Headlines: June 4, 2020
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Activists in Minneapolis, Minnesota along with the family and friends of George Floyd gathered for a memorial on Thursday at North Central University with Rev. Al Sharpton scheduled to lead. Thousands of people attended and similar memorials are being held in Raeford, North Carolina where some of Floyd’s relatives live, and in Houston, Texas, where he lived for many years. The memorials kicked off six days of mourning in the 3 cities leading up to Floyd’s funeral next Tuesday. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar spoke in Minneapolis among crowds of activists.
There have been more than ten thousand arrests over the past ten days of protests in US cities demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of racist police brutality. Of those, 3,000 arrests were made in Los Angeles County alone, the vast majority of people taken into custody for violating curfew and other non-violent offenses. In New York City violent clashes with police have included shootings, beatings, and stabbings. In Washington DC, where President Donald Trump had ordered a violent clearing of peaceful protesters in order to arrange a church-front photo op, tensions also remained high. On Wednesday thousands of people gathered even in the face of National Guardsmen. In addition to the National Guard, more than ten busloads of active duty Army troops entered DC as commentators denounced the President’s authoritarianism.
On Wednesday, following Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s open opposition to Trump’s domestic military deployment, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis followed suit. Mattis, who had led the Pentagon for two years, from January 2017 to January 2019 released a scathing statement accusing Trump of using the military to, “violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens… to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief.” He added, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Attorney General William Barr, who personally ordered the violent clearing of DC’s peaceful protesters on Monday is coming under fire for unleashing armed federal agents on the streets of the capital who are not wearing uniforms that clearly identify which department they represent. Heavily armed agents from the DEA, the FBI, and other agencies are being deployed across DC mostly wearing T-shirts under their gear in what critics say is a dangerous powder keg. Meanwhile in Las Vegas, the anti-terrorism unit of the FBI arrested three members of a far right group called “Boogaloo” who were in possession of Molotov cocktails.
The New York Times reported on a case in Tacoma, Washington where a black man was killed in circumstances suspiciously like that of Floyd. Manuel Ellis’s last words while in police custody were “I can’t breathe” and his death considered a homicide. In the case of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing in Satilla Shores, Georgia, disturbing new details have come to light including one of the suspects’ use of the N-word during his killing and a confederate sticker on his truck. The three suspects, a retired police officer, his son, and a third man, all white, are all facing charges in Arbery’s. According to CNN the men, “engaged in an elaborate chase, hitting the 25-year-old jogger with a truck as he repeatedly tried to avoid them.” The harrowing details appeared to fit those of a modern-day lynching. And activists in Minneapolis welcomed new charges against all four officers involved in George Floyd’s killing even as a new witness – Floyd’s close friend who was in his car with him during the fatal police encounter – says that Floyd did not at all resist arrest. And, an autopsy conducted on Floyd’s body showed that he had contracted the coronavirus weeks before his killing but that that did not contribute to his death.
Around the country the movement to defund police departments has gained unprecedented support among the public and even politicians. For years activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups had demanded the reinvestment of police funds into community services. Now, with the George Floyd protests there is greater political will. In Los Angeles, after insisting that a debt-plagued city ought to boost the police budget Mayor Eric Garcetti has conceded that cuts are necessary instead. Out of billions that go to the LAPD the LA City Council and mayor on Wednesday made a paltry cut of $100-$150 million from the police budget to be reinvested into communities of color.
As the economic fallout from the coronavirus continues, the Labor Department released its latest figures on Thursday showing that 1.9 million people filed for jobless benefits last week. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Close to one in four workers are either on unemployment benefits or are waiting to receive them.” Meanwhile thousands of workers whose jobs were reinstated are caught between risking their health in an unsafe work environment or losing a paycheck. In many states, employers are simply firing their workers and reporting them to authorities so that they lose their unemployment benefits.
The social media company Snap which makes the popular app Snapchat has announced it will no longer promote President Trump’s account saying that his comments were inciting violence. While the company will allow the account to remain on its app, it will no longer promote it on its “Discover” page. A spokesperson said, “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.” The move runs counter to Twitter and Facebook that have allowed Trump to violate their community standards without repercussion. Twitter’s only move was to add a fact-check to two lie-filled tweets and to highlight one tweet as promoting violence. One commentator wrote in the New York Times, “Twitter is only bringing more attention to the president’s tweets, and Facebook’s strategy has been to do nothing.”
Covid-19 infections are spreading dramatically around the world now that it has reached some countries for the first time. New cases are being documented at about 100,000 a day. According to one report, “The increase has been driven by emerging hot spots in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.” So far, “there have been more than 6.3 million reported cases worldwide and more than 380,000 known deaths. More than a quarter of all known deaths have been in the United States.”