ve seen some of the most heinous crimes involving the use of firearms than ever before.

Earlier this month, a man was shot and killed, defenseless, at the Oxnard car lot where he worked … after he handed over his money and valuables … and while his son watched.

Talking about Oxnard, where gang gunfire is commonplace, let’s not forget about the man shot and killed at an Oxnard ATM for his troubles. One story that stuck with me was the woman motorist shot, in the face, while at a stop light of an Oxnard intersection. And Larry King? The Oxnard teen blown away by a peer in the middle of a classroom made national headlines.

But the worst was saved for last, and in this office, and countywide, we’re still reeling from the unprovoked killing of a Circle K clerk last weekend, shot point blank by a rifle-armed gunman, simply for showing up and doing his job.

The debate over the usefulness of handguns will never cease. In the wake of these tragedies, we hear the same polarzing rhetoric. On one side, anti-gun activists want to do away with all firearms, with the belief that the extinction of guns will naturally lead to an evolution of less violence and more civilized behavior. The other side, crying for a “call to arms” and a bullet-stocked defense of the Second Amendment. 

Just in the last two days we’ve even seen examples of people fighting back. A band of employees managed to overcome five young thieves from making away with some merchandise at an Oxnard clothing store. And here in Ventura, a woman shot a burglar who broke into her house.

The collage I found for this posting raises a lot of questions about the situation. Is the problem that guns are too easy to obtain by the unstable members of our society? Is the solution about enacting stricter guidelines, or is it about eliminating guns altogether? And are we really reduced to slaves if we become defenseless? And are we defenseless if we’re weaponless?

I think it was author Martin Amis who said it best:

“Bullets cannot be recalled. They cannot be uninvented. But they can be taken out of the gun.”

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Wow. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does.

Holiday-season crimes, now including several fatalities into the felony-laden mix, have worsened in the past few days so much, that I considered replacing my last blog entry with this one because the robberies I listed pale in comparison to what’s gone down since.

Shocked and stunned to hear about the distraught man in the L.A. area — Bruce Pardo — who took his own life after gunning down several people at a Christmas party, then burning the house to the ground with people still inside. Pardo’s target: his estranged ex-wife and ex-in-laws.

There’s a reason why they’re calling the murders the “Santa Massacre,” and it’s not only because it took place on Christmas; Pardo had showed up at the proceedings dressed in full St. Nick garb. There had been a local tradition every Christmas party, it seems, where a neighbor would drop by dressed like Santa, but since they moved away, police believe Pardo knew about the tradition and donned the suit, mainly as a way of catching partygoers off guard so he could attack. Terrible, terrible stuff, and the body count is up to nine as of this afternoon.

Of course, Ventura County does not go without mention, and hearing about the unprovoked murder — the operative word here is unprovoked — of a Ventura convenience store clerk early this morning is all the more sobering when you know it happened in your vicinity.

Sean Odle, 30, was killed by a gunshot to the chest simply for showing up and doing his job early this morning, when most people were still sleeping off their hangovers from too much egg nog.

If there are ever times when Planet Earth’s motto could be “Sick, Sad World,” this is one of them.

Is nothing sacred anymore??

December 24, 2008

You’d think that there are certain times of the year, no matter what a person’s motives are for leaning towards the wrong side of the tracks, that criminals would refrain for just a bit from the crime-doing ways. You know, like at Christmastime.

You’d think.

Not so in Ventura County. Now, we receive in our office press releases from the sheriff’s department on a daily basis about burglaries, assaults and worse. But this week alone, the amount of “Christmas-themed” crimes is close to being called almost trendworthy by your humble blogger, here in Estate Numero Quattro.

December 18: deputies in Camarillo arrested two men who had broken into a home, ransacked the place … and even started opening presents under the Christmas tree. Of course, by the time police caught up with the real life Grinches, they had taken some of the presents with them.

December 21: A man and woman both wearing Santa hats were caught on surveillance camera robbing the Hampton Inn, also in Camarillo. Still at large, the Christmas spirit-killing duo took off with an undisclosed amount of cash.

Is nothing sacred anymore these days?

The words “free press” and “First Amendment” are becoming more and more oxymoronic these days, and what better place for it to happen than in Ventura County? Moronic is more like it, considering a gag order placed by a judge on the folks over at the VC Star.

Based on a tidbit of reporting on themselves, it seems like the paper has been barred indefinitely from covering a story involving a murder of a local six-year-old. Apparently, there were some sealed documents — namely, search warrants — a superior court judge doesn’t want anyone to read (namely, newspaper readers!).

Now, it doesn’t matter what the paper is or who it’s competing with: the Star, like any other paper, should have journalistic access to public documents and delineate them as such: as public news. Just like the VC Reporter should, or the L.A. Times, or any one of thousands of publications.

Should journalists hold back sometimes? Could putting all the facts out there unfairly influence a jury? (Its members could stay away from the news racks, after all.) Could they endanger those sensitive to the case? (There is such a thing as police protection, after all).  Or would it be just another excuse for not standing up to our First Amendment rights?

http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2008/dec/11/judge-blocks-murder-case-story/

Deadlines for the dead

December 3, 2008

When it comes to blogging about journalism-related items going on in the world, it’s always interesting to find Ventura County-related news, especially when it comes down to that bane of newspaper writing: the constant, deadline-driven timeliness of print media.

Working here at a weekly paper can be both daunting and advantageous. Having a seven-day shelf life and with a daily competitor down the road, the first scoop on breaking matters doesn’t often fall in line with our publication schedule. On the other hand, we have more time to craft engaging, feature pieces in reaction to daily news as it unfolds.

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever, one thing is for sure: we all have deadlines, and we all want to report things in a timely manner for our own readers’ needs.

So what should one think when the news — and in this case, obituaries — is reported a long, long time after the fact?

Sheri Rudd Klittich, who was the first administrator of the state-run agricultural Hansen Trust in Ventura County, died on Nov. 20. The local daily, the Star, reported it six days after the fact. The daily L.A. Times, who has more than enough resource and ample opportunity for quick Ventura County coverage, just got around to running a feature on Klittich today, Dec. 3 — almost two weeks after her death.

It’s something for editors, publishers, reporters and their readers to consider: how long can one wait before engaging news becomes a simple afterthought?

(That means you, daily papers.)