This is the first UltraViolet since January 2020. We were preparing to put out another issue when the coronavirus lockdowns started. We then had to figure out how we could produce an issue, which involved complicated discussions with the printer. There have been many letters from people inside thinking they fell off the mailing list but be assured, you did not. Please know that you have been in our thoughts, and in our activism – demanding decarceration and responsible medical treatment and housing.
Hopefully we have figured out how to publish within the new realities and will get back to our old schedule of 4x/year.
In a joint press conference today, the US Postal Service’s Carrier Division and the US Carrier Pigeon’s Postal Service announced they are joining together to save the mail-in vote in the upcoming November presidential election. “We know both mail carriers and carrier pigeons are dedicated to providing excellent service,” said Carrier Division Head Mary Fields. “We are delighted that the Carrier Pigeons are adopting our motto—Neither snow nor rain nor fascism stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Carrier Division union rep Joan O’Kay said that the alliance benefited both organizations: “We’ve been waiting a long time to join forces with the Carrier Pigeons, and we’re grateful that this totally engineered catastrophe has been the stimulus.” The Carrier Pigeon union rep, Percy Perch, said after November they’re hoping to work with the Carrier Division on an anti-gentrification program. “After all, if San Francisco gets any more gentrified where would we go?” said pigeon Perch.
The ponies in the Pony Express are offering to help as long as the working conditions meet all federal guidelines. The carrier pigeons pointed out that federal worker protections are too weak to do them any good, so the ponies have offered to staff snack booths for the carriers instead as they make their appointed rounds.
Pigeons, also known as rock doves, will be reaching out to the rock community to do a fundraising concert for the new campaign. Some of the funds will go for free stamps for voters who live in the 33 states that don’t provide free postage for mail-in ballots. So far, performers include The Byrds, Sheryl Crow and The Eagles. Jay-Z is scheduled to perform ‘Open Letter,’ and there will be a special high-powered posthumous duet of ‘4 Page Letter’ with Aaliyah and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker to close out the benefit and help win the election.
[ed. Note. Lisa Strawn was granted parole in May, due to be released in September. Luckily she got out July 17th and was sent to a motel in Southern California. After a lot of arguing on her part, she was allowed to serve the rest of her parole in the Bay Area.] Leaving prison after 25 years I had a lot of emotions. I was happy to leave and with getting Covid19 at san quentin made it easier. But I had to leave the love of my life of 2 years. That wasn’t good and I still am dealing with it. There have been some difficult times in the almost 2 months of being out. People I was suppose to trust, lost me 4 times. But I did not panic and kept it together while being on quarantine by myself in a hotel for 8 days. Two men showed up at my door because a transperson had told them I needed help. Thomi Clinton sent Robert and Mike to my room with a phone and $60. From that day I knew there were good people out here and I would be okay. And now I am the first transwoman to be at a program for Women. I am putting a lot of information together so for the next transwoman comes here it will be easier. On a personal note I have a job and will be having gender affirming surgery in October. Believe me I have worked very hard to make things happen for me. NOTHING has been handed to me. But with the help with others including CDCR headquarters and the loves of my life at Ultra Violet, I am very humble and happy to say I am free and a part of society. Please know everyone inside there is help out here for the trans and LGBTQ gender fluid people. Remember that.
Written From San Quentin 7/4/20. As you know we have a severe outbreak. As of today the number of Covid people here is up to 1,500 and 4 deaths. Because I am a writer, I am giving you firsthand accounts of everything that has happened and continues at the present.
A month ago we had no Covid 19 cases. There were only a few suspected who were being monitored. Those being monitored were moved from their housing units to lock up units. Since I work on the 4th floor hospital, I have accurate accounts. Now all inmates were given a mask here but the staff was not required to wear them at the time. Before that bus came with those who were sick, there was 6 staff who had Covid 19. Two returned after they were well but still were not wearing a mask. By this time, it was mandatory for the staff.
Once the bus came then everything changed. They were put in South Block and the spread began. I heard from a source, when they got here they were not evaluated. There were inmates moved out of South Block and put in the main line in West North and H units. Those inmates were not from the bus, they were just housed in South Block, waiting for a bed or a transfer. There were inmates who had Covid from the bus who were moved from South Block to the Adjustment Center (AC). Some of them were taken out, to the 3rd floor hospital lab. The lab was contaminated and the hall had to be cleaned by inmate workers. So that shouldn’t have happened. The people in the lab should of went to the unit because that is how lab has been done for North, West, East and South, H and the gym. Nobody goes to the lab. I again was getting daily updates of people getting Covid.
The numbers began to rise and there had been ’man down’ alarms all day in the units. Some who were sick were sent to outside [hospitals] and some moved to Carson, Alpine and Badger in South Block. During this time there was a modified yard schedule of West and North Block. But also Alpine Covid people were going outside. We all had separate days, but the Alpine people should of never been out in the yard. Again the number of positives began to rise. On June 16th, I took the Covid test with a bunch of other workers. The test came back negative. People were still going ‘man down’ in the units and the number of staff with Covid was rising.
On June 22nd the entire North Block was tested – that is over 800 people. When I got the first test we had to tell the staff to change their gloves between tests. So we all got tested, people were getting sicker and there were more ‘man downs’. As many as 10 a day. As the test results started coming back there were names being called out every day. Then on June 27th, an officer was going door to door giving the news who was positive. He stopped at my door and told my other half cellie that he was positive. Of course I tried to keep it together. He was in total disbelief. He thought because he had no symptoms and weighed 207 pounds, he couldn’t get it. I wasn’t told anything about my [2nd] test, but figured I had it because for that week, I had no sense of smell or taste and still don’t today. As the hours passed I became more upset as I watched my other half pack his stuff. We were both very upset and crying. It’s hard to see someone you love, cry. I did the best I could to tell him he would be okay and he would return in a couple of weeks. I kissed him goodbye and told him I loved him.
My doctor came and told me I tested positive. Even tho I feel okay, this has been the worst hell for me in the 25 years I have in. I am scared, I am scared for my other half and I am scared for all here. I’m supposed to be preparing back to a world I haven’t seen since 1994 and now I have to deal with the stress of having Covid. On top of all this, unless it is Covid related, medical staff is not seeing anyone about anything. I am not getting my hormone shot, I haven’t had one since June 9th. I’ve put in several requests with no response.
I truly believe that Covid was here before the bus came because of the staff who had it already. The 4 men who died on death row had no contact with other prisoners. So they only could of got it from the staff. Maybe on purpose. Who knows?
Those with Covid who were sent to Badger are on a hunger strike, including my other half, because the cells are filthy, some toilets don’t flush and the cells don’t have power.
I’m staying busy and writing a lot and getting rest. This time should have been spent with my other half before I go out of here in September. But this is almost over and I am looking forward to a new life. I am glad that I changed my life and that UltraViolet had a big impact on my life to change. I will always be grateful to UV and I am excited to get out. Sad to leave my other half behind. It’s going to be hard to adjust after loving him for 2 years.
I hope you continue to be safe and tell everyone I said hi and I am looking forward to being out and seeing all at UV. Thank you for the love, Lisa
Mary Carol Randall died on Feb. 24, 2020 in Fort Collins, Colorado where she had been living for the past 15 years.
She was born April 25, 1951 and grew up in the Denver Area with her adoptive parents, Edwin and Jayne Randall, and a sister, Greta. At Antioch College in Yellow Springs Ohio, she became involved in Yellow Springs Radicalesbians, and was part of the collective that organized the first Midwest Lesbian Weekend in 1972. In 1973, Mary Carol was part of a long student strike at Antioch College, which was held to demand that the Antioch Administration make up for cuts to student financial aid that had been imposed by the Nixon administration.
She moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s and got her Master of Poetics Degree at New College of California. She worked at UC Berkeley for many years. She started the adoption process for Alicia Jayne in 1996, and about three years later adopted Alicia’s younger sister Cara. Although Mary Carol chose not to have co-parents, Tory became very involved with Alicia, and they have kept up the relationship over all these years.
In about 2004 Mary Carol retired from UC and moved to Colorado. After the death of her parents, Mary Carol searched for, and found, her birthmother, Naomi, and remained in touch with her until Naomi’s death. Mary Carol joined the Fort Collins Quaker Friends Meeting and became a teacher in the Loveland School District.
Mary Carol was part of starting Revolting Lesbians, which worked on issues including economic justice for lesbians and dealing with class issues, opposition to cuts to welfare and other social programs, AIDS, racism, opposing U.S. intervention in El Salvador and other Central American countries, as well as dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, support for Palestine, support for the rights of immigrants, and opposing the death penalty and prisons. Mary Carol was also part of Stop AIDS Now or Else (SANOE) which blocked the Golden Gate Bridge in January 1989 with a banner that said AIDS = Genocide, Silence = Death, Fight Back. SANOE also stopped the San Francisco opera opening in 1989, and occupied the SF office of the INS (the precursor to ICE).
As part of her work in Revolting Lesbians, Mary Carol became deeply involved in supporting Norma Jean Croy, a Shasta Native American woman who was convicted along with her brother Patrick Hooty Croy in the death of a Siskiyou County policeman. Hooty, who had been sentenced to death, was granted a new trial in 1985, and was found not guilty in 1990 because the jury found the killing was in self-defense. Norma Jean, who had not been armed or fired a weapon remained in prison until 1997, serving 19 years. Mary Carol worked on Norma Jean’s case until she was freed.
For many years Mary Carol lived on Clark St. in Oakland and was part of the lesbian community there. She adopted many feral cats. For many years she had a large dog named Molly who went everywhere with her, and would wait outside for her on the UC campus while Mary Carol worked. Mary Carol liked to blast music in her car and sing along. Julie, Blue, Mary Carol and I went together to southern California to see Halley’s comet.
Mary Carol is survived by Alicia and Cara, and Cara’s son Noah, her dog Dash, and cat, Gigi. A memorial had been scheduled for April but had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Many of us in the UV community have known Mary Carol for a long time. It was not always an easy relationship, but we will all miss her.
Bob Williamson, a long-time bay area activist, died at the end of 2019. Bob was a radical, and a member of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) who fought for social justice. In 1986, he was elected the president of the San Francisco local. Before that, he was instrumental in supporting demands for racial justice in the SF Post Office, where he was involved in a multi-year effort to get more Latinx people hired. He fought for child care and for changing the design of postal equipment to prevent disabling ergonomic injuries.
Joan Kaye, a member of LAGAI until her death in 1993, was a good friend and comrade to Bob, and with several other postal workers engaged in valiant and prolonged battle against postal management, and when necessary, to make the national union more accountable and democratic.
On September 3, Michael Reinoehl, an antifascist from Seattle who was active in the ongoing anti-racist protests in Portland, was killed by members of a “federal task force” a day after he told a Vice reporter that he had killed a right-wing counterprotester to defend himself and a friend. Reinoehl’s death was ruled a homicide, after members of the task force initially claimed he had either shot himself or shot at them. The task force was led by federal marshals and included local sheriffs and cops from several jurisdictions.
The next day, Forrest Schmidt, a military veteran who is now a veteran anti-war and anti-fascist organizer and founder of the Oakland Builders Collective, was arrested by a federal task force in Berkeley. He had been arrested at a demonstration in Oakland over the weekend and released without charge. Then, for some reason, the evil district attorney nancy o’malley (I assume) decided to refile charges and issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of assault with a deadly weapon (meaning a laser pointer). He was booked into Santa Rita Jail and released on bail.
Also on September 4, the Portland General Defense Committee (GDC) posted this advisory on Twitter: “We have confirmed reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation visiting people’s homes in the last week or so. The result of some of these visits is that people with state charges, whether they have been no-complained or not, are being arrested by the FBI for federal charges of a similar nature.” GDC posted some excellent advice for dealing with potential FBI visits; see https://pdxgdc.com/recent-fbi-visits/.
Based on reports compiled on Wikipedia, at least 19 people have been killed at protests, most by right-wing vigilantes or police. Between May 27 and July 7, Ari Weil, deputy research director at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats catalogued 72 incidents of cars driving into protesters across 52 different cities, including both civilian and law enforcement vehicles. Less than half of the drivers included in my analysis have been charged so far.
The Anti-Repression Committee, a Bay Area grassroots group formed during Occupy Oakland to support activists targeted by the state, reports that as of now: • At least 13 people in Portland and Eugene have been arrested by federal task forces • In addition, there have been many raids in which police seized “indicia” of political leanings – books, posters, stickers, etc. • Protesters and supporters have been summoned to grand juries in Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin. No others are known but that doesn’t mean there have not been any. No Bay Area activists have yet been subpoenaed by ARC expects that to happen any day. • Some activists have been targeted based on “PING warrants” which use location information gathered from cell phone towers to find individuals who were near certain protests or incidents • Police have targeted live streamers and legal support people for arrest, including by visiting people answering hotlines and collecting bail money. • 350 people have been arrested in the Bay Area since May 31; many have arraignment dates for October. Most have been cited and released, and others have been able to bail out. About 90% of those arrested have been Black or Brown. A lot of them are charged with looting, assault or resisting arrest. As far as ARC knows, everyone is currently out. There is plenty of bail money so anyone who gets arrested should call the National Lawyers’ Guild.
Hotline numbers: IF YOU ARE NOT IN JAIL: 415-909-4NLG IF YOU ARE IN JAIL: 415-285-1011
According to the US Crisis Monitor, a joint project of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and the Princeton-based Bridging Divides Initiative: • Though more than 93% of Black Lives Matter protests have been “nonviolent,” 42% of respondents in a FiveThirtyEight poll on June 5 believed “most protesters [associated with the BLM movement] are trying to incite violence or destroy property”. “Research from the University of Washington indicates that this disparity stems from political orientation and biased media framing (Washington Post, 24 August 2020), such as disproportionate coverage of violent demonstrations.” • “President Donald Trump seized on the topic to issue an executive order authorizing federal agents to pursue demonstrators who pull down statues or damage federal property, spurring the creation of the Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT)” • ACLED records over 55 federal and National Guard deployments across the country, including members of PACT as well as forces affiliated with Operations Legend and Diligent Valor. • Over 5% of all events linked to the BLM movement have been met with force by authorities, compared to under 1% of all other demonstrations. • ACLED records over 100 separate incidents of government violence against journalists in at least 31 states and Washington, DC during demonstrations associated with Black Lives Matter. The greatest number of these have occurred in California.
In January 2020, I got a notification that a domain name I own was going to expire in early March. The domain name was “DefundOPD.org”.
The OPD in question is Oakland Police Department, and I’d bought the name in 2017 for the newly formed Defund OPD campaign we had started in the wake of a far-ranging police scandal involving sexual abuse and cover-up. A coalition assembled by the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) created Defund as one of several responses to the scandal, including the formation of an independent community review agency, which was established in 2017, though not with the composition the community demanded.
After a lot of discussion about what demand to make and how to frame it, we created the slogan “Defund OPD/Invest in Community” and the call to cut the police budget by 50% and invest those funds in housing, physical and mental health care, job creation, promoting racial justice, and basically taking care of the people who live in our city. The Defund language was born of the revelation that OPD eats up nearly half (46%) of Oakland’s general fund (the general fund, which is most of the budget, is allocated by the City Council, as opposed to restricted funds for pensions and other fixed expenses). Oakland spends a far higher share on police than many other cities (Los Angeles PD, at that time, got about 24% of the city’s general fund), and cops, who made up about 15% of the city’s work force, received 35% of total employee compensation paid by Oakland – more than the departments of Race and Equity, Economic & Workforce Development, Parks, Recreation & Youth Development, Libraries, Housing & Community Development, Transportation and Human Services COMBINED.
And only 8% of police officers even lived in Oakland at that time, so all that money was leaving the city.
The demand for a 50% reduction was based on the understanding that even among the people most impacted by police violence, there would not be support for eliminating police without proven alternatives to respond to threats and violence. Cutting the department’s budget in half was a modest demand to bring it more into line with what other California cities were spending. In 2017-19, Defund worked with ReFund Oakland, a coalition of social justice nonprofits, to make this demand during City Council budget hearings. We organized people to speak at council members’ town hall meetings, packed council meetings, held rallies, and supported a spectacular action by an independent Black organizing collective which shut down the meeting where the council would have voted not to cut the OPD budget.
Hundreds of people showed up at council meetings and waited long into the morning to speak in favor of cutting police spending and investing in Oakland’s highly neglected housing, transportation and health care infrastructure. No one from the police union (POA) ever bothered to show up to speak, and neither did any of the supposedly cop-loving citizens council members claimed to be listening to. Even when council member Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, sent out an urgent email for people to come and support her regressive budget proposal, no one did. But the conservative majority on the council, who subsequently and duplicitously named themselves the “Equity Caucus,” and Oakland’s faux-progressive mayor, Libby Schaaf, felt no need to even pretend to be listening to the people.
We won a few small victories – the city cancelled one planned cop academy, resulting in about 20 new officers not being hired immediately, ordered an audit of how police spend their time, and tried to rein in overtime, which consistently overruns the budget by millions of dollars (nearly $15 million in 2018). But the police budget continued to grow. OPD, which has been under federal oversight for seventeen years because of a previous corruption-and-brutality scandal, continued failing to meet the requirements set by the monitor.
At the time that I got that email from the domain host, Defund OPD had been dormant for a couple of years. But I renewed it.
Then George Floyd was murdered in cold blood, captured on video. As in every city across the country, people in Oakland and San Francisco left quarantine and poured into the streets. When I headed out for my first protest in months, I grabbed an old sign that said “Defund Police – Invest in Community.” I thought I’d get a few quizzical looks, as I had three years ago. When I got there, I saw that there were a few other signs with the Defund slogan, and I didn’t know any of the people carrying them. At first I counted them. Then I lost count.
Within a week of that horrific murder, with the body count mounting (Sean Monterrosa, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks), the Defund demand was resounding across the country. Defund OPD had been the first to use it, as far as we know, but I have no idea whether other groups got it from us or if it simply made sense. But as a Politico blogger wrote, “hours after the first videos of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer went viral online, those three words became the rallying cry of a movement that had suddenly won America’s undivided attention.” By mid-June, the New York Times, Vox, the Atlantic, Harpers, CNN, NPR, MTV, and Samantha Bee had all run “Defund the Police” explainers (Samantha Bee even gave Defund OPD a shout out). The more liberal ones attempted to soothe fears by assuring their readers or listeners that we didn’t actually mean it, while Fox and its ilk stirred nightmare scenarios of nonstop mayhem. By July 1, a number of cities had actually committed to defunding. Minneapolis, where George Floyd lost his life, was the first, announcing on June 7 that a veto-proof majority on the City Council had pledged to dismantle the police department. A few weeks later, a majority of the city council in Seattle, where a police-free autonomous zone was still alive on Capitol Hill, pledged to support 50% defunding. In New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, mayors tried to get ahead of the demand by adding some police cuts to their proposed budgets, many of which were in the final stages of their approval process. While far short of what activists were demanding, The Guardian reported that these cuts added up to $1.4 billion, pretty good for a few weeks of protest.
Memes started to show up on social media: “Two weeks of rioting accomplished what ten years of voting couldn’t.” Well, sort of.
Didn’t come out of nowhere
When nine members of Minneapolis’s City Council agreed to dismantle the city’s police department, it looked to most of the world as a sudden, nearly spontaneous response to two weeks of intense protest and the shocking video of the George Floyd murder. In fact, a group called MPD150 formed in 2016, to evaluate the first 150 years of the city’s police department, which was founded in 1867. A “participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists and activists,” the group looked at the history of the department since its founding in 1867. They issued a comprehensive report and developed an art exhibit calling for termination of the department’s contract, and presenting “alternatives, transitional steps and action plan” for police abolition. One year later, a group of mostly queer young Black activists formed the Black Visions Collective, “an organization dedicated to Black liberation and to … building the resources we need to integrate healing justice into all that we do.”
Several of the most supportive council members had been recently elected, with support from groups like Black Visions, including two of the first openly trans Black elected officials in the country, and a woman whose parents were both undocumented immigrants. Despite that, some of the council members needed to be prodded to commit. Jeremiah Ellison, an artist who ran for council after becoming nationally known as an activist during the protests of Jamar Clark’s murder by police, said he came home after spending a night trying to protect small businesses during the protests and found a pile of gravestones on his lawn. “I did not appreciate it,” he told the New York Times. “And I got in touch and realized they wanted me to make a pledge.”
In Oakland, the Black Organizing Project formed in October 2011, in response to the Oakland school district police killing of 20-year-old Raheim Brown. OUSD police shot Brown while he was sitting in a car with his girlfriend on the way to the prom. In 2019, BOP created and distributed a glossy twelve-page People’s Plan for Police-Free Schools. OUSD was the only school district in the state with its own police force, though other schools contract with city police for “resource officers.” In March 2020, the school board rejected a proposal to scale back the number of officers in schools, by a 3-4 vote. In the new climate created by the uprising, BOP introduced the “George Floyd Resolution,” to eliminate the schools’ police. It passed unanimously. Part of the resolution called on “the Superintendent to identify funds to support Black students and all students of color such as school-based case managers, social workers, psychologists, restorative justice practitioners, academic mentors and advisors.” BOP was appointed to the committee formed to realize those services.
In mid-July, Berkeley became the first city in the country to take traffic enforcement out of the hands of police, creating a new Department of Transportation to handle it, along with analyzing traffic patterns to see what’s causing collisions and other problems. Data had shown that Black residents, who make up 8% of Berkeley’s population, experienced over 36% of traffic stops in a four-year period, and over half in the last few months. At least 66% of all contact between police and civilians begin with traffic stops.
By the time the reconstituted Defund OPD had our first Zoom meeting, the Oakland city council was about to vote on its 2021 budget amendments. Oakland has a two-year budget cycle, so major budget revisions can’t normally be made in intervening years like this one. But of course, these are not normal times. Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, the only real progressive on the council, who was recruited by Eastlake United for Justice after an erstwhile progressive sold out the community on affordable housing and police funding, introduced a proposal to strip $25 million from the department. APTP quickly organized a series of delegations to council members homes to demand that they support the cuts, while some youth, fresh off their victory on the school police, pulled together a massive march to the mayor’s house. Bas’s proposal failed, and the council passed a $14.6 million cut, mainly accomplished by shuffling money around. It did, however, delay a police academy and freeze hiring for vacant positions. In the mayor’s original budget, released before the protests, every union was being told they had to accept COVID-caused cuts except for the police.
Nearly unnoticed in the furor over the budget proposals, the council did form a task force to “reconstruct public safety in Oakland — with the goal of reducing the police department budget by 50% over the next two years.” It took a minute for Defund to recognize this for the huge victory that it is. While we don’t expect them to do it without a lot more fights, it’s much better to hold them accountable to what they have said they want to do than to make them do what we want them to do. Cooptation is the sincerest form of repression, but it’s also better than any of the others (see Repression Roundup, page ___).
Polling in mid-June found that 57% of Democrats, 60% of Black people and 40% of people under fifty supported defunding police. In shades of Obamacare/Affordable Care Act debates, numbers went up when they were asked whether they supported shifting funds from policing to social services, without using the word “defund.” Republicans and white people overwhelmingly oppose it.
Teachers unions in Los Angeles and Chicago – two of the country’s largest education unions – voted to remove police from schools (the Chicago school board voted not to) and Seattle’s Labor Council voted to kick out the police union when it declined to state that “Black Lives Matter.”
Backlash, frontlash and whiplash
Police leadership and unions and mayors, who pretty much without exception get big contributions from police unions and govern accordingly, were caught off guard by this sudden shift in the terms of discussion. By August, they had regrouped and were hitting back hard. The president of the Oakland Police Association got an op-ed in a newspaper that had turned down one from APTP; he warned that violent crime was already skyrocketing without one dollar actually being lost from policing. In fact, when you zoomed away from the few month period he focused on, a local investigative reporter found that the spike was brief and not unusual.
Some Seattle council members backed away from supporting the 50% cut right away and passed a much smaller cut of about 14%; mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed it anyway, saying they should have talked to the police chief about it. The chief, a Black woman named Carmen Best, resigned in protest of the cuts, which included a small cut to her salary and larger cuts to twelve members of her command staff. In Buffalo, an entire SWAT team resigned from the team (but not from the force) to protest discipline of two officers who were captured on video beating a 75-year-old white protester.
After Austin, Texas’s city council voted in August to cut $150 million from the police, about a 30% cut, the governor announced a plan to freeze property tax revenue for cities, like Austin, that plan to cut police budgets. It’s unclear if he can do that. The attorney general said the state might take over the Austin police department, while the Texas Municipal Police Association put up billboards along the highway near Austin that read, “Warning! Austin defunded police. Enter at your own risk!”
New York republikkkan congressman tom reed has introduced the “’Defund Cities that Defund the Police Act” to cut federal funds to cities that defund, with bipartisan support.
What cops actually do
Though police chiefs and cop union leaders across the country have warned of the dire consequences of cutting even one officer position from the budget, study after study shows that there’s very little correlation between crime and police staffing. Staffing levels vary massively, with the national average at about 16 officers per 10,000 residents. New York has 42 per 10K, while Washington, DC has 56. (The New York police department employs 50,000 people, of whom 35,000 are sworn officers; that’s like if everyone in Pacifica were a New York police officer!) Oakland has 17.5, while San Francisco, just across the Bay, has 25. Oakland’s mayor insists that is why Oakland’s department needs so much overtime, but what do they actually do with it?
A national survey by New York Times reporters found that 4% of police time is spent responding to violent crimes. Data released by the Oakland police department in response to the city council’s audit revealed that one of the most common types of call cops are responding to are “Ambulance – no officer needed.” So when mayors say, as Tampa’s did recently, that we “are asking the police to do too much. … Officers are asked to be the mental health experts, they’re asked to be the teachers, they’re asked to be the counselors,” it’s important to realize that the only people actually asking them to do that are their own leaders, who are trying to claim as much money and power as possible by insisting that cops respond to every 911 call.
According to the Brookings Institute, “Data show that 9 out of 10 calls for service are for nonviolent encounters,” while “Approximately 38% of murders, 66% of rapes, 70% of robberies, and 47% of aggravated assaults go uncleared every year.” As the author pointed out, those might be good stats for baseball players but if most of us were producing that kind of results at our jobs, we’d be fired.
Defunding is about acknowledging that our current approach to “safety” means some people – especially Black and Brown people, but also queer and trans people, disabled people, houseless people, addicted people, must be very unsafe in order to make white people, tourists and property owners feel safe. We can commit to a new vision, in which everyone can actually be safe. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez said when asked what a country with defunded police departments would look like, “The good news is that it actually doesn’t take a ton of imagination.
It looks like a suburb. Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing etc more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police, but because they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.”
I noticed that several people in Florida were looking for additional direction and it just so happens that I wrote an article regarding exactly that, and I hope it can help others.
In 2014, a trans woman named Reiyn Keohane began serving a 15 year sentence…it would also be the beginning of a 4 year battle for access to the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) she’d begun prior to her arrest, as well as female grooming standards and gender-affirming items like clothing and makeup. After exhausting the administrative remedy process without success, Reiyn decided to take the matter to the courts. In 2016, the ACLU of Florida took her case and that’s when everything changed.
After the lawsuit was filed, FL DOC decided to allow Reiyn to continue her HRT and changed the policy that only permitted a person to receive hormone treatment if they were receiving treatment prior to entering DOC custody. Gender-affirming clothing, items etc. was still not permitted. Reiyn continued to fight. On 2018, Reiyn, the self-described warrior queen, won the battle as Judge Mark Walker ordered the FL DOC to continue HRT and to allow Reiyn to socially transition by providing access to female clothing/ female canteen items and permitting female grooming standards.
Reiyn is a heroine for sure and not only won a huge victory for herself but also set precedent and forced policy changes that may affect anyone pursuing treatment for their gender dysphoria. It also sent a clear message to other states that may be on the fence about their own policy changes. The specifics of this are defined in policy 403.012, “Identification and Management of Transgender Inmates and Inmates diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria”. If a GD diagnosis is made by a Review Team, the inmate is transferred to a “Gender Dysphoria Site. The policy doesn’t list the sites but a mental health staff member told me one site is Florida State Prison. An inmate advised me that other sites include Walton C.I. Hamilton Annex, and Marion C.I. but I can’t confirm this.
The question is where the sites are and what is the relative safety of these sites. Incidents of violence are supposed to be a matter of public record as well. Are these sites less safe or more than others? Are the GD diagnosed inmates segregated from others for reasons of safety and is that their choice? It’s an important question because some people, like myself, are hesitant to make a decision that will result in being in a less safe situation. We want our bodies to reflect who we are, but don’t want those bodies bruised or broken. So what’s a girl to do? Inform yourself. Request “Reiyn Keohane vs. Julie Jones” from your law library. Make sure all contact with mental health is documented.
I’d like to thank you all for a wonderful publication. You serve the LGBTQ community but recognize that there is more to us than our gender or sexual orientation. I love the political activism and social consciousness of UltraViolet not to mention the book and movie reviews. Two years and some change until I’m free, I’ll continue using my voice through my writing. Robert Allen Dziekan Jr. #X86984, New River C.I. Work Camp, PO Box 900, Raiford FL 32083
Shorts From Inside
I have been locked up since I was 18. I will turn 40 this year. I will have 26+ years in the Joint when I walk out of here in a few years. I’m terrified! Scared out of my mind. What do I know about leading an alternative life style on the outside? Where do I start? How do I go about it? Who can I turn to? What groups will help? How do you start life from scratch at 44 years? Hope is all I have in the world/ Hope that I will figure this out. Hope I will succeed. Hope that I won’t come right back to prison. Hope that I will be sent help. JH, Mineral Point MO
My neighbor is always talking shit so, in order to fuck with him (he’s a homophobe), I used his name to sign him up for UV. When the issue arrived, he tore his name off of it and threw it in front of my cell. I picked it up and read it. WOW! As a straight man, I never thought I’d enjoy and LGBTQ magazine so much! I was really glad to see some real journalism and I agreed with most of what I read. I do support freedom for everyone. I’m an anarchist and I was charmed by your articles and the lower case ‘u.s. and israel’ usage. I cannot support such imperialist bastards and it’s good to find allies in that! Thank you. JL, Tenn.Colony TX
Hey! I’m a federal inmate at FCI Waseca. Being a “real” lesbian in a prison is an experience all in its own! I’m passionate about education on being gay an the struggles we face inside and outside prison. I’d like to sign up for your newsletter. I would love love love that!! PU, Waseca MN
Greetings! I hope you are all doing well and staying healthy during this covid-19 crises. I’ve been bisexual since the age of 14 (now 52) and I feel more safe and open to be me today than at any other time in my life. It’s because of people and organizations like you who made it happen, for that I am forever grateful. I have been in prison for 27 years on a life sentence and I am always searching for any LGBTQI material. I’ve noticed that California prisoners have a hard time finding pen pals, especially for those of us who are LGBTQI. Most states don’t cater to CA Prisoners and pen pal programs are almost nonexistent in CA. It’s something I felt needed to be looked into by the powers that be. Most organizations are focused on prisoners’ rights, reducing sentences, changing or closing prisons and racial equality. Although those are all great and helpful, we as prisoners are still human and in need of friendship, companionship and correspondence. Take care, stay safe and lots of hugs. RW, San Diego CA
Dearest L&G Insurrection. What a name!! Hee…hee. I just had to write you after reading your title. I think you’ve got guts! And that’s what we need right now! Social change doesn’t alwys come easy … as you know full well! I’m already part of your movement, can’t help that any … I was born that way! Can’t hardly wait to hear back from you. JB, Cameron MO
Hi, I’m Trinity, witty Trans Anarchist Goth Punk Tramp Street wytch prisoner in Colorado. I love LAGAI/UltraViolet – something I’m taking with me from prison to the streets. Your articles are inspiring, witty and fun, all at the same damn time. Prison has been so hard on me cause I really banged with the system and gave them a hard time – my mental health gave me the underworld experience. Prison was one rite of passage – and hardcore adventure, I could have done without. But add it to this street punk’s wisdom and knowledge, I guess. Love and light, TF, Sterling CO
Since I was 15 years old I’ve been bi-sexual but up to about 2018 I was really nervous about being me … until I realized that there is nothing wrong with being me! And people can’t truly say they are my friends or they truly love or have love for me, if they don’t truly know the Real me! And it’s amazing! Anyway, I love your paper, please send it to me. JK, Toledo OH
Revolutionary Dreams. May this parchment be received in the best of physical and spiritual conditions. I do work for Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee, SF Bayview newspaper, ABC, MIM and other related resources. I’ll end here that you may enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you on behalf of fellow comrades for your dedication to the struggle against the machine. Peace be upon you. ALH, Butner, NC
With the current global health scare and a lot of us put in quarantine, half days or some sort of modified program and seclusion (including no visits, no school and no self-help groups), now is the perfect time for us to cultivate our artistry and take the time to produce all the art we can. Whether it be writing, drawing, carving in soap or whatever: it is the rites of flourishing we can express our love in. I am taking this time to write a theatrical play, a love story about a trans teen and her runaway boyfriend. Since I am just a guy, I ask any trans women to help me. JC Grant #BF9665, 5150 O’Byrnes Ferry Rd. Jamestown CA 95327
I’m a proud Transgender and I really enjoy reading about our brothers and sisters in our LGBTQ Society. So I would love to give a big shout-out to all my Transgender people as well of all my brothers and sisters out there. Please be safe from that awful Corona Virus. I love you all and hope to start back receiving my wonderful LGBTQ Newsletter. Love and solidarity MP, Beeville TX
Hello LAGAI. My name is Kevyn, I’m 35. This is my first time in prison. I heard about your “UltraViolet” and would like to sign up to receive it please. That’s an awesome name for a newspaper too, by the way. KJL, Delano CA
I would like to say thank you for all you do to make the UltraViolet possible. I found courage in the UV to come out of the closet for the first time about my sexuality. I’m a bisexual, gay, homosexual man, whatever you want to call me. I am proud of who I am. If anyone is struggling to come out, I encourage you, there will be a brighter day for us. MP, Licking MO
Hi, my name is Eric Rudolph, a gay Black man. I would like to say all these killings of Black people won’t ever change until they fix the Law, criminal justice and Police system. You have the 13th amendment saying they are still allowed slavery. Our system isn’t made to help us, it’s made to hurt us. The Police has a badge and it gives them free-range to hunt us down. ER, Bellefonte PA
Thank you for all you do for those of us doing time. Your newsletter gives us a way to connect and seek help or help others. That means more to me then any amount of words could ever tell you. GG, Corcoran CA
Please remove me from your mailing list. Florida DOC mail room staff doesn’t lelt 95% of your publications in. Thanks for trying, good luck in the future. WR, DeFuniak Springs FL
Greetings from Hole in FCI Petersburg. It really sucks being in the Hole – especially for something you didn’t do (at least this time!) FCI Petersburg is one of only a very few prisons in the country that has a gay pride or Diversity Day – each year in June. It is one of the most gay and transsexual friendly compounds in the country. Conditions in general here, however, keep getting worse and worse due to changes by senior staff. One of these changes is the new policy regarding incoming mail. We now only get copies of letters and pictures and they destroy the originals, including original pictures. I encourage everyone in the Real World to contact their representative and ask them to oppose this policy. Check out my blog at: Betweenthebars.org/blogs/747/ KJ, Petersburg VA
A friend of mine let me see your newsletter and I instantly fell in love. I’ve been part of another LGBTQ community called Black and Pick, but now I’m gonna be a part of your community as well! You can’t ever have enough family or enough resources and I’m very thankful for you and Black and Pink. BA, Eddyville KY
I am currently going over your newsletter with my bunkmate who is gay like myself. We are the only two gay men in our group and we really enjoyed the entire newsletter. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the smiles you put on our faces. We face a lot of criticism because of our sexual preference and we lean on each other to get through this time in our life. We have become very best friends (sisters LOL). AA, Santa Ana CA
3 years ago, I wrote to a transgendered woman named Elaine Moore who had written in to UltraViolet. She and I have been blessed to be able to write one another, off and on, over the past 3 years. I just wanted UV and all community family members to know that Elaine and I are engaged to be married. Thank you UV and know that I have the utmost respect for all that you report and all that you do. JM, Ayer MA
Wow. What a great issue, winter 2020. So many beautiful reports, messages and all around greatness. I thank you all for your work and just simply being yourselves. This letter is actually a shout out … specifically to Lisa Strawn. Every time I see your writings I stop what I’m doing. I actually skim through everything first, looking at the signatures. I start reading my paper with your writings when they’re there. We have a common ground and I just feel a connection to your words. CJF, Marianna AR
I’m doing time in MS and just read Joe White’s story (Oct. 2019) in CA who has stage 4 cancer. My mom had cancer and a naturopath helped her. Hopefully your prison will consider compassionate release or allow a cheaper cure to cancer than chemo. I’m passing this paper around in hopes the LGBTQ community will not fight each other and learn through UV we need to get along!!. JG, Yazoo MS
I go by Trish. I’m a transwoman and I have been incarcerated in Oklahoma DOC for 31 years. I finally was diagnosed to have Gender Dysphoria last year. Since then I have started hormone treatment, been approved for women’s undergarments and on Dec. 16, 2019 I was the first to be approved by the OK DOC to buy and wear make-up. MA, Lexington OK
If you can prove that you’re not being treated equal or been discriminated against because of your gender identity, here’s 2 organizations that might help: TGIF Justice 370 Turk St. #370 S.F. CA 94102, Hearts on a Wire, 1315 Spruce St. Philadelphia PA 19107 WC, Albion PA
Prison reform in this country on the STATE LEVEL is like waiting for pure, thick, uncut molasses to spill out of its glass jar. This year, 2020, needs to be the year of change in the entire judicial system all across the board not just the federal system. The Second Chance Act, signed into law in 2008, was intended to increase reentry. I do not see how when thousands and thousands of STATE prisoners still await help of any kind. Help that a lot of us are not getting due to people who are elected [and] simply tell nothing but LIES. ALR, Nashville NC
I was given a copy of UltraViolet and I’m thankful that you put out a newsletter addressing issues that I can truly relate to. I am North Carolina and housed in a ‘male’ facility against what PREA standards and NC DPS [department of public safety] policy mandate. I am an Intersex woman (hermaphrodite) and was born with a female reproductive system. Medical and administration here at Avery-Mitchell C.I. know this. They’ve seen medical records from my past and medical staff have seen it in person! Not to mention male staff who strip search me after visits. Their policy states that “complete strip searches are to be done by an officer of the same gender.” Yet they say to me that “the state says you’re a man.” Can a male have a 46xx chromosome count? Where and when does this stop?
I’ve spoken to the superintendent, the ISU captain, mental health, medical. Who do I go to next only to get a deaf ear and blind eye? I’ve been asking to go to a female facility, to be searched by female staff, to be constantly harassed and humiliated. The grievance system here doesn’t work. They retaliate if you even ask for one and they never get processed. I’m not sure where to turn to next. If anyone anywhere can help, please let me know. Ashlee Inscoe #0568587, Avery-Mitchell C.I. 600 Amity Park Rd. Spruce Pine NC 28777
Born in California?
If you were born in California, as I was, but have moved away, you may not be aware that effective September 2018, the Gender Recognition Act has paved the way for you to amend your CA birth certificate without a court order or physician’s statement, as was previously required. CA Health and Safety Code #103426 states that “The State Registrar shall issue a new birth certificate reflecting a change of gender to female, male or nonbinary without a court order for any person born in this state who submits directly to the State Registrar an application to change the gender on the birth certificate and an affidavit attesting under penalty of perjury that the request is for a change of gender to conform to the person’s gender identity and is not made for fraudulent purposes.”
You will need to obtain form VS-24 and page 3 of 3 of form VS-111 from the CA Dept. of Public Health in Sacramento or download them from the CDPH website. Not born in CA but need to know how to amend your birth certificate? Visit http://www.transequality.org. It’s important to have our legal identity match who we are. Kendra-Michelle Lovejoy, 1111 Highway 73, Moose Lake MN 55767
Low-income tenants in San Francisco are forced to fend for themselves as the for-profit landlords and executive directors for some of the city’s largest nonprofits use COVID-19 as an excuse to turn on their “Out of Office” messages. The disabled, elder residents who fill most of the city’s 19,000 subsidized Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units are used to neglect, but the surprise evaporation of the bare-minimum services that SRO management companies usually provide means tenants have to act or die trying. Their landlords stopped doing the bare minimum, like cleaning common areas and allowing food pantries like Meals on Wheels to deliver food.
Four disabled seniors at the Altamont, which is located half a block from the 16th Street BART station in the city’s Mission District, are asking for what might be the tiniest bailout in the US: free access to the coin-operated washing machines in their building, which would allow them to follow the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s guidelines that specifically lay out how to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at SROs.
The Altamont is operated by the nonprofit Mission Housing and its for-profit arm, Caritas Management. Shortly after San Francisco’s March 16 shelter-in-place order, residents noticed flyers taped to walls stating that due to COVID-19, Mission Housing would immediately close its Administrative and Resident Services offices until further notice, and food bank deliveries would cease. Two of the front desk clerks who police tenants, whether there’s a pandemic or not, also didn’t have answers as to why food deliveries were cut off even though they continued at non-Mission Housing SROs.
Out of necessity, a longtime tenant named Kimberly James raised money for groceries, while the queer anti-gentrification group Gay Shame started a “quarter drive” so residents could use the coin-operated laundry machines without having to break the shelter-in-place order to hunt down a working change machine, or panhandling. The nearest laundromat with a coin exchange is half a mile away–not impossibly far, but a literal pain for people with mobility disabilities.
James said that at first, she and her neighbors weren’t alarmed. After all, most of them have never met the executive director of Mission Housing, Sam Moss, whose position is controversial among low-income housing activists, given that Moss hails from the real estate industry and is a fixture at pro-development events, giving speeches to groups like YIMBY Neoliberal, a libertarian-leaning organization founded by a Google staffer and aspiring local politician, Steven Buss.
But when the food pantry services stopped coming in with no warning from Mission Housing, James didn’t have a choice but to figure out how she and her neighbors were going to eat. One of James’s longtime neighbors, who asked not to be named out of concern that they would become a target by Mission Housing and Caritas, said that even though they’ve lived at the Altamont for years, “It’s so funny, this disease is really bringing us together.”
The resident is worried the techies still moving to the Mission will try to push SROs, which are funded in part government subsidies and one-third of each residents’ social security checks, and low-income people out of the neighborhood.
“These mayonnaise-colored mother*******–no offense–” [The author of this article is Asian and white–and took no offense.] “The best they can come up with is to spend a million dollars to make us another app,” which was a reference to the nonprofit sf.citi, formed back in 2012 by tech investor Ron Conway. Conway’s big pitch got tons of play in the media: sf.citi would “disrupt” homelessness via a phone app that could connect people living on the street with local services. (Conway’s app never materialized–though his organization helped to fund an app developed by the SFPD and the Department of Homeland Security, JusticeMobile, which arguably just further streamlined the criminalization of homelessness.) “I’ve got an Obamaphone. So, what do you want me to do with that?”
As tenants at the Altamont worried about going hungry, Google employees who are now working from home fumed on social media about the perks they can’t access, such as the gourmet meals served up at Google’s headquarters (as one engineer lamented how “I now need to cook, do the dishes, etc.”–tasks he wasn’t prepared to take on, that were “previously handled by the office cafeteria”).
In an email, another Altamont resident wrote that “We need off-the-market, deeply affordable housing and SROs, which are being converted into luxury techie dorms like Sonder thanks to politicians like London Breed, Rafael Mandelman, and Scott Wiener.” Mutual aid projects such as the laundry-quarter fundraiser are important, they continued, but “we poor folks should not have to depend on charity.”
Still, the community organizing at the Altamont worked–to an extent. Mission Housing started allowing food deliveries back into its buildings at the end of March, seemingly responding to resident organizing and a lengthy back-and-forth between tenants and Mission Housing rep Marcia Contreras and the Mayor’s Office of Housing, which eventually sided with the resident and requested that Contreras and her team allow food bank deliveries to resume. However, Contreras refused to contact the third-party vendor that banks on the coin-operated laundry machines, or help distribute the money or laundry supplies collected to residents.
At other SROs, the situation is slightly better, but often worse. Weeks before the shelter-in-place order was issued on March 20, an SRO nonprofit in SF’s Chinatown, the Chinatown Community Development Corporation (CCDC), had already doubled janitorial hours throughout its system of over 3,000 SROs and apartments, and continues to update cleaning staff about best practices as healthcare experts learn more about how COVID-19 is spread.
Matthias Mormino, Policy Director at CCDC, explained the importance of “vulnerability assessments” it was conducting, which identifies residents who will likely need help during and after the current outbreak. “We’re calling all our buildings and doing surveys,” to find out “if people need have a health problem.” CCDC’s resident advocates then “triage them and can be like, ‘Hey, these ten people are really vulnerable, so let’s make sure we talk to them as soon as and as much as we can.’” In particular, CCDC staff is available for phone and in-person meetings to help residents who are dealing with spiraling financial hardships to fill out the often-confusing and language-barriered forms that can help them get temporary financial aid.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are places like 504 Valencia Street. Otherwise known as Casa Valencia, it’s an independently run nonprofit where management posted signs on March 16, to inform tenants that due to “the extraordinary circumstances we are all experiencing,” the next day they’d suspend janitorial services, and expected all residents to clean up after themselves.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s administration announced weeks ago they’d suspend homeless tent sweeps while the city fails to offer the vast majority of people on the streets anywhere to “shelter-in-place.” Local law enforcement and the Department of Public Works continue to put tents and people’s belongings into dumpsters. And the mayor issued an eviction moratorium in early March that was soon circulated by the largest corporate media outlets around the country—which failed to ask for details. Eviction court proceedings continued as late as March 18, and physical evictions continued until at least a week later.]
Bay Area renters join others in the US who in an international rent strike movement to try to crack the real estate industry’s increasing stranglehold on the increasing numbers of people in the US who are on the edge of homelessness. At SROs, a rent strike is a tougher proposition, since SRO owners and operators are mostly paid directly by the government, which subtracts money from the social security checks of James and her neighbors.
In April, ten out of eleven of SF’s Board of Supervisor’s asked why SF’s mayor wasn’t following through on his mid-March promise to open up many of the city’s more than 30,000 empty hotel rooms to homeless people. Mayor Breed’s public relations strategists have successfully pushed the national media to push her image as a progressive hero. The mayor’s position means she’s able to ignore the Board, and people dying on the street, as she continues to align herself with her donors from the tech and real estate industries.
Mission Housing’s inaction around the pandemic is giving us a naked view into how bad things can get when administrators of large nonprofits have little connection to the people they’re hired to help. And it also makes the direct action and perspective of people like Kimberly James, people who are working without the help of politicians, risking their lives and homes, as comforting than ever. “As you grow older,” she told me, “you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, and the other hand is for helping others.” Especially when the government and its contractors chase money and media attention while revealing how deeply they loathe poor people.
Thanks to Bob Woodward there are now recordings proving that trump knew that COVID-19 was dangerous, spreading, and killing people back in March when he was saying it wasn’t much and would go away. He knew that young people got the serious disease when he said that they weren’t at risk. By the way, he also thinks, or doesn’t think, that there is systemic racism. What would we have done without Mr. Woodward’s recently published book Rage, which will be available on September 15, for about $18 online or at your local independent bookstore.
SARS-CoV-2 is a virus. COVID-19 is a disaster created by this capitalist, racist system we live in.
Over 10 percent of the California prison population has contracted the disease (almost 2/3 of the San Quentin population). A study published by the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project found that from March 31 to June 6 there had been 42,107 cases of COVID-19 and 510 deaths among 1,295,285 incarcerated individuals, with a case rate of 3251 per 100 000, 5.5 times greater than the general population.
Until late spring, ICE (immigration and customs enforcement) refused to release data about COVID cases among people being held in its cages, warehouses, private prisons, and camps. On August 3, the International Rescue Committee reported that over 20 percent of the people who were voluntarily tested at ICE facilities tested positive, but that the test positivity rate may be as high as 80 percent in some facilities. By August, ICE had conducted 450 deportation flights this year to Mexico and 14 other countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Eleven countries confirmed that people infected with COVID had been on those flights. The IRC concluded that these flights have contributed to big increases in cases in these countries, for example El Salvador (0 to 14,000) and Guatemala (1 to over 40,000).
COVID-19 was already recognized in China before January 1, although governments paid little attention. One Chinese physician, Li Wenliang, who wrote about it to colleagues was reprimanded. He died from COVID in February. By the end of January cases had been diagnosed in other countries, including the u.s. (some in California). The CDC issued its first guidance about COVID-19, following a model developed for pandemic flu, recommending all transmission-based precautions, such as placement of patients in airborne infection isolation rooms and the use of respirators (such as N95s) by health care workers. By the end of February, hospitals across the country were already pushing back against CDC recommendations. As with H1N1 in 2009, the hospitals had not prepared for a surge of cases.
On March 1, the first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported in New York State. That week, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Health reached out to local health departments around the country to get them to join in a letter to pressure the CDC to lower protection for health care workers, saying that respirators were unnecessary, the disease is not spread by aerosols. Then COVID-19 exploded in New York, and by March 31, over 1000 people in NYC had died. With much fanfare, a u.s. navy hospital ship was sent to NYC but initially refused to treat COVID patients. Eventually they divided the ship between COVID and non-COVID, and during the month they were in NYC, treated 182 patients in this ship with a 1000 bed capacity. The hospital ship sent to LA at the same time stayed for seven weeks, treating a total of 77 patients. Several crew members contracted COVID.
As the story moved from cruise ships to nursing homes, to meat packing plants, manufacturing and construction, it became clear that the u.s. was completely unprepared and apparently unwilling to try to control the epidemic and save lives. Workers at hospitals and nursing homes were denied, or unable to get, personal protective equipment, and the federal government did little to ease shortages. Stories eventually emerged of corruption and incompetence among the friends of jared kushner who had been chosen to build up the federal stockpile. In April, kushner said, “the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” (In fact that had been the purpose of the “strategic national stockpile” which during the previous decade had been specifically allocated to regions and states.)
There has been a lot of smoke in the air lately, but some of it started in January when health care industry “experts” denied that COVID-19 was spread by the inhalation of infectious aerosols, an opinion the world health organization endorsed as recently as July. The science, however, really isn’t in dispute. For example, in July, 240 aerosol scientists signed an open letter to WHO stating, “Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking, and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in air and pose a risk of exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 m from an infected individual”
This means that workers exposed to patients with COVID-19 need to be protected against inhalation through using respirators, and patients should be placed in negative pressure rooms which prevents aerosols from traveling thought the facility. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough negative pressure rooms in California or in most other countries, for the enormous outbreaks. And somehow, nine months into this epidemic there still aren’t enough respirators. The defense production act has still not been invoked to require respirator manufacturers like 3M, to increase production. California issued $500 million in contracts to companies that had never before produced a single respirator approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (NIOSH approval is required for u.s. workers). The first of these respirators were finally received by the California stockpile in July, after several previous batches had been rejected for not having met even minimum filtration criteria.
Instead of producing more respirators, the u.s. government contracted with defense contractor batelle to set up facilities to “disinfect” N95 respirators, using high levels of hydrogen peroxide vapor in fumigation chambers. These respirators, intended for single use, are made of several layers of synthetic materials. Electrostatic charges build up between the layers and help to capture the particles. This method is defeated when the respirator becomes wet. The NIOSH approval of these respirators does not include any method of disinfection. Although the food and drug administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for this method, allowing up to 20 use/disinfection cycles for each respirator based on the manufacturer’s studies, independent studies have found decreased protection after 1-3 cycles. NIOSH has been mostly silent on the lack of respirator supply and alternatives to protect workers. NIOSH has never approved disinfection methods for filtering facepiece respirators, but has not disputed the EUA.
Are we all in this together?
In March, the white house COVID taskforce began its “we are all in this together” campaign.
We are not.
On September 5, the CDC published that African American and Latinx people are each at 4.7 times the risk of hospitalization from COVID 19 compared to white people. George Washington University’s Lisa Bowleg explained in a July editorial, We’re Not All in This Together, “The current presidential administration’s response to COVID-19 has unnecessarily exacerbated pain and suffering. But the pain and suffering have not been equally borne. COVID-19 reveals disproportionate risk and impact based on structured inequality at intersections of racial/ethnic minority status and class, as well as occupation. Many of the riskiest and most stressful frontline jobs now deemed essential offer low pay and are occupied by people at the most marginalized intersections: racial/ethnic minorities, women, and undocumented workers. These intersections contrast starkly with those of the predominantly White, middle-class, and rich people who hire, legislate, and direct the conditions under which the “essential”—or expendable, depending on your point of view—work and, in the COVID-19 era, live or die.”
Starting in late February in Washington State, and continuing around the country skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities had outbreaks affecting both staff and residents. In the period May through August it was estimated that 35-40 percent of u.s. COVID-19 deaths were related to nursing homes.
COVID-19 continues to ravage California prisons, where San Quentin made the news for over two months. So far, 2200 of the 3700 people incarcerated at the prison have been infected with COVID-19. According to the CDCR statistics there have also been over 2200 cases at Avenal with 351 new cases in the last 14 days. Large outbreaks are also currently occurring at Folsom State Prison and Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. Hundreds of incarcerated people have been infected at Chuckawalla Valley, the California Institution for Men, California Institution for Women, and many others. Of approximately 115,000 people incarcerated in california’s prisons, as of the beginning of September over 10 percent are recorded as testing positive. This doesn’t include the people who became sick prior to the testing program. (Of California’s almost 40,000,000 people, 757,000 have tested positive, a rate of 1.8 percent.) Twenty-six incarcerated individuals have died of COVID at San Quentin and 21 at the California Institution for Men, a total of 59 in the system, according to CDCR records. Nine employees at the prisons have also died.
There has been a critical lack of information regarding occupational risk, even regarding actual case counts and deaths among healthcare workers. A study published earlier this year found that of the 315,000 COVID cases reported to the CDC through April 9, only 16 percent indicated whether the person was a health care worker. The CDC later reported that through the end of July, almost 120,000 health care workers had been infected and at least 587 had died. As with the April report, this is considered to be a drastic underestimate, given that 84% of reports did not include occupation.
Heroes Work Here
These days, it seems like every hospital and long term care facility has a banner or sign proclaiming “Heroes Work Here.” This idea of not providing health care workers with the safety equipment they need, while calling them heroes as they get sick, and in some cases die, actually goes back to 2003 SARS in Toronto. In that situation as well, the managers denied health care workers respirators, and didn’t use airborne infection isolation rooms.
Under the California Stay at Home Order workers in thirteen industry sectors considered “critical infrastructure” were not required to, or in many cases even permitted to, stay at home. These industries included health care, agriculture and food processing, transportation, waste and waste water treatment, etc.
Black and Latinx workers are much more likely to work in “essential industries,” where there are many reports of COVID infection clusters and deaths. In the beginning of September, the local health department ordered a Foster Farms chicken processing facility in Lancaster CA to shut down some of its operations after 392 positive tests and eight reported COVID deaths out of 1400 workers at the plant. The next day some areas of the plant were back in operation. On June 25, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported that nationwide 238 of its members in grocery, meatpacking, food processing and health care — had died from COVID-19 and about 29,000 had been infected or exposed since the beginning of the pandemic.
Many factors increase the risk to workers in certain industries. Workers in agriculture are often transported to jobs in crowded trucks or busses by farm labor contractors, and may sleep in crowded “labor camps” or “employer provided housing,” which often lack even sufficient plumbing. Many seasonal farm workers are on H2A visas which require the employer to provide housing, which is often several people crowded into each room in what were formerly substandard motels.
OSHA and the OSHA state plans like Cal/OSHA have been extremely slow to protect workers. This despite Cal/OSHA having a regulation in place for over 10 years that applies to health care facilities and prisons, and requires specific control measures for novel diseases such as COVID-19. The federal OSHA data base shows 2000 complaints received by Cal/OSHA and considered valid since March. (This does not include fatalities and hospitalizations which are reported separately). But it wasn’t until September 4, that Cal/OSHA finally announced that it has issued its first citations for COVID-19 hazards, to 11 employers. One was in health care.
Months ago, unions petitioned federal OSHA to adopt an emergency regulation to protect workers from COVID-19. This petition was turned down. California regulations are adopted by the occupational safety and health standard board who will finally consider a petition for an emergency regulation on September 17. Because there is already a regulation in place, although not being enforced, for health care, prisons, and certain other environments, this emergency regulation will likely apply in agriculture, food processing and other “essential” industries, as well as workplaces in general.
The Economic Crisis
Estimates are that less than 1/3 of workers can work from home. The federal $600 per week unemployment supplement has ended, and a smaller more restricted $300 per week may be made available through the states. At the beginning of August, over a million unemployed workers in California were still waiting for any unemployment check.
A national estimate at the end of July was that over 12 million people, 40 percent of renters in the u.s., will be at risk of eviction by the end of the year. On September 1, gov. newsom signed AB 3088, a limited extension of the eviction moratorium that had been included in his initial executive orders. This moratorium will prevent evictions for non-payment of rent until February, so long as a tenant pays twenty five percent of the rent. The landlord can still try to collect unpaid rents from earlier in the year. Without the law, the Aspen institute estimated that 4 million Californians were at risk of eviction.
According to the u.s. census bureau, as of late July, 12.1% of adults lived in households that didn’t have enough to eat at some point in the previous week, which is an increase from 9.8% in early May. Almost 20% of Americans with children living at home couldn’t afford to give their children enough food, an increase from almost 17% in the beginning of June.
Of course, the stock market has recovered. Pharmaceutical companies are prospering. Hospitals have laid off staff because of the decrease in revenue due to canceling of elective procedures, but are doing well financially, particularly since they don’t have to buy respirators or safety equipment. Dentists, who successfully pressured the CDC to reduce infection control recommendations, really want you to come in for a cleaning, or hopefully some more expensive procedure. Root canal, anyone?
The national government has given industry everything they could ask for. The American hospital association, and the professional associations who front for them, set policy for the CDC. They continue to push laws that would prevent people from suing businesses for COVID exposures.
In California, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GOBIZ) is the lead agency for COVID-19 guidance and recommendations, with or without consultation with public or occupational health. Oh, and remember when newsom took office and proclaimed a moratorium on executions? Well, he has now allowed COVID to kill 13 people on death row, a number equal to all the executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.
It is easy to believe pretty much any conspiracy theory involving trump & co. Maybe they created or spread a virus developed as a bio-weapon to use on China. Maybe they hoped the “boomer-doomer” virus would lower corporate pension obligations and let them steal more money from social security and medicare. Maybe they intentionally allowed the crisis to grow in order to disrupt the elections, and legitimize a coup, which according to many people interviewed on KPFA has already occurred. Maybe you are paranoid.
Or maybe you think, like Ann Fagin Ginger said after the passage of the Patriot Act, that the right wing always has programs in the drawer that they are ready to pull out whenever some crisis presents an opportunity, such as the 9-11 attacks. Or a novel virus.