- A noose was found in NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s team stall Sunday. Wallace is the only Black driver in the current series.
- Later that day, NASCAR announced it would be launching an investigation and would “eliminate” whoever was responsible from the sport.
- Wallace made headlines earlier this month for his successful push to have NASCAR ban the display of the Confederate Flag from all events.
- On Monday, the Department of Justice and the FBI also said they would begin looking into the incident.
Noose Found in Wallace’s Stall
The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday that they will be investigating reports of a noose found in a Black NASCAR driver’s garage stall.
The two government agencies follow NASCAR, which announced its own investigation Sunday night after that noose was found in Driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s stall. Wallace is the only Black driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, its top racing competition.
“We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” the association said. “As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
In a previous statement Sunday afternoon, NASCAR announced it had found that noose. Reportedly, it was found by an employee, and Wallace never saw it.
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism,” Wallace said on Twitter Sunday night, adding, “we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate.”
“This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to stand proudly for what I believe in.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also released a statement Monday morning, saying she was “shocked and appalled to hear of yesterday’s vile act against BubbaWallace in Talladega.”
Ivey went on pledge her commitment “to assisting in any way possible to ensure that the person responsible for this is caught and punished.”
As several reporters for NASCAR have noted, even before coronavirus security measures were put in place, security around drivers’ stalls was already incredibly tight. Because of that, they suspect the person who planted the noose may work for NASCAR. NASCAR’s investigation announcement also seems to support this idea as the association promised to “eliminate” the person responsible from the sport.
Social media seemed to erupt like firecracker Sunday night after the news of the incident began to trend.
“Imagine going to your place of work…a place you deem a safe space, and finding a symbol of death,” Fox Sports NASCAR Host Kaitlyn Vincie. “That is @BubbaWallace’s reality. That is the hatred he deals with. Many will never, ever know what that reality is like. THIS HAS TO STOP.”
In a very emotional response, NASCAR reporter Marty Smith told SportsCenter:
“You’re not just hurting one or two people, whomever you are. You’re hurting a whole lot of people who made the decision that it’s damn sure time to go be better. And it pisses me the hell off and it pisses everybody else in the sport off who care, who care not only for Bubba but for every other person who he is standing up for.”
A number of Wallace’s fellow drivers also voiced their support for Wallace, some using #IStandWithBubba.
Outside of NASCAR, athletes like LeBron James supported Wallace as well as thanked NASCAR for quickly denouncing the incident and promising to launch an investigation.
“Sickening!,” James said. “BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports!”
On Sunday night, actor Jussie Smollett also trended alongside Wallace, with many comparing the finding of the noose to Smollett’s alleged 2019 assault in Chicago. In February, Smollet was indicted on six counts of making four false reports.
People comparing Wallace to Smollett then pushed the idea that the noose found in Wallace’s garage was a hoax planted by him; however, no evidence of this has been found, and many have said that Smollett’s alleged actions make it harder for real victims to be believed.
NASCAR Bans the Confederate Flag
Since the massive protests over police brutality and racial injustice began last month, Wallace has been an ardent supporter.
In fact, he’s even modified his car with #BlackLivesMatter and wears an “I can’t breathe” shirt in reference to George Floyd, whose death catalyzed those protests.
On June 8, Wallace told CNN Anchor Don Lemon that he would pursue getting rid of all Confederate flags at NASCAR events.
“There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying,” Wallace said. “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”
NASCAR had previously banned the Confederate Flag from all use on any cars or official merchandise. In 2015, it also asked fans to not display the Confederate Flag at races, but it had never been officially banned from fan use.
Two days after Wallace made those comments to Lemon, that all changed.
“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
In a race later that day, Wallace cheered that decision; however, NASCAR didn’t have to worry about enforcing its new rule at that event since it hadn’t yet started to allow fans back into stadiums.
It wasn’t Sunday night at the Talladega SuperSpeedway in Alabama that fans were allowed to return to watch races in person for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.
While reports from inside the event suggested that fans put away their flags upon entering the stadium, outside, many fans waved those flags. In fact, reportedly, hundreds of vehicles lined with Confederate Flags formed a two-mile long caravan and drove past the track entrance in protest.
“The idea is to do it when people are trying to get in the gate,” one man told The New York Times.
In the sky, a plane carried a banner of a Confederate Flag and a sign that read, “Defund NASCAR.”
Rain and lightning ultimately cancelled Sunday’s race before it started, so it was rescheduled for 3 p.m. EST on Monday.
See what others are saying: (ESPN) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air
While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.
Booster Rollout in Flux
President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.
The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.
However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.
The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.
Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.
Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.
Debate Continues in Crucial Week
More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.
On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.
The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide.
On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.
The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”
Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.
Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.
“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”
It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.
Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.
Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.
Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.
“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”