Author: lafocus

Cal NAACP Praises AG Becerra for Investigating LA Sheriff’s Dept.

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

The California-Hawaii Conference of the NAACP is applauding outgoing California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s decision to conduct a probe of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Last week, Becerra announced that he has opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether there is a pattern of unconstitutional policing practices involving the country’s largest sheriff’s department.

“I applaud Attorney General Becerra for his commitment to looking at public institutions and to ensure that our civil rights are not being violated,” NAACP president Rick L. Callender told California Black Media.

The California Department of Justice (DOJ) launched the investigation responding to allegations of excessive force, retaliation, and other misconduct, including a number of reported incidents involving LASD management and personnel.

“We’ve done a number of these,” Becerra said, referring to the multiple investigations his office has opened. He was speaking at a virtual news conference on Jan. 21.

“The action we’re taking is the result of having received credible information, reports, from a number of sources over a period of time,” Becerra said. “(It) led us to a point where we now believe it is important to move forward with the investigation. We are undertaking this investigation to determine if LASD has violated the law or the rights of the people of Los Angeles County.”

Becerra said that the LASD probe is “not a criminal investigation,” and his office has not made any determination about “specific” complaints. The DOJ’s action is also prompted in part by the absence of sustained and comprehensive oversight of LASD’s operations.

Callender said he believes the investigation will force other law enforcement officers in the state to think twice before breaking the law or violating established codes of conduct.

“It’s efforts like this which allow us to not only fight individual acts of bigotry and racism, but this puts on notice other statewide institutions and systems that perpetuate racism and inequity that they will not go unchallenged,” he said.

LASD isn’t the only law enforcement agency in the state under the DOJ’s microscope for allegedly engaging in activities that went against their departments’ policies. The cities of Stockton, Vallejo, Bakersfield, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the county of Kern have kept the DOJ busy since Becerra became AG in 2017, replacing Vice President Kamala Harris.

Last month, President Joe Biden nominated Becerra to join his Cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services. He is expected to be replaced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who Gov. Newsom has selected for the role, once she is confirmed by the legislature.

Awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Becerra has been making an effort to improve public safety and the criminal justice system up and down the state.

Last month, following an extensive investigation, the AG secured an agreement to reform a wide range of practices at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Earlier last year, following several reports of misuse – including falsification of records — the DOJ rescinded LAPD’s access to CalGang, a statewide database that tracks individuals who may be connected to gangs.

In Northern California, Becerra also launched a review of the Vallejo Police Department after officers allegedly destroyed evidence related to the June 2020 officer-involved shooting of Sean Monterrosa, a 22-year-old unarmed Latino man.

The year before, the DOJ secured an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address system-wide violations of the civil and constitutional rights of African American and Latino students, as well as children with disabilities.

Then in 2018, Becerra stepped in at the request of the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department to provide independent oversight of reform initiatives in that city.

Last summer, the DOJ introduced a broad statewide agenda for police reform aimed at improving use-of-force procedures, addressing issues around bias in policing, and increasing accountability and transparency. Many of the proposed reforms stem from a set of policing best practices and recommendations made to the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) by the Attorney General in January of 2019. The AG issued 66 policy recommendations to SPD following the shooting death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed African American man in Sacramento, by two officers in 2018.

Regarding the LASD, Becerra says he has made no determinations at this time about specific complaints or allegations.

However, one violation stands out. In March 2020, LASD announced that eight of its deputies were responsible for sharing images taken at the site where retired NBA star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna “Gii” Bryant died in a helicopter crash. The action of the deputies and other first responders at the scene prompted Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) to author AB 2655, the “Invasion of Privacy: First Responders” Act.

L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he welcomes the probe.

“I look forward to this non-criminal pattern and practice’ investigation,” Villanueva said in a statement. “Our department may finally have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations.”

The Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (CJLP) at Loyola-Marymount’ Loyola Law School released a comprehensive report documenting how “deputy gangs” have negatively impacted public safety in Los Angeles.

“The concern is that these subgroups foster a culture that resists police reforms, such as community policing and constitutional policing, by encouraging and even celebrating aggressive tactics and excessive use of force against minority communities,” the report stated.

Starting this year, State prosecutors in California must investigate all police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed civilian, under a new law, Assembly Bill (AB) 1506. It took effect on Jan. 1.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), introduced the legislation which will override local prosecutors’ authority in investigations of fatal shootings by police. That responsibility now falls under the AG’s office. It also requires that a detailed report is created and publicly released on each investigation.

McCarty says he was motivated to push the law after he learned that more than 800 people had been shot and killed by police in California since 2015. Only one independent investigation had been carried out.

“Now more than ever there needs to be a uniform standard for local law enforcement officials and district attorneys to call for independent investigations into police killings,” McCarty said. “Police shouldn’t police themselves, and the current system is fraught with conflicts of interest.”

Your Student Loans Are Paused– But Not Yet Pardoned

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

On Jan. 20, at the request of President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would extend the federal student loan payment moratorium, suspending payments on student loans through Sept. 30. The interest rates on these loans will also stay at 0 % until Sept. 30.

Federal student loan payments have been suspended since March 2020 as part of the federal government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium extension came on the day of President Biden’s inauguration, and less than two weeks before the previous pause on payments was set to expire on Jan. 31. The request to extend the moratorium was one of 17 executive actions President Biden signed on his first day in office. An estimated 41 million Americans will benefit from the extended pause on payments.

“Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families. They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table,” said the Department of Education in a short statement.

In addition to the pause on payments, collections on defaulted, federally held loans will continue to be halted, and all borrowers with defaulted federal loans whose wages are being garnished will receive a refund. Also, each month until Sept. 30 will still count towards public service loan forgiveness for borrowers in public-service jobs, as well as the federal student loan rehabilitation program, which erases a default from a person’s credit report after nine consecutive payments.

As for the question of canceling student debt, which has been a topic throughout Biden’s campaign, the Biden administration has yet to take any official action as of Jan. 24. On a Jan. 19 call with reporters, the incoming Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese said that the Biden administration supports forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt per person through congressional action.

Federal student loan debt has been a looming concern for families for a while now — before the pandemic began. The total amount some 40 million American student loan borrowers owe has reached nearly $1.6 trillion. According to the Federal Reserve, the average borrower owns over $32,700 in student debt and the average monthly student loan payment is $393.

Some liberal lawmakers and debt cancellation advocates have called for President Biden to cancel student debt through executive action. In a letter first sent last November that was updated Jan. 15, over 325 nonprofit and community organizations called on President Biden and Vice President Harris to cancel all federal student debt on the first day of their administration. The letter argued that “canceling student debt would stimulate the economy, help reduce racial wealth gaps, and could have a positive impact on health outcomes.” The organizations who signed the letter included the NAACP, National Action Network, Hispanic Federation and the Faith in Action National Network.

“Before COVID-19 … student debt was already a drag on the national economy, weighing heaviest on Black and Latinx communities, as well as women. That weight is likely to be exponentially magnified given the disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on both the health and economic security of people of color and women. To minimize the harm to the next generation and help narrow the racial and gender wealth gaps, bold and immediate action is needed,” the organizations wrote.

Research has shown that student loan debt is a large part contributor to the racial wealth gap, and it hinders economic progress for Black communities. According to a 2019 report by the Century Foundation, The Roosevelt Institute and Demos, Black families, who typically have less generational wealth than white families, rely more heavily on student debt and use riskier forms of student debt than white families. The report also found that Black students are far more likely to experience negative financial events including loan default, higher interest rate payments and higher graduate school debt balances after graduating. According to a 2016 Brookings Institution report, Black college graduates owe $7,400 more on average than their white peers immediately after graduation, and over the four years after graduation, the black-white debt trap grows to $25,000.

Student loan debt cancellation is a divisive issue, with conservatives historically opposing cancellation. It is expected that any congressional action taken toward debt cancellation will be met with opposition from Republicans. With the election of Senators Warnock and Ossoff, Democrats now have slim majorities in the House and Senate, and the cancellation of at least a small amount of student loan debt looks possible.

California Surgeon Gen. Embraces Idea of NBA Partnership for Vaccination Outreach

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

When Dr. Nadine Burke Harris heard last week that the National Basketball Association (NBA) was discussing educating the African American community about receiving COVID-19 vaccines, she said partnering with the league could be a game-changer in the state of California.

Dr. Burke Harris, the Surgeon General of California, said she would embrace that strategy with open arms.

“Yes, absolutely. Please tell LeBron James to call me,” Dr. Burke Harris told California Black Media (CBM), referring to one of the league’s most high-profile Black players. James plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. “I think it’s a wonderful partnership and I am excited for that to happen because we want to use our trusted messengers.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on Jan. 18 that the league’s players could use their influence to provide information to African Americans, other ethnic minorities, and the general public about vaccine safety and efficacy. It is something that the NBA is “particularly focused” on, he said.

“In the African American community, there has been an enormously disparate impact from COVID … but now, somewhat perversely, there has been enormous resistance [to vaccinations] for understandable historical reasons,” Silver said. “If that resistance continues, it would be very much a double whammy to the Black community because the only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated.”

The Surgeon General, California Department of Public Health officials, medical experts, and community leaders joined a Zoom news briefing last week with African American media in the state organized by CBM and the Center at Sierra Health Foundation. Participants discussed how African American communities can continue to stay safe. They also talked about the state’s plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Burke Harris, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of Los Angeles’ Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, and Shantay R. Davies-Balch, founder of Fresno’s Black Wellness and Prosperity Center, were speakers during the virtual news briefing. The group stressed the necessity of speeding up statewide vaccinations to reduce hospitalizations and stem the spread of the disease.

Silver said much of the mistrust about taking the vaccine in the Black community originated from a history of racism and malpractice against Blacks by the country’s medical establishment.

One specific example stands out: the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

In 1932, the United States Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama, began a study to record the natural history of syphilis in hopes of understanding treatment programs for African Americans. It was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”

When penicillin was discovered and become the primary drug for treating syphilis in 1947, subjects were never provided the highly effective medication or a chance to resign from the study. The experiment continued until 1972 when the media exposed that it was still being conducted despite the fact a cure had been available for 25 years. A reporter from The Associated Press investigated the study and broke the news.

Nearly 400 participants of the study, primarily sharecroppers, suffered severe health problems, including blindness, mental illness, or death. The study also led to the uncovering of other medical atrocities committed on Black citizens.

In 1951, without her knowledge and consent, cancer cells were taken from Henrietta Lacks, a young Black woman with five children. The cells, later called “HeLa,” were used to study the results of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses without experimenting on humans.

Lacks died at the age of 31. Reportedly, many medical institutions and related businesses profited from her cells without sharing any of the largesse with her surviving family. Lacks’ case became a focal point of medical ethics, sparking debate about whether researchers should be required to conduct such studies without the subject’s permission.

Twenty-year-old Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton shared with the media his knowledge of the Tuskegee Study. He also said he was open to the idea of getting vaccinated for the NBA.

“I do understand why there is a drawback from some people with everything that has happened in the history of the world and vaccinations,” Haliburton said. “I’ve learned about the Tuskegee study and that crazy situation. I do understand how that can be crazy for African Americans. It’s their choice. It’s their bodies.”

Haliburton, who left Iowa State University after two seasons and entered the 2020 NBA Draft, is originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee. To deal with frigid temperatures, he said getting flu shots before the winter was routine.

“I myself, am just going to listen to the public officials and I plan on getting the vaccine,” Haliburton said. “At a young age, I got all my vaccinations. So, I don’t see any reasons to stop now. Internally, we’ve (Haliburton’s teammates and other players in the NBA) talked about it. There are guys in the league that say they will get it and there are guys that say they won’t. That’s their opinion. I am going to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said over the weekend that President Joe Biden has talked about using pharmacies, community vaccine centers, and mobile units to speed up the process of getting more people vaccinated.

Dr. Fauci said there will be a “revving up of the capabilities and implementation of getting larger numbers of people vaccinated,” including, the Black community.

“One of the things that is a concern to me, and the reason why we are putting a considerable amount of effort into it, is to get over the vaccine hesitancy that we see in some segment of the population,” Dr. Fauci said. “Particularly and understandably, the minority population who have some hesitancy and skepticism based on some historical mistreatments. We need to vaccinate, we need to implement it, but we also have to overcome the hesitancy associated with it.”

For more information on the latest developments in the vaccine distribution process, visit www.covid19.ca.gov.

“Religion” of the Radical Right: Experts Warn of Growing QAnon Threat

Manny Otiko | California Black Media
Some Americans had not heard about QAnon before a mob of President Trump’s supporters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan 6.

Believers in what experts call the QAnon conspiracy theory were among several far-right groups that invaded the Capitol and attempted to overthrow the government that day earlier this month. San Diego resident Ashli Babbitt, a U.S. Air Force vet who a Capitol Police officer shot during the chaos, was a QAnon follower.

Last week, three experts from different disciplines gave an hour-long briefing on the history and background of QAnon to a group of California journalists. The virtual meeting was organized by Ethnic Media Services.

According to the panel, QAnon is a loosely organized, mostly internet-based cult that floats several conspiracies that many of its followers believe. Prominent among them is this one: the government is controlled by high-level Satanists who drink children’s blood. The idea of elites drinking blood is tied to age-old anti-Semitic myths.

The group also sees President Donald Trump as their leader, the experts say, and they envision a day when their organization takes control of the government and execute the Satanists. QAnon is also allied with other far-right and White nationalist groups.

Meili Criezis, program associate at Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL) at American University in Washington, D.C., says QAnon grew out of a debunked conspiracy theory about pedophiles and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The conspiracy theory alleged that one of Clinton’s staffers was a member of a group of pedophiles who kept children in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. An armed listener of Right-wing talk radio host Alex Jones’s “InfoWars” stormed the restaurant to rescue the children only to find the business did not have a basement. He was arrested and jailed after shooting up the building.

But the myth of pedophiles in Washington preying on children continues to spread on the Internet, especially on YouTube. QAnon is an outgrowth of those misinformation campaigns.

Criezis said when the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol, many QAnon members thought this was “The Storm,” the moment they would take back “their government.” Babbitt screamed out the phrase before she was shot that day.

“There was a lot of online discussions that this was the moment of ‘the Storm,’” said Criezis, who has studied the growth of QAnon in online spaces such as 4chan, an unregulated internet message board. The conspiracy was spread by a figure called “Q,” who claims to be a high-level government official. He leaked messages on 4chan.

However, since the fallout of the Capitol attack, technology companies have cracked down on online chat planning violence. QAnon members and groups have been kicked off Facebook and Twitter. Criezis says QAnon members have now migrated to Telegram, a new social media site that is popular with white supremacists.

Criezis said QAnon has also penetrated the Republican Party. There are at least two Republican representatives, Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who have ties to the group.

Greene filed paperwork to impeach President Joe Biden on the first day of his presidency. She has also repeated conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the Sandy Hook School shooting being “false flag” events designed to give the government an excuse to crack down on civil liberties. Boebert is facing accusations that she played a role in providing information to the insurrectionists.

“The GOP must contend with this conspiratorial group in their party,” said Criezis.

Colin P. Clarke, assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Politics and Strategy and a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, briefed journalists on the national security implications of QAnon and other far-right groups who attacked the Capitol.

According to Clarke, other far-right groups besides QAnon participated in the attack, including the Proud Boys, a white nationalist gang, and militia groups such as the Oath Keepers and III Percenters.

“Bait and Switch”: Firings Make Some Drivers Regret Yes Vote on Prop 22

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media
Less than a month after Prop 22 became law in California, some app-based drivers are regretting their yes vote last November that helped approve the ballot initiative.

The proposition passed with 59 % of the vote. It exempted Uber and Lyft drivers — as well as others who work for other delivery and ride-hail companies – from the state’s controversial employee classification law AB 5. Under that law, which took effect in January 2020, most companies in the state had to switch contractors working for them from freelancers to full-time W-2 employees.

But now that ride-hail and other app-based companies can keep contracting with drivers, one corporation, Albertsons Companies, whose subsidiaries include Vons, Safeway and Pavilions, among others, has recently decided to fire some of its full-time drivers in California. The company now plans to operate the bulk of its delivery driving program in the state through third-party driver services.

Some of the affected drivers have taken to the internet to share their stories.

“I voted for the ballot measure because I thought it’d help drivers like me. Now I’m out of a job,” said one driver, who chose to remain anonymous, to Mai Tran, a New-York based writer for the online publication Gen by Medium. He added that Von’s delivery drivers were told that they were getting laid off on Dec. 8 last year and that he voted yes on Prop 22 because he was influenced by positive TV ads. He didn’t realize, he continued, that voting yes would hurt him and his fellow drivers. He described the proposition as “a bit of a bait and switch.”

According to Albertsons, the full-time delivery drivers in California will continue to work until the end of February. After that, the stores’ deliveries nationwide will be fulfilled by DoorDash. Drivers at Bay Area stores, who are unionized, will not be affected by the layoffs.

Albertson’s decision to lay the drivers off puts Vons and Pavilions – both chains founded in Southern California – in line with a national trend of grocery stores using independent drivers from third-party services to make deliveries, instead of employing full-time drivers. Ralphs, another well-known Southern California supermarket chain, currently operates its delivery service through Instacart. Target uses Shipt and Walmart uses Doordash. DoorDash and Instacart contributed $52 million and $32 million, respectively to the Yes on 22 campaign.

An Albertson’s representative said in a statement, “Albertsons Companies made the strategic decision to discontinue using our own home delivery fleet of trucks in select locations, including
Southern California, beginning February 27, 2021. We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers who specialize in that service. Our HR teams are working to place impacted associates in stores, plants, and distribution centers.”

Opponents of Prop 22 have long predicted that the proposition’s passing would lead to a rise in gig-work over full-time employment. Though Prop 22 includes language requiring gig companies to implement a wage floor and access to health insurance for their drivers, the law exempts these companies from offering significant workplace benefits, including unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Prop 22 also makes it harder for app-based drivers to unionize. Albertsons employees who are members of a union will not be affected by the layoffs.

Unions and drivers have begun a legal fight against the law. On Jan. 12, a plaintiff group consisting of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU California State Council, three ride-share drivers and one passenger filed a lawsuit with the California Supreme Court against Prop 22. The lawsuit argues that the law is unconstitutional because it takes away workers’ rights and limits the state legislature’s ability to govern since they face a large barrier to amending the law. Prop 22 requires a seven-eighths majority vote in the state legislature for any modification of it.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the author of AB-5, said, “Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California. It stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve working conditions for hundreds of thousands of app-based workers. The State Supreme Court should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their job.”

A statement from the Yes of 22 campaign, credited to Uber driver Jim Pyatt, defended the law.

“Nearly 10 million California voters — including the vast majority of app-based drivers — passed Prop. 22 to protect driver independence, while providing historic new protections. Voters across the political spectrum spoke loud and clear, passing Prop. 22 in a landslide,” he said.

Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman Steals The Show

It was one of the inauguration’s most memorable moments and it belonged to Amanda Gorman, the 22-year old poet laureate who made history as “the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate”.

The powerful words of her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, struck at the very heart of what the United States is experiencing at this very challenging moment in history.
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed…
“We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
Of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we’ve found the power
To author a new chapter…

It can never be permanently defeated,” Gorman recited in the poem that evoked the powerful oratory of seasoned politicians, the cadence of a veteran Broadway actress and the poise of one well beyond her years. So impressed was now First Lady Jill Biden by Gorman, who’d previously seen her recite a poem at a Library of Congress event, that she recommended the Harvard University grad to the Inaugural Committee.

With her piercing words, the L.A. native wowed the star-studded crowd of political insiders including former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama along with the likes of Lady Gaga and Jenifer Lopez and the upwards of 5 million who viewed the 59th Presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol of the nation’s 46th President, Joseph R. Biden.

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” Winfrey tweeted.

“With her strong and poignant words, @theAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can’t wait to see what you do next,” Michelle Obama posted.

And from former President Barack Obama: “On a day for the history books, @theAmandaGorman delivered a poem that more than met the moment. Young people like her are proof that “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only were brave enough to be it.”

“Thank you, I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in. While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird—a gift from @Oprah for the occasion, to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before.”

Gorman, who began writing poems as a child and overcame a speech impediment, has dreams of running for president in 2036. She referenced that dream in her poem:

“We, the successors of a country and a time,
Where a skinny black girl,
Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,
Can dream of becoming president,
Only to find herself reciting for one.”

Those who reveled in her words, can look forward to hearing a great deal more from Gorman who has two books set for release in September, including a bound edition of her inaugural poem. If history serves as any indication, it should be a huge seller given that a similar release of Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning”, sold upwards of one million copies.

Gorman challenged Americans to “leave this country better than the one we were left.
“If,” she said, “we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy in change, our children’s birthright.”

Covid Vaccine Now Available for Angelenos Over 65, Concerns Over Delayed Distribution For Others Grows

Dianne Lugo, Staff

Los Angeles is pushing forward and has opened up appointments to residents above the age of 65 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine even as California overall struggles to accurately count and report how many of the vaccine doses are distributed daily.

Gov. Gavin Newsom previously asked Californian’s to “hold me accountable” after he promised to vaccinate an additional 1 million people against COVID-19 in the span of nine days as criticism mounted because though the state has received 2 million doses of the vaccine, only one third of the doses have been administered to those eligible in the first round. To speed up vaccination rates, the state has eased restrictions to who qualifies for the shot.

In Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda SOlis issued an executive order to make appointments available to residents 65 and older.

“However, if we are to ever get out of this dark winter, it is critical that we make headway vaccinating people 65 years of age and older as soon as possible — in line with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recommendations,” she said in a statement.

California’s epidemiologist, Dr. Erica Pan, estimates that vaccinating Californian’s 65 and older as a whole could take until June to complete once again raising concerns that other groups will be waiting longer than they had hoped to get a piece of the dwindling vaccine stockpiles.

Los Angeles is set to receive 143,900 doses, but 70 percent of those doses are to be used as the second dose for healthcare workers and other eligible patients that already received their first dose of the vaccine. Only 37,900 vaccines will be left for seniors and new healthcare workers.

“Our ability to protect even more L.A. County residents in the coming weeks and months is entirely dependent and constrained by the amount of vaccine we receive each week, and often, we do not know from one week to the next how many doses will be allocated to L.A. County,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a news conference Wednesday.

For information on how eligible older residents can make an appointment visit VaccinateLACounty.com

Rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black Among 140 Pardoned and Commuted by Donald Trump

Dianne Lugo, Staff

In his final hours as President, Donald Trump announced that he had issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 politicians, businessmen and close allies in addition to rappers Kodak Black and Lil Wayne.

Some of the names were notable but unsurprising, as Trump was well known for his willingness to use his power to help longtime supporters and those with strong connections to him. The wave included his former chief strategist Stephen Bannon who he called “an important leader.” Bannon had been charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands in an online campaign to raise money for Trump’s border wall.

One of his top 2016 fundraisers, Elliott Broidy, was also granted clemency.

In the rap world, ROC Nation CEO Desiree Perez (named CEP of Jay-Z’s entertainment company in 2019) was granted a full pardon for her involvement in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics in 1994.

“Since her conviction, Ms. Perez has taken full accountability for her actions and has turned her life around,” the White House said in a statement. “She has been gainfully employed and has been an advocate for criminal justice reform in her community.”

“I’m grateful to have received a pardon and to have formally closed that chapter of my life in the eyes of the law,” she added in a statement provided to Billboard. “I have taken full accountability for my mistakes from 25 years ago, but I also take tremendous pride in my personal growth, perseverance and accomplishments since then. This pardon reinforces my lifelong commitment to advocate for criminal justice reform and social justice initiatives.”

Lil Wayne’s full pardon comes just weeks before the rapper was due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. He faced up to 10 years in prison.

In October, however, he spent an hour with Trump at his Doral Golf Club in Miami discussing his upbringing and interest in criminal justice reform before tweeting a photo with the president and endorsing him. The meeting seems to have paid off.

Kodak Black, currently serving a four year sentence for making a false statement on a federal document, will now have a commuted sentence and be released from federal prison after serving nearly half of his 46 month sentence.

“I Want To Thank The President @RealDonaldTrump For His Commitment To Justice Reform And Shortening My Sentence. I Also Want To Thank Everyone For Their Support And Love. It Means More Than You Will Ever Know. I Want To Continue Giving Back, Learning And Growing,” the rapper tweeted.

“He has committed to supporting a variety of charitable efforts, such as providing educational resources to students and families of fallen law enforcement officers and the underprivileged,” said the White House statement about the rapper. “In addition to these efforts, he has paid for the notebooks of school children, provided funding and supplies to daycare centers, provided food for the hungry, and annually provides for underprivileged children during Christmas.”

Bridgerton Has Been Renewed For A Second Season

Staff

The official announcement is in, Netflix’s hit new show Bridgerton is getting a second season.

The show from Shonda Rhimes is a part of her multi-year Netflix deal, bringing the bestselling Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn to life. The show, a Regency-era period drama, debuted at the end of 2020 and quickly became a hit for the streaming platform. Netflix announced earlier this month that 63 million households watched the show in its first four weeks.

It was also the number 1 show on Netflix in 76 countries and remains in the top 10 today in the United States.

“Bridgerton shall officially return for a second season,” read the statement published by the show’s Lady Whistledown character. “The incomparable cast of Bridgerton will return to production in Spring 2021.”

Black Lawmakers Dig Into History of Inequality in Criminal Justice System

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Two Black lawmakers, Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), made history last month when they were both appointed Public Safety Committee chairpersons in their respective chambers of the California legislature.

This is the first time in California history that two Black elected officials have simultaneously led the powerful committees responsible for legislation regarding criminal justice and oversight of law enforcement and other public safety services across the state.

On Jan. 5, Bradford and Jones-Sawyer held a virtual news conference to preview their priorities for the 2021 legislative session. During the event, the men traced the long and documented history of racism and racial discrimination that has long influenced and characterized the American criminal justice system.

Bradford, the chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), said this year the government should renew its focus on communities of color in California.

“We don’t want to look in retrospect at how we got here but a lot of criminal justice laws, policies, and practices were based on slavery,” Bradford said. “The use of deadly force, implemented in 1872, was a direct result of this: how do you kill — legally kill — Black people in the state of California? So, Mr. Jones-Sawyer and I will be able to bring it to the forefront. We hate to make it about race, but it is about race in this country.”

In a rare public conversation, the pair addressed with unusual frankness the historical roots of racism in law enforcement and criminal justice. This is a topic frequently discussed within the Black community but can be thorny for politicians. It is typically discussed — at least with that level of candor — outside of the halls of government, within trusted circles or among activists.

“We can now focus like a laser to make sure that our communities are not continually oppressed,” Jones-Sawyer said. “Many of these laws, African Americans will tell you, were based on slavery to catch runaway slaves. Many of those procedures that we are trying to outlaw now, were created under those laws.”

Highlighting racial profiling, excessive force, the killing of African Americans by police officers and vigilantes over the years, the conversation delved into how some law enforcement agencies operate in communities of color in California and across the nation. About 40 journalists as well as some of Bradford’s and Jones-Sawyer’s constituents participated in the virtual meeting.

Bradford drew parallels between recent incidents of law enforcement misconduct and the historical atrocities of “slave patrols.”

Slave patrols, widely organized in Southern states during the 1800s, were squadrons made up of non-Black volunteers, empowered to use vigilante tactics to enforce laws related to slavery. Bradford said those actions have a “historical standpoint in criminal justice” and historical ties to some law enforcement practices.

Overall, Bradford and Jones-Sawyer told members of the press, mainly from southern California, that they will concentrate on legislation that emphasizes rehabilitation, economics and education over-incarceration, the closure of private prisons, and establishing a police culture that is transparent.

Serving the 59th District in the State Assembly, Jones-Sawyer was elected to the state legislature in November 2012 and re-elected in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

During his reelection bid, the California Correctional Peace Officer Association (CCPOA) posted a video displaying an image of a “crosshair” symbol over Jones-Sawyer’s face. The political video, roughly two-and-a-half minutes, was circulated on social media before it was deleted.

“It is unconscionable that the president of a peace officer’s association would use such a scare tactic that could incite someone to take action and cause harm,” said Jones-Sawyer after the incident.

Jones-Sawyer has authored or co-authored several bills focused on criminal justice reform and restorative justice, such as Assembly Bill 672. That legislation provides re-entry assistance such as housing and job training for persons that have been wrongfully convicted and consequently released from prison.
Jones-Sawyer says as chair he will introduce “more bills in the Assembly” proposing criminal justice reforms than other public safety committees have done during past legislative sessions. He says closing more private prisons and providing some financial security for inmates once they are released are also some of his top priorities.

“Giving them $200, a bus ticket, dropping them off, and then saying, ‘good luck to you’ just starts the process all over again,” Jones-Sawyer said, summarizing how prisoners are currently released back into society. “We have to provide wrap-around services and institute them to ensure they don’t go back to prison. We have to help make them productive citizens.”

Bradford won the race to represent the 51st State Assembly District in a special election in 2009. He was reelected in 2010. In 2012, he was elected to represent the newly created 62nd Assembly District

Then, in 2016, voters elected him to represent the 35th District in the State Senate, which covers areas in and around Los Angeles. In 2018, he introduced 11 bills signed into law, including Senate Bill 1294, the “California Cannabis Equity Act.” SB 1294 is a first-in-the-nation bill that encourages equitable participation in the cannabis industry and fosters business opportunities for individuals who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs.

Bradford, who replaced Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) as the chair of the Senate’s Public Safety Committee, also authored Senate Bill 203, which requires that children under age 17 have an opportunity to consult with legal counsel before interrogation. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation into law on Sept. 30, 2020.

“Many of us don’t even fully understand our legal rights when interacting with members of law enforcement,” Bradford said. “This law will protect all of California’s youth and build trust in our criminal justice system. Young people must know their rights and they should not be alone when being interrogated.”


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