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Palm Springs Toucans’ dancer recounts being shot

Says he has to relearn to walk and dance

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Photograph of Aaron Alter from his hospital bed. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Alter)

One of two men shot after the disturbance at the Toucans Tiki Lounge in northern Palm Springs last Sunday is speaking out about the incident. Aaron Alter, a professional dancer and a former U.S. Navy aviation ordnance technician, told reporters from local media outlets, the Desert Sun and KESQ News Channel 3, in Palm Springs;

“I heard a gunshot, and after the first gunshot there was a really fast second gunshot and after that one I felt it (the bullet) in my leg and I felt like someone hit me with a baseball bat,” said Alter.

Alter said that he had finished his shift work dancing at around 1:30 am and was back in his street clothes when a fight broke out. Speaking with the Desert Sun, Alter noted that it appeared to be more than a typical bar brawl.

“One guy was being jumped by four or five guys,” he said. “This was an attack.”

Alter said that before the gunfire began, he grabbed the man who was jumped and removed him from the situation. He then followed the guy out of the club, to ensure he got out safely.

He was caught at the center of the gunfire, but said he quickly worked to get people inside the bar to safety before tending to his gunshot wound.

“I took off my belt and started putting a tourniquet around my leg. That’s when three other guys came running, sliding into me and, you know, helping pull the tourniquet tight, making sure I was safe, talking to me, keeping me calm,” he recounted and added that he didn’t know how severe his injury was.

“I started calling, my kids were my first thought, [I thought] if something is going to happen to me today, I want to at least say good bye and I love you,” Alter said.

Alter has five children, ranging from age 1 to 18.

According to Alter there are still bullet fragments stuck in his leg. Doctors didn’t remove the fragments out of concern there would be further complications

“There’s a very good chance that my muscles may reject the foreign bodies and push it naturally out. If its [thigh] bumped the wrong way it sends shock pain. It causes a tingling sensation. I get intermittent numbness,” Alter KESQ News Channel 3, adding he expects recovery to take at least four months.

Alter has performed in the Palm Springs and Coachella Valley areas for more than a dozen years. He also dances at Wang’s in the Desert and Copa Nightclub and tours with the troupe Men Next Door Uncovered. He says he must relearn to walk and dance with shrapnel in his leg.

“It’s like a hiccup,” he said. “I can’t let this beat me or get the best of me. I have to get through it and recover so I can get on with my life again.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go back to my dancing career. This is my career. This is how I make my money and survive, but right now, we’re just taking it day by day,” said Alter.

Palm Springs Police Department spokesperson Lt. William Hutchinson said that investigators still have not determined a motive for the incident and are still searching for the gunman who was described as a Hispanic Male Adult, approximately 20-30 years old wearing a black hat, black hooded sweatshirt, black sweatpants and with tattoos on his neck.

Hutchinson added that the club’s owner and its management team are cooperating fully with investigators.

A GoFundMe has been set up to defray his medical expenses and Wangs will be hosting a fundraiser for him next Wednesday, April 3 at 7 pm.

Reporting by The Desert Sun, KESQ News Channel 3 and the staff of the Los Angeles Blade.

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Middle East

Internet blacked out for 4th day as violent protests continue in Iran

Protests by Iranians included women setting headscarves on fire in the streets resulted with harsh reaction from Iranian security services

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Protests escalate in Tehran and across Iran (Photo courtesy of Iran Human Rights)

PARIS, France – For the fourth consecutive day the government of Iran has blocked internet access as tens of thousands across the Islamic Republic continue to protest the violent crack-down following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police” over a week ago.

London, UK-based news agency Iran International reported that Amini had traveled from a Kurdish region in Saqqez to the Iranian capital city of Tehran where there was a confrontation in the streets and she was arrested in her brother’s car by the Islamic religious police.

Amini had been arrested for violating the nation’s strict Islamic laws requiring women to wear head scarves known as hijabs by the notorious police units who enforce Iran’s codes on hijabs and other conservative Islamic modes of dress and behavior.

Within twenty-two hours of her arrest she was taken to Kasra Hospital in northern Tehran where she died without regaining consciousness. According to her family members she was badly beaten by police in the prisoner transport van immediately after her arrest.

Mahsa Amini in hospital (Family photo provided to Iran International news agency)

At hospital Amini was found suffering from “multiple blows” to the head and a hospital source told Iran International news agency additional her lungs were filled with blood when she was transferred to the hospital and it was clear that she “could not be revived.” 

The source emphasized that Mahsa’s condition “was such that she could not be saved nor was surgery possible because her brain tissue was seriously damaged and it was clear that the patient was not injured by a single punch and must have received many blows to her head.”

Her death on Friday, September 16 sparked protests that began to escalate, first in Tehran and then spreading across the country. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in an effort to quell the growing acts of dissent and protest promised Amini’s family two days after her dying that her death would be investigated. Iran’s chief justice, Mohseni Ejei, also promised a full investigation.

There were multiple international calls including the acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif, who said in a statement; “Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority, that ensures, in particular, that her family has access to justice and truth.”

The protests by Iranians outraged by Amini’s death included some women setting their headscarves on fire in the streets. Reaction from Iranian security services has been harsh with thousands arrested and at least 54 who have died according to Iranian state media and human rights groups.

U.N. Commissioner Al-Nashif said the compulsory veiling laws remain of concern in Iran, where appearing in public without a hijab is punishable by imprisonment.

In recent months, the morality police have expanded street patrols, subjecting women perceived to be wearing “loose hijab” to verbal and physical harassment and arrest. The UN Human Rights Office has received numerous, and verified, videos of violent treatment of women, including slapping women across the face, beating them with batons and throwing them into police vans.

“The authorities must stop targeting, harassing, and detaining women who do not abide by the hijab rules,” said Al-Nashif, calling for the repeal of all discriminatory laws and regulations that impose mandatory hijab.

Iran Human Rights and other sources report that at least 54 people have been killed by security forces in protests across Iran. In many cases, returning the bodies are made contingent on secret burials. Hundreds have also been injured or arrested.

Authorities have been dispersing demonstrators with water cannons and in some cases live ammunition. “The Iranian people are demanding rights that have been taken away from them by the Islamic Republic for more than 40 years. Now the Islamic Republic is responding to their peaceful protests with bullets,”  Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director Iran Human Rights told the Blade in an email adding: ““Condemnations and expressions of concern are no longer enough. The international community and anyone that adheres to human rights principles, must now support the Iranian people’s demands.”

With the Internet blocked by the government of Iran including banning use of mobile apps WhatsApp and Instagram two of the most popular social media services in Iran, information is being sent out through other channels.

In addition Signal, Google Play and the App Store are all down and their websites have been filtered. Internet disruptions have delayed information getting out about protesters that have been killed, wounded or arrested. As such, the number of deaths cited are protesters killed prior to September 23. True figures on the number of people injured and killed in the protests are unclear, but the tally is rising.

Wired magazine reported Iran started shutting the internet down on September 19 as protests around Amini’s death gained momentum. Since then, multiple internet-monitoring organizations, including Kentik, NetblocksCloudflare, and the Open Observatory of Network Interference, have documented the disruptions. Mobile network operators, including the country’s biggest providers—Irancell, Rightel, and MCI—have faced rolling blackouts, the groups say. Multiple mobile providers have lost connectivity for around 12 hours at a time, with Netblocks saying it has seen a “curfew-style pattern of disruptions.”

Felicia Anthonio, who leads NGO Access Now’s fight against internet shutdowns, says the group’s partners have reported that text messages containing Amini’s name have been blocked. “If you’re sending a message containing that name, it doesn’t go through,” Anthonio says.

“Shutting down mobile internet service has become a go-to for the Iranian government when dealing with civil unrest,” says Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik, who has been following the shutdowns. “People were using these services to share videos of the protests and the government’s crackdown, so they became targets of government censorship.”

Sources tell the Blade that anti-government demonstrators include LGBTQ activists standing in solidarity with women in the country.

The BBC and CBS reported in Tehran, marching demonstrators chanted “death to Khamenei” and “death to the dictator,” referring to the country’s supreme leader, 83-year old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Crowds of protestors pushed back against Iranian security forces, known as the “basij,” with videos shared on social media showing uniformed officers running away as people cheered.

As protests continue to escalate and spread there is fear that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, (IRG) will step in with a massive crackdown. The IRG has already issued two statements this past week that condemned the protests as an organized conspiracy by enemies of Iran. 

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights from the victims’ of police violence and having reviewed video evidence, security forces have been using disproportionate force and live ammunition to suppress peaceful protests in the last few days, a clear and gross violation of international law.

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The White House

The White House celebrates “A night when hope & history rhyme”

“On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people”

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President Biden awards the National Humanities Medal to Elton John for his work on combating HIV/AIDS (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – After a performance from a repertoire of the best known hits from his songbook in a special musical concert at the White House Friday evening, Sir Elton John was called to the podium where, accompanied by the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden surprised the iconic British singer-songwriter with an award.

The president presented John with the National Humanities Medal for his advocacy work in recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and tireless activism against the global HIV/AIDS crisis disease through his contributions in music and the arts.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened its citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

A stunned John was moved to tears. After the president had the citation read by a military aide and hung the medal around the singer’s neck, Biden told the audience gathered, “I think we surprised him” to which they cheered and applauded.

The medal’s citation read in part that it was honoring John “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth — that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Visibly moved, the iconic musician and performer said: “I just said to the First Lady, I’m never flabbergasted- but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much- I will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness- America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV it’s even bigger and I can’t thank you enough…. I’m really emotional about this- thank you.”

Texas Trans-teen activist Landon Richie (Middle) standing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, (L) and his husband Chasten (R).
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

The special gathering held under a vaulted glass and aluminum ‘tent’ on the South Lawn of the White House was attended by 2,000 guests including former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband Chasten, as well as teachers, nurses, LGBTQ advocates and military families, who the White House had dubbed “everyday history-makers.”

During a pause in his performance earlier, the singer addressed former first lady Laura Bush, praising her husband, former President George W. Bush’s ongoing work on the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush had initiated while in office and is credited with saving millions of lives across the African continent and helping to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis globally.

“I want to say to the first lady, President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. It was the most incredible thing,” he said to Mrs. Bush.

Sir Elton John performs at the White House, September 23, 2022
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

President Biden Awards Elton John with National Humanities Medal:

Full Text of the President and the First Lady’s remarks:

THE FIRST LADY:  Hello!  Good evening.  Thank you, Athen.  It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.

And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E for helping us put this event together.

Isn’t this incredible?    

First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight.  And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House. 

And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David. 

Few things have the power to bring us together like music.  It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune.  It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define. 

When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone. 

And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers. 

Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard.  (Applause.)  Love the teachers!  So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years.  And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you. 

We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — like Dr. Amber Pearson.  Amber was the first person in her family to go to college.  And it wasn’t easy.  She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well. 

And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami.  When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back. 

Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about.  Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.

Elton once said, “Music has healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”

We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music. 

And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me.  Please, all have a seat.  Please, have a seat.

Thank you, Jill.  Thank you all for being here on such a special evening.

And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice.  And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.

Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.

The think I did it because I’m Irish.  That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. 

One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme.  Three hundred million records sold.  Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten.  Six Grammy Awards.  Two Oscars.  One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board.  Four thousand performances around the world.  A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.

On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.

So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music.  His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory.  Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive.  And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.

As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.

Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.

Every day — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.

And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time.  Karen, thank you.  Thank you for being here, Karen.

Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.

Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.

Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.

With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation.  That’s what tonight is all about.

Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination.  It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.

To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight.  (Applause.)  And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation. 

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Ventura County

Newsom appoints Vianey Lopez to Ventura County Board

Lopez has a lengthy track record in progressive issues including her outspoken support of Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights

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Vianey Lopez (center) with the late Chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors Carmen Ramirez (L) (Photo Credit: Vianey Lopez/Facebook)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he has appointed City of Oxnard Councilmember Vianey Lopez to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to the seat left vacant by the sudden death of the beloved chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors Carmen Ramirez, killed in an August traffic accident.

Lopez, 35, a resident of Oxnard, has been a city councilmember for District Six since 2018 and also serves as a District Director for California State Senator Monique Limón since 2020.

According to her campaign for reelection to city council biography, Lopez immigrated to the U.S. at the young age of 4. As one of the youngest of 11 children, there were opportunities she was afforded that her siblings did not have. Raised locally, Vianey attended kindergarten through middle school in the Hueneme Elementary School District before graduating from Hueneme High School in 2005.

Councilmember, now Supervisor Lopez has a lengthy track record in progressive issues including her outspoken support of Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights as well as other key issues including LGBTQ+ equality, immigrant rights, and has worked for several California political leaders including a stint as District Scheduler for former U.S. Representative Lois Capps from 2013 to 2016, a member of the House from 1998 to 2017 representing California’s 24th congressional district.

Lopez was a Program Coordinator for the Oxnard Downtown Management District from 2012 to 2013 and an Administrative Assistant and Concierge at the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau from 2009 to 2010. She is a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens and Future Leaders of America.

Lopez earned a Master of Public Policy degree in International Relations and State and Local Policy from Pepperdine University.

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