Newsletter: ‘Less lethal,’ but no less controversial

Protester arrested in Los Angeles
An LAPD officer in the foreground holds a less-lethal launcher as fellow officers take a protester into custody during recent demonstrations in the Fairfax District.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 12. I’m Deborah Netburn, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Yucca Valley.

The stories and images are devastating and graphic.

A protester struck in the mouth by a police projectile, his lip busted, his teeth cracked. His friend hit in the neck.

A young man rushed to the hospital for a swollen testicle after being shot in the groin, an emergency surgery his only hope of having children of his own.

“We are protesting police brutality and then being brutalized by police while we’re protesting,” said Deon Jones, 28, who suffered two cracked bones in his face, a head injury and stitches across his cheek from a police baton.


After reviewing dozens of instances of police force during local protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, my colleagues Kevin Rector, Soumya Karlamangla and Richard Winton report that demonstrators have suffered a range of injuries at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department — from minor bruising due to baton strikes to serious injuries caused by foam and sponge bullets and beanbags.

Many of these acts of violence appear to violate the department’s own policies for when to use weapons.

[Read the story: “LAPD’s use of batons, other weapons appears to violate rules, significantly injuring protesters, Times review finds” in the Los Angeles Times]

Department policy for such weapons requires they be used only on individuals who present a clear and immediate threat and are specifically targeted, and from at least five feet away, my colleagues wrote.

It also mandates officers aim at individuals’ navel or belt line first, and then their arms and legs if initial shots are ineffective. Officers are not supposed to aim at people’s heads or necks. They are not to use the weapons in response to verbal threats or “mere noncompliance.” They are not to fire the weapons at people running away.

While there has still been no formal assessment of how many protesters were hurt, city officials including Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the actions of police officers who clashed with protesters in recent weeks are now under review.


To learn more about the weapons that police are deploying on protesters, my colleague Jim Rainey takes a closer look at what’s known as the “40-millimeter Less-Lethal Launcher.” The Less-Lethal Launchers, or LLLs as the LAPD calls them, are generally loaded with single-shot hard foam projectiles.

Police departments and weapons manufacturers have suggested that they cause less serious injuries than other “less-lethal” alternatives because they allow more precise targeting of suspects. Critics are dubious.

“If you fire at close range or at someone’s head, they do a lot of damage, and the question is, what danger were these protesters posing?” Carol Sobel, a civil rights attorney, told Rainey.

An LAPD spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the use of the 40-millimeter launcher and will release the findings “at a later time.”

[Read the story: “LAPD use of projectile launchers on protesters sparks claims of excessive force” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Orange County rescinds its mask mandate: Residents of Orange County will no longer be required to wear facial covering in public, officials announced Thursday. The revised order was made by Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, who recently stepped into the job after the abrupt resignation Monday of former county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick.

Quick came under intense fire by some residents and elected officials after mandating the wearing of cloth masks in public in late May. It got so bad that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department provided a security detail for the doctor after she received what officials deemed to be a death threat during a meeting last month.

Chau said his decision to relax the facial covering mandate was not because of public pushback.

“I want to be clear: This does not diminish the importance of face coverings,” he said. “I stand with the public health experts and believe wearing cloth face coverings helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community and save lives.” Los Angeles Times

Testing missteps and outbreaks of coronavirus continue to ravage skilled nursing facilities. Testing for staff and residents remains spotty at best as some California nursing homes continue to see devastating outbreaks of the coronavirus. In one nursing home in Norwalk, 42 residents and 32 employees tested positive for the virus and at least six have died. The company that runs the home admits it took more than a week to get staff tested after the first resident tested positive in mid-May. Los Angeles Times

A Long Beach doctor treats protesters for free. Dr. Amir Moarefi, an ophthalmologist based in Long Beach, posted on Instagram that he would treat protesters for free, and hundreds of people have taken him up on it. Much of the work has been virtual consults FaceTime chats, and feedback on photos, but he has seen some protesters in person. He has also put together a loose network of medical professionals across the country to help out. LAist


A deep dive on L.A.’s Black cowboy community. Multimedia journalist Walter Thompson-Hernández talks to the L.A. Times about his new book “The Compton Cowboys,” which profiles nine Black cowboys and one Black cowgirl who learned to ride horses at Richland Farms, an oasis in the heart of urban Compton, where Black cowboys have been welcomed since the 1950s. The group’s motto: “Streets raised us. Horses saved us.” Los Angeles Times

The Compton Cowboys ride down South Tamarind Avenue.
The Compton Cowboys ride down South Tamarind Avenue, along with hundreds of people marching, during the Compton Peace Ride on June 7.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

USC removes the name of former president and eugenics supporter from a campus building. USC has removed the name of one of its former longtime presidents, Rufus Von KleinSmid, from a prominent campus building because his active support of eugenics is “at direct odds” with the university’s multicultural community and mission of diversity and inclusion, President Carol L. Folt announced Thursday. Los Angeles Times

Even before the pandemic struck, the percentage of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County grew by double digits from 2019 to 2020. An estimated 66,433 people in L.A. County were experiencing homelessness in January, up 13% from 2019 officials announced Friday. However, experts said the situation is almost certainly worse today after hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Los Angeles Times

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San Francisco’s mayor announces a new blueprint for police. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a four-point plan to transform day-to-day policing in the city, in part by having trained and non-armed professionals rather than sworn officers respond to noncriminal calls like neighbor disputes and behavioral health crises. The plan is low on specifics — no firm timeline, no budget details — but it was praised by the police chief and civil rights groups. San Francisco Chronicle


L.A.’s landlords fight back against eviction protections. Southern California’s largest landlord organization has taken legal action against the city of Los Angeles to strip away protections from evictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit argues that the city’s efforts to prevent evictions for those who can’t pay due to the economic or health effects of the coronavirus violate landlords’ 5th Amendment rights against government taking of their property without compensation. Los Angeles Times


One Oakland bar in lockdown — 17 lives upended. When his favorite neighborhood bar shut down at the start of the pandemic, a reporter followed its bartenders, cleaners and line cooks for three months as they struggled to make rent, pay their phone bill, fight depression and battle cancer. New York Times

You can start planning for Coachella 2021 now. Festival promoter Goldenvoice announced that the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which has been postponed because of the pandemic, will occur, “as of now,” on April 9-11, with the second weekend occurring April 16-18. As well, Goldenvoice announced that its flagship country music festival, Stagecoach, will convene on April 23-25. Los Angeles Times

House plants and astrology??? My colleagues in the Lifestyle section have put together this totally silly, super fun guide to help you find the right plant for your astrology sign. I mean, why not? IT’S FRIDAY. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: mostly sunny, 72 . San Francisco: cloudy, 63. San Jose: cloudy, 72. Fresno: cloudy, 90. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 79. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Eric Jay Sonnenschein:

I first visited L.A. as a singer seeking a record contract. I wore a pirate’s costume — balloon pants, a roomy shirt, a belt sash, a bandana and an eye patch. I had no credit card to rent a car, so I took buses and walked everywhere. Tramping miles between labels, I often left my demo with guards. Once I sneaked into a Hollywood office and entered a room of men in suits. When they saw me in my pirate’s togs they burst out laughing. Before I left, the receptionist said, “You made a group of lawyers laugh. That never happens.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.