Reform efforts underway
Protests over the killing of George Floyd are fading from the headlines, Seattle notwithstanding. Still, a new focus is on the first efforts designed to address the future relationships between police and people of color. Earlier this week, House Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act containing several proposals containing policy, training, and accountability of police officers.
The House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing that included witnesses called by both Democrats and Republicans, ranging from those focusing on reforms to those addressing the notion of totally or partially defunding police. Most members spoke about the new bill, which did not include provisions for defunding police.
Among those offering testimony and answering questions was Philonese Floyd, the brother of George, as well as Angela Underwood Jacobs, whose law enforcement brother was murdered during an Oakland riot. Also appearing was Tallahassee attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Floyd family, Sharon Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Pastor Darrell Scott of the New Spirit Revival Center, and several others.
Several areas of agreement on the way forward surfaced during the hearing. Florida’s five committee members may have sometimes had different perspectives on the aftermath of Floyd’s death, but all agreed that something significant needs to happen.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach used some of his five minutes to call out those wanting to defund police, but he also got behind much of what is in the bill, praising the “constellation of ideas.” While seeking to “fine-tune” elements to prevent defunding, he said “you can be able to count on Republican cooperation” to help make necessary improvements.
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton pointed to a current “culture without consequences” among some police departments and some officers. He added that “In this moment we must dedicate, and rededicate ourselves to working toward a more just and inclusive country.”
Democratic Rep. Val Demings, the former Orlando police chief who is being seriously discussed as a running mate for presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, spoke of police “being held to a higher standard.” She added: “We all have to get this right.”
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell began her five minutes with a dramatic video from Miami of an unarmed black woman who called 911 for help but was ultimately taken down and handcuffed by three officers. The remainder of her comments focused on the need for “strong civilian oversight,” as contemplated in the bill.
Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota addressed an area that could be a roadblock to an agreement. While pointing to areas of understanding in the bill, he addressed those seeking to remove “qualified immunity” for police officers, arguing that officers do not currently qualify for immunity if they break from procedures and protocols.
President Donald Trump is expected to announce a White House proposal shortly, while the Senate has commissioned Republican Sen. Tim Scott to lead that chamber’s effort to craft a bill. The Scott bill is expected to call for, among other things, increased funding for police body cameras. Still, it is not likely to have a provision removing qualified immunity, setting the stage for a potential showdown.
As the country has learned over the past few weeks, the stakes for not achieving something meaningful can be dangerous. In today’s climate, will both parties be able to agree to items seemingly unpalatable to their base to effect change?
Policing social media
The ongoing fight between Trump and Twitter could be coming to Congress. Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans have come to believe the social media giant’s hands-on approach to some of the President’s tweets may have violated Twitter’s status as a platform and left it vulnerable to losing protections from liability.
Rubio and three Republican Senators wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai requesting the FCC to take a fresh look at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and clearly define the criteria for which companies can receive protection under the statute. Joining him in the letter were Sens. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
“Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social media platforms from the liability imposed on publishers when they act in good faith to restrict access to or remove certain objectionable materials,” the Senators wrote.
“However, the protections afforded by Section 230 are not absolute or unconditional,” they added. While social media companies enjoy their special status under Section 230, it is questionable that they are living up to their obligations when they blur the lines between distributor and publisher by favoring one political point of view over another.”
Twitter’s decision to add comments to a few Trump tweets was one issue, but the Senators also expressed concerns about “everyday Americans” and the “censorship of Chinese dissidents.”
“Social media companies have become involved in a range of editorial and promotional activity; like publishers, they monetize, edit, and otherwise editorialize user content,” they continued. “It is time to take a fresh look at Section 230 and to interpret the vague standard of “good faith” with specific guidelines and direction.”
In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, Barr said some social media enterprises are “engaged in censorship,” adding the Justice Department is joining others in “looking at changing Section 230,” which he maintained can only be done with Congress.
In the past, some Democrats have also expressed concern with the power exercised by social media entities, while others claim Facebook should exercise more authority over “questionable” content.
No Cuban investment
In a move further rolling back a detente between Cuba and the United States begun during the administration of former President Barack Obama, the Trump administration has ordered Marriott to cease its hotel operations on the socialist island nation. Marriott, which had plans to build more properties in Cuba, has until August 31 to close down.
The move has the full-throated support of Sen. Rick Scott, who increased his call to take further steps to “hold the Cuban regime accountable.” The ultimate goal, Scott said, is helping force an end to the Cuban dictatorship.
“I applaud the Trump Administration for taking important steps to hold the Cuban regime accountable, and for their commitment to freedom and democracy in our hemisphere,” the first-term Republican said in a news release. “The decision to revoke Marriott International’s license to operate in Cuba sends a clear message that the United States is committed to fighting for a new day of freedom for Cuba and its people.
“The violence, instability and chaos we see in Latin America is directly tied to the oppressive Cuban regime, which continues to prop up dangerous dictators throughout the region, including (Nicolás) Maduro in Venezuela and (Daniel) Ortega in Nicaragua,” Scott continued. “All U.S. companies should think twice before investing in Cuba.”
Scott is also urging Trump to take further steps including the reinstatement of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, seek to indict Cuban President Raul Castro for the murder of U.S. citizens, refuse admission to the U.S. of any Cubans involved in human rights abuses, sanction other countries complicit in Cuba’s human rights abuses, and revoke licenses to U.S. businesses operating in Cuba.
“Limiting the flow of money to Cuba and implementing more sanctions is critical to freeing Venezuela and protecting the national security of the United States,” Scott added.
The two most significant diplomatic issues confronting the U.S. and China centered on Chinese efforts to subjugate Hong Kong and their claim to the island of Taiwan. The U.S. may have tweaked Beijing this week when an American military cargo plane, with the full understanding China considers the area their airspace, flew over Taiwan with Taiwanese permission.
China dubbed the flight, which did not land, “provocative,” and the gesture “harmed our sovereignty, security and development rights,” further calling it a violation of international law. Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville, the ranking member of the House subcommittee overseeing affairs involving Asia and the Pacific, urged the Chinese to get over it.
“#China is deluding itself believing #Taiwan is part of the #PRC,” tweeted the Gainesville Republican. “U.S. aircraft entered Taiwanese airspace with permission from Taiwan. The U.S. will continue to stand by its ally in the #SouthChinaSea no matter how many lies the #CCP chooses to spread.”
The U.S. is Taiwan’s most stalwart international supporter and has recently engaged with officials there to gain observer status with the World Health Organization (WHO). Taiwan was not permitted to detail their successes in handling the coronavirus, despite its proximity to China.
Navy ships have recently sailed through the strait separating Taiwan and China as part of military activities.
Statues of Christopher Columbus, as well as Confederate political and military leaders, are beginning to fall at the hands of activists. In Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry took down a 122-year-old monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers located in the city’s Hemming Park and promised more would come.
Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, whose Congressional District 5 includes part of the city, gave his full support for the mayor’s dramatic and unexpected step. He reflected on his life experiences in a statement.
“As someone who grew up in the heart of segregation and has firsthand accounts of racial inequality and injustice, it warms my heart to see the city of Jacksonville remove the Confederate monument in Hemming Park, and throughout the city,” Lawson said.
“I commend the citizens of Jacksonville for pushing this initiative for the past few years, the elected leaders who dreamt of this moment, and the Mayor for having the courage to help erase our troubled past and begin the healing process of our city, state, and nation.”
Jacksonville’s other representative in Congress, Republican John Rutherford, did not immediately comment on the move. In 2016 he referred to Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a “hate group,” defending his label as a reaction to videos of some BLM activists chanting slogans appearing to advocate violence against police.
Rutherford’s Democratic opponent, Donna Deegan, said Curry’s move was “long overdue” and a “goodwill gesture from the city’s leadership.”
Jacksonville has at least two more monuments that were put in place between 1898 and 1926 and eight historical markers. Curry pledged their removal as well.
RNC to Jax
The recent announcement by Trump the Republican National Convention would no longer be held in Charlotte, North Carolina; several Florida locations were touted as possibilities. After more than a week of rumors, Jacksonville was officially named as the site for the high profile portions of the convention, including Trump’s acceptance speech. At the same time, the official business will remain in Charlotte.
Rep. Michael Waltz is credited with beginning the move that led to this week’s announcement. The St. Augustine Republican got on the phone with Trump touting the idea of moving the convention to Florida.
While Curry indicated early on he was ready to “welcome the opportunity” to host the convention, Rutherford did not openly advocate the move to take on the rigors of hosting such an event. Along with the realities of a pandemic, the law enforcement challenges in the current environment are daunting.
We welcome the opportunity to host the @GOPconvention in Jacksonville. A $100 million local impact event would be important for our city as an event/convention destination.The City is ready for world class events &ready show the world we are open for business. @GOP @GOPChairwoman
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) June 2, 2020
That is part of the message from the region’s other member of Congress, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who weighed in before Jacksonville was selected. Lawson acknowledged the economic jolt a convention would bring, but said public safety must be the top consideration.
“I do understand why mayors would say, ‘We want this convention,’ because it brings in a lot of money and a lot of resources,” Lawson told WJCT’s Charles Griggs. “But with this pandemic and coronavirus that we have, there’s going to have to be limitations wherever the conventions go, whether the Democratic convention or the other convention.”
Now that Jacksonville has been chosen, the city and the region say they are prepared for the influx of out of town visitors, including those looking to celebrate and others looking to protest.
Help for homeless
With record unemployment as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, that also means that some without income are left, or will be left, without a home. The problem may be exacerbated even more after the rent and mortgage moratorium expires, which Gov. Ron DeSantis recently extended until July 1.
However, there is some good news from Reps. Waltz and Charlie Crist, who are among those announcing the federal government is sending relief to counties they represent to help the homeless during the crisis. Crist’s Pinellas County constituents will receive nearly $6.8 million, while those affected in Volusia County within Waltz’s 6th Congressional District will see an additional $800,000.
“People experiencing homelessness are one of the most at-risk groups for getting sick and transmitting the virus,” Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the economic pain we are experiencing may lead to more people going without a home. These funds will help ensure more of our residents have a roof over their head and the medical support needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 within this vulnerable population,”
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was signed into law in March authorizes the funding. Payments will come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Sadly, the homeless are at a much higher risk of contracting coronavirus,” Waltz, a St. Augustine Republican, said in a separate release. “This grant will be much-needed to prevent the spread and respond to the virus among our homeless population — and I am grateful this funding from the CARES Act is making its way to help some of the most vulnerable in our community.”
Waltz’s office noted the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant funds would be used to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus pandemic among individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homeless assistance. The funds will also support additional homeless assistance and homelessness prevention activities to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
Perdue visits Lakeland
In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. From that, $3 billion goes those in need through a program known as the Farmers to Families Food Box program.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Lakeland this week, helping load up cars with food that will help sustain families for weeks. The site was the One More Child offices of the Florida Baptist Children’s Home.
“This is the best of America, and this is the best thing I know that we can do at USDA to fulfill our motto, which is to do right and to feed everyone,” Perdue said.
Joining Perdue to help with distribution were Republican Reps. Ross Spano of Dover and Greg Steube of Sarasota.
“Part of USDA’s larger response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will help farmers move product while benefiting our local food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits,” Steube said in a news release. “Florida is an important part of the nation’s food supply chain, and our jobs will quickly come back from this crisis, thanks to Secretary Perdue and President Donald Trump’s hard work.”
The USDA announced June 10 it distributed 11.4 million food boxes nationwide.
“The ‘Farmers to Families Food Box’ program is an example of the success government and the private sector can achieve when we work together,” Spano said. “Our district is home to local growers who work hard to keep our nation’s food supply strong and available for millions of Americans.”
Rooney disses Trump
In recent days a few prominent Republicans indicated they would not be supporting Trump for reelection. Among those are former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Mitt Romney, and a New York Times report that former President George W. Bush was leaning against the incumbent. However, Bush’s spokesperson said the story was “made up” as it related to him.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was “struggling” on whether to back the President. She was joined in that category earlier this week by Naples Republican Francis Rooney.
In addition to his hesitation to back Trump, the retiring congressman said he is considering a vote for Democrat Joe Biden. Part of his reasoning could lead Democrats to use him in a powerful campaign ad.
“Mr. Trump is driving us all crazy, and his handling of the virus led to a death toll that didn’t have to happen,” Rooney told The New York Times.
As the Trump campaign goes to great lengths to blame China for the death and devastation of COVID-19, Democrats say it is the President’s “slow response” that is to blame. Rooney could give them plenty of ammunition to buttress that message, as well as use his description of Biden.
“What (Biden has) always been is not scary. A lot of people that voted for President Donald Trump did so because they did not like Hillary Clinton,” Rooney told the Times. “I don’t see that happening with Joe Biden — how can you not like Joe Biden?”
Rooney has previously shown he has issues with the President. As the drive to impeach Trump was gaining steam in October, Rooney was the rarest of the rare Republicans saying he was “open” to impeachment before eventually voting against it.
Lee County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Martin minimized the effect Rooney’s decision will have. After deciding against reelection, Martin said Rooney became “irrelevant.”
Meat markets condemned
The COVID-19 virus reportedly either started at or was spread worldwide from a wildlife meat market in Wuhan, China. The co-chairs of the Florida delegation are calling on the President to give his best effort to seek a further ban on livestock meat markets for multiple reasons.
In a letter to Trump, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key condemn the practices of the slaughter and preparation of live meat on-site as cruel and inhumane, as well as possibly dangerous to health. They urge that a ban on live animal markets in China needs to be enforced fully, made permanent, and expanded to eliminate existing loopholes.
“There is an opportunity once again for you to lead on this issue and to increase the scrutiny and pressure on China to expand and strengthen laws regulating live animal markets,” they wrote.
“Eliminating the availability and profitability of live animals for any private and underground trader or market not only protects Americans and people around the world from another overwhelming and devastating pandemic, but also livestock, dogs, cats, and wildlife from suffering in inhumane and distressing conditions.”
They praised Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s ban on wildlife markets, but maintained an enhanced ban to include livestock is in the best interest of animals and human health alike. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival set for June 21 is an example provided to point out the cruelties and the risk.
“The Yulin Dog Meat Festival represents not just the torture of countless dogs and cats, but also a global health risk,” Hastings said in a joint release. “It has become clear that the loosely regulated and often inhumane conditions in which animals are slaughtered for human consumption in live animal markets can create ideal conditions for the spread of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.”
“Live wildlife markets are unsanitary and inhumane and have led to the deaths of countless animals and humans,” Buchanan said. “These markets should be completely and permanently closed to protect both animals and humans.”
Last year, both lawmakers were cited by the Humane Society for their work on ending the dog and cat meat trade.
Deutch applauds grants
More than two years have passed since a disturbed gunman took the lives of 17 students and staff and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Many individuals and local agencies jumped in to assist after the tragedy.
This week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) awarded an Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program grant of more than $9 million to reimburse those agencies who provided valuable assistance to victims in the aftermath. The DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime awards the funding.
“It has been more than two years since that tragic day, but the survivors and families of the victims will carry their emotional scars for many years to come,” Deutch, who represents Parkland in Congress, said in a statement. “I was so moved by the way our community rushed to help one another in the wake of the attack and has continued to provide mental health and wellness services to those still coping with the trauma.”
Among other things, the grant will fund “ongoing trauma-informed, evidence-based healing and resiliency services” to students, families, staff, and other members of the community.
Specifically, the funds will transmit to and distributed by the Florida Department of Legal Affairs’ Division of Victim Services and Criminal Justice Program to three sub-recipients. Those recipients are the School Board of Broward County, Children’s Services Council of Broward County, and the United Way of Broward County, in collaboration with the City of Parkland and City of Coral Springs.
“This grant is [an] acknowledgment that the survivors of this mass shooting, who have experienced unimaginable trauma, will need and deserve continued federal support to manage their pain and heal,” Deutch added.
On this day
June 12, 1967 — As race riots rocked Tampa for a second day, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down groundbreaking decisions involving race on the final day of the 1967 term. In one decision, the high court cited a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in unanimously striking down laws in 15 states, including Florida, that prohibited interracial marriage.
In another meaningful decision, the court, by a 5-4 vote, upheld contempt convictions against the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and seven other civil rights leaders for violating local court orders banning demonstrations in Birmingham during Easter week of 1963. King unsuccessfully argued the prohibition against the peaceful protests violated their right to free speech.
June 12, 2018 — The much-ballyhooed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took place in Singapore. While no one expected Kim to agree to denuclearize his country immediately, he pledged to “leave the past behind” and added, “the world will see a major change.”
As a show of good faith, Trump called off joint military exercises scheduled with South Korea. Many in the U.S., including Sen. Rubio, remained skeptical, especially the thought of Kim ending human rights abuses. Rubio said he would “not support any deal that does not bring an end to these atrocities” committed under the authority of a dictator.