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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

When I told my editor I felt compelled to write about race and the issues currently dominating our news, he said, “Do you feel you—as a white person—really have a lot to add to the conversation? If so, go for it. But make sure you're answering that question in the affirmative.”

Let me start by saying I am a white person who was lucky enough to be raised to know that the only difference between people is in their immutable characteristics: skin color, hair color, eye color, height, sexual orientation—but not in their worth or value as a human being deserving of respect.

I’ve written almost 200 columns now, and too many of them have touched on race, discrimination and the outrages perpetrated against people of color, or people being wronged based on their gender, sexual orientation or religion. I’ve written about my own father threatening my life if I came to my brother’s first wedding with my Black boyfriend. I’ve written about the attack on a Muslim community in Coachella, and on the unconscionable dislocation of Black, Mexican and Indigenous peoples from what is now downtown Palm Springs. I’ve talked about local residents with a long history of fighting racism who are committed to the realization of a diverse society where nobody is considered lesser. I’ve written about my own history of working for civil rights and gender equality. And I have three Black ex-step-children whose safety is always on my mind.

We are right now at a time of profound change—if we are courageous enough to follow through and not let the latest distractions divert us from the hard work that needs to be done.

After the horrifying killing of George Floyd, the shooting in her own apartment of Breonna Taylor, and all the other people we’ve had to add to the list in recent years, the latest indignity is Bubba Wallace—the only Black first-tier NASCAR driver, who pushed the racing series to ban Confederate flags—finding a noose hung in his garage at the raceway. Too many people are willing to distort the message of the tens of thousands of protesters who have filled streets throughout the country and around the world, and label them as thugs, hoodlums and terrorists.

For those who object to what’s happening by maintaining that THEY aren’t racist and have never done anything against others based on skin color, or those who are sick of all the whining and complaining because we all have problems, or those who turn away because it’s too difficult to watch, or those who work with people of other races and have never felt the comfort to have a conversation about these issues, or those who sympathize and wish they could do something to make a difference but don’t know what—this column is for you.

The only way to be part of the solution is to recognize the problem.

We’re born into a culture based on racism, and we absorb it in every interaction and through every institution with which we come into contact. It’s only by awareness and conscious action that we have any hope of overcoming that history. White people, born into the privilege of being considered the norm against which everything else is compared, are the ones who have to change the course toward our future.

There’s a difference between personal bias—where you may have been raised to believe that people who look a certain way are somehow inherently inferior or to be feared—and institutional racism.

A racist system is insidious in its reach, influence and impact, and all too often, especially if you’re white, you’re not even aware that it exists. It’s at the core of education, health care, housing, banking, elections and the police who are supposed to protect and serve the public.

Police forces were originally created to control slave uprisings or escapes, and that mindset is at their core. Let local law enforcement know that you want change in their training, their disciplinary practices, their transparency. Show your appreciation for their efforts in keeping the peace, and lobby for the re-funding of social services that can more appropriately deal with social issues that don’t require an armed response. Never forget that your taxes pay their salaries.

Institutional racism is at the core of our banking and real estate systems. Red-lining is historically how we keep people “where they belong.” Home ownership is a key asset, and if you get into trouble, you have no way to access funds to help get you back on your feet without assets. Identify minority-owned businesses and patronize them. Ask your own bank how they do inclusive outreach in the community. They need to know white customers care about this, and you can influence change by threatening to move your money to a more community-friendly entity.

People of color often have lower-paid jobs without benefits—particularly health care and savings for retirement. Individuals without health-care coverage are more at risk of illness and earlier death. The disparate rate at which people of color are suffering from COVID-19 is evidence of this. Let your elected representatives know you support everyone having access to both.

Education is supposed to be the means by which we offer equal opportunity to get ahead—but public education is not equal when poor neighborhoods have sub-standard schools. Even if those students get through high school, they’re not able to compete with those who have had the advantage of special prep classes, counseling for college applications and financial assistance. Let your children’s teachers know you want them to teach ALL of our history. Remember that children hear EVERYTHING and learn not just from what you tell them. You have to model the behaviors you want them to emulate. Teach them to recognize bias and to be willing to speak up when they see it.

In our political system, although people of color are now more represented in elected office, suppression of votes is another way our country institutionally limits the ability of those who have been most marginalized from having real power to effect change. You can make a difference by getting involved with a local political organization or the Registrar of Voters.

You need to identify your own personal biases, and there are things you can do to change: Put yourself in situations where you have a chance to interact and listen. Expand your awareness of our history so you can teach others.

Perhaps most important, intervene whenever you hear something that is inappropriate. You can do it quietly and firmly, and it will make a difference. Just know that silence is tacit agreement. Do SOMETHING.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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

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

A crowd of around 1,000 people—brought together by Young Justice Advocates, a newly formed group of young adults "speaking out and trying to make a change in this world"—protested systemic racism during the "Enough Is Enough" rally at Ruth Hardy Park in Palm Springs, on Saturday, June 6.

After a series of chants, the crowd marched around the park, holding signs and repeating those chants.

"No justice, no peace!"

"Hands up! Don't shoot!" 

"Black lives matter!"

"I can't breathe!"

"Say his name! George Floyd! Say her name! Breonna Taylor!"

After the march, various members of Young Justice Advocates, Rep. Raul Ruiz and several others addressed the crowd.

Below is a series of photos from the "Enough Is Enough" protest.

Published in Snapshot

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

We have more than 25 news links today—a new Daily Digest record—so let’s get right to it:

• On the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the various news with Dr. Laura Rush; The Standard Magazine publisher Nino Eilets; and Clifton Tatum and Andre Carthen from Brothers of the Desert. Check it out.

• Protests force change! Some members of Congress are developing “a sweeping package of police reforms,” according to NBC News.

• Unfortunately, the Trump administration, showing a clear inability to “read the room,” doesn’t seem too interested in reforms. “Apart from supporting a federal civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death, the president has offered no proposals for changing how police use force, train new officers or interact with their communities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

More change being forced by the protests: Los Angeles is considering cutting up to $150 million from the police budget to instead invest in communities of color.

• Yet more change: The chancellor of California’s community college system—where 80 percent of the state’s police officers get training—wants to change the curriculum to address systemic racism.

• Observers in Washington, D.C., have noticed a very disconcerting thing: law-enforcement officers with no visible affiliation or personal identities. This. Is. Scary.

• Also scary: The number of incidents of police violently using force against peaceful protesters continues to grow.

• Twitter is an odd mix of community, fun and simply terrible people. Well, community and fun won the battle against simply terrible people today: A bunch of K-pop fans took over the white-supremacist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag by using it to share their fave stars, videos and memes—meaning the hate was hard to find among all the K-pop.

• As if I needed more proof that I should have picked another damned profession (kidding) (mostly), the United States is now on Reporters Without Borders’ list of deadliest countries for journalists.

• Also from the journalism world: Newsrooms around the world are currently in the midst of a debate: Should our coverage show protesters’ faces?

• Meanwhile, journalists at two major newspapers are none too pleased with the actions of their editors: Journalists of color at Philadelphia Inquirer are taking a “sick and tired” day to protest a recent “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, while journalists at The New York Times are speaking out against an op-ed mentioned here yesterday by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the feds to use the military to tamp down on the protests.

• Independent contributor Keith Knight—he does The K Chronicles and (Th)ink comics that appear on the weekly Independent comics page—shared with us this list of “anti-racism resources for white people.”

• Not a cause for panic, but a reminder that we all have to take precautions: Eisenhower Medical Center confirmed it’s seeing more positive COVID-19 tests from the community in recent days.

• COVID-19 testing sites in Los Angeles County were either closed or limited due to the protests and curfews. This has public health officials—and others—concerned.

• We’ve all seen that graph of the various waves of death caused by the flu pandemic of 1918-19. While it’s possible we may see similar patterns with COVID-19—although let’s hope not—this is a very different time, and a very different virus, according to The Conversation. That’s both a good thing, and a bad thing.

• Hmm … Riverside County did not update its COVID-19 stats today. According to a tweet from Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer: “Due to technical issues, we were not able to access local data from the state's CalREDIE website. We apologize for this delay, and will strive to have updated #COVID19 data and information for you tomorrow, June 4.” (He meant tomorrow, June 5, we assume.)

• The Trump administration continues to use COVID-19 as an excuse to roll back environmental protections permanently.

• Hooray for … Chuck Grassley? The Iowa senator has pledged to block two Trump nominations until his administration explains why Trump fired two different watchdogs.

The Pentagon got billions in stimulus money to fight the pandemic. However, much of that money has gone unspent … and some of it that has been spent has been spent rather strangely.

• National employment numbers continue to rise (albeit it a slower pace)—and now the government layoffs are beginning—including in Palm Springs and La Quinta.

• We’ve mentioned in this space the dangers of (necessarily) rushed science taking place in the battle against COVID-19. Well, a major study regarding hydroxychloroquine—President Trump’s COVID-19 drug of choice—was just retracted by its authors.

• Schools reopened in Israel two weeks ago. However, students are testing positive for the coronaviruscausing some schools to close. In fact, there’s discussion of closing all of them again.

• From the Independent: The latest piece in our Pandemic Stories series looks at the Palm Springs Power, the collegiate baseball team that plays at Palm Springs Stadium every summer. The team’s season was supposed to start last week, but was—to nobody’s surprise—delayed. However, team management is keeping fingers crossed for some sort of season to take place at some point.

Las Vegas is again open for business.

• And finally, let’s end on a brighter note: The Palm Springs International Shortfest has announced its official selections for 2020! Because the in-person event is not happening this year, not all of the selections will be shown—but some will be streaming online between June 16-22. Get all of the details here.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you have the means, and you value independent local journalism, we kindly ask you to consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

We hit 115 degrees today, and it’s only June 3.

Meanwhile, the country remains a mess … although we got some good news today.

Let’s get right into the links:

• The big national news of the day: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that Derek Chauvin—the Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, resulting in Floyd’s death—would be charged with second-degree murder; and that the other three officers involved in the incident—Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao—would be charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Chauvin had previously been charged with third-degree murder; the other three officers had not yet been charged. 

Ellison, however, also offered a warning: He said that getting a conviction in the case(s) against the officers “will be hard.” 

• While some Republicans are standing by President Trump’s attempt to militarize law-enforcement responses against the protests taking place around the country (or, rather, make the responses even more militarized), others—including Defense Secretary Mark Esper—are quickly backing away.

• Meanwhile, a former Trump defense secretary—James Mattis, who served in the position until December 2018—excoriated Trump. Key quote: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.

The Guardian offers a look at the lives of some of the men and women killed during the protests over the last eight days

• It’s been said that if you want to understand the nature of a police force, you look not at the chief, but at the head of the union. Well, The Intercept looked at Lt. Bob Kroll, head of Minneapolis’ police union—and saw some pretty rotten stuff.

More evidence of rot in the Minneapolis PD comes from The New York Times: Black people make up 19 percent of Minneapolis’ population—but 58 percent of the police-use-of-force cases.

• The New York Times examined how some law-enforcement offers are feeling very conflicted right now. The headline and sub-headline: “For Police Officers, Demonstrations Take a Toll and Test Duty: As the world watches demonstrations unfold on television and social media, both the best and the worst of American law enforcement has been on display.

The Los Angeles Times looks at the protests taking place in the Inland Empire—and the previous cases of police violence that are helping motivate them.

This NPR headline just made me sigh and desire a cocktail: “In George Floyd Protests, China Sees A Powerful Propaganda Opportunity.

• Former President Barack Obama spoke today as part of a Town Hall organized by his foundation. Read about his remarks—or watch what he had to say—here.

• A very cool feature from the Newseum—which continues online after closing its physical space at the end of last year: Each day, hundreds of newspapers send their front pages to the Newseum to post online. Check it out.

• And now to the day’s coronavirus news—which is very much still a thing: According to The Conversation, California’s relatively early shelter-in-place order may have saved 1,600 lives in one month.

• Riverside County has set aside more than $30 million in federal stimulus money for tenants who need help with rent. Applicants may receive up to three months’ rent, or $3,500, whichever is less. Learn more here.

• Keep your fingers crossed: Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview yesterday that he’s hoping we will have a couple hundred million doses of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine ready by the end of the year. Yay!

However, he also said the vaccine may not offer protection for very long. Boo!

AMC Theatres says that it may not be able to survive the pandemic.

That’s enough news for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. If you value independent, local, honest journalism, and can spare a few bucks, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's sad and angry weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen shows that a president's words have violent consequences; (Th)ink puts looting and repression into context with thanks from Donald Rumsfeld (yes, really); This Modern World ponders how great America is again; Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy blather on; and Red Meat fails yet again to get a job.

Published in Comics

Welcome to June! Things are a mess!

Here’s the latest:

All of Riverside County is under a curfew starting at 6 p.m. today. Yes, all of it—including the Coachella Valley. The curfew lasts through 6 a.m. tomorrow. But you probably already know this because of an alert screamed by your phone earlier this afternoon.

Some of the details, according to the county:

The curfew is in response to several areas of rioting and looting in Southern California over the weekend, as well as planned protests set to occur today in Riverside County.

“We want the community to be able to peacefully assemble and exercise their first amendment rights,” said (County Executive Officer and Director of Emergency Services George) Johnson. “We must also take action to protect our community from threats of rioting and chaos. If you plan to visit a protest today, we urge you to do so peacefully and return home at the time of the curfew.”

The curfew will expire Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. and will not apply to residents who must leave their homes to attend essential work or business after 6 p.m. The curfew is intended to prevent any potential acts of destruction and violence at protest sites. Law enforcement will continue to serve the community by conducting patrols and responding to calls for service.

Three protests motivated by the death of George Floyd were planned for the Coachella Valley today. The first one started at 10 a.m. in downtown Palm Springs, and, by accounts, has been calm and peaceful.

The other two were scheduled for tonight—and there are some key differences.

The first one that was announced was slated for 6 p.m. in Indio, at Miles Park. This was, in every way, a transparent and local effort: The organizers of #NoMoreHashtags said who they were, what their plans were, and emphasized safety—both in terms of being peaceful, and the need for social distancing and masks due to the pandemic.

However, that protest has been cancelled by organizers, in light of the county curfew. Organizer Erin Teran wrote on Facebook:

We the committee of the No More Hashtags Candlelight Vigil regret to inform you of the decision to postpone. The vigil scheduled for this evening, June 1st in Indio will be moved to a future date due to the notification of curfew put in place by Riverside County officials, which currently commenced at 6 p.m. this evening to tomorrow at 6 a.m.

We have made a group decision to postpone the vigil pending further notice in an effort to cooperate with our county and local officials.

We are upset and disappointed to have to postpone the vigil, as we feel it is important for us to assemble together as a community to grieve and express our emotions; however we also acknowledge the concerns of our community.

We ask the public to please respect the curfew. As we had planned a peaceful expression and Vigil, we also do not condone any negativity surrounding this tragedy.

This was and will be a peaceful candlelight vigil and we will see that it will proceed in the coming days.

• The other planned protest is, well, shrouded in mystery.

It was announced by an Instagram account that has no posts published before the protest announcement. At first, the “Coachella Valley Activists” account announced the protest would be starting in front of California Pizza Kitchen, on El Paseo in Palm Desert.

Then, earlier today, the account announced that due to fears over the location chose for the protest—why pick the ritzy shopping area?!—it was being moved to Palm Desert’s City Hall and Civic Center Park. After the curfew announcement, the account said the protest would start earlier than originally scheduled, and would go from 4 to 6 p.m.

There are several things worth pointing out about this announced protest. First: It’s odd to schedule a protest at the same time as another one just 10 miles down the road. Second: The organizers have refused to identify themselves. The Independent asked the organizers who they were, as did other media sources and all sorts of commenters on the Instagram page—but they have so far refused say.

“It’s been brought to our attention that people believe that the El Paseo protest is a setup,” posted the page. “We can assure you this is not. We’re a group of diverse friends (Black, Latino, White, etc.) who believe that our voices should be heard, and we’re locals but not residents of PD.”

Regardless of who is behind this protest, it scared the living hell out of people, given the violence and destruction that’s taken place over the weekend. At one point on Sunday night, the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce on Facebook announced that “busses are arriving already with people,” but soon after removed the post, because it wasn’t true. Meanwhile, much of El Paseo has been boarded up … just in case.

So … yeah, things are a mess.

Other news:

A Villanova University professor, writing for The Conversation, says research has shown “that officers with extensive complaint histories were disproportionately more likely to be named subjects in civil rights lawsuits with extensive claims and large settlement payouts.” Translation: The nation’s police departments are *BADLY* in need of reform, as these needless acts of violence, often racially tinged, show us over and over and over again.

• Frustratingly related: According to CNN, “under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice has all but abandoned broad investigations into unconstitutional policing practices, a half-dozen former DOJ lawyers who worked on similar cases told CNN—essentially giving up on one of the federal government's most effective tools to fight police misconduct.”

• A tale of two presidents, presented without comment: Earlier today, former president Barack Obama issued a statement. A key quote: “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”

• Also earlier today, President Trump lashed out at governors on a phone call with them. Key quote, according to Fox News (yes, Fox News):You have to dominate; if you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you; you're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”

• The more things change, the more things stay the same: Today’s the 99th anniversary of one of the most awful chapters in American history. If you don’t know about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, please read up.

• These protests, while necessary, are coming in the middle of a pandemic that’s far from over—and it has medical professionals very worried that these mass gatherings will help the virus spread. Heed the warnings of Atlanta’s mayor: If you’ve been part of a mass protest, please go get tested for the virus.

• Late Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, affirmed California’s right to place restrictions on religious services during the pandemic. Fascinatingly, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the liberal wing of the court.

• Showing, YET AGAIN, how little we know about this damned virus: There’s evidence that SARS-CoV-2 attacks blood vessels, meaning it’s not merely a respiratory disease.

• And finally, a teeny, tiny sliver of good news among all the chaos: Hey, the Palm Springs Air Museum is (responsibly) open again!

That’s enough for this odd and sad day. Please be safe. If you can afford it, please consider supporting ethical, honest local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back for what we’re hoping is a better day tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Back on May 1, we wrote: “Welcome to May 2020—which should be one of the most fascinating months in American history.”

Well, May sure lived up to that statement, didn’t it?

It’s now May 29. Here in the Coachella Valley, retail stores, restaurants, some casinos and—as of this afternoon—some vacation rentals are again open for business. So far … so OK, I guess.

Nationally, however, the country is in crisis—but not because of COVID-19, though the virus remains as deadly as ever. No, the culprit is good ol’ fashioned police brutality and racism.

As of this writing, protests are continuing to grow in cities including Atlanta; Washington, D.C., Chicago; San Jose; and beyond, after rough nights last night in Minneapolis, Louisville and other cities.

I am hoping—naively, perhaps—that some good may eventually come out of this. Derek Chauvin—the Minneapolis police officer who we’ve all seen pinning down George Floyd on that awful video—has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Meanwhile, police leadership around the country is speaking out, swiftly and strongly, in condemnation of what we all saw on that video.

These are gut-wrenching times, for so many reasons. We, as a country, need to fight to make sure we come out of this better—because we need to be better.

If you agree with that statement—and I sure hope you do—it’s time to ask yourself: What am *I* going to do be better?

Today’s news links:

• The big local news of the day, as mentioned above: Riverside County announced that short-term rentals can resume taking reservations immediatelyalbeit with restrictions. While some cities, like Rancho Mirage, are continuing to restrict them, the city of Palm Springs has clarified that they are, in fact, now allowed in P.S. This is a welcome boost to the economy. As for what it means for COVID-19 … we’ll just have to wait and see.

• And now for the bad-if-unsurprising local economic news of the day: The August edition of Splash House is officially cancelled.

CVS has opened free drive-through testing sites in Coachella, Palm Springs, La Quinta and Indio. Here’s the list and the details.

Los Angeles has been given the go-ahead for retail, restaurants and barber shops/salons to reopen.

• Gov. Newsom today defended the surprisingly fast reopening processes taking place in much of the state. Key quote: “Localism is determinative. We put out the how; counties decide the when."

• Another stimulus/relief bill is in the works. But Mitch McConnell says this’ll be the last one. NPR explains.

• Meanwhile, in the middle of the world’s worst pandemic in 102 years, the most prosperous country on the planet is completely pulling out of the World Health Organization. At least that’s what the president said today, because—as we keep saying—NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.

From Bloomberg News comes this astonishing lead: “One farm in Tennessee distributed COVID-19 tests to all of its workers after an employee came down with the virus. It turned out that every single one of its roughly 200 employees had been infected.”

• NBC News reports that during “the first media briefing from the CDC in more than two months”—and I will remind everyone that WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC—it was revealed that the coronavirus began its spread in the U.S. in late January, a month or so before anyone noticed.

• One of the keys to keeping the virus contained may be antigen tests. What are they, and how do they differ from the diagnostic tests you know about, and the antibody tests? The Conversation explains.

• Spending is way down, and savings is way up, according to CNBC: Americans who are fortunate enough to have cash are holding onto it.

That’s enough for the day! Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Please consider helping us continue to do quality independent, local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can afford to do so. We’ll be back Monday, at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

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