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Trump’s latest White House event put some of the nation’s most vulnerable people at risk

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At his first public event since being diagnosed with Covid-19, President Donald Trump spoke to hundreds of supporters on the South Lawn of the White House, giving a speech meant to honor law enforcement officials at a time when Black Lives Matter activists are calling to defund the police.

The crowd was primarily made up of Black and brown people invited by Blexit, an organization that seeks to move Black voters away from the Democratic Party, and Trump used their presence to both salute their politics and attack his Democratic rivals.

“Every day more Black and Latino Americans are leaving behind left wing politicians and their failed ideology,” the president said during his address. “And they’re embracing our pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-police — we want law and order, we have to have law and order — and pro-American agenda.”

While this isn’t exactly true, Trump does enjoy some support among Black and brown voters — particularly among men.

A recent analysis from FiveThirtyEight found that Black and Hispanic voters who backed Trump in 2016 are largely still with him, despite the poor ratings the president has received for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump won just 8 percent of African American voters in 2016, and appears to have about 10 percent support in the weeks leading up to the election. Despite this modest gain, the president remains deeply unpopular with the group, making his appeal to them “a game of inches,” as the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni have written — and making his ability to win new Black voters in key races unclear.

Nevertheless, Blexit cofounders Candace Owens and Brandon Tatum are adamant Black Americans want to leave what Owens has characterized as “the Democrat plantation.”

Overall, the Blexit movement presents itself as wanting to “change the narrative that surrounds America’s minority communities” by advocating for school choice, criminal justice reform, and entrepreneurship, among other goals. And these themes were on display not just at the Trump event, but at the Blexit rally that proceeded it.

Held near the White House on the National Mall, the rally featured speeches from Owens, Tatum, and Black conservative talk radio host Larry Elder about how oppression isn’t real, how Black people must take accountability for their actions, and how police officers are allies.

“Today is about making sure that we make some noise to support our police officers in America,” Owens said. “When you remove police officers the thugs stand up.”

Following these remarks, the crowd moved to the White House. They were required to wear Blexit apparel — bright blue tops that said “We the Free” on the front and “Blexit backs the Blue” on the back — and to have masks, but reportedly were not required to wear them.

There, Trump delivered a campaign-style speech that honored police and that contained his pitch to Black and brown voters.

“We call this a peaceful protest at the White House in support of the incredible men and women of law enforcement,” Trump said, later adding, “It’s a dangerous profession and they’ve been doing an incredible job.”

Trump also took an opportunity to characterize Black Lives Matter protests as violent, focusing on looting, which a study from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project found took place at fewer than 10 percent of demonstrations. “The homes and churches and businesses of Black and Hispanic Americans have been looted. … They’ve been vandalized and burned by left wing fanatics,” Trump said.

Black and Brown people have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus. The event likely posed a serious threat to the health of attendees.

Though Trump expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the Black and brown supporters standing below him on the lawn, that he hosted the event at all, suggests he has little concern for their well-being.

From the onset, Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities. Analysis by the nonpartisan study group APM Research Lab shows that 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have already died from Covid-19. According to the CDC, the coronavirus death toll is twice as high for Hispanic, Black, and Native American adults under age 65 as for whites — and children of color make up 75 percent of coronavirus deaths of people under 21.

Any crowd risks spreading the coronavirus. But a crowd like the one at the White House — made up of Black and brown people, some of whom had traveled to participate, with intermittent mask usage — risks further spreading Covid-19 among the population it has hit the hardest, and the population it is most likely to kill.

Yet on Saturday, Owens claimed that “Black Americans, Latino Americans, minority Americans are dying because the media is lying,” and did not acknowledge the coronavirus as onlookers stood shoulder-to-shoulder wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, some of them without masks.

Similarly, Trump also ignored the impact of the coronavirus on the people standing before him, saying, “Our nation’s going to defeat this terrible China virus as we call it … through the power of the American spirit, I think, more than anything else. Science, medicine will eradicate the China virus once and for all.”

Despite Trump’s optimism and faith in the “American spirit,” experts warn that because of Trump’s inaction and with states rolling back restrictions, a coronavirus surge is likely in the fall and winter, with cases already trending up since mid-September. And should this next surge be like the last few, the brunt of it will be borne by Black and brown Americans.


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World

How should we talk about suicide?

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It has been three years since I got the call about my brother; my 49-year-old, funny, sentimental, handsome, troubled younger brother.

It is a call no one can prepare for and one that is accompanied by a tsunami of confusion, anger, disbelief and unimaginable despair.

My brother’s suicide was a tragedy on many levels and, like most people who have endured this kind of loss, I was overwhelmed by contradictory emotions when I was told he was gone. How could he do this to our parents, to his kids, to our family, to me? Then, mixed up with my fury, came the guilt. Why didn’t I answer the phone when he rang that day? Why didn’t I tell him I loved him?

The writer’s brother as a child [Photo courtesy of Leanne Pooley]

My brother grew up in a loving middle-class family with summers at the lake and friends all around. He was a talented athlete and a professional ice hockey player. He had lived in Canada and Europe, run a successful golf business, had a beautiful wife and two wonderful children.

Despite all this, he struggled with demons none of us who loved him could understand. He slipped into drug and alcohol abuse, lost his family and landed in a toxic relationship he knew was destructive.

Ultimately, ending the life he found unbearable became a more powerful option than learning how to fight for the life he deserved.

When my brother died I was thrown into a cycle familiar to many people who have lost someone in this way. I was tortured by ruminative thoughts; conversations with myself that went around and around in my head. If only I could go back, change that one thing, unsay those words, make it different. If only I could reverse time. But I can’t. Time only goes forward and no matter how many circular scenarios plague my imagination, I can’t change what happened; I can’t reverse time and that is hard to accept.

‘We can’t ask people to see the world through our eyes’

One of the strangest ironies of the situation I found myself in three years ago was the fact that when my brother died I was making a documentary about suicide. As a filmmaker I had often worked on projects that were close to my heart but never before had my life and my art so tangibly collided. Oddly, despite a brief moment when I considered walking away from the project, this bizarre twist of fate came to be a blessing. While working on the film I was exposed to people who knew what I was going through and could help me survive the emotional rollercoaster I was riding.

From them, I learned that while my initial reaction to my brother’s death was to judge him as selfish, it is likely that in his mind the opposite was true. It is possible that for a brief, misguided moment, he believed his fatal decision would release our family from the strain of supporting him – that he was a burden and that, by exiting from our lives, he would be doing us a favour.

[Photo courtesy of Leanne Pooley] (Restricted Use)

He was wrong of course, but when people are as distressed as my brother was they do not see the world the way we do, and this too is a lesson. We cannot apply the logic of our lives to the chaos in theirs. My brother was in pain; his suffering was impossible for me to understand because I haven’t experienced suffering like it. His pain was his own and asking him to think or feel the way I did was a mistake because my life experience had little in common with his. So, when I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine if he “just” did X or “just” said Y, I wasn’t acknowledging his reality – things weren’t fine and my saying they would be didn’t change that for him. We can’t ask people to see the world through our eyes, we can only try to help them see past the darkness blocking their view.

‘I couldn’t fix my brother’

I don’t want to imply that my brother bore no responsibility for the circumstances he found himself in. He made numerous bad choices, wasted many opportunities and often didn’t take advantage of the help that was offered to him. Both my parents exhausted themselves emotionally and financially trying to “sort him out”. There were endless discussions about tough love, enabling, interventions and what he “really” needed. None of us had an answer and I now feel that too many of these conversations were had without him in the room.

Added to this is the compassion fatigue I and others faced when dealing with my brother and his “issues”. He tended to reach out when he was in crisis and there were many late-night, early morning or simply ill-timed phone calls that went on for hours. Drunken, stoned, sometimes desperate calls I had to steel myself for; calls that exasperated and exhausted me – calls I came to avoid, including the one I didn’t answer the day he died.

Would answering my phone have helped? I will never know for sure and there-in lies one of the internal circular dialogues I still navigate. But what I now understand is I couldn’t have saved him, because we can’t save people – we can only be there to help them save themselves. This might sound trite, but it is a truism that is difficult for someone like me. I like to fix things and I couldn’t fix my brother.

Unlike many people who take their own lives, my brother had never attempted suicide before. He left no note to help us understand his state of mind nor did he leave me a message that day. He had been struggling with addiction issues and depression for a significant period of time and while he had been in and out of rehab in the months leading up to his death, I thought he was doing ok. I did know, however, that his connection to hope was tenuous and, in a pattern I had become accustomed to, his slide into despair was rapid; in this case too rapid for me to respond.

The writer’s brother [Photo courtesy of Leanne Pooley]

The debate about what should and shouldn’t be said about suicide goes on. There is reticence when talking about it as we fear triggering the vulnerable. Although I accept there is risk in everything we do, I would argue the silence that shrouds this topic makes it more difficult for those of us left behind. And there are so very many of us left behind. It seems that any time I mention my brother’s death, the person I am talking to has a story of their own. The parent they lost, the sibling, the child, the friend, the lover. It is ubiquitous and the often-whispered tones that relate melancholy stories illustrate to me the shame that taints the subject of suicide and those of us touched by it. We are admitting failure; my love wasn’t enough to keep my brother alive.

I felt this failing most keenly when I finished my documentary. I had buried my grief beneath its making, convincing myself that there was a reason I was doing this thing at this time, and there was. But when it was done and my brother’s name appeared in honorarium as the final credits rolled – I fell apart. I had made a film that addressed the issues that had, in part, led to my brother’s death, it was meant to mean something – but he was still dead.

‘I will always wonder’

For my parents, the weight of losing my brother was to prove overwhelming. My 78-year-old father’s health collapsed almost immediately and he died six weeks later, I believe, from a broken heart. My mother, who had been a young 75, not long retired and physically formidable, aged exponentially and has subsequently struggled to recover. The only glimmer of light in what was a dark time was the way this long-divorced couple came together in their grief.

I wish I could say that in the three years since my brother’s passing I have had an epiphany of some kind or that I have deep effectual insights to share with others who inhabit a similar space; but I haven’t and I don’t. There are still days when I’m consumed by sadness and I find it difficult to explain the hollowness I feel inside to those close to me. I am fundamentally an optimistic person, but at times it is hard to maintain that outlook and we do the truth a disservice by pretending it is not. Helping people deal with mental illness is crucial if we want to stem the rising numbers of those choosing to take their own lives. We also need to ensure when the outcome is not what we would have wanted that the grief-stricken find the understanding and support they need, too. Once suicide has permeated our psyche it is with us forever. I have found a way to live with the hole in my heart but the hole will always be there. I will never stop loving my brother and I will always wonder what he rang to say that terrible day.

The one thing I feel certain about is that we are failing to find a way to discuss suicide in a manner that protects those at risk while freeing those impacted. I am not sure what the answer to this problem is but we need to keep looking for it or we condemn millions of families, lovers and friends to lonely bewilderment and endless anguish. For now, all I can do is remind myself that my brother’s life wasn’t just about his ending and there are wonderful memories to be cherished alongside the ones I need to let go.

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Turkey extends exploration in disputed East Med again

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Ankara announces extension of survey work in the region until November 4, in a move likely to create uproar in Greece.

Turkey says it is extending seismic exploration by its vessels in a disputed area of the Eastern Mediterranean until November 4, a step that is set to fuel tensions in the region.

NATO members Turkey and Greece have been locked in a dispute over the extent of their continental shelves and conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the East Med.

The dispute erupted in August when Turkey first sent the ship Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Along with two other ships, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, Oruc Reis will continue work in an area south of the Greek island of Rhodes until November 4, a Turkish naval maritime notice said late on Saturday.

A previous notice scheduled survey work in the area until October 27.

EU states slam Turkey

Ankara withdrew Oruc Reis last month to allow for diplomacy before an October 2 European Union summit where Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey.

After the summit, the bloc said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region, a move Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU ties.

Turkey sent the vessel out again on October 12, prompting an angry response from Greece, France and Germany. Turkey has extended the duration of the vessels’ exploration multiple times since then.

Athens says Ankara is breaking international law by prospecting in Greek waters and has been urging the EU to reconsider its customs union with Turkey in response to Ankara’s exploration in the Mediterranean, deploring what it termed Turkey’s “imperial fantasies”.

Concerns remain high around a potential military conflict between Greece and Turkey. Both have been carrying out manoeuvres in the region with frigates and fighter jets.

Turkey insists it is within its rights in the energy-rich Mediterranean region, saying not all Greeks islands are large enough to count when it comes to delineating the extent of Greek sovereignty.

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Palestinian teen dies after being beaten by Israeli soldiers

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Director of medical centre says Snobar died of neck injuries sustained while being beaten by Israeli forces.

A Palestinian teenager has died of his injuries after being beaten by Israeli forces near the town of Turmus-Ayya northeast of Ramallah, according to several Palestinian news outlets.

Ahmed al-Bitawi, director of the Palestine Medical Complex, confirmed to Palestinian news outlets on Sunday morning that Amer Abedalrahim Snobar died as a result of injuries sustained from an attack by Israeli forces.

“There were visible signs of beatings on Snobar’s neck,” Bitawi said.

The medical centre reported that the injuries to Snobar’s neck were consistent with being beaten with the butts of Israeli soldiers’ rifles.

Snobar hailed from the village of Yatma, south of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

It has been reported that the Israeli soldiers chased the car Snobar was driving before beating him severely.

Members of a medical NGO team told local Palestinian news outlets they tried to perform cardiac resuscitation on Snobar before transferring him to the medical centre.

Israel’s army said troops responded to an incident north of Ramallah after rocks were hurled at an army vehicle.

Troops “in the area were dispatched to the scene and searched the area for assailants” the army statement said.

“Initial details suggest that upon the arrival of the troops… the two suspects tried to escape by foot,” it said. “While fleeing, one of the suspects apparently lost consciousness, collapsed and hit his head. The suspect was not beaten by IDF troops.”

In a statement, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said Snobar’s murder will be a “curse that will continue to haunt Arab traitors” – in reference to the recent normalisation deals by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan.

“The response to this heinous crime is to withdraw the recognition of the Zionist entity and all agreements that resulted from it, and the formation of a unified national leadership capable of leading popular resistance against the Zionist occupation,” the statement said.

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