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Police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters in Huntsville

Chip Brownlee

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Police in Huntsville deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and demonstrators chanting “I can’t breathe” in downtown Huntsville Wednesday evening, injuring several people, including a small child.

Video from the scene shows demonstrators at the aftermath of an Alabama NAACP rally peppered with rubber bullets and tear gas as law enforcement helicopters hovered overhead.

One reporter on the ground described it as a “war zone.”

State Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, the minority leader in the Alabama House, said the scene was reminiscent of Bloody Sunday in Selma as at least 35 state troopers were called in to forcefully disperse a peaceful crowd.

“Unnecessarily Using Force Against Peaceful Protesters in Downtown Hunstville,” Daniels said on his Facebook page. “Who called the State Troopers? I am so disappointed in our local and county leadership. This is not Bloody Sunday. Why the hell were the State Troopers called.”

In an interview with APR Wednesday evening, Daniels said it was very disappointing that it got to this point and he is demanding answers from local and state officials about why such a show of force and violence on the part of law enforcement was necessary.

“Thirty-five state troopers,” Daniels said. “This is the type of presence that was at Bloody Sunday.”

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Daniels said there were several thousand people present at the formal demonstration, and several hundred stayed after the permit expired, but none of it appeared violent or disruptive.

“Peaceful protesters and concerned citizens — where there is no evidence of any type of disruption, in my mind,” Daniels said. “I don’t understand why local, county and state law enforcement — to the sum of 35 state troopers being present with full gear. It’s just ridiculous to me and very disappointing. I’m waiting for answers.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said State Troopers did not participate in deploying tear gas or use other such means to disperse crowds. They were only present to assist, the agency said. *Correction: This article previously stated that State Troopers joined Huntsville police and Madison County Sheriff’s Deputies in deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency says State Troopers were only present as backup support and did not fire tear gas or other dispersants.

“Huntsville is one of several Alabama cities this week requesting support from ALEA. The agency has assigned ALEA Troopers to serve as backup during protests, but they have not participated in deploying tear gas or using other such means to disperse crowds. Details are law-enforcement sensitive and not available,” an ALEA spokesperson said in a statement.

Daniels and another state representative spoke at the rally earlier in the evening. He said he wondered if there was a threat posed or intelligence, which would be the only justification for such a deployment of force, and, if so, why he wasn’t notified.

“It leads me to believe that it was an effort to justify the actual number of law enforcement there,” Daniels said. “It looks to me like they were looking to justify the number of law enforcement that was there.”

Police began clearing the courthouse square in downtown Huntsville, where a Confederate memorial stands, after 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to AL.com. A protest permit expired at 6:30 p.m., leading armed riot police to disperse the crowd with pepper gas and rubber bullets.

The first sign of any offensive action by protesters came after police deployed smoke and after trooper cars sped through the area. The protesters threw water bottles at state trooper cars.

Protesters moved to Big Spring Park near Huntsville’s Von Braun Center before they were again dosed with a “heavy” dose of tear gas, which carried across to a media staging area and obscured a Marriott hotel in smoke.

AL.com’s Paul Gattis and Ian Hoppe report that a small child — less than four years old — was caught in the tear gas and began screaming.

Huntsville police said there had been no property damage or violence during the protest.

Lt. Michael Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department told Huntsville’s WHNT that the police department ended what they thought was “a pretty peaceful protest.”

“Once that permit expired, we still waited a good amount of time,” Johnson said.

It appears law enforcement waited about an hour before beginning attempts to disperse the demonstrators with forceful means like tear gas and rubber bullets.

“It started to get a little hostile. A couple of things were thrown at us,” Johnson said. “The verbiage, some of the threats, the hostility, blocking the road — we just cannot have that.”

Johnson said police were not “going to roll the dice” to see if the protest turned out to be violent.

“We’re not going to let this city go through what other cities go through,” Johnson said, justifying using a “chemical agent” on peaceful protesters.

Before riot police sprayed them with tear gas and rubber bullets, protesters chanted “we are peaceful.”

Daniels said people concerned about police brutality and what he called an inappropriate use of force Wednesday should show up at the ballot box and demand answers.

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Health

COVID-19 kills 228 Alabamians in last three weeks as deaths pass 1,000

At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March.

Brandon Moseley

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At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March. (Stock Photo)

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that more than 1,000 Alabamians have now died from COVID-19. At least 228 of those were killed in just the past three weeks.

At least 1,007 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was diagnosed in the state in mid-March, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Another 26 deaths are listed as probably COVID-19 deaths.

By June 1, 18,246 Alabamians had tested positive. By June 17, 26,914 cases had been diagnosed in the state. In the twenty days that have followed, another 18,349 Alabamians have tested positive. As of Tuesday, 45,263 tested positive, with another 888 positive coronavirus tests announced on Tuesday.

Alabama’s coronavirus epidemic was expected to peak in April while the state was under a shelter in place order. By April 30, the state began lifting restrictions to reopen the economy.

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that Alabama and other states may have reopened their economies “too soon.” Since the Memorial Day weekend, cases of coronavirus have risen at an alarming pace. On Monday, hospitalizations for COVID-19 set a new record at 1,016.

The combination of a surge of cases, many Alabamians out and about without masks or face coverings, and large holiday gatherings over the Fourth of July weekend make many public health officials concerned that we could be seeing dramatically higher numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths moving forward into late July and early August.

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Fauci told members of the Alabama press corps that 20 to 40 percent of people who are infected are not showing any symptoms, but they could still be spreading the virus.

Fauci said that wearing a mask or cloth face covering and staying at least six feet away from other people is the best way to avoid becoming infected with the coronavirus — or transmitting the virus to other people if you are already infected, but just don’t know it.

Several cities and counties in Alabama have already implemented a mask requirement.

State officials are urging Alabamians to take personal responsibility for their own health.

Thus far the global pandemic has killed 543,596 and known coronavirus cases are rapidly approaching twelve million.

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National

Jones says Alabama is “in very dangerous territory” with the coronavirus

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks at a press conference on COVID-19. (Sen. Doug Jones/Facebook)

As cases continue to mount and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 rise, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said Tuesday that Alabama remains “in very dangerous territory” when it comes to the coronavirus.

“We are still in very dangerous territory,” Jones said. “We are in the middle of this first wave, not in a second wave.”

As of Tuesday, 45,263 Alabamians have tested positive for the virus. The state has recorded record hospitalizations in the last week.

National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who joined Jones on a press call Tuesday, said he favored requiring masks, requiring social distancing and closing bars as steps that will work on controlling the virus.

“Any covering is better than no masks,” Fauci said. “The best masks are the N95 masks, but we need to reserve those for healthcare workers.”

Fauci said that we have reopened the economy and sometimes it was opened “a bit soon,” adding that the U.S. has recently been reporting more than 50,000 cases of coronavirus per day — ”almost double what it was during our high baseline,” he said.

Fauci said that we should reopen the economy, but it should be done with precautions.

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“I don’t think it should be all or none — a complete shutdown or throw caution to the wind,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the coronavirus is being spread through the respiratory route.

“Twenty to 40 percent of the people who are infected have no symptoms at all,” he said. “If you are within six feet of someone who is infected, even if they have no symptoms, you can be infected.”

Jones said that the median age for persons being infected has dropped fifteen years in recent weeks, but Fauci noted that the issue of young people getting infected has two issues: It is true that young people typically have less incidence of serious cases, but young people are still getting sick, being hospitalized and dying, just at rates lower than older populations. But Fauci also said that young people getting infected are propagating this epidemic, which could end up affecting more vulnerable populations.

“We should try to get the schools back open,” Fauci said. Closing the schools, he said, “has ripple effects for the family that override the health effects.”

Fauci said that the death rate for COVID-19 has dropped as the median age of persons infected has dropped and also because hospitals are doing a better job of treating COVID-19 patients, adding that there is no conclusive evidence that the virus has mutated into a less dangerous strain.

Fauci said that schools will reopen with different rules based on the level of infection in the community on a county-by-county basis. Masks may be required at all times, while schools should be working to increase the distance between desks modifying their schedules.

“It is not going to be a one size fit all,” he said.

Fauci was asked if a coronavirus vaccine, when it is developed, will be mandatory.

“I don’t think we have ever had a situation where we mandate a vaccine for the general population,” Fauci said. “That has not ever happened at a national level or even a state level.”

Fauci said that individual employers, like hospitals, may mandate the vaccine, but that he doubted there would be a vaccine mandate for the general population because it would be “encroaching on a person’s ability to make their own choices.”

Fauci said that we already have two therapeutics for COVID-19 for patients in advanced stages, including dexamethasone but more treatments are still needed.

“Over a thousand Alabamians have now died from this,” Jones said. “That is not acceptable.”

“30 percent of Alabama’s cases have come in the last two weeks,” Jones explained.

Most have come since Memorial Day and the weeks since Gov. Kay Ivey began loosening state restrictions. Many citizens are ignoring the warnings by not wearing a mask.

Jones said that four of Alabama’s five largest cities already have county-wide ordinances or the largest city has passed ordinances requiring masks in public places, adding that he has talked with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, where the number of cases have tripled and hospitalizations are up 660 percent.

“We talk about how we are doing in the United States,” Jones said. “Only Brazil has done worse than we have, and we just received news that the president of Brazil has tested positive. The United States has not done a good job.”

Jones said that the number of tests in Alabama that come back positive has gone up in recent weeks. “That shows that we are getting community spread,” he said. The Alabama Political Reporter’s tracking of COVID-19 trends shows that the percentage of tests that are positive has gone up to 14 percent in recent weeks.

Jones said that Perry, Dallas, Bulloch, Marshall, Montgomery and Conecuh counties have been especially hard hit and some of those areas already have access to healthcare problems.

“We have seen some movement from Sen. McConnell” on another coronavirus relief bill, Jones said. “He says that he will have a package.”

While the House has passed a third relief package, that bill is not perfect, Jones said, but he said there are a lot of good things in that bill, the HEROES Act.

“He wants to write this bill himself,” Jones said. “We have no early idea what will be in that package. He is going to write this himself behind closed doors.”

Jones said that another red state has opted to expand Medicaid when voters in Oklahoma passed that last week. Alabama is now among just thirteen states that have not expanded Medicaid.

The Senate will be working on the National Defense Authorization Act as well as the coronavirus relief bill when they return this month, Jones said.

“We have got to take care of our military,” Jones said. “Several amendments will be offered, but I expect that it will pass in a bipartisan way.”

Reporters asked Fauci if Alabama would benefit from a statewide mask requirement.

“I do believe that a statewide mask order is important,” Fauci said. “Masks are important. … We should all be wearing masks when we are out in public.”

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Health

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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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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