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Is America on a slippery slope to fascism?

The Republican Party ‘has become a threat to liberal democracy,’ says Steve Schmidt

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President Donald Trump (Photo by Michael Key)

Out journalist Masha Gessen, an expert on Russian President Vladimir Putin and authoritarianism, pulled no rhetorical punches. 

“I don’t think we have fascist rule in this country, but what we have is a fascist leader,” Gessen told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on June 23, referring to President Donald Trump. “We have a nativist, nationalist leader who is devoting all his energy into portraying a group of people as a super dangerous enemy, both sort of subhuman animals, right, ‘infestation,’ and superhuman at the same time because they’re so frightening— because if we don’t protect ourselves, terrible things will happen, we don’t know what kind of catastrophe will befall us,” encapsulating Trump’s use of fear tactics and dehumanizing language about immigrants to rile his base. 

“That is fascism,” Gessen said. “Whether we allow fascism to take over this entire country is an open question and none of us knows what’s going to happen. But it is by no means hyperbole to call Trump a fascist.”

Gessen noted how slowly fascism takes hold. “Somebody posted recently the mock cover that The Boston Globe did before Trump’s election to try to scare people that said, ‘Deportations to Begin.’ And we thought it would be so shocking just a year and a half ago—and now we’re in the middle of it,” she said. “Deportations have long since begun and worse than deportations.”

“And soon internment camps,” Reid added as an almost throwaway afterthought.

And then came the internment camps—for children.

But first came the announcement. In March 2017, Trump called for an end to the “catch and release” policy whereby migrants crossing illegally into the US, a misdemeanor, would be freed to stay in the country while awaiting a court hearing.  A Department of Homeland Security proposal called for women and children to be separated as a deterrent to mothers.

Implementing the new policy proposal “could create lifelong psychological trauma,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director at the National Immigration Law Center, told Reuters for a March 3, 2017 story. “Especially for children that have just completed a perilous journey from Central America.”

A year later, on April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy. Lest anyone miss the point, Sessions went to Friendship Park on the border on May 8 and gleefully spelled out the new policy.   

“People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border. We need legality and integrity in the system. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution.  And the Department of Justice will take up those cases,” he said. “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you.  It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”

The felony criminalization of immigration forced authorities to take a child while the parent was referred for prosecution, which often resulted in deportation without the child. Sessions later declared that asylum would not be granted to anyone fleeing from domestic violence or gangs.

Asked by NPR if separating a child from a mother is “cruel and heartless,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said on May 11: “I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

During a May 15 Senate committee hearing, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that families seeking asylum who present themselves at ports of entry stay together. However, DHS later clarified that families may be separated if they can’t prove a custodial relationship or if DHS thinks a child may be at risk, being used by a trafficker to gain entry. In practice, asylum seekers who presented themselves at a point of entry were blocked, forced to find another way into the country, thus making their crossing illegal, with the children removed.

On May 29, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a 21 percent surge in one month in unaccompanied children in government detention centers. “Although the government has not disclosed how many children have been separated from their parents as a result of the new measures, [HHS] said Tuesday that it had 10,773 migrant children in its custody, up from 8,886 on April 29,” the Washington Post reported.

More than 100 children under the age of 4 were taken from their mothers, including breast-feeding infants, The New York Times reported, using data provided by HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The policy was the last straw for former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt who renounced his membership in the Republican Party, now “fully the party of Trump.”

“This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history. It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families,” he said in the thread. “Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values.”

Schmidt also came close to calling Trump a fascist. “Conservatism has become synonymous with obedience to the leader – a leader who says ‘I am the law. I am above the law. I will define what truth is.’ Truth is what the leader says it is, not what we would have recognized months ago as objective truth,” Schmidt told MSNBC. “The last time this happened, it unleashed a tragedy the likes of which the world has never seen. And I think there is a real lack of imagination in this country about how fragile these institutions are and how dangerous a president as unprepared, as authoritarian, as ignorant as he is—the damage he would be able to cause.”

The government tried to control the detention narrative. But reporting by Los Angeles native Jacob Soboroff for MSNBC after touring a facility in McAllen, Texas burst through. He described essentially a prison with “babies sitting by themselves in a cage with other babies.” He said reporters on the tour were asked to smile at the kids because they “feel like animals locked up in cages.” ProPublica released smuggled audio of young children crying for their parents. Reports of “tender-age shelters” and the sight of young people escorted in the dark of night to facilities around the country caused outrage.

Trump said he didn’t like the images and on June 20 signed an executive order that kept in place his “zero-tolerance” policy, but allows families to stay together while the parents are being prosecuted. However, many questions remain: what happens if the parents’ cases are not adjudicated within 20 days, when a federal court settlement requires that children be released from detention?

And while a San Diego judge ordered family reunification within 30 days of separation, the government has apparently not been keeping track of the children, including infants and toddlers who do not know their names. More than 2,300 children are in government custody since the separation policy started in April.

“I miss my mother and when I see those children on the border it rips my heart out,” says Maria (a pseudonym to protect her identity). “She died trying to get me here. She carried me from Honduras, first on a bicycle, then a van, a train, on foot, on bus…We traveled for such a long way, it took months. I remember it. She died in a small town on the side of the road in Mexico trying to get to my brother in California. She was not a criminal. She only wanted to give us both a better life but she didn’t make it. I was only 6 years old.

Maria remembers the good part of the journey. “People don’t understand.  For 99 percent of the people, the journey is a highlight of their life, sometimes the only family they have in the world are people they meet along the way. They take care of each other, feed each other, share everything and they look out for the children, even the older boys who travel alone,” she says.  “When my mother died people took care of me, they knew what my mother wanted for me and they made it happen.

“It’s not what Trump wants you to think,” she continues. “There were some bad people who took advantage of the good people, but they were not us. Most of the bad people were making money, stealing from the people the journey, making promises they did not keep.”

“I am not a bad hombre and neither was my mother,” she adds. “I was captured but not separated from the woman who told immigration people she was my mother. She took care of me for 2 years and worked everyday to help me find my brother. I still call her mom and she is still in danger of deportation all these years later.”

Maria made that journey in 2003. She was reunited with her brother, who had been adopted by a gay couple in the Palm Springs area and she eventually came out as a lesbian. She is working on getting her citizenship. “I love this country. My brother and I are lucky,” she tells the Los Angeles Blade.

Not everyone is as lucky. Last May, among the caravan of 225 asylum seekers fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to the Mexican border were more than 20 transgender women. Not all arrived in Tijuana.

“Some of us have been kidnapped, assaulted, and disappeared,” Ivan Mondragon, 30, who organized the transgender group, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Some have been forced into sex work. Here in Tijuana, one of our girls was assaulted, someone broke her rib and we haven’t seen her since she posted a video on Facebook after she was beaten.”

“I have friends who don’t have the opportunity to ask for asylum because they are already dead,” Shannel Smith, 28 of Honduras, told the Union-Tribune. She is fleeing gang members who killed her friend.

Roxanna Hernandez, 33, turned herself to ICE in San Diego seeking help—she had AIDS and was also fleeing violence as a trans woman. ICE took her into custody, shuffled her from facility to facility until she died alone on May 25 in New Mexico. 

But asylum for LGBT people is not easy to get. Udoka Nweke, a 29-year-old gay Nigerian, has been in Adelanto Detention Center since Dec. 2016. Fleeing his country after being attacked by an anti-gay mob, Nweke’s asylum plea was denied and he attempted suicide. The Black LGBTQ Migrant Project has petitioned for his release on parole so he can access lifesaving medical treatments.

Concern is growing about the psychological and emotional well being of the children now in government detention camps.

Mark Takano on the bus touring several camp facilities. Photo courtesy Takano’s Office

Out Rep. Mark Takano is among the congressional representatives who travelled to border towns and detention and prisons to see what’s happening. To him, the incarceration and the tent cities dramatically remind him of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War Two.

“I am just taken by how much the history of Japanese-American internment has been made current,” Takano tells the Los Angeles Blade. The fact that the family separation policy has been suspended “only proves that the administration was lying when it said it was law and they were forced to do this.” In fact, ‘the law did not require any of the cruel policies that they were implementing.”

Takano says that when he visited the McAllen, Brownsville and Port Isabel detention centers, he met with about 15 women from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. “None of these women posed a danger to our country. None of these women even came close to images of MS 13, which this president likes to broad brush all immigrants with to justify his policies.”

At Port Isabel, “you see 15 foot high walls and fences topped off with coiled razor wire,” Takano said. “And, of course, that image reminded me of my mother and my father who were two and three years old they went to Heart Mountain in Wyoming and Tule Lake in California. And certainly two and three year olds did not pose a danger to our country. And the executive order that lead to the interment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants” and Trump’s cruelty policy “were motivated by an extreme political agenda that was also further propagated by a media and a press that repeated the exaggerated claims of politicians….Rounding up and interring all Japanese-Americans was discriminatory.”

The disproportionate response then and now is based on “some vague notion of national security, some vague notion we’re protecting the public. That is simply a fiction and untrue. And it’s causing great suffering,” he says. “This is an immoral policy,” the scapegoating, stigmatization, “the marginalization of a vulnerable minority whose due process rights were not respected.”

“How does this connect to LGBT people?” Takano recalls how during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, members of Congress called for the tattooing, quarantining, “the interment of LGBT people,” he said.  “Medical science certainly negated those outrageous claims. We know that the calls to segregate and round up gays and to confine them was motivated by an anti-gay and homophobic animus.”

“[History] is repeating itself but it has gone to a new low with Donald Trump. When we were incarcerated [in Japanese-American internment camps], our families were intact. My parents were with me,” out actor George Takai told CNN. “But in this case, it’s come to a chilling low where babies are torn away from their mothers and placed in separate internment camps.”

Takai says Trump’s lies and inflammatory rhetoric are similar to what happened to Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. “We were characterized by the government, classified as ‘enemy aliens.’ We were neither,” he said, noting that many young Japanese Americans “rushed to their recruitments centers to volunteer to serve in the US military” right after Pearl Harbor but were denied.

But repeat a lie often enough “and it becomes a reality.” That’s what happened with “enemy aliens,” Takai said, recalling comments from the politically ambitious California Attorney General Earl Warren: “We have no reports of sabotage or spying or fifth column activities by Japanese Americans. And that is ominous because the Japanese are inscrutable. We can’t tell what they’re thinking so it would be prudent to lock them up before they do anything.”

“Taking that stereotype and grotesquely turning it against us—the big lie is happening with Donald Trump now, as well,” said Takai. “They are not murderers, rapists and drug dealers. They are literally fleeing for their lives and to call them infestations is absolutely grotesque.”

LGBT people should be concerned about Trump’s call to do away with immigration judges. “What are we going to do for LGBT people who are fleeing regimes that actually torture and kill them for being gay?,” asks Takano. “They don’t even get a hearing?” This anti-immigrant attitude harms us morally, to have this be done in our names as American citizens.” 

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Los Angeles

24-year-old trans Latina Angeleno & makeup artist shot to death

“This incident has prompted renewed calls for legislative action to address gun control and protect marginalized groups from violence”

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Meraxes Medina/Instagram

LOS ANGELES – In a tragic incident that has shaken the community and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, Meraxes Medina, a 24-year-old transgender Latina and makeup artist, was fatally shot in Los Angeles on March 21.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Medina was found dead on the road in South Los Angeles. The LAPD said she was shot in the head and that there was evidence she was also struck by a vehicle. Friends and family have confirmed Medina’s identity, celebrating her life and mourning her untimely death, which marks another violent act against transgender individuals.

Medina, known for her work at Universal Studios and her vibrant presence on social media, had begun hormone therapy and was navigating life as an undocumented person who had faced homelessness. Despite these challenges, those close to her remembered her for her potential and the positive impact she had on those around her. Friends have expressed their grief and shock, emphasizing Medina’s kindness, talent, and the bright future they believed she deserved.

The circumstances surrounding Medina’s death reflect a larger pattern of violence targeting the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color. Advocacy groups have highlighted the disproportionate impact of gun violence on transgender individuals, noting that a significant percentage of homicides within this community involve firearms.

The incident has prompted renewed calls for legislative action to address gun control and protect marginalized groups from violence.

California chapters of groups with Everytown for Gun Safety released a statement underscoring Medina was at least the third transgender person killed by gun violence in the U.S.

“We cannot ignore the disproportionate impact of gun violence on our transgender and gender-expansive neighbors, especially its impact on Black trans women and trans Latinas. We must honor Meraxes’ legacy by continuing to fight to protect our transgender and gender-expansive communities not only in California, but across the country,” said Ashley Castillo, a student leader with Students Demand Action and National Organizing Board Member.

As the investigation continues, Medina’s death serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for a societal shift to ensure the safety and dignity of all individuals, regardless of gender identity. “The loss of Meraxes Medina is not only a tragedy for those who knew her but also a call to action to combat hate and violence against the transgender community,” said one activist.

“Meraxes was a young woman who deserved to live out a long and fulfilling life. At just 24-years-old, she had so much more to give. Yet again, we find ourselves honoring the life and mourning the loss of someone from our transgender community killed by gun violence, and that alarming reality should emphasize our collective need to fight against lax gun laws. We need to come together and remind everyone, especially lawmakers and politicians, that our lives are worth saving and worth living,” said Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative.

Bamby Salcedo, President/CEO of The TransLatin@ Coalition, issed the following statement:  “It’s unfortunate that our sister Meraxes Medina had to perish to the ignorance and violence that we continue to experience as a community, and these are just another examples of what our lives are, and we want to ensure that we hold elected officials accountable for bettering our lives and our future.”

KABC 7 reported between 2017 and 2023, there were 263 reported homicides of transgender people in the U.S., according to the organization. A gun was used in 193 of them.

In California, there were 14 homicides of transgender people reported between 2018 and 2024 so far, and 37% were in Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles County

City of Malibu backing two bills aimed at making PCH safer

Between March 11 & 17, the Malibu CPH Task Force issued 109 citations (88 for speeding & two for distracted driving)

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CHP patrol cruiser on Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) near Malibu during a traffic stop. (Photo Credit: California Highway Patrol Media Affairs)

MALIBU, Calif. – The City of Malibu is supporting efforts by officials in Sacramento to increase and ensure efforts aimed at making the Pacific Coast Highway safer for drivers and pedestrians.

In a statement a spokesperson said that as part of the City’s commitment to addressing PCH safety and ensuring public safety in the community, the City sent a delegation of officials to Sacramento to support two State traffic safety bills, SB 1297 and SB 1509. Both bills were approved by the key State Senate Transportation Committee April 9 and will continue through the legislative process.

SB 1297, introduced by Senator Allen (co-authored by Assemblymember Irwin and Senators Stern and Friedman), would expand the State’s automated speed safety pilot program to allow the City of Malibu to participate. The City has advocated for the installation of the speed camera systems on PCH that can automatically issue citations to speeding motorists as one of the steps to help improve safety on PCH.

AB 1509, the NOT in California Act, was introduced by Senator Stern (co-authored by Senators Allen, Niello, Seyarto and Umberg), and would amend the CA Vehicle Code to make convictions of driving 26 MPH or greater over the posted speed limit, a two-point violation against a person’s driver’s license.

Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Doug Stewart, City Manager Steve McClary, Deputy City Manager Alexis Brown gave testimony and advocated for the Bills.

They were joined by Barry Stewart, whose daughter Peyton was one of the four Pepperdine students who were tragically killed by a speeding motorist while walking on PCH in October 2023, and Michel Shane, whose 13-year-old daughter Emily was tragically killed by a motorist while walking on PCH in 2010. Shane produced the powerful, moving film “21 Miles” about the dangers of PCH in Malibu. Both gave impassioned testimony about the dangers of PCH and the urgent need to improve safety conditions on the highway.

According to the California Highway Patrol, between March 11 and 17, the Malibu CPH Task Force issued 109 citations (88 for speeding; two for distracted driving; one for a seatbelt violation; and 18 for equipment violations). Four verbal warning were issued. One driver was stopped for speeding, and was arrested for DUI. Year-to-date, the CHP Malibu Taskforce has issued 721 citations. 

The City Council on March 25 approved sending a letter urging Governor Gavin Newsom, State Senator Ben Allen, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, LA County Sheriff Robert Luna, California Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin, and Caltrans Director Tony Tavares to work collaboratively to make changes to the State Vehicle Code to help address PCH safety. The changes include: 

  • Anybody who exceeds 100 MPH shall lose their driver’s license for three months, and anybody who exceeds 100 MPH more than once in a 12-month period shall lose their driver’s license for six months.
  • Anybody who exceeds twice the posted speed limit shall lose their driver’s license for one month, and anybody who exceeds twice the posted speed limit more than once in a 12-month period shall lose their driver’s license for two months. 
  • The loss of license in these instances shall be mandatory not discretionary.

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Southern California

Triple A: Gas prices continue upward by double digits

The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.41, which is 21 cents higher than a week ago

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Triple A Auto Club/Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – Southern California gas prices increased by about two cents a day in the last week, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch. The average price for self-serve regular gasoline in California is $5.41, which is 21 cents higher than a week ago. The average national price is $3.63, which is six cents higher than a week ago.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $5.36 per gallon, which is 13 cents more than last week, 42 cents higher than last month, and 42 cents higher than last year. In San Diego, the average price is $5.34, which is 13 cents higher than last week, 42 cents higher than last month, and 41 cents higher than this time last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $5.31, which is 12 cents higher than last week, 40 cents higher than last month, and 42 cents higher than last year. In Riverside, the average per-gallon price is $5.27, which is 14 cents higher than last week, 46 cents higher than last month and 44 cents higher than a year ago. In Bakersfield, the $5.24 average price is 17 cents more than last week, 43 cents more than last month, and 37 cents higher than a year ago today.

“Some additional refinery outages have further reduced fuel production and increased pump prices, and Oil Price Information Service reports that imported gasoline has been ordered and should arrive later this month or in early May,” said Auto Club Spokesperson Doug Shupe.

The Weekend Gas Watch monitors the average price of gasoline. As of 9 a.m. on April 11, averages are:

socal blue gas chart 4-10-24
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Los Angeles

LAPD monitoring threats against TransLatin@ Coalition

“These acts of violence underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect and uplift the most vulnerable among us”

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Los Angeles Police Department vehicles responding to a call for service. (Los Angeles Blade/LAPD file photo)

LOS ANGELES – In a concerning escalation of threats against LGBTQIA+ organizations throughout the country, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) confirmed that a bomb threat was called in to the department on March 28, aimed at the TransLatin@ Coalition (TLC), a vanguard organization for Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Intersex (TGI) Latinx communities.

The threat, specifying April 15 as the target date, has prompted an immediate and ongoing response from local authorities to ensure the safety of those at the coalition’s facilities. The LAPD has since been closely monitoring the site. 

This recent threat comes at a time when the TLC, alongside other organizations within the LGBTQIA+ community, faces increasing hostility, underscored by a series of bomb threats and hate mail aimed at destabilizing the work and well-being of TGI Latinx individuals.

In response to the threat, Bamby Salcedo, the President and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition has amplified security measures at TLC and reinforced the importance of emergency preparedness among the staff, emphasizing the coalition’s dedication to fostering a secure and supportive environment despite the daunting challenges posed by such threats.

The bomb threats have been accompanied by hate mail, filled with vitriolic anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks on the Democratic Party, aimed at undermining the coalition’s mission and intimidating its leadership, including Salcedo and Vice President/COO Maria Roman Taylorson.

Despite these attempts to sow fear, the TransLatin@ Coalition stands firm in its mission. “We refuse to be silenced or intimidated,” Salcedo said.

The organization continues to call for unity and action, urging the public to stand in solidarity with TGI communities, report threats or violence, and advocate for greater acceptance and understanding of TGI identities.

The coalition’s commitment to the rights, empowerment, and well-being of TGI Latinx individuals in the United States remains unwavering. Through advocacy, education, and community organizing, the TLC addresses the unique challenges and systemic injustices faced by this community, emphasizing the intersectionality of race and economic status.

As the TLC navigates through these trying times, they have also taken to social media to call for support and positivity, highlighting the unexpected financial strain of heightened security measures. 

This recent threat against the TLC occurs amidst a broader climate of heightened animosity towards the LGBTQIA+ community, as reported by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The HRC’s documentation of fatal violence against transgender and gender-expansive individuals in 2024 alone paints a grim picture of the dangers faced by the community.

“These acts of violence and discrimination underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect and uplift the most vulnerable among us,” HRC noted.

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Los Angeles County

New on the LA County Channel

You can watch on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

New on the County Channel

Culinary classes, big screen movies, games and other delights for the entire family await those ready to venture out after the sun goes down for the beloved “Parks after Dark” Spring season at participating County parks.

You can watch more stories like this on Channel 92 or 94 on most cable systems, or anytime here. Catch up on LA County Close-Up here.

In Case You Missed It

Second Chance Month Expungement Events

Every person deserves the chance to rewrite their story. As we celebrate “Second Chance Month” in LA County, the Public Defender’s Office will be hosting a series of expungement clinics across the county. 

Join the Public Defender’s Homeless Mobile Unit for Community Outreach Court at the Skid Row Community ReFresh Spot on Thursday, April 18th from 9am-12pm. This collaborative effort aims to assist individuals experiencing homelessness in resolving various legal matters, including record expungement, that can remove obstacles hindering access to housing, employment and social services.

For more information about the Community Outreach Court, visit pubdef.lacounty.gov/COC. For a full list of upcoming expungement events, click here.

At Your Service

Resilience is Taking Root in LA County

The Chief Sustainability Office has just released the discussion draft of Room to Grow, the first-ever Community Forest Management Plan in LA County. The Community Forest Management Plan is an actionable, long-term strategy to manage trees in our communities for today and for future generations to come.

To learn more about the plan and provide your input, visit lacountycfmp.org.

Out and About

Kids Beach Cleanup

In celebration of Earth Day, LA County Beaches and Harbors is partnering with Heal the Bay to host Kids Beach Cleanup event at Dockweiler Beach on Saturday, April 13, 9 AM – 12 PM.

Click here to learn more and/or register for the event.

Photo Finish

LA Dodgers mural in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles.
(Photo: Los Angeles County/Mayra Beltran Vasquez)

Click here to access more photos of LA County in action.

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Orange County

Hate crime trial in murder of gay student starts in Orange County

Samuel Lincoln Woodward of Newport Beach is charged with murder, with enhancements for use of a deadly weapon and for hate crime

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Samuel Lincoln Woodward of Newport Beach, charged in the stabbing death of a gay & Jewish university student, 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, is shown here in a March, 2024 hearing wearing a white shirt & shackled. (Screenshot/YouTube KABC 7)

SANTA ANA, Calif. – Nearly seven years after 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein was found stabbed to death at Borrego Park in Lake Forest, California, a former schoolmate charged with his murder was to stand trial today in Orange County Superior Court after years of delays.

Samuel Lincoln Woodward of Newport Beach is charged with murder, with enhancements for use of a deadly weapon and for hate crime, which could put him in prison for life without parole.

Bernstein, who was home on the Christmas holiday break, had disappeared on Jan. 2. In court filings, Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said that he went out without his parents knowing and after he did not respond to text messages or calls regarding a missed dental appointment they returned home discovering that Bernstein’s wallet, glasses, credit cards and cash were in his bedroom with his car still in the driveway.

University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein with his parents Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein in this undated family photo.

A massive search was launched to find him and after developing information from social media accounts that led investigators to Woodward who had admitted meeting up with Bernstein and later allegedly “dropping” the young man off at Borrego Park, Bernstein’s body with 19 stab wounds was found on Jan. 9, 2018, in a shallow grave during a search of that park.

When Orange County investigators first went to meet with him, Woodward was apparently cooperative, telling them and Blaze’s parents “that he and Blaze went to Borrego Park to hang out. According to Woodward, after awhile Blaze walked down a path alone and disappeared into the brush.” 

According to a search warrant affidavit, which the Orange County Register obtained before it was sealed, Woodward claimed that Bernstein tried to kiss him on the lips and he pushed Bernstein away. Detectives noted that Woodward clenched his jaw and fists when recounting the incident, telling them he wanted to call Bernstein a “faggot” and tell him to get off him.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas subsequently added a hate crime charge to the one count of felony murder with sentencing enhancement for “personal use of a knife.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that on Woodward’s phone, investigators found “a trove of anti-gay, anti-Jewish material linked to the Atomwaffen Division, a white supremacist hate group.” In addition to the physical evidence — investigators say Bernstein’s blood was found in Woodward’s car and on a knife at Woodward’s Newport Beach home — the alleged motivation elevates a murder to a possible hate crime, the Times also noted.

Sam Woodward was … absolutely, definitely … a member of Atomwaffen Division,” British journalist and CBS News consultant Jake Hanrahan told “48 Hours.” “They made T-shirts using Sam Woodward’s mug shot.”

Woodward’s Atomwaffen friends “call him the gay, the one-man gay, Jew wrecking ball. You know, like kind of reveling in this idea that he’s killed this gay, Jewish kid,” Hanrahan said.

Media outlets covering the trial reported Tuesday that Woodward’s trial is expected to take a few months. Jury selection took weeks and had to re-start after a disturbance in the courtroom involving Woodward and the judge last month. The attorneys had 1,100 people fill out juror questionnaires as they worked to narrow down the large pool of prospective panelists.

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Los Angeles

Suspects break into home of Real Friends of WeHo’s Joey Zauzig

Reports indicate that a resident in the area contacted the LAPD while the burglary was in progress at a residence on Marmont Lane

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Joey-Zauzig (Screenshot/YouTube Instagram)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – An attempted robbery unfolded in the Hollywood Hills early Monday morning at the residence of television personality and influencer Joey Zauzig, known for his role in “The Real Friends of WeHo.”

“Last night at around 12am, 3 men, armed with face masks broke into our house while we were sleeping,” Zauzig posted in an Instagram story. “I woke up to it and triggered the alarm as they shattered one of the glass doors. We are ok and the dogs are safe… thank god they were at training camp.”

Zauzig added that it was truly one of the scariest things that has ever happened to him. “Seeing the footage on our cameras and waking up to it,” he said. “I’m still very much in shock. Please be careful always set your alarms”

He later posted video footage of the three suspects creeping into their home and a screen grab of the vehicle believed to be the getaway car.

Joey Zauzig Instagram screen grab

“I thank you guys so much for all the messages and the love,” he posted in an update. “I’m just wondering when I’m gonna feel back to normal because I definitely don’t and a lot of messages are unfortunately from people that have gone through the same thing.”

He said that he’s getting a lot of recommendations for therapy, but all he hopes to do is to get back to normal. “Last night got zero sleep,” he said. “I had the worst nightmares…this is so f*cked up, but now I’m like at a point where I’m just like angrJoey Zauzigy and now I really want to share this to like, catch these people and it’s the worst feeling ever.”

Earlier posts on Instagram show Zauzig enjoying the sun in a Cabo trip, and indication that he was out of town.

Reports indicate that a resident in the area contacted the police while the burglary was in progress at a residence on Marmont Lane in Hollywood Hills just after midnight on April 8, 2024.

The Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson informed KTLA 5 that the burglary occurred shortly after midnight on Marmont Lane. The suspects, described as three individuals—one wearing a black shirt, one in a blue hoodie, and the third in all black—had fled the scene before law enforcement arrived, LAPD stated.

The Real Friends of WeHo reality series premiered on MTV, on January 20, 2023. The show follows the lives of six LGBTQ+ celebrities, personalities, and entrepreneurs living in West Hollywood, feature Brad Goreski, a celebrity stylist; Todrick Hall, a choreographer and singer; Curtis Hamilton, an actor; Dorión Renaud, CEO of Buttah Skincare; Jaymes Vaughan, a TV host and business owner; and Joey Zauzig, who was described at the time as a digital entrepreneur. The show was not picked up for a second season.

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Southern California

Heal the Bay seeking Earth Month in-person volunteers

Heal the Bay celebrates Earth Month with all things reusable! Residents to protect what they love, from marshland tours to beach cleanups

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764 Volunteers joined Heal the Bay by the Santa Monica Pier last Spring to remove over 266 pounds of trash from the beach for another Nothin' But Sand Cleanup. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay/Facebook)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Environmental group Heal the Bay today announced its Earth Month events calendar for April, offering hands-on opportunities to participate in grassroots advocacy, education and community action. 

The Santa Monica-based nonprofit has created a special series of virtual and in-person volunteer events for individuals, families and households, schools, businesses and community organizations. Participants will gain knowledge and skills that will help them support the health of our ocean, beaches, inland waterways and neighborhoods year-round.

No special training or experience is required. All are welcome.

Become a Beach Captain

Heal the Bay’s famous beach cleanups rely on volunteers to help mobilize and educate participants. Volunteers will learn best practices for conducting cleanups safely and gain valuable public-speaking skills. Join us April 20 10 a.m.-noon (Santa Monica Beach)

Become a Community Scientist

Our Safe Clean Water Program returns with an Earth Month BioBlitz. Participants will engage in community science by helping identify marshland plants and animals. Heal the Bay staff will host two events with the 2024 LA City Nature Challenge, sponsored by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences. Join us April 27 at Bixby Marshland in Carson or Fern Dell in Griffith Park.

Become an Effective Advocate

Policy chiefs at Heal the Bay and partner nonprofit 5 Gyres are co-hosting a free virtual advocacy training about how to best combat plastic pollution throughout our region. Experts will provide an update on pending plastics legislation locally and nationally. Participants will learn insider tips on how to influence policy makers, make impactful calls to representatives and submit compelling written comments on proposed public policy. The Zoom session takes place April 16 from 6-7 p.m.

Become an Aquarist

Heal the Bay’s award-winning aquarium under the Santa Monica Pier relies on volunteers to educate visitors about all the marine animals that call the Bay home. Program leaders will be on hand at the aquarium’s Earth Month Celebration to discuss public engagement and training opportunities. Attendees are encouraged to bring kids along for face-painting, crafts and a scavenger hunt. Join us April 20 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Beyond these volunteer-training sessions, Heal the Bay is hosting dozens of other public events during April Month. Ocean lovers can join us for one of our biggest Nothin’ but Sand beach cleanups of the year at Santa Monica Beach on April 20 from 10 a.m. to noon. Register here.

To register or learn more about any of these events, please visit Heal the Bay’s Earth Month microsite.

If residents are not able to participate in these events, they can also support Heal the Bay’s advocacy and education through an Earth Month donation.

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Los Angeles

LA’s chief financial officer says the city has big financial problems

Projected deficits for years to come will force wrenching choices that threaten the vital services Angelenos rely on

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LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia. (Screenshot/YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – The City is under going an audit of finances and spending on Mayor Karen Bass and the city’s Inside Safe program after the LA Alliance for Human Rights and a federal judge expressed frustration over the management of funds to tackle homelessness through that and other services programs.

LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia however, is raising alarms over what he says is a serious budget deficit that is creating greater financial issues for the City. “It’s fair to say that the city of L.A. should be worried about our financial health. It’s not looking good and the people of Los Angeles will suffer based on decisions that City Hall makes,” Mejia told KABC 7.

According to Mejia, Los Angeles has a projected budget deficit of $476 million dollars, which is made up of $289 million in overspending and $187 million in less than expected revenues. The overspending occurred in three departments: police and fire – mainly because of staffing issues and overtime – and in liability claims.

“We’re not in a recession. This is not COVID. This is a budget deficit that we made here in City Hall,” said Mejia.

The City Controller in a statement when his office released the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) in January said: “It is my responsibility to report the bad news: this year the City is spending well beyond our actual revenues. Projected deficits for years to come will force wrenching choices that threaten the vital services Angelenos rely on. This is not the result of a sudden economic downturn, but the culmination of years of short-term budget balancing at the cost of long-term fiscal sustainability.”

Mejia also pointed out that “despite widespread staff vacancies, General Fund departmental spending actually exceeded last year’s adopted budget by nearly $200 million. Had the vacancy rate been closer to normal, the budget would have been in the red.

As our Office has consistently pointed out, citywide deferred maintenance of vital infrastructure requires urgent attention. Last year’s underspending of $316 million in budgeted capital expenditures underscores that the City continues to fall behind – which means even higher costs in the long run.

Again, as we have warned, current staff shortages and long-term underinvestment in the training, technology, equipment and facilities for our workforce hobbles productivity and shortchanges our residents. The homelessness crisis and the reality of a changing climate put even further strain on City resources.”

Mejia told KABC 7 he’s against eliminating 2,000 vacant positions to save money.

“It’s not like these positions have been vacant for many years. They haven’t. All these departments have been trying to fill these positions. A few months ago, we were talking about ‘We need to fill these vacant positions. Come on, join the city.’ And now, we’re like ‘Oh wait. We need to hold back because we’re overspending on police, liability claims, on fire.’ Now, we have to cut other positions in other departments in order to cover that overspending,” said Mejia.

He also warned that without a long-term approach to “putting our fiscal house in order, short-term decisions will doom Los Angeles to an inexorable decline in public services, undermining our quality of life and the economic prospects of our residents.”

In a statement provided to KABC 7 and the Blade, the mayor’s office said they remain “focused on the work that has resulted in thousands more Angelenos coming inside last year than the previous year, a record number of LAPD applications, and finalizing a budget in partnership with our city department heads that will be balanced and protect services for Angelenos.”

The deadline for Mayor Bass to release her budget for next year is April 22.

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Los Angeles County

Anti-LGBTQ+ LA event features Christopher Rufo & Chaya Raichik

The events are held by far-right extremists like Raichik & Rufo protesting “secret gender transitions of minors & porno books in schools”

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DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Torrance - South Bay/Facebook

TORRANCE, Calif. – Two of the more prominent far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremists are hosting an event Sunday, April 7 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Torrance – South Bay property which has stirred a reaction from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and activists.

Billed as a “War on Children” event, it features far right-wing extremist Chaya Raichik, the creator of the anti-LGBTQ+ social media accounts Libs of TikTok, and Christopher Rufo, who spreads transphobic and homophobic online content along with conspiracy theories.

A spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. provided a statement to the Blade that read in part: “Hilton properties serve as places of public accommodation and do not adopt, share, or endorse the views of any individuals or groups to which we provide accommodations and services. The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Torrance – South Bay is independently owned and operated and therefore we are unable to speak on their behalf.”

Calls to the The DoubleTree by the Blade for comment were not responded to by the hotel.

Alejandra Caraballo, a trans clinical instructor at the Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic, who teaches Gender & Technology based courses posted on X (formerly Twitter): “Stand up to hate.”

Rufo responded also on X posting: “The trans brigade is organizing a campaign to call the Hilton Hotel and demand that it shut down an event featuring me and @libsoftiktok. But the Hotel is telling them it is “proud to not discriminate” and then hanging up on them.”

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The “Stop the War on Children” events are held to protest what far-right and extremists like Raichik and Rufo allege are “the sexualization of children, secret gender transitions of minors and pornographic books at schools.”

Last October, “Stop the War on Children” rallies were held by anti-LGBTQ+ extremists in Temecula and 31 other U.S. cities and about 40 in Canada, all protesting LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum, books, and transgender youth in school settings on sports teams and using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

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