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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Kate Mather and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about how the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force, and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after the community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything.'”

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. in August remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions and what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting. … It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a significant drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship. He cited other recent incidents that he called “disturbing:” an officer recorded using a racial slur and yet allowed to remain on the force, and South Bureau officers who disabled in-car voice-recording equipment that was installed to monitor them. The recording issue came up at the Ford meeting.

“It’s leading some people to wonder: Is there a pattern? Are they moving back to old practices?” Mack said. “I feel it has become a case of five or six major, enormous steps forward … and we are now taking one or two steps backwards.”

The LAPD’s relationship with South L.A. is one that requires constant nurturing, Mack said. Chief Charlie Beck “developed street cred” with the community when he ran the South Bureau as deputy chief, Mack said, but needs to do more as the city’s top cop.

“That is a relationship that requires ongoing attention by the chief himself,” Mack said. “Despite all the goodwill that has been built up, all you need is one incident and things can go south in an instant.”

Beck attended the Aug. 20 community meeting and promised “as transparent and as rapid an investigation as is humanly possible in this circumstance.” But residents frequently interrupted Beck with shouts and jeers. One man called officers “gang bangers.” Others chanted, “Abolish the police, abolish the police.” The mention of Christopher Dorner — the ex-LAPD officer who blamed department racism for his firing before he went on a deadly rampage targeting police officers last year — prompted at least one person at the meeting to clap.

“That hurts, when people applaud that and make some of those statements,” said Steve Soboroff, the president of the Police Commission. “But we’re trying to get something out of it…. You have to get through that hurt and try to make things better. And hope the other person does the same.”

Soboroff — who described the meeting as a “Pandora’s box” — said that after he left the church that night, he called Beck and other commissioners to discuss their next steps. He called on the department to redouble community outreach efforts.

“Their perceptions, they are what they are,” he said. “We need to work on that.”

Several questions remain about the Aug. 11 death of Ford, a 25-year-old man shot and killed by two officers as he walked home. Police allege that he tackled one of the officers and reached for his gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a witness who saw part of the incident said she saw no struggle.

Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said investigating Ford’s death in a thorough and forthright way was crucial.

“For me, the most important question is how the department responds in situations like this one,” Saltzman wrote in an email. “It is important for the chief and the department to make the review of the use of force as transparent as possible.”

Some civil rights advocates believe the years of work between the LAPD and South L.A. residents helped prevent a more extreme backlash to the Ford shooting.

Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer who has advised both Beck and his predecessor, now-New York police Commissioner William J. Bratton, said the dynamic between the LAPD and the black community is far different than it was years ago. Distrust and concerns still linger, she said, but that’s because there is so much history to overcome.

Decades ago, she said, a controversial shooting could prompt “an immediate explosion of protests.” The demonstrations after Ford’s death have been peaceful, a stark contrast to the violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal police shooting of a black 18-year-old man. The shootings of Ford in Los Angeles and Michael Brown in Ferguson took place two days apart.

“When you have a bad shooting, instead of an explosion, heat, and friction, it is pretty quiet,” Rice said of Los Angeles. “That is because of a tiny reservoir of benefit of the doubt.”

Photo: Los Angeles Times/Luis Sinco

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Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.