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Church leaders earn some commenter support for Alabama immigration law’s repeal, but more say keep it

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Staff Report

A half-dozen religious leaders this morning delivered a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s office asking him in the spirit of the Christmas season to support the repeal of the state’s immigration law — the Beason-Hammon Act or HB56, Birmingham News writer Kent Faulk reported.

However, Bentley won’t support a repeal of the state’s immigration law, despite the appeal letter, the governor’s press secretary wrote in an email sent later this morning. The law may need some improvements but those shortcomings don’t merit a repeal, it said.

The online community weighed in on the letter with voices on both sides, but clearly more favored the law and its continued enforcement. Read some of what people are saying

• “These six ministers would better serve the Kingdom of God if they were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned rather than spending their time on politics.” — evansdaddy

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Fauci calls on governors in states with surging cases to issue mask orders

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a video press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, when asked by APR whether he’d like to see governors in states with surging cases institute statewide orders to wear masks, said yes.

“I do believe a statewide mask order is important because there is a variability in people taking seriously or even understanding the benefit of masks,” Fauci said during a press conference, hosted by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama on Tuesday. “Masks make a difference. It is one of the primary fundamental tools we have.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on June 30 extended her “safer-at-home” order until July 31, but declined to institute any further mandates despite surging new cases and hospitalizations.

Fauci also said that social distancing and the closure of bars are important to communities looking to slow the spread.

“Fundamental things like masking, distancing, washing hands, closing bars — if you do that, I think it will be a giant step toward interfering with the spread in your community,” Fauci said.

At least 1,007 people have died statewide from COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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New daily COVID-19 cases in Alabama dipped below 900 for the first time in six days, but just barely, with 888 new cases on Tuesday. Thirty-one percent of the state’s total confirmed cases have come within the last two weeks.

Alabama’s hospitals on Monday were caring for more COVID-19 patients than at any time since the pandemic began.

UAB Hospital had 86 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest the hospital had seen. Huntsville Hospital had 72 COVID-19 patients on Monday, and the surge in cases prompted the hospital to cancel elective surgeries and convert three surgical floors to COVID-19 care, according to AL.com.

At East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika there were 41 COVID-19 patients on Monday, which was the highest the hospital has seen in weeks and not far from the hospital’s peak of 54 patients on April 11.

The average age of those becoming infected with coronavirus has dropped by 15 years since the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said, which has lowered the overall death rate due to the virus, as younger people usually fair better, but not if that young person has an underlying medical condition.

“We are now getting multiple examples of young people who are getting sick, getting hospitalized and some of them even requiring intensive care,” Fauci said, adding that even those young people who have coronavirus but are asymptomatic can spread the virus to others, who may be more compromised.

Fauci warned against pointing to the overall declining death rate and becoming lax about coronavirus, and said that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death.”

“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” Fauci said.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Monday that it may take several weeks to learn whether the increasing number of those hospitalized in Alabama will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said Monday. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

Asked about his thoughts on the state of the virus in Alabama, Fauci said that what’s alarming is the slope of the curve of new daily cases.

“When you see a slope that goes up like that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get into what’s called an exponential phase, where every day it can even double, or more,” Fauci said. “You’re not there yet, so you have an opportunity, a window to get your arms around this, and to prevent it from getting worse.”

Speaking on what’s become the politicization of the wearing of face masks, Fauci said that politicization of any public health matter has negative consequences. President Donald Trump does not wear face masks in public, prompting concern from many that by doing so he’s suggesting to the public that masks aren’t needed. The issue is divided rather sharply along partisan lines.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, said Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, but while 90 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents say the president should wear a mask in public, just 38 percent of Republicans said the same.

“I mean, obviously today, it’s no secret to anybody who lives in the United States that we have a great deal of polarization in our country, unfortunately,” Fauci said. “We hope that changes, but there’s no place for that when you’re making public health recommendations, analysis of data, or any policies that are made. That will always be a detriment to do that.”

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Health

Governor awards $18 million for COVID-19 testing in nursing homes

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday awarded $18.27 million of federal COVID-19 relief money to the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation for coronavirus testing and surveillance in the state’s nursing homes.  The Coronavirus Relief Fund money is to be used to test and monitor both nursing home staff and residents, according to a press release from Ivey’s office Tuesday.

“During the pandemic, it is critical we take care of our seniors and most vulnerable residents,” Ivey said in a statement. “Some of our largest outbreaks of COVID-19 were within nursing homes, and we must do everything possible to contain the spread within their walls. Protecting these vital members of the community, as well as the dedicated staff who take care of them, is precisely the intent of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.”

The $18.27 million for testing in nursing homes comes from Alabama’s approximately $1.9 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds.

“I am extremely grateful to Governor Kay Ivey and her administration for supporting the ongoing testing of residents and staff in our facilities,” said Brandon Farmer, president and CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, in a statement. “This virus is not like anything we’ve ever seen and has hit our nursing homes and staff exceptionally hard. I am relieved to know we will have assistance to contain the spread of this virus and hopefully be able to eliminate it from our nursing homes.”

John Matson, communications director for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, told APR by phone Tuesday that testing for COVID-19 has been a financial burden on nursing homes “and this will go a long way in helping cover that and relieve that strain that our members are experiencing.”

There’s already been a great deal of testing among staff and residents across Alabama’s nursing homes, and the federal aid will only increase that testing and ensure that the cost of future tests will be reimbursed, Matson said. The organization continues to work out details of a plan to implement the testing and surveillance, and once those plans are ready the association will reach out to all nursing homes statewide to communicate that information, he said.

The nonprofit Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation, is to provide a testing strategy and screening protocols and administer the federal aid, according to the release.

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There had been 1,794 confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents in Alabama nursing homes as of June 21, the latest data made available by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Of those cases, 336 residents have died, according to the federal agency.

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Elections

GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville leads Trump “boat parade” in Orange Beach

Brandon Moseley

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Tommy Tuberville participates in a Trump "boat parade." (Contributed)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville rode in the lead boat in a “boat parade” on Sunday in Orange Beach, celebrating Independence Day and the launch of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Hundreds of boats participated in the Trump parade in the Perdido Pass area. WKRG TV estimates that more than 8,000 people joined. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores boats joined boats from Pensacola and Dauphin Island.

Trump supporter and Alabama Republican Executive Committee member Perry Hooper Jr. was also present.

“It was Awesome having Coach Tommy Tuberville on The TRUMP Boat at Orange Beach Alabama,” Hooper said. “Tommy was a Great Coach and he will be a Great US Senator. It’s Great To Be A TRUMP/ TUBERVILLE AMERICAN. Everybody was so Happy cheering for The President and Tommy on! Fun Day!”

Hooper is a former state representative from Montgomery.

Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. The Arkansas native lives in Auburn.

President Donald Trump spoke at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday.

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“Today we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said. “I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defamed, their legacy will never ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

Trump accused opponents of trying to dismantle America.

“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump alleged. “In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”

“President Trump has given several good Speeches,” Hooper said. “This Speech was by far his best! It was straight up AWESOME! His speech was all about the Greatness of America! President Trump loves our Country and its great History. President Reagan has given some of the best speeches ever. This speech topped Reagan’s best. As for Perry O. Hooper Jr., I would get in a foxhole and fight for him to the end. God Bless President Donald J. Trump and GOD BLESS THE USA!”

Trump faces a stiff challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in the polling.

Tuberville has been endorsed by Trump in the July 14 Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Tuberville faces former Sen. Jeff Sessions.

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Huntsville police likely violated international use-of-force guidelines during protest, expert says

From the deployment of tear gas to the shooting of protesters with kinetic impact rounds — which include bean-bag rounds and rubber bullets — the three agencies that dispersed crowds in Huntsville a month ago appear to have violated guidelines.

Micah Danney

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Law enforcement officers advance toward protesters at a demonstration in Huntsville on June 3, 2020. (via David Capo)

The use of less-lethal weapons by law enforcement against protesters in Huntsville on June 3 went against international standards for the use of force in a crowd control scenario, according to a researcher who studies such incidents.

As associate director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, Mark Hiznay examines timelines of incidents where security forces use lethal and less-lethal force. The key moments he looks for on these timelines are the onset of violence and the first use of force by security personnel.

Sometimes those are the same point, and sometimes less-lethal weapons are used in ways different from what they were designed for, what training specifies or what international standards say are fair and humane. From the deployment of tear gas to the shooting of protesters with kinetic impact rounds — which include bean-bag rounds and rubber bullets — the three agencies that dispersed crowds in Huntsville a month ago appear to have violated guidelines.

“Using kinetic impact rounds as an area weapon to herd a crowd is abusive,” Hiznay said, adding that the weapons are meant to target individuals who pose an imminent threat of violence to law enforcement or members of the public.

He cited a set of protocols for less-lethal force adopted by the United Nations on Tuesday. The guidelines limit use of these weapons to situations where they are necessary for safety and proportional to potential threats.

“For example, force that is likely to result in moderate or severe injury — including when applied by less-lethal weapons — may not be used simply to obtain compliance with an order by a person who is only passively resisting,” the guidelines state.

Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray oversaw the police response on June 3, including the coordination between his department, Madison County Sheriff’s deputies and State Troopers provided by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. At a press conference the next day, McMurray said that officers are trained to use the least amount of force to disperse an unlawful gathering, but when protesters didn’t disperse after the permit for the day’s rally expired, police “had to become proactive.”

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“We kept asking them to leave,” McMurray said. “They brought this — this group brought this on themselves. They came here for the fight, not us.”

In his after-action report to the Huntsville City Council, McMurray said that nightfall was a concern of his because of the tendency of bad actors in “splinter” groups to turn violent, even after a day of peaceful assembly. He also noted the heat that his riot-gear-clad officers were operating in as they attempted to disperse the crowds, first with gray smoke and sound dispersal tools — and then with tear gas and kinetic impact rounds.

Hiznay said those circumstances are a recipe for abusive use of force.

Using kinetic impact rounds as an area weapon to herd a crowd is abusive.”

“You get into these situations where the security forces are tired, hot — may or may not be being pelted by rocks and bricks — and panic to where the situation and the discipline breaks down, and you start thinking that these are the tools that you use to herd people or disperse people,” he said.

While Huntsville police and ALEA have denied using rubber bullets, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office has yet to publicly detail its deputies’ actions. Sheriff Kevin Turner has indicated that he will present an after-action report to the Madison County Commission in the near future, according to AL.com.

Multiple protesters have described being struck by projectiles without doing anything that could be interpreted as threatening. April Grubb was hit six times and left with bloody injuries, including a rubber round that embedded in her leg.

David Capo was facing the advancing police line and filming when he was struck in the chest by an unknown projectile that left a circular wound a half-inch across. By the time he got home that night, it had swollen to a welt four inches in diameter.

“It looked like I had a third pec[toral],” said Capo, 20, who works as a space camp counselor at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. He doesn’t have the money to see a doctor, he said, but he worries that one of his ribs might be cracked.

Such injuries are disturbing, Hiznay said, because the people who suffered them should not have been targeted and because those wounds can cause permanent damage. Of particular concern are cases in which people are hit from behind, which indicates that they were trying to leave and therefore were not posing a threat, and because they can result in nasty spinal cord injuries.

Hiznay avoids even using the term rubber bullets, given that various projectiles are commonly referred to as that, but the term doesn’t do justice to the severe bodily trauma they can inflict. The semantics lead to confusion in the public conversation about how they are used, he said.

There are no federal standards for use of kinetic impact rounds, so the U.N.’s guidelines are the closest thing to a defined set of standards. It states: “Kinetic impact projectiles should generally be used only in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.”

Protesters stand outside the Madison County Courthouse on June 3, 2020. (via Sarah Myers)

The guidelines also address the problematic nature of distance between officers and a crowd. In his presentation to the city council, McMurray said that projectiles were fired to create distance in order to avoid violent physical confrontations with protesters. In his telling, this use of force was preferable to another.

According to U.N. standards, therein lies the potential for improper application of that force.

“The nature of law enforcement places special constraints on the extent to which force may be delivered remotely. Among other reasons, this is because distance is likely to reduce substantially the potential for assessing a situation that requires a law enforcement intervention,” the guidelines state.

They also call for accountability after the fact: “In the event of injury, a report should contain sufficient information to establish whether the use of force was necessary and proportionate, and should set out the details of the incident, including the circumstances; the characteristics of the victim; the measures taken to avoid the use of force and to de-escalate the situation; the type and manner of force employed, including specific weaponry; the reasons for the use of force, and its effectiveness; and the consequences. The report should conclude whether the use of force was lawful and, in any event, should identify any lessons learned from the incident.”

On June 4, McMurray told press that his department would stay the course if presented with another situation like the day before.

“If they try this again, we’ll be ready for them again,” he said. “We’re not going to put up with these organizers with the backpacks, the medical first aid kits, the weapons they bring to fight police officers, and to break and loot and trash cities like they’re doing all over this country.”

McMurray took a somewhat more conciliatory tone after his presentation two weeks later, telling the council that he was open to discussing ways to improve his department. But during the presentation, he stuck to the idea that medics among the protesters who had marked themselves with red tape were there to patch up violent demonstrators who could then rejoin a fight against police.

That also runs contrary to what the international guidelines say.

“Medical personnel, whether they are acting officially or as volunteers, should be provided with safe access to attend to any injured individuals,” the guidelines state.

As Huntsville continues to reckon with what happened on June 3 and make decisions about any procedural changes in light of those events, Hiznay said the city faces a question about less-lethal weaponry that many U.S. police departments are confronting.

Based on the evidence he has reviewed, security forces across the country are inclined to use last-resort methods as a first resort, he said. The core question is whether these weapons can be used in a way that complies with necessity and proportionality.

“And when you’re talking about what happened in the courthouse square there, the answer is becoming no — that they’re prone to abuse, and they’re causing debilitating permanent injury in situations where a non-violent crowd is trying to comply,” Hiznay said.

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