- Los Angeles Police officers faced off with hundreds of demonstrators Thursday evening amid protests over the city’s efforts to clear a homeless camp in Echo Park Lake and erect a fence around it for $600,000 restorations.
- Several people were arrested and dozens more were detained, including at least three journalists, who were later released.
- Supporters of the city’s decision argue it is necessary to revive the park, which they say has become inhospitable to residents.
- Activists, unhoused people, and members of the City Council have condemned the way the move is being implemented as police continue to guard the perimeter of the park.
Demonstrations in Echo Park
Protestors in Los Angeles clashed with police Thursday in the second night of demonstrations against the removal of a homeless encampment in Echo Park Lake.
Hundreds of people faced off with police in riot gear as they marched closer to the park. Shortly after 8 A.M, police declared the demonstrations an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order in the surrounding areas after officials claimed the crowd used “high-intensity lights” in “an attempt to blind officers.”
Law enforcement officials detained dozens of people, zip-tied their hands, and placed them on jail busses. According to reports, police detained at least three journalists, though they were later released. Several people were arrested, and it is unclear if any others were hurt.
The demonstrations come after crews began clearing the encampment, which has grown significantly during the pandemic. At its peak, the area had over 200 tents, some of which housed more than one person.
City officials and homeless service providers rushed to clear the area earlier this week ahead of an expected sweep to remove the unhoused individuals in order to erect a fence and close down the park for repairs that will cost an estimated $600,000.
Planned Park Sweep
The plan had been shrouded in secrecy, with officials declining to provide almost any information to reporters ahead of the scheduled sweep, including when it would take place.
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the Echo Park neighborhood, told The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he planned to close the park, but did not provide a timeline.
On Wednesday, City Park rangers and Los Angeles Police Department officers put notices of closure near the encampment staying the park would close Thursday and that all personal belongings must be removed, “including, but not limited to, tents, chairs, tables, backpacks, bags, and personal items.”
City contractors began installing fencing around the perimeter of the park the same day, and police, who have been patrolling the area ever since, later closed down the area to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
Officials offered the homeless people living in the park services, including housing in a room of several hotels in downtown LA that are part of Project Roomkey, an effort to shelter those experiencing homelessness in hotels during the pandemic.
While most people accepted the offer, some refused to leave. According to reports, as of Thursday evening, about a dozen people remained, though police said they only counted five by the end of the night.
Proponents of Restoration
O’Farrell has argued that the park has become dangerous and inhospitable to residents of the neighborhood.
“The Echo Park facility has devolved into a very dangerous place for everyone there: drug overdoses, sexual and physical assaults, self-styled leaders taxing homeless individuals and vendors, animal abuse, families without shelter in the colder weather, and last fall shootings where one homeless individual was shot in the leg by gang members while children stood nearby,” he said in a statement Thursday. “There have been four deaths in the park over the last year.”
Other residents of the neighborhood echoed his claims, like Echo Park resident Riley Montgomery, who started a petition demanding the park be restored, and cheered the cleanup in remarks to The Times.
“Even if there’s a fence, that’s preferable to having to walk through a massive encampment where they have to worry about being assaulted or walking over needles or having hate speech said to them as has happened multiple times,” he said.
Many activists have said the reports of crime are exaggerated.
Echo Park Tent Community, a local advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Daily News that the park’s residents have set up kitchens, showers, a community garden, and clean-up efforts.
Their community, the group said, has created “a sense of security, safety, stability, and healing for drug addiction and mental illness with our own pioneering forms of therapy in the absence of any help from the city government.”
Numerous homeless people who have lived in the park also expressed similar sentiments about the community formed there.
“They have deemed people like this a lower dredge of society, even when a majority of people are a paycheck away from the same thing,” Jerome Noll, a 32-year-old man who had moved from skid row to the in the park, told The Times. “We’re not crisis actors. This a really painful moment. You’re watching my things being ripped from me. Watching my friends go through the struggle — that part bothers me a lot.”
Others also condemned O’Farrell for how he has handled the situation, including several of his own City Council colleagues.
“We can get people housed and we can do that in a way that works for everybody,” Councilmember Nithya Raman said during a meeting Thursday night, adding that other districts have been able to do this and adding that she was “really disappointed that what should have been a success story in Echo Park was not read that way because of the entry of police.”
That sentiment was echoed by Councilmember Mike Bonin, who also called for the cost of the police operation at the park to be made public and an accounting on effects on police services in other areas of the city. Several councilmembers reported police being pulled from service their districts to guard the park.
“A neighborhood in lockdown. Hundreds of cops in riot gear. Reporters being zip-tied and detained. Protesters being kettled and arrested. This is a disgrace and it did not have to happen,” he tweeted. “It’s a shameful day for Los Angeles.”
See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (The Los Angeles Daily News) (CBS Los Angeles)
California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program
State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.
Rent Relief in the Works
The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.
It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.
However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”
The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”
Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.
Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.
Eviction Ban Complications
Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.
According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.
State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.
Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week.
But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.
As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.
State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus
Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.
California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.
While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.
The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.
“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Hill)
Manhattan City Council Candidate Says He’s “Not Ashamed” After BDSM Video Leaks Online
While many applauded the candidate’s response, others suspect the entire ordeal may have been manufactured for publicity.
BDSM Video Leaks
Zack Weiner, a 26-year-old candidate for Manhattan’s City Council, has caught a flood of attention in recent days after responding to a BDSM video of himself that leaked online.
According to the New York Post, which first reported on the leak Saturday, the video was published by an anonymous Twitter account earlier this month.
“My magnificent domme friend played with Upper West Side city council candidate Zack Weiner and I’m the only one who has the footage,” the tweet reportedly read.
The video was flagged to the Post by Weiner’s campaign manager, Joe Gallagher, the news outlet said. The tabloid also claimed it showed Weiner gagged while “subjecting himself to various abuses by a leather-bound woman who pours wax on him and clips his nipples with clothespins.”
The footage was filmed at Parthenon studio in Midtown, which the Post described as known for its high-quality BDSM dungeons, and Weiner actually confirmed the video’s authenticity to the outlet, saying it was filmed at that location in 2019 with a former girlfriend that he met during a Halloween party.
Weiner Says He’s “Not Ashamed”
Weiner took to Twitter on Saturday to address the private video head on.
“Whoops. I didn’t want anyone to see that, but here we are,” he wrote.
“I am not ashamed of the private video circulating of me on Twitter. This was a recreational activity that I did with my friend at the time, for fun. Like many young people, I have grown into a world where some of our most private moments have been documented online.”
“While a few loud voices on Twitter might chastise me for the video, most people see the video for what it is: a distraction. I trust that voters will choose a city council representative based on their policies and their ability to best serve the community,” he continued.
In his comments to the Post, he added, “I am a proud BDSMer. I like BDSM activity.” He also said he had no idea how the footage surfaced, saying “It’s definitely a violation of trust.”
Praise and Suspicions
Many people online have applauded Weiner for refusing to apologize for private consensual acts. One, for example, tweeted, “Yeah – as long as this was between 2 (or more) consenting adults – I don’t care one bit. If this info ALONE would cause you to vote for somebody else, then I am FAR MORE worried about YOUR participation in Government than his!”
In fact, many have said they would vote for him after learning of the video and slammed critics, as well as the tabloid, for “kink-shaming.”
It’s worth noting that the Post’s article described Weiner as someone who “has mostly been a nonentity in the race for the Upper West Side’s 6th District.” It pointed to the fact that he has no endorsements and that his campaign barely raised $10,000 — most of which allegedly came from himself and his campaign manager.
Because of this, along with Gallagher’s contact with the Post, some have speculated that the entire ordeal may have been some kind of stunt manufactured for publicity.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Insider) (HITC)
Supreme Court Rejects Third Challenge to Affordable Care Act
In the 7-2 decision, the justices argued the Republican-led states that brought the challenge forth failed to show how the law caused injury and thus had no legal standing.
SCOTUS Issues Opinion on Individual Mandate
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the third Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act to ever reach the high court.
The issue at hand was the provision of the law, commonly known as Obamacare, that requires people to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty: the so-called individual mandate.
The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of Obamacare and it has already been before SCOTUS, which upheld the provision in 2012 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.
However, as part of the sweeping 2017 tax bill, the Republican-held Congress set the penalty for not having health care to $0. As a result, a group of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, arguing that because their GOP colleagues made the mandate zero dollars, it no longer raised revenues and could not be considered a tax, thus making it unconstitutional.
The states also argued that the individual mandate is such a key part of Obamacare that it could not be separated without getting rid of the entire law.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.
Majority Opinion Finds No Injury
In the majority decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Republican states had no grounds to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by their own colleagues zeroing out the penalty.
“There is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance,” he wrote, adding that the states “have not demonstrated that an unenforceable mandate will cause their residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo.”
Breyer also argued that because of this, the court did not need to decide on the broader issue of whether the 2017 tax bill rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional and if that provision could be separated from the ACA.
The highly anticipated decision will officially keep Obamacare as the law of the land, ensuring that the roughly 20 million people enrolled still have health insurance. While there may be other challenges to the law hard-fought by conservatives, this latest ruling sends a key signal about the limits of the Republican efforts to achieve their agenda through the high court, even with the strong conservative majority.
While the court has now struck down challenges to Obamacare three times, Thursday’s decision marked the largest margin of victory of all three challenges to the ACA.
For now, the ACA appears to be fairly insulated from legal challenges, though it will still likely face more. In a tweet following the SCOTUS decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed to keep fighting Obamacare, adding that the individual mandate “was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional.”