Tag Archives: Stockton

What the Orlando Killer Was Thinking

Among the healthiest things you learn as a journalist is that the world is a hazy, cloudy place, rarely clear, not often black and white, where two opposites may be true at the same time, and that as things change all the time you need to move with them as they roil.

In my experience, these mass shootings teach us this over and over.

The latest wrinkle in the nauseating Orlando massacre, reported in the LA Times, is that the killer spent the previous year drinking at the gay bar he shot up, so much so that he was recognized by people he was shooting at that night. He also spent time on a gay chat app.

All this adds more nuance – predictable in all these cases as they unfold and more is known.Mateen 1

I think the idea that this guy may have been a closeted gay man seems to make sense; that he hated that he was gay, was violent because he hated that he was; that the shooting was in anger for what he was, venting on the people who provoked his attraction.

After all, what truly straight man goes regularly to drink alone at a gay bar? He’d been doing it for more than a year. What straight man also spends time on a gay chat app?

In that light, this Islamic thing may be as much of a cloak as anything else, a way of finding some kind of larger romantic rationale for what he was in the process of doing.

Mateen 2

Unclear to me that he was much of a clear thinker, but that’s self-evident.

(Note: Several days after I posted this, information surfaced that Mateen may have had as many as two gay affairs and that one with a Puerto Rican man may have resulted in him being HIV+.)

I mention all this because it falls in line with other cases I’ve covered as a reporter.

I’m very happy to ascribe fanatical religious/political/terrorist motives. But as a reporter, I’ve also covered seven mass murders (Stockton, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown among them) and in each case I was one of the journalists assigned to find out as much as possible about the suspect.

In each case, I came to have a very nuanced, though at the same time quite cloudy, view of the way the person thought or appears to have thought before he died. Because in the end, that’s the truth of the matter. It lies usually quite a way from how things appeared on first blush.

In Stockton (1989, the first of these mass shootings), we thought the shooter must have harbored great hatred for Asians, as the elementary school he fired on was largely SE Asian. In time, I grew to believe that he may have had some cloudy hateful ideas about Asians, but that was the most you could probably say. In fact, he was probably incapable of holding a clear thought of any kind – this from all I learned about his life up to then, and then his motel room where he spent his last night (with little green plastic soldiers deployed all over the room and a shirt on which he had written, “Death to the Great Satin” Mateen 3sic).

If anyone can tell me the clear thoughts that the shooters in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown had, I’d be very interested to hear. To me, they were all lost boys, murky in thinking, crazy, festering and unbalanced. Hence, finding a political meaning behind their actions was very difficult. We at first thought the Tucson shooter was a Tea Party member because he shot a Democratic congresswoman. Now, I can say with conviction that he was another boy out of his mind, lost, unfriended, scary to many, apolitical, and left by his parent to dangle on his own in the nether-reaches of virtual games.

This Orlando killer may have had some vague ideas of doing something for Allah and the Islamic state or (I now hear maybe) Hezbollah – I’m very willing to buy that. That’s who fanaticism wraps in its warm cloak – the lost, the embittered, the unbalanced. But the first information you get in these cases needs always to be balanced and blended with info, usually clearer, that comes later. So the stuff about his hanging out in Pulse for a year offers insight that we ought not ignore.Mateen 4

I can say that he does not seem like the Boston bombers, or the San Bernardino couple – all of whom were very focused, confirmed and dedicated Islamic terrorists, though perhaps technically solitary actors.

Those folks had a lot in common with Stavrogin, of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Omar Mateen did not – at least that’s how it seems to me at this point.

Seems to me that his call to the cops about ISIS as he was shooting up the club was a way of very loudly saying, “…and just so’s you know, I’m NOT gay!”

What better way to say that than to invoke the world’s most notorious homophobes?

Then again, I’m always ready to let new facts change my mind.


Filed under Culture, Storytelling, Writing

PHOTOGRAPHY: More photos at Kaldi in South Pas

I have some more photos on display at Kaldi, the cafe in South Pasadena.

These shots are from Jaripo, a small town in Michoacan, which taught me a lot about immigration from Mexico. It was a big part of the introduction I wrote to my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration.

Check them out next time you’re in the area.

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: The Stockton Stories

Two new stories up this week on Tell Your True Tale. Both grew from a writing workshop I did with students this month at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA — a town where I was once a crime reporter for several years.

The stories were terrific and I’ll be posting several of them in coming weeks.

Perhaps reflecting some of the town’s grit, the tales themselves are rough, but really great, reads — confirming my faith in community colleges as story goldmines.

These are the first two:

–Christian Lockwood, a former cop, writes of the final day of his drunken homelessness, in The Last Day.

–Darshay Smith, a nursing student, writes of the night her mother was shot and the lingering effects of the incident in The Light That Night.

Check them out. Please share them on social media. I’m always interested in looking at new submissions, so take computer in hand and get writing.

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CALIFORNIA: Stockton and writing

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Stockton, California, one of my favorite towns.

I was the crime reporter there for the Stockton Record from 1988-92.

This time, I met with students at San Joaquin Delta College, the area community college, in a class taught by poet/instructor Pedro Ramirez. We were talking about writing and how they could tell their own stories — part of my Tell Your True writing workshops.

I’ll be posting some of them soon on my TYTT storytelling page.

The town has taken a lot of hits, entering bankruptcy in the wake of the housing collapse — which seemed reflected in the tales the students wrote, most of which were pretty grim.

Cops have left for departments elsewhere — Oceanside is one, I understand — when they lose their houses due to their salaries being reduced. Crime is again on a track to break records. I did notice a lot of the parolee/addict/hooker kind of folks downtown.

One of Stockton’s problems is that, by design or not, it is within a hundred miles of something like half the prisons in the state: this includes Folsom, San Quentin, Deuel, and the new prisons down by Corcoran/Delano, as well as a women’s prison and a youth-authority prison. That’s a lot.

But there’s a backbone to the town that I always liked, and a down-to-earth quality to folks that I did not feel, for example, when I moved to Seattle for my next job. (Civil folks, those Seattlites, but not at all friendly. And then there’s the rain, or should I say the constant drizzle.)

In Stockton, I note still a lack of graffiti, which is good. When I was there, it was the graffiti that most seemed to drag down the town and give it a defeated/defeatist feel.

These photos suggest the town’s stiff upper lip remains.


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Filed under California, Prison, Storytelling, Tell Your True Tale

CALIFORNIA: Sad for Stockton

Stockton has filed for bankruptcy, making it the largest city in the country to do so.

It’s a sad day. It’s one of my favorite towns, a place I spent four years (1988-92) as the crime reporter for the Stockton Record. (Here’s the Record’s story, with a photo from my former colleague, Cal Romias, a great photographer.)

I learned an enormous amount in that job, and loved the realness of the place. I covered some of the worst atrocities humans can commit and still felt that the town had a soul that others lacked. Had the paper had a different owner (Gannett Corp.) at the time, I might have stayed.

Stockton had (has) great problems as a city, but it was confronting the issues of “multiculturalism” in real ways long before other cities who talked about the topic from a distance without facing its consequences.

It had, however, an almost Third World fatalism that I always found disturbing, that later city administrations apparently tried to overcome. It’s as if people, when I was there, felt the town was doomed to fail; failure and mediocrity were expected.

Some of the attempts to revitalize the downtown were in a larger sense attempts to get the city to see what it was capable of. They just overstretched, or did it poorly, not sure which.

I wrote a story about the town for the LAT of those attempts, six years ago, which now seems way off base, laughably so, given the headlines today.

At the time, though, the city seemed to be turning a corner in many ways that I thought were profound.

It was hard not to see the downtown, with its beautiful old brick buildings, as making leaps and bounds forward from what I’d known it to be, particularly at night: a depot for parolees, junkies, winos, and hookers, which seemed to prove all that Stocktonians felt about the town.

Gleason Park — in my day the most dangerous, forbidding park in the Central Valley — was gone. So were the dive hotels on El Dorado. The change was remarkable.

The waterfront was actually being used for what it should always have been used for — people enjoying it in the evenings and weekends. The Fox Theater was renovated.

I don’t know all that’s happened since then. But the attempts to change Stockton into a town with a belief in the future, however they were executed and paid for, seemed to me girded with optimism, making the bankruptcy all the sadder

Meanwhile, for a great local perspective, particularly about the accumulation of public-employee benefits over many years, read Mike Fitzgerald’s column in the Record. Mike is a friend and ex-colleague and one of the best columnists in California today, I think.









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CALIFORNIA: Tough times for Stocktone

I’m sorry to see my old favorite town of Stockton going through rough financial times and moving toward declaring bankruptcy.

Things seemed to be turning around for Stockton a few years ago, when I wrote of what seemed to be its reemergence.

I was the crime reporter for the Stockton Record from 1988-92, years that were its worst, criminally speaking. Homicide records were set each year I was there. The town was awash in crack and Crips — both of which came up from LA — and Nortenos and Surenos, who were mostly homegrown. There was a schoolyard massacre in 1989 and a whole lot more.

Still, I loved the place, though not always for reasons having to do with quality of life. It was my post-graduate journalism education.

It was also a place that was daily dealing with the reality of “multi-culturalism” — a term then in vogue in universities, but often used by people who had few connections to any place where it was playing out. Stockton was a town where you’d find four kids in a car, each from a different race. It was a place where you’d hear people order a cup of coffee by saying, “I’d like a cup of coffee” and not whatever it is they were saying up in Seattle, where I moved for my next job.

Some favorite Stockton crime reporter memories:

-Interviewing a Crip named T-Tone, who asked me if I was going to portray the Crips “in a positive light.”

-Interviewing Jack Johnson, a heroin addict, in jail for burglarizing my house.

-Writing about every murder that took place in the county in 1989, finding photos for most of them, and putting it all out in a special two-part report (thanks to my editor, Bruce Spence).

-Getting a Christmas card from Gus, a member of the Nuestra Familia prison gang, in jail and accused of killing a witness in a crime, for which he was first convicted and later absolved. (At his sentencing, the judge gave him 80 years or something, and Gus said, “Why don’t you just shoot me right here?”) In the card he wrote, if memory serves, “Mr. Quinones, another year has passed and the people who killed Angel are still free to roam the streets. Merry Christmas.”

-Having a knife pulled on me by a heroin dealer at that park just north of Charter Way, just south of downtown.

-Corresponding with Danny Ray Horning, who’d dismembered a guy, then went on the lam, robbing banks through the Pacific Northwest before heading to Arizona, where he was caught. I wrote his story off those letters. Then, 20 years ago this summer, he escaped prison in Arizona and took law enforcement on a wild chase for weeks through the area around the Grand Canyon. He’s on Death Row,  last I heard.

-Learning that everyone in a county jail has a story they want to tell — and they’ll tell it quicker if you bring them cigarettes (now, sadly, not allowed).

-Dale Wagner. I learned to read gang graffiti from Dale, a gang detective who probably forgot more stuff about gangs than most others knew. Dale was a great cop — a fluent Spanish speaker. He’d been in Vietnam as a Marine, then gone into policing and was sent to Berkeley to help quell the student riots of th3 1960s, where he bopped some heads. Somehow, me, with my earring and Berkeley student background, and Dale, with his Berkeley history, got along famously.

He told me once that a gang member was shot and dying on an emergency room table. Yet the kid wouldn’t tell the doctors or investigators who shot him. (This was when Latino street gangs were famous statewide for their unwillingness to talk to cops.) Dale shows up and the guy’s going in and out of consciousness. Dale leans over him and says, Chuy, you’re dying, buddy.  Tell me who did it. The kid realizes what’s happening, rises up on the table in his last act on this earth, and takes Dale by the shirt and gives him a name. “Get him, Wagner!” he says, and lies back down and dies. (I think I have that story right.)

Anyway, these are a few of the reasons I love Stockton — perhaps not what the Chamber of Commerce would like to hear, but stories that I’ll never forget.







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