Something in the Air

The pandemic rages on and the economy is in ruins, but there was other news:

Four Minneapolis police officers were fired Tuesday, authorities said, amid protests and outrage after a viral video showed one of them kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black man who cried that he could not breathe and later died.

A bystander’s video of the incident on the city’s south side captured George Floyd telling the officers “I cannot breathe” as he is pinned to the ground and as an increasingly distraught crowd of onlookers pleads with the officer to move his knee.

The officers involved in the incident have not been identified, but Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) announced Tuesday afternoon that they had been terminated.

“It is the right decision for our city, the right decision for our community. It is the right decision for the Minneapolis Police Department,” Frey said at a news conference with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. “We’ve stated our values, and ultimately we need to live by them.”

But this shouldn’t have been a tough call. Onlookers pleaded with the officer to move his knee, so he pressed down harder, for a full ten minutes, until the guy was dead. Perhaps he enjoyed showing those onlookers just whose life mattered now, but that officer was wrong:

The Minneapolis Police Department originally said that Floyd, who was stopped Monday night on a report of a forgery, had “physically resisted officers.” But in a Tuesday interview with local outlet North News, Frey said that as additional information was revealed, “it became clear that the original statement was not accurate.”

Arradondo said during the news conference that he had decided to ask the FBI to investigate after receiving “additional information” about the incident from a community source, but he declined to elaborate.

Calling in the FBI was “the very clear and obvious choice when you watch the footage provided in the civilian video,” Frey said in the North News interview.

“For five minutes we watched as a white officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man who was helpless,” the mayor said. “For five whole minutes. This was not a matter of a split-second poor decision.”

So the mayor and the police chief absolved themselves. The knee was bad enough but they got new and mysterious “additional information” (that they cannot discuss) and immediately did the right thing. They’re the good guys. But they’d have to say that:

Minneapolis-area law enforcement has faced criticism in recent years over its use of force. In a 2016 incident that drew widespread condemnation, an officer with the suburban St. Anthony Police Department shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop, the aftermath of which was streamed live on Facebook.

And in 2017, a Minneapolis police officer fatally shot 40-year-old Justine Damond after she called 911 to report a possible assault near her house. Damond’s death followed the acquittal of the officer who killed Castile, exacerbating the already tense relations between law enforcement and the community.

Floyd’s death came amid a national conversation about the rush to judgment of unarmed black men, both by police and civilians. Earlier this month, authorities in Georgia arrested two white men after one shot and killed a black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, telling police they believed he was involved in local burglaries. A prosecutor initially argued the actions of the men, father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were in accordance with the law.

There’s something in the air. There’s always been something in the air. But this wasn’t subtle:

Darnella Frazier, who filmed the police encounter with Floyd, was on her way to see friends when she saw the incident unfolding outside the Cup Foods market. She quickly began recording the encounter in a 10-minute video later shared to Facebook.

“When I walked up, he was already on the ground,” Frazier said in a different Facebook video. “The cops… they was pinning him down by his neck and he was crying… They wasn’t trying to take him serious.”

As more people gathered around the encounter, the man pleaded that his whole body was in pain. Frazier recalled that his face was being pressed so hard against the ground that his nose was bleeding.

“You’re going to just sit there with your knee on his neck?” one bystander said on the video.

Minutes later, the man appeared to be motionless on the ground, his eyes closed and head lying against the road.

“Bro, he’s not even fucking moving!” one bystander pleaded to police. “Get off of his neck!”

Another asked, “Did you kill him?”

Later, the unconscious man was loaded onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. Bystanders who remained in front of Cup Foods pointed at the two officers and said the incident would haunt them “for the rest of your life.”

Apparently they shrugged. There were massive demonstrations. Shots were fired. Mayor Frey reminded everyone about social distancing and about the importance of wearing masks, and then he had his police chief just fire those four guys. And then it was over, but these things are never over:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, condemned the force used by the officers.

“George Floyd deserved better and his family deserves justice,” Mr. Biden wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night. “His life mattered.”

Biden was goading Trump. Everyone was posting a shot of Colin Kaepernick also kneeling on one knee, protesting this sort of thing a few years ago. He wasn’t killing anyone, but Donald Trump is still angry with Colin Kaepernick and that Black Lives Matter business. Donald Trump is not an elegant man. He doesn’t want to be an elegant man. He wants to be an angry man. He will be theatrically angry about this. Three years earlier he had said the nation should be angry with lazy entitled whiners like Colin Kaepernick. Blacks should thank white men for all they’ve done for them. We ended slavery. What more do they want? He had said all those football player sons of bitches like Kaepernick should be fired, and now these four policemen had just been fired, and Joe Biden was doing his Black Lives Matter thing.

Trump will have to do his Blue Lives Matter thing in response. He supports the police. Let the police do what they want. He has often said they really should rough people up. But this was brutal, and there’s video, a long video. This will be unpleasant. But he has to say something.

Biden said three words that he knew would set Trump off once again, that Trump could not let stand. Trump will revert to talk about uppity black folks and oversexed thuggish rich black athletes who aren’t fit to shine his shoes, or anyone else’s either. Black lives just don’t matter all that much. Biden will get him to say that.

Biden knows what’s in the air. All the racial nonsense is returning:

The incident appears to have begun as one of those banal and brusque dust-ups between two New Yorkers. A black man, an avid birder, asked a white woman to leash her dog in Central Park, as the rules required. She refused.

Then the encounter, which was recorded on video, took an ugly turn.

As the man, Christian Cooper, filmed on his phone, the woman, clutching her thrashing dog, called the police, her voice rising in hysteria.

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life,” she said to him while dialing, then repeated to the operator, twice, “African-American.”

This was stupid local stuff and nonsense, but nothing is local anymore:

The video, posted to Twitter on Memorial Day by Mr. Cooper’s sister, has been viewed more than 30 million times, touching off intense discussions about the history of false accusations made to the police against black people, sometimes putting their lives in danger.

Within 24 hours, the woman, identified as Amy Cooper (no relation to Mr. Cooper), had given up her dog, publicly apologized and been fired from her job.

Mr. Cooper expressed regret for the extent of the retribution.

Mr. Cooper, 57, a Harvard graduate who works in communications, has long been a prominent birder in the city and is on the board of the New York City Audubon Society.

That changes things. The profile was wrong. He wasn’t a young black thug. He was a middle-aged Harvard man who hung with the Audubon Society crowd. And she wasn’t the rather dimwitted and sloppy Mayella Violet Ewell accusing Tom Robinson of rape while Atticus Finch tries to straighten things out:

On Monday evening, Ms. Cooper’s employer, Franklin Templeton said she had been placed on leave while the incident was being investigated.

Ms. Cooper had been a head of insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, according to her LinkedIn page, and graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

On Tuesday afternoon, Franklin Templeton announced that she had been fired.

And everyone was sorry about this:

Mr. Cooper said in the interview that he had been overwhelmed by the response to his video, but that the retribution against Ms. Cooper had taken him aback.

“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”

This would not change any underlying factors. The racism was blatant, because that’s always in the air:

Adding to the fractiousness of the exchange are longstanding tensions between birders and dog walkers in Central Park, magnified by the fraught climate of the pandemic lockdown.

At one point, Ms. Cooper, wearing a face mask, lunged toward Mr. Cooper, a behavior that some who viewed the video have called an assault, because of the violation of social- distancing rules that occurs.

But even without the pandemic and the location, the legacy of these kinds of confrontations looms large, according to Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.

“It was particularly a punch in the gut for a lot of people,” Professor Russell-Brown said. “It ties into and taps into a long history of white women, in particular, falsely accusing black men of crimes that leads to great harm.”

But nothing came of it. No one filed any charges. Neither party lodged a complaint. Everyone was sorry all around. But everything came of it. Thirty million people saw this. Discussion will continue. Trump folks will side with her. Biden folks will side with him. The two parties here both decided not to fight about this. They don’t matter anymore. There’s something in the air.

And someone has been poisoning the air:

Twitter on Tuesday slapped a fact-check label on President Trump’s tweets for the first time, a response to long-standing criticism that the company is too hands-off when it comes to policing misinformation and falsehoods from world leaders.

The move, which escalates tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley in an election year, was made in response to two Trump tweets over the past 24 hours. The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.

Twitter had finally had enough of that and decided they’d not participate in bullshit:

The tweets, said Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough, “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”

The label directs users to articles by CNN, The Washington Post and the Hill, along with selections from the articles and a page summarizing the findings of fact-checkers.

And of course Trump exploded:

Twitter’s action quickly drew backlash from Trump and his supporters. Twitter “is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election,” the president tweeted. “They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post.”

Trump posited that as the real scandal. They were implying that he might be making absurdly false claims. No, they were not implying that. They were actually saying that. They were saying that they had to do something about this man:

For its 14-year existence, Twitter has allowed misinformation by world leaders and everyday citizens to spread virtually unchecked. Its leaders have long said users would engage in debate on the platform and correct false information on their own.

But Trump has made many false claims on social media, particularly on his preferred medium of Twitter, and has also attacked people in ways that critics have argued could violate company policies on harassment and bullying.

For example, Twitter faced a barrage of criticism earlier Tuesday over another set of Trump tweets. The widower of a former staffer to then-Rep. Joe Scarborough asked Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey to delete tweets by Trump furthering a baseless conspiracy theory about the staffer’s wife’s death. Those tweets are still up, a reflection of social media companies’ approach to policing content that can appear inconsistent even as they have stepped up their enforcement.

Twitter is debating whether to take action on the Scarborough tweets…

Should they help Trump inflict massive emotional pain on Scarborough and his wife and particularly on the widower and his family, to make them squirm, even if every accusation was proven completely false years ago, because his base loves inflicting pain and making people squirm, because it’s fun? And this is a matter of free speech too. If the president were to say that Nancy Pelosi just shot three hundred policemen dead and urged that someone who loves him to go shoot her dead right now, that would be protected free speech, right? Or should they do the right thing again:

Twitter has changed its approach during the pandemic. In March, the company revised its terms of service to say it would remove posts by anyone, even world leaders, if such posts went “against guidance from authoritative sources of global and public health information.” That includes comments claiming social distancing is ineffective or essential oils can be used to cure the disease, for example.

Soon after, for the first time, Twitter applied the policy to world leaders, removing tweets by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, arguing that the tweets about breaking social distancing orders and touting false cures had such potential for harm that labeling them would be insufficient.

In March, Twitter labeled a manipulated video of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden that was retweeted by Trump.

They don’t have to play along. Twitter is a private platform. They own it. Trump doesn’t. They’re not required to poison the air.

And the air really is toxic at the White House, as Gabe Sherman reports here:

As he headed into Memorial Day weekend, Donald Trump complained that he was COVID-19’s biggest victim.

“He was just in a fucking rage,” said a person who spoke with Trump late last week. “He was saying, ‘This is so unfair to me! Everything was going great. We were cruising to reelection!”

Even as the death toll neared 100,000 and unemployment ranks swelled to over 38 million, Trump couldn’t see the pandemic as anything other than something that had happened to him. “The problem is he has no empathy,” the adviser said. Trump complained that he should have been warned about the virus sooner. “The intelligence community let me down!” he said.

But there’s more to his whining:

Trump’s outburst reflected his growing frustration that, at this stage of the race, he is losing to Joe Biden. According to a Republican briefed on the campaign’s internal polls, Trump is trailing Biden by double digits among women over 50 in six swing states. “Trump knows the numbers are bad. It’s why he’s thrashing about,” the Republican said.

Even those closest to Trump have been privately worried the election is slipping away. According to a source, Melania Trump warned the president during their trip to India in February to take the virus response seriously. “He totally blew her off,” the source said. Melania later told people that Trump “only hears what he wants to hear and surrounds himself with yes-people and family,” the source added.

That’s not news to anyone but this might be:

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a Trump-campaign reset is the candidate. “Trump is doing it to himself by tweeting idiotic conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough. Women are tired of this shit,” said another former West Wing official. An outside adviser agreed. “Trump can’t pivot to a different strategy,” the adviser told me. “He only knows one strategy – which is attack. It worked in 2016. But now it’s not what people are looking for.” The adviser told me that Trump’s New York friends are planning an intervention to get him to stop tweeting about the Morning Joe cohost…

And when he’s not feeling helpless or aggrieved, Trump continues to cling to magical thinking. “He lives in his own fucking world,” the outside adviser said. Trump recently told a friend that the Moderna vaccine is going to be ready in months.

At this point many Republicans I spoke to said the only hope for Trump is that Biden implodes.

That’s it? Yes, there’s something in the air now. It’s poison for everyone.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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