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Protestors Clash With Police Over Sweep of Echo Park Homeless Encampment

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  • 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.

Widespread Backlash

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)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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