Headlines: June 15, 2020
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The US Supreme Court on Monday decided in a 6-3 ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967 applies to LGBT workers. In what was hailed as a major victory for civil rights, justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas were the only dissenters in the case. Explaining the ruling, conservative justice Neil Gorsuch said, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex… Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” Justice Alito denounced the majority ruling as “preposterous,” saying, “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’” The ruling comes just days after Donald Trump’s administration formally rescinded the gender identity anti-discrimination aspect of the Affordable Care Act.
In other news from the Supreme Court, justices declined to rule on several challenges to state-level and federal gun control bans. Associated Press explained, “justices left in place restrictions on the right to carry weapons in public in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. They also declined to review Massachusetts’ ban on some semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines, a California handgun control law and a half-century-old federal law banning interstate handgun sales.” The court also held back from ruling in a case brought by the Trump Administration challenging one of California’s “sanctuary laws,” that shield undocumented immigrants, leaving in place a lower court ruling that limits cooperation between police and federal immigration agents. And, on a challenge to the immunity that police enjoy for violating people’s constitutional rights, the US Supreme Court also declined to rule. In that case, conservative justice Clarence Thomas, who is the only African American on the court, indicated his dissatisfaction with the legal status quo that has enabled police to avoid prosecutions and convictions for killing unarmed Americans.
The court’s refusal to rule on police immunity now puts the onus squarely on Congress to tackle an issue that a majority of Americans are deeply disturbed by and demanding change on. The Senate, which Republicans control, is considering a bill shaped by the lone GOP African American Senator Tim Scott that would among other things, restrict chokeholds, but that does not go as far as the House Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Black Lives Matter activists have said that even the Democrats’ bill does not go far enough. Meanwhile the latest flashpoint over racist police brutality is unfolding in Atlanta, Georgia where police on Friday evening shot and killed a black man named Rayshard Brooks in the parking lot of a Wendy’s. Police shot Brooks multiple times in the back as he was fleeing with only a police taser in his hand. On Saturday, protesters gathered outside the Wendy’s in question and at some point the restaurant was set ablaze and burned down. Atlanta’s police chief Erika Shields resigned over the incident. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer.” On Sunday a coroner ruled that Brooks’ death was a “homicide.” Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the fatal shots into Brooks’ back may face charges as early as Wednesday.
In the May 25th Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd that sparked a national uprising over racist police brutality, the lawyer for Floyd’s family has just released new video of the incident. The video, shot by a bystander, shows several witnesses exhorting officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin to remove Chauvin’s knee off Floyd’s neck even after paramedics arrived. The witnesses yelled at police saying they had killed Floyd but the officers simply ignored them. Meanwhile Reuters published an analysis of the police use of their supposedly non-lethal tasers and found that black Americans are disproportionately more likely to die from tasers than whites. Police have killed more than a thousand people over the past 20 years from tasers. Thirty two percent of the victims were black and 29% white.
In Palmdale, California, two cases of black men found dead, hanging from trees have sparked an outcry and demands for investigation. In Palmdale, 24-year old Robert Fuller was found dead late last week. Although authorities labeled his death a suicide, Fuller’s family maintains he did not kill himself and are demanding a full investigation. The case revived interest in a similar incident that took place on May 31st just about 50 miles away in Victorville, California where 38-year old Malcolm Harsh was found in similar circumstances. Activists are speculating that the two men were lynched, in what may potentially be a grisly revival of an era of violent racist terrorism that swept through the US throughout history.
Activists over the weekend marched in rallies that celebrated LGBTQ pride and combined it with the demand that Black Lives Matter. In Brooklyn, New York on Sunday a major march called “Black Trans Lives Matter“ attracted thousands of people. In Southern California, thousands of people marched under the banner of All Black Lives Matter. The Los Angeles Times described the march saying protesters, “chanted ‘Prosecute killer cops!’ They danced. Nearly all wore masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They carried signs: ‘Racism ain’t a good look, honey.’ “Racists, sashay away!’ [and] ‘Less Karens, more caring.’” And, in Washington DC where Black Lives Matter protests continue, thousands of people, mostly African American, gathered in front of the White House for what was described as, “one of the largest faith-based events in the 17 days of protests,” since George Floyd’s killing.
As protesters attempt to enforce mask wearing and social distancing, a new poll confirmed the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. The results of 3 different surveys show that African Americans are more likely to know a victim of Covid-19 than other racial groups. Meanwhile there are record numbers of new infections in states around the country including Florida and Texas, which reopened businesses early. Arizona in particular shows a troubling rise in cases as health experts link the spike to the end of stay-at-home orders. In response some states are threatening to shut down again. In New York city, crowds of people enjoyed the warm weather and gathered outdoors and in bars and restaurants, most without masks on. Gov. Andrew Cuomo denounced the scenes on social media and threatened to revive a shutdown. A similar scene played out in Washington DC. The Washington Post described the weekend gatherings saying, “They came out to sunbathe, to celebrate birthdays, to jog, to sip mimosas over brunch — and few bothered to wear masks. The only people who almost always kept their faces covered were the workers: waiters, seating hostesses, food truck vendors and parking garage employees.”
And finally, on the issue of taxpayer funded pandemic-related aid, the Trump administration continues to dig its heels over making its list of loan recipients public. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was asked a question about whether taxpayers deserved to know who their money went to, to which Mr. Kudlow responded, “As far as naming each and every company, I don’t think that promise was ever made, and I don’t think it’s necessary.” But Kudlow had strong words over a federal government unemployment benefit to laid off workers that pays $600 a week – an amount that the wealthy businessman finds far too generous. Kudlow claims that the unemployment benefit is a disincentive to work but critics point out that employers could easily incentivize workers by offering higher salaries than the benefits. The benefits are set to expire on July 31st unless Congress votes to extend them.