- 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)
U.S. Pledges To Donate 500 Million More Vaccines Globally
The announcement comes as wealthy nations face pressure to help lower-income countries deal with the pandemic and as American vaccine makers face calls to share their technology.
Biden Promises More Vaccines
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. will purchase 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for countries in need, bringing the total number of U.S. vaccine donations to more than 1.1 billion.
Biden’s pledge, which was made at a virtual COVID-19 summit, comes as world leaders and organizations have criticized wealthy nations for not doing enough to help lower-income countries deal with the pandemic. Many have also slammed countries like the U.S. for moving forward with plans for booster shots while so much of the world remains unvaccinated.
According to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, of the six billion shots administered globally, nearly 80% percent have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries compared to just 0.5% in low-income countries.
While several wealthy nations begin to give booster shots, just 2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
Pressure Grows for American Companies to Share Vaccine Technology
It’s not just wealthy countries and their leaders that are being met with criticism over the massive vaccination gap. There is also a lot of growing pressure on American drug companies to share their formulas with manufacturers in poor nations that need more doses.
Senior officials told The New York Times that the Biden administration privately asked Pfizer and Moderna to engage in joint ventures where they license their technology to contract manufacturers in an effort to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income nations.
While those conversations reportedly prompted Pfizer to sell the U.S. the 500 million doses announced this Wednesday at a not-for-profit price, the company still refused to license its technology.
Meanwhile, the alleged discussions appear to have had no impact at all on Moderna.
Many have argued the Moderna has even more of an obligation to share its technology given that it was developed in part by the National Institutes of Health. On top of that, the company accepted an additional $2.5 billion in taxpayer money as part of Operation Warp Speed.
In a statement to The Times on Tuesday, a Moderna spokeswoman said that the company had agreed not to enforce its COVID-related patents and was “willing to license our intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines to others for the post pandemic period.”
But experts say that vaccine technology is needed now, not when the pandemic is over.
Many have argued that Biden should put more pressure on the companies to share their intellectual property, including some legal experts who said he could compel them to do so using the Defense Production Act, which gives the president broad emergency powers.
Administration officials, however, have argued that forcing the companies to share the information is more complicated, and any efforts to do so would result in legal battles that will ultimately be counterproductive.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.