Headlines: June 16, 2020
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President Donald Trump signed an executive order on policing in the US that, among other things, restricts the conditions under which law enforcement can use chokeholds to restrain people. In a speech that amounted to a campaign rally address, Trump claimed, without details, that nobody has come close to delivering the successes his administration has. Trump also bizarrely claimed that school choice was the civil rights issue of our time, and that before the pandemic just about everybody had high paying jobs. The executive order on policing that Trump signed fell far short of what activists who have been leading the national uprising against racist police violence have asked for. Rather than ‘defunding the police’ as the prevailing rallying cry has demanded Trump’s order would make available more federal grants to police departments for training – which has already been tried for years and failed.
Meanwhile the GOP-led Senate on Tuesday held its first set of hearings on policing since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, heard from civil rights groups as well as police advocates. And Democrat Joe Biden, who is vying for the Presidency, is now facing pressure from progressive organizations for promoting a platform that they say is too weak on police brutality. In a letter signed by 50 organizations including Black Voters Matter, Working Families Party, Roots Action, Mijente, Black Youth Project (BYP100), and Dream Defenders, advocates wrote, “In the course of your career, you have designed and endorsed policies that have significantly exacerbated these problems [of police violence].” They demanded that Biden, “put forward a transformative and comprehensive policing and criminal justice platform,” that includes incorporating policies laid out by the Movement for Black Lives and denounced his recent op-ed in USA Today that called for an additional $300 million in funding for police.
In other news, California representative Barbara Lee, a longtime social justice advocate, introduced a resolution that defunds the US military. Echoing the domestic calls to defund the police in order to increase funding for social programs, Lee wrote in a statement, “For years, our government has failed to invest in programs that actually keep our country safe and healthy,” said Lee. “By over-prioritizing the Pentagon and military solutions, our country is drastically underprepared for any crisis that needs a non-military solution.”
As part of the national uprising against police brutality activists across the country have been tearing down statues of historical racist leaders and on Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the process of bringing down a colonizer’s statue, a rightwing white militia member shot and injured one person. Members of the self-proclaimed New Mexico Civil Guard had been tussling with protesters as they walked around unhindered by police wearing semi-automatic rifles. Police only intervened after they shot a protester and then arrested one man. Also in Albuquerque, Mayor Tim Keller announced a “civilian public safety branch” that would send unarmed trained professionals to respond to non-violent emergencies – a growing trend among cities in response to protests.
In Los Angeles, City Council members met with a coalition of activists led by Black Lives Matter-LA for nearly two hours to discuss BLM’s “People’s Budget” that reallocates police spending on social programs. In Seattle, Washington, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution brought by that body’s only socialist Kshama Sawant that bans Seattle from owning or deploying tear gas and blast balls. In recent weeks Seattle police have used such kind of war-weaponry on thousands of protesters. The resolution also bans police from covering their badge numbers. And the New York Times on Tuesday analysed the use of tear gas on a national scale and found that nearly 100 cities deployed the weapon against its own people – at a rate that has not been seen since the politically tumultuous times of the 1960s and 70s. Tear gas is a serious and harmful weapon that also worsens the spread of coronavirus.
As the national dialogue on policing and historical racism continues, the Equal Justice Initiative has released a new report showing that during the period of reconstruction following the American civil war, racist white mobs killed and lynched at least 2,000 more African Americans than was previously known. Amid fears that black people are still being lynched today, the FBI has announced it will review investigations in the cases of two black men found dead and hanging from trees in California, about 50 miles apart and a few weeks apart, in Victorville and Palmdale. Meanwhile, the bodies of two prominent women activists, a 19-year old named Oluwatoyin Salau with Black Lives Matter and a 75-year old named Victoria “Vicki” Sims were found. The two had been missing and a man named Aaron Glee Jr. was arrested as a suspect.
Coronavirus infections continue to rise in the US and among the new fatalities is the father of Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Nursing homes remain the most dangerous of all as 50,000 people have now died of Covid-19 in such facilities – nearly a quarter of all US virus deaths. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that those people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease were 12 times more likely to die from the virus compared to otherwise healthy people who become infected. The results are based on an examination of more than 100,000 US deaths. On the same day as those data were released, a study published in Nature based on data from six countries concluded that children are half as likely as adults aged 20 or older to catch the virus. Even if they are infected they tend to not show symptoms. Meanwhile, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are making bizarre claims using childish logic that the reason Covid-19 infections are rising in the US is because there are more tests being done.
In other coronavirus news, the FDA this week rescinded its approval of Trump’s favored drug hydroxychloroquine saying it is not known to be effective and that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Doctors are now touting the successes of a new drug, Dexamethosone, an inexpensive and widely available anti-inflammatory steroid, in treating Covid-19. In a clinical trial the drug was shown to cut death rates by about a third.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report this week finding that its acting administrator Neil Jacobs violated the government agency’s code of ethics last year when he chastised staffers for contradicting President Trump’s false claim about the path of a hurricane. The issue came to light around an incident made famous by a hurricane map that showed Trump’s hand-drawn mark to include states that he erroneously warned were under threat. According to the New York Times, Mr. Jacobs actions were due to pressure from, “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA and who threatened to fire the political staff at NOAA unless the contradiction of Mr. Trump was addressed.”
And finally, in international news, tensions between North Korea and South Korea sharply rose this week after North Korean forces blew up a joint liaison office in the border city of Kaesong. According to the Washington Post, “Earlier Tuesday, North Korea’s army, one of the world’s largest, warned that it was ready to move forces back into border zones the two Koreas had previously agreed to demilitarize.”