- Felicia Sonmez, a reporter for The Washington Post, tweeted a link to a 2016 article detailing the rape accusation against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant after news of his death broke.
- The tweet sparked backlash and debate over how to respond to the deaths of icons with controversial histories but ultimately prompted many to call for her firing.
- On Sunday night, The Post suspended Sonmez, who later received the support of more than 300 of her colleagues.
- After a review of the incident, The Post reinstated Sonmez Tuesday, saying she he did not violate company policy.
Washington Post Reporter Tweets about Kobe Rape Case
After tweeting about Kobe Bryant’s sexual-assault allegation the day he and eight others died in a helicopter crash, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was suspended.
By Tuesday evening, however, The Post reinstated Sonmez and cleared her of any violations.
The incident began Sunday when, shortly after Bryant’s death, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast article titled, “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.”
That article details a 2003 accusation that Bryant raped a then 19-year-old hotel employee at a Colorado Spa. Bryant was subsequently charged with sexual assault and could have faced up to life in prison.
The NBA legend initially told investigators that he hadn’t had a sexual encounter with the woman, but later admitted to the encounter and to cheating on his wife, Vanessa Bryant.
Bryant claimed that the affair was consensual. The case then moved to court, but it was dropped in 2004 when Bryant’s accuser refused to testify.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” Bryant said in a statement the same day the case was dropped. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
His accuser later filed a civil suit, and Bryant settled with her outside of court.
Such was the basis for Sonmez’s tweet. Sonmez, a survivor of sexual assault herself, has since said that she refrained from adding any comments to her tweet because of The Post’s policies.
Later in the day, however, Sonmez continued to tweet about the situation, saying she had received death threats, as well as telling other outlets she had also received rape threats.
“Well, THAT was eye-opening,” she said, “To the 10,000 people (literally) who commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story.”
“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling,” she added.
In another tweet, Sonmez included an image of her email inbox. That image also contained the names of some of the people who had reportedly sent threats to her.
Sonmez’s Twitter activity also prompted many others on social media to call for The Post to fire her.
Fire Felicia Sonmez now!!!!!!!!— MaineDemocrat1776 (@MDemocrat1776) January 26, 2020
Washington Post Suspends Sonmez
By Sunday night, Sonmez deleted all of her tweets relating to Bryant, and shortly thereafter, The Post announced it had suspended her.
In a statement, Tracy Grant, a managing editor for The Post, said that Sonmez, “was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy.”
“The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues,” she added.
Sonmez’s suspension then sparked its own amount of controversy online. While some still called for her to be fired, others criticized The Post for the move and said she should be reinstated.
The Post Reporters Support Sonmez
Much of Sonmez’s support came from nearly 350 of her fellow journalists at The Post, who all endorsed a statement from The Washington Post Guild that backed Sonmez.
Another one of Sonmez’s colleagues, Erik Wemple, wrote an opinion piece in The Post asking what policies Sonmez had violated.
“What did Sonmez do to deserve this brushback? he said. “She tweeted out a good story from the Daily Beast.”
In his column, Wemple argued that Sonmez was only reminding everyone of a real incident from Kobe’s life.
Also in an interview for the column, Somnez revealed that she had emailed two of her editors Sunday night to tell them about the threats.
She said she also included links to her tweets. Editor Tracy Grant then asked her to delete them. Sonmez, however, says she was a “little delayed” in taking them down, in part, because someone had doxxed her home address.
Later, Grant reportedly sent her another email reading that she’d be “in violation of a directive from a managing editor” if she didn’t delete her tweets. Sonmez complied, a move Wemple argued provided a victory for the people who had attacked her for posting a “perfectly fine news story.”
Sonmez also said, out of fear for her own safety, she checked into a hotel Sunday night, where she soon learned she was being placed on administrative leave immediately.
Grant then reportedly told Sonmez that her tweets didn’t “pertain” to her “coverage area” and that she was making it difficult for others at The Post to do their own work.
Arguing Grant’s point, Wemple said if The Post journalists can be suspended for tweeting outside of their beat, then the entire newsroom would be on leave. He also said Grant’s claim that Sonmez complicated others’ work needs supporting evidence.
Ending his column, Wemple recited one of The Post’s main principles:
“The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.”
The Post Reinstates Sonmez
On Tuesday, The Post announced it would be clearing and reinstating Sonmez effective immediately, with the newspaper’s editors admitting they had been out of line in suspending her.
“Reporters on social media represent The Washington Post, and our policy states ‘we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence,’” Grant said in a statement. “We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.”
On Sonmez’s reinstatement, The Post Guild called the move “welcome,” but the union also noted that Grant’s statement didn’t include an apology to Sonmez. It also criticized The Post for not “[taking] swift action to provide her with protection and support.”
On Twitter, Sonmez also issued her own statement.
“I believe that Washington Post readers and employees, including myself, deserve to hear directly from [The Post’s editor] Marty Baron on the newspaper’s handling of this matter.”
See what others are saying: (WAMU) (Washingtonian) (The New York Times)
All U.S. Adults Officially Eligible for COVID Vaccine
- As of Monday, every adult in the U.S. who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get one.
- According to the CDC, more than 131 million people, roughly half of all American adults, have already gotten at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
- The U.S. is currently on pace to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June, but experts worry that herd immunity could be complicated by vaccine hesitancy and when the shots are approved for children.
- While vaccine hesitancy has decreased in recent months, it is still alarmingly high in some areas. Meanwhile, pending FDA approval, experts have said that they believe all children will not be able to be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022.
U.S. Opens Vaccine Eligibility
Adults in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who want a COVID-19 vaccine can now get one after the last few states opened eligibility Monday, officially meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 131 million people — half of all American adults — have already received at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, or about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
The open eligibility deadline, which was initially set for May 1, comes as the vaccination rate has risen substantially in the last few months after a slow initial rollout. This month, the CDC said the U.S. has been administering an average of 3.2 million doses every day, up from around 2.5 million last month.
At the current rate, the country is also on track to meet another accelerated goal of Biden’s: administering 200 million doses by his 100th day in office — a number that was originally set at 100 million.
Right now, the U.S. is on track to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June.
Barriers to Herd Immunity
However, there are two major factors that will impact the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity: when the shots are approved for children and vaccine hesitancy.
Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the vaccine but only Pfizer’s version. Notably, Pfizer announced earlier this month that it applied for an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 to 15 eligible for its vaccine, and Moderna is set to release results from its trial on adolescents soon.
Experts worry the full administration could take a while, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday that he does not expect children of all ages to be eligible until the first quarter of 2022.
As far as vaccine hesitancy is concerned, polls have found that more people are willing to take the shot than before. Specifically, hesitancy has decreased in Black and Latino communities, where it was previously quite high.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from the end of last month found that 61% of adults said they were vaccinated or wanted to be — an increase of 55% from the month before, which was largely driven by the change of interest among Black Americans.
At the same time, the poll also found that fewer than half of Republicans said they have received at least one dose or intend to get it. Additionally, a recent analysis of data in nearly every U.S. county conducted by The New York Times found that both vaccination rates and willingness were lower on average in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“In more rural — and more Republican — areas, health officials said that supply is far exceeding demand,” the report noted. “And in interviews with more than two dozen state and county health officials […] most attributed low vaccination rates at least partly to hesitant conservative populations.”
Now, public health officials are also concerned that hesitancy will only get worse as officials investigate whether Johnson & Johnson’s shot is linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. Experts have said the risk is exceedingly low, even if some connection is found, including Dr. Fauci, who said Sunday that he believes federal regulators will likely resume J&J jabs later this week after they were paused last week in all 50 states.
Still, many believe the bad press will likely spell trouble for vaccine-hesitant populations — not just for J&J but for all COVID vaccines — a fact that is especially worrisome as cases in the U.S. have spiked recently. Over the past seven days, the country has averaged 67,000 new cases a day, a significant jump from over 54,000 a month ago.
Others are more optimistic that the expanded eligibility will drive demand in states where it is low, and as a result, those numbers will drop.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him
- Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
- The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
- The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
- The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.
Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public
Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.
The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.
Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.
The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.
Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Renewed Backlash and Protests
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.
“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”
Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.
However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)
Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting
- Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
- The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
- President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”
Eight Killed in Shooting
Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.
“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”
Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified.
The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”
Gun Violence in the U.S.
This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year.
The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.
Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”
“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference.
“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter.
Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.