Connect with us

Politics

How New York’s COVID War Spun Out of Control

Published

on

Day after day, NYPD officers sit outside the house, waiting. Most nights you’ll notice two of them in the front of a cruiser, chatting with the windows rolled down. Some afternoons one cop leans against the front hood, peering up and down the block. Each morning when Ashwin Vasan, New York City’s health commissioner, emerges from his home, additional officers trail him to work.

“I had no idea I would need police protection,” Vasan told me in his first public comments about the lethal threats he and his family have faced in recent weeks. “It is surreal. I mean, I can only use that word.”

Vasan, a primary-care physician and epidemiologist at Columbia University, began serving as the city’s health commissioner in mid-March. His early weeks on the job were relatively calm. Then, on the evening of April 4, roughly two dozen protesters assembled on his Brooklyn block. How they obtained his home address remains unclear. At first, the scene resembled scores of other pandemic demonstrations: anti-Biden flags, anti-mandate posters. A staccato chant echoed through the brownstone canyon: “We! The People! Will Not Comply!” Then the energy changed. A group of agitators climbed Vasan’s front steps, banged on his front door, and screamed racial epithets. Some hurled death threats.

Vasan wasn’t home; he was picking up his older daughter from an after-school program. But his wife was inside, terrified, along with the couple’s two younger children. When he heard what was happening, he instantly dialed 911. Police officers appeared, yet the crowd remained until almost midnight. “My daughter had to sleep somewhere else, because I couldn’t bring her home,” he told me. His voice grew quieter. That first night, one of the protesters wielded a hammer. During another protest soon after, someone showed up with a baseball bat.

Vasan was at first reluctant to comment about these events. When he did agree to an interview, during the final week of April, Vasan and I met for coffee outside a Brooklyn café. As he and I sat side by side on a bench, police officers stood close by, several feet apart from one another, maintaining a small perimeter. Passersby looked confused, because Vasan is not necessarily a household name or face. Nevertheless, he says he knew the arena he was stepping into when he took this job.

“Anyone who’s been following this pandemic has seen the extraordinary level of hate and violence and threats against public-health officials throughout the country,” Vasan said. “I didn’t think I needed [a police detail], nor did the administration, which is a perfectly reasonable position. But that protest was pretty shocking to all of us in its vehemence and its language and its nature.”

But it wasn’t just one protest: People keep showing up.

The date of the first incident, April 4, was not random. That was the day New York City Mayor Eric Adams had promised to lift mask mandates for schoolchildren under the age of 5. However, citing rising COVID cases across the city, Adams—in consultation with Vasan—reversed course. The mayor announced that what protesters had dubbed the “toddler mask mandate” would continue indefinitely.

Daniela Jampel, one of New York’s most vocal pandemic-policy protesters, walked into an unrelated City Hall press conference that morning to confront Adams about the reversal. Over the previous 16 months, Jampel had railed against COVID measures that she saw as causing undue harm to children. She was among those pressuring city officials to reopen schools in 2020, and her focus had shifted toward fighting the toddler masking rule.

On the day of her City Hall visit, Jampel was on maternity leave from her job as an attorney in the city’s Law Department. Following the press conference, she paid a visit to her colleagues, and shortly after arriving at her office, she was fired. Jampel maintains that she never received an official explanation for her dismissal. “I think I was fired because I was someone who was very persistent in questioning these policies,” she told me. “I think I was on someone’s radar for a very long time, and I think they were just waiting to fire me.” (Three days before coming face-to-face with Adams, in a since-deleted social-media post, Jampel tweeted that she was “ashamed” of her office for “fighting to keep masks on toddlers.”)

In an emailed statement, a Law Department spokesperson said: “Prior to the April 4th City Hall press conference the decision was made to terminate Ms. Jampel’s employment based on troubling claims she made in public about her work for the City Law Department. It is the Law Department’s longstanding policy not to get into the details of personnel issues, therefore, we have no additional comment.”

Hours after Adams’s reversal and the contentious press conference, the first protesters appeared outside Vasan’s home. Jampel was not among them, and said she didn’t agree with their tactics: She wanted the protests to stay at City Hall. Although she is a near-daily critic of the commissioner on social media, questioning his policies and tagging him in tweets, she believes some of his in-person agitators have taken their aggression too far.

“To the extent I have a platform, I try to use it to say, ‘This is a man who has a public job, and he’s a public figure, and it’s fine to protest his public job and what he’s doing in public spaces, but he’s also a private citizen and he deserves a private life,’” Jampel said. “So to show up at his house in protest, to me, crosses the line. That’s not something I would ever condone. It’s not something I would ever do.”

She told me she’s frustrated that what she feels to be her narrowly focused message—that New York schoolchildren deserve more carefully crafted policies than what they’ve been given—has been lumped in with a larger right-wing, anti-government sentiment. She’s fully vaccinated, and she even volunteered at a vaccination site in early 2021 in order to get her first shot as soon as possible. She’s also vaccinated her eldest daughter, the only one of her children who is eligible under CDC guidelines.

“I think anyone who tries to call me an anti-vaxxer or a Tucker Carlson–watching person is out to score political points and has no idea of who I am,” Jampel said. She told me she has a photo with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens, whom she has campaigned for. “Prior to late 2020, I would consider myself a progressive Democrat, and I joke that COVID has radicalized me into a moderate Democrat.”

Though Vasan didn’t speak with me about Jampel or her firing, he seemed to agree with one of her key ideas: that extremists have successfully hijacked the public-health conversation, rejecting any nuance, even in a big, blue, highly vaccinated city like New York.

Kholood Eid for The Atlantic

The vilification of civil servants has real consequences. Government officials are quitting in droves, and, nationwide, harassment of people who barely qualify as public figures is now the norm. Vasan told me about a meeting he attended in Albany with other public-health leaders from across the state last month. “Almost every single one has faced the same threats,” he said. “One of them had FBI protection and death threats and packages delivered to their home.”

Even with the police cruiser standing guard outside Vasan’s home, protesters still occasionally show up. They plaster stickers on his front door. Sometimes they don’t even seem to focus their energy on the pandemic. On April 20, a group of protesters sprinkled marijuana on Vasan’s stoop for a “420 party.” One person with a boom box blasted Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Some brought sandwiches.

“I think that there’s clearly a vague anti-establishment, anti-government thread, and I’ll just be very clear: That Pandora’s box was opened by the previous federal administration,” Vasan said. “As a doctor, as someone who tries to take care of people, as someone who has focused a lot of his time more recently on mental health—there’s got to be some kernel of pain at the root of this. So, in my empathetic view, those are people who need something, who need healing of some kind. As we all do.”

Between July 2021 and March of this year, the New York Health Department held nearly 2,000 “community conversations” about COVID vaccines, according to a department spokesperson. Yet tensions persist. Vasan said he doesn’t object to demonstrations outside his office—which have also occurred—as long as no threats are made. “That’s a First Amendment right, and I believe in the right to protest,” he said. “Doing it at someone’s home, and on someone’s property, with children inside, I think is a different thing.”

I was struck by how both Vasan and Jampel—arguably the two most visible New Yorkers in the never-ending COVID public-policy fight—almost seemed to want the same thing. Vasan expressed frustration that so many protesters seem focused on unfounded conspiracy theories and statistical outliers for vaccine side effects such as myocarditis. Jampel was frustrated that New York’s toddler mask mandate made the city an outlier, policy-wise, and questioned the logic that informed Vasan’s decisions. Each of them told me they craved nuance in the broader public-health conversation, yet each also believed such a thing had become hopeless.

“I will say, generally, if I felt like there was an opportunity for a good-faith discussion about anything, I’d be glad to have a discussion,” Vasan said. “If there wasn’t the presence of hammers and baseball bats at my home, I’d be happy to have a discussion. Can we just have a civil, civic discourse?”

He climbed into the black SUV idling several feet away and took off down the street, a police cruiser following close behind.

This Article was first live here.

Politics

Pope Francis Says Nothing as the CCP Arrests Catholic Leaders in China and Hong Kong

Published

on

Pope Francis remains silent as the CCP arrests and imprisons Catholic leaders in China and Hong Kong. 

Where is Pope Francis?  Why is he not leading the efforts to implement and support religious freedom in China and Hong Kong?

Last week the Cardinal in Hong Kong was arrested by the new head of the country who is a CCP plant.  Pope Francis said nothing.

Pope Francis Remains Silent About Arrest of Cardinal Zen in Hong Kong – the First Act by CCP Puppet Tyrant in Office

TRENDING: Name Them and Shame Them: Glenn Greenwald Releases Video on ‘Typhoid Mary of Disinformation’ Nicolle Wallace

Also, over the past year, the bishop in China was taken by the CCP and kept in solitary confinement for months.  No one knows where he is.  According to Breitbart:

As Breitbart News reported, officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) arrested the bishop of Xinxiang on May 21, 2021, along with 10 priests and 10 seminarians, in an effort to apply further pressure to the illegal underground Catholic Church.

Police originally took the bishop and priests to a hotel where they were kept in solitary confinement and subjected to “political sessions” to indoctrinate them with the CCP’s understanding of religious freedom, according to a report by AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

The seminarians were released after three days and the priests followed several days later, yet Bishop Zhang is still in police custody, illegally held without charges or trial at an unknown location. Chinese law stipulates that no one can be detained in solitary confinement without charges for more than three months.

Two family members were allowed to see the bishop for a few minutes during Lunar New Year celebrations, but no one is aware of where he is being held and priests are not permitted to visit or call him.

AsiaNews reported that the Catholic community in Xinxiang still hopes for their bishop’s release, while also growing worried about his physical and mental health.

The Vatican has apparently made no appeal for Bishop Zhang’s liberation.

Again, the Pope says nothing.   Now as sovereign nations hand over their healthcare freedoms to the WHO, the Pope again remains silent.

This Article was first live here.

Continue Reading

Politics

Dan Rather Makes The Perfect Argument For Why Fox Is Not News

Published

on

Legendary journalist Dan Rather called out the insider game of Rupert Murdoch’s network and showed why Fox is not news.

Dan Rather Explains Why Fox Is A Political Operation

Rather wrote on his Substack:

Needless to say, if a reporter at a news organization other than Fox supported a candidate with half as much complicity as Hannity did Dr. Oz, it would be grounds for immediate termination. Not surprisingly, at Fox News, Hannity’s actions don’t even earn a slap on the wrist. 

….

Since its founding, Fox News has always occupied a murky place between journalism and propagandist “entertainment.” On the one hand, it does employ some real reporters. Some of Fox’s work can be considered news, albeit often filtered through an ideological lens.

….

The steady stream of hatred, racism, and vitriol emanating from Fox News deserves all the attention it receives. But just as insidious is this inside game and what it says about a media outlet that is a functional arm of the Party of Trump. 

Fox Is Using Journalism As A Cover

Fox is using journalism as a cover for its political operation.  Fox disguises itself as news and never discloses the fact that many of its high-profile employees are assisting elected officials and campaigns.

In journalism, such activities would be grounds for firing. Since Fox isn’t journalism, advising candidates and elected officials behind the backs of viewers is part of the job description.

Dan Rather was right. Fox News is not journalism, and it is also incredibly dangerous to the nation’s democratic institutions. Journalism as a profession needs to stop being afraid of the Fox fraud and call them out for what they are.

Fox is a political operation that is spreading propaganda by pretending to be news.

This Article was first live here.

Continue Reading

Politics

Supporting the Buffalo community begins with honest conversations about racism

Published

on

Since the 1930s, Black neighborhoods have been ranked as financially unstable to dissuade lenders from approving Black homeowners for loans. This meant Black homeowners were subject to different procedures when purchasing a home, which restricted the flow of capital into Black neighborhoods and prohibited Black homeowners from buying in white neighborhoods—reinforcing segregation.

The lack of access to loans also made it more difficult for Black people to open businesses and build wealth, sparking a downward spiral of disinvestment. Today, the impacts of segregation are clearly visible in the resources available in the city of Buffalo. Of the five major employment centers in Erie County, only one is located within the city of Buffalo, and there are 51 census block groups that have limited access to supermarkets. Every single one is located east of Main Street.

“Buffalo is a powder keg,” said Franchelle Parker, executive director of Open Buffalo. “We can’t talk about what happened on Saturday as one isolated event. Buffalo has been a breeding ground for this type of situation to occur.”

Parker said people outside of Buffalo can get involved by helping to change the racist, white supremacist systems that are in place that led to the attack. Parker suggests having conversations with family and friends about the reality of Buffalo’s history and pressing politicians for policies that support the Black community. Many white supremacists involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection have been tied to western New York, a breeding ground for racist ideology.

“We can’t change the system if we ignore the symptoms of it,” said Jillian Hanesworth, the first poet laureate of Buffalo and Open Buffalo’s director of leadership development. “I want people to stop saying ‘this isn’t Buffalo,’ because it is.”

To honor the lives of those who were killed, Parker and Hanesworth say a conversation needs to happen about how decades of policy decisions have starved the East Side of Buffalo of resources, including healthy food, high-paying jobs, and quality housing. Of all people who identify as Black within the city of Buffalo, roughly 85% live east of Main Street, where Tops is the only grocery store they can walk to. Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the country.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the planning and construction of a highway system through Buffalo cut through the city’s Humboldt Parkway, a tree-lined boulevard that connected its park system. Like many other cities in the Northeast, Black people, neighborhoods, and businesses were disproportionately targeted and affected by plans for “urban revitalization.” Its effects are felt today.

“It’s not just a poor Black neighborhood,” Parker said. “Jefferson Avenue is really the cultural heartbeat of the East Side of Buffalo. And many people in our community see this as not just an isolated attack at Tops, but an attack on the entire Black culture.”

For Masten, Buffalo, Tops was not just a supermarket. It was an anchor in the community where locals would cash their checks, buy food, and connect with each other. With that anchor indefinitely closed, Open Buffalo is serving as a connective hub to help locals find the resources they need, including addressing transportation, food, and mental health needs while the city remains on high alert. Buffalo Community Fridge has set up refrigerators on the street stocked with milk, eggs, fresh fruits, and vegetables to ensure that the community stays fed. The African Heritage Food Co-op is also providing free food delivery and distribution. And Heart of the City Neighborhoods is paying up to 90 days rent for the individuals directly impacted by the attack.

“I believe that our community can get back to our heyday and even greater, but we need policy choices that protect and uplift our people,” Parker said. “There is power that our elected officials have.”

At the time of the shooting, Hanesworth was at a baby shower outside of the city. Once the news broke, her organization’s group chat was in constant communication, and she immediately went to the scene to see how she could support her community. It was a traumatizing experience to see people running to the parking lot trying to identify their loved ones’ cars.  

“It was the most intense and pure grief I’ve ever witnessed,” Hanesworth said. “It was something I’ve never seen before, and I hope I never see again.”

Hanesworth has been organizing ever since while processing the traumatic event, and said when she woke up Sunday morning, she realized she had been crying in her sleep.

“I just feel very antsy and desperate to help and to not be in the way,” Hanesworth said. “Black people across the country, we have dealt with so much. We don’t need to be told that we’re resilient. This will almost trick people into normalizing this.”

Hanesworth wants to push against the idea of “Buffalo Strong” and persevering amidst the tragedy, and instead for people outside Buffalo to recognize that the community is deeply hurting.

“We don’t need to know that we’re strong,” Hanesworth said. “We need to know that we’re safe. I just love this community so much. I always say the culture of the city of Buffalo comes out of the East Side. We are really loud. We’re hopeful. We’re musical. And I really hope that beyond people seeing us in pain that they can see that we love each other and that we’re here for each other. We’re not going anywhere.”

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. Our in-depth and thought-provoking journalism reflects the lived experiences of people most impacted by injustice. We tell stories from the ground up to disrupt harmful narratives, and to inform movements for justice. Sign up for our newsletter to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This Article was first live here.

Continue Reading

Trending