Chauvin Convicted; Police Killings of Black People Continue

On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges (second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter), of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, 2020. The U.S. Department of Justice also announced the launch of an investigation “to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing” on Wednesday. While the result of the trial was a relief to many, people took to social media to point out that accountability for Chauvin is not justice for Floyd, and one guilty verdict does not change a corrupt system. Reinforcing this fact are a number of incidents of police violence in the news following the verdict.

Most widely reported, Ma'Khia Bryant, a 16-year old Black girl in Columbus, Ohio was shot to death by a police officer on Tuesday. Video footage shows her involved in an altercation that appeared to involve a knife, but when White people are involved in confrontations involving knives, guns, and other weapons, the result is rarely a police officer shooting and killing them.

Andrew Brown, Jr., a Black man in North Carolina, was shot to death by police on Wednesday. Reports indicate that he was shot in the back while police attempted to serve him with a warrant, and that no weapons or drugs were found in his car or house. So far, two deputies have resigned, one retired, and seven were placed on administrative leave. There have been widespread calls for bodycam footage to be released in the community.

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FDA and CDC Lift Pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine, Add Warning

This past Friday, the FDA and CDC announced that the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was lifted (i.e., it can be used again) but that a warning would be added to the label of the vaccine about the risk of potentially developing a rare blood-clotting disorder. This follows the reports of 6 women between the ages of 18 and 59 who developed a clotting disorder after receiving the vaccine. One of these women died of the clotting disorder. Per the announcement, agencies have confirmed a total of 15 cases of the clotting disorder that have been reported into the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), and while research and monitoring will continue, the report states that the benefits still greatly outweigh the risks of vaccine side effects as these cases occurred out of over 8 million people that received this vaccine. If you have any additional questions, coimments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to us! 

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Fewer than 6,000 People in the U.S. Have Gotten COVID-19 After Being Fully Vaccinated

In a press conference earlier last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stated that there have been fewer than 6,000 cases of COVID-19 in those who were fully vaccinated in the United States. These breakthrough cases, meaning they occurred at least 14 days after those who got their second shot based on the two dose vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, were expected but are clearly very rare. The infections would have come from being exposed to a contagious person, not from the vaccines themselves. So far, according to the CDC, over 93 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated. Dr. Walensky also noted that this number is probably an underestimate as this was data from only 43 states and territories. Dr. Walensky added that around 30% of the 6,000 breakthrough cases were asymptomatic. Also, out of the 6,000 cases, 396 were hospitalized and 74 people died. While this is unfortunate, it is still a promisingly small number and highlights the effectiveness of the vaccine. It will be important to get vaccinated when you can to protect yourself and others if we are to be able to make it through this pandemic.

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Sparrow Hospital at 100% Capacity as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Sparrow Hospital in Lansing confirmed that the hospital was at 100% capacity. The spokesperson, John Foren, stated that Sparrow’s surge plan has already been implemented to manage the surge in cases and stated that the COVID-19 case numbers currently were near the peak the hospital had experienced back at the end of 2020. It was noted that there was a slight decrease in patients at the time of the interview. According to the CDC, Michigan is still leading the country in the number of new COVID-19 cases, with almost 40,000 new cases in the last 7 days, and that trend is likely to continue. It is imperative that if and when you get the chance to be vaccinated that you should do so. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us. In addition, we must continue to wear masks, practice proper hand hygiene, socially distance, and follow other public health guidelines if we are not interacting with fully vaccinated individuals.

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Lansing School District Will Be Remote Through End of Academic Year

Lansing School District announced on Wednesday that students in all grades will remain remote for the rest of the academic year. The move comes as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Michigan (the state still has the highest 7-day case rate in the country by a wide margin), and schools and school-related activities (youth sports and extracurriculars) have become a primary means by which the virus is spreading. Superintendent Sam Sinicropi stated that "Recent reviews of COVID-19 metrics for the district and for the State of Michigan have determined the need to remain 100% remote with Screen to Screen Learning through the end of the schoolyear...We must do this in order to keep our staff, students, and their families safe."

Exceptions will be made for some Special Education services, which "will continue providing face-to-face one-on-one services," as well as Learning Labs.

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No Charges Against Police in Use-of-Force Incident in Meridian Township

On Friday, Meridian Township (a suburb of Lansing) released findings regarding a police use-of-force incident that occurred last month, and announced that they were making changes to reduce the likelihood of future incidents. The incident involved a White plainclothes officer repeatedly hitting a Black man suspected of retail fraud and kneeling on his back near his neck, reportedly after the man had punched the officer in the face. The Township released video footage from a witness as well as from multiple police bodycams. The Ingham County Prosecutor's Office determined that "the use of force in this incident was reasonable and does not rise to the level of a criminal violation of the law." The Township also retained an "unbiased" expert to conduct an "independent" evaluation, who also determined that the use of force was justified.

The "unbiased" and "independent" expert was Twana Powell, a retired Commander for the Michigan State Police. It should go without saying that a retired police officer is not an independent or unbiased reviewer of police use-of-force incidents and her findings cannot meet the need for an independent review to exonerate or hold accountable an officer accused of excessive force or unethical behavior. Unbiased review must come from people who are truly independent of the police and carceral systems as a whole if the intention is to hold law enforcement accountable and to build trust with the community (particularly for members of marginalized groups that are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and have significant reasons not to trust anyone involved in law enforcement for oversight of police). Treating someone who is a part of the law enforcement system as an "unbiased" party to review the police undermines attempts to maintain or rebuild trust, by showing that the Township either doesn't understand the basic requirements of an independent, unbiased reviewer, or is intentionally pursuing reviewers that are more likely to provide findings in favor of the police. In either case, the Township is not serving the public interest, and an independent, unbiased review has not occurred. Regardless of whether this particular use of force was justified, it is clear that the Township needs an independent review board that provides direct community oversight and is authorized to hold officers accountable.

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Trans Woman in Oklahoma Denied COVID-19 Vaccine Because of ID

A transgender woman in Oklahoma was reportedly denied a COVID-19 vaccine at the Logan County Department of Health because the name on her paperwork and on her ID did not match. The process to legally change a name is fraught with barriers and challenges (including significant financial cost and the need to go to court and deal with the justice system), resulting in a large proportion of the transgender and gender diverse population not having a legal name or ID that matches the name they use. The woman was reportedly able to get vaccinated at the OKC-County Health Department later, but the issue remains and is a clear example of the discrimination in healthcare and legal systems that puts trans people at increased risk by introducing barriers that disproportionately impact them, causing care to be denied and making them less likely to pursue care.

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Whitmer Creates Michigan Jail Reform Advisory Council

On Wednesday, Governor Whitmer signed an Executive Order creating the Michigan Jail Reform Advisory Council. The Council will "facilitate, assist with, monitor, and evaluate the successful implementation of jail reform legislation throughout the State of Michigan." The changes are the result of the findings of the Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which were issued in January, 2020, many of which were passed by the legislature and signed into law in January, 2021. "Policy changes include giving officers more discretion to issue tickets in lieu of arrest, reclassifying many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions and ending license suspensions for violations that aren't related to dangerous driving. For most misdemeanors and some felonies, state law will include a presumption that judges hand down a sentence other than jail unless they deem that incarceration is necessary."

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):