It was in November of 2008 that Lovelle Mixon finished serving his nine-month prison sentence for violating his parole agreement. By February 2009, his parole officer, unable to trace his whereabouts, had all but lost track of where exactly Mixon had gone.
By March 21, Mixon had shot and killed two Oakland police officers and two members of the city’s SWAT team. Within a few hours, Mixon himself was found dead on the scene, putting an end to what the state has since deemed the deadliest police shooting in the history of California law enforcement.
Mixon had been in and out of the California prison system since the age of 13, when he was arrested for multiple charges of battery. By the age of 20, he was serving a sentence for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in San Francisco. Eventually, he was released on parole, but after missing numerous appointments with his parole officer, Lovelle Mixon was once again a wanted man.
And while the tragedy of the four law enforcement officers has caused a media stir for its brutality — a police shooting of this size hasn’t been seen since the early 1970s — it is hardly a surprise for residents of Oakland, an area that has seen a steady increase of crime rates by 40 percent since mid-2004, according to the LA Times.
Many argue that this is yet another example of the typical Oakland race issue, with the predominantly white police department garnering more national sympathy than any of its more culturally diverse victims. As a result, a segment of the Oakland community has protested the nationwide reaction to the slaying of the four officers.
As has been the case with most civilian-officer relations, it is a positive that the tensions within the Oakland police department are being brought to the public eye. But to reduce the various conflicts between the Oakland citizens and police department, this incident in particular, to nothing more than socio-economic turf wars — “You’re either with us or with them” — is to bypass the larger issue at hand.
The larger issue that has many crying foul is dealing with California’s need to reevaluate its parole customs.
California state data indicates that there are somewhere between 122,000 and 138,000 parolees on the streets — 16,000 of whom reportedly have arrest warrants out for failing to report to their parole officers.
And until the evening of March 21, Lovelle Mixon was one of them.
The picture beyond the picture in the case of the Oakland police shootings raises questions about the state of California’s post-jail support, and what many argue is its poor job of monitoring offenders once they leave the system. Mixon himself went from blip on the jailhouse radar to national news, all of which could have been avoided had his whereabouts been kept under tighter watch.
Mixon’s parole officer in particular was responsible for 70 parolees, 18 of whom had been walking the streets and were regarded as high-risk. The LA Times recently reported that in California, the typical ratio of regularly monitored parolees to high-risk ones is 70 to 1.
Mixon’s parole officer’s involvement with the Oakland police department began to intensify as more facts regarding Mixon’s prior incarcerations came to light.
By mid-February, Oakland PD and Mixon’s parole officer began to search multiple locations in hopes of finding him. Scouring everywhere from Oakland to Mixon’s mother’s home to Auburn, Wash., authorities were unable to find the parolee they had lost track of.
Yet as they would find out, Mixon was in Oakland all along. Had he been watched more closely, the entire event could have been avoided, adding a further layer to the March 21 tragedy.
Beyond race, beyond class, beyond occupation, the Oakland police shootings have opened the eyes of the public with regard to an issue that has become more and more vital in keeping communities safe.
And regardless of the victims, had Mixon been kept under tighter wraps to begin with, March 21 might have been just another routine traffic stop. Instead, it is now the catalyst for tensions between Oakland residents and the police department to rise even further, having claimed five lives including Mixon’s.
It seems that a reworking of the parole system as a whole may benefit everyone — including the parolees themselves.