CVIndependent

Mon08102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Since March, the United States has endured its most turbulent period in decades. The fact that the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the economic downturn are happening in an election year leads to an obvious question: How will the turmoil effect what happens at the polls on Nov. 3?

If local voter-registration numbers are any indication, the news is good for Democrats.

The Independent recently reviewed voter-registration data from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters and the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert, comparing political-party voter-registration totals as of April 13 and July 13, in each of the valley’s nine cities. In that time frame, the number of Democrats registered to vote increased by 459, while the number of registered Republicans decreased by 226. Interestingly, voters who chose to register as having no party preference decreased by 700.

We reached out to local party leaders to ask them about their efforts to get voters engaged between now and Nov. 3.

“We closed the Democratic headquarters (in Cathedral City) on March 16,” said Elle Kurpiewski, political director of the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert, during a recent phone interview. “However, all of the phone calls we’ve been receiving are forwarded to me at my home. In one week alone, I had over a dozen people call to register to vote. So what I did was mail the voter-registration form to them if they were not able to (register) online. But here’s where it got interesting: There must have been 10 who were Republicans wanting to switch to be Democrats.

“Another thing that I found interesting was that a very large rally was put on by young people,” the Enough Is Enough rally in Palm Springs on June 6. “We were able to do voter registration safely at that event, (which drew) over a thousand people, the majority of them being young people. We signed up 40 new registrations at that event.

“What’s even more interesting are the young people—I’m talking 16-year-olds—who have been contacting our headquarters, pre-registering to vote and urging their friends to get out and vote this November. They are fully aware of what’s going on. Their focus is not just on Black Lives Matter. In talking with these young people, they’re just fed up, and they’re getting involved. They’re saying, ‘We’re here, and you’ve got to start paying attention (to us).’ I’m very impressed with them. Also, what’s really interesting about (their efforts) is how organic it’s been. This isn’t organized, per se. These are just young people who communicate with each other on Facebook and on Twitter, and they’re saying, ‘We have to do something. We have to have our voices heard.’ It’s been remarkable. The really sweet thing is that they’re not going away.”

Joy Miedecke, of the East Valley Republican Women Federated, said she has talked to a lot of people who are interested in signing up for the GOP.

“If you’re going to go by us, our voter registration has been unbelievable as far as people changing parties from Democrat to Republican,” Miedecke said. “When people try to change from Democrat to, maybe, no party preference or independent or something like that, we try to encourage them to become a Republican, because numbers tell the truth. If you’re moving over to Republican because you believe like Republicans, or you like our president, but you register as ‘no party preference,’ you don’t make a statement. You don’t get Trump on the ballot in the primary, and you can’t join our club. You have to be a registered Republican to be involved. We have over 850 members, so we are no slouchy deal here in the desert.”

What demographics has she seen coming into the valley’s Republican Party in these chaotic recent months?

“I don’t have any hard numbers,” Miedecke said. “But I will tell you that many, many Hispanics are registering as Republicans, and lots of young families. We’re always behind (in the Riverside County Registrar of Voters statistical reporting), but that’s only because ‘no party preference’ is usually (voting) Republican.”

According to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters database, the numbers of registered Republicans declined in seven of the nine Coachella Valley cities between April and July; only Coachella and Indian Wells saw increases in registered Republicans (up 22 and 3, respectively) over the three months. In eight of the nine valley cities, the Democrats increased their registered voters, with the one exception being Desert Hot Springs, which saw decreases in both Democratic and Republican registered voters.

Megan Beaman Jacinto is an immigration and civil rights attorney who serves on the Coachella City Council. She said the Trump administration’s efforts have led many people to get more involved.

“I think that so many things have happened over the last four years that motivated the Latino community, other communities of color, and even white people—who are concerned about the way our communities have been damaged—to stand up and get more active politically,” Beaman Jacinto said. “Some of that has come in the form of protests, or creating new types of groups and associations, or just being more vocal on certain issues. All of that activation, I hope, will be seen in increased voter turnout. But inextricable from all of that is the challenge of COVID-19 and the potential vote-by-mail process. Of course, I support that (vote-by-mail) process, and I’m thankful that our community will be enjoying access to it.

“On the immigration side of things, we’ve done a lot of naturalization over the last four years, which is moving people from their permanent-legal-resident status to citizenship status—and that comes with the right to vote. A lot of the people seeking citizenship in the past few years are specifically motivated by a desire to vote against Trump, and a lot of them are older. They’re people who have been permanent legal residents for decades and now felt compelled to take the final step and become citizens so they could vote. So I’m hopeful that they’ll be reflected in the turnout as well.”

Victor Gonzalez is the project manager at Alianza Coachella Valley. According to the organization’s website, Alianza CV brings together community members, nonprofits and governments to make people active in the processes shaping policies and public funding. One of Gonzalez’s main responsibilities is supervising eastern Coachella Valley students in Alianza’s Youth Organizing Council (YO-C!).

“Our current engagement (group) right now consists of high school students and college-bound or college-attending students,” Gonzalez said. “Most of those attending college are able to vote themselves now. Currently, they’re participating in a focus group to help inform the messaging for the state in relation to the changes that are being made to the voting (process). I believe that there will be a higher emphasis on vote-by-mail. … Our youth are offering a Latino perspective (to the focus group), because most of the students that YO-C! engages are from that background.”

Gonzalez offered some observations about the importance of November’s elections to his student/youth leaders.

“Given the conversations that I’ve had with youth and others, for people who are unable to vote, there’s a sense of disappointment, and they don’t feel that the systemic response to (the societal challenges) has been good,” Gonzalez said. “For the people who can vote, they feel that now’s their time to make a difference. Also, people are messaging to us that the elections and voting (concerns) go beyond the national level, and that what happens locally does inform the national level. So, (the focus) is more on: How do we have people who represent us here locally that will make decisions that are going to benefit all of us, whether it’s Riverside County, the cities or even the school boards? That’s (an approach) that I feel is being emphasized more strongly than I’ve seen since I first starting doing this work. Before, it was like, ‘Local elections don’t matter. It’s all about the president or whoever.’ But now I feel that there’s a broader perspective.”

Published in Politics

Make no mistake: SARS CoV-2 is ravaging the Coachella Valley, with highs in cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

In fact, hospitalizations are so high in the Coachella Valley that a federal medical team has arrived at Eisenhower Medical Center to ease the burden on the hospital’s overwhelmed staff.

Now is the time to take action: Stay home if you can. Wear a mask when you can’t. And wash your hands.

We’ll get through this (again?) (still?); really, we will. But it’s bad right now. So take care of yourself, OK?

More news:

• After that depressing introduction, let’s start off with some good news: More testing facilities are coming—specifically, to RiteAid, including Coachella Valley locations in Indio, Coachella and Desert Hot Springs.

• More good news: After multiple lawsuits and furious university officials spoke out, the Trump administration reversed a mandate that foreign students must return to their home countries if their schools are only holding classes online.

• Yet more good news: The county is reopening applications for its rental-assistance program. Residents who have been unable to pay their rent can receive up to $3,500. Learn more from KESQ, or just head straight to the application website; the deadline for this round is July 25.

Even more good news: Some common antiviral drugs used to treat people with hepatitis C may help patients with COVID-19.

• Let’s keep the good news coming: A scientist writing for The Washington Post offers up these six reasons for optimism as we battle COVID-19.

• And here’s some more: Moderna says its vaccine produced strong antibodies in all—yes, ALL—of the patients who received it. We’re only talking about 45 people—but the news could not be any more encouraging.

• Related and also good: Oxford’s vaccine candidate is ahead of all others, schedule-wiseand, in fact, it could be through human trials by September.

• And more: Walmart is making masks mandatory in its stores. This should have been done three months ago or so, but hey, we’ll take it.

• Oh, and so is Best Buy.

• And more good news! The Palm Springs Cultural Center is now scheduling drive-in movies for Fridays, Saturdays and some Sundays for the foreseeable future. Get the schedule here.

• From the Independent: Our resident cocktail columnist thinks y’all should be cut off after packing bars and causing them to close again so soon—so here are some tips and tricks on how to use fresh herbs and spices to make delicious and even healthy non-alcoholic drinks at home. (Editor’s note: I ain’t cutting myself off, and you should know fresh herbs and spices are yummy in boozy drinks, too.)

Wear. A. Mask. The evidence keeps coming in showing that this one thing, if people did it, could stomp down this pandemic.

More on testing, from our partners at CalMatters: Due to supply shortages, California yesterday announced new guidelines for testing, giving priority to the vulnerable and people with symptoms. The fact testing has come to this is NOT good!

How effective will a vaccine need to be to stop this damn pandemic—considering a disturbing number of anti-vax Americans say they will refuse to be vaccinated? The Conversation crunched the numbers, and here’s what they found.

The possible implications of this are horrifying: The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to stop sending COVID-19 patient info to the CDC—and has told them to instead send it to a Health and Human Services Database.

For the first time since World War II, the New Year’s Day spectacle/tradition that is the Rose Parade has been cancelled.

• If you ever needed more proof that journalism is important: The Washington Post looked at the cases of eight people who were blinded in one eye during the Black Lives Matter protests on May 30—and videos of the incidents often contradict police accounts of what happened. Same goes for The New York Times, which just published an online package proving that even though the NYPD says it used restraint during the protests, it often did not.

Much of Twitter is down as of this writing, after a whole bunch of big-name Twitter accounts were hacked—indicating that the social-media company has a serious security flaw.

Methane levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. Great. Just great.

The pandemic has helped revive the market for single-use plastics—which, of course, is bad news for the environment. The Conversation examines whether or not this trend will continue.

At a time when dependable, inexpensive mail delivery is more important than ever (because, you know, we’re all broke and stuck at home), the Trump administration is making yet more moves to hobble the post office. Sigh.

• Another sigh: The Wall Street Journal reports on large companies that are making employees return to the office—even if that may not exactly be the safest thing to do.

• A first, and not a good one: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has become the first governor to announce he has COVID-19. Key quote: “He resisted calls to roll back Oklahoma’s reopening plans, which are being tested by a viral resurgence.” Ugh.

The federal government is offering up to 13 weeks of extra unemployment once state benefits run out—but people may need to reapply to receive them, according to this CNBC report.

American Airlines has given 25,000 employees a heads-up that job cuts may be coming.

Apple just released a six-minute sorta-comedy video about what it’s like to work from home these days. It’s … amusing, if you don’t mind product placement.

Seeing as there are more than 30 links in this Daily Digest, that’s enough for the day. If you value this digest and the other things the Independent does, and you’re fortunate enough to have a buck or two to spare, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, all!

Published in Daily Digest

Happy (?) July, all. The news of the day:

The reopening process is moving further backward: Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced that restaurants, movie theaters, family-entertainment centers and other businesses in much of the state—including Riverside County—must shutter all indoor operations for at least three weeks. Bars must completely shut down, and parking lots at state beaches will close for the weekend.

• The governor is also imploring people NOT to have personal gatherings—and threatening to withhold some state funding from counties that disregard the state’s mandates and requests.

He also took a veiled swipe at casinos. The state does not have regulatory power over them, but he said the state is “in deep conversations and will be making public the fruits of those efforts to at least get a rationale of understanding between partners in our sovereign nations and the state of California.”

• The city of Palm Springs is tightening up the mask mandate, making them mandatory when someone is near any business or in any business district; at restaurants when servers or other employees are near a table; and while working out in gyms.

• While the state is rolling back the reopening process, it’s also no longer funding new testing sites, and is closing underutilized sites, according to the Los Angeles Times. What the hell, California?

Apple is temporarily closing another 30 stores, including a bunch in the L.A. area—but for now, the Palm Desert location is remaining open.

• News that a small trial study of one vaccine candidate yielded promising results got the stock market all excited this morning.

CNN took a look at the mess in Imperial County, where Americans who live in Mexico are crossing back over the border for COVID-19 care—and overwhelming the small county’s medical system.

• It’s official: The European Union is allowing travel again—but those of us from the U.S. aren’t allowed in.

• The coronavirus situation has gotten so dire at San Quentin State Prison—more than 1,100 inmates have the virus—that about 20 prisoners have gone on a hunger strike, according to The Appeal.

The virus is spreading among detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, too.

Along other guidelines, the FDA says a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will need to be at least 50 percent more effective than a placebo in order to be approved for use.

A study at Stanford University is looking into the possibility that Apple Watches, Fitbits and other wearable technology could let people know that they may have the coronavirus before they start to feel sick.

• The Conversation looks at what went wrong in Texas—and what needs to happen for that state to get out of its current COVID-19 spike.

• The Seattle Times reports on yet more evidence that the widespread Black Lives Matter protests have NOT led to spikes in the diseaseoffering pretty convincing evidence that the disease does not spread well among people who are outside and wearing face coverings.

• One of the biggest mysteries of this damn virus: Most people don’t seem to spread it—but a select few REALLY spread it. The New York Times talks to experts who are trying to solve this mystery.

Autopsies are helping scientists better understand the damage being done by COVID-19—and that’s helping doctors and researchers develop better treatments.

• The fight between insurers and pissed-off business owners who want business-interruption payments are heading to the courts. The Wall Street Journal looks at hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed—and explains why some business owners may have precedents on their side.

United Airlines thinks people are in the mood to travel again—and as a result, it’s adding hundreds of flights to its August schedule.

I did not predict this side effect of the pandemic: Pissed-off otters are biting people.

• OK, now for some good news: The Palm Springs Cultural Center is launching a drive-in movie series—and kicking it off with free showings of Hamilton this weekend.

• One activity that’s free and will always be open: skywatching. Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor explains what the heavens have in store for us this month.

Finally, we all have something to live for: New episodes of Beavis and Butt-head are coming.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Become a Supporter of the Independent, please, if you have the funds and you value what we do. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's sweaty weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines so-called cancel culture; The K Chronicles finds parallels between Jurassic Park and the country today; This Modern World listens in as two cops discuss the modern state of things; Red Meat winds up skipping lunch; and Apoca Clips helps Li'l Trumpy have a pleasant experience in Tulsa.

Published in Comics

Areli Galvez began her speech by asking the crowd to imagine George Floyd’s final moments—without ever mentioning his name.

“Nothing is working,” she said, reading from her phone. “So you do what you do best when everything goes wrong: You call for your mom. You begin to yell, ‘Momma, Momma please!’ Yet you’re still stuck in the same position.”

The powerful four-minute talk by the 16-year-old La Quinta High School student was one of the key moments of the “Enough Is Enough” Black Lives Matter rally and protest, at Palm Springs’ Ruth Hardy Park on Saturday, June 6. Around 1,000 face-mask-wearing people attended the morning rally, which was organized by Galvez and several other young women—including Hina Malik, Jazlina Morgan and Sadie Reese—who took on the name Young Justice Advocates.

During a subsequent phone interview, Galvez explained how her group and the rally came to be.

“We came together with one of our friends, and she decided that we should start a protest,” Galvez said. “We were actually going to do it the first Saturday (after) George Floyd died, but we thought it was too soon. Then we started planning more.”

The group was originally going to have the event in front of the Starbucks Reserve on Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way, but they decided to move it when they realized how large the crowd could get. The group worked with the city and let the police know about their plans—collaborations which earned the Young Justice Advocates some criticism on social media. However, Galvez said the group never intended for the rally to be disdainful of all law enforcement, in any case.

“We spoke to (Palm Springs police) to ask for a couple of them to be there for our own safety—because we are minors,” she said. “We’re all underage. (Our goal was) being together and having unity. … To have them there just showed unity.”

The group made sure to get plenty of water, sunscreen and masks for people who showed up ill-prepared to march on the warm June day—as well as a proper sound system and a DJ to help with the atmosphere and the speeches.

“Since there were so many other protests before ours, we looked at the guidelines of what to have and what to prepare for,” she said. “We asked for donations. We said, ‘Hey, everyone, if you can, please donate water, snacks and sunscreen.’ … When we started, we weren’t expecting so many people to donate. Of course, we received so much water and so much sunscreen.”

After leading several chants, the young women led the crowd in a march around the park, with most participants holding signs and repeating those chants.

"No justice, no peace!"

"Hands up! Don’t shoot!"

"Black lives matter!"

"I can’t breathe!"

Later during the two-hour event came the speeches by Galvez, her fellow Young Justice Advocates and others. However, Galvez said her favorite moment of the day came when the DJ started playing music.

“Everyone got together and started dancing. It was just such a beautiful moment that really made me think, yes, we’re going to make a change,” she said. “This is all for a reason. It was just so amazing to see everyone dancing and singing and being together, united. We’re all equal—and we were all equal and united at that moment.”

However, Galvez said she isn’t always treated as an equal.

“I have a lot of experience with racism when it comes to my school environment,” she said. “If I were to get into an altercation, I would get more of a harsh punishment than someone else, because of the way I look. It’s happened multiple times.”

Galvez mentioned one incident in particular: During a basketball game, while Galvez went for a jump ball, the opposing player—a white girl—punched her in the face. While she did not retaliate, Galvez said, she was nonetheless punished.

“It was on a recording, so there was proof that I didn’t hit her, that I didn’t start it,” she said. “But right after she punched me, I got tackled by one of our staff members at the school and put into a separate room—as if I was some animal or something. Then they told me that I wasn’t allowed to go back out into the game, and I was suspended from school for three days, and couldn’t play in about five to six basketball games. I had to have my mom fight for me, because so many people were there and saw that I didn’t start the issue, and I didn’t hit her back, yet I was treated as if I was an aggressor, or as if I did something wrong.”

It’s experiences like that, Galvez said, that made her and her friends want to organize—and they don’t plan on stopping their work anytime soon. Galvez said they’re trying to organize a caravan protest so people at a higher risk of COVID-19 can make their voices heard, but first, the slightly renamed Young Justice Advocates will be holding a Juneteenth barbecue, at 5 p.m., Saturday, June 20, at Frances Stevens Park, at Palm Canyon Drive and Alejo Road, in downtown Palm Springs.

The reason for the slight name change: Due to “undisclosable reasons,” there are now two Young Justice Advocates groups. The other one is also planning a Juneteenth barbecue—at 1 p.m., Friday, June 19, at the Desert Highland Community Center, 480 W. Tramview Road, in Palm Springs.

Galvez said she and her fellow Young Justice Advocates of the Desert need to keep fighting for equality in the Coachella Valley.

“We are all mixed. None of us are actually white or Caucasian,” she said. “We go through the issues of racism and being racially profiled all the time. We got together, and we were like, ‘We’re tired of this; we need to change. We need to come together. We need to show that we are equal and deserve all the same rights as everyone else.’”

For more information on the Young Justice Advocates of the Desert, Galvez’s group, visit www.facebook.com/groups/252683602492267 or www.instagram.com/youngjusticeadvsofthedesert. For more information on the Young Justice Advocates, visit www.instagram.com/youngjusticeadvocates. 

Published in Local Issues

A group of people—mostly born and raised in Indio—organized a rally on Tuesday, June 9, at Miles Park to fight for racial equality and urgently needed policing reforms.

The group called itself We Are Indio—and called the event #NoMoreHashtags.

One of the organizers was Erin Teran, a nurse at a local hospital.

“There were five of us,” Teran said about the organizing group. “Three of us have grown up together. (Indio City) Councilmember Waymond Fermon and I have been friends since kindergarten, and April Skinner and I have been friends since we were really young, too. Our parents were even friends. They’re both people I talk to all the time, and we always support each other.”

The other two members of the team are Maribel Pena Burke and Kimberly Barraza, Teran said.

“When the whole George Floyd incident happened, I was so upset and emotional about it, because one of the things that Waymond and I talk about all the time is (his fear) that it could have been him, and that could have been his fate,” Teran said. (Fermon is Black.) “I think people forget that, and I just felt so emotional and sad. We just really wanted to do something. I think part of it for me was that it’s important I acknowledge the privilege that I have because of my white skin and blond hair. So I think it’s important that I’m standing with my friends and my community to say, ‘This isn’t OK.’”

The rally was initially scheduled to take place on Monday, June 1—but just hours before the scheduled start time, Riverside County invoked a 6 p.m. countywide curfew.

“Part of the group felt that we should just do it and hold (the vigil) anyway,” Teran said. “But we also wanted to be respectful. We felt that we needed to respect the policy (decisions) even when we didn’t agree with them. We did feel that we should have the right to go out and peacefully assemble, but sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even when you feel like it’s wrong, so we decided to go ahead and reschedule it. It took a lot of work, so it was very frustrating—but there were some positive things that came out of having to postpone the event. There were people who couldn’t come on the original date, who we really wanted to have participate. Once it got rescheduled, we were able to get some of those people. We had more time to do some things, like go out and write the names in chalk of (victims of police brutality) who had passed over the last years. That was something small, but for us, it was meaningful.”

The We Are Indio team received some criticism after announcing the event.

“Originally, I think somebody put out a flier that matched ours, and it said people shouldn’t attend this vigil, because it was being organized by white people and the police,” Teran said. “It was obviously upsetting to see that. I’m actually a Latina, but I have blond hair, and I’m very fair-skinned. I felt that we were trying to say that it doesn’t matter who you are: Right now is the time to stand up and have a voice, and to say that Black Lives Matter. It’s just such a really important cause to me. I know a lot of the stories that my friends have experienced, and it’s very emotional to hear those things.

“I know some of the things that (Fermon) experienced as a young man. He’s been on the side of being in law enforcement, but he’s also been on the side of having the barrel of a gun pointed at him. When you hear those things, obviously, you want to stand up for your friends. But it’s more than just your friends. This is an issue nationwide, and it needs to be addressed. It’s been going on for far too long.”

Teran said she asked Fermon what they should do about the negative feedback.

“He said, ‘You know what? Just keep going. We know what we’re doing. We’re just going to focus on having a positive event in our community.’ And I think that’s what we did. I think we were able to accomplish that.”

Indeed, Teran said she was pleased at the turnout.

“Although I believe there were a couple of outsiders who did show up, we had a lot of people (attending) who grew up in Indio, and they knew that our intentions were to have a peaceful gathering and to really be able to come together as a community,” Teran said. “Something so different about Indio is that we all grew up with a very diverse mix of friends. Although we all know that we have different colors of skin, it’s just something that we didn’t pay attention to. There are people who grew up with us who are now part of the police department, but when we come together, we come together as one. So when those outsiders (who may have had ill intentions) showed up, there were (attendees) who made it clear that’s not what we were looking for. It was great to see people coming up to speak to the City Council members, and I even saw some people go to talk with the police chief (Mike Washburn, who attended) about some of the issues that they were facing. That’s what we were trying to do. We wanted to create a dialogue and have transparency and (talk about having) oversight over the policies taking place. We want to create an environment where we can see positive change and look forward to the future.”

As for that future: Teran said people need to stay engaged.

“We had several community members reach out to us to say, ‘We’ve got to keep this going. This was so wonderful,’” she said. “So one of the things we’ve discussed is trying to do some kind of community barbecue in the future. We definitely need to encourage members of our community to be out there and to have a voice.

“It’s more important than just one day of action. Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too. You need to call in and comment to make sure that you’re heard. It can become very important in the decision-making process. We did have voter registration out at our event, and we kept trying to impress the fact that it’s not just important to register to vote—but it’s so important to come out in November and actually vote. Work on a campaign; make some phone calls; help to mobilize and organize, because we have to get those people out of positions of authority who are not willing to be transparent and work with the community.”

Teran also emphasized how important social-distancing guidelines were at the vigil—and will continue to be moving forward.

“For us, it was really important to follow the social-distancing guidelines—and I’m a very big advocate of wearing facial masks,” Teran said. “We took a lot of precautions cleaning, and each speaker or performer had their own microphone cover. We designated places for people to sit, so we really did follow social guidelines. I think it’s important for people to know that (COVID-19) is a very real thing, and it’s very important to follow those guidelines.”

For more information on We Are Indio, visit www.facebook.com/groups/2656275024692257.

Published in Local Issues

Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's mask-wearing, sign-carrying, protest-filled weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles points out that it's time for white people to pay attention; This Modern World offers some dispatches from this new normal; Jen Sorensen listens to Ivanka Trump whine; Apoca Clips ponders alternative photo ops for Li'l Trumpy; and Red Meat needs to go shopping to finish a science experiment.

Published in Comics

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, parks and streets around the country and world have become staging grounds for massive outpourings of frustration and anger over systemic racism in the United States.

On Monday, June 1, a Black Lives Matter protest took place at Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park, organized by a self-described band of “newbie” community organizers who wanted their voices heard. Their Instagram account is called Coachella Valley Activists.

The group originally called for an evening protest on El Paseo. However, on the day of the gathering, the group moved the event to Palm Desert’s City Hall-adjacent Civic Center Park—and made the start time earlier in response to a countywide curfew.

“For everyone, it was their first time staging a protest rally,” said Angel Moreno, one of the organizers. “Our team is more than 20 people. It’s a big group. But, actually, it started with an idea between my friend and me. All of our friends talked about how there should be a protest on El Paseo in Palm Desert, but nobody ever took the initiative to make one (happen). So, we had the idea of making one, and he made a page (on Instagram). I helped set it up, and I was contacting everyone to spread the news to actually make a protest in Palm Desert. Everyone agreed, and shared and talked to people.”

Moreno said his group wanted to “wake up the people in the valley” about unacceptable things going on in the world.

“A lot of lives are being lost, and a lot of police brutality is happening, and the police are not being held to account for it,” Moreno said. “This group is very diverse. We have white, Mexican, Black, Asian (and) gay (members)—and it hurts our African-American friends more. I’m Latino, and I do feel it, but it hurts to see them hurt. And now, even with everything that’s going on in the world, Latinos are getting abused by police and discriminated against. What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

When the group’s Instagram post announcing the protest started getting attention, various people and media sources—the Independent included—reached out and asked who the Coachella Valley Activists were. There was no response before the protest; we asked Moreno why.

“That’s just because there were a lot of messages going on,” Moreno said. “We didn’t expect our page to blow up, but when it did, there were so many messages and comments, and we were really just overwhelmed. We tried to get to as many as we could, but only my friend and I have the account.”

Moreno said he is happy the group decided to move the protest from El Paseo to Civic Center Park. After rioting and looting took place in cities around the country over the weekend—and after a quickly retracted Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce Facebook post the night before inaccurately claimed “busses are arriving already with people”—concerned El Paseo business owners boarded up windows and braced for the worst.

“It was a great thing that we changed the location, and not just due to the fact that everyone was asking us to please not do it on El Paseo because of all the businesses,” Moreno said. “We weren’t going to do anything, but then we thought, ‘Well, let’s move to another area, because we don’t want to cause any problems.’ Even though we weren’t going to (cause problems), people thought we were. So we wanted them to know that we heard them. That’s why we decided to move it.

“Also, we were getting a lot of followers and people saying that they were going to come, and we knew we’d need a bigger area.”

That surprising level of engagement, coming from an Instagram account just a few days old, continued to grow right up to the start time.

“When my group and I first showed up,” Moreno said, “we saw protesters there already, even before the scheduled start time, which was really surprising. We said, ‘Oh my god, this is a whole lot of people.’ There were at least 150 people already there, and as time went by, it just kept increasing more and more. It was so amazing to see so many people. We didn’t expect it to be this big. Not at all. I mean, we were just amazed.”

The rally itself was, by design, a free-form event.

“Here’s the thing: We didn’t want it to be about ourselves,” Moreno said. “We didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re the protesters, and we made this (demonstration).’ We didn’t want that. We wanted the people to be heard. Everyone could take a turn speaking and talking. It was just amazing how organized it was—for not being organized. It was truly amazing, because it was really peaceful. There was no violence at all. Everyone just took turns talking, chanting and speaking their truth. Eventually, we thanked everyone for attending, and then we started marching down Fred Waring past Monterey towards Highway 111.”

Moreno described what happened as the 6 p.m. countywide curfew approached.

“We turned around and went back to City Hall, because we wanted to keep protesting,” Moreno said. “Then, once it hit 6 p.m., which was the curfew time that came out that day, we told everyone that they should leave for their own safety. But a lot of people wanted to stay. We kept telling people to leave, because we didn’t want anybody to get hurt at all. We didn’t want the police to do anything. But, thankfully, people did stay after 6 p.m. … While I was being interviewed (on TV news) exactly at 6 p.m., the crowd kept going eastward on Fred Waring, and they stopped close to downtown Palm Desert. I was asked then if I thought all the (attendees) were leaving, or if they were going to continue to protest. I told (the news) they didn’t want to leave, because this was very important to them, and they wanted their voices to be heard.

“I got interviewed for just a few minutes, and then we followed the rest of the group. That’s when the police started covering the street (around us), and we told people not to do anything stupid and just keep our distance. We had, like, six car lengths of distance (between the line of police and the group of demonstrators), and we weren’t doing anything. We were kneeling down and chanting when out of nowhere, the police threw a smoke grenade. First one, and then around four more of them started throwing (the smoke grenades). People took it easily, because it was just smoke. They backed up away from the police and tried to get out of the smoke. So, everyone wasn’t running or (being) violent or anything. They were just trying to move out of the way.”

Moreno admitted the COVID-19 pandemic was indeed a concern.

“But it would be hard to tell people to stay six feet away from each other, and also to be in formation (while demonstrating),” he said. “So we were concerned about the coronavirus, but we told people before the protest even happened to not touch each other, and that they should wear masks. We wanted people to be safe, but the protest was happening, and it was more important than the pandemic right now. I don’t think people are even thinking about the pandemic while they’re protesting, because they’re speaking out of anger. They’re speaking from their hearts.”

What’s next for the Coachella Valley Activists?

“Right now, we’re supporting other protests that are happening around the Coachella Valley. Also, we’re (gathering a list and) sharing the names of black-owned businesses. Because our page blew up so big, we now have a lot of followers in the valley, and we just want to share our platform with other groups.

“I do want to say that we did this not for ourselves, but for everyone around the world,” Moreno said. “We want to be part of the change that’s happening right now, and we want the people in our cities to be heard. We don’t want to be silenced, and we just want peace. That’s all we want.”

For more information, visit www.instagram.com/coachellavalleyactivists.

Published in Local Issues

Nathaniel Johnson walked past a CVS pharmacy in Hollywood with his phone camera trained on men running out of the looted store with armfuls of stolen goods.

After a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, Johnson had protested police brutality for two days while dressed in civilian clothes. But that afternoon, he decided to change into the uniform he wore for five years—his Army fatigues.

He had no idea that—across the street and two stories above him—a porn star and former reality show actress with 2 million Instagram followers was recording the events on her phone. 

“Get out of the CVS; you’re criminals,” shouted Farrah Abraham in a 57-second video posted to Instagram. ”Get out of CVS!”

She turned her camera to Johnson. “This guy in the Army uniform is literally with them!” she shouted. She later took credit for sending 20 people to jail with her video, adding “I’m blessed there’s people like me on this earth.”

But Johnson, 30, wasn’t looting. He was recording both the thieves and the police who raced to the scene on Monday afternoon. His goal: show the police response while distinguishing between peaceful protests and the kind of destruction and theft that was taking place across the country.

Though he was a toddler in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992, Johnson said the city’s long history of racial injustices and uprisings is leading to police and observers painting all black people with the same broad brush.

“We’re looters, rioters, criminals to them,” said Johnson, 30, an Army combat engineer and mechanic who was stationed overseas in Germany.

In other words, Johnson said, he faces the same kind of fear and endemic racism that led to Floyd’s death and the protests in the first place.

The incident provides a unique snapshot of a protest and civil unrest in Los Angeles: A celebrity influencer in an expensive Hollywood apartment, yelling at people, all black—some guilty of vandalism and burglary, some innocent—28 years after the deadliest riots in modern U.S. history.

The imagery of this week’s protests in Los Angeles—buildings burning against a night sky, people running and screaming, cars on fire—evoked memories of the 1992 riots, in which 63 people died. But the worries and hopes and raw fury of Californians who took to the streets this week show that all protests, like politics, are local. Throughout the state, protesters had their own motivations, their own methods, and their own issues with their police force and their city.

In Merced, protesters asked why the north side of town remains wealthy and safe, while the south side wilts. In Sacramento, protesters demanded the firing of police officers who fatally shot a black man in 2018 in his grandmother’s backyard while he was holding a cell phone. And in Salinas, a police department three years into its own reforms is gleaning modest praise—as well as complaints.

Uniting all the protests throughout California, as well as the rest of the nation, is the idea that police must reform—or be forced to reform—treatment of black people.


In Merced: ‘Politics has to happen at home’

Merced isn’t really a protest town. The usual demonstration in the Central California town will draw maybe 100 people. But last weekend, nearly 400 people of all races showed up. What’s changed? Protesters said the combination of the toll the pandemic is taking on people of color, the battles over immigration and the killing of Floyd brought them out.

“I think the last four years caused that difference,” said Katrina Ruiz, who is in her 30s and lives nearby in Los Banos. “We have a president whose rhetoric perpetuates stereotypes against people of color. We have this pandemic, and the response to the pandemic was atrocious. It has gotten increasingly worse to be a black person in the last four years because of who we have in office. People are just outraged, and they don’t know what to do.”

Locally, the city is divided along class and racial lines, Ruiz said. In north Merced, there’s investment, a new high school, grocery stores and easy public transit.

“You go to south Merced (and) there are no grocery stores. There are no sidewalks. The schools are heavily policed, and there’s no investment in the community,” Ruiz said. “There’s investment in law enforcement.”

South Merced has a majority of people of color, with blocs of Latinos, black people and Hmong. The Merced County Sheriff’s Office has drawn the ire of activists over its cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We have a department sheriff that, one, won’t speak to people in ICE custody, who says the sheriff’s department doesn’t cooperate with Homeland Security,” Ruiz said, “but there’s records to prove otherwise. 

“I think this is a call to action for local and national leaders,” she said, “because politics has to happen at home.”

A day later and 56 miles southeast, Shannah Albrecht, a 24-year-old student at Fresno City College, said the 3,000-person assembly in Fresno on Saturday was her first protest.

“It was so diverse,” she said. “There were white people, Asian people, Hispanic people. There were people of all different ages. Everybody was there to support the black community and show they have allies, that everybody’s there for the same purpose, to show that they have people out there that do care and want all this to stop.

“It’s me finally getting to the point where enough is enough.”


In Sacramento: The specter of a shooting

Sacramento was the focal point of marches and protests in the summer of 2018, when two police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, 22, as a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter hovered overhead, recording the incident. The officers fired 20 rounds and later said they believed Clark had a gun. It was a cell phone. An autopsy found that three of the seven rounds that struck Clark hit him in the back.

The specter of Clark’s death hung over the protests in Sacramento this week.

“People are mad and rioting and looting, rightfully so, because they’re angry,” said Thongxy Phansopha, who attended vigils for Floyd and ferried supplies to protesters last week. “They haven’t been given the proper space to grieve.”

Officers who have killed or injured Sacramento residents need to be held accountable, said Phansopha, including those who fatally shot Clark. But that’s not enough. “Reforms are great short-term,” Phansopha said, “but it’s not the way for the future.”

Phansopha, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, didn’t know that they would become a victim, too, when they headed last Saturday to the capitol’s Midtown district to deliver a final round of snacks and water to friends protesting there.

As Phansopha turned a corner on foot, a chaotic scene awaited. Officers on one side of the street fired flash grenades and rubber bullets at protesters on the other side. Tear gas hung in the air.

Phansopha said they paused for a moment to inspect an empty tear gas canister on the ground. Suddenly, Phansopha felt an object collide with their head—another canister. Blood poured from Phansopha’s face, and they collapsed slowly to the ground, started to crawl away and was swept to safety by other protestors. Phansopha said officers continued to shoot rubber bullets.

In the emergency room, Phansopha discovered the extent of damage: seven rubber bullets struck their face, neck, arm, shoulder, back and hip, leaving a bloody gash above their eyebrow, a fractured cheek bone and three skull fractures.

In the long term, Phansopha said activists should try to change how city money is spent and who decides how to spend it. In addition to fewer police officers, Phansopha said less money should go to the county jail, and those dollars should be spent on community-led alternatives, along with mental health services.

How that money is spent should be up to the community to decide, with “really big investments into the neighborhoods that really need it.”


In Salinas: Already rebuilding trust

At the rodeo grounds in Salinas on Monday evening, Selena Wells, a 24-year-old black and Mexican woman, stood quiet witness in the back of the crowd. She was there supporting her sister, a poet who read some of her work at the start of the protest; and her mother, who would speak later.

Even though her mother isn’t black, she raised Wells and her sister with the knowledge of what it is like to be black in America, Wells said. She taught them they would be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, that they had to hold themselves differently in certain cases, that they needed to be more careful if they were pulled over by the police, and so on, Wells said.

She called for accountability for city police in particular.

“To be discriminated against based on the color of our skin, it’s wrong; it shouldn’t ever happen,” she said.

Salinas has a fraught history with police, which the department has worked to turn around in the last six years. After four residents were fatally shot by officers in 2014, tensions between police and residents of East Salinas set off widespread protests.

A 2015 review by the Department of Justice found troubling deficiencies in how Salinas police worked with people with mental illness, used force and built community trust and engagement. 

In response, under Salinas Police Chief Adele Fresé, the department has focused on hiring women and people of color as officers, as well as hiring people from the community. The Salinas Police Department also revamped its approach to training, emphasizing de-escalation and community outreach.

The county District Attorney’s Office began an independent review process of every officer-involved shooting, a significant milestone for activists.

At Monday’s rally, Fresé said she believed the steps the department had taken in recent years to emphasize trust and community-building between law enforcement and civilians was essential.

Still, memories are long, and relationships between the community and police remain frayed in Salinas. 

Fresé faced some brief heckling Monday night when, during her remarks, a handful of protesters called for justice for Brenda Rodriguez, a new mother who was shot and killed by Salinas police in March 2019 after an eight-hour standoff with officers who responded to a domestic-violence call at her boyfriend’s mother’s house. 

Rodriguez was shot after she “pointed a realistic-looking airsoft pistol directly at” officers, said Monterey County Managing Deputy District Attorney Christopher Knight at the time.

Local activist organizations held protests in Rodriguez’s name in the following months.

The officers involved in the shooting death were found to have acted appropriately by the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.


In Los Angeles: A military presence

Johnson hoped the power of his uniform might protect him on Monday. Last Saturday and Sunday nights, when Johnson dressed in regular clothing, “I came out as a civilian, a protester, and I was met with tear gas; I was met with batons; I was met with violence,” he said. “They just saw us as criminals and thugs. I felt like I was in a war.” 

So he came out Monday in fatigues.

“I approached (the police and National Guard) with my military ID and my dog tags. They’re the same people I was when I was serving,” he said. “I’m a soldier. It never goes out of you.” 

But he said it didn’t make a difference. The protest on Monday in Hollywood ended the same way: tear gas, threats of rubber bullets and arrests.

One of Johnson’s chief complaints was the use of the National Guard to quell protests, along with President Trump’s threat to send the military onto American streets.  

“Having been trained like them, I’m a soldier. The kind of torture they put you through in the military is to make you say, ‘I can do it; I can kill,’” Johnson said. “And when they get out, what jobs do we give them? Police.”

The use of tear gas and rubber bullets has drawn the ire of civil-liberties advocates. But in protest after protest during the unending week of unrest in Los Angeles, police in full suits of body armor, face shields and military hardware acted as crowd control long before the shooting starts.

Protests are, ultimately, a negotiation between those protesting and the government they’re seeking to reform. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had proposed an increase to the LAPD in his 2020 budget proposal. Then Floyd was killed and the protests began, many of them focusing on the fact that the police department would take up more than 53 percent of the city budget.

After several nights of unrest, Garcetti on Wednesday reversed course, proposing a $150 million cut to the department.

The next day, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore was already pushing back by questioning how his department could afford the cuts.

It was clear that the messy, public business of negotiating the future of policing would continue, perhaps even intensify.

That night, more people took to the streets across the state, their protests far from over.

Nigel Duara and Jackie Botts are CalMatters reporters; Manuela Tobias is a reporter with the Fresno Bee; and Kate Cimini is a reporter with The Californian. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Published in Local Issues

Page 1 of 2