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Parkland students: vote to stop gun violence

Garcetti announces voter registration drive on school campuses in September

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The student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida did not need any more evidence that gun violence hits close to home. But gun violence persists: on Tuesday, July 17, Ayub Ali, the 61-year old owner of Aunt Molly’s Food Store in North Lauderdale, was shot and killed during a robbery. Ali, a native of Bangladesh, leaves his wife Farhana and their four children, two of whom, a son and daughter, survived the Parkland shootings last February.

The tragic news broke as a group of student survivors were in Los Angeles as part of their national summer bus tour, March For Our Lives: Road to Change, organized to educate young people about gun violence, the obstructionist lobbying campaigns of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the power of a voter-savvy youth movement to change what has heretofore been an intractable deadly scourge.

The 20-state tour is complimented by a separate tour— with a number of LGBT activists—visiting every congressional district in Florida. The students are intentionally hitting areas with strong NRA supporters to engage in civil dialogue and debate over gun safety and register young people to vote.

While the nation mourned with the families after each mass shooting, especially the massacre of 20 six and seven year olds and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Dec. 2012, the Valentine’s Day shooting galvanized the grieving students upon learning that the 19-year old accused killer with homophobic and white supremacist views legally purchased the AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle he used to indiscriminately massacre 17 students and staff and injure 17 others.

Three days after the shooting, the angry, devastated Marjory Stoneman Douglas students held a nationally televised rally outside of Broward County Federal Courthouse where they called out the NRA and the politicians who take NRA money.

“They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence: We call BS!” fumed Emma Gonzalez. “They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun: We call BS!”

The video of Gonzalez’s impassioned remarks went viral and now “We Call BS!” is on a tee shirt, part of the “merch” funding the tour, along with public donations at their website. “We Call BS!” is also part of the campaign to register youth to vote: https://marchforourlives.com/vote-for-our-lives/

The tour hit Los Angeles County with a stop in Palmdale on July 17, then two days in LA, before heading to Irvine and Huntington Beach in Orange County on Saturday. Sunday, they head up to Oakland. Their trip through the middle of the country in June included a June 24 stop at the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Loring Park, Minnesota and a visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation three days later.

Interesting in its coincidental timing apart from the tour—three murdered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School coaches were honored Wednesday night at the ESPY Awards in LA broadcast live on ABC. Aaron Feis, 37, Assistant Football Coach and security guard, used his body as a shield. Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher and cross-country coach, ushered students to safety in his classroom. Chris Hixon, 49, the school’s athletic director, wrestling coach and Navy veteran, died trying to disarm the shooter.

At some stops, the activists meet with local officials and leaders and hold community events and town halls, partnering with local organizations to share the platform with local activists or survivors.

In LA, the students first met Thursday, July 19, with Mayor Eric Garcetti, who joined his new Student Advisory Council on Gun Violence in Schools & Communities in announcing that LA will join the March For Our Lives youth in becoming the first US city hold a voter registration drive on public high school and community college campuses on Sept. 25.

“Young people in Los Angeles and across America are showing incredible leadership in confronting gun violence,” Garcetti said. “I am inspired by their commitment to improving our country and the democratic process, and proud that L.A. will lead in making it easier for our youth to register, vote, and have their say in the future direction of our country.”

The plan is a result of a partnership between March For Our Lives, Garcetti, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the LA Community College District and the LA Unified School District (LAUSD). They called for similar actions across California.

“Youth are leading the charge of civic engagement in California and we now have more than 166,000 total 16 and 17 year-olds who have pre-registered to vote,” said Padilla. “But we are looking forward to getting to 200,000 by the Midterms and with the leadership of Mayor Garcetti and his new citywide initiative, I have no doubt we will.”

“Mayor Garcetti and the City of Los Angeles are raising the bar for elected officials around the country,” said a March For Our Lives spokesperson. “Everybody deserves to be heard in our political system, especially students. By committing resources to a community-wide voter registration day on September 25, the Los Angeles Public School system and the Los Angeles Community College District are making it easier for millions of students to make their choice clear at the ballot box. It’s on all of us to ensure those eligible to vote have an opportunity to do so.”

After the announcement, Garcetti moderated a roundtable with members of March For Our Lives, members of the Student Advisory Group on Gun Violence in Schools & Communities, and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun violence prevention organization created with his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, a victim of wanton gun violence while meeting at a shopping mall with constituents.

A new analysis by TargetSmart, a data firm that works on behalf of Democrats, indicates an eight percentage point jump in voter registration among voters between the ages of 18-29 in Florida after the shooting. “In the two and a half months after the shooting, young voters made up 34.22 percent of all new voter registrations in Florida,” the McClatchy News Service reported July 19.

March for Our Lives movement leader David Hogg, applauded the news, tweeting: “The young people will win,” also congratulating the March For Our Lives AZ (Arizona) for their “AMAZING work!”

“A new generation of political leaders emerged in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy,” TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier said in a statement. “We witnessed their ability to organize in Florida and across the country as massive crowds took to the streets for the March for Our Lives, and now we’re seeing a quantifiable impact from that organizing. It remains to be seen how many of these younger registrants will cast a ballot in November, but they are poised to have a louder voice than ever in these critical midterm elections.”

But the NRA also had a record month of fundraising after the Parkland shooting, McClatchy reports.

The NRA was a hot topic at the March For Our Lives town hall meeting at the California African American Museum Thursday night. When asked much of the audience raised their hands as having led or participated in the March 24 walkouts in Los Angeles as part of a March For Our Lives massive national protest.

Their message: Text ‘CHANGE’ to 977-79 to join March For Our Lives.

March For Our Lives strategist and former MSD student Matt Deitsch adroitly dismantled the NRA argument that “a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.” They’re just trying to sell you two guns—that’s what they do. They sell guns, he said. “Don’t buy the sales pitch.”

The NRA, Deitsch said, “cares more about gun rights than human rights.” He also lampooned loud-mouthed NRA member Ted Nugent who recently called the student survivors “liars,” “poor, mushy-brained children,” and “soulless,” according to Vox, and says gun-free zones “are where the most innocent lives are lost.” Nugent apparently banned guns at his Virginia concert Tuesday citing concerns about the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.

“According to Roanoke station WSLS, Nugent’s management specifically told Berglund Performing Arts Theater operators just minutes before showtime that guns would be banned from the concert,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. “Given the things that have happened in nightclubs like Pulse and what happened in Manchester, [Nugent’s] security people are taking extra precautions,” center general manager Robyn Schon told WSLS, referring to the 2016 shooting in Orlando that killed 49 and the 2017 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in England. “They are not novices. They are very serious people.”

Nugent’s spokeswoman Linda Peterson denied the ban telling the Orlando Sentinel Thursday, “Ted always allows legally carried guns into his shows.”

Another panelist also mentioned Pulse, noting that there was a good guy had a gun at the gay nightclub but he didn’t want to go up against the shooter with an AR 15 and possibly kill lots of innocent people.

But while education about the NRA and registering people to vote were primary goals of the town hall, the Parkland students also sought to share their platform with Black Lives Matter and local individuals impacted by gun violence—and that sparked intense serious discussions about police violence, domestic violence, the school-to-prison pipeline and “the constant cycle of gang violence that’s just the system failing us over and over again.”

When you talk about gun intervention, one African American woman said, “you have to include everybody.” For instance, there are laws preventing a convicted domestic abuser from getting a gun—but a number of domestic abusers are police officers and they get away with it. Additionally, there is the militarization of the police force and unaccountable police brutality against minorities with laws allowing the use of deadly force.

“Is it my fault you’re afraid of the color of my skin?” an African American woman said, noting how police justify shooting unarmed black men out of fear for their own safety. Why should such a fearful man be a police officer? “I’m afraid of the police.”

“Where is justice?” asked another, noting that so many shooting deaths have not been solved.

At the end of the town hall, the Parkland students asked that the audience buy the “merch,” which is how the tour is being funded. The merch includes technology tee shirts where the stars in the stars and stripes flag is really a code that when scanned goes to a link with voter registration information. Perhaps because of the nature of discussion, the Parkland students announced that the proceeds from the sale of that night’s merch would go to Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles.

At the end, panelists urged the survivors to call out the names of the victims.

Flipping the script a bit to lift up the good work being done on behalf of human persons – here are the names of the people who participated in both the mayor’s panel and the town hall:

Mayor’s panel:

John Choe
Katherine Henriquez
Natalie Garner
Sarah Robinson
Kevin Ramos
Alfonso Calderon
Kelly Choi
David Hogg
Alex King
Ryan Deitsch
Ariel Hobbs

Town hall panel:
Emma Gonzalez
Matt Deitsch
Manuel Oliver
Ramon Contreras
Edna Chavez
Jenna Cook
Mariam Siddiqi
Deborah Nelson
Donna Brown
Thandiwe Abdullah

Please note: the Los Angeles Blade is featuring an interview with March For Our Lives bisexual leader Emma Gonzales for the next issue’s cover story. Also look for the story online at losangelesblade.com

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Los Angeles

Los Angeles County contract employee charged in Vaccination Card theft

Officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site

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(Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

POMONA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that a Los Angeles County contract worker was charged today for allegedly stealing hundreds of blank vaccine cards from a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Pomona Fairplex.

“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” District Attorney Gascón said.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 45, of Las Vegas was charged with one felony count of grand theft. Arraignment is set for August 25 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Pomona Branch.

On April 27, officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona. Ahmed, who worked at the center, allegedly stole more than 500 cards, which have a value of at least $15 apiece if illegally sold, prosecutors said.

In a statement, La Verne police said 528 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards were recovered in the suspect’s hotel room.

Ahmed — described by police as a non-clinical, contracted employee hired to support the Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site that at times administered nearly 4,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day — was arrested April 27. He was released the same day, according to jail records.

The case remains under investigation by the La Verne Police Department.

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Los Angeles

Pride after the pandemic, is LA’s LGBTQ community back in business?

A majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all in Los Angeles this year too.

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The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released its coronavirus pandemic metrics this week noting that Los Angeles County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. Factoring into that is as of May 21, 50% of L.A. County residents 16 and over and 72% of seniors 65 and older are fully vaccinated. 

Then there’s the “but.’ The state isn’t scheduled to lift fully the pandemic imposed mandates until June 15, including the mask mandate which has been a point of contention. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced Monday that California will require people to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing indoors until June 15 although people and businesses must adjust to the changes while the state continues its “relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic.”

The impact on Pride month in Los Angeles has already been felt as a majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all. There are notable exceptions as the Los Angeles Dodgers are hosting their annual  LGBTQ+ Pride Night at Dodger Stadium on Friday, June 11th. There will be sections set-up for vaccinated and non-vaccinated Dodgers fans and the team is also bringing back Friday Night Fireworks for the first time since 2019, set to a special mix from DJ Bowie Jane. But only fully-vaccinated fans are invited to leave the stands and watch the show from the baseball field.

LA Pride also noted that Cinespia, will host LGBTQ+ Pride Movie Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, June 26th. The organization also made note of its partnership with KABC 7 LA’s one-hour primetime special on June 12, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM, in a ‘best of LA Pride.’ According to a its website, the special includes Trans profiles, celebrity shout-outs, spotlights on LA Pride’s 2021 Honorees (more on that soon), a special Pride performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles from the Getty Center, and more.

But the main event, the parade, one of the nation’s oldest and largest was canceled for the second year in a row. LA Pride vowed to return in 2022. “Safety was our No. 1 priority,” said Sharon-Franklin Brown, board president of Christopher Street West, the nonprofit organization that produces LA Pride. “It takes time to put on a parade, [and] we were not sure we were going to be where we’re at now, which is this amazing space where everything is opening up.”

West Hollywood, which has been ground zero for Pride events in the region for over 50 years, like most of California went through the state-wide shutdown ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, the only event of note last year being the non-sanctioned ‘All Black Lives Matter’ protest march after the police killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed Black individuals whose deaths have drawn public attention and widespread outcry.

This year though, the city is taking a cautious approach, which in separate interviews with the Blade Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath and Councilmember Sepi Shyne both emphasized that maintaining safe standards for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors was a continuing priority and that WeHo would remain essentially in a virtual mode for Pride month.

The City’s 2021 One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival s taking place virtually/in a socially distant manner for 2021 according to a city spokesperson.

The City did receive a boost in Pride awareness with the public dedication of a street mural honoring recording artist Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way this past weekend, which has been unofficially adopted by many in the greater LGBTQ community as an anthem.

West Hollywood’s Out on Robertson and Out programs have been effect in drawing diners and retail customers although still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

Despite that local community leaders and businesses are worried. During the course of a non-COVID impacted Pride month, events and the massive Pride parade brings in millions of dollars, drawing tourists as well as locals. With ongoing virtual and barely no in-person events, particularly the annual parade, the ongoing pandemic economy is hurting businesses badly especially those who depend on a Pride boost.

Arguably the second largest regional Pride, in Long Beach has also been scaled back to virtual only for the most part.

There has been an independent push for Pride events including a three day concert to be held at the LA Coliseum on June 4, 5 and 6- OUTLOUD: Raising Voices, created by the award winning team of Jeff Consoletti and Artie Kenney. The series is headlined by Queen frontman Adam Lambert an according to its organizers is set to showcase extraordinary queer talent also featuring appearances and remarks by Angelica Ross, Conchita, Geena Rocero, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Valentina Sampaio, Yungblud and Whoopi Goldberg.

Downtown Los Angeles, (DTLA), Downtown Center Business Improvement District is hosting an event on June 24 at  Redline, a premier gay bar and lounge in the heart of downtown located in the Historic Core of the City. The organization announced this past week that it had lifted the COVID19 restrictions for that event.

In Santa Monica, Allies in Arts partnered with Santa Monica Pride to curate an Art Walk for Pride 2021, but aside from that no indoor in-person events are slated to occur.

As the pandemic restrictions are lifted and in addressing the ongoing effects on LGBTQ businesses in the city, a person knowledgeable of the efforts the Mayor and city officials are making, but not authorized to speak to the press, said that Garcetti’s programs outlined in his State of the City speech on the upcoming budget and his 25 million “comeback check” program to help restaurants and other small businesses pay off debt and reopen remained an overarching priority.

So for now, Pride month will be scaled back but with a sense of vibrancy for business that are able to reopen or in the case of the food and beverage and hospitality industry benefit from Pride events on a business by business basis with large scale looking to return in 2022.

Until then, the picture above of The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride.

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Los Angeles

Venice Beach targeted for clearing homeless encampments

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both Los Angeles City and County with a total of 58,936+ living on the streets or in shelters

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Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin appearing on KTLA (Screenshot via KTLA)

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin announced that “a ton of resources” are coming soon to address the homeless crisis along the Venice Boardwalk.

Bonin, whose council district 11 includes the areas of Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester and LAX told KTLA Friday morning that a new push to address the homeless problems in Venice Beach would soon be launched.

Last week Bonin sent a letter to his constituency writing, “I am fighting aggressively to house people so we no longer have encampments on our sidewalks, or at our parks and beaches.”

Bonin also noted; “While we step up efforts to house people, the city should conduct a feasibility analysis of whether a number of different locations, including LAX land and three beach parking lots, could be used for different types of temporary emergency shelter. I have also asked that the feasibility analysis consider whether two local parks with existing encampments could restore the bulk of recreational space to public use by designating a certain area for existing unhoused residents. In all cases, the proposed solutions would provide security, sanitation and services, and focus on getting people into housing.

These are not encampments. They are an emergency response—an alternative—to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes.”

In late March, the City cleared a massive homeless encampment in Echo Park in the Angelino Heights neighborhood adjacent to the 101 Freeway, located in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s district 13. Officials say the hundreds of people forced to leave were offered shelter, but not everyone took it according to local homeless advocates. The clearing of Echo Park brought condemnation from rights groups and grass roots activists due to the presence of heavily armed LAPD officers and what one source told the Blade was a “complete lack of operational transparency.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last month in his annual State of the City address, that he would seek to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as allocate $235 million for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, intended to help up to 100,000 households and other critical needs.

The Mayor also proposed a guaranteed basic income pilot project that would pay $1,000 a month to 2,000 to the city’s neediest households over the next year as part of a “basic guaranteed income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both the City and the County. In the city of Los Angeles there are 36,300 homeless people with a total of 58,936 in the County according to the annual Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) homeless count (2019). Over the years, homelessness has dramatically increased all over the county.

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