Angelenos were welcomed back into (restricted) restaurants, movie theaters and gyms this week after the county relaxed its harshest lockdown with the continued fall of COVID-19 cases.
Los Angeles County joined Orange, San Bernardino, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Placer, Mendocino, San Benito, Tuolumne, Siskiyou, Amador, Colusa and Mono counties in progressing from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier. The advancement comes as Los Angeles finally dipped below ten new daily cases per 100 thousand.
Cinema fans can enjoy movies indoors once again as long as the theater operates at 25 percent capacity and with reserved seating only. Groups will have to remain seated 6 feet apart. Museums, zoos and aquariums can similarly reopen at 25 percent capacity.
Gyms will have to limit capacity to 10 percent.
The state was also celebrating 12,637,197 COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed. In total, 21 percent of Californians have received a dose.
If the trend of declining cases and hospitalizations continues, Los Angeles County will be on track to open even more widely within two weeks. Currently, the county’s adjusted daily rate of new cases remains 4.1 per 100,000 residents. If the county reaches 3.9 daily new cases, the blueprint will allow the city to move into the orange/moderate tier allowing theaters to open up to 50 percent capacity and theme parks to open at 25 percent capacity instead of 15.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people experiencing homelessness have been some at the most risk of contracting the virus and dying.
“Nationally, homeless people who did contract COVID-19 were 30% more likely to die than those in the general population,” reported the Los Angeles Times. ”In Los Angeles County, homeless COVID-19 patients were 50% more likely to die.
It’s a fact the Los Angeles Public Health Department hopes to address by opening up vaccine availability to the homeless population and rolling out mobile clinics in hot spots to vaccinate the community.
They’ve promised to vaccinate 30,000 homeless by September.
Nonetheless, advocates are concerned that vaccine rollout and knowledge of their eligibility will be challenging as much homeless return to the streets.
Two weeks ago, the city, citing budget concerns, decided not to expand the number of hotels available in Project Roomkey. The project opened up available hotel rooms to shelter the most vulnerable in the homeless population. 12 hotels with a total of 1,200 rooms were available through March. Although the city pulled an additional $75 million to keep the program running, the city has announced only 11 of the sites will remain open, and those 11 will end participation in September.
“Project Roomkey works, and it’s been our most successful model for protecting people and addressing homelessness during this pandemic,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “This is not the outcome I wanted, and unfortunately, this makes it nearly impossible to expand this program.”
The criminal trial against Derek Chauvin, the officer seen on video pressing his knee against George Floyd’s death during his fatal arrest, might be delayed after media announced Minneapolis officials had reached a $27 million settlement with the family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill and lawyers have already been struggling with jury selection after intense and widespread media coverage of the case. Floyd’s death in May of 2020 sparked global protests.
“You have elected officials — the governor, the mayor — making incredibly prejudicial statements about my client, this case,” Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s chief lawyer, complained to the court last week. “You have the city settling a civil lawsuit for a record amount of money. And the pre-trial publicity is just so concerning.”
Nine jurors had been seated, but Cahill dismissed two jurors after two jurors said that the settlement would make it hard for them to be impartial.
“It kind of sent a message that the city of Minneapolis felt that something was wrong, and they wanted to make it right, to the tune of that dollar amount,” a juror, a white man in his 30s, told the court according to Reuters.
The settlement might also lead to a delay of the trial entirely.
Judge Cahill expressed his disappointment and confusion at the city’s announcement to announce the settlement in the middle of jury selection.
“You would agree it’s unfortunate, right?” he asked the prosecution.
“It’s certainly not my preference, your honor” conceded Steve Schleicher, a lawyer for the prosecution.
“I think that this $27 million settlement has been frankly overblown,” he added, however.
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in prison.
The portal for landlords and tenants to apply for California’s COVID-19 rent relief opened on Monday and the application system received over 20,000 within 24 hours.
The influx of applicants is unsurprising as tenants and landlords continued to fall behind in rent and mortgage payments after the pandemic left millions without jobs across the nation.
“Whether it’s a health-related event or a significant financial hardship, COVID-19 has affected us all,” recognizes the program on the homepage.
A total of $2.6 billion will be available for income-eligible households that need help paying rent and utilities. The money comes from federal funds made available through December’s stimulus law, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed.
Eligible tenants must be low-income, with a household income at or below 80 percent of their area’s median income. This income will be based on 2020 or current income, acknowledging how the pandemic drastically changed the incomes of many.
If approved, tenants will have all debt accrued from April 1 of last year to March 31, 2021, wiped away, but only if their landlord agrees to forgive 20 percent of the debt. The state will pay owners the remaining 80 percent. Without landlord agreement, the state will provide funds to pay a quarter of owed rent.
“We know that tenants and landlords have been stressed. They have been worried about what’s going to happen. And we can now give them a program that gives them a clear path forward of how to help resolve the unfortunate situation where a lot of folks fell behind on their rent,” said Geoffrey Ross, deputy director for federal financial assistance at the California Department of Housing and Community Development according to KQED.
Last week, Gov. Newsom appointed former Stockton Mayor Michael D. Tubbs, who is African American, as his Special Advisor for Mobility and Opportunity. In this role, Tubbs becomes one of two African Americans on the governor’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) — a group Newsom has charged to help California recover from the economic downturn the coronavirus pandemic has caused.
The other Black gubernatorial advisor is Renee Bowen, an associate professor of economics at the University of California San Diego. Tubbs and Brown are serving along with 11 other experts Newsom says will help offer guidance on how to rebuild a state economy that is more sustainable and inclusive.
The CEA team will help to build political will, championing policy changes that aim to promote equitable economic opportunities and fight poverty for all Californians, according to the governor’s office.
“As we fight the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and economic insecurity, I am honored to work with the Newsom Administration to bring forward innovative solutions that will lead to inclusive economic recovery for all Californians,” said Tubbs.
On Friday, President Biden signed Congressional Democrats’ $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The federal economic package includes $1,400 stimulus checks for individuals nationwide. In his third State of the State Address, Gov. Newsom recapped the state’s plans to support small businesses, reopen schools, promote equitable vaccine distribution, and provide state stimulus funds. The recently appointed CEA will advise California lawmakers on directing state and federal funds toward programs and investments that soften the pandemic’s economic blow.
Although the advisers are not compensated for their roles, they will leverage their areas of expertise as well as their familiarity with business and industry in California to ensure that California families “have the opportunity to not just survive but thrive,” during the pandemic, state officials said.
As a special advisor, Tubbs plans to recommend best-practices gleaned from various external stakeholders, including economic experts and business leaders to reform state policies that will benefit all Californians.
“As I always say, poverty is a choice: a policy one,” Tubbs said. “I can think of no greater calling than to build upon my work with Mayors and community leaders across our state and nation to help advance big, bold policy solutions that are rooted in economic fairness, racial equity, and recognize the dignity of all people.”
Gov. Newsom said Tubbs has proved himself as a leader who cares deeply about his community and economic fairness.
“I can think of no one more dedicated or better equipped to make recommendations to my team and help lead outreach efforts to increase opportunity and entrepreneurship to reduce poverty in California,” said Newsom.
During his time as Mayor of Stockton, Tubbs implemented the first mayor-led Universal Basic Income pilot program in the country, and he launched the Stockton Scholars, a program that helps Stockton’s youth pursue higher education.
“Tubbs expanded opportunity and hope in his hometown,” Newsom continued.
According to state officials, California experienced record-low unemployment before the pandemic — a rate of 3.9 %. Gov. Newsom plans to resolve California’s fiscal problems, strengthen the state’s economy, and drive unemployment back down from just below 10 %, according to numbers the Employment Development Department released in December.
“We need to invest for the future, adapt to a changing climate, and keep our budget balanced,” Gov. Newsom said. “This Council will keep its pulse on what’s happening in our economy while making policy recommendations to prepare us for what’s to come.”
The Biden-Harris Administration announced the passage of $1.9 trillion in federal aid Friday, including $1,400 stimulus checks, to help people affected by the pandemic nationwide.
California legislators continue efforts to boost small businesses as well as support K-12 and higher education as they wait for directives from the federal government on how to allocate the funds.
“The American Rescue Plan will help California roar back from this pandemic,” Gov. Newsom said. “All of these pandemic responses add up to a brighter future for California.”
State officials said they plan to use the funds on equity, housing affordability, education, and infrastructure to ensure that people come out of the pandemic, “as a stronger and more inclusive California.”
In addition to stimulating the economy, the Biden-Harris Administration announced plans to increase access to coronavirus vaccines to all adults by the beginning of May this year. Newsom said President Joe Biden’s announcement indicates that “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter,” a sign, he says, that vaccinating everyone will be a reality soon.
Despite the limited vaccine supply, Newsom says California’s distribution efforts are guided by equity.
The state has prioritized those who are most exposed and at risk of contracting the coronavirus since it is, “the right thing to do, and the fastest way to end the pandemic,” said Newsom.
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.
Direct cash relief is coming to Californians soon. Both the state and the federal government have begun issuing stimulus checks to Americans.
The American Rescue Plan, which includes the third and largest round of federal COVID-19 stimulus of the pandemic so far, was signed into law by President Biden on March 12. According to several reports, direct deposits began hitting peoples’ bank accounts as soon as March 14, with paper checks and pre-paid debit cards expected to follow soon.
Low-income Californians can also expect a state-specific Golden State Stimulus check, which will be distributed over the course of 2021. Though both stimulus payments are dispensed automatically, they do have big differences when it comes to qualifications.
For the federal stimulus payment, the full $1,400 amount will be distributed to individuals with an adjusted gross income less than $75,000, heads of households earning less than $112,500 and married couples earning less than $150,000. Payments will gradually lower for people earning more than those amounts, with the cutoffs for payments being $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for heads of households and $160,000 for married couples.
This stimulus round will also include an additional $1,400 payment per dependent. Unlike previous rounds, this round will also include payments for dependents age 17 and above. The maximum amount possible is $5,600, for a couple with two adult children.
The income thresholds for this federal stimulus round are based on the most recent tax return filed. Like the previous rounds, the money will be automatically distributed to people who have their tax information filed with the IRS. All eligible recipients, including those who don’t typically file taxes, can use the IRS’ “Get My Payment” website to request a payment or check its status.
California’s Golden State Stimulus relief package was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Feb. 23. The package includes one-time stimulus payments for Californians 18 years or over who receive the California Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) or file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An individual who is claimed as dependent on another person’s tax filing is ineligible to receive a payment.
The California stimulus payment will be either $600 or $1,200, based on the recipient’s eligibility. Californians who either receive the CalEITC, meaning they make under $30,000 in taxable income along with other qualifications, or file with an ITIN and earn $75,000 or less will receive $600. Californians who meet both of these conditions will receive $1,200. For couples filing jointly, the ITIN requirement will count if at least one person in the couple files with an ITIN.
The biggest difference between the Golden State Stimulus and the rounds of federal stimulus checks that have been issued so far is that eligibility in California is based on 2020 tax returns.
The payments will be determined by tax returns filed by October 15, 2021, which is the deadline for filers who request an extension on the original Apr. 15 deadline. The payment itself expires on November 15, 2021. The Golden State Stimulus will go out automatically after 2020 tax returns are filed.
The $1400 federal stimulus checks are based either on 2019 or 2020 tax returns.
New rounds of COVID-19 stimulus checks are either incoming or have already reached the pockets of eligible Californians — either through the federal American Rescue Plan or the Golden State Stimulus. With the cash coming in, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning the general public about an expected wave of fraud targeting peoples’ stimulus cash.
Reports of fraud have risen throughout the country over the last year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While fraudsters target the public-at-large, a 2016 FTC report found that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to become victims of fraud than Whites. The same report emphasized the importance of consumer education in Black and Brown communities so that people can recognize fraud schemes before they lose money.
The types of fraud are wide-ranging, according to Jennifer Leach, Director of the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
“There are definitely scams where people are pretending to be a government agency or your family member or somebody that you’re in love with. They sometimes have just enough information about you to make it feel like it’s real, or they try to threaten you and make it feel really urgent. They say that you’re going to lose your social security number if you don’t pay them, which is not going to happen, or that someone that you love is going to be in trouble,” says Leach.
The pandemic may have also caused the general public to become more susceptible to fraud, according to Leach, possibly due to heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
“It’s hard to get the message about fraud across to people when they’re feeling alone or worried or just anxious about people they care about or their own financial security. People who are worried about their income or jobs, or how they’re going to make rent, may be at greater risk for scams simply because they are worried, and so scammers who get hold of them and threaten them with things have a bigger impact on them,” says Leach.
The FTC is already seeing fraud schemes related to the upcoming federal stimulus checks, which the IRS began distributing last weekend after President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on Mar 12.
“We’re seeing that scammers are calling and texting, emailing and even messaging people on social media, to try to get people to pay to get their stimulus check. You don’t have to pay to get the stimulus check, and you don’t have to give your information to anybody. It’s all happening automatically,” says Leach.
Non-stimulus-specific fraud has also been on the rise during COVID, including fake COVID-related treatments, counterfeit personal protective equipment and fake work-from-home offers. According to Leach, one warning sign is the method of payment.
“I think the other thing that’s really important for people to know is that no one legitimate will ever demand that you have that you pay by gift card, by cryptocurrency, or by wiring money. It’s always a scam. No matter what the story is, if they’re saying you have to pay one of those ways, it’s a scam,” says Leach.
Consumers who want to stay updated about fraud that has been reported and confirmed by the FTC can find information on the agency’s consumer website. As for people who have already fallen for fraud, Leach recommends both reporting the scammer to the FTC and talking with members of their community about the scheme.
Leach says, “A lot of people know a lot about scams, they really do, but people get embarrassed. Scammers are professionals, they are really good at what they do. Talking about scams both helps protect you and your community. If you’ve gotten the call, half your friends have too. If you thought about paying somebody, half your friends did too. It’s really valuable to let the light in on what’s going on because that helps slow down the scammers.”
Almost a year since thousands of people took to the streets nationwide over the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the demonstrations in Los Angeles show no signs of slowing down.
Organizers with Black Lives Matter – L.A. have started staging protests every Wednesday outside the Police Protective League headquarters and are making a renewed call to end the group’s status as a labor union.
What began more than three years ago as a weekly protest demanding the removal of L. A County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who activists say refused to prosecute “killer cops,” has morphed into a broader call about law enforcement accountability that targets two of Southern California’s most prominent police unions.
The activists said the Police Protective League – a special interest group representing rank-and-file LAPD officers—fails to take appropriate action when officers in the Los Angeles Police Department break the rules.
“The police have an extra set of rights that is undeserved, and it makes them believe themselves to be infallible and untouchable,” said Baba Akili, an organizer with BLM- L.A., standing on a small metal stage in front of a pickup truck parked in the middle of the street across from the league’s office. “When you think you are infallible, you become corrupt.”
Akili told the crowd of about one hundred people that the doctrine of qualified immunity, which grants law enforcement personnel civil immunity for on-duty actions and allows police officers to get away with misconduct, has to be dismantled. BLM- L.A. activists also want labor federations to sever ties with the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union for members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The demonstrators outside the Police Protective League headquarters at the Wednesday protest were both racially and geographically diverse, with a variety of speakers.
“This is supposedly the workers union,” said Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. “This is the same union that went after Malcolm X. This is the same association that went after Dr. King, and the same association that is going after us,” he added, pointing toward the building.
For many critics, police unions are too powerful in Los Angeles and Sacramento, preventing investigations and lawsuits and thwart penalties when abuse occurs.
Moreover, activists allege that these police unions aggressively protect problem officers’ rights over the public’s interests and impede reform that would improve policing and police-community relations.
Another criticism levied at police unions is that they have tremendous sway over local and state politicians, often resulting from campaign donations.
It’s worth noting that last fall, amid coast-to-coast protests against police brutality, the league employed a series of measures to derail the proposal of new bills aimed to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency from law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, when outrage swelled in L.A. over George Floyd’s death – in some incidents sparking violent protests and clashes between protesters and police – the City Council voted to cut LAPD’s budget by $150 million last summer and direct those funds toward alternative resources.
But the initiative received little praise from community activists, in part because city officials are not doing enough to address police misconduct. BLM-L.A. and many of its allies want policing budgets to be zeroed out and divert the savings into public spending priorities such as housing assistance programs, rental assistance, and housing the homeless.
“They are not a union, said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-L.A., at last Wednesday’s protest. “They’re a police association who have lobbied, bullied, and bribed for exorbitant shares of the city budget. They are the reason that the police continue to get more than 50 % of the city’s general fund.”
She added it was paramount that activists stop the influence the police union had commanded over legislative policy in L.A. for decades.
Meanwhile, LAPPL Director Craig Lally released a statement describing the weekly campaign’s aims as “divisive.”
“The focus on divisiveness and promotion of unworkable demands does nothing to improve police and community relationships and does nothing to address the violent crime, shootings, and homicides that are plaguing many neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” Lally said. “The easy path is to vilify and divide; the tougher path is to work together to improve policing, we are choosing the latter path and urge those intent on division to join us.”
Lally took issue with BLM’s efforts, noting that the majority of police officer ranks are composed of “Black, Hispanic and Asian (officers) — and the number of women and LGBTQ officers grows with each academy.”
He also scoffed at protesters’ cries that the protective league was “not a union.”
“Yet another dangerous idea from the anti-public safety fringes that’s akin to their previous ideas to defund the LAPD budget by 93% or to end incarceration for dangerous convicts,” Lally said. “It’s an outright lie to suggest that this group has any ability to strip the union representation rights of our members or any member of a union. That’s an anti-democratic tactic usually promoted by authoritarian regimes, not organizations that purport to be rooted in respecting workers’ rights and democracy.”
Nonetheless, Helen Jones, 55, questioned the legitimacy behind calling the league a union when they provide many law enforcement officers with a sense of impunity. The mother of a 22-year-old man named John Horton, who, on March 30, 2009, was found hanging from a noose in his cell in Men’s Central Jail, gave a stern rebuke of the league at the rally.
“The [league] ain’t no union. All it is another place where they got their gangs hiding. That’s what they are. We should never get them mixed up with a real union that represents workers’ rights,” Jones said.
Families who have lost loved ones to police violence took center stage at a press conference Monday outside Los Angeles City Hall and echoed a sentiment that this club of heartbroken mothers continues to grow.
The “Mothers of the Club”, as the women call themselves, spoke of how their pain never goes away and expressed frustration that adequate criminal laws do not exist to hold law enforcement officers accountable in the unjustified killing of unarmed civilians.
“These are cowards in uniform getting away with murder,” distraught mother Valerie Rivera said through her tears at the small group of protesters and reporters. “What they did to my baby deserves some justice. Justice, for me, would be for my son to be still alive. But we will never get justice from this corrupt system.”
Rivera’s 20-year-old son Eric was killed the night of June 6, 2017, after police in Wilmington received a call of a man with a gun. An attorney for Rivera’s family said at the time that he told the two officers to leave him alone before they opened fire on him for holding what they thought was a gun. The lawyer further claimed they shot Rivera while their patrol vehicle was still moving.
The press conference and rally took place on International Women’s Day – the same day jury selection for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began, who was charged last year with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death.
The mothers were introduced to speak into a microphone by activists with the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police that organized the conference and demanded that recently-elected L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón bring murder charges against several police killings of unarmed suspects.
“We are here to demand murder charges from the district attorney,” said Cliff Smith, an organizer with the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police. “Gascón has been in office for three months, and he has not found the paperwork forms to prosecute these police officers yet. We are not going to give George Gascón a honeymoon.”
Smith also slammed the D.A.’s office for historically taking a pro-police bias stance.
“In the last 40 years in the state, there has been only one police officer who has been charged for killing somebody in the line of duty, and that was Johannes Mehserle who shot Oscar Grant in the back in 2009 in cold blood on the train platform on New Year’s Day, “Smith said.
A jury convicted the former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer of involuntary manslaughter in 2010, and he served less than a year in prison.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced in October that her office would reopen the Grant case when much of the country was engaged in an angry argument about the policing of minority communities.
Meanwhile, last month, Gascón asked the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to allow him to hire a special prosecutor to oversee potential charges of police misconduct at the direction of the D.A.
Additionally, Gascón pledged to review more than 600 police shootings dating back to 2012 for possible prosecution.
But the activists criticized him for his decision to not review cases before 2012.
“He said he was only going to go back to 2012. But if any one of us had committed a murder in 2011 and they found some evidence linking us to murder, wouldn’t we be hauled off to jail? “asked Kianna Sellina, also of the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police.
She believes the sole reason Gascón refuses to review cases before 2012 is because he was the Assistant Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department when a toddler died of a single gunshot to the head, fired from a police officer’s rifle during a gun battle with authorities in 2005.
“Stand with George?” she mockingly asked. “We don’t need to stand with this D.A. We are going to stand with these mothers who’ve lost their loved ones to the police.”
Families like Lisa Simpson, the mother of an 18-year-old fatally shot over 60 times by LAPD officers in late July 2016 and have since been cleared in their use of deadly force.
Simpson lampooned Gascón’s record as a D.A. in San Francisco for his foot-dragging and remarkable ineptitude.
“Mario Woods was shot and killed by five SFPD officers on Dec. 2 2015, and guess what Gascón did about it,” Simpson asked the crowd. “Tucked his motherf**king tail,” she added after a short pause. “Sixteen years in California – they ain’t never convicted one pig. I got a problem with that.”
Since 2001, at least 919 people have been killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County, according to homicide records from the county medical examiner-coroner. Almost all of the dead were men, nearly 80% were Black or Latino.
More than 97% were shot to death.
A family member of Dijon Kizzee said the deputies in South Central have been harassing her after frequently appearing on television and in the media.
“The sheriff’s department has been kicking down doors and rolling up in my house in South Central,” said Jaime Kizzee, cousin of Dijon Kizzee – the 29-year-old Black man who was shot 16 times and killed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in August.
“Let’s start investigating these deputies. Will [Gascón] start investigating them like the way these sheriff deputies are investigating us?” she asked. “No, he won’t.”
“Justice, “she continued. “Should mean investigating these officers and putting them in jail.”