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A call, a crime and lives are changed forever

The phone call came 25 years ago and it is seared in my heart and soul for
eternity.

My sobbing mother was on the phone to tell me that my dad’s auto-parts store
had been held up. My father had been shot and was in trauma care. My
brother-in-law, Joel, died instantly from a bullet to the head. Then my
sister got on the phone, hysterical and in shock. She was unable to grasp
that her college sweetheart, who she and her two little children kissed
goodbye at breakfast, would never walk through the door again.

Sad to say, stories like these are far too common in California and the rest
of our nation. And for the families, who somehow live through them, there is
no such thing as “closure,” a word pop psychologists and media pundits like
to use. Crime victims never fully get over tragedies like this.

My family survived, as most crime-victim families do. In some ways we are no
doubt stronger, but there will always be a hole in our hearts for what was
ripped away from us in that violent act. We were changed forever by it,
probably in more ways than we know.

I know my views on crime and punishment were strongly affected by what
happened. I know when they finally caught the two men who committed this
armed robbery and murder and we found out they were on parole from another
robbery conviction, I was outraged.

Having lived through all that, I am extremely proud and gratified to be
working for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who understands and empathizes
with crime victims.

This week is Crime Victims’ Rights Week and it is therefore fitting that our
governor will be focusing on what the state has done and must continue to do
to support crime victims and their families.

It is why he signed an executive order creating a crime victims advocate
located in the governor’s office to streamline and improve victims services,
and to be his direct link to victims groups.

Crime Victims’ Rights Week was established by President Reagan in 1981 to
draw attention to the needs and rights of victims of crime.

It is startling to note that in this country, one in five families become
crime victims and the ripple effect of the experience, especially if the
crime was violent, can last a lifetime.

California and most states recognize this week with a proclamation and
activities, but Governor Schwarzenegger is doing much more.

I have known the governor and first lady Maria Shriver for 28 years. They
are like family to me and I’m sure their own personal experiences have a lot
to do with their sensitivity to this issue.

Maria’s family has certainly been devastated by violent crime, with the
assassination of two of her uncles. The governor grew up in Austria, where
he’s spoken out many times about the effect racial intolerance and hate
crimes have had on him and his family.

And the governor understands that the best public policy is to make sure
people don’t become crime victims in the first place. That’s why he worked
so hard to defeat an initiative to weaken our three-strikes law. He also
successfully campaigned for another initiative to expand the DNA-crime
database and also is tough on sexual predators and supports strong new laws,
like Jessica’s Law, to close loopholes that allow them to hide.

And it’s a big part of the reason he’s put so much emphasis on helping
“at-risk” kids with after-school programs that keep them away from drugs and
gangs. Kids with role models, support and wholesome activities to engage in
don’t become criminals and they don’t create more victims.

The governor will have more to say about crime victims this week. He knows
how hard it can be for them to negotiate through a criminal-justice system
that, by necessity, is focused on capturing and punishing criminals.

And I know firsthand from my own experience–and because I know what kind of
man this governor is–that when he does weigh in on the subject, it will come
from the heart and be another strong step toward helping people who are
crime victims put their lives back together.

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