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California’s New COVID Plan Includes Faith Community, Public Health Leaders

Pointing out that California has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, Governor Gavin Newsom added that the SMARTER plan will also focus on preparing the state in the event that there is a similar crisis in the future. Ensuring that the plan is equitable and addresses the needs of Californians of all backgrounds is a priority as well, he emphasized.

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Pastor Sam Casey is the executive director, Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE). Americaspromise.org photo.
Pastor Sam Casey is the executive director, Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE). Americaspromise.org photo.

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Black faith and public health leaders are hailing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new COVID response plan.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled the proposal designed to be more strategic, nimble and sustainable than it is reactive. California is the first in the nation to transition the Coronavirus crisis from a pandemic to an endemic.

Newsom made the announcement three days after he lifted the statewide indoor mask mandate.

Dubbed the SMARTER Plan, an acronym that stands for Shots, Masks, Awareness, Readiness, Testing and Rx, the state’s new COVID response plan will focus on precautionary measures and interventions rather than broad mandates on masking, sheltering in place or shutdowns.

“This has been a remarkable two years for everyone. No one has been immune from the stress and travails, the heartache and devastation. But many of us have shared those burdens disproportionately, unequally,” said Newsom. “Those issues are all part and parcel of the consciousness that brings us to this moment.

The governor was speaking at a warehouse in Fontana that the state set up to handle logistics during the pandemic.

Pointing out that California has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, Newsom added that the SMARTER plan will also focus on preparing the state in the event that there is a similar crisis in the future. Ensuring that the plan is equitable and addresses the needs of Californians of all backgrounds is a priority as well, he emphasized.

“We are moving away from a crisis mindset to living with this virus,” said Newsom. “We have come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis: that there is no ending.

“We have a more prescriptive details and strategies to continue those efforts in partnership with 800 community-based organizations, 200 mobile clinic sites, in partnership with our state-owned testing labs, in partnership with our schools and faith-based leaders,” he added.

According to the governor’s office, over 70 million COVID vaccines have been administered in the state. About 80% of Californians have received one dose and about 70% are fully vaccinated.

Sam Casey, executive director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE) and pastor of New Life Christian Church in Fontana, says he has been involved in the fight against COVID since the onset of the pandemic.

“We engaged in testing, bringing greater awareness as well as making sure some of the most marginalized communities had access to not only testing but more importantly vaccination,” he said.

“We are still engaged in that fight that’s relevant to the SMARTER plan,” Casey continued. “We’ve helped individuals get shots in their arms. We’ve presented some 75,000 N95 masks to our congregations and communities. We have passed out some 15,000 COVID tests and continue to create greater awareness in our communities.”

Dr. Jerry Abraham, director of Kedran Vaccines in South Los Angeles, runs a health center that provides COVID-19 inoculation to people in neighborhoods that have been historically underserved.

“We continue to see a continued decline in infection rates, in hospitalizations and in deaths — and that’s really exciting,” said Abraham, speaking at a press briefing for the African American press organized by VaccinateAll58, the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 response program.

Although about 82,000 Californians have died from COVID-related causes and more than 8 million have been diagnosed with the disease, Abraham says he’s hopeful about entering this next phase of the state’s response.

“We are really in this transition period from pandemic to endemic, and there really is this new conversation about learning to live with COVID. That is how we are going to go about our business and how we are going to go about staying in business and staying in school, going to church – all of these things are a part our strategy to move forward.”

Abraham encouraged people to continue to be vigilant, wear masks when necessary, and take steps to protect themselves and the people they love.

Black Californians, who make up about 6% of the state’s population, currently account for about 7% of confirmed deaths from COVID and more than 5% of all cases.

Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, who is African American, welcomed the governor to her city and thanked him for leading the fight against COVID.

“California has led the nation’s fight against COVID-19 with early, robust, public health measures that have helped to save countless lives,” she said. “In Fontana, we remain focused and ready to adopt to the evolving pandemic.”

Keeping incidents of COVID low in the state, will require the participation of everyone, said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the UC San Francisco.

“California’s success in this next phase of the pandemic depends on our focus on those who have borne the brunt throughout: essential workers, older adults, Latino, Black, and Pacific Islander communities, and those with more limited resources,” she said. “The equitable response is the smarter response, and I hope the plans outlined here receive sustained attention and investment,” Bibbens-Domingo said.

Andy Slavitt, former senior advisor for COVID-19 Response in the Biden Administration, says Newsom’s post-pandemic strategy should be a model for states around the country.

“California’s SMARTER plan should represent a turning point in managing the pandemic from taking whatever the virus brings us to being prepared to manage whatever challenges come next,” he said.

Newsom said the state will also be analyzing wastewater to track the evolution of the virus.

“As we enter the next phase of the pandemic, the state is better equipped than ever to protect Californians from COVID-19 with smart strategies that save lives and advance our ongoing recovery,” said Newsom.

“Building on proven tools – rooted in science and data – that have been honed over the past two years, we’re keeping our guard up with a focus on continued readiness, awareness and flexibility to adapt to the evolving pandemic. As we have throughout the pandemic, the state will continue applying the lessons we’ve learned about the virus to keep California moving forward.”

Aldon Thomas Stiles contributed to this report.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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