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Georgia Gov. Bans Local Government From Requiring Masks

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  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suspended all local mask mandates in the state on Wednesday.
  • Around 15 cities and counties had mask requirements in place, but now people in the state are just “strongly encouraged” to voluntarily wear masks when out in public.
  • This order was met with a lot of backlash from local leaders who see it as a direct threat to public health. 
  • Republican leaders in states like Oklahoma are also holding back on issuing mask mandates, while some, like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, have decided to enact them.

Gov. Kemp’s Order

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp is suspending all local governments from enforcing mandatory mask orders in the state. 

In an executive order issued Wednesday, Georgians were “strongly encouraged to wear face coverings” when in public, but the directive stopped cities and counties from enacting requirements of their own. According to the Associated Press, around 15 local governments had already adopted these kinds of mandates. 

Kemp has long stated that local leaders have no power in enforcing these kinds of rules, but this order makes it official. 

“No local action can be more or less restrictive than ours,” Kemp’s communications director wrote on Twitter. “We have explained that local mask mandates are unenforceable.”

Kemp is still encouraging those in his state to wear masks voluntarily, however, he previously told the Atlanta Constitution-Journal that a government mandate would be “bridge too far.”

“There’s some people that just do not want to wear a mask,” Kemp said. “I’m sensitive to that from a political environment of having people buy into that and creating other issues out there.”

Health officials have repeatedly said that masks are one of the most effective ways of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Several studies have proven them to block transmission. Countries that had widespread mask-wearing have seen lower death rates from the coronavirus. 

Response From Local Leaders

The state has seen a total of 127,834 cases and 3,091 deaths, and on Wednesday, 3,871 new cases were reported, which is their second-highest daily case count to date. Given the rising number of cases, Kemp’s order was met with backlash from local leaders. 

Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” wrote Savannah mayor Van Johnson. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

Dunwoody mayor Lynn Deutsch posted a Twitter thread claiming that this order leaves grocery store employees, retail workers, and restaurant servers “caught in the battle” between Kemp and local governments. 

“Our small businesses asked us to mandate masks,” she wrote.  “Their employees are worried about being exposed. Without our mandate, some customers are pushing back and arguing about wearing a mask.”

Deutsch also says that this comes as hospitals in the area are struggling with patient increases and community spread.

“Incredibly sad for my community and Georgia tonight. Sorry that the Governor has chosen to politicize your health,” she added.

Mask Rules in Other States

Kemp is not the only governor in the country standing by the choice to not mandate masks. When Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus, he claimed he did not regret his choice not to wear masks more frequently. 

“I don’t really second-guess anything,” he said in a press conference. 

“I’m just hesitant to mandate something that’s problematic to enforce,” he later added when asked about imposing a state-wide mask requirement. 

However, other Republican governors have recently made the choice to enforce mask mandates. In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey announced that as of Thursday, the state will follow a mandatory mask requirement. That mandate will expire when the state’s stay at home order ends, which is currently at the end of the month. 

“We are almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed,” she said during a press conference. “Earlier this week 87% of our ICU beds statewide were occupied. Folks, the numbers just do not lie.”

Cases and deaths as a result of the coronavirus are on the rise in Alabama. Texas has seen a similar increase. At the start of July, Governor Greg Abbott ordered that most Texans wear masks in public. This mandate applied to anyone in a county with more than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Atlanta Constitution-Journal) (The Hill)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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Chauvin Trial Judge Says Rep. Waters Comments Could Be Grounds for Appeal

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  • Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, said on Monday that Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Ca.) suggestion that protesters “get more confrontational” if the jury does not return a guilty verdict could be grounds for the case to be appealed.
  • Cahill’s remarks came after Chauvin’s lawyer moved for a mistrial, arguing that  Waters’ comments, made this weekend, amounted to threats and intimidation. Cahill rejected the motion.
  • Republican politicians quickly condemned Waters and claimed she was inciting violence, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who proposed a measure to censure her.
  • Democrats defended the Congresswoman, arguing she was not encouraging unrest and accused McCarthy of hypocrisy. Others slammed Cahill, arguing he was undermining free speech and pointing to incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

Judge Cahill Admonishes Rep. Waters

The judge overseeing the trial against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, said Monday that comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) over the weekend could be grounds for the entire case to be appealed.

While speaking in Minneapolis on Saturday, Waters said that protesters should “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted.

Following closing arguments Monday afternoon, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, asked for a mistrial, arguing that the Congresswomen’s remarks amounted to threats and intimidation against the jury.

Judge Peter Cahill, who ended every day of testimony by telling jurors “have a good night and don’t watch the news,” dismissed the request, arguing that he believed her remarks would not prejudice the jury, but adding a key caveat.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” he said. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.”

Response & Backlash

Immediately, numerous Republicans seized on Cahill’s comments, condemning Waters and accusing her of inciting violence.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), announced on Twitter that he was introducing a resolution to censure Waters.

Many also defended Waters, claiming she was not inciting violence. That includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) who said her colleague was talking “about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement.” 

Others who took to Twitter echoed that, arguing that McCarthy was being a hypocrite because he himself spread false election claims promoted by former President Donald Trump. Those claims would later incite the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Some additionally accused the minority leader of censuring a Black woman for speaking out against violence in her community but refusing to take any action against members of his party. Many specifically flagged Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), who is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who previously posted racist and antisemitic comments on social media and liked posts calling for Pelosi to be assassinated.

Others took direct aim at Judge Cahill, arguing that he was undermining Waters’ right to free speech and that he was the one who warned the jury not to pay attention to the news but did not sequester them from the get-go.

That point was bolstered by some who pointed out previous incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

“If a statement from Maxine Waters can be used as justification to overturn a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin on appeal, then courts are gonna have to go back and revisit every single case where Donald Trump made a comment about pending trials for 4 years when he was in office,” CNN commentator Keith Boykin wrote.

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

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