Tuesday, June 30, 2020
“President Trump’s tweet landed at 7:39 a.m. Sunday morning, and senior White House advisers say they immediately realized they had a problem.
The president had shared a video on Twitter that included a Trump supporter shouting “white power” at counterprotesters during a demonstration at the Villages, a retirement community in central Florida, and had called his supporters there “great people.”
Senior staffers quickly conferred over the phone and then began trying to reach the president to convey their concerns about the tweet. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, son-in-law Jared Kushner and other senior advisers spoke with president, said several people familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of private conversations.
Roughly three hours later, the president gave the go-ahead to delete his incendiary tweet — moved, in large part, by the public calls from Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only black Republican, to do just that, aides said.
White House spokespeople said Trump didn’t hear his supporter twice shout “white power.” But neither the president nor his team publicly condemned the racist phrase, setting off another controversial news cycle for a president already struggling to unite the country amid accusations that he traffics in racist and racially inflammatory language.
Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and a Trump critic who wrote a book titled “Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies To Us,” said the president’s unwillingness to disavow the “white power” comment was damning and more important than the belated deletion of the tweet that initially amplified the video.
“What President Trump and every member of his campaign and the White House need to do is come out and say, ‘We do not want votes from people who shout “white power” or hold up white supremacist ideology, in any way, shape or form,’ ’’ Carpenter said. “Until they do that, they’re stoking this.”
As protests over police brutality and racial injustice have erupted across the country in recent weeks, Trump has dialed up his inflammatory rhetoric, repeatedly turning to racist tropes.
Trump has also defended statues of Confederate generals as “beautiful” and pledged to block bipartisan efforts to rename military bases named after military leaders who fought in defense of slavery during the Civil War. Despite multiple opportunities to condemn the Confederacy or make broader appeals to racial unity, the president has declined, often taking the opposite approach.
He has decried some protesters as “THUGS” and “terrorists” and threatened to unleash massive force against them, including with “vicious dogs,” recalling the brutality employed against black civil rights activists in the 1960s.
Trump has tweeted several videos of black men attacking white people in recent weeks as he has attempted to discredit the broader Black Lives Matter movement.
The president’s recent inflammatory remarks build upon a long history that includes promoting the racist conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States, deriding Mexican immigrants as criminals and pushing for a ban on Muslim immigration into the United States.
The steady stream of racist and offensive language from Trump has convinced many Americans that the president is a racist, according to recent polling.
And Trump has injected his derisive rhetoric into his handling of the coronaviruspandemic, twice referring to the respiratory disease that originated in China as the “kung flu.”
Lily Adams, a senior adviser to a super PAC supporting former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said “the fact that Donald Trump and the White House won’t even clear the bar of condemning white supremacy just shows how devoid of any morals things really have become.”
Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, McEnany said Trump hadn’t heard the “white power” shout but never condemned the language, saying, “His point in tweeting out that video was to stand with his supporters, who are oftentimes demonized.”
She was more explicit during a news conference later in the day, saying that while Trump did listen to the video before sharing it on Twitter, “he did not hear that particular phrase.”
As McEnany left the White House briefing room, reporters shouted after her, asking why the president and his advisers had declined to condemn the phrase “white power” — but the question was never posed during the news conference, nor did McEnany bring it up. A senior White House official said that had McEnany been asked, she was prepared to say that of course the president condemns white power, white nationalism and racism in any form.
McEnany also entered the briefing room with a set of bullet points alleging problematic statements and stances of Democrats on the issue of race, including Biden and Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
Trump’s tweet was just the latest racial controversy that prompted Republicans to try to defend or explain away the actions of a president who once declared there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
Paris Dennard, the senior communications adviser for black media affairs at the Republican National Committee, argued that people should focus not on Trump’s original tweet, but on the fact that he eventually took it down.
“Deleting the tweet was a clear sign that President Trump did not agree with the comment, deleting the tweet was the condemnation and it was the correct and responsible action,” Dennard said. “President Trump has always denounced and condemned racism, bigotry and violence as a private citizen, candidate and President of the United States. I am more concerned at the fact that the media is not asking Team Joe Biden to condemn his long history of very bigoted, offensive and racist comments all over social media.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), when asked about Trump’s decision to share the video, said he believed the White House explanation that the president didn’t realize what he was promoting.
“I think that — how I have observed and sometimes do things without listening to every word — that that’s not impossible, and I think he showed his sincerity by withdrawing,” Grassley said.
The Villages Republican Club said in a tweet that it was “appalled” by the turn of events.
“In the video a man was yelling ‘White Power,’ ” the group wrote. “This is NOT what we stand for and is NOT a reflection of Village residents. We must unite as a Country!”
A spokesman for the club, John Calandro, said in an interview that there was “no justification” for the comment and that it was “disappointing” that it had been amplified to Trump’s 82 million followers.
“When you have a community like ours, you don’t like to have anybody cast it in a light that’s not favorable,” he said, adding that Trump continues to enjoy strong support among residents.
The Villages, where 97 percent of the population is white and less than 1 percent is black, is the kind of place where Trump’s “Make America Great Again” pitch has a specific racial appeal, said Andrew Blechman, who wrote “Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children,” a book about the sprawling retirement community.
“The entire place is a pantomime of a make-believe sepia-toned fantasy of ‘the way America used to be and should be’ — where white people dominate, blacks are either nonexistent or nonthreatening domestics / low-wagers, and teens go to sock hops and jerk soda,” he said in an email, adding that he was not surprised by the views expressed in the video.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.”
Ten years of failed promises to come up with something better.
By Paul Krugman
Covid-19 cases are surging in states that took Donald Trump’s advice and reopened for business too soon. This new surge — is it OK now to call it a second wave? — is, on average, hitting people younger than the initial surge in the Northeast did. Perhaps as a result, rising infections haven’t been reflected in a comparable rise in deaths, although that may be only a matter of time.
There is, however, growing evidence that even those who survive Covid-19 can suffer long-term adverse effects: scarred lungs, damaged hearts and perhaps neurological disorders.
And if the Trump administration gets its way, there may be another source of long-term damage: permanent inability to get health insurance.
Remarkably, last week the administration reaffirmed its support for a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would, among other things, eliminate protection for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. If the suit were to succeed, having had Covid-19 would surely be one of the pre-existing conditions making health insurance hard, perhaps impossible, to get.
Now, the legal argument behind the case is beyond flimsy: The lawsuit claims that the 2017 tax cut effectively invalidated the act, even though that was no part of Congress’s intention. But with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, nobody knows what will happen. And Trump’s support for the suit makes it clear that if re-elected he will do all he can to destroy Obamacare.
Not to worry, says the president. In tweets over the weekend he insisted that he would come up with an alternative to Obamacare that would be “FAR BETTER AND MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE” while protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions.
But he’s been claiming to have a much better alternative to Obamacare since he took office. Republicans in Congress, who voted to repeal Obamacare 70 timesduring the Obama years, have been making the same claim for more than a decade.
Yet somehow the great alternative to the Affordable Care Act has never materialized. In 2017, when the G.O.P. finally came close to repealing the act — failing thanks only to a last-minute change of heart on the part of Senator John McCain — the plan on offer would have stripped away protection for pre-existing conditions and added 23 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured.
In other words, Republicans’ insistence that they have a superior alternative to Obamacare is a zombie lie — a claim that should be dead after having been proved false again and again, but it is still shambling along, eating people’s brains.
But why can’t Republicans come up with a better alternative to Obamacare? Are they just incompetent? Possibly — but even if they did know what they were doing, they couldn’t produce a superior plan, because no such plan is possible. In particular, unless you’re willing to move left instead of right, by going for single payer, the only way to guarantee coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions is a system that looks a lot like Obamacare.
The logic here has been clear from the beginning. To ensure coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, you have to prohibit insurers from discriminating based on medical history. But that’s not enough: To provide a decent risk pool, you also have to induce healthy people to sign up, preferably with both subsidies and a penalty for being uninsured. In other words, you need a system that is basically Obamacare.
The 2017 tax cut, which did away with the individual mandate — the penalty for noninsurance — weakened the system; you can see this by the fact that states, like New Jersey, that imposed their own mandates saw a drop in insurance premiums. But the design of the subsidies, which insulated most people from rising premiums, contained the damage: The percentage of Americans without health insurance, which fell sharply as a result of Obamacare, remains near record lows.
So is there any alternative to Obamacare? Of course there is. We could go back to being a country in which people with pre-existing conditions and/or low incomes can’t get health insurance, where for a large fraction of the population illness either goes untreated or leads to bankruptcy. That would, in part, mean becoming a country in which Americans who caught Covid-19 during the pandemic would be uninsurable for the rest of their lives.
Indeed, turning us back into that kind of country is the G.O.P.’s true goal, and is what will happen if the party gets its way either as a result of the current lawsuit or through legislation during a second Trump term.
But Republicans can’t admit that this is their goal. The public overwhelmingly supports protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions, so right-wing politicians have to pretend they can provide that while dismantling the regulations and subsidies such protection requires. And they have to hope that voters won’t remember that they have been promising a plan, but never delivering, for more than a decade.
Let’s hope voters are smarter than that. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 70 times and counting, shame on me.“
Monday, June 29, 2020
As U.S. soars past 2.5 million coronavirus cases, Pence urges Americans to wear masks, social distance
As U.S. soars past 2.5 million coronavirus cases, Pence urges Americans to wear masks, social distance
Vice President Pence on Sunday implored Americans to wear face masks, practice social distancing and stay away from senior citizens to protect them amid a new spike in coronavirus infections as the United States surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases.
At an event in Dallas, Pence commended Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his “decisive action” in reopening the state’s economy in early May. But with the state’s hospitals experiencing a surge in patients amid skyrocketing infection rates, Pence praised Abbott for scaling back some reopening measures, including ordering bars to close and restaurants to reduce occupancy.
The virus has killed more than 123,000 people in the United States, and U.S. cases make up by far the largest share of the worldwide caseload. In Texas, coronavirus-related hospitalizations reached a record high for the 16th day in a row on Saturday, with 5,523 patients being treated.
“It’s a good time to steer clear of senior citizens and to practice the kind of measures that will keep our most vulnerable safe,” Pence said at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he was joined by Abbott, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
All four were wearing face masks as they entered and left the briefing room, a striking contrast with the image Trump administration officials have presented in recent months. Members of the White House coronavirus task force have typically not worn masks and have stood in proximity to each other at media briefings, and President Trump has frequently ridiculed reporters and others who have worn face coverings during the pandemic.
But earlier Sunday, a “Celebrate Freedom” rally Pence attended at First Baptist Church in Dallas featured a large choir that did not wear masks while singing, despite evidence that some choir practices have served as “superspreader” events.
Members of the choir put on their masks after they finished singing, and about two-thirds of attendees were wearing masks during the event, although many were sitting side by side in the pews. Face coverings and social distancing were strongly recommended but not required.
As he opened Sunday’s news conference, Abbott defended his decision to reopen the state — as well as his abrupt reversal.
“Families need to put food on the table. They need to pay rent. . . . We know that we can do both — continue to allow businesses to open while containing the coronavirus. But it does require all Texans to go back to those strategies that we mastered,” including wearing face masks and maintaining good hygiene, Abbott said. He added: “If you don’t need to get out, there’s no reason to go out at this particular time.”
As other Trump administration officials have done in recent days, Birx sought to put a positive spin on the situation facing the country, noting that the United States has “additional tools that we didn’t have just two months ago,” including various therapeutics and knowledge of social distancing measures.
The event comes as Texas, Florida and Arizona have emerged as the country’s latest epicenters after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row. It also comes as some testing centers in those states have become overwhelmed by an influx of patients, with residents reportedly waiting several hours in their cars or on foot to receive a test.
The campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sharply criticized Pence’s trip, saying in a statement that his decision to go ahead with events in Texas “epitomizes the dismissive attitude this administration has taken in addressing this crisis from the onset.”
“Our leaders should be tackling this pandemic head on and laying out concrete recovery plans for the American people — not jet setting across the country to hold events that go against basic public health guidance,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, appeared to dispute reports that the vice president would cancel upcoming trips to Arizona and Florida over virus concerns, saying on Twitter that Pence will still travel to both states this week.
Trump remained largely out of the public eye on Sunday, spending the day at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., where Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was among the president’s guests.
On the morning news shows, Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended Trump’s claim that increased testing is to blame for the recent surge in coronavirus cases.
In an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Pence was asked about Trump’s statement at a rally in Oklahoma earlier this month that when more coronavirus tests are conducted, “you’re going to find more cases.” Pence replied by disputing that Trump‘s comments were effectively undermining Americans’ confidence in testing.
“I think it’s inarguable that the historic increase in testing that we’ve accomplished in this country has played a role in the new cases, particularly among younger Americans,” Pence said.
Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “the surveillance and testing is actually bringing out this information” about the recent spike in cases and acknowledged that “the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control.”
But he also appeared to play down the significance of the uptick, noting that the surge includes “younger and asymptomatic cases in many instances” and disputing the notion that it is related to states reopening their economies too quickly.
“It is not really about reopening,” Azar told host Jake Tapper. “We can and we have to get back to work, back to school and back to health care. . . . And if we act irresponsibly, if we don’t social distance, if we don’t use face coverings in settings where we can’t social distance, if we don’t practice appropriate personal hygiene, we’re going to see spread of disease.”
Despite the comments about testing by Trump and members of his administration, the numbers paint a different picture. In some states, the average number of new coronavirus cases has increased while the average number of tests has gone down. In others, the number of new cases is increasing at a higher rate than the number of tests. And in still others, such as New York, cases of the virus are going down while the number of tests has continued to rise.
While Azar put the onus on individuals to behave in ways that help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, some Democrats on Sunday called for federal government to do more.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week” that the wearing of face masks should be mandatory nationwide, arguing that it is “long overdue for that.”
“My understanding [is] that the Centers for Disease Control has recommended the use of masks but not . . . required it, because they don’t want to offend the president,” she added. “And the president should be an example. You know, real men wear masks.”
As cases of the virus surge in parts of the country, testing centers have been overwhelmed with an influx of patients, leading to long wait times and huge lines.
The Texas Tribune reported over the weekend that several problems have plagued the state’s testing program. Many people have been waiting in long lines, the newspaper reported, and some sites have closed early. Video footage shared on social media by a Houston Chronicle reporter shows throngs of people crowded in huge lines for testing.
The Miami Herald reported that some people waited up to four hours for a swab in Miami Beach last week. In Phoenix, patients waited up to 13 hours for a test last week, and some were turned away because of a shortage of tests, the Arizona Republic reported.
Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Sunday that the outbreaks in states that eased restrictions — and have since reinstated many of them — will continue to worsen in the next few weeks as figures tend to lag.
Frieden also pushed back against Trump’s claim that increased testing is the reason for the spikes, telling Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace that the positive cases identified through testing are only “a tip of the iceberg.”
“As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase,” Frieden said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It is not more tests. It is more spread of the virus.”
Karen DeYoung, Rachael Bade, Meryl Kornfield and Philip Bump contributed to this report.“
Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments
Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments
Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. In each of those years, several service members were also killed by what are known as “green on blue” hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces, which are sometimes believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban.
The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.
The meeting led to broader discussions about possible responses to the Russian action, ranging from diplomatic expressions of disapproval and warnings, to sanctions, according to two of the people. These people and others who discussed the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.
The disturbing intelligence — which the CIA was tasked with reviewing, and later confirmed — generated disagreement about the appropriate path forward, a senior U.S. official said. The administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, preferred confronting the Russians directly about the matter, while some National Security Council officials in charge of Russia were more dismissive of taking immediate action, the official said.
It remained unclear where those discussions have led to date. Verifying such intelligence is a process that can take weeks, typically involving the CIA and the National Security Agency, which captures foreign cellphone and radio communications. Final drafting of any policy options in response would be the responsibility of national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.
The CIA assessment took some time, and coincided with the scaling back and slowing down of a number of government functions as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, two people said.
Asked to comment, John Ullyot, an NSC spokesman, said that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.” The CIA and the Defense and State departments declined to comment.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the program.
Among the coalition of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the British were briefed late last week on the intelligence assessment, although other alliance governments were not formally informed. The New York Times first reported the existence of the bounty program on Friday evening.
But as more details have unfolded, the primary controversy in Washington over the weekend revolved around denials by President Trump and his aides that the president was ever briefed on the intelligence.
Trump on Sunday confirmed statements by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and the White House press secretary that he received no briefing on the subject, and he referred in tweets to “so-called reports” by “Fake News.”
“Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President] Pence or Chief of Staff [Mark Meadows] about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News . . . Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” Trump said on Twitter, insisting that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump administration.”
But his Twitter remarks did little to clarify whether the administration was denying that the assessment existed, or simply denying that Trump knew anything about it. Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence until last month, tweeted that “I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday joined other lawmakers — including leading Republicans — in expressing concern and calling for the administration to provide Congress with an explanation.
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” Pelosi said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
“But he wants to ignore,” she said, “he wants to bring them back to the G-8despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, despite what they yielded to [Putin] in Syria, despite [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] intervention into our election, which is well documented by our intelligence community, and despite now possibly this allegation, which we should have been briefed on.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally who golfed with the president Sunday, earlier tweeted that “I expect the Trump Administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports.”
In a second tweet, Graham said it was “Imperative Congress get to the bottom” of the Russian offer “to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region.”
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, also took to Twitter on Sunday to say that if the report of Russian bounties “is true, the White House must explain” why the president wasn’t briefed, who did know and when, and “what has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin responsible.”
A third person familiar with the issue said that “I don’t think that anybody withheld anything and screwed up by not getting to the president on time.” Until “you were absolutely sure of the intelligence and the NSC had drawn up policy options, you weren’t going to walk into the Oval Office,” the person said.
So the issue is not when the president was briefed, the person said, but rather, “now that you are aware of it, what are you going to do about it? That’s where the focus should be.”
In years past, there were persistent reports that Russia was supplying small arms to the Taliban. Carter Malkasian, who served as a senior adviser to the previous chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said Russia had cultivated a relationship with certain Taliban elements, largely in northern Afghanistan, beginning around 2015. The outreach was partly as a response to Moscow’s concerns about the threat posed by Islamic State militants in the region, and also out of a desire to see U.S. troops leave the region.
But more recently, U.S. officials said that Russia — which tried and failed to start its own Afghan peace process — has been cooperative and helpful since the Taliban signed a peace deal, including a plan for U.S. withdrawal, with the administration early this year.
Malkasian, now a scholar at CNA, said the bounty operation, if true, could be a “random” initiative, rather than one that reflected a well-coordinated program ordered by the highest levels of the government.
He said that a primary Russian goal in Afghanistan continues to be the exit of American forces, but not at any cost.
“They may want us out, and they may be happy to see a few Americans die,” he said, “but I don’t think they want to see the Taliban take over.”
Three Words. 70 Cases. The Tragic History of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ The deaths of Eric Garner in New York and George Floyd in Minnesota created national outrage over the use of deadly police restraints. There were many others you didn’t hear about.
The deaths of Eric Garner in New York and George Floyd in Minnesota created national outrage over the use of deadly police restraints. There were many others you didn’t hear about.
By Mike Baker, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Manny Fernandez and Michael LaForgia
June 29, 2020
“Please. I can’t breathe. I can’t relax. You gotta take this mask off, dude. Please.”
“I can’t take it off, sir. I’m sorry.”
“Please. I already told you earlier, I have [expletive] problems, dude.”
“That’s what the medication is for. It’s gonna help calm you down.”
“All right, well, I can’t chill like this. Please take it off, take it off. Aww man, dude. Dude, please take it off, take it off, take it off!”
“Please take the mask off! I cannot breathe. Please.”
James Brown died in custody on July 15, 2012.
“Willie. Willie. Stop!”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe!”
“You can breathe.”
“If you’re talkin’, you’re breathin’. I don’t want to hear it.”
Willie Ray Banks died in custody on Dec. 29, 2011.
“Get cuffs, I got his hands. Get cuffs. Get cuffs.”
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
“Yeah, ’cause you’re [expletive] tired of running.”
“OK, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
“We’re on VC-71. Code 4. Lift the red. One in custody.”
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
Byron Williams died in custody on Sept. 5, 2019.
As the sun began to rise on a sweltering summer morning in Las Vegas last year, a police officer spotted Byron Williams bicycling along a road west of downtown.
The bike did not have a light on it, so officers flipped on their siren and shouted for him to stop. Mr. Williams fled through a vacant lot and over a wall before complying with orders to drop face down in the dirt, where officers used their hands and knees to pin him down. “I can’t breathe,” he gasped. He repeated it 17 times before he later lapsed into unconsciousness and died.
Eric Garner, another black man, had said the same three anguished words in 2014 after a police officer who had stopped him for selling untaxed cigarettes held him in a chokehold on a New York sidewalk. “I can’t breathe,” George Floyd pleaded in May, appealing to the Minneapolis police officer who responded to reports of a phony $20 bill and planted a knee in the back of his neck until his life had slipped away.
Mr. Floyd’s dying words have prompted a national outcry over law enforcement’s deadly toll on African-American people, and they have united much of the country in a sense of outrage that a police officer would not heed a man’s appeal for something as basic as air.
But while the cases of Mr. Garner and Mr. Floyd shocked the nation, dozens of other incidents with a remarkable common denominator have gone widely unacknowledged. Over the past decade, The New York Times found, at least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody after saying the same words — “I can’t breathe.” The dead ranged in age from 19 to 65. The majority of them had been stopped or held over nonviolent infractions, 911 calls about suspicious behavior, or concerns about their mental health. More than half were black.
Dozens of videos, court documents, autopsies and police reports reviewed in these cases — involving a range of people who died in confrontations with officers on the street, in local jails or in their homes — show a pattern of aggressive tactics that ignored prevailing safety precautions while embracing dubious science that suggested that people pleading for air do not need urgent intervention.
In some of the “I can’t breathe” cases, officers restrained detainees by the neck, hogtied them, Tased them multiple times or covered their heads with mesh hoods designed to prevent spitting or biting. Most frequently, officers pushed them face down on the ground and held them prone with their body weight.
Not all of the cases involved police restraints. Some were deaths that occurred after detainees’ protests that they could not breathe — perhaps because of a medical problem or drug intoxication — were discounted or ignored. Some people pleaded for hours for help before they died.
Among those who died after declaring “I can’t breathe” were a chemical engineer in Mississippi, a former real estate agent in California, a meat salesman in Florida and a drummer at a church in Washington State. One was an active-duty soldier who had survived two tours in Iraq. One was a registered nurse. One was a doctor.
In nearly half of the cases The Times reviewed, the people who died after being restrained, including Mr. Williams, were already at risk as a result of drug intoxication. Others were having a mental health episode or medical issues such as pneumonia or heart failure. Some of them presented a significant challenge to officers, fleeing or fighting.
Departments across the United States have banned some of the most dangerous restraint techniques, such as hogtying, and restricted the use of others, including chokeholds, to only the most extreme circumstances — those moments when officers are in fear for their lives. They have for years warned officers about the risks of moves such as facedown compression holds. But the restraints continue to be used as a result of poor training, gaps in policies or the reality that officers sometimes struggle with people who fight hard and threaten to overpower them.
Many of the cases suggest a widespread belief that persists in departments across the country that a person being detained who says “I can’t breathe” is lying or exaggerating, even if multiple officers are using pressure to restrain the person. Police officers, who for generations have been taught that a person who can talk can also breathe, regularly cited that bit of conventional wisdom to dismiss complaints of arrestees who were dying in front of them, records and interviews show.
That dubious claim was photocopied and posted on a bulletin board at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, in 2018. “If you can talk then you obviously can [expletive] breathe,” the sign said.
Federal officials have long warned about factors that can cause suffocations in custody, and for the past five years, a federal law has required local police agencies to report all in-custody deaths to the Justice Department or face the loss of federal law enforcement funding.
But the Justice Department, under both President Barack Obama and President Trump, has been slow to enforce the law, the agency’s inspector general found in a 2018 report. Though there has been only scattershot reporting by departments, not a single dollar has been withheld.
Autopsies have repeatedly identified links between the actions of officers and the deaths of detainees who struggled for air, even when other medical issues such as heart disease and drug use were contributing or primary factors. But government investigations often found that the detainees were acting erratically or aggressively and that the officers were therefore justified in their actions.
Only a small fraction of officers have faced criminal charges, and almost none have been convicted.
In the case of Mr. Williams in Las Vegas last year, Police Department investigators determined that the officers did not violate the law. But the death triggered immediate changes, said Lt. Erik Lloyd of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s force investigations team.
Officers are not medical doctors and may believe that someone who says “I can’t breathe” may be trying to escape, he said.
To alleviate potential dangers, officers are told now to promptly get detainees off their stomachs and onto their sides — or up to a sitting or standing position. They are also told to call for medical help if someone has distressed breathing.
“Since the death of Mr. Williams, our department has been extremely aware of someone saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Lieutenant Lloyd said. “We have changed the attitude of patrol officers.”
For the relatives of many of the men and women who died under similar circumstances in police custody, watching the video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis has felt painfully familiar. Silvia Soto’s husband, Marshall Miles, died in 2018 in Sacramento County, Calif., after being pinned down by sheriff’s deputies at a jail. She said she had been feeling both heartbroken and comforted amid the national outrage.
“I don’t feel alone anymore,” Ms. Soto said.
‘You want to kill me?’
While there have been dozens of “I can’t breathe” deaths over the past decade, the emergence of body cameras and surveillance footage has eliminated the invisibility that once shrouded many of these deaths.
Videos from Mr. Garner’s death galvanized changes in neck restraint policies around the country, but problematic techniques for restraining people did not go away. In the six years since then, more than 40 people have died after warning, “I can’t breathe.”
Less than three months after Mr. Garner died, police officers went out to a tidy stucco home near Glendale, Ariz., to investigate a report of a couple arguing.
The officers found Balantine Mbegbu seated in a leather chair with his dinner. Both Mr. Mbegbu and his wife assured them that no argument had taken place. According to police reports, Mr. Mbegbu became indignant when they refused to leave.
“Why are you guys here?” he said, his voice rising. “You want to kill me?”
When he tried to stand, the officers slammed him to the floor, punched him in the head and shot him with a Taser. With Mr. Mbegbu on his stomach, officers put knees on his back and neck.
As his wife, Ngozi Mbegbu, watched them pile on top of her husband, she heard him say, “I can’t breathe. I’m dying,” according to a sworn statement she made. Records show he vomited, began foaming at the mouth, stopped breathing and was pronounced dead.
The county prosecutor’s office determined that “the officers did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”
Cases in which detainees protested that they could not breathe, before dying, continued to occur. Their words could be heard on audio or video recordings, or were otherwise documented in official witness statements or reports.
In 2015, Calvon Reid died in Coconut Creek, Fla., after officers fired 10 shots at him with a Taser.
In 2016, Fermin Vincent Valenzuela was asphyxiated after police officers in Anaheim, Calif., put him in a neck hold while trying to arrest him. His family won a $13 million jury verdict.
In 2017, Hector Arreola died in Columbus, Ga., after officers forced him to the ground, cuffed his hands behind him and leaned on his back, with one officer brushing off his complaints: “He’s fine,” he said.
In 2018, Cristobal Solano was arrested in Tustin, Calif., and then died after at least seven deputies worked together to subdue him on the floor of a holding cell, some with their knees on his back.
In 2019, Vicente Villela died in an Albuquerque jail after telling guards who were holding him down with their knees that he could not breathe. “Right, because they’re having to hold you down,” one of the guards said.
Then last week, the Police Department in Tucson, Ariz., released video of an encounter on April 21 with Carlos Ingram Lopez, who was naked and behaving erratically when officers forced him to lie face down on the floor of a garage with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Part of the time, Mr. Lopez’s head was covered with a blanket and a hood. He was held down for 12 minutes, crying for air, for water and for his grandmother. Then he, too, died.
‘If you can talk you can breathe’
One of the reasons such cases keep occurring may be the persistent belief on the part of police officers that a detainee who is complaining that he cannot breathe is breathing enough to talk.
Edward Flynn, the former police chief in Milwaukee, said in a deposition in 2014 that this idea was once part of training for officers there and persisted as a “common understanding” even if it was wrong. Other departments have told their officers the same thing, records show, and the notion shows up often in interactions with detainees.
“If you’re talking, you’re breathing — I don’t want to hear it,” a sheriff’s deputy told Willie Ray Banks, who was struggling for air after officers in Granite Shoals, Texas, restrained and Tased him in 2011.
But the medical facts are more complicated. While it may technically be true that someone speaking is passing air through the windpipe, Dr. Carl Wigren, an independent pathologist, said that even someone able to mutter a phrase such as “I can’t breathe” may not be able to take the full breaths needed to take in sufficient oxygen to maintain life.
The “if you can talk” notion has persisted even in places like the jail in Montgomery County, Ohio, which had to pay a $3.5 million settlement last year in connection with the 2012 death of an inmate named Robert Richardson, who had been jailed for failing to show up for a child support hearing.
A fellow inmate called for help after Mr. Richardson, 28, had what was described as a possible seizure. Sheriff’s deputies cuffed his hands behind his back and restrained him face down on the floor, pushing on his back and shoulders, and eventually on his head and neck, according to court documents.
Witnesses said Mr. Richardson repeatedly told deputies he could not breathe, until, after 22 minutes, he stopped moving. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
It was that jail facility where, six years later, the photocopied sign about being able to breathe if you could talk was posted on the bulletin board.
‘We literally had to sit there and watch my brother die’
Police officers often failed to seek prompt medical attention when a detainee expressed problems breathing, and that has proved to be a factor in several deaths. In some of these cases, the person in custody had recently been Tased or restrained, but other times they were suffering from acute disorders, such as lung infections, and languished for hours. Often, this appeared to be because officers did not take the detainees’ claims seriously.
When 40-year-old Rodney Brown told police officers in Cleveland he could not breathe after being Tased multiple times during a struggle in 2010, one of them responded: “So? Who gives a [expletive]?”
One of the police officers radioed for paramedics but later said he did so only because it was a required procedure when someone had been Tased; he did not convey that Mr. Brown had claimed he could not breathe.
A lawyer for the city in that case told a panel of judges that the officers did not have the medical expertise to know when someone was in a medical crisis or simply exhausted from a vigorous fight, according to an audio recording.
Another troubling case occurred in March 2019 when the police in Montebello, Calif., were called to the home of David Minassian, 39, a former vice president at a property management firm who had suffered a heroin overdose.
His older sister, Maro Minassian, a certified emergency medical technician, had given her brother a dose of naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opiate overdoses. He jolted awake but still appeared to have fluid in his lungs, and she dialed 911, anxious to get him to a hospital.
But it was the police, not paramedics, who arrived next. Ms. Minassian said three Montebello officers entered her family’s home as her brother was flailing on the floor.
At least two of the officers slammed him to the ground and put their knees into his back as they tried to cuff him, Ms. Minassian said, and remained on top of him until he stopped talking. “I told them, ‘My brother can’t breathe,’” Ms. Minassian said through tears. “We literally had to sit there and watch my brother die.”
‘Please take the mask off’
Despite years of concerns about some of the potentially dangerous techniques used to subdue people in custody, law enforcement agents have continued to use them.
In the 2018 case involving Ms. Soto’s husband, Marshall Miles, officers struggled to get him into jail after arresting him on suspicion of vandalism and public intoxication.
The Sheriff’s Department had produced training materials as early as 2004 warning about the dangers of suffocation when people were restrained face down or hogtied with their hands and feet linked behind their backs.
But those warnings apparently went unheeded. Mr. Miles, 36, was hogtied while being brought in by the California Highway Patrol, even though the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, no longer allowed the restraint. Deputies removed him from the hogtie but held him face down for more than 15 minutes as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” They then carried him handcuffed and shackled to a cell, where at least three deputies put their weight on his facedown body while he groaned ever more faintly. About two minutes later, he fell silent and then stopped breathing, according to video of the death.
Sacramento Sheriff Media Bureau
An autopsy concluded that he died from a combination of physical exertion, mixed drug intoxication and restraint by law enforcement. Hogtie restraints were used in four other deaths over the past decade that were examined by The Times.
Another technique used in a series of cases with fatal outcomes, including at least two this year, has been the use of hoods or masks designed to prevent people from spitting on or biting officers. Law enforcement agencies around the world have grappled with whether to use them to protect officers despite concerns about whether the masks are safe.
Video from 2012 shows how one of the masks was used on James W. Brown, an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso who had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sergeant Brown, 26, was supposed to serve a two-day sentence at the county jail for a drunken-driving conviction, but officials said he became aggressive after learning he would be jailed longer.
With his hands cuffed behind him, Sergeant Brown can be seen in a video seated in a chair, surrounded by guards in riot gear holding him down. Deputies had placed a mesh-style mask over the lower half of his face, and he wore it for more than five minutes before telling the guards and a medical worker that he could not breathe.
“Please take the mask off,” Sergeant Brown pleads. “I cannot breathe. Please!”
El Paso Sheriff’s Dept.
He passed out shortly afterward, and he was pronounced dead the next day. A county autopsy ruled that his death was caused by a sickle-cell crisis — natural causes — but a forensic pathologist later hired by the county concluded that his blood condition had been exacerbated by the restraint procedures.
Sergeant Brown’s relatives sued El Paso County, the jail and 10 officers for wrongful death and other claims. The case was later settled.
“I feel like they treated him like he was less than an animal,” said Sergeant Brown’s mother, Dinetta Scott. “Who treats somebody like that?”