The U.S. continues to shatter coronavirus records, with 41 U.S. states recording increasing cases of COVID-19. More than 67,000 new cases were reported Wednesday, nearly tying the previous daily record. The official U.S. death toll is now over 137,000. In Houston, Texas, the U.S. Army deployed hundreds of medical personnel to set up a COVID-19 ward in United Memorial Medical Center as intensive care units filled to capacity. Texas Congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee toured the hospital Wednesday.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee: “Whenever you enlist the United States military for assistance, you are at a peak crisis period. I think that is important for everyone who thinks this is going away, COVID-19, anyone who thinks we’re at the end of it.”
The Houston Independent School District said Wednesday it will start the school year with at least six weeks of online classes, with a tentative plan to open classrooms in late October.
In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey has issued a statewide mask order until the end of July, reversing months of opposition to a mask mandate. Alabama hospitals reported 47 deaths on Wednesday — another single-day record. The governor’s order came after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said a nationwide mask mandate could save tens of thousands of lives.
Dr. Robert Redfield: “I think if we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think that over the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.”
In Georgia, where the official COVID-19 death toll passed 3,000 this week, Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order Wednesday voiding local mask ordinances. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who was the first mayor in Georgia to mandate masks, tweeted in response, “It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us.”
Earlier Wednesday, Governor Kemp greeted Donald Trump on the tarmac as the president arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Both Trump and Kemp wore no masks as they met, though the Georgia governor quickly put his back on. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who’s in self-isolation with COVID-19, said Trump broke the law by violating her executive order requiring facial coverings in public.
In Oklahoma, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has become the first U.S. governor to test positive for coronavirus. Speaking from self-isolation Wednesday, Governor Stitt continued to resist making masks mandatory for Oklahomans.
Gov. Kevin Stitt: “Not thinking about a mask mandate at all. … We want to give businesses the freedom. I know that some businesses are mandating masks, and that’s great. But you can’t pick and choose what freedoms you’re going to give people.”
Governor Stitt was photographed wearing no mask as he welcomed President Trump to a campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20. So was former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, an African American cancer survivor over the age of 70 who contracted COVID-19 after Trump’s rally and has been hospitalized for weeks. Meanwhile, Walmart said Wednesday all its U.S. customers will be required to wear masks beginning July 20.
President Trump on Wednesday unilaterally rolled back the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, speeding up approval for federal projects like pipelines, highways and waste incinerators. Environmental groups immediately promised legal challenges. In a statement, Greenpeace USA said, “The Trump administration’s anti-environment agenda is a racist agenda. Dismantling NEPA is a blatant attempt to silence the working class communities of color who are resisting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure into their communities.”
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he won’t open new talks on another federal stimulus until next week at the earliest. Without congressional action, a $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits will expire on July 25 for more than 30 million people. This comes as Harvard researchers estimated some 110,000 small businesses have closed permanently since the start of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs reported over $2.4 billion in second-quarter profits, shattering investor expectations. And a new study by Americans for Tax Fairness finds U.S. billionaires have added $584 billion to their personal wealth since March — a greater amount than the budget shortfalls of 23 U.S. states.
In Minneapolis, newly released police body camera footage reveals devastating new details of George Floyd’s killing on Memorial Day, showing that officers pulled a gun, swore at George Floyd to “get out of the f—ing car,” as he wept and pleaded, “Please don’t shoot me.” The video also showed that medics did not appear to rush to Floyd’s aid after they arrived on the scene.
This comes as George Floyd’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against four of the former officers involved in his killing, and also against the city of Minneapolis, saying it failed to properly dismiss officers with records of abuse and/or properly train new ones. This is the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump.
Benjamin Crump: “The city of Minneapolis has a history of policies and procedures and deliberate indifference when it comes to the treatment of arrestees, especially Black men.”
In Louisville, Kentucky, civil rights groups are calling on prosecutors to drop felony charges against 87 people who held a peaceful sit-in protest Tuesday outside the home of Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The demonstrators were demanding the arrest and prosecution of the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a Black Louisville resident who was shot inside her own home in March. Among those arrested were the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills and Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour. If convicted on felony charges, they could face up to five years in prison.
Here in New York, newly released police body camera footage shows a police officer assaulting an unhoused man who refused to give up his seat on a subway train during the coronavirus lockdown in May. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is charging the victim with felony assault of an officer, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Elsewhere, the NYPD arrested 37 people Wednesday as counterprotesters confronted a pro-police march on the Brooklyn Bridge. Several protesters and four police officers were injured in the skirmishes, which came as Mayor Bill de Blasio signed new police accountability measures into law.
Asheville, North Carolina, has formally apologized to Black residents for the city’s role in slavery. A resolution approved unanimously by Asheville’s City Council Wednesday calls for investments in Black businesses and homeownership as a form of reparations.
In Berkeley, California, city leaders are moving forward with a plan to replace traffic police with a new, unarmed civilian force. Under the plan, armed police officers would no longer respond to emergencies involving unhoused people or residents with mental illness. Berkeley’s City Council has set a goal of cutting the police budget in half.
In Bristol, England, a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston toppled by protesters last month has been replaced — with a tribute to a Black Lives Matter demonstrator. The new monument features a life-size replica of activist Jen Reid, who stood on the former statue’s empty pedestal, fist held high, after it was torn from its perch and thrown into the harbor on June 7.
Jen Reid: “For me, getting on that plinth, I raised my fist. And I raised my fist to give power back to the people, back to the slaves who died at the hands of Colston. I gave power to George Floyd and for other Black people who have faced injustices for being Black, you know?”
The statue was installed by a London-based artist without permission from Bristol officials, though the city’s mayor stopped short Wednesday of saying it would be removed.
In northern Yemen, medical workers say a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing raid on a residential neighborhood Wednesday killed 25 civilians, while critically injuring nine others. A local doctor treated several children injured in the airstrikes.
Doctor: “The only injured victims are all children. We received three or four people and eight martyred women and children. And today is a painful and sad day for the free Yemeni people.”
The Yemen Data Project estimates the Saudi-led coalition has carried out more than 21,000 airstrikes in five years of war, killing more than 8,700 civilians. Most of the raids were carried out with weapons sold by the United States.
The United Nations is warning of a looming environmental disaster in the Red Sea, where a stricken oil tanker has been abandoned off Yemen’s coast since the start of civil war five years ago. The vessel is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil — four times as much oil as spilled from the Exxon Valdez in 1989. U.N. Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said Wednesday a spill would directly affect 1.6 million Yemenis.
Mark Lowcock: “Essentially every fishing community along Yemen’s west coast would see their livelihoods collapse and would suffer substantial economic losses. About 90% of people in these communities already need humanitarian assistance.”
In Moscow, Russia, police arrested dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators Wednesday as they protested constitutional reforms paving the way for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power for another 16 years. The mass arrests follow days of large-scale protests against Putin in Russia’s far east that erupted after the arrest of a regional governor on murder charges. The protesters say the charges are trumped up and aimed at unseating a governor who beat a Kremlin-backed candidate in a 2018 election.
Twitter says it’s investigating a “coordinated social engineering attack” that saw the accounts of prominent politicians and celebrities briefly hacked on Wednesday. The accounts of former President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates tweeted out messages linked to a cryptocurrency scam. The hack raised concerns over Twitter’s ability to prevent international incidents and domestic crises, as political leaders, including Donald Trump, use the forum to make policy announcements.
Senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump is under fire for violating government ethics rules after she tweeted a photo of herself endorsing Goya Foods while clutching a can of black beans. The first daughter captioned the photo, “If it’s Goya, it has to be good.” Her endorsement came amid a boycott of Goya Foods, sparked by CEO Robert Unanue, who lavished praise on President Trump at a White House event last week. Ivanka Trump’s tweet appears to violate a federal law prohibiting the use of public office for private gain. On Wednesday, as U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 137,000, Donald Trump’s Instagram account tweeted a photo of the president grinning and flashing a “thumbs up” over an array of Goya food products on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.