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Friday, December 4, 2020

Ohio Could Lose Key Part of COVID Response Support

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2020 at 9:25 AM

SECOND HARVEST FOODBANK
  • Second Harvest Foodbank

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio soon could lose a key source of support in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through an emergency authorization, the federal government is funding 75% of the Ohio National Guard's COVID-19 response work through the end of the year. Roughly 1,800 National Guard members are serving in logistical and public health roles.

Julie Chase-Morefied, president and chief executive of the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, said Guard members are doing the heavy lifting, "helping pull orders, loading trucks, packing boxes, sorting food donations, and then they've helped to set up drive-through mobile distributions."

U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. are leading the request for an extension of federal support. Morefield said Ohio's entire congressional delegation has signed the letter.

"We are so fortunate legislators recognize how critical the National Guard support is," she said, "not only to the food banks, but also to the medical facilities, to correctional facilities, to the nursing homes, to rolling out the vaccine."

Gov. Mike DeWine also has asked FEMA and other federal agencies to extend full federal funding for the National Guard through March 31.

While their deployments are up at the end of this month, the 360 Ohio National Guard members who are serving at food-bank warehouses will begin a two-week quarantine Dec. 17. Chase-Morefield said losing their help unfortunately comes at a time when there are fewer volunteers, and a higher demand for emergency food assistance.

"We had a distribution right before Thanksgiving, and we had over 2,600 families waiting in their cars for hours to receive food," she said, "and you can just see the concern and the worry on their faces."

Since April, she added, Ohio National Guard members have helped distribute more than 33 million pounds of food to families in need.

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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Cleveland Police Report on May 30th Provides Faulty Framework for More Police Violence

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 10:29 PM

EMANUEL WALLACE / SCENE
  • Emanuel Wallace / Scene
According to an internal review of Cleveland Police conduct on May 30th, 2020, local officers understood the precise use of force guidelines by which they are governed. The munitions teams who launched cannisters of tear gas and fired pepper balls, pepper spray, flash grenades, and assorted less-than-lethal bullets into a crowd at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center six months ago "acted within their training and used munitions effectively" as crowd control measures.

"When officers used force," the report asserted, "injuries to citizens were minor or non-existent."

John Sanders, the 24-year-old Sandusky resident who was shot in the eye with a beanbag round while snapping a photograph outside the Justice Center and who later had his eyeball surgically removed, would likely dispute the characterization of his injury as minor or non-existent. (Sanders was shot by a Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Deputy, not a Cleveland Police Officer, for the record, though the distinction is no doubt immaterial to him.) 

The report, released Thursday, was overseen by retired Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Michael Black and was an attempt to document "all aspects" of the civil unrest on the day of the George Floyd demonstrations in Cleveland. It included the compilation and analysis of police reports, body camera footage, local media accounts, social media posts and internal intelligence.

The day's events, which evolved from an afternoon protest into scattered evening riots, have been reconstructed in meticulous, if sometimes suspect, detail. That's in keeping with the report's stated aims: not to ascertain why the demonstration became violent, but to document what happened in order to improve police policies and procedures. The first half is a panoramic, hour-by-hour timeline of the chaos. It conveys well the extent of property damage downtown. The time and location of every broken window and every trash can set ablaze is recorded with precision.

It also confirms what had been previously known: that Cleveland Police were in tactical disarray for much of the afternoon and evening, overwhelmed both by the size of the crowd and the scope of attendees' responses. CPD's initial intelligence, harvested from a Facebook event post, dramatically underestimated the eventual number of protesters. The report describes attendance as "more than 1,000" at both 1:30 and 3 p.m., but based on personal observations I think it may have been closer to 3,000.

At a virtual press conference with the city's top safety personnel Thursday afternoon, Police Chief Calvin Williams described the report's recommendations as largely matters of personnel and equipment. Even if all 1,600 of the city's police officers had been downtown, he said, property damage and looting likely could not have been prevented entirely. But better planning, more officers and more strategic staging of "assets" could have more effectively controlled the crowd and ameliorated some of the damage. "It would have been a better outcome," he said, though he doubted that use of force could have been prevented even with maximal staffing levels. 

That view is reflected in many of the report's recommendations. Some of them, including sensible suggestions about interagency coordination and large-scale event preparation, have already been implemented. But many of the others presage the escalating militarization of the department. Indeed, the unchallenged consensus that Cleveland Police were "unprepared" or "ill-equipped" for the demonstrations leads to almost no other outcome.

The report, then, serves a familiar purpose. Just as the erroneous information that Mayor Frank Jackson and Chief Calvin Williams fed the media in the immediate aftermath of the unrest supported a narrative whereby a violent police response was proper and good, the report, which absurdly overplays the "tactics" of protesters, creates a framework for ongoing police violence. The principles of the police response on May 30th are never questioned. It's taken for granted that officers behaved commendably under extraordinary pressure. Their use of force isn't even detailed beyond the mention of 19 complaints registered with the Department of Internal Affairs and the Office of Professional Standards.

In order to prevent another riot, the report concludes, the department simply needs more resources: more officers at more locations, more weapons, bigger and better gear.

In that case, it's worth considering: What would a fully "equipped," "prepared" department have looked like on May 30? And what will it look like next time? Hundreds of officers in full tactical body armor and shields, tear gas bazookas perched on every shoulder, tanks circling every grouping of six or more teenagers waving signs? Are we to shrug and accept that this is simply the appearance of a local law enforcement agency in the 21st century devoted to its citizens' First Amendment rights, as Williams insisted Thursday? Is this what citizens want?

Whether we want it or not, that appears to be where we're headed. More officers have already been trained on the ordnance unit, which is tasked with firing weapons upon crowds. Next up is more launchers to equip them with.

12.2.20_launchers.png

And because these officers will be taking up considerably more space in their bulky tactical gear — to withstand the barrage of fruits and vegetables heaved in their direction — the department now urgently requires much roomier and more protective vehicles, i.e., tanks. (The vehicle described below, which should "protect from projectiles" is no doubt an MRAP, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that has become increasingly popular with American police departments of all sizes.) 

12.3.20_mrap.png

Not for nothing, but this is the opposite of defunding the police. And, if pursued, these acquisitions would represent enormous outlays of public dollars at a time of nationwide police controversy and fiscal precarity.

But justification for these acquisitions is nevertheless baked into the report itself. Though instances of police use of force are not discussed in detail, protester "tactics" are listed repeatedly and at length. After they are described throughout the timeline, they are synthesized in their own special section, which contains more head-spinning stupidity than the rest of the report combined. 

12.3.20_tactics.png

I say without glibness that most of this is just too dumb to comment on. These aren't tactics so much as spontaneous expressions of self-defense. When an actively deploying pepper spray cannister is aimed at your face, you too might use the "tactic" of trying to bat it away. Others are just retroactive attempts by the police to save face. It's not like the size of the crowd, for example, was some big tactical secret. It's not like "those planning bad acts" instructed hundreds of attendees not to respond to the Facebook event to dupe the cops. Protests were happening nationwide. The momentum was organic. The police simply relied on weak intelligence. 

The very first "tactic" noted, though, does require comment because it seems designed specifically to anticipate a legal challenge. Cleveland.com's Cory Shaffer reported that police gave no audible dispersal warning, as required by law, before they began firing munitions into the crowd. This was corroborated by a number of eye witness accounts, (and my own, for what it's worth). But now, police can point to this report in their defense. It was the rioters, they can say, who tactically raised their voices to "drown out" the reading of the dispersal order. Absolutely risible.

Careful readers may also notice that throughout the timeline, certain alleged actions by protesters are duplicated or nearly duplicated, raising questions about the narrative's overall accuracy. Some are plausible repeat offenses. The protester with the green laser pointer, for example — referenced in the Rioter Tactics section above — is mentioned no less than four times during the timeline. (One senses this caused particular agitation among the riot police.)

Other examples of duplication are more questionable. They point to imprecision in the timeline's reconstruction, which might mean dishonesty by reporting officers, dishonesty by those producing the report itself or dishonesty by those even higher up the food chain. This could very well be an echo of the same tendency to exaggerate the actions of protesters to justify the police response. 

To take one example, there was reportedly a broadcast between 3:30 and 3:44 p.m. of "a male wearing a black mask throwing an object under a black Chevy Impala."

Nothing came of this observation, incidentally, but for whatever reason it merits inclusion in the report. It sure raises suspicion, though, doesn't it? Who was the male? What was the object? Was it a bomb?

In the report, those facts are irrelevant. Likewise the facts associated with an "unknown male" who, the report says, at 4:18 p.m. "placed a black bag under a black car." Is this the same male who threw the object under the black Impala? Is this the same event, accidentally duplicated less than an hour later? If not, what was in this new black bag? Did anyone bother to investigate? 

Other examples are even sloppier:

12.3.20_stole.png

12.3.20_stole2.png

Other than "protesters" magically becoming "rioters" between 3:21 and 4:02 p.m., this is the identical event. Word for word. I happened to witness the event in question, though I couldn't say for sure which time is accurate. I can say that it happened only once. So why does it appear in the report twice? Was this a mistake? If so, by whom? Those reporting the incident or those writing the review?

On a similar note, one of the issues that the review was meant to address was the breakdown in communication which led to Chief Williams getting so many facts wrong in the ensuing days.

Scene wrote at the time that Williams lied to the media, and we suggested a straightforward reason for his doing so: to shape a narrative in which the police were justified in firing upon the crowd. If the riot police were being attacked with rocks and bricks and glass bottles of urine, as Williams claimed erroneously, and if protesters had breached the justice center, as he explosively alleged more than once, then police had every reason to fire back. It was they who needed to defend themselves; what's more, they had to defend the public turf! The report's timeline achieves a similar effect with humdingers like: "There was a constant barrage of hard objects, such as frozen water bottles, frozen eggs, metal wrenches, and frozen vegetables thrown at the officers holding the field force line." (Italics added.) 

A constant barrage of metal wrenches.

In any case, after Scene's piece, Williams said that he was not lying. He had no reason to lie! He was merely conveying information that he had at the time. Scene asked at Thursday's press conference, then, how he came by this bad information. Who told him that protesters breached the Justice Center? Where was the communication breakdown? In response, Williams directed us to page 13 of the report — though it had not yet been released to the media — and said it would show clearly the sequence of events which led to his statement. 

Here it is:

12.3.20_justicecenter.png

Hm.

Well, that explanation holds water from about 5:59 p.m. on May 30 to — in the most generous possible interpretation — maybe 6:04. If this report were taken seriously, officers would have been dispatched inside the Justice Center to collect these stealthy rioters who somehow made it past the police line without police detection. There are two possibilities: Either 1) an officer would have radioed immediately to say that the information provided by the Sheriff's Deputy about the breach was incorrect, or else 2) officers would have radioed a few minutes later, after sprinting to confront the rioters in the Clerk's office, finding none, and reporting a false alarm. 

Yet hours later, at a city press conference, as Frank Jackson declared a military-style curfew, Williams had not yet been set straight. On the contrary, he embellished these facts further, saying that protesters had not only breached the Justice Center, but had been starting fires and attempting to free the prisoners, an allegation that even the report dares not countenance. Williams doubled down on these allegations days later, in a private meeting with the editorial board of the Plain Dealer/cleveland.com, even after pressed by editor Chris Quinn.

There is no world in which Williams was deliberately deceived by his officers, who were themselves deceived by a prankster or opportunist from the County Sheriff's office, and that the deception lasted until County Sheriff Dave Schilling testified before county council a month later that no breach of any kind had occurred. The only explanation that makes any sense at all is that Williams was fabricating those facts intentionally — that is, lying. 

But look at the way the report attempts to cover all these unpleasant tracks:

It was later determined that a CDP officer relayed this information by request from an unknown Sheriff's Deputy.

What? What do you mean 'later determined'? When? How? Who's the CDP officer? Why is the Sheriff's Deputy not only unnamed but unknown? Did the CDP officer relay false information knowing that it was false? What were the circumstances of the unknown deputy's request? Why aren't the report's authors, and the Cleveland Police brass, bringing the full might of their offices to bear on uncovering the identity of this nefarious deputy who caused such a stir?

In Cleveland, to ask those questions is to answer them.

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Local Singer-Songwriter Ray Flanagan To Release EP Recorded in Quarantine

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 3:36 PM

our_year.jpg
Local singer-songwriter Ray Flanagan, a guy who loves working in professional studios, never imagined he’d release an album he recorded in his living room.

The pandemic changed his mind about that, and this week, he’ll release a new three-song EP, Our Year in Purgatory. Tomorrow, the EP will be on all major streaming platforms, including Bandcamp, which gives artists 100 percent from whatever they sell during the 24-hour period of the first Friday of each month, something the web site put in place to help artists during the pandemic.

“I don’t generally like to wear all the hats,” says Flanagan, who served as his own recording engineer on the EP, which commences with the semi-acoustic, Nick Drake-like ballad "Quarantine Song #3." “I’m a guitarist, singer, and songwriter. I generally like to get the person who’s good at the thing to do the thing. Due to losing nearly all my gigs this year, I’ve had to invest in gear in order to play some virtual events and do some remote session work.”

Flanagan wrote the EP's three songs near the beginning of the bar and restaurant shutdown, and each tune addresses "different feelings about the experience of having an entire year 'flipped on its head,'" as Flanagan puts it. They were recorded and produced solely by Flanagan in his bedroom during two days last month. Highlights include "In the Days to Come," a rootsy, optimistic rocker, and the twangy, Tom Petty-like "To the Way It Was."

“I think if it’s ever going to make sense for me to make homemade records, it’s right now when I’m stuck at home,” says Flanagan. “It’s a true reflection of where I’m at and what I’m doing, which is basically watching a lot of movies and trying not to hit the wine too hard.”

Flanagan also took on graphic design responsibilities as well.

“I am an amateur at anything that isn’t music, but I have spent time observing professional friends and colleagues, and I have passion, which counts for something," he says. "Really, I’m just enjoying making art, but I think creating all aspects of it on my own speaks to the fact I don’t have a team around me. I feel good about it though. I think I captured the true vibe of these tunes, and the cover photo is only a slight exaggeration of how cluttered my living quarters are.”

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Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 Hit Low-Income Black Households the Hardest, Study Finds

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 10:09 AM

OHIO NATIONAL GUARD WORKING A FOOD BANK/OHIO NATIONAL GUARD FLICKRCC
  • Ohio National Guard working a food bank/Ohio National Guard FlickrCC

Low-income Black households were hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus, experiencing more job losses, debt, and food and housing insecurities during the first few months of the pandemic, according to a new study by Princeton University.

While numerous studies of COVID-19 have focused on the racial disparities in the U.S. health care system, the Princeton University research highlights the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 by race.

“It became clear that while all low-income households struggled in the early months of the pandemic, Black households in America were disproportionately affected,” the study’s co-author Diana Enriquez, a doctorate candidate in Princeton’s Department of Sociology, says in a statement. “Even among low-income populations, there is a marked racial disparity in people’s vulnerability to this crisis."

Low-income Black households were hit disproportionately hard by job losses during the early months of the pandemic. At the end of April, 48% of the Black households reported losing a job, compared to about 30% of the white households.

Low-income Black households also reported higher rates of food insecurity than their white counterparts. In late April, 45% of the Black households said they struggled to pay for food, compared to 37% of the white households. By mid-June, the rate increased to nearly 60% for Black households, while white households reported no rise.

In late April, nearly two-thirds of low-income Black households reported housing instability, compared to 59% for low-income white households. In June, when COVID-19 restrictions began to ease, 51% of the Black households still reported housing instability, while the figure dropped to 37% for the white households.

About 81% of Black households reported new debt — unpaid bills — between the end of March and mid-June, while between 62% and 70% of white households reported new debt during the pandemic.

“The survey results really reinforce the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has kneecapped those households who were already in a tenuous position near the poverty line,” said the study’s co-author Adam Goldstein, assistant professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. “Research shows that these types of debts and unpaid bills — even small ones — can compound over time and trap low-income households in a cycle of financial distress.”

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

If You Have DirecTV or AT&T U-Verse in Cleveland, WKYC Channel 3 is Blacked Out

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 4:58 PM

WKYC STUDIOS
  • WKYC Studios
Due to an unresolved contractual dispute, WKYC is among 64 Tegna stations currently blacked out for DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse customers. The sports media website Awful Announcing reported Wednesday that the stations went dark in 51 markets nationwide Tuesday night.

(Scene was alerted to the blackout by local viewers who were attempting to watch the Wednesday afternoon NFL football game between the Steelers and the Ravens, to no avail.)

Tegna foisted blame on both DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse in a corporate statement, saying that other cable providers had managed to come to multi-year agreements.

AT&T, however, said that Tegna was asking for its largest rate increase ever in the midst of the pandemic. "We challenge Tegna to return its local stations immediately while we finalize a new agreement and pledge to pay Tegna retroactively whatever higher rates to which we eventually agree," AT&T said.

In Cleveland, the Tegna station is an NBC affiliate. In addition to the NFL game Wednesday afternoon and the local daily WKYC news broadcasts, NBC is slated to air the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas special Wednesday night and the Syracuse vs. Notre Dame college football game Saturday afternoon.

A Tegna spokeswoman confirmed the dispute to Scene via email and said they were hopeful it would be resolved quickly.

"Our viewers should know that our channel is available on other service providers in our community as well as many streaming services that offer instant access when viewers sign up," she said. "Viewers can watch our newscasts live on our website, Roku and mobile app.”

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Cleveland City Council Proposes 15% Cap on Commissions Food Delivery Services Could Charge Cleveland Restaurants

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 2:49 PM

UBEREATS
  • Ubereats
If Council President Kevin Kelley has his way, third-party food delivery services will have the commission fees they charge restaurants capped at 15-percent of the purchase price on delivery or pick-up orders. The legislation that Kelley introduced today would remain in effect until restaurants can fully reopen dining rooms.

It would also prohibit any reduction in compensation for delivery drivers as a result of these lower commission amounts.

If passed, Cleveland would join cities across the country — albeit belatedly, as usual — in limiting such fees. New York City voted back in May to cap those commissions at 15 percent, as did Cincinnati.

Restaurants routinely pay upwards of 30 percent of the purchase price to third party services like Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash, which is why diners are encouraged to contact the restaurant directly to see if they offer their own delivery. Those fees have always been onerous, but they are exceptionally so now that restaurants can't offset them with robust in-house dining and booze business.

Of course, the delivery providers aren't taking this lying down, arguing that the limited fees will only get passed down to the customer in the form of steeper delivery rates. That will lead, they add, to less business for the restaurants that are so eager to sell more food.

We will keep you updated on the status of the proposed legislation.

And, as always, call restaurants directly to see if they offer their own delivery or pickup the food yourself when at all possible.

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Brian Kazy Says City Council Is Working to Ensure No Water or Power Shutoffs During Pandemic/Winter Despite End of Moratorium

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 1:12 PM

COURTESY CPP
  • Courtesy CPP

In response to pieces here and elsewhere noting that the city let the moratorium on water and power shutoffs expire yesterday without action or comment — at the height of the pandemic so far, in the face of the season's first major snowstorm, as people continue to struggle to pay bills — Councilman Brian Kazy, who chairs city council's utility committee, said in a statement that they are working to ensure that no Cleveland resident faces a shutoff this winter during the pandemic.

"I know there is much consternation about a December 1st date for shutting off utilities to residents who are behind in payments. Obviously customers of Cleveland Public Power, which serves a portion of the city, and of the Cleveland Water Department which serves more than 70 communities in Northeast Ohio, who are behind on their bills are very concerned," Kazy said in a statement. "But recent notices do not mean customers are facing an immediate shut off. First of all, both CPP and Cleveland Water are working with customers who are behind on their bills."

"Secondly, Council is working closely with the Jackson administration to ensure that no resident loses electricity or water during the pandemic or during winter months," Kazy continued. "Customers behind on their bills should contact CPP and the Water Department as soon as possible."

While it's nice to see Kazy explicitly acknowledge that despite the calendar turning to Dec. 1st that no one is facing an immediate shutoff at this time — it would be, as we noted yesterday, unconscionable —  it'd also be nice to hear this, spread far and wide, from the mayor himself.

It's certainly not what's been communicated by City Hall, which has said in a recent press release that it's a "goal" to keep customers connected to service, not a promise it's working to ensure it keeps:

The decision to resume disconnections has been done with great concern and awareness of the financial difficulties and other vulnerabilities many of our customers are facing due to the pandemic. Our goal has been to work with customers and offer resources to avoid disconnections.

Financial relief tools are in place to assist customers in need. In addition to our current affordability programs, we are offering extended payment plan options as well as coordinating with outside agencies to refer customers for additional services. We continue to diligently notify customers with past due accounts, so they receive plenty of notice in addition to the regular multi-notice procedures. It is always our goal to keep customers connected to utility service.

Perhaps the official moratorium has become an unofficial moratorium and the expiration is simply meant to prod the 90,000 households behind on water payments and the 28,500 households behind on Cleveland Public Power payments to get on a payment plan or pay something, anything at all, if they can.

But many of those customers are simply unable to pay anything at the moment, and while some qualify for assistance, many others will not. Support organizations are already seeing a huge uptick in calls and expect that trend to continue. There's natural and urgent concern, not just "consternation." Maybe the city knows it won't turn anyone's heat or power off, but the citizens surely don't know. 

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