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Japanese internment camps pale in comparison to not being able breath your germs on a crowd of strangers in a bar.
On Wednesday, speaking at a Washington D.C. event celebrating Constitution Day, Attorney General and Donald Trump's lapdog William Barr noted that slavery—but only slavery—was worse than the pandemic lockdown.
Alongside accusations that the Black Lives Matter movement improperly uses Black people slain by the police as "props" for achieving "a much broader political agenda," Barr shared his thoughts on what he apparently thinks of as a much more serious injustice: "You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,"
Leaving aside the familiar galactic scale of the understatement in the phrase "a different kind of restraint," it's worth noting that (thanks to his boss) there never were any national stay-at-home orders—though that approach could have saved tens of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and months of this confusing stasis.
More importantly, we can now take a stroll through history and look at all the horrible things America has done that apparently pale in comparison to telling people not to spread a deadly virus. As it turns out, when you signed up for HelloFresh this spring—because meal kits weren't already convenient enough without the looming threat of death—you weren't just avoiding the modern horror of the grocery store, you were giving into crushing tyranny.
Attorney General William Barr brings up slavery when referring to quarantining during the pandemic www.youtube.com
How bad is it? Well, you've probably heard about the Jim Crow era of American history—when Black Americans were legally refused service, housing, and employment, and deprived of access to adequate education, and even their voting rights. According to Bill Barr, this is worse—at least back then some people were allowed to eat in restaurants.
And you know how, during World War II, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and held in awful conditions in internment camps on the basis that they might be spies? Well at least they weren't asked to wear masks on the basis that they might be asymptomatic carriers of a highly contagious pathogen that has already killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
Oh, and about the systematic theft of land and resources from Native Americans, coupled with the destruction of their cultures and languages, deliberate exposure to deadly infections, forced sterilization, and just plain mass murder: It's true that the United States used violent, overwhelming force and numerous insidious measures to erase their heritage and move them onto smaller and smaller "reservations" of undesirable land. On the other hand, you try getting a "reservation" these days—in some places you can only get takeout.
As awful as it is to make light of these historic tragedies, it's important to call out the fact that the head of the Justice Department is speaking so flippantly about both American history and the vital ongoing efforts to prevent further deaths.
This is exactly the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that encourages people to storm government buildings armed with assault rifles. It's the logic that says we "have to get back to normal life" when that's just not possible.
Look at Sturgis, South Dakota where, each year, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally brings hundreds of thousands of visitors, and hundreds of millions of dollars. Surely the state has no choice but to "get back to normal" by welcoming that kind of important economic stimulus for the region... except that it became a super-spreader event, rippling out from South Dakota to cause new COVID outbreaks around the country, creating a public health crisis that estimates say will end up costing over $12 billion.
Unless we're planning to let a million more Americans die off—in their homes, because it would take to much to hospitalize them—we have no choice but to treat this pandemic as the emergency it is, and to "intrude" on people's civil liberties.
Barr's comments, at an event hosted by conservative Hillsdale College, came specifically in response to a question about the freedom of religion in the context of the lockdown—the idea being that it may not be constitutional to disallow church services. Obviously if specific denominations or religious practices were being targeted for discriminatory restrictions, that would be a serious concern.
But that's not happening. In states where they aren't being given special leniency to risk their parishioners lives, churches are subject to the same restriction on public gatherings as any other organization. And while people should be free to worship as they choose, their choices must fall within a certain realm of reason and decency—no one has the freedom to perform human sacrifices. Well, maybe one person does...
On Sunday Donald Trump—the man whom Bill Barr's justice department is inexplicably defending in a defamation suit involving rape accusations—defied city orders by holding a rally in Henderson, Nevada. His first indoor rally since the June event in Tulsa that likely led to the death of Herman Cain, this rally has been characterized as "negligent homicide," almost certainly spreading the novel coronavirus, in addition to spreading the kind of insanity that treats mail-in voting as a threat to democracy, and masks as a threat to liberty.
And thanks to the nature of the Trump administration, the Attorney General's job is no longer to impartially enforce the law, it's to cosign the president's favorite conspiracies, encourage violent hysteria, and compare bare minimum public health efforts to the worst crimes in American History.
Here are eight small ways to take action and help the world this week.
A lot of horrible things are happening in the world right now. Want to get involved and make a difference? Ready to see a better future come to pass?
It won't happen quickly, though small changes can create movements. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing. If you're looking for a way to take action online right now but need a place to start, here are a few suggestions of ways to do something meaningful this week.
Amnesty International has an amazingly well-designed volunteer portal that lets you choose whether you'd like to take 5 minutes, an hour, or longer to fight for human rights. There are so many opportunities on their website, from signing petitions (questionably effective) to actually becoming a grassroots advocate. While joining for the long-haul is always the best move, signing a bunch of petitions can't hurt, right?
College application tutor
If you're looking to donate some time while online, or want to offer your life skills to an impressionable youth, the Internet offers many ways to become a volunteer tutor, college application mentor, or Big Brother/Big Sister-type figure. You can volunteer to tutor low-income students on upchieve.org, help aspiring college students apply to school, or even join Big Brothers Big Sisters' virtual program.
Donate Your Graduation Gowns to COVID-19 First Responders
Somehow or other, many COVID-19 first responders are still without proper gear. Gowns4good.net allows you to give a healthcare worker the gown that's probably hanging in your closet and tormenting you with memories of a time when you were optimistic and free. Graduation gowns, with their long sleeves and zippered access, are efficient PPE gowns, so you'll be helping out one of our healthcare workers and upcycling while you're at it.
Send Letters and Postcards to Voters
We're approaching one of the most important elections of our lifetimes, and you're not alone if you feel you truly have to do something. You could join the organization Indivisible's groups across the country and write handwritten postcards to swing state voters begging them to get Big Orange the hell out—well, you'll be provided with kinder words to write that are proven to actually persuade voters to vote blue.
You can also register to vote and join a Get Out the Vote campaign. Not inspired by Joe Biden? Remember that a vote for president is also a vote for all the down-ballot candidates who run smaller but incredibly important offices. Check out local groups that fight for progressive champions to get involved in local politics.
Attend and Support Protests and Movements in Your Area
Though the media frenzy around Black Lives Matter has died down, protests are still going strong in cities across the world.
If you're able, attend in-person protests; or, if you're looking for other ways to support, there are still many ways to support the mass movement for justice, from calling your reps to attending virtual events. Just research the events happening in your area and be aware of what's going on.
In NYC the vitriol has shifted slightly from a sole focus on the police towards anger at all the city's billionaires, who keep getting richer while the city suffers. Check out Housing Justice for All, or stay abreast of the momentum in your area.
Public movements and public pressure works. So keep up the pressure.
ICE Neighborhood Patrol
In the middle of a devastating pandemic, when many undocumented people weren't even receiving any government benefits at all and couldn't sign up for aid programs, ICE is still at it, evicting people, tearing families apart, caging children, and being horrible.
If you want a specific event to attend: DSA is hosting a phone zap for Free Them All, an organization that demands incarcerated immigrants be released, on Friday at noon.
You could also watch this video, narrated by Fiona Apple, about how to document an ICE arrest.
Learn About Harm Reduction and Naxolone/Narcan
America is still in the midst of an opioid crisis, and during COVID-19, U.S. drug overdoses have reached record highs.
Harm reduction is one way to help people struggling with drug abuse—and you'd be surprised at how many people are. (If you're struggling, you're not alone). If you want to help, you could learn about responding to an overdose and you can start carrying Naxolone or Narcan, drugs that counter the toxic effects of opioids. Look up your local harm reduction group, learn more here, sign up for a training here, and of course, you can always donate.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, so this month is also a great time to educate yourself on prevention and to share information with others.
It's also always a good time to learn about alternatives to punishment, such as harm reduction and restorative justice. These strategies can be practiced on micro-levels (i.e. "calling in" instead of "calling out") or on the scale of the entire criminal justice system.
Work on Yourself
Change starts internally, and time spent working on your internal world is never time wasted. Just imagine how different movements and governments would be if all leaders had done internal work and had healed themselves before they tried to lead the world.
Healing your own wounds can be one of the most helpful things you can do in the long term. Justice movements and campaigns often fail in the wide scheme of things because they get destroyed by egos or corruption or savior complexes or poor communication.
But personal healing can be the foundation of genuine connection and community-building, which is where real change begins. Try therapy, find God, check in with your friends, take a day off; you and everyone you know deserves it.
It's the sad truth of capitalism: Money sometimes goes further than everything else. So if you're able, keep on donating—this list will show you how to make sure your donations reach the most marginalized. You could also set a goal for an amount you'd like to donate, such as 10% of your total income.
Here are five places to donate to this week:
Abundant Beginnings educates children about environmentalism, community, and liberation. It's a Black-led organization that invests in raising future activists and compassionate people.
The Center for Popular Democracy supports progressive causes and frontline communities.
Project South is a movement dedicated to fighting social, economic, and political problems in the American South.
The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana is donating to relief efforts at the site of Hurricane Laura.
The Climate Emergency Fund supports youth climate activists in their work to stop climate change on a global scale.
The cases of Rusten Sheskey and Kyle Rittenhouse make it clear that the leniency afforded to police officers is not justified.
Amid protests of a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin this week, three protesters were shot by a 17-year-old with an AR-15.
Two of the protesters died at the scene on Tuesday. The third was seriously injured, but survived. The shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch Illinois, has been charged with two counts of first-degree homicide, among other charges.
The event that spurred the protests was shocking on its face, but an increasingly familiar scenario—a Kenosha police officer shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times.
The incident took place on Sunday, August 23rd, after police officers arrived at the scene of a domestic disturbance with little information. A woman had called 911 and used 29-year-old Jacob Blake's name, but was reportedly "uncooperative" with the 911 operator, so police had little else to go on.
Sources since the incident have said that Blake was actually breaking up an argument, possibly between the 911 caller and another woman. But it turned out there was a warrant out for Blake's arrest, and police responded to the call with force.
While some details of the encounter remain uncertain, Blake was tased more than once, and two videos document police officers struggling to restrain him as he attempts to free himself and move toward the driver side door of his SUV.
Authorities identify officer who opened fire in Jacob Blake shooting l GMA www.youtube.com
The footage shows that as Blake opened the door, officer Rusten Sheskey grabbed him by the shirt and shot him seven times in the back. While all this took place, Blake's three young sons were sitting inside the SUV.
Miraculously, Blake survived those gunshots, but is paralyzed, and likely to never walk again. After regaining consciousness, a heavily medicated Blake reportedly asked his father "Why did they shoot me so many times?" to which his father responded, "Baby, they weren't supposed to shoot you at all."
Police have claimed that a knife was found on the driver's side floorboard, with the suggestion that Blake was reaching for it in order to harm the officers. Why else would he have struggled so hard to get to the driver side door? Surely he didn't think he could actually get away?
The answer is that Jacob Blake likely didn't think much at all. Nor would anyone in that situation.
A taser delivers an electrical pulse of around 50,000 volts of low amperage electricity that courses through the victim's body, causing muscles to seize violently. While the low amperage of these pulses generally protects the victim's heart from stopping, the electricity has been shown to reach the brain, where it can disrupt memory and thought processing.
Blake was effectively shot with a brain disruption device. Coupled with the body's natural fight or flight response—which causes adrenaline and other stress-response hormones to flood into the bloodstream—chances are he couldn't really get a handle on what was going on. If his instinct was to fight, maybe that means he was in fact reaching for a knife.
But if his instinct was to run—to quickly get himself and his children away from a very real threat—then no amount of arguing or reasoning was going to stop him from trying to get in his car to drive off.
Rusten Sheskey, likewise, may have been acting on instinct. The kind of tunnel vision that takes over in stressful situations may have prevented him from considering the innocent explanation for why Jacob Blake would struggle so hard to open his car door. He may also have been influenced by the kind of implicit racial bias that causes many Americans to perceive Black men as more threatening.
Or maybe there was nothing "implicit" about his bias at all. Maybe Rusten Sheskey was one of the open bigots that have actively infiltrated law enforcement, and would have taken any excuse to shoot a Black man with the intent to kill.
We don't know, and may never find out. What we do know is that, even if Rusten Sheskey is charged with Jacob Blake's murder—so far, no charges have been filed—he is very likely to be acquitted.
So why has Kyle Rittenhouse already been charged with murder?
His crimes took place more than two days after Jacob Blake was shot, yet no officers have been charged in connection with the incident. The answer is closely tied to the controversial concept of "qualified immunity."
Among calls to defund and reform America's police in the months since the horrific killing of George Floyd, one of activists' primary demands is the elimination of qualified immunity, which essentially says that police officers cannot be sued for any reasonable actions they take as part of fulfilling their duties. That includes shooting unarmed civilians if the officers perceive them—for whatever reason—as an imminent threat.
While the protections only apply to civil suits, the reasoning behind them is closely related to the logic that tends to prevent police officers from being charged and convicted in these cases. But why doesn't Jacob Blake deserve the same leniency? Were the circumstances under which he fired his rifle substantially different than what led Rusten Sheskey to fire seven bullets into Jacob Blake's back?
Again, many of the details are unclear. While there are multiple videos documenting portions of the incident, we don't know exactly what led up to the moment when Rittenhouse shot his first victim, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.
Reportedly Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, and attempted to take his gun from him—possibly fearing that Rittenhouse was not in a state of mind to handle his firearm safely. If that was his fear, it was soon justified when Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, wounding him in the back, hand, groin, thigh, and head.
Perhaps Rittenhouse was influenced by the rhetoric from conservative outlets like the Daily Caller, and from President Donald Trump himself—who famously said "when the looting starts, the shooting starts"—to view the Black Lives Matter movement and protesters opposing police brutality as violent terrorists who deserved to be met with violence. Is that different than how Rusten Sheskey was primed to view Jacob Blake?
In the aftermath, while Richard McGinniss, a videographer from conservative website The Daily Caller, did his best to tend to Rosenbaum's wounds, Rittenhouse ran from the scene, rifle in hand. He was caught on video telling a friend over the phone, "I just killed someone."
Video shows Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha on the night three protestors were shot www.youtube.com
In further video protesters pursued Rittenhouse, and when he fell to the ground, he pointed his rifle at them. Multiple protesters attempted to disarm him—and 26-year-old Anthony Huber struck him with a skateboard. But rather than surrender or drop his weapon, Rittenhouse shot at them, shooting Huber in the heart and nearly severing the arm of Gaige Grosskreutz.
When Rittenhouse got back to his feet and managed to get away from protesters, he found his way to the police, whom he approached while protesters called out for him to be arrested. Instead, Rittenhouse was allowed to return to his home in Illinois, where he was arrested the next day.
But why was he arrested at all? Why Kyle Rittenhouse and not Rusten Sheskey?
If anything, Rittenhouse has more of a claim to make in terms of self defense. While Sheskey may have suspected that Jacob Blake was reaching for some kind of weapon, Rittenhouse knew for a fact that his victims were reaching for a high-powered semi-automatic rifle—his rifle.
And in the case of Anthony Huber, he actually attacked him with a skateboard—which may even be considered "assault with a deadly weapon" in some cases. Of course his victims were more than justified in fearing what Rittenhouse would do with his weapon, but couldn't you say the same for Jacob Blake? Didn't he have reason to fear for his life and attempt to either run from the police or defend himself however he thought he could? So why is it different?
Is it a matter of duty? While Rittenhouse may not have been serving in any official capacity as a police officer, he clearly saw his role in Kenosha as very similar.
He had trained with the Grayslake Police Department through their "Public Safety Cadet" program for aspiring police officers aged 14-21. On social media he included the motto "Duty. Honor. Courage. Blue Lives Matter." with his profile picture. In an interview with the Daily Caller prior to the shooting—filmed by none other than Richard McGinniss—Rittenhouse referred to it as his "job" to use his gun to defend himself and others.
According to reports, local police treated Rittenhouse and other armed civilians seeking to take a stand against riots as their allies rather than vigilantes—handing out water bottles and giving them encouragement. This may explain why police allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene after killing two men and injuring a third.
Clearly Rittenhouse believed himself—not without reason—to be serving alongside the police, and in a similar capacity. Did he lack the training to do so with the professionalism of an actual police officer?
The Grayslake Police Department's Public Safety Cadet program—according to an archived page—included weekly meetings, a background check, and firearms training. Considering the fact that several states require police officers to receive just twelve weeks of training—less than barbers or plumbers—Rittenhouse may have had nearly as much training as many rookie cops.
New video shows Antioch teen just before deadly Kenosha protest shooting | ABC7 Chicago www.youtube.com
Was it his age then? One of the charges against Rittenhouse is "possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18." Is there a switch that was going to flip when he turned 18 that would have made him more responsible? More capable of wielding deadly force with care? At 21 then? Or 31—the age of Rusten Sheskey?
No, the only thing that really separates the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse and the numerous police officers who have shot unarmed people in recent years is that when Kenosha Sheriff David Beth was encouraged to deputize the armed civilians going out amid protests, he refused. Does that make him a hero? No, but it does mean that his police department won't be sued—at least in this case.
Now Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged with homicide, and he or his parents will no doubt be defendants in a number of civil suits likely to be filed by the victims' families. Meanwhile, neither Rusten Sheskey nor the officers who tased Jacob Blake have been charged with anything, nor will his family be allowed to sue them.
So why doesn't Rittenhouse deserve the leniency that police receive in these cases?
Because no one does.
We should not accept the fact that armed men and women patrol our streets—often with the same defensive, violent attitudes as Kyle Rittenhouse—and can shoot unarmed civilians with impunity. It's time to end qualified immunity, shift police funding toward non-violent community services, and to make police accountable to civilian review boards with the power to actually punish them.
Short of that, we might as well give Kyle Rittenhouse his gun back, and set him and others like him loose on our streets.
Despite some technical difficulties and some uncomfortable moments, the Democratic National Convention was an attempt to provide solace to a fractured nation.
As tensions around the 2020 election rise to a near-fever pitch, all eyes are on the Democratic party.
The Democratic National Convention was an important moment, one that was inevitably rigorously analyzed by pundits across the political spectrum. But did it hold up to expectations?
First off, the convention was held virtually over Zoom, leading to a fair amount of awkward technical issues. But it did feature a number of highlights, some of which came from unexpected places. Overall, the DNC was a lot of things, but ultimately it was a call to action.
Change doesn't happen solely through massive, revolutionary actions. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
Sometimes the amount of change that the world needs feels totally overwhelming, and it can be impossible to know where to begin.
But the truth is that change doesn't happen through massive, revolutionary action. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
This roundup is by no means meant to be all-encompassing. Instead, these are six steps to take if you don't know where to start on your journey towards fighting for true justice. These are jumping-off points you're frustrated by the world's ills and you want to fight, but are searching for a place to start.
1. Fight for Breonna Taylor
This week, many Black Lives Matter organizers are concentrating their efforts on accountability for cops who killed Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor’s family renewed their pleas for justice, 5 months after her killing by the police. “At this point i… https://t.co/teTm4pwadf— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1597334407.0
Taking Back Pride: Black Lives Matter Marches Led by Queer and Trans People Reclaim Pride's Radical Roots
The Brooklyn Liberation March, a protest for Black Trans Lives, was truer to the original spirit and point of Pride than any corporatized Pride march.
This year's truest Pride event so far had no corporate floats and no rainbow flag logos.
It was brought together in a spirit of rage and defiance. It was the Brooklyn Liberation March, which began at the Brooklyn Museum and wound its way through Brooklyn for hours.
15,000 people, most clad in white, walked in the hot sunshine on June 12th. The march was organized by several Black trans-led organizations.
How do you fall back on your "Well they shouldn't commit crimes!" argument now?
It was recently announced that the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 while in police custody, will be reexamined by Colorado Officials.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis personally announced that his administration will reexamine the case. The governor wrote on Twitter, "a fair and objective process free from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical." Polis added that he is having lawyers "examine what the state can do and we are assessing next steps."
Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective p… https://t.co/vGdBthXcQc— Governor Jared Polis (@Governor Jared Polis)1593032085.0
New Yorkers have been hearing constant explosions throughout the night. Is it a conspiracy?
If you live in a large metropolitan area like New York City, Black Lives Matter protests likely aren't the only things you hear making noise in the streets.
In the past couple of weeks, as Black Lives Matter supporters march in memory of George Floyd and countless other Black people killed by police, the sounds of fireworks can be heard virtually every weekend. More than just your average Fourth of July shindig, these explosions often trail into the wee hours of the morning.
It's time for real allyship.
The protests being held in many American cities over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks have drawn a lot of support and solidarity not just in the U.S, but across the world in general.
There has never been a better time to use one's voice–no matter how small–to speak up against racial injustice than now.
Online protests have also flooded social media , and they have proven more than ever to be an important part of the cause. In the last few days, we've seen several brands and companies get called out on Twitter for failing to embrace diversity in business, as well as for their unfair treatment of Black employees.
Support the Movement for Black Lives.
On June 19, 1865, a Union edict announced that all slaves in Texas were free.
Now, June 19th is known as Juneteenth (or Jubilee Day or Freedom Day). It's an official celebration of the end of slavery. This year, Juneteenth is falling in the midst of a massive revolutionary Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted following the recent death of George Floyd but which is an extension of the Civil Rights movement and a reaction to 400 years of Black oppression in America.