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28 May 2020

Police-Related Killings on the Rise; Some Counties See a Spike in COVID-19—Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest: May 28, 2020

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While this Daily Digest is (for now, at least) dedicated to news about COVID-19 and the resulting societal and economic mess, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what’s going on in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, murders like that of George Floyd, at the hands of police officers, are nothing new—and until recently, police-involved deaths weren’t even properly tracked. This is something my friend and fellow journalist D. Brian Burghart discovered when he was the editor of the Reno News & Review newspaper. So he did something about it: He started tracking them—and, with grant funding, donations and a team of volunteers, created a national database of deaths, going all the way back to 2000, called Fatal Encounters.

The Independent covered Fatal Encounters back in 2016, when Burghart and his team completed California’s data set. When I talked to Brian for the story in 2016, I asked him why he thought the government hadn’t been keeping track of police deaths. An excerpt from the story:

“It’s usually just incompetence, to be honest,” he said. “Many people that I’ve talked to over the years want to find a conspiracy, but I really believe that it’s mostly government incompetence.”

California’s government has done better than most at gathering data. The state Office of the Attorney General’s “Open Justice” website offers data on deaths in custody and arrest-related deaths between 2005 and 2014. Over that period, the state database includes about 1,200 arrest-related deaths.

Over that same time period, Burghart said, Fatal Encounters has counted twice the number of deaths.

“The government tracks everything that it thinks matters. That suggests to me that the government does not believe that these deaths matter,” he said. “If a low-tech guy like me could do this, then the FBI—with millions of dollars to apply to it and super high-tech knowledge—could do it in an hour.”

Thankfully, due to Fatal Encounters, we now have a good database—which is being used by analysts and scientists to find trends and craft policy. (We actually have more than one database, including one by The Washington Post—which took Brian’s idea without credit, created an inferior-if-prettier database, and won a Pulitzer Prize for it … but that’s an annoying story for another time, preferably when bars are open again.)

Unfortunately, racism and bad cultures in some police departments remain big problems. One would presume that since most of the country has been sheltering in place for a good chunk of 2020, police-involved killings would be down this year. Right? No … they’re actually up.

Meanwhile, Brian and his team continue to update Fatal Encounters—making the data available to all. Brian tells me that as of today, the database includes 28,200 death records … with 265 known asphyxiation/restraint deaths—including the horrifying killing of George Floyd.

Today’s news links:

• This week’s edition of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast is up! I joined Dr. Laura Rush, fabulous Stoli rep Patrik Gallineaux and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about reopening, the virus and other pertinent things.

• Keeping with the themes of 1) all studies like this need to be taken with that gigantic grain of salt, and 2) we really know so darned little about this damned virus: A new study reveals that during a COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship, 80 percent of the people who had the virus were asymptomatic. Yes, 80-percent.

• The state other states should emulate regarding the response to the pandemic is … South Carolina?! Yep, at least in some ways; as The Conversation points out, South Carolina is doing a fantastic job with contact tracing.

• Wear your mask; keep social distancing; wash your hands; and realize that some California counties are actually slowing or backtracking on the reopening process because of new spikes in cases.

• Meanwhile, the Bay Area has been extra-cautious and slow regarding reopening—but today, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced plans to get the process (still slowly) moving.

• The state has called for SARS-CoV-2 testing to take place at all California nursing homes.

The maker of remdesivir gave the medicine to the federal government to distribute. Well, so far, that hasn’t gone so well, according to The Washington Post.

• Also from The Washington Post: Could Fitbits, Apple Watches and other wearable devices alert a person that they’re showing signs of COVID-19 infection? It’s a good possibility.

• Here’s an update on the complete mess that is the Pennsylvania Legislature, where at least one GOP lawmaker tested positive for the virus—and decided that was information his Democratic colleagues didn’t need to know.

• Another update: A week or so ago, we reported that the Trump administration was planning on ending the deployment of National Guard members helping in pandemic-response efforts around the country—on the day before benefits kicked in. Fortunately, the administration has changed course and announced the deployments would be extended.

Trump, as promised, signed an executive order aimed at curtailing efforts by Twitter and other social-media sources to censor him. NPR explains what this does and doesn’t mean.

• Local political types are encouraging people—even asymptomatic people—to get tested for the virus. If this is something that interests you, here’s the county’s map of state and county testing sites. The tests won’t cost you anything out of pocket—but be sure you make an appointment.

• And finally: With tongue firmly in cheek, here’s a letter from the university of your choice regarding its plans for the next semester.

That’s today’s news. Be kind. Wash your hands. Buy our splendid Coloring Book—I am mailing the next batch of orders tomorrow, so now’s the time!—and please consider supporting honest, ethical local journalism, made available for free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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