Thursday, December 31, 2020

Good Riddance to 2020

I think most people can agree that 2020 has not been a good year. It has been a year that has been dominated by a pandemic that has so far caused 1.8 million deaths worldwide. In the United States and elsewhere the pandemic has resulted in the largest economic recession since the Great Depression. It has been a year full of disasters, from bushfires in the western United States and Australia to multiple hurricanes. More so than other years, 2020 has seen the death of many beloved celebrities as well.

As mentioned above, 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To prevent its spread many places have locked down, with stay-at-home orders in place. Of course, this has caused many to work from home and yet others to lose their jobs entirely. Restaurants, museums, theatres, and other venues have closed for long periods of time. While the pandemic would have a large impact on many, I have to admit that in some ways my life has changed very little. I have worked from home for the past nine years and, being a bit of a homebody, I rarely go out except to get groceries. I don't generally eat at restaurants and my trips to the cinema are infrequent. The only real difference now is that when I do go out I wear a mask and remain six feet away from other people.

In other ways, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on me. I have cousins and friends who have contracted COVID-19 and survived. I have also lost two friends to COVID-19. One was an older gentleman who had been in bad health the past few years, but the other was a woman who was only ten years older than I am and had been in fairly good health. Even if I hadn't lost any friends to COVID-19, however, I don't see how anyone but a sociopath could not feel the impact of the disease. The United States currently stands at 341,000 deaths caused by COVID-19. Many are out of work and yet others are not making the money they once did. I think only someone totally without empathy would not react to that.

Of course, as sad as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, it is not entirely what has made 2020 a very bad year for me. It was on March 2 2020 that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office released their report on the officer involved shooting of my beloved Vanessa Marquez. The report came to the conclusion that the officers who shot her acted in self defence and strongly implied that Vanessa was suicidal. To do so the report omitted evidence (such as interviews with Vanessa's friends, all of who said she wasn't suicidal), relied too much on the testimony of one of the officers who shot Vanessa, and even misrepresented some of the facts. Indeed, the report claims I am "a woman from Oklahoma" and claims that I told the paramedics that Vanessa wasn't acting right when I said no such thing. Furthermore, according to the damage claim filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother, the claim of Gilberto Carrillo (one of the officers who shot Vanessa) that she pointed a BB gun at them is false.

It seems to me that District Attorney Jackie Lacey and her office were less concerned with getting to the truth of the matter than satisfying the local police union by not charging the officers. I think they fully realized the report would not stand up to close inspection and could adversely affect Lacey's re-election campaign, which is why I think it was released on March 2 2020, the day before the election. As it was, that same day, Jackie Lacey's husband David Lacey pointed a gun at unarmed Black Lives Matters protestors. And as it was, the March 3 election resulted in a run-off election that Lacey ultimately lost. Anyway, I have already posted about my criticisms of the report. You can read it at "Justice for Vanessa Marquez."

To make matters worse, it was also on March 2 2020 that the City of South Pasadena, California released an edited video of the officer involved shooting of Vanessa. They did this without warning Vanessa's mother Delia or anyone else who knew Vanessa that they would do so. Various media outlets insisted on sharing the video. I was particularly angered by the tabloid television show Inside Edition, who referred to Vanessa as "mentally disturbed (she was no such thing)" and the tabloid the Daily Mail. Both received angry emails from me informing them of the truth. Neither apologized, but at least the Daily Mail published a much more sympathetic story when the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother.

What South Pasadena thought to accomplish with the release of the video I don't know, as it does not absolve Officers Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez of their guilt. Indeed, I know of at least one person who has watched the video who has said that in doing so he watched those officers murder his friend. I also have to condemn South Pasadena in the way they handled the release of the video. They should have warned Vanessa's mother that they were going to do so and they should not have released it to the media at large. But then South Pasadena has behaved abominably throughout this whole ordeal. They have consistently ignored Vanessa's mother. And despite the fact that I have written them several times over the past two years and four months, they have not acknowledged even one of my letters.

To make matters worse, it was in October that South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz claimed that the officers present in Vanessa's apartment on August 30 2020 complied with the South Pasadena Police Department's use of force policies. If what those officers did that day was "by the book," then it is obvious to me that the South Pasadena Police Department's use of force policies should be changed. I am convinced that those officers present in Vanessa's apartment that day behaved unprofessionally, inappropriately, and irresponsibly.  Indeed, after having examined the evidence in Vanessa's case for two years and four months now, I am still so convinced of the officers' unprofessional conduct that I believe that had I been in Vanessa's apartment that day they would have shot me as well. Curiously, in November Joe Ortiz announced his intention to retire in March 2021. All I have to say is that if Ortiz honestly thought for a moment that Gilberto Carrillo's use of force was justified, then in my opinion he should never have chosen law enforcement as a profession.

By now you probably realize that I spent much of 2020 both angry and hurt. I have to admit I was foolish enough to think that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office would hold the officers who murdered Vanessa accountable. I did not count on the fact that Jackie Lacey has always been supportive of police unions and has always been hesitant to charge officers in cases of misconduct. As far as I am concerned, Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez belong in prison for the rest of their lives without parole. It is because the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office failed to get justice for Vanessa that on June 24 2020 a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Vanessa's mother.

Of course, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the City of South Pasadena aren't the only people I would be angry with over Vanessa this year. I am also angry at actor George Clooney. George Clooney has spoken out against police violence this year, namely with regards to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murders, yet he has never spoken out against the murder of his ER co-star Vanessa Marquez. In my opinion, if Clooney ever cared about racism in the United States and the murder of innocent people by police officers, he would spoken out on behalf of Vanessa long ago.

While we are on the subject of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murders, I must admit that I was happy to see the mass protests against police violence that occurred this summer. It might surprise some to learn that I do have enormous respect for law enforcement officers. I come from a law enforcement family and I have friends who are police officers. That having been said, as the murders of Vanessa Marquez, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor have proven, there are some very bad cops out there. The plain truth is that Latinos, Native Americans, and Blacks are killed in disproportionate numbers when compared to other ethnicities. I was glad to see that a large number of people rose up and demanded that it stop.

As rough as 2020 has been for me, I must admit that some good things have come out of the year. Stephanie DeWolfe, the South Pasadena City Manager who issued a rather cold and callous statement on September 2 2018 regarding Vanessa's murder, was forced out of office in September. I don't think I had anything to do with it, but I had been demanding that she be fired for nearly the past two years. It was this November that Jackie Lacey lost the Los Angeles County District Attorney race to George Gascón. I don't know if George Gascón will be a better district attorney or not, but he is reform minded and that bodes well. At any rate, I think he would have to be an improvement over Jackie Lacey, who seems to care more for keeping the police unions happy than justice for the average person or law and order for society at large.

Perhaps the happiest night of 2020 for me was September 30 2020, when Turner Classic Movies aired Stand and Deliver (1988). On Twitter I hosted the TCMParty for it. For the intro and outro, Ben Makiewicz interviewed Edward James Olmos, but as far as those who participated in the Stand and Deliver TCMParty were concerned, it was Vanessa Marquez who was the star. I have to admit that I broke down crying at the outpouring of love for Vanessa. So many told how she had touched their lives. To me it was one of the finest tributes Vanessa could have ever received.

With regards to entertainment in 2020, for some time motion pictures and television shows were on hold because of the pandemic. With many theatres closed throughout the United States, the releases of movies from Black Widow to Wonder Woman 1984 were delayed. This fall the broadcast television networks debuted little in the way of new shows and many old shows did not return. Some of the old shows are returning in January 2021, but for others it will be even later.

Of course, because of the pandemic streaming media received a boost. As it was, streaming was already growing in 2019. That year saw the debut of Disney+. This year has seen the debuts of Peacock and HBO Max. With many theatres closed, some movies have been released straight to streaming. Disney elected to debut some of their movies on Disney+ rather than theatres. Warner Bros. announced that for the year of 2021, their movies will be released simultaneously to theatres and to HBO Max. Some have seen this as the death knell for theatres, which have already been hurt by the pandemic. As for myself, I am not so sure about that. Quite simply, I don't think people who prefer to watch movies on streaming media are necessarily the same people who watch movies in theatres. Even if a movie is available on streaming, I think many people who prefer to see movies in theatre will go see that movie in the theatre. If a movie is in theatres, but not yet on streaming media, people who prefer to watch movies on streaming media will simply wait until that movie is available in streaming. I think theatre goers and streaming media viewers are, to some degree, different audiences. Because of that, movie theatres will survive.

I wish I could talk about the new shows that debuted this year, but because the fall television season was pretty much delayed I really don't have anything to say. There were quite a few shows that debuted on streaming, but I must confess I don't watch much on streaming media beyond movies and old favourites. I did watch the 2nd season of The Umbrella Academy, the first season of The Mandalorian, and every season of Doom Patrol. I can tell you that some of the hits on streaming media this year appear to be Cobra Kai, The Mandalorian, The Queen's Gambit, and The Witcher.

Sadly, 2020 seems to have seen the deaths of more celebrities than most years. What is more, it took some of the biggest names in entertainment history. Olivia de Havilland was not the last star from the Golden Age of Hollywood (Ann Blyth and a few others are still alive), but she was certainly the last major star from the era. Dame Diana Rigg saw success on stage, in television, and in motion pictures, but for many she will remain Emma Peel from The Avengers. Honor Blackman, who played John Steed's previous partner, Cathy Gale, also died earlier in the year. Sean Connery, the first actor to play James Bond in feature films, died this year. 2020 also took one of the great television legends, Carl Reiner, cast member of Your Show of Shows and creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show. With regards to music, we lost Little Richard, Steve Priest of Sweet, Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Dame Vera Lynn, Spencer Davis, and Phyllis McGuire, the remaining member of the McGuire Sisters. For many 2020 saved the cruellest death for the end of the year. Dawn Wells played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, and in doing so became America's sweetheart. The list of those who died in 2020 is a long one, far too many for me to list here, but some of those who also died were guitarist Eddie Van Halen,  Buck Henry, Robert Conrad, James Drury, Edd Byrnes, Terry Jones, Orson Bean, Jerry Stiller, Alex Trebeck, Max Von Sydow, Chadwick Bowman, Rhonda Fleming, Marge Champion, Pamela Tiffin, Dame Barbara Windsor, cartoonist Mort Drucker, and comic book writer Denny O'Neil.

As I said earlier, I think most people can agree that 2020 was not a good year. For me it was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the utter and complete failure of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to get justice for my dearest Vanessa Marquez. As bad as 2020 has been, however, I still have hope for 2021. As I interpret decades as running from 1 to 10 (there was no year 0 CE, after all), 2021 is the start of a new decade. The United States will have a new president. Even as I write this, vaccines for COVID-19 are being distributed. It is a cliché, but it is often the case that it is darkest before the dawn. 2020 may have been a bad year, but with 2021 there is reason for hope.