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George Floyd: ‘Pandemic of racism’ led to his death, memorial told

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Media captionRev Al Sharpton eulogy: ‘Get your knee off our neck’

A lawyer for George Floyd has told a memorial service that a “pandemic of racism” led to his death at the hands of police in a Minnesota city.

Benjamin Crump said the death of Mr Floyd, who died after an officer allegedly knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes last month, was “evil”.

Hundreds attended the Minneapolis service, which also heard a eulogy from civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton.

It was time to stand up and say “get your knee off our necks”, he said.

Mr Floyd’s killing, which was captured on video, has caused outrage and sparked a wave of protests in cities across the US.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, three police officers charged with aiding and abetting Mr Floyd’s murder made their first appearance in court. Bail was set at $1m (£800,000) but would be lowered to $750,000 if they handed in any guns they owned and met other conditions, the judge said.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who continued to kneel on Mr Floyd’s neck as he pleaded that he could not breathe, has been charged with second-degree murder and is due to appear in court on Monday.

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Minneapolis police

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From left: Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane

The vast majority of demonstrations over the past eight days have been peaceful, but some have descended into violence and rioting, with curfews imposed in a number of cities.

What happened at the memorial?

Addressing the service, Mr Crump said it was “not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd”.

“It was that other pandemic,” he said. “The pandemic of racism and discrimination.”

Members of Mr Floyd’s family, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were among several hundred people at the service at North Central University in downtown Minneapolis.

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Hundreds attended the private memorial service in Minneapolis

Philonise Floyd, one of Mr Floyd’s brothers, described how the family had been poor when he and Mr Floyd were young and had washed their clothes in the sink and dried them in the oven.

“It’s crazy man, all these people came to see my brother, it’s amazing he touched so many hearts,” he said.

Reverend Al Sharpton meanwhile demanded accountability.

“We won’t stop,” he said, referring to protests that have taken place in every US state. “We’re going to keep going until we change the whole system of justice.”

In an emotional eulogy, he said Mr Floyd’s story had echoed that of black people in America.

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George Floyd’s nephew Brandon comforts his cousin Shareeduh Tate at the memorial

“What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say: get your knee off our necks,” he said.

Further tributes will be held at Mr Floyd’s birthplace of North Carolina on Saturday, and in his hometown of Houston on Monday.

More on George Floyd’s death

What other reaction has there been to the protests?

In his first video comments since Floyd’s death, former President Barack Obama said the demonstrations were as profound as anything he had seen in his lifetime, and called on Americans to seize the chance to deal with underlying problems in society.

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Media captionMr Obama sees limitless potential in the faces of his fellow African Americans

“Too often some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you,” Mr Obama said.

“I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, your dreams matter.”

The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has also issued a personal message about Floyd’s death, saying his life mattered and recent events had been devastating.

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Media captionGeorge Floyd’s ex partner: “Gianna doesn’t have a father”

What happened to Floyd?

George Floyd, 46, was stopped by police investigating the purchase of cigarettes with counterfeit money on 25 May in Minneapolis.

A video showed Floyd being arrested and a white police officer continuing to kneel on his neck for several minutes even after he pleaded that he could not breathe.

Protests erupted and have continued since, across many US cities and also internationally, with rallies on Wednesday in Australia, France, the Netherlands and in the UK, where thousands gathered in central London.

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Media caption‘I’m tired of being afraid’: Why Americans are protesting

Floyd’s death follows the high-profile cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; and others that have driven the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years.

For many, the outrage over Floyd’s death also reflects years of frustration over socio-economic inequality and discrimination.

Protests over the death continued in dozens of cities on Wednesday night despite widespread curfews.

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George Floyd died after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes

They have been largely peaceful, with cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago relaxing their restrictions amid hopes that the worst of the violence had passed.

A post-mortem examination has revealed that Floyd had the coronavirus in early April. But officials stressed that this played no role in his death.

US protests timeline

Tributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorial
Image caption Tributes to George Floyd at a makeshift memorial

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George Floyd dies after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage shows a white officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for several minutes while he is pinned to the floor. Mr Floyd is heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. He is pronounced dead later in hospital.

Demonstrators in Minneapolis
Image caption Demonstrators in Minneapolis

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Four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd are fired. Protests begin as the video of the arrest is shared widely on social media. Hundreds of demonstrators take to the streets of Minneapolis and vandalise police cars and the police station with graffiti.

Protesters lie on the streets in Portland, Oregon
Image caption Protesters lie on the streets in Portland, Oregon

Image copyright by Reuters

Protests spread to other cities including Memphis and Los Angeles. In some places, like Portland, Oregon, protesters lie in the road, chanting “I can’t breathe”. Demonstrators again gather around the police station in Minneapolis where the officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest were based and set fire to it. The building is evacuated and police retreat.

President Trump tweets about the unrest
Image caption President Trump tweets about the unrest

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President Trump blames the violence on a lack of leadership in Minneapolis and threatens to send in the National Guard in a tweet.  He follows it up in a second tweet with a warning “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. The second tweet is hidden by Twitter for “glorifying violence”.

Members of a CNN crew are arrested at a protest
Image caption Members of a CNN crew are arrested at a protest

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A CNN reporter, Omar Jimenez, is arrested while covering the Minneapolis protest. Mr Jimenez was reporting live when police officers handcuffed him. A few minutes later several of his colleagues are also arrested. They are all later released once they are confirmed to be members of the media.

Derek Chauvin charged with murder

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after being charged over the death of George Floyd
Image caption Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after being charged over the death of George Floyd

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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, is charged with murder and manslaughter. The charges carry a combined maximum 35-year sentence.

Demonstrators set fire to rubbish in New York
Image caption Demonstrators set fire to rubbish in New York

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Violence spreads across the US on the sixth night of protests. A total of at least five people are reported killed in protests from Indianapolis to Chicago. More than 75 cities have seen protests. At least 4,400 people have been arrested.  Curfews are imposed across the US to try to stem the unrest.

Trump posing with a Bible outside a boarded-up church
Image caption Trump posing with a Bible outside a boarded-up church

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President Trump threatens to send in the military to quell growing civil unrest. He says if cities and states fail to control the protests and “defend their residents” he will deploy the army and “quickly solve the problem for them”. Mr Trump poses in front of a damaged church shortly after police used tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters nearby.

George Floyd’s family joined protesters in Houston
Image caption George Floyd’s family joined protesters in Houston

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Tens of thousands of protesters again take to the streets. One of the biggest protests is in George Floyd’s hometown of Houston, Texas. Many defy curfews in several cities, but the demonstrations are largely peaceful.

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Common heartburn drug may have helped 10 patients at home with Covid-19

Ten people who were home sick with Covid-19 may have found relief with a common over-the-counter heartburn remedy, according to a study published Thursday.

A coauthor of the study emphasized that it’s a small group of patients. Even so, he said he was “encouraged” by the results and now plans to do a larger study with outpatients on famotidine, the over-the-counter ingredient in Pepcid.

“We want to know, what’s the best way to address these patients, and keep them out of the hospital and get them feeling better sooner,” said Dr. Joseph Conigliaro, a physician at Northwell Health in New York and coauthor on the paper.

In the report, published Thursday in the medical journal Gut, all but one of the study subjects took the drug within 10 days of first experiencing symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath. The 10th patient took it 26 after symptoms began. They were between the ages of 23 and 71.

“All patients noticed a rapid improvement in their condition within 24 to 48 hours of starting famotidine,” according to the report. “These findings suggest that famotidine may affect the course of COVID-19.”

The researchers report they all felt nearly back to normal two weeks after taking the drug.

The report, called a case series, was written by doctors at Northwell and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and other universities.

There’s interest in studying famotidine because it’s inexpensive and considered to be very safe, and one study has suggested the drug helps hospitalized Covid patients.

In the outpatient report, 7 of the 10 patients had no side effects. The other three experienced relatively minor side effects, nearly all of them known to be associated with famotidine, such as dizziness and gastrointestinal issues.

One patient — the only patient to describe worsening of any symptoms while taking the drug — described becoming more tired after taking famotidine.

When the 10 patients were struck by Covid in March and April, one of the study coauthors who knew the drug was being studied in hospitalized patients suggested they take famotidine.

“One of the authors decided to treat a family member and a few friends after learning more about the emerging famotidine trial because it has such a safe profile,” Conigliaro said. “He suggested they take famotidine and begin tracking their symptoms in a fastidious way.”

The report notes that the patients were enrolled in the study consecutively, meaning that the authors didn’t cherry-pick their study subjects and reject ones who got worse after taking the drug.

Three of the 10 patients took their temperatures and found they had a fever, which went down five to seven days after they started taking famotidine. One of those patients also monitored her blood oxygen levels at home, and found her levels improved while on the drug.

It’s possible that the famotidine actually did nothing, and the patients were just experiencing the natural healing process, perhaps along with what’s called the “placebo effect,” meaning that they perceived themselves as getting better because they were taking a pill, especially since it was recommended by the doctor.

That’s why the Northwell researchers are planning a double-blind clinical trial, where patients sick with Covid at home will be randomly assigned to take either famotidine or a placebo, and neither the patients nor the doctors will know who is taking which.

An earlier study by doctors at Northwell and Columbia University found that hospitalized Covid patients who were taking famotidine were more than twice as likely to survive the infection.

Those researchers are currently conducting a clinical trial on famotidine with hospitalized Covid patients.

They’d hoped to have preliminary results by mid-May, but the decreasing number of Covid patients in New York City slowed down the trial, Conigliaro said.

There have been no trials on whether famotidine works to prevent Covid infection, and Conigliaro advised that no one should take the drug to prevent or treat Covid without first consulting with a physician.

Interest in famotidine began when a Harvard infectious disease specialist, Dr. Michael Callahan, was working in China and noticed that some Covid patients were faring better than others. It turned out that these patients had heartburn and were low-income, which meant they were taking famotidine, which is less expensive than other reflux remedies.

At the same time, a group of scientists at Alchem Laboratories in Florida used a computer model to make a list of existing drugs that might fight coronavirus, and famotidine showed up near the top of the list.

It’s unclear why famotidine might work against Covid-19. It could have an antiviral effect, meaning it stops the virus from replicating. Or it might be because the drug reduces inflammation by blocking H2 receptors, which exist in both the stomach and the lungs.

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Police arrest tactics at protests add to virus risk

Mass arrests of protesters across the country — many held for hours in vans, cells and other enclosed spaces — are heightening the risk of coronavirus spread, according to public health experts and lawsuits filed by civil rights groups.

As tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest police brutality after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the arrest and detention of thousands further jeopardizes the health of demonstrators — and that of police officers and the broader community.

The use of tear gas and pepper spray, which provoke coughing, adds to the health risk, as do police crowd control techniques like “kettling” — pushing demonstrators into smaller, contained and tightly packed spaces.

“The police tactics — the kettling, the mass arrests, the use of chemical irritants — those are completely opposed to public health recommendations,” said Malika Fair, director of Public Health Initiatives at the Association of American Medical Colleges. “They’re causing protesters to violate the six-feet recommendation. The chemicals may make them have to remove their masks. This is all very dangerous.”

In New York, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., civil rights groups are filing lawsuits and exploring other legal steps if police don’t take measures to protect detained protesters. In these cities, and many more across the country, demonstrators have been held for hours, packed together in cells with little room to social distance or access to running water, civil rights attorneys said.

Most have ultimately been released with a summons — leading to demands that police refrain from detaining people when they could give a ticket instead.

Medical experts say prolonged exposure in such crowded indoor settings is much riskier than an outdoor march, where open air circulation can disperse the virus and people can try to stay six feet apart — although that distance is often compressed when protests get big.

Even before the protests began, jails and prisons were experiencing some of the worst virus outbreaks in the country.

More than 100 people arrested in New York City were detained for upwards of 24 hours without seeing a judge, according to one suit filed by Legal Aid Society. Jennvine Wong, one of the group’s attorneys, said protesters were held in crowded cells between five and 10 hours with little access to water to wash their hands and no ability to socially distance. She added that police were told to wear masks while on duty at protests, but adherence has been spotty.

Detective Denise Moroney, a New York police spokesperson, did not respond to questions about the lawsuit or police behavior, but said in a statement that “NYPD encourages all New Yorkers to follow social distancing etiquette.”

In Cincinnati, hundreds of protesters were arrested last weekend, and those who could not secure a bond were held overnight, the local detention center confirmed to POLITICO. Some protesters were held “no more than 20 at a time” in a room during the booking process, with the rest kept in a courtyard to avoid “crowding the arrestees in small, indoor, confined spaces.”

But legal advocates said the adherence to public health recommendations were inconsistent. The ACLU of Ohio, the National Lawyers Guild, the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office and other groups vowed in an open letter Tuesday to hold the police accountable for allowing arrestees to be “exposed to COVID-19 risk.”

Jacqueline Greene with the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild told POLITICO that many people arrested for curfew violation were packed onto buses for several hours with no ability to socially distance, and later kept in a small outdoor space while temperatures dipped into the 40s.

“Most were there on minor, nonviolent misdemeanor charges,” she said. “They could have cited and released all of these folks and avoided this egregious violation of human rights.”

Scott Kerr, the security captain at the Hamilton County Justice Center, said people who were arrested were not given masks over the weekend, but that the center has gotten additional mask supplies and will be distributing them, including in the staging area before booking.

In Milwaukee, detainees have been taken from one crowded setting to another — buses, vans, staging areas and the district station. Many don’t have masks — or they lost them in scuffles with police, said Larry Dupuis, an ACLU attorney in Wisconsin. “If you don’t have any PPE when you are arrested, they don’t give you any,” he said.

The Milwaukee Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In Washington, D.C., police have arrested several hundred people over the last week. The majority of the arrests were for violating the curfew the mayor imposed; a smaller number was charged with burglary, rioting, looting and assault. Police Chief Peter Newsham on Tuesday also confirmed the use of pepper spray, tear gas and sting balls — which the ACLU and health experts say puts protesters at further risk of infection.

“Whether it’s tear gas or pepper spray or another chemical, they all make it difficult to breathe,” ACLU senior attorney Carl Takei said. “They all cause coughing, which can facilitate the spread of Covid-19. And they all can cause long-term respiratory damage that makes people more vulnerable to coronavirus in the future.”

Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, called the police’s response “unnecessary and inhumane” given the pandemic. He is talking with some of the protesters about possible legal action.

“There’s been no effort to protect people from transmission of the virus,” he said. “They’re being held in congregate settings with large groups of people. Some were even held overnight, and then given a citation and told to come to court October. There is no reason that couldn’t have been done in the first place.”

Police spokesperson Kristen Metzger said that while up to 30 people at a time were transported to the station in a single vehicle, they were then held in a large room with areas designated for social distancing. “MPD provided masks, hand sanitizer and facilities for handwashing,” she said.

Smith and others say that during pandemic people should not be arrested at all for low-level offenses like a curfew violation. Simple citations, they said, would minimize the risk to the protesters, police and the public.

Police responses vary by city. In San Jose, for instance, police were providing masks to detainees even before the protests began. In Los Angeles, police are advised to wear masks when feasible, and while many officers have been handing out extras to protesters, they are not required to, an LAPD spokesperson confirmed.

Several governors and public health officials, including those in New York, Texas and Minnesota, have urged demonstrators to get tested for the coronavirus and self-isolate as needed.

But it’s not just the protesters who are in danger. Police and the National Guard may be at heightened risk as well, said Barry Bloom, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Few cops appear to be wearing masks as they confront protesters.

“I have real concern for them, standing next to one another in straight lines, facing angry crowds that were often yelling and screaming, putting our police in jeopardy,” he said.

The medical school association’s Fair, who has worked as an emergency physician in Washington, D.C., for about a decade, is also concerned about the protests, and particularly the arrests, spreading the virus — but those fears don’t outweigh her support for the demonstrators.

“We do expect an increase in Covid-19 cases during and after these demonstrations,” she said. “But there are also health implications in doing nothing to address systemic racism.”

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We Have to Demand an End to the Social Order That Led to George Floyd’s Murder

When an already suffering, dispossessed, angry population pleads for justice and receives instead more repression and disrespect, things have a tendency to explode.

In the eighteenth century, France’s King Louis XVI threatened to use the army to subdue unrest among diverse groups angry about his proposed land tax. This response backfired. Combined with widespread discontent and a famine, protests quickly went beyond anger at the tax and combusted into the French Revolution of 1789. Within a few years, the flames of Revolution swept away the Bourbon monarchy, and its king died on the guillotine.

In early 1917, the Russian tsar called in the army to quell protests of women and striking factory workers demanding bread, but this only inflamed hungry protesters and encouraged revolt across the country. By the end of 1918, Tsar Nicholas II was executed at the hands of the new Soviet government.

The last major US general strike hit Oakland in 1946 after police bussed in scabs to break a department store workers’ picket. Amid high unemployment and inflation, Oakland truck drivers and streetcar operators, who were incensed by the state-sponsored strikebreaking, helped spread the strike throughout the city.

When living conditions are bad enough for enough people, the government’s response to protesters’ reasonable demands, however local or limited those demands are, can cause enormous and unexpected outrage — outrage that then fuels far wider protests for far more radical demands. This is exactly what we have seen in the streets all across the United States since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.

Even before Floyd’s murder, millions of workers were suffering under the worst pandemic in a century. The police continued to kill black people with impunity. The super rich got ever richer: America’s billionaires piled up an additional $434 billion just since the pandemic started, bringing their total wealth to over $3.3 trillion — more than the wealth of the bottom 60 percent of Americans combined. Our immigration system continued to be characterized by endless horrors. In retrospect, it should have been no surprise that rage simmering just beneath the surface over all of those issues and more has exploded once it was given a catalyst, in the form of a video of a blatant police murder by a white cop against an unarmed black man.

After ten days of protests in over a hundred cities, protesters’ demands have escalated. Those demands rightfully include an end to racist and militarized policing. We must also demand a worker-centered response to the Covid-19 health and economic crisis which is killing thousands. All these crises are connected to the crushing economic injustice of the social order that police are tasked with defending. To win, we must take that social order head on.

At first, outrage focused on indicting George Floyd’s murderer, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and his three accomplices. Chauvin was eventually charged with third-degree murder, which would mean that prosecutors believe Chauvin did not “intend” to kill Floyd despite the fact that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and Floyd repeatedly choked out the words “I can’t breathe.” That changed with yesterday’s announcement that Chauvin would be charged with second-degree murder and the three other officers would also face charges. Yet it’s clear that Chauvin should actually be charged with first-degree murder. And recent, similar police murders have still gone unpunished: Breonna Taylor’s killers in the Louisville police department, who broke into the twenty-six-year-old health care worker’s home and shot her eight times.

Floyd is one of countless unarmed black Americans murdered in cold blood by police over the last decade. Some of these murders, especially when they are captured on cell phone videos and go viral, have incited nationwide protests. But the scale of the protests and the horrific degree of police repression against protesters since last week has led to more ambitious demands — most importantly, the demand to drastically reduce the bloated police budgets that funnel enormous amounts of resources to police brutality and incarceration rather than meeting human needs.

Oakland, where I live, spends 41 percent of its budget on policing while, even before coronavirus, thousands sleep on the street, public schools are criminally underfunded, and brown and black children in poor neighborhoods have lead poisoning rates worse than Flint, Michigan. Meanwhile, the police have been involved in countless killings and scandals, including participating in a multi-agency sex trafficking ring involving minors.

Over the last fifty years, American cities have seen major budget cuts, unions have been decimated, workers have lost jobs and affordable housing, our essential infrastructure has crumbled, poverty and homelessness has skyrocketed. But city and state governments, with federal support, have turned to policing and prisons to violently control unemployed and poor people — especially black and brown people but whites, too — instead of providing jobs and resources to bring them out of poverty.

Most cities now have an expensive and militarized police force that brutalizes poor people with impunity. Add to that the apparent right-wing radicalization of police across the country — who parrott Fox News conspiracy theories and think they are fighting a war against an armed left-wing militia — and we get the current reign of police terror in response to peaceful protests.

While police are targeting black protesters with far more violence, their violence against white protesters, journalists, and random bystanders is a reminder, for whites who think the issue doesn’t affect them, of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s warning: “Far and away, African Americans suffer most from the blunt force trauma of the American criminal justice system, but the pervasive character of law-and-order politics means that whites get caught up in its web as well.”

So it’s good to see the demand in countless protest signs everywhere to “defund the police.” Cutting police budgets will actually reduce police power in the streets and in politics, unlike liberal procedural tweaks like the new #8Can’tWait campaign being promoted by DeRay McKesson, Oprah, and other celebrities.

The demand to defund is also a call to decriminalize poverty and reinvest our society’s resources in humane and socially useful goods and services like schools, housing, health care, transportation, and renewable energy infrastructure. As the military and police mobilize a near nationwide shutdown with massive staging facilities and untold billions in equipment, viral comparisons of to nurses wearing trash bags make clear that our society has the material capacity, just not the political will, to deal with a pandemic in a compassionate and effective way.

The demand to defund the police and refund other services has the potential to unify a broader movement at this crucial moment. Activists fighting for all sorts of economic demands can clearly see how their success hinges on the success of the movement against racist police violence. Just this sort of unity at a national scale will be necessary to build on the energy from Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns and a resuscitated labor movement in order to wage a united fight against police fascism and our government’s inhumane COVID–19 response.

We should also be calling to tax the rich, especially billionaires like Jeff Bezos who has made $34 billion since March. Redistribution from the rich and the police to essential public goods is especially important given the looming budgetary crisis caused by the coronavirus recession. Activists can take up this demand by researching how much of their city’s budget is spent on policing (including for police brutality lawsuits — Chicago spent $113 million on such lawsuits in 2018 alone) and supporting other public-sector unions in demanding that recession-driven cuts be taken out of the police budget, not much-needed social services.

Bloated police budgets are always a poison for American cities. But the recent spate of curfews, which police are using to clear the streets of vandals and peaceful protesters alike, should also be opposed vigorously. The Left has learned, as Alex Vitale put it, “No true progressive movement can flourish in a police state.”

In total, tens of millions of Americans are now under curfew for the first time in decades. While police and public officials from both parties claim these curfews are in the interest of preventing violence and property destruction, the main instigators of violence are very clearly the police themselves. By ceding our cities’ streets to violent police and white vigilantes, politicians are not only throwing away our freedom to engage in public protest, but sanctioning unconstitutional terror and repression in the name of “law and order.” These curfews highlight the frightening extreme right-wing or even pro-fascist current in the United States, including cops raising the Thin Blue Line flag and President Trump himself.

Still, the United States is not at this moment descending into actual fascism, and despite the brutality in the streets, much is happening that is actually quite heartening.

For one thing, the protests have been remarkably multiracial, something that has not always been the case in protest movements. Second, the fact that a majority of Americans support the ongoing protests is comforting. A majority even say protesters’ burning down the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was justified. This continues the trend from Black Lives Matter protests five years ago: major protests in response to police killings won over a majority of the public to protesters’ perspective that racism and police violence are major problems.

Still, all is not well — not just with the actions of police in the streets, but also with Democratic mayors and governors who legitimize police terror with their hemming and hawing about individual responsibility and “outside agitators.”

That is why it is heartening that protesters from Oakland to New York are not hesitating to demand an end to police curfews, even risking violence and arrest to defy them.

Finally, activists are right to call for the resignation of not only Trump, but all “liberal” Democratic mayors and other public officials who have allowed police to use curfews as a pretense to brutalize peaceful protests. Democrats have allowed extreme and unconstitutional repression to become the acceptable bipartisan “center” of US politics; we have to change that.

Recent police killings and crackdowns come on top of the cruel inaction and profiteering that define our country’s response to coronavirus. With 100,000 dead and 30 million out of work — and with black Americans drastically overrepresented among both groups — billionaires are using the crisis to plunder workers, neighborhoods, and the public sector. George Floyd himself was unemployed due to the pandemic and looking for work in Minneapolis when he was accused of forgery.

Chris Brooks writes in Labor Notes that employers are lobbying for a deadly reopening of the economy because they stand to profit enormously. Our government has not set up the systems needed for a safe reopening, like testing and contact tracing and a massive increase in spending on healthcare and other services. But billionaires are already pushing governments to “lower taxes and to gut services despite the glaring evidence, revealed by the pandemic, that we need more government, not less.” Their principle is,“Recovery for me, poverty for thee.”

For black Americans during the pandemic, poverty and racism have combined horrifically. “Black mortality from COVID-19 is over 3.5 times higher than it is for whites because of poverty, pollution, lack of health insurance, crowded housing and transportation,” Brooks writes in the Call, “and the fact that such a high percentage of essential workers are people of color. One out of every 2,000 black Americans has died from this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, David Sirota explains that at the same time NYPD are brutalizing protesters, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “granted health care executives legal immunity for their profit-maximizing decisions that may have contributed to the deaths of thousands of people in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The United States is long overdue for a serious and worker-centered response to the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused. The health and economic impacts are far worse in the United States due to the extreme austerity — except for ballooning police and military budgets — of the last fifty years. Protesters have to demand we reverse that.

While we might not be heading for a 1789-style revolution, activists are staying in the streets in the face of escalating violence and demanding solutions to the deep crises workers face. History teaches us that events can move at breakneck speed in such times. It also teaches us that we can win.

Even if street protests wane in the coming weeks, none of these demands will become irrelevant anytime soon. In order to keep momentum, activists will have to keep the focus on clear demands like defunding the police. We need to build broad, multiracial, democratic organizations that can anchor this movement for the long haul while innovating protest tactics that can work at scale during social distancing.

Left union activists should organize with their coworkers in calling for the labor movement to champion protesters’ demands, and workers should take direct action to support protests wherever possible. As Paul Heideman writes, “Significantly weakening the police will require a tremendous amount of social power,” and organized workers carrying out persistent “nonviolent coercion against capital and the state” are essential for a left movement to build this power.

Transit and food workers have already struck in multiple cities to stymy the police crackdown, and solidarity strikes that are not directly related to police or protests could still bolster the movement and apply pressure to capitalists and politicians to make concessions. Police unions should, at minimum, be kicked out of joint labor councils and isolated from the rest of the labor movement.

Left-wing elected officials should be pushed to speak out in support of the movement while introducing legislation channeling movement demands. Incredibly, this demand is already being pushed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Oakland. Democrats who side with the police or take their campaign contributions should be isolated.

Socialists also have a duty, to paraphrase Mike Davis’s recent call to action, to ensure that the base of activists demobilized after the Sanders campaign is reactivated to fight to reclaim our streets from violent police and for a worker-centered coronavirus response. “We need to show them that there is a campaign—apart from the November elections—that calls for thousands of dedicated organizers and volunteers.” There is an opportunity to “to put real fire back into the hearth of solidarity” right now, and we must seize it.

While we were not ready for this upheaval, the Left has to support its growth and consolidation. Justice and democracy depend on it.

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Lisa Murkowski ‘Struggling’ With Trump Vote After General Mattis Op-Ed

Toni L. SandysGetty Images

Boy howdy, that Mad Dog Mattis jeremiad in The Atlantic was a real game-changer, wasn’t it?

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. 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.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

Surely, that is medicine strong enough to put iron in the blood of timid and feckless Republican lawmakers. Here’s one, from The Hill:

“When I saw Gen. Mattis’s comments yesterday I felt like perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns we might hold internally and have the courage of our convictions and speak up,” she told The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, who pooled the remarks and sent them to other Senate reporters. Asked if she could vote for Trump in the 2020 election, Murkowski admitted, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.”

And to NBC, she elaborated:

“I think right now, as we are all struggling to find ways to express the words that need to be expressed appropriately, questions about who I’m going to vote for or not going to vote for, I think, are distracting at the moment. I know people might think that’s a dodge, but I think there are important conversations that we need to have as an American people among ourselves about where we are right now.”

Struggling? Struggling? A decorated general with close-in experience not only with combat, but with this lunatic president*, has just said that the president* is a clear and present danger to the Constitution and civil government, and you’re still “struggling” with giving him four more years to become even more of a threat?

Let’s check in on some other Republican senators. From KRDO:

“It’s Gen. Mattis’ opinion, he’s free to express it,” Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told CNN. Asked again if he agreed with any of the criticism, Johnson said: “All I’m going to say about Gen. Mattis is I do respect him. He’s a great American. It’s his opinion to express it.”

washington, dc   march 05 chairman ron johnson r wi speaks at the start of a senate homeland security committee hearing on the governments response to the novel coronavirus covid 19 outbreak on march 5, 2020 in washington, dc covid 19 has taken hold in the united states and national and local governments are rushing to contain the virus and to find a cure photo by samuel corumgetty images  local caption  ron johnson

Ron Johnson, checking in.

Samuel CorumGetty Images

Leaving the floor on Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was silent when asked twice about Mattis’ criticism, returning to his office and ignoring a reporter’s questions.

Then there’s the latest blond bombshell, Lindsey Graham.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said that while Mattis is “an American hero” and has “every right to criticize President Trump,” he said: “I think he’s missing a lot here.”

“It’s just politically fashionable to blame Trump for everything — and I’m not buying it,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN about Mattis’ criticism. “And he jumped into politics — Gen. Mattis did. And I think he’s missing a lot about what’s going on in America politically.”

Graham also appeared with the gang on Three Dolts On A Divan on Thursday morning to reiterate his concerns that Mattis may not be able to think for himself.

“To General Mattis … you’re missing the fact that the liberal media has taken every event in the last three and half years and laid it at the president’s feet..I’m not saying he’s blameless, but I am saying that you’re buying into a narrative that I think is quite frankly unfair.”

Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, originally thought Mattis might have a point. But then he remembered that this president* is king of the nutbags, I guess.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who was critical of the Monday event after it occurred and then was singled out by Trump on Twitter, seemed to temper his criticism on Thursday, saying “the longer we go on, the more questions there are on how it started out.” Lankford said that it could have been “reasonable” to use force if the protesters were being violent, citing statements made by the US Park Police, especially since violence occurred the night before. “We don’t know yet,” Lankford said when asked if force against protesters could have been justified Monday evening. “So let’s get the facts out on it.”

And, of course:

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called Mattis’ statement “stunning and powerful.” Without going into detail about the contents of his statement, Romney called him “an American patriot” and “an individual whose judgment I respect.”

The game is not going to change. There is nothing left of honor and principle left in Republican politics, and there hasn’t been for quite some time. That was the opening that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago saw, with his predator’s instinct for easy pickings, and that was how he got elected, and that is how he has been allowed to be the president* he has been. Struggling? Jesus Christ. Thoughts and prayers, senator. Thoughts and prayers.

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Republican senators shrug off Mattis’ criticism of Trump: ‘It’s his opinion’

Mattis, who has widespread support among Senate Republicans for his long military service to the country, contended that Trump “does not even pretend to try” to unite the country and is instead engaged in a “deliberate effort” to divide the country, while lacking “mature leadership.” Mattis excoriated Trump’s decision to hold a photo-op Monday at a church near the White House, saying troops were ordered to “violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens” who were protesting but were cleared out by police with force to make way for the President’s visit.

The criticism, however, was met with a shrug of the shoulders by several senior Republicans on Thursday.

“It’s Gen. Mattis’ opinion, he’s free to express it,” Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told CNN. Asked again if he agreed with any of the criticism, Johnson said: “All I’m going to say about Gen. Mattis is I do respect him. He’s a great American. It’s his opinion to express it.”

Johnson also would not weigh in on how the Monday event took place, contending “I still haven’t seen any footage of how the crowd was cleared out.”

Leaving the floor on Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was silent when asked twice about Mattis’ criticism, returning to his office and ignoring a reporter’s questions.

The reaction reflects how many top Republicans on Capitol Hill have calculated that their fortunes in the 2020 elections rest in large part on Trump’s performance at the polls — and a messy, internecine war with a President with an itchy Twitter finger would amount to a fruitless and damaging endeavor.

The lone senator to break ranks: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is up for reelection in 2022, told CNN she agrees with the criticism and later told reporters she is “struggling” about whether to endorse Trump in 2020.

Others either defended Trump or contended they didn’t want to get involved in the dispute.

Asked about the direct repudiation of Trump’s leadership leveled by Mattis, Sen. Thom Tillis said: “They’ve got a little bit of a history on disagreements. So I’m not going to get between a squabble between a former secretary I have tremendous respect for and a president. That’s something for them to settle.”

Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who is up for re-election, also wouldn’t say whether he has any concerns with the way the Monday photo-op was handled, something that Mattis cited in his criticism.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Tillis said, citing reports of protesters throwing frozen water bottles, though most of the protesters were acting peacefully and were met with force by the police, according to multiple reports. “This is another example where this is a cauldron and we gotta figure out a way to lower the temperature.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who also faces voters in the fall, said that while Mattis is “an American hero” and has “every right to criticize President Trump,” he added: “I think he’s missing a lot here.”

“It’s just politically fashionable to blame Trump for everything — and I’m not buying it,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN about Mattis’ criticism. “And he jumped into politics — Gen. Mattis did. And I think he’s missing a lot about what’s going on in America politically.”

Graham, though, still questioned the need for Trump to hold the Monday photo-op in front of the church while holding up the Bible. The White House argued Trump was showing strength after a fire was set on the property the night before.

“I never understood,” Graham said about the Monday event. “Going over to visit church is fine. But waving the Bible — I don’t know what that was all about.”

Some Republicans said Mattis’ criticism was misplaced.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican up for reelection, said of Mattis: “By just blaming the President, he’s only looking at half the equation.”

Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the criticism was “between the United States and his former secretary of defense.”

“I’m focused on real threats to freedom,” Young said, adding of Mattis: “If anyone can understand that, a fellow Marine can.” He didn’t respond to a question about Mattis citing Trump as a threat to freedom.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who was critical of the Monday event after it occurred and then was singled out by Trump on Twitter, seemed to temper his criticism on Thursday, saying “the longer we go on, the more questions there are on how it started out.” Lankford said that it could have been “reasonable” to use force if the protesters were being violent, citing statements made by the US Park Police, especially since violence occurred the night before.

“We don’t know yet,” Lankford said when asked if force against protesters could have been justified Monday evening. “So let’s get the facts out on it.”

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen: Trump's threats of military force may be 'the beginning of the end of the American experiment'

Asked about the criticism from Mattis that Trump is purposefully dividing the country, Lankford said: “What’s interesting is when I go back 10 years, that was the same criticism I was hearing about President [Barack] Obama at this time — that they were saying he was dividing the country.”

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, also urged the President to “ignore the criticism in politics” when asked about the Mattis comments.

“I don’t know that him saying this is especially helpful to the various crises that we’re going through right now,” Kennedy told reporters Thursday when asked about the former defense secretary. “But if he feels the need to express himself he can.”

Even close Mattis allies were wary about endorsing his criticism.

Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe said Mattis “has been a hero of mine for a long time” and is “the greatest marine in the world.”

But the Oklahoma Republican added: “He’s never had the communication background to take the job that he initially had three years ago with the President. And so his communication is not as cautious as it should be in that job, and of course what he said was damaging.” Asked if he agreed with the criticism that Trump is trying to purposefully divide the country, Inhofe said: “No.”

Even some Trump critics were cautious.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to remove Trump from office over abuse of power charges, praised the former defense secretary “as a person of extraordinary integrity and sacrifice. He’s a patriot, who has sound judgment and capacity. I admire him a great deal.”

But when asked if he agreed with Mattis’ criticism, Romney walked away.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

CNN’s Cat Gloria contributed to this report.

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Bill Barr and the Justice Department Send In Their Own Troops

Members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other law enforcement block 16th Street, NW near the White House as protests over the death of George Floyd continue June 3, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Writing in The New York Times on Wednesday, and in the midst of growing public protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton decried America’s “anarchy” and “orgy of violence,” saying that local law enforcement officials “in some cities” are being overwhelmed by the protests. Cotton’s solution was that President Trump invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to deploy the military to quell the demonstrations. “Send in the Troops,” the headline to the Cotton op-ed blared. “The military stands ready.” 

In fact, as recent events show, Cotton got it wrong: the military doesn’t stand ready and it certainly doesn’t want to “send in the troops.” Far from it. How do we know? Because in the hours following the publication of Cotton’s proposal, retired Marine General James Mattis (who served as Donald Trump’s first secretary of defense) and retired Marine General John Allen published articles saying otherwise. The power of their voices should not be underestimated: during their careers, Mattis and Allen were two of the most celebrated officers in uniform, and since the end of their careers, they’ve become icons of the retired military community. 

“We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,” Mattis wrote in a statement published in The Atlantic. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values….” 

Mattis went on to criticize Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and J.C.S. Chairman Mark Milley for appearing alongside Trump during the president’s Monday stroll (“a bizarre photo-op,” as Mattis described it) from Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church. “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,” Mattis intoned. “At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict— a false conflict—between the military and civilian society.” 

Writing in Foreign Policy, Allen followed suit, in a pointed response to Cotton. “Right now, the last thing the country needs — and, frankly, the U.S. military needs —is the appearance of U.S. soldiers carrying out the president’s intent by descending on American citizens,” he wrote. 

Mattis and Allen weren’t alone in expressing their views. The day before their articles appeared, former J.C.S. chairman Admiral Michael Mullen wrote a scathing critique of the Trump administration’s use of pepper balls and flash bangs against protesters just prior to Trump’s stroll. “I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform,” Mullen wrote. “They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly we have not cross the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.” 

The views of this military triumvirate shocked the Trump administration. Inside the Pentagon, however, senior officers were less surprised with Mattis’, Allen’s, and Mullen’s views than with those expressed by former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, who is not only known for his reticence in offering his views on political issues, but has been outspoken when other retired officers have done so. That changed on Monday: “America is not a battleground,” Dempsey tweeted. “Our fellow citizens are not the enemy.” 

While it seems likely that the rising chorus of retired military voices had a sobering impact at the Pentagon, it also simply accelerated a process that was already underway, as a senior Pentagon civilian told me. Esper, this Pentagon official claims, was intent to back off his comment within hours of it becoming public and regretted that he’d been included in Monday’s “bizarre photo op” when he stood alongside Trump in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

While Esper’s explanation for his Monday appearance with Trump was muddled, his statement about the use of the military to “dominate the battlespace” was not. “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort,” Esper told the press during a hastily called briefing on Wednesday afternoon, “and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” 

Esper then added that he regretted making the statement: “In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue.” In the wake of Esper’s appearance, rumors swept through the corridors of the Pentagon that the defense secretary was either planning to resign—or that Trump would fire him. As of Thursday morning, both options are still in play, with contradictory rumors swirling through the Pentagon that Esper will soon be shown the door—or that, alternatively, his friendship with fellow West Point graduate Mike Pompeo could save him. 

Reports that Esper was embarrassed by his trot-with-Trump hold true also for J.C.S. Chairman Mark Milley, according to a senior Pentagon official. Milley not only followed in Trump’s wake during Monday’s Lafayette Park-St. John’s walk, but was then videotaped on the streets of Washington that same night. 

“Freedom of speech, that’s perfectly fine,” Milley told a group of reporters who tracked him down. “We support that. We took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America to do that, to protect everyone’s rights. That’s what we do. We’ve got the D.C. National Guard out here and I’m just checking their, seeing how well they’re doing, that’s all.” 

That Milley looked uncertain reflected his discomfort with appearing on the streets of Washington, D.C. in camouflage, a senior retired U.S. Army officer who knows him says. “He was chagrined,” this officer told me. “And frankly, this isn’t who he is. He’s a decent guy. He’s not someone who has trouble talking to people.” A second senior retired officer had a similar, if more pointed, take. “He’s walking a really delicate line,” this officer said. “He answers to the president. He can’t just go out and have a press conference, like Esper. So when I look at Milley I feel for him. And you can almost read his mind. I mean at one point Trump says he had put Milley ‘in charge.’ And Milley was probably thinking, ‘in charge of what?’”

In fact, the person that Trump appears to have made the field general of the federal response to the demonstrations, and particularly those in Washington, D.C., is Attorney General William Barr, who is not only not in the chain of command, he’s not even in uniform. If the presence of uniformed officers monitoring the demonstrations in Washington, D.C. is any indication, then Barr has responded to Trump’s desire that the military deal harshly with the demonstrators by flooding the streets with law enforcement officers of the Bureau of Prisons, units of which were flown into the city as early as Tuesday night from Texas and other locations.

Included among the contingent were Crisis Management Teams (CMT) and Special Operations Response Teams (Sort) that are normally deployed to put down prison riots. According to a BOP spokesperson, the teams have been dispatched to Washington, D.C. and Miami, Florida, “per the request of the Attorney General.” Photographs of the teams began appearing on social media on Wednesday afternoon, with demonstrators asking them where they were from and who they answered to. “DOJ,” one of the team members told a demonstrator. The teams were not wearing identifying badges, because while all law enforcement officials are required to do so by D.C. law, that statute does not include federal law enforcement forces. 

While the BOP “Sort” teams did not have identity badges or military markings, some demonstrators assumed they were military police, or even members of the notorious right-wing “boogaloo boys.” The report, and a raft of rumors, escalated when it was shown that tattoos sported by Sort team officers appeared to mimic those featured in “The Punisher,” a popular Marvel Comics and Netflix series about a vigilante who appears with a facsimile of a “Totenkopf” or “deaths head” insignia worn by the Nazi military in World War II. The deaths head logo remains controversial, and sparked controversy in local communities when it was stenciled on police cars. 

A number of states, including New York, have established their own Sort Teams, mimicking the federal Bureau of Prisons template. According to the website of Spec Ops Magazine, a typical “Sort team” is armed with “Sig Sauer P228s, Glock 19 pistols, Colt 9mm SMGs, Benelli M1 Super 90 shotguns, McMillan M86 SR Sniper Rifles, 37 mm gas guns, diversionary devices and chemical munitions.” Why such weapons would be needed now on the streets of Washington, D.C. is not clear. The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment, but Justice Department officials told a local television reporter that specific information on the teams could not be provided “for safety and security reasons.” 

But the senior Pentagon official with whom I spoke had his own theory: “Makes sense,” he said. “As the military has stepped back, the Justice Department has stepped in.” But when shown a photo of a Bureau of Prisons “Sort Team” deployed in downtown Washington, D.C., a senior retired military officer had a much different take. “These are more Delta wannabes. Now, every law enforcement agency has its own SWAT team,” he told me in an email. “This is not good.” 

Mark Perry is a journalist, author, and contributing editor at The American Conservative. His latest book is The Pentagon’s Wars. He tweets @markperrydc.

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Iran frees American held since 2018, U.S. allows Iranian American to Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran since 2018 was freed on Thursday and was on his way back home, his family and President Donald Trump said, while an Iranian American physician will be allowed to visit Iran, his lawyer said.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the ongoing protests over racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Iran’s move to free Michael White and the U.S. decision to let Majid Taheri visit Iran appeared a rare instance of U.S.-Iranian cooperation, and a White House spokesman said White’s release may lead to an opening in the bitter relationship.

Iran’s foreign minister confirmed both moves.

White had been released from an Iranian prison in mid-March on medical furlough but had been held in Iran under Swiss custody. Switzerland looks after U.S. interests with Tehran because the United States and Iran lack diplomatic relations.

“I am to happy announce that Navy Veteran, Michael White, who has been detained by Iran for 683 days, is on a Swiss plane that just left Iranian Airspace. We expect him to be home with his family in America very soon,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Separately, Taheri’s lawyer said the Iranian-American physician will visit family in Iran and seek medical treatment before returning to the United States as part of a U.S.-Iranian agreement that included White’s release.

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White’s release followed several months of discussions with Iran.

U.S. Special envoy Brian Hook had flown to Zurich with a doctor to meet White, a U.S. official said. The State Department did not have comment on the issue, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to give a news briefing later on Thursday during which he is expected to talk about White.

White’s release is a rare bright spot in an otherwise deeply frayed relationship between the United States and Iran, which has grown more hostile since Trump took office in 2017.

Asked whether White’s release could be an opening in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News Channel, “Hopefully so. The president has built incredible relationships with leaders across this globe.”

U.S.-Iranian relations have been bitter since the Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran in 1979 and ushered in an era of theocratic rule. Tensions flared after Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.

Ties worsened after a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Both the United States and Iran have called for the release of prisoners due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Iran is one of the worst-hit countries in the Middle East, while the United States has reported the highest number of deaths and infections in the world from the virus.

“My son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare,” his mother Joanne White said in a statement announcing his release. “I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over,” she said. IRGC is the acronym for Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

White’s release came two days after the United States deported Sirous Asgari, an Iranian professor imprisoned in the United States despite being acquitted on charges of stealing trade secrets. Iranian media reported his arrival on Wednesday.

Both the U.S. State Department and Iranian officials have repeatedly denied that Asgari was part of a swap with White or anyone else, and said his case was separate.

Last December, Washington and Tehran worked on a prisoner exchange in which Iran freed U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang, who had been held for three years on spying charges, and the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani, who faced charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Jonathan Landay, Tim Ahmann, David Brunnstrom and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bernadette Baum

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Soccer-MLS to allow full-team training, with COVID-19 testing in place

NEW YORK — Major League Soccer (MLS) said on Thursday that clubs could return to full-team training, provided they get approval from medical staff and a local infectious disease expert and follow rigorous health and safety procedures.

The announcement marks a critical step forward for the league to return to competition, nearly three months after it shut down due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and a month after teams resumed individual training.

MLS set forward a list of criteria for clubs, including a “strict schedule of COVID-19 testing,” as well as social distancing procedures, with no more than five people at a time allowed in gyms, training rooms and other fitness facilities.

The league and its players reached a new labor deal on Wednesday, allowing for the 2020 season to resume amid the pandemic. Under the plan, the season will restart with a tournament at Orlando’s Walt Disney World, and will see players take a 5% pay cut for the remainder of the season. (Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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U.S. senators, college leader spar over shielding schools from coronavirus lawsuits

(Reuters) – A U.S. Senate committee on Thursday debated whether to support a bill that would shield universities from coronavirus-related lawsuits brought by students and workers who get sick when college campuses reopen in the fall.

FILE PHOTO: A graduating Masters student from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) stands on campus the day before his graduation ceremony, which is to be held online due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, signaled his support for such legislation, saying “virtually every one” of the college leaders in his state he has spoken with supported the idea.

But Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the proposed legal protections would allow colleges to take “completely unreasonable risks.”

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, told the committee. “I think many institutions are very nervous that even if they play by the rules scrupulously they will still be subject to class action lawsuits.”

Paxson said she supported “carefully crafted liability protection,” adding that even if colleges win lawsuits, the cost of defending them will take money away from financial aid for students.

The remarks came during a hearing before the Senate’s committee on health and education in which three college presidents testified about how to reopen campuses safely.

U.S. college leaders are pushing for in-person instruction in the fall, saying students are widely dissatisfied with online learning.

The American Council on Education, a lobbying group, sent a letter in May to the committee seeking “temporary and targeted” liability protections for schools.

Colleges would have to follow “applicable public health standards” for the proposed immunity to apply, according to the letter, which was co-signed by 70 higher education associations.

The People’s Parity Project, a coalition of law students and attorneys advocating for workers’ rights, said in a letter to the committee on Thursday that “legal immunity would jeopardize students and campus workers, risk turning universities into COVID-19 hotspots, and potentially force schools to shut down again.”

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis