- Despite orders against large social gatherings, some churches in places like Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio have continued to host mass services for hundreds of worshipers.
- One Florida church leader said his members were practicing “social distancing, or whatever,” despite live video of them clearly not.
- He also told churchgoers that they were more likely to contract the virus elsewhere, not in church, and has peddled misinformation about the virus.
- Meanwhile, a Louisiana preacher has said the coronavirus is “not a concern” and is “politically motivated.”
17% of Churchgoers Still Attend, Poll Says
While schools and businesses all over the world have closed their doors to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, many churchgoers have continued to attend services in person.
Some houses of worship, from the Vatican to storefront mosques, have switched to virtual gatherings, but according to a Buzzfeed poll conducted last week by three political scientists, 22% of respondents said they had been “encouraged” to attend in-person worship “because of the virus.” The study also found that 17% of respondents were actually still going.
The survey polled 1,038 people from all over the country, who said they attend a house of worship “more often than never.” It’s not exactly known if the 17% of people still attending services are meeting in smaller worship settings that follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, but based on some recent reports, it’s clear that there are still hundreds of worshipers ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Last week, nearly three dozen people who attended a church event at First Assemblies of God Church in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, tested positive for COVID-19. Of the 34 who tested positive, 31 are either church staff or members of the church.
On Friday, a church in Chicago said 43 people reported symptoms related to the virus after a church service on March 15. At least 10 of those people thave tested positive for the virus so far.
Hundreds Gather in Louisiana
While President Donald Trump has recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people, many states have laid out their own specific social distancing rules. Still, some are choosing to deliberately defy them.
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana is one preacher in particular who has made headlines for hosting mass gatherings. On March 17, he went against Gov. Jon Bel Edwards’ order that banned groups larger than 50 from gathering at one time, including churches.
Spell hosted a Tuesday service for around 300 people, arguing at the time that the virus was “not a concern,” and adding that he believes it is “politically motivated.”
“People are still going to work, still going to the mall. I encountered more people in Target today then I did during my service last night,” he later told CNN. “It’s persecution of the faith for me not to have my worship service and yet I am allowed to go out in public and shop. Why is there one standard for commerce and another for religion?”
He also boasted about gathering a larger crowd of nearly 1,200 the Sunday before, adding that he had 27 busses picking people up. His services have reportedly continued as normal, with Spell even hosting baptisms and laying hands to heal the sick.
Once the media began reporting on Spell’s services, he said several church members were suspended from work after employers feared they would spread the virus. Yet still, this past Sunday over 550 people packed themselves inside the church.
According to the Associated Press, assistant ministers and other churchgoers stood outside the front doors and in the parking lot telling reporters to leave. They said cameras would not be allowed on the property and that they had been told not to talk to the media.
Spell later appeared and made a brief comment in the parking lot, saying they have a right to assemble. He also said the church is not forcing anyone to attend, is not breaking any laws, and will continue to hold services.
Spell has faced some backlash from people in the community, with some even signing a petition calling for him to be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
However, Spell isn’t the only one in Louisiana hosting church-related gatherings. On Saturday, police in New Orleans broke up a funeral repast of about 100 people. Police issued a warrant for a 28-year-old man who refused to shut it down after he was asked. The leader of the band that was playing during the gathering was also issued a summons for his participation.
“People who violate the ban are being selfish and “grossly irresponsible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. They “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” he said
Florida and Ohio
In Florida, The River at Tampa Bay Church held a Sunday service live stream, which showed worshipers gathered close together. Still, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne said attendees were practicing “social distancing, or whatever.”
“We are not a nonessential service,” Howard-Browne said during the service. “You’re probably going to get infected at some other place, not here.”
He also condemned scientific reports about the virus and peddled the debunked idea that this pandemic was of less concern than the flu.
The church said in a statement on its web site that it felt it was important to remain open for people in need of comfort, saying it is sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces.
“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty. We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace. The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty,” the church said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church in Lebanon, Ohio also held services Sunday in defiance of a letter from the local health department urging it not to meet after community complaints, according to a local news report. The church, in a statement, cited its First Amendment right to religious assembly.
Religious gatherings were explicitly exempted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order against gatherings of more than 10 people. However, DeWine also tweeted a plea to religious leaders last week saying, “We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious. When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever – this is dangerous.”
But Americans aren’t the only ones continuing to attend in-person worship services. Sunday services were held at some of Russia’s largest religious sites after Orthodox church leaders said they were an expression of religious freedom.
According to the Guardian, dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. However, later in the day, the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, called on people to refrain from visiting churches.
In Romania and Georgia, two countries with strongly Orthodox Christian populations, some priests have insisted on continuing to use a shared spoon for the communion ritual.
Last Sunday, the day after Romania had been put into a strict lockdown, footage emerged from the city of Cluj of priests using a shared spoon. In Georgia, while the church has told people not to spend long periods of time in churches and not to come if sick, it has rejected calls to abandon the reusing of spoons. Instead, it claimed that as communion is a holy ceremony it is not possible to get ill during it.
Police Are Looking for a Cyclist Who Assaulted a Group Posting George Floyd Flyers
- Viral video shows a cyclist in Maryland assaulting a group of young people who were posing flyers about George Floyd’s murder.
- Though internet users and some news outlets reported that one person assaulted was a child, one anonymous victim has clarified that all three are adults.
- Authorities have asked the public to help identify the cyclist but warned against posting tips publicly after one man was falsely accused of the crime.
- As of Friday morning, authorities say they have found one strong suspect.
The Viral Video
Authorities in Maryland are asking the public for assistance in identifying a cyclist who was caught on video assaulting three young adults as they posted flyers demanding justice for George Floyd.
The incident took place on the Capital Crescent Tail in Montgomery County on June 1, and a cell phone video of what happened was later shared online.
The video begins with the cyclist, who appears to be a white male, approaching one young woman with a flyer already in his hand. “Get away from me,” she tells him.
“Hey leave her alone,” the person behind the camera shouts. But the cyclist quickly turns around and heads towards a different woman as the first woman yells, “Do not touch her! Do not touch her! She has nothing! Do not touch her!”
The man grabs the second woman’s wrist and aggressively pulls a roll of tape off her arm as she tries to resist. The first woman then appears on screen pushing him away and yelling, “Hey, get off of her!”
“Fuck you,” the man responds, then heads towards his bike.
When the person filming tells him to leave, the cyclist grabs his bike and charges towards him. The man recording runs before dropping the cell phone. From there, the cyclist is heard saying, “You want it? Give it to me,” as the fallen individual replies, “There’s the tape.”
Cameraman Speaks Out
“He was just cycling down the trail,” the victim recording, who wished to remain anonymous, told Path.com.
“He videoed us on his first pass by, then stopped about 50 feet passed us and asked to see my signs, in a friendly tone. When I went to show him the signs he ripped them out of my hands and then started to go after my friends. That’s when I started recording.”
Speaking anonymously once again, that victim told NBC Washington that the cyclist rammed him with his bike and pinned him to the ground. He also told the outlet that all three victims, including two 19-year-old women, are adults, despite reports from internet users and news outlets claiming one was a child.
“Honestly, I was mostly scared for my friends,” he told Patch. “While I’m young, I’m not a tiny person and I can defend myself if need be … my friends that I was with are both small women and to have a large man approach them and physically rip things out of their hands is quite terrifying, and they were both pretty shaken up after.”
According to some reports, the anonymous cameraman posted the footage on Reddit. Though it cannot be confirmed if the Reddit user is the same person who spoke to reporters, they shared a similar explanation about what lead up the incident online.
That user also posted a photo of the flyer the group was allegedly hanging up, which reads: “Killer Cops Will Not Go Free – Text ‘Floyd to 55156.’”
Authorities Ask for Help
Park Police tweeted a post on June 2, asking the public for identifying information, along with the number for the detective on the case.
After the footage spread across social media, many began trying to help. As a result, a Bethesda man named Peter Weinberg was accused of being the man responsible for the attack. That’s because users found evidence that he had biked the trail on May 31 and June 2, however as police later clarified, the incident took place on June 1.
Internet users began tweeting at his employer and sharing his LinkedIn information. Then, Weinberg issued a statement Thursday saying he had been “misidentified in connection with a deeply disturbing attack.”
He later shared a police report to prove he was excluded as a suspect in the case.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also asked that the public help identify the cyclist, however, after seeing Weinberg be falsely accused online, he asked people to share their tips to authorities instead of posting them online. “Hundreds of thousands of bikers, myself included, use this path,” he warned.
Shortly after that tweet, he said police had found a strong suspect, but still added “please don’t name individuals & risk harm to innocent people.”
Many on social media continued to make accusations, eventually spreading a rumor that the cyclist is a former Montgomery County police officer. By Friday afternoon, however, the department released a statement calling that claim false.
See what others are saying: (Patch) (Insider) (NBC Washington)
Two Buffalo Police Officers Suspended Without Pay After Shoving 75-Year-Old Protester
- Video shared on social media shows police officers in Buffalo, New York pushing an elderly protestor to the ground, causing blood to pour out from his ear and pool beneath his head.
- The video contradicted an earlier statement from the department that said the man tripped and fell.
- After the footage went viral, two officers involved were suspended without pay pending an investigation.
- The injured man is still in serious but stable condition as of Friday morning, but is said to be “alert and oriented.”
Update: The entire Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team has reportedly resigned from the voluntary assignment as a “show of support and disgust” over the suspensions. The 57 officers are still members of the police department.
Video Appears Online
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York were suspended without pay Thursday after video showed them pushing an elderly man to the ground.
The incident happened during a demonstration in Niagara Square, where people gathered to call for racial justice since the killing of Geroge Floyd.
In a clip filmed by WBFO, a local radio station, a 75-year-old man approaches officers to speak with them. An officer can be heard repeatedly yelling, “push him back.” Around the same time, one officer pushes his arm into the man’s chest, while another extends his baton toward him, gripping it with both hands.
Their shove sends the man backward, causing him to land onto the sidewalk. Though he lands out of the camera’s view, a loud thud can be heard as he hits the ground.
When the camera angles toward him, blood immediately begins to pool beneath his head, seeming to stream down from his right ear. The officer who used his baton to push him leans down to examine the hurt man, but another officer forces him to continue moving forward.
The injured man remained motionless on the floor as dozens of officers continued to walk forward and arrest other protesters. One remained near the man, calling for assistance on his radio.
Warning: The footage included below is graphic.
Video Contradicts Police Statement
Around the same time that WBFO shared its video of the incident on Twitter, WKBW reporter Jeff Ruso pointed to a statement from the Buffalo Police Department. In it, the department said it arrested five people at the demonstration, adding that during a “skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.”
He also linked to footage of the incident from another angle, which again showed officers shoving the elderly man.
Within the hour, the department told reporters that it was just made aware of the video and was looking into to further.
About another hour later, the BPD Commissioner Byron Lockwood said he ordered the immediate suspension of the two officers pending an investigation.
“This incident is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter.
Cuomo added that he spoke with Mayor Byron Brown and agreed that the officers should be suspended. “Police Officers must enforce — NOT ABUSE — the law.”
Minutes later, the mayor released a statement formally announcing the suspension, admitting that the officers “knocked down a 75-year-old man.”
He stated that the man was in serious but stable condition at Erie County Medical Center and added that he was “deeply disturbed by the video.”
“After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight’s event is disheartening,” he said.
While some applauded the swift action taken to address the situation, the incident added to the distrust in police felt by many across the nation. As some pointed out, officers likely wouldn’t have faced consequences had it not been for the video recordings.
As far as the injured man, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted Friday morning that a hospital official said the man was “alert and oriented.” He is still in stable but serious condition.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)
Some Health Officials Think Protests Are Worth the Risk, Even as Cases are Expected to Spike
Photo by Phil Roeder
- COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are rising, and while some outlets have indicated this could be because of protests, it is too soon to tell what kind of impact these marches have had on case growth.
- The new spikes are likely linked to cities and states reopening. Still, most health experts think that because social distancing is near impossible in protesting crowds, the country will see an increase of cases in the next few weeks tied to the protests.
- But that does not mean all health officials are against the protests. Many believe protesting for racial equality is worth the risk.
- Some say that because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities, the protests are especially important so people can fight against the racial injustice that caused this.
COVID-19 Case Growth
With coronavirus cases on the rise, some have been quick to blame the recent nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. However, experts note that it’s actually too soon to tie the demonstrations as the cause of cause of the surge.
Some officials believe protest-related surges are on the way, but some still think protesting is worth the risk.
On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported over 21,188 new cases of coronavirus in one day across the United States. While this is slightly lower, though essentially on par with last week’s daily average of 21,294 cases, it is part of a general trend of daily averages increasing.
Between May 26 and May 28 the average was 19,800 new cases. This figure went up to 21,700 new cases per day between May 30 and June 1.
While some outlets correlated this case spike with the recent protests across the country, the protests have only been going on for around a week. Experts like Mark Shrime, a public-health researcher at Harvard, told The Atlantic that while he anticipates a spike eventually, we will not see it for ten to 14 days because of COVID-19’s long incubation period.
In some places, experts are not anticipating the data on cases to reflect the protests for even longer, including Southern California, which may not see protests-related coronavirus cases in health department data for another three or four weeks.
Ties to Stay At Home Orders Ending
Some believe that this slew of cases could likely be tied to local government’s decisions to reopen in May. Palm Beach County in Florida showed the biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases three weeks after reopening. While the South Florida Sun Sentinel says it may be too soon to tell if that’s the cause, it does mark an increase in the average number of cases being reported.
States like Texas and Arizona have also started to end their stay at home orders and have seen resulting spikes. According to KPNX in Arizona, three weeks after their order was phased out, the state saw one of the fastest-growing caseloads in the country, with a 70% increase after things reopened.
Some health officials, like Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, anticipated the fact that the public would blame spikes on the protests, instead of the fact that states elected to ease lockdown restrictions.
“What I fear will happen, particularly in those states, is that any increase in cases in the next couple of weeks will be blamed on protestors,” she told The Verge, even though, “There are multiple things happening at the same time.”
Because social distancing in these protest crowds is nearly impossible, health officials do believe a spike is coming. Many protesters are doing their best to mitigate risks by wearing masks, and spread could also be lessened because these protests are outside. Still, tight spaces and the use of tear gas, which causes coughing, could aid the virus’ ability to travel.
Why Some Health Officials Support Protests Despite Risk
Still, many health officials and activists think protesting is worth the risk.
“I personally believe that these particular protests—which demand justice for black and brown bodies that have been brutalized by the police—are a necessary action,” Maimuna Majumder a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Atlantic. “Structural racism has been a public-health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has.”
“The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust,” tweeted Dr. Tom Frieden.
While the major focus of these protests is to demand justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence against Black Americans, they are also calling for an end to racial injustice of all kinds. Among the many other injustices Black Americans face includes a higher coronavirus death rate than white Americans.
In Washington D.C., where 46% of the population is African American, they account for 75% of the district’s deaths. In Wisconsin, where less than 7% of the state’s residents are Black, they total 25% percent of the state’s deaths. Numerous other states and cities are also experiencing the same problem.
“So many black communities are protesting because they have to,” said Doctor Mike in Wednesday video. “At a time of a pandemic, when they’re not only putting their lives on the line because of police injustice but also because of this virus. And COVID-19 has already dramatically and drastically affected communities of color disproportionately to other communities.
Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans
Multiple factors contribute to this high death rate. African Americans are systemically under treated by the U.S. healthcare systems. Black Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions like high blood pressure, are less likely to be insured, and are more frequently denied access to testing and treatment. Throughout the pandemic, Black and Hispanic workers have also been less likely to work from home, further increasing their potential exposure to the virus.
“Unless we are out there protesting in the streets, we can either be killed by Covid-19 just as easily as we can be killed by a cop,” Minneapolis activist Mike Griffin told Bloomberg.
Marcus echoed the need for the protests.
“Ultimately, these protests, if they bring us any semblance of progress in terms of structural racism — they will have had a positive impact on public health, not a negative one,” she told The Verge.
Others are still concerned about the potential consequences. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Politico that he understands the anger behind these protests and why people are out there, but still has his fears.
“I remain concerned about the public health consequences both of individual and institutional racism [and] people out protesting in a way that is harmful to themselves and to their communities,” Adams said.
“There is going to be a lot to do after this, even to try and get the communities of color back to where they need to be for people to be able to recover from Covid, and for people to be able to recover from the shutdown and to be able to prosper,” he continued.