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Today’s Headlines: After racist texts, California attorney general to investigate Torrance police

Torrance police vehicles outside the Gable House Bowl
Torrance police vehicles outside the Gable House Bowl after a shooting in 2019.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, it’s Thursday, Dec. 9. Here are some of our top stories you don’t want to miss.

TOP STORIES

California attorney general to investigate Torrance police

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said his office would investigate the Torrance Police Department after a scandal that revealed more than a dozen police officers had exchanged racist text messages for years, joked about using violence against suspects and mocked the idea that internal affairs might catch them.

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The announcement came hours after The Times published an investigation revealing that more than a dozen Torrance police officers had exchanged racist and antisemitic texts and images recently uncovered as part of a criminal investigation into two former officers. (Bonta’s review had been in the works before The Times article was published.)

Fifteen officers are on administrative leave, according to a Torrance police spokesman. The officers identified by The Times were involved in at least seven serious or fatal uses of force against Black or Latino men since 2013.

Young Latinos are dying of COVID at an alarming rate

In California, younger Latinos are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than their white and Asian counterparts. Younger Black people also are dying at high rates, but the disparity is starkest for Latinos.

As more people get vaccinated, pandemic restrictions lift and the economy rebounds, the families of the young Latinos who died will feel the loss for decades to come — not just the grief but also the long-term financial hardships.

It will be harder for their children to get an education and achieve upward mobility, potentially widening the class divide in the coming decades.

In our sister newsletter the Latinx Files publishing later this morning, Fidel Martinez looks at this article and others in a package of stories by colleague Alejandra Reyes-Velarde on the enormous toll that the pandemic has taken on the community.

L.A. Unified employees lose their jobs over vaccine requirement

Nearly 500 Los Angeles school district employees have lost their jobs for failing to meet the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, officials announced. The number represents less than 1% of about 73,000 employees, a compliance rate the school system characterizes as a success.

The total of terminated employees is much smaller than feared. Seven of the dismissed employees held teaching credentials, although officials did not indicate whether they were classroom teachers. An unknown number of workers remain in limbo while their requests for exemptions continue to be evaluated.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • Pfizer said preliminary findings show that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine may offer protection against the Omicron variant.
  • Evidence suggests that, after decades of safety gains, the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless as car crash deaths surge.
  • This Los Angeles family was barely scraping by as janitors before the pandemic. Now, they’re struggling to survive.
  • Rosa Cardenas started with a single sewing machine that enabled her children to open their stores and vaulted her grandchildren into the white-collar world. In the face of COVID, her family protects her legacy.

A carbon-neutral U.S. government

President Biden signed an executive order to make the federal government carbon-neutral by 2050. It directs that government buildings use 100% carbon-pollution-free electricity by 2030; that the U.S. fleet of cars and trucks become all-electric by 2035; and that federal contracts for goods and services be carbon-free by 2050.

Through the executive order, the government will transform its portfolio of 300,000 buildings, fleet of 600,000 cars and trucks and annual purchasing power of $650 billion in goods and services to achieve net-zero emissions over the next three decades, the White House said.

More politics

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

A bird on a tree branch is outlined by the sun, shining amid clouds.
Images from a rainforest. A bird perches on a tree at sunrise near the Amazon village of Tumbira. More images here from The Times’ coverage of the destruction of rainforests in Brazil and Indonesia.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

California goes to war with food waste. A state law on Jan. 1 will require Californians to separate organic material from their other garbage. It’s a landmark reform that aims to transform the state’s throwaway culture to ease pressure on landfills and reduce the climate-warming fallout of our trashy norm.

The Oakland City Council backtracks with a vote to add police. The council has been a longtime leader in the Black Lives Matter movement to cut police funding. But six of its eight members voted to add two police academies and unfreeze positions as the city grapples with a rise in homicides and gun violence.

L.A. County will pay $2.75 million in a deputy’s beating of a mentally ill man. The payout settles a lawsuit filed by the man, Barry Montgomery, who was confronted in a Willowbrook park by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies from the Compton station.

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NATION-WORLD

Olaf Scholz is Germany’s next chancellor, opening a new era. The center-left leader took over after Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure. His government takes office with high hopes of modernizing Germany and combating climate change, but a tough phase of the pandemic remains ahead.

The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics grows to include the U.K. and Australia. The two countries join the U.S. and Lithuania in refusing to attend over human rights concerns. China responded furiously after the Australian announcement, saying no Australian officials had been invited to the Olympics and “no one would care about whether they come or not.”

A bittersweet escape for Afghans from a music school has gone silent. A music school in Afghanistan saw its students perform at concert halls worldwide. But now, instead of musicians with instrument cases, Taliban fighters carry Kalashnikovs, guarding the hallways.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Hollywood’s diversity awakening hit a speed bump in 2021. If 2020 was the year of awakening, then 2021 was the year of accountability, as observers and consumers looked to cultural institutions, corporations and individuals to make good on their promises. Major awards shows illustrated the industry’s still-spotty record.

“Don’t Look Up,” but there’s a scattershot satire headed your way on Netflix. It’s a semi-sweet, mostly sour comic dispatch from a world where wonder is for dummies and collective unity is a joke, writes The Times’ Justin Chang.

Britney Spears now can sign her own documents and manage her finances. Judge Brenda J. Penny granted a motion giving those rights back to the pop star at a hearing Wednesday afternoon. Attorneys representing the singer and her father also reportedly traded barbs as proposed orders for how to wrap up the conservatorship were reviewed.

BUSINESS

California’s attorney general alleges that a home flipper illegally evicted tenants. High-profile house-flipping company Wedgewood has reached a $3.5-million settlement with the state attorney general’s office to resolve the allegations, including depriving tenants of power and water. Wedgewood denies any wrongdoing, and a court must still approve the agreement.

The Amsterdam of the far West? West Hollywood is aiming for a new distinction, as a sort of Amsterdam of the far West, fusing California’s recreational weed culture with the city’s own fun and creative vibe. Jay-Z seems to approve.

SPORTS

“We were that close.” California School for the Deaf in Riverside had its greatest season in program history, drawing national attention along the way in a storybook season, undefeated through 12 games. CSDR lost in the Southern Section 8-man Division 2 championship game 74-22 to Canoga Park Faith Baptist on Nov. 27. The narrative ran out of words, one chapter short.

Which school aced the college football hiring spree? This year, nine of the top 20 head coaching jobs in the sport were opened. The result of it all will be the most intriguing college football regular season possibly ever in 2022, with the whole country following each week to see who’s a stud or a dud in their new posts.

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OPINION

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, Congress could protect abortion rights. At least in theory. Most Americans support abortion rights, and a slim majority of Congress does too. Arguably, a law might be just as good, and in some ways better, than relying on the protection of the courts, writes columnist Nicholas Goldberg.

How to get our sad and anxious kids from traumatized to OK. The pandemic rocked the mental health of children. Ignoring this will be an issue that haunts the nation for decades with higher rates of addiction, fractured family lives and other health and social ills.

ONLY IN L.A.

Al Franken, left, is joined by Wilma Rudolph.
(Courtesy of Franken family)

The bad news is that Los Angeles lost its own P.T. Barnum on Tuesday afternoon. Al Franken died at age 96. Franken (no, not the comic-turned-senator) was a force of energy, innovation and craziness, a man who made gimmicks into staples and sports into fun, writes sports columnist Bill Dwyre.

Franken promoted indoor track in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. And he did so unlike any other promoter in any other sport. Others had rules. Franken had none, just instincts.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Two FBI agents displaying ransom money
Two FBI agents displaying ransom money for kidnapped Frank Sinatra Jr. in California in 1963.
(Los Angeles Times)

This week marks 58 years since Frank Sinatra Jr., the son of one of America’s most famous entertainers, was kidnapped at gunpoint.

The three kidnappers released the 19-year-old days later for $240,000 in ransom from his wealthy father. The three men were arrested soon afterward. They were tried and sentenced to life in prison, although each was released in less than five years.

Actor John Stamos narrated a podcast series retelling the event earlier this year and centering on Barry Keenan, one of the kidnappers.

Today’s newsletter was curated by Elvia Limón and Laura Blasey. Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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