To cap a reasonably insane week with some Los Angeles areas (like Woodland Hills) putting up temperature numbers above 115 degrees, which sounds more like Death Valley then LA, something new happened. Some damned fool decided to make a getaway—from what, I’m not quite sure—and as I write this column, his car, last I looked, was standing still in the middle of PCH in the Carbon Beach area, after a hot pursuit by what looks like an entire police force now parked behind him. This guy needs a new line of work, which I suspect he will learn where he’s probably going.

Police work has always been kind of an interesting and edgy profession, but never before can I remember it being under the microscope as it is today. Everything everyone does, particularly where there is a shooting death, is going to be examined from every possible angle, especially when the deceased is unarmed or a person of color. The day when the involved police department or a local prosecutor could investigate the event is probably past because we’ve all seen too many shootings, too many deaths and too many investigative calls that defied belief. Now, everyone wants to see an independent third party investigate what happened. Today, when everything, including the videos—and there are always videos—hits the internet, everything is public, including the pressure on the chief of police and perhaps the top echelon of the police department to resign. It just happened in Rochester, NY, because of the death from the “spit hood” incident. At first I thought this really unfair to the chief. After all, they’re not at the scene when it happens. It might have been a good officer making a difficult call or even a bad call or a bad officer with a history of making bad calls, but no matter, the buck stops at the chief. Holding the chief and the top echelon responsible is not unprecedented either. The Navy, for example, gives the captain of a ship near total authority. If anything bad happens, the captain is held to answer, even if he’s in bed when it happens, or perhaps not even on board the ship. It’s a career killer and sometimes unfair but it forces the captain to be totally engaged. If a police department has had racial incidents, or iffy shootings, often with substantial liability to the cities, perhaps the police chief should take the fall. Because a lot of police chiefs are going to see that their job security depends on making sure that their departments don’t make those kinds of mistakes. I don’t know what the city budget is in Kenosha, Wis., but I can tell you, lifetime care of a paraplegic, particularly a young man with kids, runs into the millions and millions and they or their insurers are looking at a heck of a lot of exposure. A lot of cities may not understand justice or racial justice but they all understand money. If they can’t afford to pick up the garbage or keep the streets clean because they’re paying off liability claims, there will be political changes and attitude shifts.

•••

The state government in Sacramento, meaning the California State Senate and the State Assembly, wrapped up their legislative session last week and I would have to confess they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. Considering that California is pretty much a one-party state where the percentage of Republicans keeps dropping, you might think a legislature made up overwhelming of one party, the Democrats, could find agreement on many issues—and, the fact is, they do. The Speaker of the Assembly, who is the leader, Anthony Rendon, and the Senate leader, pro tem of the Senate Toni Atkins, pretty much have similar philosophies, except for one small thing. They apparently don’t seem to like each other very much. One of the major issues this year they were trying to deal with is a gigantic lack of affordable housing; in fact, it’s well beyond that. It’s a major lack of any kind of housing, affordable or otherwise, that we’re missing. There were a bunch of bills thrown into the hopper, many of which would have helped the housing situation, and none of any consequence made it through. That equals no change, and an even greater shortage of housing, so rents are staying high, because effectively there is no competition. The last housing bill died at 11:45 p.m. because they ran out of time to pass it before the midnight deadline. 

Another topic that was on the legislature’s hot list was to reform the rules around police departments, perhaps the use of deadly force, and to make information about the departments and individual officers more open and available. We’ve long had a very strong police lobby and most police information is shrouded in secrecy. Coming along in the political climate after the killing of George Floyd, who was suffocated in Minneapolis, there seemed to be a real political appetite for change. Again, for reasons that are not yet quite clear to me, all the proposed significant legislation died.  We are probably among the bluest state in the union but there doesn’t seem to be any overall consensus on police reform.

 

•••

There is a lot of pressure from the White House to come up with a vaccine for the coronavirus, or at least the promise of an early prospect of a vaccine. The alphabet soup of federal agencies like the CDC and FDA are sort of rolling over like kittens to the pressure and the drug industry is justifiably worried that presidential politics and not science are leading them into dangerous territory. In a surprising show of strength, nine companies have signed a pledge that they will not submit vaccine candidates for FDA review until their safety and efficacy are shown in large clinical trials, which takes it long past election day. The signers include AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novavax, BioNTech and Sanofi, all major players in the pharmaceutical industry. Kudos to them for courage.

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