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Portland Mayor Says Clashing Protests Avoided “Worst Case Scenario”

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  • The Proud Boys organized a march in Portland on Saturday and were met with counter-protesters from Antifa. 
  • While 13 arrests were made and a few injuries reported, Portland’s Mayor is pleased that the city avoided the “worst-case scenario.”
  • Both sides also see themselves as the victors of the day, with Trump tweeting he wants Antifa to be classified as a terrorist group, and Portland’s Mayor saying he does not want a Proud Boys organizer back in the city.

Clashing Protests in Portland

Portland’s Mayor is saying the city avoided the worst-case scenario after protests led by the Proud Boys were met with counterprotests from Antifa.

On Saturday the Proud Boys, a male-only right-wing group that considers themselves to be patriots and western chauvinists, and has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, planned a march in an area of the city’s downtown. Other right-wing groups like Patriotic Prayer also turned out, but they were met by a counterprotest led by Antifa.

Antifa, or anti-Fascists, is a left-wing group who mainly protests far-right groups and leaders that they perceive as fascist or bigoted, led a clashing demonstration. Due to both groups’ opposing views and reputations for inciting violence, the Portland Police Bureau and other city officials feared that the events could cause safety concerns and public disruption.

“PPB and our partners are here to protect everyone’s safety while facilitating everyone’s 1st Amendment right to gather and speak,” Portland Police said in a statement.

The demonstrations ended up lasting over six hours until officers declared a civil disturbance. An estimated 1,200 people turned out. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler believes that considering the size and nature of the event, police and the city handled the situation well. 

“Based on the information that we’d been receiving over the last several weeks, we were preparing for and planning for a worst-case scenario, and I’m very pleased that at least so far this did not happen,” he said during a press conference.

Still, the day did not go without any issues or infractions. According to police, 13 arrests were made for reasons including disorderly conduct, attempted assault, unlawful use of a weapon, resisting arrests, and possession of a weapon in a park. Officers seized several weapons and said six people were injured with one going to the hospital. Most injuries, however, were minor. 

Both Sides Declare Victory

Both the Proud Boys and Antifa walked away from the demonstrations seeing their side as victorious. Joe Biggs, who planned the rally for the Proud Boys told The Oregonian the group achieved its goal. 

“We wanted national attention and we got it.” Biggs said. “Mission success.”

Part of this national attention came from President Donald Trump, who tweeted about the events in Portland. He shared his possible intent to list Antifa as an “Organization of Terror.” 

The right-wing group saw this tweet as a confirmation of their success. The Oregonian also reported that the Proud Boys intend to return to Portland on a monthly basis unless Mayor Wheeler “takes charge and removes the scourge of violent domestic terrorists from his city,” which they said in reference to Antifa. 

However, others saw Antifa emerging as triumphant. Eric K. Ward, the Executive Director of the Western States Center, released a statement claiming that some businesses were turning away right-wing protesters on Saturday for promoting hate. 

“Portland won yesterday,” Ward added. “And far-right leaders like Joey Gibson and Joe Biggs lost.”

Mayor Wheeler also spoke against Biggs during the press conference. 

“At a time when people are expressing hatred, at a time when people are expressing intolerance, when there’s rhetoric that is aimed predominantly at women and people of color, and immigrants, it creates a sense of uncertainty and a sense of fear,” Wheeler said. “And so Mr. Biggs and others saying that they’re going to come here, that feeds in to that sense of fear. So I want to be very clear. We do not want him here in my city. Period.”

He also called Trump’s tweet about Antifa and the protests “unhelpful” in an interview with CNN.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Oregonian) (Vox)

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Black Americans Face Higher COVID-19 Death Rates in Some Areas

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  • In several cities and states around the country, black Americans are being hit harder by the coronavirus. 
  • In Louisiana and Chicago, black people account for 70% of the total deaths, despite being roughly a third of the population. 
  • Most states, however, are not releasing information about what racial groups are being impacted by the virus. 
  • The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and members of Congress have both sent their own letters encouraging the government to release this information. They believe that knowing what communities are being impacted the most is crucial in fighting the pandemic.

Disproportionate Rates Throughout Country

As states and cities across the country reveal that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, many are calling for data on race and the pandemic to be released nationwide. 

Louisiana has a little under 15,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, which has led to 512 deaths. Of those who died, 70% were black. This number is particularly astonishing because, according to census data, black citizens make up roughly one-third of the state’s population.

During a press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards said that this death rate is “disturbing.”

“So that deserves more attention and we’re going to have to dig into that and see what we can do to slow that trend down,” Edwards added. 

Louisiana is far from alone. In Chicago, African Americans also comprise close to one-third of the population, but they also account for 70% of COVID-19-related deaths.

As of Tuesday morning, the city has lost 118 people to the virus, with a 4.4 average death rate per 100,000 people. Eighty-one of those deaths have been black residents, who comparatively have a 10.3 death rate. This comes close to ten times the death rate any other racial population in the city is experiencing.

Source: City of Chicago Public Health

“Those numbers take your breath away,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters. “They really do. This is a call-to-action moment for all of us.”

In Milwaukee, where African Americans make up 27% of the population, the disparity is also massive. Not only are they leading confirmed cases, but also make up 35 of the state’s 49 total deaths.

There are several factors that could be contributing to this. African Americans are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to have pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and asthma. On top of this, black Americans are also systematically under treated and more likely to be denied treatment or testing. 

Medical issues aside, black Americans are also not working from home as frequently. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while 30% of white Americans and 37% of Asian Americans can work from home, only 20% of African Americans can. Hispanic and Latino workers have the least access to telecommuting at 16%. Those going out to work in the field, as opposed to saying home, are immediately at higher risk of exposing themselves to and contracting the coronavirus. 

Not All Cities and States Release Info

Black Americans dying from the coronavirus at a higher rate is a trend across numerous states and cities, but we still do not know how widespread the issue is. The majority of localities have not released information about what racial groups are the the most impacted by COVID-19. According to NBC News, only nine full states have done so.

This lack of reporting could stem from a number of reasons. First, states are not required to do so. Second, collecting all this data could be difficult, and even if that data is collected, some might fear misinformation.

Still, many health experts believe this information is essential in combating the virus. There are big efforts to urge states and the federal government to collect and share this information with the public so that the imbalance can be addressed. 

On Monday the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with nearly 400 medical professionals, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and related organizations to demand that these statistics be released to the public.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its subagencies are charged with ensuring that racial disparities do not persist in the administration of healthcare services, even in a pandemic,” they wrote. 

In their letter, they cited that black Americans have higher rates of underlying conditions and cannot work from home on a large scale. They also added that  black Americans face barriers in testing, and that they have also been disproportionately impacted in the recent surge of unemployment applications. 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law claims the data is needed so public health officials can determine if marginalized communities are struggling when it comes to testing and treatment.

“The absence of this critical data on a national scale will severely hamper the ability to develop robust public health interventions responsive to the needs of communities of color,” the letter added. “This data is also needed to help fully understand COVID-19, and to help stem ongoing community spread of this novel and dangerous virus.”

Letter from Congress

Congress has also demanded action on this front. At the end of March, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), teamed up with Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Robin Kelly (D-IL) to write a letter to DHS Secretary Alex Azar. Together, they encouraged the DHS and the CDC to monitor racial disparities and how the pandemic is impacted by them.

“Although COVID-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community,” they wrote. 

“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the letter continued. “It will also hamper the efforts of public health officials to track and contain the novel coronavirus in the areas that are at the highest risk of continued spread.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Politico) (Washington Post)

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Exemptions for Religious Gatherings During Pandemic Cause Confusion

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  • About a dozen states that have issued stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic have also made exemptions for religious gatherings.
  • A combination of mixed messaging from leaders, misreporting by the media, and overlapping decisions made at the state, county, and city levels have led to confusion about the exemptions.
  • Even in states with very clear bans, several religious leaders have continued to hold gatherings, arguing that banning them violates the first amendment.
  • Some churches in Arkansas, California, Illinois, and other states have already reported outbreaks that spread among members after they held large gatherings.

Religious Exemptions in States

With the Easter holidays rapidly approaching, state-wide exemptions for religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic have sparked confusion, concern, and a heated debate about religious freedoms.

Part of the confusion stems from the difficulty in pinning down exactly how many places that have shelter in place orders also have exemptions for religious gatherings. 

According to the New York Times, “41 states, three counties, eight cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home.”

In some places, like California, in-person religious gatherings have been outright banned throughout the whole state. In others, it is not as clear-cut.

This is not helped by a large amount of misreporting on how many states have religious exemptions.

Some of the misreporting and confusion is due to the fact that while some states explicitly list religious gatherings as exempt, others, like Alabama and South Carolina, just provide a list of entities that have to close. Those lists do not include religious organizations.

Around a dozen states have some kind of religious exemption for stay-at-home orders.

Florida, Texas & Religious Freedoms

There’s also an issue with overlapping authority regarding decisions made at the state level versus the county and city levels.

For example, last week, Florida megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for holding services despite the shelter in place order in Hillsborough County, where his church was.

A few days later, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis implemented a state-wide safer and home order that explicitly allowed religious gatherings.

“There’s no reason why you can’t do a church service with people spread 10 feet apart, so we definitely ask them to abide by social distancing guidelines, but I think, in times like this, the service they are providing is very important for people,” DeSantis said, despite the fact that there was no clear indication in his order that social distancing rules needed to be followed.

Following DeSantis’ announcement, Howard-Browne said he will keep his church shut down because he received death threats, though he still pushed back against the county’s now-defunct order.

“The First Amendment provides express protections to houses of worship and assembly,” he said in a statement. “There is no similar constitutional protection for commercial businesses; yet houses of worship and religious gatherings are signaled out for discrimination.”

Religious institutions are largely believed to be protected from regulations in the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled that a law cannot “unduly burden” a religion unless there is a “compelling interest.”

But whether or not the pandemic can be considered “compelling” is a much bigger and more complicated constitutional debate, as there is no precedent for a pandemic in the modern world of this scale and magnitude.

Florida is not alone here. Last week, three pastors in Texas filed a lawsuit against Harris County, where Houston is located, after a stay-at-home order that barred religious gatherings was put in place.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed a statewide shelter in place order that allowed religious gatherings a few days later, and like in Florida, the state-wide order in Texas effectively made the local orders moot.

Mixes Messages & Ignored Orders

Mixed messaging from leaders has also added to the confusion.

The Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio generated viral buzz Sunday after a CNN report showed numerous cars leaving a Palm Sunday service. When one of the drivers was asked if she was concerned about spreading the virus, she responded, “No, I’m covered in Jesus’ blood.”

According to reports, the town’s mayor had specifically asked that the church stop holding in-person services, a request which it rejected.

The point was also echoed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

“Any pastor who brings people together, in close proximity to each other, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake,” he said. “It’s not a Christian thing to do.”

That, however, was confusing to some, because DeWine was the one who issued the order allowing for religious exemptions in the first place.

But even in places where there are very clear-cut orders explicitly banning religious gatherings, some churches are outright ignoring them.

In Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church held services Sunday despite the fact that he had been arrested for violating the state’s order and holding services just a few days earlier.

In Sacramento, the Bethany Slavic Missionary megachurch reportedly continued to hold services even after 71 members of the congregation tested positive for the coronavirus. The church was shuttered as of this weekend.

Hotspot for Spread

The Bethany Slavic Missionary church was not the only religious institution that has made way for the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, several religious gatherings have proven to be hotspots for the contraction and spread of the virus.

In February, six people who attended a church conference at a hotel in Louisville, Kentucky tested positive. North Carolina public health officials have said “multiple cases” of the virus are connected to a March event held by the Faith Assembly Christian Center at another hotel Durham.

Rural Minnesota has reported at least nine cases that were traced to one church, and at least 10 members of a church in a suburb of Chicago got sick after a March 15 service.

In Arkansas, more than three dozen people who attended a children’s event at a church tested positive at the end of March.

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (The Hill) (The Guardian)

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White House Experts Clash Over Promotion of Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 Treatment

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  • Axios reported that presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro heatedly confronted Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday over whether or not there has been “clear” evidence showing hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness against COVID-19.
  • The fiery exchange did little to stifle President Trump’s praise of the drug, as he continued to push it in back-to-back press conferences this weekend.
  • On Sunday, Trump cut off a reporter trying to ask Dr. Fauci about his thoughts on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness.

Navarro Clashes With Fauci Over Hydroxychloroquine

The debate within the Trump Administration on how to advertise hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 heated up over the weekend in a fiery exchange between presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

According to an exclusive report by Axios, that confrontation happened Saturday afternoon in the White House Situation Room. It began after Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn began talking about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that’s being investigated to possibly treat COVID-19 patients.

President Trump has frequently touted it at press conferences, calling it a “game-changer” for the United States. Many scientists like Dr. Fauci, however, have been more cautious on how to present the drug to the public since it’s not currently approved to treat COVID-19. This is because hydroxychloroquine has a number of known side effects, including heart and vision problems.

While their argument isn’t to necessarily prevent hydroxychloroquine from ever being used, scientists simply want to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks before it gets widespread use. 

In the meeting, Hahn reportedly started giving updates regarding different hydroxychloroquine trials.

Navarro then got up, and according to an Axios source familiar with the situation, “…the first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy.’ Those are the exact words out of his mouth.”

Fauci then pushed back, saying that at the moment, the evidence for those studies and hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness is only anecdotal. Notably, that is something he’s repeatedly said in the past weeks. 

Fauci’s comment reportedly set Navarro off. According to Axios’ sources, Navarro then pointed to those studies and said, “That’s science, not anecdote.”

Reportedly, he then started yelling and accused Dr. Fauci of objecting to Trump’s travel restrictions, saying, “You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China.” 

Dr. Fauci and others then reportedly looked confused, likely because Fauci has praised Trump’s travel restrictions on China.

Following that, Vice President Mike Pence and others reportedly tried to moderate the discussion, a source saying, “It was pretty clear that everyone was just trying to get [Navarro] to sit down and stop being so confrontational.”

Eventually, Jared Kushner reportedly managed to convince Navarro and everyone else to change the conversation to hot zones in the U.S. 

Before they did, they agreed that the administration’s stance should be that the decision to use the drug is between patients and doctors prescribing it off-label.

“There has never been a confrontation in the task force meetings like the one yesterday,” Axios’ sources said. “People speak up and there’s robust debate, but there’s never been a confrontation. Yesterday was the first confrontation.”

Monday morning, Navarro spoke on that disagreement and defended himself on CNN, saying, “Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist. I have a Ph. D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.” 

Trump Continues to Tout Hydroxychloroquine

Despite a notable escalation in tensions over hydroxychloroquine among President Doanld Trump’s advisers, it did not seem to stop Trump from propping up the drug this weekend. 

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said Saturday. “It’s been out there for a long time, and I hope they use it. And they’re going to look at the—with doctors, work with doctors, get what you have to get. 

“And I hope they use it because it’s been used for a long time and therefore, it’s passed the safety tests,” he continued.

“In fact, I might do it anyway,” Trump added on hydroxychloroquine. “I may take it. I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it.”

Alongside that, Trump said that the U.S. has stockpiled 29 million pills of hydroxychloroquine.

Trump continued to rush hydroxychloroquine as a treatment on Sunday, saying, “We don’t have time to say, ‘Gee, let’s go and take a couple of years and test it out. And let’s go and test with the test tubes and the laboratories.’ We don’t have time. I’d love to do that, but we have people dying today, as we speak, there are people dying.” 

Sunday’s press briefing, however, was eclipsed by another moment when Trump cut off a reporter as that reporter tried to ask Dr. Fauci a question regarding his opinion on the use of hydroxychloroquine.

“Would you also weigh in on this issue of hydroxychloroquine? What do you think about this and what is the medical evidence?” a reporter asked Fauci, who was taking questions from the podium

“Do you know how many times he’s answered that question?” Trump asked, stepping forward from the side as Dr. Fauci  “Maybe fifteen. Fifteen times. You don’t have to ask the question.”

“The question is for the doctor,” the reporter said. “He’s your medical expert, correct?”

“He’s answered that question 15 times,” Trump repeated before moving onto the next question.

Where Is the U.S. With Hydroxychloroquine?

Right now, the United States is likely still months away from knowing whether or not hydroxychloroquine will prove to be effective against COVID-19.

That said, clinical trials have already begun in New York. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration also approved hydroxychloroquine for emergency treatment.

On Sunday, Pence announced another clinical trial, a 3,000 person trial set to begin with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Specifically, it will look at whether or not hydroxychloroquine will prevent COVID-19 in healthcare workers battling the virus.

“This is going to be the first major, definitive study in healthcare workers and first responders of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medication,” said Dr. William O’Neill with the Henry Ford Health System. “There has been a lot of talk about this drug, but only a small, non-blinded study in Europe. We are going to change that in Metro Detroit and produce a scientific answer to the question: Does it work?”

Still, that study will also take at least a few months to conduct. Even then, doctors are warning that timely caution is the best practice for this drug.

“There could be negative side effects,” President of the American Medical Association Dr. Patrice Harris said on CNN. “There could be deaths. This is a new virus, and so we should not be promoting any medication or drug for any disease that has not been proven and approved by the FDA.”

“You could lose your life,” she added after being asked about potential dangers. “It’s unproven. And so certainly there are some limited studies, as Dr. Fauci said. But at this point, we just don’t have the data to suggest that we should be using this medication for COVID-19.”

Se what others are saying: (Axios) (CNN) (Newsweek)

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