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State Department Slammed as Thousands of Americans Are Left Stranded Abroad

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  • A State Department official said Wednesday that as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck in other countries due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. 
  • The Department has pledged to get as many citizens home as possible, but many are frustrated by inconsistent communication and lack of responses.
  • Americans in Peru are facing many issues in particular and have resorted to forming their own communication channels to maintain adequate updates. 
  • Politicians have also spoken out about their frustration with the State Department, accusing them of not doing enough and reacting too slowly.

Thousands of Americans Stuck

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, many nations have been put on lockdown and thousands of flights have been cancelled as a result, leaving many stranded in foreign countries. According to the U.S. State Department, as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck overseas, trying to return home. 

A State Department official said Wednesday that it has brought about 9,000 Americans home from 28 countries since the beginning of the outbreak, and plans to bring at least 9,000 more back in the next week or so on chartered flights. 

“Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens,” Ian Brownlee, who runs the Department’s repatriation task force, told reporters. “And we’re committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can.”

But the commitment hasn’t been totally reassuring, and many Americans have felt frustrated by the lack of communication and help from the U.S. government. Some have even taken matters into their own hands through measures like riskily crossing the border from Guatemala to Mexico and bringing money to pay off customs officials, according to reports from Politico

Brownlee says the Department has not been getting a heads up about border closes and flight cancellations, leaving them overwhelmed. He also said that vulnerable populations, like the sick and elderly, are given priority on limited flights. U.S. officials have been urging Americans to return home if they’re not ready to remain overseas for an extended period of time.   

Trapped in Peru

The situation is arguably the worst for those stuck in Peru, a nation that is now on lockdown and has closed its international borders in attempts to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The country closed its international airport in Lima on Sunday. 

“There were some [COVID19] infections in the civil aviation authority and on the civilian side of the airport and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport,” Brownlee told NPR

Because the situation intensified so quickly, many were unable to get home before this shutdown. On Twitter, the hashtag #stuckinPeru has been making its rounds. 

Information from the U.S. government has been conflicting. Last week, the Pentagon said it would fly military aircraft to retrieve Americans in Peru, but the trip was canceled and reconsidered. 

According to State Department officials, the Peruvian government denied permission for two U.S. chartered flights to land on Tuesday. Earlier this week, an American Airlines plane was actually on its way to retrieve Americans stranded in Lima, but had to turn around mid-way after the Peruvian government refused to give it permission to land, according to Politico

Many are upset by the absence of help from the U.S. government. 

“We are being held hostage here, and we don’t know by whom or why,” said Michael Katz, a New York resident stranded in Cusco, told The Wall Street Journal. “The State Department is completely useless and totally incompetent.”

Others have compared America’s failed repatriation efforts to the successes of other countries.

To combat their frustration, citizens have taken their own measures to try to spread accurate information, like making a Facebook page called “Americans Stuck in Peru.” The group has almost 5,000 members.

U.S. politicians have also placed blame on the State Department for failing to get everybody home. 

“#AmericansStuckInPeru is due to lack [of] urgency by some in mid-level of @StateDept,” Sen Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday. “We didn’t need you to ‘track’ this, we needed you to solve this.”

Frustrations with State Department Continue

Rubio wasn’t the only senator to speak out about the State Department’s inability to get every American stuck abroad home. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed fingers at the department as well. 

“If this administration, including Secretary Pompeo and his senior leadership team, had taken the coronavirus threat seriously and planned ahead, we may have been able to avoid some of the confusion and chaos Americans abroad encountered,” Menendez told Politico. “Unfortunately, that simply did not happen. As a result, the State Department now has to try to catch up and make up for lost time.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has faced heat in particular. Over the weekend, he tweeted a photo of his wife at home as they did a puzzle together, and Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego had a heated reply.

“I have constituents stuck overseas can you get off your ass and get them home?” Gallego wrote.

On Thursday, Pompeo defended the official efforts to bring Americans home. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of people who are trying to get back this way, and with travel shut down in many of these countries without any notice or little notice, there’s still a major undertaking,” Pompeo told radio host Hugh Hewitt

“But the team has mashaled the resources. It’s an airlift back home like we’ve not seen in an awfully long time, and I’m really proud of the way our team has responded,” Pompeo said. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (NBC) (NPR)

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Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates

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  • Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 
  • A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
  • That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.

Racist Snapchat Group

Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 

A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”

That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”

Screenshot of group chat message via KXAS

At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.

According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”

That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.

Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.

“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.

District Responds

After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.

The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”

The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

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  • The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
  • The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time. 
  • The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
  • Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. 

CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.

The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.

Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”

That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. 

What Happens From Here?

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.

When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”

In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. 

What If I Had A J&J Appointment?

Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.

The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day. 

If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.

For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.

Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)

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Minnesota Protests Continue for a Second Night Over Police Killing of Daunte Wright

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  • Protests continued in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Monday over the death of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by a police officer who allegedly thought she was using her Taser.
  • Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators violating the 7 p.m. curfew, as well as others who threw projectiles back at the officers. Several incidents of looting were reported, though law enforcement officials said they were minimal.
  • That same evening, police officials identified the officer involved in Wright’s death as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, prompting many experts to flag numerous reasons an officer with her experience should have known not to confuse her weapon with a stun gun.
  • Wright tendered her resignation on Tuesday, as did Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon.

Second Night of Demonstrations 

Demonstrators clashed with police for the second night in a row Monday after an officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

Much like protests the day before, the events reportedly started out peaceful, with hundreds attending a vigil on the street where Wright was killed. Hundreds more gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

The situation started to escalate after 7 p.m. when the curfew instituted across all four Twin City metro-area countries went into effect. According to reports, police began to warn people that they were in violation of the curfew, and shortly before 8 p.m., officers began firing rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades. 

Some protesters reportedly retaliated by throwing water bottles, fireworks, and other projectiles. Later, police in riot gear pushed groups of demonstrators who had regrouped away from the police station.

Looters also broke into several businesses at a strip mall close by, including a Dollar Tree, where flames were reportedly later spotted, though law enforcement officials described the looting as limited.

During a press briefing just after midnight, officials said that 40 people had been arrested at the Brooklyn Center protest.

Officer Identified

Late Monday, state officials identified the officer who fatally shot Wright as Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force. BCPD Chief Tim Gannon had previously said that the officer, who he refused to name, had intended to use her Taser, but accidentally used her gun.

Many social media users and experts questioned how someone with 26 years of experience could mix up a Taser and a gun, including one retired sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, who told The New York Times, “If you train enough, you should be able to tell.” 

The Times also noted that it is not common for officers to mix up their Tasers and guns, that most police forces — including BCPD — use a variety of protocols to prevent this from happening

Tasers are usually designed with specific features to distinguish them from guns, such as bright color-coating and different styles of grips. According to The Times, the BCPD manual cites three different pistol models as standard-issue, all three of which “weigh significantly more than a typical Taser.”

Those pistols also have a trigger safety that can be felt when touching them, while the Tasers do not. The outlet additionally noted that BCPD protocol requires officers to wear guns on their dominant sides and Tasers on the opposite to prevent exactly this kind of confusion.

Beyond that, Potter’s actions may have violated department policy even if she had used her Taser because the manual says it should not be used on people “whose position or activity may result in collateral injury,” including those “operating vehicles.” 

It also says that officers should make “reasonable efforts” to avoid using the stun gun on people in the “head, neck, chest and groin,” but Wright was shot in the chest. 

On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that Potter and Chief Gannon have resigned from the force. The resignations come after Brooklyn Center leaders dismissed the city manager, a decision that could potentially give Mayor Mike Elliot the ability to fire the chief or officers in the department.

The resignations also come amid reports that Potter had been involved in another police-involved shooting in 2019, where she had been “admonished by investigators for allegedly attempting to conceal evidence after a police shooting that left a 21-year-old autistic man dead,” according to The Daily Beast.

Misinformation Spreads

As more information comes out surrounding the traffic stop that led to Wright’s death, several pieces of misinformation have also continued to spread on social media.

Most of the false information centers around the warrant for Wrights’ arrest that prompted police to attempt to detain him.

According to reports, court records show that a judge issued the warrant earlier this month after he missed a court appearance for two misdemeanor charges he was facing from last June for carrying a pistol without a permit and running from officers. 

Notably, Wright does have a number of past charges filed against him, including two for attempted sale of Marijuana and aggravated robbery. Despite claims by many social media users, those charges were for separate incidents, and the warrant was specifically for failing to appear in court for the June charge.

There has also been a viral video circulating Twitter and TikTok claiming court records show that the hearing notification was sent to the wrong address, seemingly in reference to a piece of mail that had failed to be delivered in his court records.

The mail, however, was actually for a different case and is not connected to the notification for the hearing he missed. While that video is incorrect and county officials maintain that they did send him notification, Wright’s public defender, Arthur Martinez, told reporters his client had never received the notice and that the court had not informed him either.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Minneapolis Star Tribune) (The Daily Beast)

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