Headlines: June 22, 2020
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President Donald Trump’s first political rally since the pandemic, held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday was anti-climactic. The president’s reelection campaign had boasted that about a million people had requested tickets to attend the event at the 19,000-seat BOK Center. In the end, fire marshals estimated that about 6,200 people attended. According to the New York Times, Trump, “was stunned, and he yelled at aides backstage while looking at the endless rows of empty blue seats in the upper bowl of the stadium.” Ahead of the rally, six staffers working on Trump’s reelection campaign in Tulsa tested positive for the coronavirus. An overflow stage to accommodate the large crowd that the Trump campaign expected to gather outside, remained empty and the campaign announced that a planned second rally would be canceled. In private, Trump is reportedly livid at his reelection campaign head Brad Parscale but publicly Trump blamed protesters. Campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said the low turnout was due to, “radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media,” who “attempted to frighten off the president’s supporters” with their warnings about the pandemic risk. Young online activists including Kpop fans and TikTok users took credit for sabotaging the Trump rally saying they had reserved tickets with no intention of showing up.
During his speech Trump was predictably low on policy and high on rhetoric. He whipped up racist fervor referring to the Black-led movement for racial justice as filled with “thugs” – a code word for criminalizing Black Americans. And he referred to the toppling of confederate-era and colonial-era statues as an assault on “our heritage,” i.e. the heritage of white supremacy. He also used a derogatory term for the coronavirus. Only a few months ago Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway expressed shock that anyone in the White House could use the term “kung flu” and when confronted by reporters said, “of course that’s offensive,” while demanding to know who used the phrase. Trump also resorted to his favorite talking point about the coronavirus pandemic – that the reason infections in the US are rising sharply is because there are more tests being conducted.
Lawmakers expressed shock at Trump’s open expression of wanting to obscure the true extent of the disease by reducing testing. But Trump’s White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said the President’s comments were “tongue-in-cheek.” But Trump has made such comments many times before, undercutting the claim that he was just joking. Now, Democratic Senators are pointing out that a deliberate slowdown in testing may be already in the works as the Trump administration has not spent $8 billion of the $25 billion that Congress set aside for testing and contact tracing. A top infectious diseases expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said on Meet the Press on Sunday that, “I don’t see this slowing down through the summer or into the fall. I don’t think we’re going to see one, two and three waves. I think we’re going to just see one very, very difficult forest fire of cases.”
A day before Trump’s Tulsa rally, Attorney General William Barr set off a political firestorm when he announced on Friday that Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York would be stepping down from his position. Berman has investigated Trump’s dealings in New York and also the Jeffery Epstein case. He was in the middle of an investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani when he was informed that he was being replaced. Berman responded saying he would remain in his position until he was replaced by a Senate-confirmed US Attorney. Eventually Trump himself ordered Berman’s firing, to have him replaced by Jay Clayton, the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission – a man who has no federal prosecutorial experience – to lead one of the top prosecutor jobs in the nation. The Trump administration has praised Berman’s work and given no explanation for his firing. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, referencing the Nixon Watergate scandal said, “You really have to question this Friday night attempted massacre – now completed one.” Former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who had occupied Berman’s position when he was ousted from the same position Berman held, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, saying that Attorney General Barr has “undermined the rule of law.” Berman’s second-in-command, Audrey Strauss will now take over the cases he was working on.
In the latest on protests against racist police violence, one person was killed and several injured in Seattle, Washington’s “autonomous zone.” The victim was only 19-year old. So far it is not clear who is responsible. Two people were killed by gunshots and 7 injured by cars that drove away in Charlotte, North Carolina during a Juneteenth celebration. In Los Angeles, hundreds of people protested the LA Sheriff’s department demanding answers in last week’s killing of an 18-year old security guard named Andres Guardado. Sheriff’s deputies responded by firing non-lethal weapons into the crowd. And in New York, a police officer was fired after he was documented using a chokehold on a Black man even though it is now a banned tactic. The same maneuver that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis has been banned in several cities as part of police reform efforts but officers are reluctant to comply with the laws.
In Columbus, Ohio, police were documented knocking down a double-amputee to the ground. Witnesses say police confiscated his prosthetic legs as he screamed for help. They deployed pepper spray at crowds a week after city officials promised the chemical weapon would not be used on protesters. A new study by the University of Chicago examined lethal use-of-force policies of the top 20 departments in the nation and concluded that all of them violate international human rights standards. Meanwhile Colorado’s governor just signed into law a sweeping set of police reforms that includes one critical piece left out of reform bills: an end to so-called “qualified immunity” that police enjoy. It is now the first state in the nation to end a doctrine that even the US Supreme Court recently refused to take on. In other police-related news, the Minneapolis jail where police officer Derek Chauvin was held after being arrested for killing George Floyd, only allowed white security guards to keep an eye on him. All four officers involved are out on bail. And, NASCAR’s only black driver Bubba Wallace has found a noose hanging in his garage that authorities are now investigating.
The Washington Post conducted an analysis of who engaged in property damage during the nationwide police protests after Floyd’s killing and concluded that people identifying themselves as “antifa” were not involved in spite of Trump’s constant claims to the contrary. Instead, “Four people who identify with the far-right extremist “boogaloo” movement are among those facing the most serious federal charges.” And people continue to bring down statues of confederate era and colonialist leaders. In Los Angeles, activists brought down the statue of Junipero Serra near Olvera Street in the downtown district. And, authorities have announced they will remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt from the front of the National History Museum as it depicts white supremacy with a native American and African American flanking him in subservience.
Finally, Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton says he won’t vote for Trump in November. And primary elections are taking place in New York on Tuesday where Representative Eliot Engel faces an insurgent left candidate named Jamaal Bowman. Kentucky is also holding primary elections where authorities are under fire for slashing polling places by 95% and leaving cities that have large Black populations with just a single polling place each.