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The Morning Dispatch: Tragedy in Atlanta
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The Morning Dispatch: Tragedy in Atlanta

Plus, some good news on the COVID vaccine front.

Happy Monday! Congratulations to our colleague Sarah Isgur, who became a mother on Friday (meet Nate!).

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Sunday night, 2,094,058 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 19,532 from yesterday) and 115,732 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 296 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.5 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 23,535,104 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (494,800 conducted since yesterday), 8.9 percent have come back positive.

  • The Biden campaign has begun narrowing down its vice presidential search, and is reportedly working from a short list that includes Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Val Demings, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

  • Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned over the weekend after an officer in her department shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man who the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) says failed a field sobriety test, was resisting arrest, and grabbed an officer’s Taser. A video released by the GBI appears to show Brooks running away from the officers with an object in his hand.

  • President Trump announced via tweet his June 19 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma would be postponed until June 20 “out of respect” for Juneteenth, an annual holiday that marks the end of slavery in the United States. The rally’s original date—and its location in Tulsa—had drawn criticism from Trump’s opponents. 

An Atlanta Police Encounter Turned Deadly

A fatal police shooting of a black man has reignited the embers of the largest and most-sustained anti-racism protests in a generation. Rayshard Brooks, 27, was killed Friday by Atlanta officer Garrett Rolfe after he allegedly failed a field sobriety test, resisted arrest, and took a police officer’s Taser.

Police Chief Erika Shields resigned on Saturday “out of a deep and abiding love” for Atlanta after a video emerged of the encounter outside a Wendy’s. The police department subsequently fired Rolfe and placed Devin Brosnan—the other police officer who was present at the encounter—on administrative leave.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms announced Shields’s resignation during a press conference on Saturday, noting Shields will be moved to another administrative role in the city. Bottoms also called for Rolfe’s termination, saying, “I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force.” 

Footage of the incident was captured by Wendy’s security cameras, eyewitness videos, a police vehicle’s dashboard video, and the officers’ body-cameras. According to a New York Times analysis of these sources, Rolfe was called to the Wendy’s because Brooks was asleep at the wheel in the drive-through line. The encounter between the two kicked off with Rolfe waking up Brooks and asking him to move his car to a parking space. Brooks admitted to drinking, adding he didn’t “want to refuse anything” when Rolfe asked him to take a sobriety test. Brooks asked Rolfe if he could walk home to his sister’s house nearby, offering to leave his car under the police’s supervision. Brooks failed the sobriety test, and Rolfe told him he “has had too much drink to be driving.”

Video shows Brooks resisting arrest, grabbing Brosnan’s taser, punching Rolfe, and running away, attempting to fire the taser in Rolfe’s direction. It was at that point Rolfe drew his firearm and fired three times. Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he died after surgery. An autopsy from the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the cause of Brooks’ death was two gunshot wounds to the back.

Protesters set fire to the Wendy’s over the weekend and blocked several roads nearby, including an interstate. Police used teargas and flash grenades to quell the crowds.

Many public officials have drawn parallels between this incident and other recent examples of young black men facing down excessive police violence. “They’d already patted him down, he had no weapon on him—where did they think he was going to go?” Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) asked on CNN’s State of the Union. “So he’s running away—my goodness, you’ve got his car, you can easily find him. But no, you fire bullets into his back.”

Others were more balanced in their analysis of the situation. “That video is disturbing to watch,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, “but I’m not sure that it’s as clear as what we’ve seen around the country.” Scott is currently leading a working group in the Senate with the hope of holding a vote on police reform legislation before the Fourth of July. “I think it’s really difficult to establish a codified and law standard for use of force,” he added. “There are millions of scenarios that play out.”

Possible COVID Vaccines Surge Forward 

Throughout the COVID pandemic, it’s been a little strange to read and write about vaccines. The push to find one for the virus is totally separate from the day-to-day drama of the war against infection, but ultimately it’s the only thing short of a truly catastrophic wave resulting in herd immunity that will stop the disease for good.

In recent days, we’ve gotten some encouraging news on the vaccine front. In an interview with a Los Angeles TV station Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci (remember him?) said he was optimistic we may have a workable vaccine by the end of 2020.

“I think we will know if we have a safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year,” Fauci said. “There’s never a guarantee that you will have a safe and effective vaccine, but I’m cautiously optimistic given what we’ve seen and given where we are right now … that would be available either by the very end of this year or in the first couple of months of 2021.”

Dr. Fauci’s comments come only a few days after Moderna, a biotech company that has paced the field in the vaccine development process for COVID-19 so far this year, announced it will begin an enormous “phase III” trial for its vaccine next month, which will involve inoculating 30,000 people. A handful of other companies are also set to begin phase III trials soon.

What this means is that multiple vaccine products have already been found to boost an immune response to the coronavirus in at least small numbers of people. Now all that remains is to determine whether they are universally effective enough to be rolled out to the population at scale.

One thing worth noting is that none of the companies rolling out wide-ranging vaccine trials so far have opted to pursue the route of human challenge trials, which involve infecting subjects with the virus directly. As we wrote back in May, the possibility of these trials was briefly the subject of fierce ethical debate, as such trials could theoretically result in the deployment of a vaccine months faster but ran the risk of actively endangering the lives of their participants. Apparently, the labs in question have decided to go the traditional route.

It’s important not to get ahead of ourselves: Lots and lots of vaccines fail at this point. But it’s an encouraging reminder that, even as much of the country loses focus on the pandemic, the people whose job it is to bring it to an end are still charging forward. 

Worth Your Time

  • The days since the killing of George Floyd have seen many segments of American culture and society conduct public reassessments of race in America. In some cases, these have led to a healthy, open ,and sometimes difficult re-examination of the reasons black Americans are still too often treated unequally. In others, though, we’ve seen the rapid rise of an illiberal “woke” culture, where debate is discouraged and dissent is denounced. Left-leaning writer Matt Taibbi looks at this phenomenon in his latest newsletter, where he offers a critical look at his fellow progressives. “Among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness. The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.”

    Among the worst examples of this phenomenon, he argues, has been the media, where such debate is necessary. The much-discussed Tom Cotton New York Times op-ed controversy was one of a number of newsroom revolts over perceived offenses and injustices. Taibbi makes a convincing argument that the internal strife that has roiled publications like the New York Times, The Intercept, the Philadelphia Inquirer and a host of other outlets points to a deeper issue with how our modern media works. Fear of the outrage mob—usually operated by younger, “woke”-er journalists who see the old-school liberal commitment to the marketplace of ideas as dangerous and repugnant—has paralyzed reporters and editors everywhere. And for good reason, too: If the events of the past weeks have shown us anything, it’s that young progressive journalists are incredibly effective at banding together and using their collective power to punish perceived wrongdoers, often costing them their jobs. Taibbi points to a number of examples of this phenomenon in recent years as indicative of the dangerously censorious environment that many once-proud news organizations now operate within. In a business where the first job requirement was once the willingness to ask tough questions, he writes, “we’ve become afraid to ask obvious ones.”

  • For the New York Times, Ron Suskind, Lilli Carré, Al Fernández Espinal, and Natasha Lasky have put together a hauntingly beautiful piece collecting the thoughts of 40 doctors on the front lines against COVID-19. The presentation of the information—with illustrations, emerging quotations, and embedded video chats—is astounding. The content is even more so. Doctors “are the first expert eyes to really see this nasty, clever virus up close, and feel its strength in hand-to-hand combat,” Suskind et al. write. To accurately capture an unfiltered look at what doctors were actually thinking and feeling as the pandemic spread, Suskind encouraged them to talk not to him, but to each other. He and his team analyzed the conversations, anonymizing them. “It’s such an uncomfortable decision to make,” one resident said, “because we didn’t sign up to play God.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • For anyone with the slightest interest in Rousseau, Rapper Raz Simone, or Jonah’s dogs—Friday’s G-File is a must-read. Jonah dissects the various unavoidable ironies that the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle has already encountered in its quest to govern an impromptu community. The squatting movement formed around its collective opposition to law enforcement, yet has already empowered self-proclaimed “police” patrolling the area and enacting armed vigilante justice. Oh, and apparently border walls have made a comeback? 

  • In yesterday’s French Press, David urges his fellow Christians to brave Twitter intimidation in order to contribute voices of reason in our current political moment. When thoughtful people engage in self-censorship for fear of backlash, David argues, they allow extreme voices to hijack the conversation. “As a matter of law, Christians are free,” he writes. “As a matter of fact, in many contexts across the country, Christians are afraid—and many people who are most in the grips of fear are those individuals who have thoughtful and reasonable things to say.”

  • Morning Dispatch’s own Andrew and Declan joined Steve on the latest Dispatch Podcast for a discussion on the New York Times’ civil war over Tom Cotton’s op-ed, cancel culture, Trump superfans, and the empathy gap in the 2020 election.

  • On the site today, Danielle Pletka cautions that our overseas adversaries are only too happy to take advantage of our current social unrest.

  • Nate Hochman looks at the difficulty in trying to define what Antifa is—and isn’t. It’s not a highly structured, formal organization, “But regardless of the state of their organizing structure, the militants associated with Antifa or Antifa-adjacent leftist groups throughout the country all adhere to a set of uniformly identifiable ideological precepts, undergirded by a violent radicalism that sets them apart from more mainstream progressive movements. “

Let Us Know

Of the Biden campaign’s narrowed-down VP list, who do you think makes the most sense? Is the best political choice also the best governance choice? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images.