Surprise Win for Black Lives Matters

Leave it to the President to draw the battle lines in black and white. Black Lives Matter versus Trump’s frightening twitter promise to “assume control.” He added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you.”

Stop the police killings, permit the police killings, the President’s choices are simpleminded, even preposterous. Governments promote domestic tranquility and should not satisfy a fantasy about obey or be killed. Fanning the flames of conflict is beyond the pale, but within days, panicked Democratic mayors and governors had put the police in riot gear. Looting mattered more than the deaths of black people. Trump repudiated the protestors chief goal-making black lives matter.

A NY Times columnist with a growing reputation concluded the “militaristic posture” made matters worse. It provoked and increased the likelihood demonstrators would go off the rails and start breaking things. Jamall Borrell reminded us attacking protesters “does more to inflame and agitate, than it does to calm the situation.” Unasked was the question rattling thinking observers did the President see this conflict as a positive feature or a defect? The President was looking for trouble and Democratic political leaders looked trapped.

The reign of error never happened. The provocation failed. The left won a stunning victory with demonstrators winning the battle for public opinion. Mayors threw in the towel cancelling curfews; politicians adopted the Black Lives Matter program. Including the most basic one, demanding the U.S. cut spending on police and prisons so schools, health and social services can expand. A radical change in Democratic party policy is possible.

New York State overturned a 40-year-old policy of secrecy that was dear to police unions. Democrats voted for the public against labor; it’s the kind of change that makes everyone ask is this a new era with new rules? Police officers’ disciplinary records will become public record.

When an incident grabs the public’s attention, we can learn is this a first offense or one of a string. Everyone is betting the police like the Catholic Church kept bad actors on the job long after their faults are apparent.

This result is unexpected and may herald a reformed Democratic Party. When the looting started, politicians feared the protestors message would be stifled. In the media, criminal Blacks would replace outraged Blacks. The misbehavior of a few would overshadow the disciplined protests. In a grievous error, curfews were imposed. During this Presidential election year Democratic leaders declared their voters to be criminals if they were on the streets after 8 PM. An order, that the protestors would disobey, and the resulting conflict could split the Democratic Party making Trump’s reelection possible.

The police like the President were aggressive. They didn’t shoot looters; they shot pepper spray, tear gas and other projectiles justified because the weapons injure but are not lethal. A witless distinction devised by those who enforce a might makes right discipline. Pepper spray is neither reasonable nor an act of mercy when applied to peaceful demonstrators.The police turned into morons for Trump.

The crowds shouting “no justice, no peace” or walking hands held high chanting “don’t shoot” were on the TV screen and social media. These demonstrations of people from all races were huge and tracked Bernie Sanders supporters. They might not have voted, but they turned up when it mattered after the killing of an unarmed man. 140 cities had them. The local had gone national. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis could have been a local City story, but thanks to the organizing of Black Lives Matter, the nation recognized police departments murder black people. Eric Garner Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald to name just a few. We know the names, because of Black Lives Matter. The slogan makes the rights and the wrongs of the issue crystal clear. And it persuades people of all races. It is a slogan about identity politics that makes our common humanity most important.

Imposing curfews and putting police into riot gear could have been a catastrophic error especially by Democratic politicians. They were accepting the cynical view right or wrong mattered less than the supposed political truth Democrats must be against looters. The media’s penchant for “if it bleeds, it leads stories” meant disorder would be the story. Burnt vehicles and stolen merchandise must be protected by batons and projectiles. Damn the constitutional rights of a multi-racial coalition calling for a stop to police killings.

A political coalition that wants unity must vigorously support black lives matter. Political allies must protect their partners from assassination; that is asking the barest minimum. Black white and brown must stop their local police departments from battering their citizens. By giving into Donald Trump, Democrats were on the verge of a crisis that could cost them the election.

The popularity of Black Lives Mattered was generally recognized. At the end of May the Sunday Times published an article about Citibank and other giant corporations hitch hiking on the popularity of the Black Lives Matter slogan.

Retired Marine General James Mattis dissed the President. The former Secretary of Defense’s words were measured but their meaning biting. He had the telling advantage of being right. The man, who Donald Trump appointed Secretary of Defense, ignored his old boss the President directing his advice to the American people-don’t be fooled by this looting nonsense.

The unity of “civil society” is not threatened by marauding youth, the General wrote in The Atlantic but by this President who undermines unity. His policies can be squelched if “civil society” unites and uses its resources to tell the truth. This unity will stop Donald Trump who seeks to divide Americans, and the damage to the United States from his actions is way more serious than an outbreak of property damage.

General Mattis’s warning graced the front page of newspaper and was a teaser for TV news casts across the nation. It was saturation coverage and journalism “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,” he advised. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution,” Mattis wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

The General is crystal clear: if you follow Trump’s advice to exaggerate the dangers of looters in order to justify the claim that an insurrection existed disunity would follow. The popular storm could conceivably paralyze government.

This is high stakes politics. Siding with the President could be disastrous. The armed force would be called upon “to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.” This would tear a gap in the fabric of society creating conflict with Americans over what is plainly a matter of conscience. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values.” The protestors deserve respect.

The path to civic unity, the General insisted, lay with supporting black lives matters. An opinion that gained added weight because the military and the left of the Democratic Party are traditional opponents. The left wants to raid the Military Industrial Complex budget to build schools, hospitals and housing. The General insisted look at the big picture, that’s Donald Trump, first he must go.

The effect was immediate during the day cable tv commentators paid new attention to the lawful protesters. The crackdown wasn’t inflaming the streets, inciting riots or turning the demonstrators into bad guys.

Instead the police brandishing shields and firing pepper spray became the lawless element. They arrested thousands who stood with arms upraised chanting don’t shoot. District attorneys refused to prosecute the cases “in the interests of justice.”

The police are humiliated; their traditional political power sidelined. The crowd control methods from the 1960s became the police riots of 2020. They confronted criticism with violence; their commitment to law and democracy was feeble at best.

It’s a stunning victory for the left. They immediately turned this new strength into hardball demanding police budgets be cut and school budgets improved. A historic demand of the left without advanced warning became a political reality-on everyone’s agenda. This demand was picking up some real political support. Public Health officials were quick to remind their media outlets their budgets have been cut even though police manhandle mental patients daily under conditions that make human rights advocates squirm.

The demand has legs because tax collections by local governments has plummeted during the covid-19 lock down. These governments must cut budgets. The police make a perfect target.

In one of its most public and heated controversies Democratic Party unity was preserved. Fatal conflicts between the Sanders Democrats and those claiming the mantle of pragmatic realists was averted. Events minimized an initial decision to align with the President unleashing get tough policies. In the end the blame fell on the police.

What remains concerning is why the Democratic leadership got stampeded into making a traditional law and order response. Why did it take a disaffected member of the Trump team to remind the media, the public and the Democrats that Donald Trump must go is the problem? The streets were speaking the truth; the protestors were calling on America’s conscience to honor its own ideals.

It is on this basis that General Mattis and presumably the leaders of the Atlantic posted the reminder that unity is the responsibility of everybody in society and only then can we be assured of defeating Trump. Clearly understood was that meant shutdown police killings. Undoubted most thought government should have done that decades ago.

Clearly one wing of the pragmatic Democrats understands that unity means one sides supports the other side on important issues. The next matter deserving discussion is what do we do this revitalized power to demonstrate and set the agenda. That is a subject worth its own discussion.

 

 

Rosenthal Takes On Insurers’ PrEP Blacklisting

This article appeared on GayCityNews.com on March 1, 2018

BY NATHAN RILEY | Upper West Side Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has introduced legislation to bar insurance companies from discriminating against people who take the anti-HIV treatment intended to prevent infection known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP.

Its introduction was a major step forward in preventing the spread of the AIDS virus. Known by the brand name Truvada, this drug cocktail, if taken correctly, is highly effective in preventing infection, providing what many view as bullet-proof protection against the virus.

“Several studies have shown that users who take the drug daily are at nearly zero risk of HIV infection,” Donald G. McNeill, Jr., the top medical reporter at the New York Times, wrote in February.

Penalizing those taking precautions outrages Upper West Side assemblymember

McNeill’s story (nytimes.com/2018/02/12/health/truvada-hiv-insurance.html) created considerable buzz when he reported that some insurance companies — primarily those providing life, disability, and long-term care policies, rather than health insurance itself — were denying coverage to persons who were taking the pills. One tart-tongued researcher voicing amazement about this said such coverage denials “really are silly — it’s like refusing to insure someone because they use seatbelts.”

Rosenthal, who is the chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, argues insurance companies following this practice will have a pernicious impact by discouraging the use of PrEP. The companies, she said, “are trying to deny coverage to good risks, people who are taking every precaution to prevent themselves from getting sick with HIV.”

PrEP isn’t popular with fundamentalists and others looking to compel gay men to change their behavior, rather than pursue sex with prudent precautions. Just as the birth control pill lowered the risk of unwanted pregnancies for heterosexuals, PrEP is a medical advance that stops HIV infection even when condoms aren’t used.

Even at the height of the AIDS crisis, there were always some men who didn’t use condoms and in time clinicians began to experiment with giving healthy men anti-HIV drugs, hence the name pre-exposure prophylaxis. After years of fine-tuning and conducting efficacy tests, PrEP works like a vaccine. Daily users don’t get HIV infections, but they are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases if they abandon condoms.

Some gay men use PrEP and condoms to feel completely safe in their sexual encounters, while others are willing to assume the risk of STD infections as long as they are comfortable that they won’t become infected with HIV.

Significantly, PrEP plays a critical role in the New York State plan to end HIV as an epidemic by 2020. Public health officials exult in being able to offer people at the highest risk of getting infected with HIV a medicine that prevents transmissions. Data from the city health department show a trend of declining new infections, but a step-up in PrEP use will be needed to reach the state and city’s ambitious goal over the next three years.

McNeill’s reporting on insurance companies balking at PrEP use has state regulators investigating insurance companies for engaging in illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Rosenthal’s bill would flat out prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage, she said in an email to Gay City News.

“Insurance companies manufacture myriad reasons to deny coverage,” she wrote. “These coverage decisions are based on tired old tropes from the ‘80s about gay people and HIV that not only reinforce stigmas we worked for years to reverse but also the discourage the use of life-saving drugs.”

 

No New Money, No New Ideas in Trump’s Opioid Response

This article appeared on GayCityNews.com on Oct. 30, 2017

BY NATHAN RILEY | Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency to end the epidemic of opioid overdose deaths wraps itself in virtue, but avoids the burning question about the nation’s drug policy: What works?

During the 1990s, Switzerland and Portugal were among the nations that experienced the growth in opioid use seen here in the US as well. In those two nations, however, the response was radically different than in the US.

Switzerland and Portugal asked public health officials to solve the problem and minimized law enforcement activity in response. As a result, there, drug use seldom involves criminal sanctions and services are provided by health and social workers comfortable in working with drug users. The Swiss offered medically-assisted therapy with methadone, and for a smaller group of users medical heroin itself. Programs were geared toward aiding drug users in managing their habit. There were never grand declarations to “end” drug use.

The Swiss program — designed by doctors in tandem with users — conflicts with basic American attitudes toward drug use. A cardinal principle is that the user picks their dose. Overdose levels, of course, bring intervention, but the program design is clear that the user must determine their comfort level. After 20 years without a major backlash, heroin users, over the long run, tend to abandon their habit. And, crucially in the context of the link between drug use and other criminal behavior, most live without relying on illegal activity to pay for their habit.

Drug users have easy access to medically-assisted treatment. Those users permitted access to medical heroin in Switzerland must stop over a three-to-10-year period. The number of Swiss narcotics-related deaths in 1995 was 376; by 2012, it had fallen two-thirds to 121.

These nations have housing and psychological services available to all, one of the key demands of drug reformers. The presidential commission appointed by Trump and headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed that idea, but there is no money in Medicaid for these services.

Donald Trump had two ways to go — finding more money for health services or making bold but empty promises. If he had declared a “national emergency” — as he initially pledged — it would have created claims on a $53 billion federal fund. For the “public health emergency” he declared last week, there is currently $57,000 in the kitty. Hence the Times’ headline: “Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a ‘Health Emergency’ but Requests No Funds.”

A swift warning came from Gay Men’s Health Crisis about the “potential efforts under the Public Health Emergency Declaration to redirect funding from HIV/ AIDS programs.” The Daily News also voiced suspicion that money would be siphoned from AIDS/ HIV services.

But the biggest howl of fury came from the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who blasted the president’s speech saying it showed “a profound and reckless disregard for the realities about drugs and drug use.” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, a human rights activist who replaced Ethan Nadelmann, challenged Trump, poopooing his recommendation that drug prevention programs revive the “just say no” evangelizing of Nancy Reagan and his faith that public service announcements would “prevent” drug use.

“He made a big deal” about taking a pharmaceutical opioid off the market, she scoffed, noting that such a strategy is years out of date. “The opioids involved in overdoses are mostly coming from the illicit market” today, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said. Drug users have gone from the gray market to a wholly criminal underground market of drugs laced with fentanyl — a transformation that is a damning indictment of the prohibition and the criminalizing of drug use. Drug deaths have been rising for years. Last year, there were 64,000 overdose deaths — roughly equal to all Americans killed in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts combined.

Trump also showed his ignorance about how drugs enter the US, when he spoke lovingly of how his Mexican border wall would halt the inflow. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno was unconvinced; the illicit drug trade, she said, “always” finds ways to “get around the walls and barriers the US has put up to block it,” with many drugs smuggled inside freight containers as part of our heavy border commercial traffic with Mexico.

Pointing his finger at immigrants, she added, has a sinister motivation. Trump blames “immigrants for bringing drugs across the border, ignoring that immigrants are overwhelmingly more law-abiding than US citizens,” McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said. The entire presidential declaration, she said, provided yet another excuse for “talking about criminal justice answers to a public health problem, even though the war on drugs is itself a major factor contributing to the overdose crisis.” Trump is still trying to use a hammer to smash the drug problem, with immigrants hit with a special ferocity.

The president’s plan, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno charged, will spread pain and misery, “condemning even more people to death, imprisonment, and deportation in the name of his war on drugs.”

Sadly, as if on cue, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, answered Trump’s call, finding $12.5 million to fund a new DEA team to focus on the smuggling of fentanyl at Kennedy Airport. Look for the arrest of black and brown baggage handlers.

Nobody expects this one unit to make a real difference, but it points up drug reformers’ fears that in a nation that refuses to give up its belief that criminal law protects its young from drug addiction, law enforcement will get the bulk of any new funds identified. A public health approach, based on strategies that “work,” remains the low man on the budget totem pole.