Puerto Rico was not saved by Congress from defaulting on its $422 million debt payment, but New York City wants to save the country from the spread of the Zika virus.
The help will come from a donation of one million condoms to help stop the spread of Zika, a disease carried by mosquitoes and spread through sexual intercourse.
“As the Zika virus epidemic spreads and we continue to learn more about the risk of sexual transmission and birth defects, we wanted to use our resources to help our longstanding partners in Puerto Rico,” said Mary Bassett, Health Commissioner, in a letter to her Puerto Rican counterpart, Ana Ríus Armendáriz, this according to the New York Daily News.
The help doesn’t come out as a surprise, NYC is the city with the largest population of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, and it also comes following the first death from the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.
So far, the island has seen 600 cases of Zika, including 73 involving pregnant women. The virus can cause serious birth defects, including babies being born with small heads. However, 14 of the pregnant women infected with Zika have given birth to normal babies.
“For too long American citizens in Puerto Rico have received second-class treatment,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council. “The Zika virus poses a serious threat across the globe and the high infection rates in Puerto Rico are a somber reminder that Congress must grant Puerto Rico as much health care funding as it provides to all other U.S. Citizens.”
At this point, no one can rely on Congress doing the right thing, but we’re glad NYC is picking up the slack.
An audio clip is circulating that shows Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s full-throated support of stop and frisk and racial profiling. The candidate has tried to distance himself from the racist and dangerous policy that did more damage to minority communities than it solved crimes.
Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s own words supporting racial profiling are coming back to haunt him.
The clip is from a speech the former mayor of New York gave in 2015. In the speech, he not only defends the use of stop and frisk but uses racist stereotypes and tropes to make his point. Bloomberg admits that he wants his police force to racially profile people in order to make the arrests. How? Well, Bloomberg believes that you can send the police to minority communities because that is where the crimes are committed. He also claimed that the victims and murderers fit one M.O. so you can Xerox the description to all of the police so any Black or brown person should be treated as a criminal subjected to unconstitutional searches.
But, don’t worry. Bloomberg feels bad about it now and wishes he acted sooner.
Before the event in Houston, Bloomberg tried to brag about how he cut back the program by 95 percent before he left the office of Mayor of New York City. However, what he fails to tell people is that during his time in office, he expanded the stop and frisk program. He also pressured the police force to keep the number of arrests and stops with stop and frisk at very high levels for years. He only cut back the program because his office was facing numerous and mounting lawsuits and political pressure.
Basically, Bloomberg is now apologizing for a program he embraced and expanded while mayor of New York. He is now backpedaling his racist comments and association to the program because he is running for president. Does he have any actual remorse? That’s yet to be proven.
In speaking to potential voters at the Christian Cultural Center, a Black church in Brooklyn, Bloomberg showed remorse for his handling of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy. During his 12-year tenure as mayor and well after he left office, Bloomberg defended the policing strategy which allowed city officers to stop and search anyone they suspected of committing a crime.
“I was determined to improve police-community relations while at the same time reducing crime even further,” Bloomberg said at the church. “Our focus was on saving lives. But the fact is: Far too many innocent people were being stopped.”
Statistics show that the policy didn’t work as it should have and instead targeted people of color in the community, most notably Black and Latino residents.
The stop-and-frisk policy was in place long before Bloomberg took office in 2002 and has long been viewed as a policy that directly targeted Black and Latino communities. The strategy allowed city police to detain an individual and subject them to unnecessary searches sometimes to look for possible weapons, drugs or other paraphernalia. An officer would have to have a reasonable belief that the person is, has been, or is about to be involved in a crime. The purpose of the policy was to deter violent crime in the city but, in return, it destroyed police-community relations for years in New York.
“The temperature in the city at the time was that the police were at war with Black and brown people on the streets,” Jenn Rolnick-Borchetta, the director of impact litigation at the Bronx Defenders, told the New York Times. “And that is how people experienced it.”
Statistics show that Black and Latino people were nine times as likely as white people to be stopped by police officers when it came to the policy. They were no more likely to be arrested, the New York Times reported back in May 2010.
During Bloomberg’s tenure as New York City mayor, there was a huge spike in the overall use of the stop-and-frisk policy. According to the New York Times, the number of stops reached a peak of 685,724 in 2011 and then fell to 191,851 in 2013. In Bloomberg’s 12 year tenure as mayor, there were 5,081,689 stops by police recorded.
Political pundits and criminal justice reform advocates are fiercely criticizing Bloomberg’s sudden backtracking on the controversial policy.
There has been a growing wave of criticism for Bloomberg’s sudden policy walk back that is coming just as he is set to announce his 20202 campaign run. Many are criticizing Bloomberg as changing his tune in an attempt to appeal to the voters once terrorized by a policy he spent over a decade defending. One of the most high profile critics has been current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race earlier this year.
“This is LONG overdue and the timing is transparent and cynical,” Mayor de Blasio tweeted.“With all due respect to my predecessor, we’ve spent six years undoing the damage he created with this bankrupt policy. We ended stop and frisk AND drove down crime. Actions speak louder than words.”
Another critic was social justice advocate Shawn King who decried Bloomberg’s apology. He voiced what some see as a political walk back in midst of a potential run at president.
“BULLSHIT. After years of running the Apartheid-like policy of stopping and frisking millions of people of color throughout New York City, and then defending it every day in office, then every day he was out of office up until this week, @MikeBloomberg,” King tweeted.
Many view his apology as a way to try to gain Black and Latino voters. More importantly, it is seen as an attempt to regain years of lost trust between him and the community.
“The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. The overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino,” Bloomberg told church attendees on Sunday. “That may have included, I’m sorry to say, some of you here today. Perhaps yourself or your children, or your grandchildren, or your neighbors, or your relatives.”
There is one notable person that has voiced his approval in Bloomberg’s apology, Rev. Al Sharpton, who said the former mayor reached out to him. He says that history will be the judge of the policy-making that Bloomberg had in New York City.
“Whatever his motive is, I’m glad that he’s taking this stand,” Sharpton told the Daily News. “We will have to wait and see whether it was politically motivated but Mr. Bloomberg should be judged by the same standards we judged Joe Biden, the author of the 1994 Crime Bill that led to disproportionate numbers of Black and brown men going to jail for years, as well as Senator Bernie Sanders, who voted for it.”
Over the past two and a half weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced more than 1000 earthquakes. This number may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island on January 7—the largest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century—aftershocks have continued to jolt the island, leaving hundreds of people homeless, lacking supplies and electricity. Among the aftershocks was January 11’s 5.9 magnitude quake, which caused even further devastation, particularly to the southern part of the island. So far, the earthquakes have cost an estimated $200 million in damages, including the destruction of more than 800 homes.
But the damage hasn’t only been structural—several people are experiencing extreme anxiety as tremors continue to strike the island.
Credit: Facebook / ASSMCA Online
Officials from ASSMCA, Puerto Rico’s Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention, have been making their rounds at outdoor shelters where displaced individuals and families have taken refuge, offering mental health support to those most affected by the quakes.
“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” Abdiel Dumeng, an ASSMCA employee, said in Spanish in an interview.”But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next month and will be exponentially “lower in magnitude”. But in the meantime, Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than 8,000 people are staying in these outdoor shelters—fewer than half are in government-run shelters, while the rest are taking refuge in either informal spaces or shelters run by non-government organizations.
What exactly constitutes an “informal” shelter? Well, some folks have simply taken their beds outside, staying close to home while avoiding the potential dangers of being indoors. Others are crashing with relatives in towns that have experienced less damage than other areas.
In response to the 5.9 earthquake on January 11, Governor Wanda Vázquez said that she had declared a major state emergency following an initial assessment of the damages incurred. Vázquez also announced the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco, which experienced the most damage due to their proximity to the earthquakes’ epicenter. This $2 million was defined as a way to meet the towns’ most urgent needs—but now, ten days later, la gente está harta, because these needs still haven’t been met.
Just a few days ago, Vázquez fired two high-ranking officials in her administration: Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar. She also fired former Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo. The Governor’s reason for the dismissals was an alleged lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers.
This lack of information had to do with the discovery of a warehouse in Ponce that was filled with seemingly forgotten disaster supplies. But these supplies were not sent in response to the current crisis—they date back to when Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 storm) hit the island in September 2017.
Credit: Carlos Giusti / Associated Press
And people are understandably angry. On January 20, scores of demonstrators gathered in front of the Governor’s mansion in San Juan to demand her resignation. While the Governor seems to have tried addressing the issue with the dismissals mentioned above, several people are accusing her of not taking accountability for this appalling error, urging her to step down. And with demonstrators vowing to stay in the streets until Vázquez steps down, the current situation looks a lot like last summer’s demonstrations, which ultimately caused Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.
When asked by NBC News what the “human impact” of this mistake is, Rafael Gonzalez—President of PROFESA, a Puerto Rican Professional Association that delivered aid during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—said, “We saw it on [sic] Maria. We saw what happens when you don’t deliver the supplies that people need. People die.”
Indeed, more than 3,000 people died as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (not to mention highly insufficient disaster response on the part of the United States government). At this point, the recent series of earthquakes has resulted in one death and nine injuries. In an attempt to keep that number from rising, Jennifer Gonzales, Puerto Rico’s Commissioner to Congress, joined forces with five other members of Congress to send a letter to Donald Trump, asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would bring federal funding to the recovery effort.
On January 16, Donald Trump responded by designating six hard-hit towns in the southern part of the island as major disaster areas. Hopefully this will result in an appropriate disaster response—one that will not negligently result in more forgotten aid.
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