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“The Democrats are the party of enablers right now — and at taxpayer expense,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, who called the sites “drug dens,” said in a statement Thursday after his chamber narrowly approved CA SB 57 (21R).

The concept of so-called safe injection sites has taken hold overseas, but it has not broken through in the United States, where preliminary federal data released this month show more than 87,000 Americans died of overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in September — more than any since the opioid crisis began in the 1990s.

In California the surge in deaths eclipsed even the nationwide increase of 29 percent, soaring by over 40 percent in one year. The latest annual statistics overlapped with the first six months of the pandemic, when profound isolation and job losses compounded struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

“California and our nation are in the midst of an unprecedented explosion of overdose deaths. It’s a public health crisis,” San Francisco Democrat Scott Wiener said Thursday in a speech on the state Senate floor. “What we’re doing is not working, and we need to try a proven tool that has worked around the world.”

At statehouses in New York, Illinois and Rhode Island this year, lawmakers are making a similar case. Allowing people to inject in a clean environment with medical personnel available to administer overdose-reversing medication is an urgently needed response to the trends, proponents say.

But it’s unclear where President Joe Biden stands on the issue — and whether federal drug enforcement authorities would look the other way if cities or states authorized such facilities.

In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and other city leaders urged the Biden administration to adopt a national policy deprioritizing drug enforcement activities around supervised injection sites.

“The threat of federal enforcement is one of the greatest disincentives to opening and operating these lifesaving programs in San Francisco and elsewhere, and we ask that you end that threat,” Breed wrote in the letter, which was also signed by city leaders from Oakland, New York. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Somerville, Mass.

In recent years efforts to open such facilities in Seattle, Denver, Massachusetts and Utah have run into community opposition and federal prosecution threats. Philadelphia has come the closest, but the Trump-led Justice Department sued the nonprofit before it could open the facility and threatened “swift and aggressive action” against any city or county that tried to open these sites.

The Philadelphia project remains stymied in the courts, though advocates hope the Biden administration will drop the case.

Biden’s Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a paper expressing general support for harm-reduction strategies. It did not explicitly mention supervised injection sites, however, and the president hasn’t weighed in on the issue.

Media officials from the White House did not return a request for comment.

The latest California proposal would authorize San Francisco, Oakland and unincorporated Los Angeles County to test the supervised injection sites model for five years. Wiener says science and evidence — from the more than 170 sites operating in at least 10 countries around the world — are on his side.

“Our hope is that the Biden Administration will simply withdraw the Trump lawsuit and let us do what we need to do to fight the overdose crisis in our communities,” Wiener said in an interview.

But first, his bill must survive the Legislature, where moderate Democrats hold outsize sway, and win the governor’s approval.

It will be a hard sell for lawmakers like Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Central Valley Democrat.

“I do not believe that opening sites to allow hard drug use is the best use of taxpayer resources,” Salas said in an email. “I would rather see increased investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment to get people off of drugs and off of the streets.”

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On its face, the idea is on brand for California’s governor, whose decision as mayor of San Francisco to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of state law launched him to a national stage in 2004. Newsom also implemented that city’s landmark universal health care program as mayor, and has since been out front on such progressive social issues as gun safety, minimum wage, recreational cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform.

Newsom said he was “very, very open” to so-called “safe injection sites” when he was campaigning for governor in 2018 — the same year his predecessor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar proposal.

But the prospect of a recall election could make it riskier for him to sign off on the program.

Brown wrote forcefully against the concept in his 2018 veto message, arguing that “enabling illegal and destructive drug use will never work.”

“Fundamentally, I do not believe that enabling illegal drug use in government sponsored injection centers — with no corresponding requirement that the user undergo treatment — will reduce drug addiction,” Brown wrote.

Newsom has not signaled his position on Wiener’s bill. His office declined to comment on his stance.

Proponents cite studies that show the sites have prevented overdose deaths while saving tax dollars on emergency services. They also argue that they would move drug use out of the open.

The primary argument remains: Nothing else has worked, so why not try this?

“By not creating these kinds of sites, you actually still continue to permit drug use to happen where you really don’t want to see it — in front of childcare centers or at the bus stop, out in the open,” said state Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), during a committee hearing earlier this month. “Why don’t we acknowledge the addiction crisis we have, and try something?”

Wiener’s bill has support from the progressive district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But the issue is a nonstarter for virtually all other law enforcement groups in California, including the state association representing district attorneys, a reflection of larger rifts among DAs amid a national criminal justice reform movement.

“It will be a magnet for more people with addiction issues, and with that comes the thefts which are rampant — the auto break-ins, the burglaries — the sort of things that fuel people’s drug addiction,” said Larry Morse, legislative director for the California District Attorneys Association. The sites may encourage people to seek treatment for their addictions, he said, but nothing compels them to do so.

Jack Pitney, a former operative for the Republican National Committee, thinks the sites might trouble moderate voters, including some Democrats.

“Politically, it would be a risk for Newsom,” said Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna University. “Signing the bill won’t win him any additional votes, but it could cost him some.”

But Melissa Michelson, a political analyst who teaches at Menlo College, thinks it’s exactly that kind of move Newsom should make.

“He is looking for something to shift the conversation away to something new,” Michelson said. “He’s always looking for something to be on the cutting edge of and reinforce his brand on progressive leadership, and he’s not afraid to be out front on something controversial.”

Advocates argue that overdose deaths will continue as the politics of supervised injection sites play out. Ronda Goldfein, an attorney and vice president of Safehouse, the Philadelphia nonprofit fighting a federal lawsuit, is watching California closely.

“If California passes its law and the U.S. Attorney says we’re not interested in pursuing this and somebody opens up, then good for you,” Goldfein said. “And good for all of us.”


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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