Steve Montiel, Bobby Kirkwood and this year’s crop of environmental justice fellows from the Institute of Justice and Journalism were in town last night-a fact that generally means three things: lots of eating; lots of drinking; and plenty of animated conversation.
Founded close to a decade ago, the institute has sought help encourage the development of a critical mass of journalists committed to covering social justice issues. Through its fellowships on racial justice, the environment, and immigration, IJJ has provided hundreds of journalists with stimulating intellectual experiences and helped cultivate lasting friendships.
During our week alone, we met Nick Ut, photographer of the classic image of a naked Vietnamese girl running along a road after having been hit by a blast of napalm, Father Greg Boyle, maverick priest in East Los Angeles, founder of Homeboy Industries and subject of Celeste Fremon’s very personal book, G-Dog and the Homeboys, and LAPD Commissioner William Bratton.
A Boston boy at heart, Bratton and his accent were on full display when he talked about a gang report written by Connie Rice and released while we were there. He said, in essence and in phonetic cadence, “I have not yet read the whole repoht, because not only is Coh-nie an excellent wri-tah, she is a very prolific one, too.”
Bratton’s wife is Rikki Klieman, who worked and had a minor dalliance with Jan Schlichtmann in Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action. She also was the prosecutor in the case of the 1980 murder of an Iranian university student in my hometown of Brookline-an experience she writes about in her book, Fairy Tales Can Come True (I have not read the entire book.).
An IJJ-related book that I have read is Senior Fellow Joe Domanick’s Cruel Justice, which tells the story of the origin of California’s ‘three strikes’ law that became a national standard bearer and that he argues has had highly negative consequences for the legal system and community at large.
After close to a decade, IJJ is shedding its affiliation with the University of Southern California and going independent. Montiel is moving to Oakland, where he will both be a “media relations specialist” and direct the new version of the institute.
Wherever it is located, the institute promises to continue to support the work of socially conscious journalists. I recommend it to all journalists interested in these issues and to philanthropic folks looking to support a worthy cause who have already donated to Kuumba Lynx, Facing History and Ourselves, and Community Renewal Society.