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Obama Holds Town Hall Event as Nation Confronts a Confluence of Crises

4 de juny, per  JULIE PACE / AP[ —]

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama is taking on an increasingly public role as the nation confronts a confluence of historic crises that has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic inequalities in America and reshaped the November election.

In doing so, Obama is signaling a willingness to sharply critique his successor, President Donald Trump, and fill what many Democrats see as a national leadership void. On Wednesday, he held a virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Obama rejected a debate he said he’d seen come up in “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”

“This is not an either-or. This is a both and to bring about real change,” he said. “We both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”

Obama called for turning the protests over Floyd’s death into policy change to ensure safer policing and increased trust between communities and law enforcement. He urged “every mayor in the country to review your use of force policies” with their communities and “commit to report on planned reforms” before prioritizing their implementation.

“We’re in a political season, but our country is also at an inflection point,” said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend and adviser to Obama. “President Obama is not going to shy away from that dialogue simply because he’s not in office anymore.”

During the round table, Obama drew parallels between the unrest sweeping American currently and protest movements of the 1960s. But he said polls show a majority of Americans supporting today’s protesters and forming a “broad coalition” in a way much of the country didn’t back then — despite some of the recent protests “having been marred by the actions of a tiny minority that engaged in violence.”

Still, he warned, “at some point, attention moves away” and “protests dwindle in size” so “it’s important to take that moment that’s been created as a society, as a country, and say let’s use this to finally have an impact.”

Obama was already beginning to emerge from political hibernation to endorse Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential bid when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S., killing more than 100,000 people, and the economy began to crater. The crises scrambled the Biden campaign’s plans for how to begin deploying Obama as their chief surrogate ahead of the November election, but also gave the former president a clear opening to start publicly arguing what he has signaled to friends and associates privately for the past three years: that he does not believe Trump is up for the job.

Addressing graduates of historically black colleges and universities last month, Obama said the pandemic had “fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.” And in a nationally televised broadcast celebrating graduating high school seniors, Obama said many “so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs,” do only what’s convenient and feels good.

Floyd’s death, however, has drawn a more visceral and personal reaction from the nation’s first black president. Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

In a lengthy written statement last week, Obama said that while he understood that millions of Americans were eager to “just get back to normal” when the pandemic abates, it shouldn’t be forgotten that normal life for people of color in the U.S. involves being treated differently on account of their race.

“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal,’” Obama wrote.

Tensions across the country have escalated further in the days since the former president’s statement. His town hall on Wednesday will mark his first in-person comments since law enforcement officers aggressively cleared peaceful protesters from a park outside the White House so Trump could walk across for a photo opportunity at a nearby church.

Trump has cheered harsh crackdowns on the protests, some of which have turned violent, and threatened to deploy active-duty military to the states if local officials could not get the demonstrations under control. He appeared to be backing down from that position this week, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that he did not believe such action was warranted.

Biden’s campaign welcomed Obama stepping forward during this moment.

“President Obama’s voice is a reminder that we used to have a president who sought to bridge our divides, and we can have one again if we elect Joe Biden,” said TJ Ducklo, a campaign spokesman.

Obama grappled with police brutality against minorities as president, including in Ferguson, Missouri, where clashes broke out after the death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old. After Brown’s death, Obama’s Justice Department moved to enact broad policing reforms, though most were halted under the Trump administration.

Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, called this week for restoring some of the previous administration’s actions in the wake of Floyd’s death and the killing of other black Americans. Biden also called for Congress to take immediate steps, including outlawing chokeholds.


Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis Speaks Out, Slamming Trump Over Handling of Protests

4 de juny, per  W.J. Hennigan[ —]
For the first time since he left the Trump Administration 18 months ago, former Defense Secretary James Mattis broke his silence about the performance of the President. On Wednesday, he issued a scathing statement that criticized Donald Trump’s handling of the recent unrest in the country by being ineffective, self-serving and unconstitutional.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” Mattis says. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.”

Following his two-year stint as Pentagon chief that ended in December 2018, Mattis took pains to avoid questions about Trump’s behavior. What provoked him to speak out now, he says, was Trump’s inclination to use active duty troops to quell the violent unrest that has erupted across the country since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died last week in Minneapolis police custody.

In the White House Rose Garden on Monday, Trump said he had instructed every governor to “deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets,” and if local leaders didn’t take such steps, he said, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” He then dispatched law enforcement officers to clear Lafayette Park outside the White House of more than a thousand protestors with pepper balls and rubber bullets and police officers swinging riot shields.

The Administration officials walked through the park before Trump stopped in front of the parish house of St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized the night before when protestors ignited a fire in the basement. He stood for pictures and requested his aides, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, who serves as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, to join. In the eyes of many Administration critics, the two men became “props” in a photo-op, which threatened the military’s longstanding reputation for non-partisanship.

Making the matter personal, Mattis called upon his more than 40 years in the Marines Corps, when he retired as a four-star general in 2014. “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he says. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo-op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
Mattis says he “watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled.” He said the protesters are rightly demanding equal justice for Floyd’s death while Trump’s Administration has been wrong. “We do not need to militarize our response to protests,” Mattis says. “We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.”
About 1,600 active duty troops from Fort Bragg, N.C. and Fort Drum, N.Y. have been brought into the region around the District of Columbia in recent days. Law enforcement isn’t a mission that some of the soldiers are trained or equipped to do. For example, the 82nd Airborne Division sent soldiers to the Washington area Monday night, as part of what’s called an “Immediate Response Force.” The unit, which, like the others, is currently on standby status waiting to be called upon, is made up of active duty combat infantry troops who are trained to kill enemies in a combat zone, not police city streets.
Mattis left the Administration after Trump’s abrupt decision to pull out all 2,200 troops fighting ISIS in Syria. To Mattis, the pullout was abandoning a key ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia of mostly Kurdish and Arab fighters that was vital in the four-year-long war against ISIS. It marked the end of a tumultuous run as Defense Secretary, much of which was spent trying to thread the needle between implementing Trump’s policy objectives and maintaining long-standing American principles.
Since then, the President has ridiculed Mattis, calling him “the world’s most overrated general” in October 2019. A month earlier, during an hour-long sit-down interview with TIME, Mattis said he has a “duty” to keep silent but vowed to speak up at the right time.

3 With Right Wing Extremist Ties Arrested on Terrorism Charges in Las Vegas: Prosecutors

4 de juny, per  MICHELLE L. PRICE and SCOTT SONNER / AP[ —]

LAS VEGAS — Three Nevada men with ties to a loose movement of right-wing extremists advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government have been arrested on terrorism-related charges in what authorities say was a conspiracy to spark violence during recent protests in Las Vegas.

Federal prosecutors say the three white men with U.S. military experience are accused of conspiring to carry out a plan that began in April in conjunction with protests to reopen businesses closed because of the coronavirus and later sought to capitalize on protests over the death of a Minneapolis man in police custody.

They were arrested Saturday on the way to a protest in downtown Las Vegas after filling gas cans at a parking lot and making Molotov cocktails in glass bottles, according to a copy of the criminal complaint obtained by The Associated Press.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday said they self-identified as part of the “boogaloo” movement, which U.S. prosecutors said in the document is “a term used by extremists to signify coming civil war and/or fall of civilization.”

Stephen T. Parshall, 35, Andrew T. Lynam Jr., 23, and William L. Loomis, 40, were being held on $1 million bond each in the Clark County jail Wednesday, according to court records.

Each currently faces two federal charges — conspiracy to damage and destroy by fire and explosive, and possession of unregistered firearms — along with multiple terrorism-related state charges.

Court records don’t list lawyers for the men.


Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report. Sonner reported from Reno.

WHO Resumes Study of Hydroxychloroquine for Treating COVID-19

4 de juny, per  Alice Park[ —]

On June 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) resumed a study looking into whether the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could be effective in treating COVID-19.

Last week, the WHO temporarily stopped people from enrolling in the trial, part of a larger study called Solidarity that is investigating a number of different potential coronavirus therapies, over concerns about the hydroxychloroquine’s adverse effects on the heart. That followed the publication of a Lancet study on May 22, involving more than 96,000 people, which found that the drug did not improve survival among patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and that these patients were more likely to develop heart rhythm abnormalities, a known risk factor of the drug, than those not given the medication. (Researchers have raised questions about how the data was collected for that study, and the journal editors are looking into the matter, but for now, the findings stand.) Other studies have similarly found that people taking hydroxychloroquine do not benefit; the results of one trial conducted in New York suggested that COVID-19 patients taking the drug were just as likely to need a ventilator and to die from the illness than those not receiving the drug.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a press briefing on June 3 that the agency’s board reviewed the data concerning heart risks and found “no reasons to modify the trial.”

Hydroxychloroquine is currently approved in the U.S. and other countries for treating malaria as well as certain autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. After a small study in France that was publicized in March suggested it might be effective in reducing some of the symptoms of COVID-19, doctors began investigating the medication among patients for the viral illness. Those studies—including one led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)—are ongoing.

Some experts believe the drug might help control COVID-19 in part by blocking the virus’ ability to bind to the body’s cells. Studies in animals and cell cultures in the lab show it may also help suppress the aggressive immune reaction that doctors have seen in some patients’ lungs and respiratory systems. That suggests that by the time a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized, it might be too late for hydroxychloroquine to help, since the infection is already well underway. But until doctors have the results of rigorous trials that randomly assign hospitalized patients to receive hydroxychloroquine or placebo—like the ones currently conducted under the guidance of the NIH and WHO—are completed, they won’t know for sure if that’s the case.

In the meanwhile, other studies are looking at whether the drug might be effective if used earlier in the disease progression. So far, the results from these studies are not very promising. On the same day that the WHO resumed its trial, U.S. and Canadian researchers reported in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that hydroxychloroquine did not seem to protect people at high risk of infection from getting COVID-19. The study included 821 people who were exposed to people with COVID-19 infections either in a health care or household settings, and were then given either hydroxychloroquine or placebo within four days of their exposure; 49 people who were taking the drug developed COVID-19, and 58 people in the placebo group did, which didn’t turn out to be a statistically significant difference.

“We found that hydroxychloroquine was no better than placebo in preventing COVID-19 infection after people have already been exposed to it,” says Dr. Emily McDonald, assistant professor of medicine at McGill University and one of the study’s co-authors.

Dr. Radha Rajasingham, assistant professor of medicine at University of Minnesota and another co-author of the study, says “Hydroxychloroquine should not be used as post-exposure prophylaxis for COVID-19.”

It’s still an open question whether the drug could be effective in protecting healthy people who haven’t yet been exposed from getting infected. Studies investigating that are ongoing, but, says Rajasingham, the data gathered so far suggest it’s unlikely. Nevertheless, she says, these studies “are still valuable and…need to finish and answer the questions they were designed to answer.”

Such studies, however, have to continue balancing the potential benefit of the treatment against its potential harms, and there is reasonable concern that the risks of hydroxychloroquine might be too high given the general trend of little improvement among people taking the drug. In a study published in Heart Rhythm on May 28, researchers led by Favio Fenton at Georgia Institute of Technology detailed how the drug affects electrical signaling in the heart of rabbits and guinea pig, and contributes to abnormal heart rhythms; these animals serve as model for understanding heart issues in humans. “We see the wavelengths of the signaling become longer, and cycles that before weren’t arrhythmic now with the drug we see big changes in the propagation waves,” he says. “We have to be careful that this drug is not allowed in patients who are not in studies where they can be monitored. Our study shows that you have to be careful.”

Indeed, on April 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about using hydroxychloroquine outside of study settings, and advised doctors not to prescribe the drug off-label for treating COVID-19.

Despite concerns about the medication’s side effects, the WHO decided to continue its study among hospitalized patients in order to get concrete answers, backed by solid scientific research, to an open question about the world’s most pressing health threat. “The message is that it’s possible to do the proper study, and while I know we are all eager to try out different potential therapies, it’s reasonable and proper to wait for the proper study to get the definitive answer,” says McDonald. “Otherwise the next time we have a wave [of COVID-19 cases], we are going to be asking the same questions if we don’t get the answer properly. Our study answered one question and we’re happy to have the answer one way or the other because it’s nice to know something definitive. We won’t have to revisit this particular question again and we can look at new options.”

I’m a Black American Vet and a Former Police Officer. I Decided to Speak Up With My Camera

4 de juny, per  Doug Barrett[ —]

Doug Barrett, 37, is a photographer, Army Veteran and former police officer from Atlanta who moved to Kansas in 2011.

I was a former police officer in Gwinett County, Ga., working in SWAT and narcotics. So, part of why I feel comfortable shooting photographs and getting into the thick of things is because I understand the law enforcement perspective. I understand being a black American with a camera in my hand.

Doug Barrett Ka’ Neisha Collins -US Army & Ulyses Bridges in Junction City, Kans., May 29, 2020.

I made a Facebook post last Thursday about my experiences to share with people in Manhattan, Kans., because so many people have been reaching out to me that I know in the community. They want to understand what is it that African Americans go through. What is it that they’re missing? How can we help come together and unite?

In the post I wrote:

So here it goes …

I’m not sure what to say as to not to offend anyone. I debated writing this. I laid in the bed Tuesday of this week all day and anyone who knows me knows this is not me. I was fearful as a business owner of a photographer who is seeking future opportunities I may limit my work. I’m sure I’ll lose some friends but enough is enough. You may not be able to comprehend the words that I write but I’ll share my heart with you. As a black man, I walk around with a camera making photographs but I’m not a threat. I have big hair and tattoos, but I’m not a threat. I wear a hoodie sometimes, but I’m not a threat I’m just cold. I may lean when I drive, but I’m not a thug, my back hurts most days because I had spinal surgery being a veteran.

Are you lost? Are you comprehending this? I recently walked in AutoZone less than a mile from where I live to make a purchase of jumper cables and was accused of stealing. The manager in a forceful tone told me to put what I stole on the counter or she would call the police. I made the decision in that moment to stand my ground. Oh, let me explain! Not stand my ground with a gun of right or wrong rather I knew if I left without pleading my case, that this moment could have been my last moment on this earth based on a black man’s history with police. Police were called on me, my rights read, searched, and finally released but I assure you I’m not a threat. This is everyday life. I came home cried inside only to know that what my father informed me of being black in America is what we expect. I’m almost 38 and this will not stop in until those in leadership positions accept the fact that this is real.”

Most of the people near to me can tell you I openly love and genuinely care but I assure you I’m not a threat. We are your statistics; we are you highest generating revenue race within jails but give us our day in the courts. At least we can breathe in a cell.

My camera dangles from my neck and my inhaler may be in my pocket but I assure you it’s not a gun. I’m a former police officer so I speak from experience, I’m a US military veteran, I have a master’s degree, I’m a Master Mason, Thirty Second Degree Scottish Rite, Knights Templar, I’m a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Inc, I volunteer at my church protecting the flock, and serve as an active member in my community yet because of the color of my skin and those who look like me will always be a threat.

Felony Forgery, Felony Theft, Felony Driving, Felony sitting on the couch, Felony pain who cares if you can’t breathe. It hurts we want to live.

I brought my children into this world as a responsible man and I love my children with my heart mind and soul, and I would do anything for them. My children love me as do I love them. I’ve worked hard to be where I am, I pray I don’t die in the streets making photographs.

I don’t have the answers, nor can I make the leaders in communities listen. They will only follow their own agendas because what we go through is incomprehensible to most. You may change your Facebook profile showing how you support and sending your many thoughts out to the world, but you will resume your everyday lives.

I can’t change the color of my skin but as your friend know when you walk out your door what you think about and what I think about is very different. I ask myself every day, do I look like a threat. Does my camera look like a gun, is my iPhone charged in case I need it while being pulled over to say my last words to my children? Or will I make it home.

I’ve been pulled over with my white friends in the car and I’ve narrated what will happen not because of my previous experience rather because its normal. But I assure you I’m not a threat.

I’m sharing this from the bottom of my heart, and I hope this doesn’t offend you, but this is my normal. Ill continue to make photographs, love, lead by example and walk upright until my day comes. My ask is that you help us. Our ancestors were brought over on ships and now were dying in the streets under the force of a knee.

The looting will end, and the store will recover. We can’t if we’re dead.
A concerned man, father, and photographer.

I’ve shared my personal experiences of what that looks like so that people aren’t just thinking that all cops are bad.

I was a police officer till 2011 and switched careers and joined the Army. When I came out west, and was stationed at 1st Infantry Division, in Ft. Riley, Kans.

I suffered some injuries while active-duty and took a medical retirement. Went through three surgeries to fix my back and lower extemeties. Being older, I said, you know what? I’ll take my chances being a civilian again.

After my service, I started my own company because I’d been taking images since my mom and dad gave me my first camera. I tried to find my space in the photo community, and I was determined to work on a veteran project. The documentary work, being a veteran, sharing the stories of homeless veterans in black-and-white portraits is where I find my heart.

I’m not 100%. I’m a disabled veteran. I don’t make any excuses, and I try to do the best I can each day, which is how that homeless veteran project started. I think I’ve gone to 17 states and taken black-and-white portraits of 75 homeless veterans in total. You can see them on my Instagram.

I went to photograph a protest last Friday. The two most impactful things that hit me the hardest were an image of an older African American female. She said, “I’m in my 60s, and I’m still having to protest.” I captured an image of her holding the another man’s hand.

Doug Barrett A Protest in response to the killing of George Floyd in Heritage Park, Junction City, Kans., May 29, 2020.

Then I saw that I had photos of so many kids. And I remembered one of the ladies telling me she has an 8-year-old son, and she says, “My son, this is his second protest.” Because his first one was when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. I was like, wow, how heavy is that?

At the protest we counted about 105 people. The protest was staged by local leaders within the black community. As cars passed, people honked. People cheered, waved. They protested right there on the corner. Peacefully. No law enforcement.

Doug Barrett Michael Turner & Ray Wilson – leader of the peaceful protest in Junction City, Kans., May 29, 2020.

They did march to the Geary County Sheriff’s Office. Two of the police officers were out there. People chanted and, voiced their concerns.

The officers smiled. They didn’t do anything reactionary to the protesters. And then the march continued back to its original point at Heritage Park.

I was with two other photographers and I decided rather than get in their space, I was going to go on the sidewalk. I saw a pop of light where I wanted to capture images. So, I started shooting and Jason Simmons with his siblings and his mom came right through that patch of light.

Two days later, I was culling through images, I was posting what I felt most of the people wanted to see. But then I was kind of reflecting. As a parent, I couldn’t even imagine taking my kid to a protest. Obviously, I’m shooting. Then again, people are taking their kids out there to see this, the experience.

I’m a contributor to @everydayblackamerica on Instagram. So just prior to going shooting this, they had asked me to start putting work out there to them. And they put the image on their page, and that’s pretty much the history on it.

Later on, the kid’s mother responded. Because somebody tagged her and said look at your babies in the picture. And her response was, “My heart just stopped. Oh, my God, this is powerful.”

When I see this photo of Jason, I think we just need to stop the hate. If we stop the hate, then we can make progress on how we fix these issues from the local level.

It’s about stopping the hate and educating, to get people to understand that this does happen. It is an ongoing issue and we just want to fix it. Nobody’s asking for anything. We just want to live.

Doug Barrett “I’m in my 60s and I’m still having to protest,” says Cheryl Freeman in Junction City, Kans., May 29, 2020.

Virginia Governor to Announce Removal of Confederate Gen. Lee Statue

4 de juny, per  ALAN SUDERMAN and SARAH RANKIN / AP[ —]

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans Thursday for the removal of an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The governor will direct the statue to be moved off its massive pedestal and put into storage while his administration seeks input on a new location, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak before the governor’s announcement.

The move comes amid turmoil across the nation and around the world over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving.

Floyd’s death has sparked outrage over issues of racism and police brutality and prompted a new wave of Confederate memorial removals in which even some of their longtime defenders have decided to remove them.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. It has been the target of graffiti during protests in recent days over Floyd’s death, including messages that say “end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy.”

It was not immediately clear when the statue would be removed.

Other tragedies in recent years have prompted similar nationwide soul searching over Confederate monuments, which some people regard as inappropriate tributes to the South’s slave-holding past. Others compare monument removals to erasing history.

Confederate memorials began coming down after a white supremacist killed nine black people at a Bible study in a church in South Carolina in 2015 and then again after a violent rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017.

The Lee monument was erected in 1890, decades after the end of the Civil War.

Also on Wednesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced plans to remove the other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, which include statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues sit on city land, unlike the Lee statue, which is on state property.

Stoney said he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to have the statues removed. That’s when a new law goes into effect, which was signed earlier this year by Northam, that undoes an existing state law protecting Confederate monuments and instead lets local governments decide their fate.

“I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission – those were the appropriate recommendations at the time. But times have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians,” Stoney said. “Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to demonstrate that.”

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