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Police shootings continue daily, despite a pandemic, protests and pushes for reform

By Mark Berman, et al.
Police shootings continue daily, despite a pandemic, protests and pushes for reform
John Fizer visits the grave of his daughter Hannah Fizer in Marshall, Mo., on July 17. She was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Sedalia, Mo., on June 13, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Christopher Smith

On Oct. 27, an Uber driver in Pompano Beach, Fla., reported that he had been carjacked. A passenger attacked him, slashing his hand with a knife and stealing his Mercedes-Benz, the driver said.

The driver had left his cellphone in the car, and police tracked it into Palm Beach County. Sheriff's deputies found the vehicle and 20-year-old Ryan Fallo. He ignored commands to drop the knife and approached them, the sheriff's office said, and they shot and killed him. The shooting was later ruled justified.

The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office released a photo of a knife with what appeared to be blood on the blade and handle. But it did not release the names of the two deputies involved. Instead, it kept their identities confidential under a Florida law billed as a way to protect crime victims. On paperwork invoking the law, both deputies signed their names in the space marked "Signature of Victim."

"I don't know why they're claiming themselves as potential victims ... He posed no threat. He didn't have a gun," said Ryan Fallo's father, Larry. "I just think it's concerning when they pull up the blue shield and hide behind it."

The two Palm Beach deputies are not alone in using the law to shield their identities after shooting and killing someone. It's a new twist in the otherwise unchanging landscape of fatal police shootings, which have continued daily despite a pandemic, protests and pushes for reform.

The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by on-duty police officers in 2015, the year after a White officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot and killed a Black 18-year old. Over the past six years, officers have fatally shot more than 6,400 people, an average of nearly a thousand a year, or almost three each day. The yearly toll even reached a new high of 1,021 fatal shootings in 2020. Midway through this year, fatal police shootings are down compared with the same period last year. They have fluctuated month to month since the project began, ending near 1,000 annually.

Since Ferguson, departments across the country have taken steps toward reform, but these efforts have been inconsistent and incomplete. Most police departments still do not use body cameras. Experts in law enforcement and criminal justice say there have not been the large-scale policy or legal shifts that might reduce uses of force. And sending mental health teams in response to people in crisis, alongside or instead of armed officers, remains the exception.

The fatal shootings range from what experts describe as the unavoidable - including officers coming under gunfire - to a handful that prosecutors consider criminal. Most of those killed have been armed. Nearly every shooting has been ruled justified. But observers and experts contend many could have been averted with less-aggressive tactics.

American policing is not set up for across-the-board shifts, experts said, given that there are more than 15,000 local police and sheriff's departments, each with its own policies, practices and training.

"There's enormous inertia to the police practices that lead to shooting," said Richard Berk, a professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Whatever's driving police shootings probably changes gradually."

Efforts to change policing are also complicated by the politics of reform, with those on the left blaming overly aggressive policing and systemic racism, and those on the right arguing that unjustified police shootings are rare and not motivated by bias.

Police patrol a nation awash with firearms, and researchers have found higher rates of fatal shootings by officers in states where gun ownership is higher. Countries where police kill fewer people tend to have fewer guns.

In the United States, fatal shootings by police are both rare and constant. Tens of millions of people cross paths with police each year, and most of those encounters end without the use of force.

"The vast majority of those fatal shootings are lawful, righteous shootings," said Daniel Oates, a former police chief in Miami Beach, Aurora, Colo., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

But, he said, "a percentage of them are bad training, bad policy, bad day by the cop, not performing at their best." Prosecutors charged more officers for on-duty shootings in 2020 in comparison with 2019. Still, Oates said that despite the fusillade of criticism, policing has improved significantly.

"The narrative of the last year has been that 'Oh my God, police are wildly out of control,' " Oates said. "That's not true. If you tracked that [fatal shooting] data from 30, 40 years ago, I'm sure the numbers would be much, much, much, much higher. There's been a reform movement around the use of force in American policing."

The New York City Police Department, where Oates once worked, publishes annual reports on its officers' uses of force. In the early 1970s, officers in the country's biggest local police force shot and killed dozens of people each year. By the 2010s, the number was in the single digits in many years.

Nationwide data, however, are incomplete. Between 1976 and 2015, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program recorded no more than 460 fatal shootings by police in any single year. The Post's database, launched in 2015, has found more than double that number every year. The FBI's long-promised new program meant to fill the gaps is voluntary - and still incomplete.

- - -

In some cases, the only surviving witnesses are the officers involved. Despite a push since 2015 for police body cameras and the periodic emergence of surveillance footage or bystander cellphone video, more than 80% of fatal police shootings still were not filmed, according to The Post's database.

Some fatal shootings draw intense scrutiny of police actions that might otherwise escape notice. After Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor in March 2020, the uproar led to reforms.

But few cases become national news. When police in Springfield, Ore., shot and killed a 32-year-old named Chase Brooks the day after Taylor was killed, his death received little notice outside the area. "He's not on the news every day like everybody else has been," Karen Brooks said about her son.

Police and other officials often cite ongoing investigations, exemptions in public records laws or other restrictions in declining to release information, documents or footage after shootings. A Post investigation found that in 2015, departments withheld the names of officers in about 1 in 5 fatal shootings.

In Florida, some departments have gone a step further and are now turning to the use of Marsy's Law to shield their officers' names. This law, which voters passed in 2018, says victims of crimes can ask authorities to keep private "information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim's family." More than a dozen states, including Kentucky, have adopted similar measures. The deputies in Palm Beach County both invoked it after Fallo's death last year.

The top prosecutor in Palm Beach County declined to file charges in the killing. In a letter in May, State Attorney Dave Aronberg said a police dashboard camera filmed the deputies "unsuccessfully pleading with Fallo to surrender peacefully" and drop the knife, and that a bystander's cellphone footage showed Fallo moving toward the deputies. Fallo raised the knife "and began to make a lunging motion towards the officers," who then shot him, Aronberg wrote.

The secrecy measure in Florida has generated controversy. An investigation by ProPublica and USA Today last year found that sheriff's offices there routinely shielded the names of officers who "used force that resulted in a civilian's injury."

It also has led to a court battle. Two police officers in Tallahassee shot and killed people in separate incidents last year, and city officials intended to name the officers, but a police union fought that in court. An appeals court sided with the officers, and the case is pending before the Florida Supreme Court.

These cases are stark examples of a pattern that experts say persists nationwide: After police kill someone, they also often shape what the public learns about the killing.

"They write the reports, they give the statements, and other people's accounts are not taken seriously," said Philip Stinson, a criminology professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Sometimes, Stinson said, video evidence will disprove an officer's statement or the police account. In Minneapolis, police put out a statement after George Floyd died on May 25, 2020, saying he "physically resisted officers" before "suffering medical distress." The emergence of a bystander's cellphone video showing Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd under his knee portrayed a far different reality.

"But in most of these cases," Stinson said, "police still own the narrative."

- - -

Two weeks after Floyd was filmed gasping for air, an officer in Atlanta shot a 27-year-old Black man in the back, killing him during a confrontation at a Wendy's restaurant.

Officers at the scene were responding to a complaint about a man asleep in a car at a drive-through when they encountered Rayshard Brooks. He failed a field sobriety test, grabbed a Taser from an officer and ran, pointing it at the officer who shot him, officials said. This shooting, coming amid nationwide protests, spurred a new wave of public anger, and the Atlanta police chief resigned.

Since The Post began tracking cases, Black people have been shot and killed at higher rates than White people.

White people are 60% of the American population and have accounted for 45% of those fatally shot by police. Black people are 13% of the population but have been 23% of those shot and killed by police. (In about 1 in 10 cases, The Post has not been able to determine the race of the person killed by police.)

In a 2016 report, the Center for Policing Equity, a research group, studied use-of-force data - from fatal police shootings to physical encounters - for a dozen police departments and found stark racial disparities. The report found that the average use-of-force rate for Black people was 2.5 times higher than the overall rate and 3.6 times the rate for White people.

Racial disparities persist because they are part of the larger, systemic issues that play out in policing, said Justin Nix, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

"We have very clear evidence that these disparities are real," he said.

"Black and Hispanic people are killed at higher rates by way of their being stopped at higher rates," Nix said. "And part of what explains their being stopped at higher rates is geographically where they live is historically where crime has clustered, where poverty has clustered, where opportunity isn't as great."

But the debate about what role bias might play persists. "It's much harder to parse out how much of that disparity is attributable to bias on the part of officers, whether it's explicit or implicit," Nix said.

Most of the people - 58% - shot and killed by police since 2015 were armed with guns, according to The Post's database. And 15% were armed with knives, the database shows.

Research has revealed a link between fatal police shootings and how saturated a region is with guns. Nationwide, there are more than 700,000 local law enforcement officers, and experts say there could be between 300 million and 400 million guns.

Daniel Nagin, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, examined fatal police shootings that The Post tracked between 2015 and 2018. In an article published last year, Nagin wrote that he had found "a pronounced, highly significant association between" police shootings in a state and the prevalence of guns in that state.

He calculated the rate of gun ownership in each state by studying Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallies of suicides by firearm and an estimate of households where adults are thought to have guns. The higher the rate of gun ownership, the more likely it was police would encounter people "armed or suspected to be armed, which in turn results in a greater frequency of police using fatal force," he wrote. The connection was particularly pronounced in states such as Oklahoma, Alaska, New Mexico and Arizona.

"If there's more guns around, then there's going to be more encounters between police and citizens with guns," Nagin said in an interview. "And that's a deadly recipe. ... If you're in a place with more guns, you're going to be more leery about the possibility that the person is armed."

- - -

Year after year, numerous police shootings have followed two types of police-civilian encounters: reports of people in the throes of mental health crises and domestic violence.

On May 26, 2020, the day after Floyd's death, officers in Lansing, Mich., shot and killed 37-year-old Jason Gallegos. Officials said later that Gallegos had struggled with mental illness, as did nearly 1,500 other people shot and killed by police since 2015 - more than 1 in 5 people shot by officers over that period.

In Lansing, police were called to the apartment where Gallegos lived after he accidentally fired a gun, argued with his mother and grabbed her wrist, according to a review by the Michigan attorney general's office. His mother told a police negotiator that Gallegos was on medication for "many mental illnesses," according to the review.

After police coaxed him outside, Gallegos came with a shotgun and shot an officer in the leg, the review said. Six officers fired at Gallegos, killing him. The attorney general's office said the officers acted lawfully.

"There was no opportunity to use de-escalation techniques," an assistant attorney general wrote. "The officers had no choice but to fire to eliminate the threat."


In some cases, experts say, people pose undeniable, deadly threats. But in others, they said, mental health professionals could help keep tensions down - particularly when people are a threat only to themselves and the arrival of armed officers may cause an escalation.

These types of cases have fueled a push to let mental health professionals, rather than armed officers, respond to certain calls. Eugene, Ore., has had such a program for years. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have started similar efforts. Experts say these efforts - if widely adopted - could avert some shootings.

Last year, the sheriff's office in Orange County, Fla., launched a pilot program dispatching behavioral-health clinicians alongside deputies. Clinicians are "in a better position to help people who are in crisis," Sheriff John Mina said in a video announcing the program.

Domestic violence is another kind of crisis that police are often called to investigate. Since 2015, more than 1,000 people have been killed by police after calls about domestic disturbances.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 fatal shootings by police followed such calls, slightly up from the previous year and the most in any single year since The Post began tracking fatal police shootings.

On May 28, 2020, with the country gripped by unrest over policing in Minneapolis and beyond, officers in Ogden, Utah, responded to a 911 call from a woman who had fled her home, saying her husband had assaulted and threatened to kill her.

Two officers in Ogden, which is north of Salt Lake City, headed to the house, along with two state probation and parole agents who happened to be in the area.

One of the officers, Nathan Lyday, spoke to the man through a glass storm door, according to an account from Weber County Attorney Christopher F. Allred. The man in the house - later identified by officials as John Coleman - was "uncooperative and confrontational," shutting the door on Lyday, the prosecutor wrote.

The 24-year-old officer, holding a notebook and pen, turned to speak to another officer and Coleman shot him in the head, Allred wrote, killing him instantly.

Lyday "had no opportunity to react," Allred concluded. The Ogden police chief said the officer was "felled by the forces of evil." Other officers returned fire, and one of them shot Coleman in the head.

Lyday was one of 48 police officers fatally shot in the line of duty in 2020, and he was among nine killed while responding to domestic-violence calls, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Since 2000, an average of six officers have been killed per year in these circumstances, according to the group's data.

Domestic violence calls are "volatile, unpredictable" situations for police, said Jacinta Gau, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. "When officers arrive on scene ... there's so much anger."

Coleman's wife, who asked not to be identified because of the trauma, said she had endured years of emotional abuse and controlling behavior that "spiraled out of control."

On the day of the shooting, she fled their home - "bloody, my head was busted open" - and went to her former workplace to get a phone. She found out that her husband and a police officer were dead only when authorities tracked her down.

She and their children feel no anger at police for shooting Coleman, something they told the officer who fired the fatal shot. "There was no other way to deal with the situation," she said.

She said she feels only guilt about what happened that day.

"We just unleashed that on the world," she said. "It was our problem, and we were taking care of it and holding it together, and it just, it spilled over."

- - -

Hannah Fizer was driving to her overnight shift at a convenience store on June 13, 2020, when a sheriff's deputy pulled her over in Sedalia, a small city in western Missouri.

The deputy, who said she was speeding and ran a red light, stood by the window of Fizer's silver Hyundai Elantra for a few minutes. Then, as recorded on nearby surveillance video, he took aim and shot Fizer, killing the 25-year old. The deputy said Fizer had ignored his commands, claimed to have a gun and threatened to shoot him.

Fizer's killing led to no criminal charges. A special prosecutor concluded that the shooting was justified because the evidence supported the deputy's claim that he feared for his safety. But the prosecutor also said the deputy could have just backed away.

"It could've been avoided by the exercise of what I think [are] good police tactics and judgment," Stephen P. Sokoloff, the special prosecutor, said in an interview. "There are a number of these I've seen where, yeah, were they legally justified? Yes. Were they necessary? No."

Sokoloff said the deputy could have waited for the arrival of the backup he had called.

"He could've retreated. She wasn't able to go any place. . . . He could've let things simmer a little bit down," said Sokoloff, general counsel for the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services.

Sokoloff said Fizer could be heard over the deputy's radio dispatch yelling at him and was seen in video footage bending down in her car and rising back up. No gun was found in her car.

"I don't doubt for one second she was speeding," John Fizer, her father, said in an interview. "Because she was late for work a little bit. ... I don't doubt that he pulled her over for good reason. But he did everything wrong from that moment on."

Fizer's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the deputy, Jordan Schutte. An attorney for Schutte declined to comment for this story, writing in a court filing that the officer had "acted with objective reasonableness under the circumstances."

Experts contend that such cases show some shootings as preventable with de-escalation training and crisis intervention. In June, the New York City police announced plans to retrain their 36,000 officers to reduce the use of force.

But retraining police nationwide is a massive undertaking, the scale of it reflected in the patterns documented by The Post since the beginning of 2015: More than 2,600 departments were involved in the more than 6,400 fatal shootings. In more than 1,600 of these shootings, it was the only time since 2015 an officer in a department had fatally shot someone.

Ronald L. Davis, a former police chief and ex-director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services office, said the goal should be less use of deadly force overall, "not just unjustified uses of deadly force."

The unchanging pace of fatal shootings after high-profile police killings last year also "debunks the myth of police reform affecting officers' safety, that officers were hesitating" amid scrutiny and criticism, Davis said in an interview before President Biden nominated him in March to lead the U.S. Marshals Service.

"If you pointed your firearm because it was necessary," Davis said, "you're not going to be thinking about some lawsuit or complaints."

- - -

In Atlanta, after Rayshard Brooks was killed, the officer who shot him became one of the relatively few charged with murder for shooting someone while on duty. Prosecutors said Brooks had posed no threat to Garrett Rolfe, the officer. Attorneys for Rolfe said that the shooting was justified and that the officer had acted reasonably. The case is pending.

Rolfe was one of 16 officers charged with murder or manslaughter last year for on-duty shootings, up from 12 a year earlier, according to Stinson, the Bowling Green professor, who tracks cases of officers charged with crimes.

Prosecutors also charged more officers for these shootings after Ferguson. In 2015, the first full year after Ferguson, 18 officers were charged for shootings, the most in any year since Stinson started tracking in 2005. But conviction rates have remained largely unchanged in the years before and after Ferguson.

These criminal cases are difficult for prosecutors to win, and most officers who are charged walk free or are convicted on lesser charges, a pattern that experts attribute to the trust jurors and judges have in police, and the law remaining squarely on their side.

Legally, the use of deadly force has been guided by the Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Graham v. Connor, which said an officer's actions must be judged against what a reasonable officer would do in the same situation. Some officials have pushed to adopt a tougher standard, which California did in 2019.

"The vast majority of these shootings are justified under the current law," Stinson said.

- - -

The Washington Post's Steven Rich and Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.

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About this story: Graphics based on data from The Washington Post's police shootings database.

Story editing by David Fallis. Produced by Julie Vitkovskaya and Courtney Kan. Design and development by Jake Crump and Tara McCarty. Photo editing by Robert Miller and Natalia Jimenez. Graphics by Joe Fox and Daniela Santamariña. Graphics editing by Danielle Rindler. Copy editing by Gilbert Dunkley.

A new mayor pushes back on the status quo

By Griff Witte
A new mayor pushes back on the status quo
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones stands for a portrait during a food distribution event at the Northwest Academy of Law High School in the Walnut Park East neighborhood of north St. Louis on July 21. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Nick Schnelle

ST. LOUIS - It was Juneteenth weekend in St. Louis, and the new mayor was leading the celebrations: She hopscotched from cookouts to charity runs, grooved to classic R&B songs and proclaimed that her city would be among the nation's first to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved people.

Two weeks later, Tishaura Jones spent a quiet weekend with her family. In the process, she became the first St. Louis mayor in decades to skip the city's Fourth of July parade, an event long sponsored by a group with a dubious racial record. St. Louis would need to have some "tough conversations," Jones said, before she felt comfortable joining the party.

The tale of the two weekends in many ways encapsulates the young tenure of St. Louis's history-making mayor: The 49-year-old unapologetically embraces her Black identity, champions progressive policy ideas long dismissed as fringe and doesn't seem to mind who she might alienate along the way.

At a time when other public officials are desperately hoping for a return to normal after more than a year of pandemic-spawned upheaval, Jones is rowing hard in the other direction.

"We're trying to break people out of normal," said Jones, sitting amid the faded grandeur of City Hall. "Whatever normal was, that didn't work for a lot of St. Louis."

In that pursuit, Jones has growing company. This has been, in many respects, a difficult year for the progressive left of the Democratic Party: Adherents have been marginalized in Washington policy debates. They have been shut out of statewide office. And they fell short in the nation's marquee mayoral race. In the early Biden era, the moderates have had the momentum.

But the story is different in struggling cities like St. Louis, where voters have, in recent months, rewarded the candidate most willing to try to shake up the status quo.

Jones took office in April, having beaten both moderate and progressive rivals this spring.

Then, in quick succession, challengers from the left dethroned Democratic incumbents in Pittsburgh, Rochester and Buffalo. In Buffalo's case, the Democratic nominee, India Walton, would become the first self-proclaimed socialist leader of a major American city in half a century should she win the November general election, as is widely expected.

What those places have in common, said St. Louis activist Kayla Reed, is that they are all "migration cities" - destinations for African Americans fleeing the agricultural South in favor of the industrial North during the 20th century. But after decades of discrimination, many of their descendants remain locked in a seemingly permanent underclass.

Now, a year on from the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the mass movement for social justice that followed, those communities are flexing their political muscle to demand leaders who invest in underserved neighborhoods, address long-standing racial disparities and confront police brutality.

"There aren't 100,000 people in the streets anymore," said Reed, who got her start in activism after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. But there are activists and groups willing to put their energies behind candidates whose politics align with the movement, as she did with the Jones campaign.

"All of that background," said Reed, who campaigned relentlessly for the new mayor, "creates the reality where Tishaura wins."

Whether Jones - or any of the others favored by voters in recent months - can succeed in implementing policies to match their rhetoric carries implications not only for their cities but for progressive politics across America.

- - -

Early indications from Jones's first three months in office suggest that the change in St. Louis over the coming four years could be dramatic. But whether the city is on course to benefit, or further deteriorate, is a subject of sharp disagreement.

The city can ill afford the latter. At the dawn of the last century, "the Gateway to the West" was a place of global renown, host to both a World's Fair and an Olympic Games, with a lavish city hall modeled after the one in Paris. By 1950, nearly 900,000 people called St. Louis home.

But today, after a decades-long exodus, the population is down to less than 300,000. Slightly more than 1 in 5 of those people live in poverty, with the city's median household income about $25,000 lower than the national average.

The city is almost evenly split between White and Black, and the divisions are stark. While some predominantly White sections of St. Louis are affluent - the McCloskeys aimed their guns at protesters outside a mansion in the city's posh Central West End last summer - the almost exclusively Black north side has suffered. There, abandoned homes and vacant lots are a fixture of the landscape, and residents say gunshots are part of the daily soundtrack.

"St. Louis faces some real challenges. We've lost employers. We continue to lose population. The homicide rates are up," said Anita Manion, who teaches politics at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. "We've been in decline for a long time."

But the combination of Jones's election and an influx of half a billion dollars in federal funds under the Biden administration's pandemic relief plan has raised expectations that the city's fortunes could be changing.

"This," Manion said, "is a big moment for St. Louis."

Despite a long record in St. Louis politics that included stints as a state representative and city treasurer, Jones campaigned as an anti-establishment candidate who posed a simple question to voters: "Does the current situation work for you?"

Residents, particularly those on the north side, answered that it did not.

"North St. Louis has been forgotten," said Sharon Adkins, a 68-year-old retiree who said she has watched with alarm as her longtime neighborhood has become increasingly dilapidated. "We needed a mayor for the whole city, not just the Central West End or the south side."

- - -

Jones - raised on the north side, where she still lives as a single mother to a teenage son - has repeatedly promised to be that leader, saying that "cranes in the sky" above the north side are her ultimate aim.

In neighborhoods where weeds grow thick among the potholes of long-neglected streets, it seems a distant prospect. But since her election, which made her the first Black female mayor in St. Louis history, she has moved quickly to prove she's serious about changing the city's priorities.

Beyond committing the city to paying reparations - a move made in concert with 10 other mayors - Jones has closed a medium-security prison, known as the Workhouse. The facility had become infamous for its poor and unsanitary conditions.

She has cut $4 million of police funding, and shifted it to social services. She has pressed the city council - known as the Board of Aldermen - to deliver $5 million of federal aid directly into the hands of the city's most vulnerable, and threatened to veto any aid legislation that doesn't fulfill that mission.

"It's the number one way we can help people," Jones said in the City Hall interview. "There aren't that many problems that giving people more money won't fix."

To Reed, the activist, it is the best she could have hoped for.

"She's kept her promises," said Reed, who served on Jones's transition committee and who leads Action St. Louis, an advocacy group. "She's moving with urgency and clarity."

But to the mayor's many critics, it's movement in the wrong direction.

After Jones unveiled her police cuts, Republican state legislators threatened to convene a special session to force her to back down. The city's police union, meanwhile, has been outspoken about the harm that it feels Jones's plans will do to an already beleaguered force.

"Morale is at an all-time low," said Jane Dueker, attorney for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. "That's not what you need in a crime wave."

St. Louis recorded 263 homicides last year - its highest total in 50 years - as killings surged in cities nationwide. As of this week, there had been 108 homicides - down from last year's pace, but still far above those of other, similar-size cities, including Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Budget cuts, Dueker said, will actually do the opposite of what Jones hopes to achieve, by taking police officers out of communities and giving them little chance to rebuild relationships that have been badly strained since the uprising in Ferguson following Brown's killing by a White officer.

"The officers go from murder call to murder call," Dueker said. "That's all they do."

While Republicans and police unions would be expected to oppose Jones's plans, she has also found herself out of step with fellow Democrats.

Even as Jones was defending her police cuts this month, President Biden was hosting a group of mayors at the White House to advocate greater spending on law enforcement. Among those on the invite list was Eric Adams, the former police captain who won New York City's Democratic mayoral primary last month on a platform of cracking down on crime and resisting activist calls to "defund the police."

Within St. Louis, too, Jones has faced resistance from her party. In the heavily Democratic city, there are no Republicans on the Board of Aldermen. But Jones's election has deepened the schism between progressive and moderate Democrats.

The moderates, led by Board President Lewis Reed, pushed back against Jones's police cuts - and managed to add back money that makes up for the department's losses. They also fought the mayor's plan to send millions in direct payments to residents, arguing that it was dangerously ill-defined. After an epic and acrimonious 12-hour meeting, the mayor got her way - though the ultimate fate of the money remains unresolved.

Moderate board members complain privately that Jones has been unwilling to compromise. But they also fear publicly crossing her, lest she take aim at them on Twitter or stage a City Hall news conference to call them out by name, as she has with Reed.

To Jones and her allies, the political winds are at their backs.

"There's a changing of the guard," said Megan Green, a progressive board member who has led efforts to unseat moderates. "The entrenched establishment that we've had in this city is losing power."

That's new for St. Louis, Green said, and she doesn't expect the transition to continue without a fight.

"Any time there's been the possibility of a progressive, multiracial governing coalition, there is very intentional work to dismantle it," she said.

The city's annual Fourth of July parade is connected to one notorious example: The celebration is sponsored by the Veiled Prophet Organization, which historians say was founded as a secret society of White elites in the late 19th century to halt a populist drive for social and economic justice.

That history of thwarted change may help explain why Jones has often dug in when challenged, rather than cut a deal.

Asked about the White House meeting at which Biden urged more spending on police, she politely but firmly dissented.

"That's just not an area where we're going to agree," she said. "It's not about having more cops."

Instead, Jones has emphasized the need for greater spending on social services and mental health. She visited Denver this month to study the city's program for employing social workers to respond to certain 911 calls.

"We're all about getting to the root causes of violence, and most of them are about poverty," said Heather Taylor, a former St. Louis police sergeant who is advising the mayor on public safety. "We have not gotten anywhere by trying to arrest our way out of violent crime."

- - -

Taylor, who grew up on the north side of St. Louis and served 20 years on the city's police force, said the police need better training and smarter tactics, not more money. But she also acknowledged that change will take time, and that residents want urgent relief from the crime battering their communities.

That's particularly true on the north side, where much of the city's violent crime is concentrated.

"There are shootings everywhere," said Laine Jackson, a retired government worker and north side resident. "I have seven kids. None of them live in the city. Who would want to live here?"

Jackson had turned out at her neighborhood Baptist church on a Wednesday evening to hear her mayor lay out plans for turning St. Louis around. Even before Jones spoke, she was given a standing ovation, and she was given another when she finished.

In between, she urged people to get their coronavirus shots and told them how to apply for mortgage relief. She promised greater funding for senior centers and teen job programs. She assured the crowd that those potholes would get filled.

The city had never, in recent memory, had the money it needed. But with federal covid aid pouring in, Jones was able to offer her fellow citizens some hope for brighter days ahead.

And Jackson, for one, was ready to ever-so-cautiously believe.

"There's a lot of trouble in this city. A lot," she said. "But this mayor is really trying. It ain't an overnight thing."

How Ashli Babbitt went from Capitol rioter to Trump-embraced martyr

By Paul Schwartzman and Josh Dawsey
How Ashli Babbitt went from Capitol rioter to Trump-embraced martyr
A protester's sign references Babbitt during a July rally outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Bryan Anselm

Her phone rang on that day in early July, nearly six months after a police officer's bullet killed her daughter as she and a mob of rioters seeking to overturn the election stormed a barricaded door deep inside the U.S. Capitol.

Micki Witthoeft answered the call and listened as former president Donald Trump expressed condolences over Ashli Babbitt's violent death and acknowledged, she said, that her daughter had died Jan. 6 trying to salvage his lost presidency.

Witthoeft took the opportunity during the 30-minute call to ask Trump for help getting information about Babbitt's death and to fight for those still imprisoned because of the riot.

After their call, the circumstances of Babbitt's death - once a focus of right-wing extremists and white supremacists - became a talking point for the nation's most dominant Republican.

"Who shot Ashli Babbitt?" Trump asked over and over in the ensuing days, suggesting that the 35-year-old Air Force veteran was the victim of an overzealous Capitol Police officer whose identity was being covered up.

"Every time he talks about her, he says her name," Witthoeft said in a phone interview. "He could say 'Her' or 'She' or whatever. But he says 'Ashli Babbitt.' He is sure to mention her name repeatedly. I appreciate that. It's millions more people I can reach."

In the months since Jan. 6, Trump and his allies have waged a fevered campaign to rewrite the narrative of one of the darkest days in the nation's history, when a mob attacked the Capitol, threatening to kill Vice President Mike Pence and using baseball bats and flagpoles to beat police officers as they hunted for lawmakers, many of whom hid behind locked doors, fearing for their lives.

Yet, instead of marauders invading the Capitol, Trump and his acolytes describe a largely peaceful crowd of protesters unfairly maligned and persecuted by prosecutors, Democrats and mainstream journalists.

At the center of their revisionism is Babbitt, their martyr, whose fatal attempt to leap through a door that led to the House chamber - captured in graphic detail on video - they describe as a heroic act of patriotism.

"An innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman," Trump said during an appearance on Fox News. At a Florida rally July 4, he called her shooting "a terrible thing" and said "there was no reason for it."

Just before she was shot, Babbitt was among a group of rioters bashing in the glass-paneled doors that led to the Speaker's Lobby, down the hall from the House chamber, where lawmakers were being evacuated.

"There's a gun! There's a gun!" someone shouted when an officer, on the other side of the doors, aimed his weapon in the direction of the mob.

Despite the warning, someone appeared to hoist Babbitt up so she could step through an opening in the door created after its glass panels were shattered. A bullet struck her and she fell back on the floor.

Prosecutors determined it was reasonable for the officer to believe he was firing in self-defense or to protect members evacuating the House chamber.

With the 2022 midterm elections looming, Democrats, along with a handful of Republicans, are challenging Trump's narrative about Jan. 6. At a House select committee hearing Tuesday, four police officers catalogued the emotional and physical abuse they suffered defending the Capitol and how betrayed they feel by Republican lawmakers.

"I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room," D.C. police officer Michael Fanone told the committee. "But too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist or that hell actually wasn't that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful."

Trump has complained to aides that his supporters were treated far worse than Black Lives Matter protesters charged last summer, and that the Department of Justice and others want to use prosecutions of Jan. 6 crimes to damage him.

The former president, according to three advisers, often talks about the "good people" who traveled to Washington that day, and the crowd's large size, despite encouragement from some confidants to avoid the subject altogether.

In a statement, Trump confirmed talking to Babbitt's family and said: "I want to know why is the person who shot Ashli Babbitt getting away with murder?"

- - -

Trump's embrace of Babbitt culminated a six-month progression in which her death, and the fate of dozens of jailed rioters, became a topic invoked by a cluster of House Republicans, and the likes of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Her death has inspired vigils, rallies, rap lyrics, social media hashtags (#justiceforashli), T-shirts ("Ashli Babbitt, American Patriot"), as well as an article in a magazine, the American Conservative, comparing her fate to that of George Floyd, the Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.

"They've got to pretend that Ashli Babbitt was some kind of Osama bin Laden or some kind of guy flying a plane into a building," Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative podcaster with 1.7 million Twitter followers, told his audience.

D'Souza, whom Trump pardoned in 2018 for making illegal campaign contributions, said a "big lie" has been spun that "there were these seditious Trump supporters trying to overthrow the constitution mounting an al-Qaeda-style attack."

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin joined in. Questioned during an interview with NBC News about political jailings in his country, Putin asked if the correspondent had "ordered the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?"

When Trump invoked Babbitt's name, right-wing organizers said it became easier to generate public interest for those arrested in the Jan. 6 riot.

"It didn't make me feel more emboldened, but it made other people feel emboldened, which helps me," said Cara Castronuova of Citizens Against Political Persecution, a New York-based group that has hosted rallies.

"He gives people a voice," Castronuova said. "They feel if Trump said it, he's the leader of the United States, so it's okay to say it."

Stuart Stevens, a veteran GOP political consultant long critical of Trump, said Republicans are seeking to recast the narrative of Jan. 6 because the commander in chief "inspired domestic terrorists to besiege the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election."

"That's not a very good picture, so you have to create an alternative reality - that Trump won and these were good Americans," Stevens said. "What stirs up more emotion than an innocent woman - a former Air Force vet - who is shot attempting to restore the legally elected president?"

"If you believe that," he said, "you'll probably respond to a fundraising appeal that comes with it and you're more likely to show up at a Trump rally. It's about intensity and money."

Stevens, who grew up in Mississippi, compared the Republican campaign to the Lost Cause of the post-Civil War, in which Southern sympathizers sought to recast defenders of slavery, such as Gen. Robert E. Lee as a "benevolent guy."

"It's the same instinct, but this is more dangerous," he said, because the Lost Cause was only embraced by some elements of the Democratic Party, not the entire organization. "It's now the Republicans' official position that Joe Biden was not legally elected. In their version, Babbitt wasn't attempting to overthrow a peaceful process. She was either a tourist or a Trump supporter showing her deep affection to Donald Trump."

Until her death, Babbitt had lived the anonymous life of an ordinary American, serving in the military for 14 years. Her tenure included a stint protecting the Washington region with an Air National Guard unit known as the Capital Guardians.

After leaving the service, she took over a struggling pool service supply company in her native San Diego, and delved into right-wing politics. She used her Twitter account to praise Trump, denigrate undocumented immigrants and express support for the extremist QAnon ideology that is based on false claims. Her family said she was always political - she voted for President Barack Obama - but never more fervent than during Trump's presidency.

Babbitt did not tell her mother she was going to Washington on Jan 6. But Witthoeft said she was not surprised. "I would have said, 'Of course you are, baby,' " she said, adding her daughter "was a Trump rallygoer. She was going to them all over the place, the car parades, the Trump boat parades."

In recent weeks, Witthoeft said she noticed Babbitt's name mentioned more frequently on Fox News, Newsmax and OAN, an uptick she attributes to Trump and House Republicans such as Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

"I think everyone should know her name," she said.

- - -

On a Sunday in downtown Manhattan, across from the United States Courthouse, a crowd of Trump supporters assembled for a "Free Political Prisoners NOW" rally. Organizers promised that Babbitt's mother and husband would call in to "address those in attendance and those watching around the world on our Live Stream."

A counterdemonstration of activists cursing and tossing eggs greeted the 100 or so attendees, including activists carrying Trump flags, fringe political candidates and, at least for a few minutes, Bernhard Goetz, who in 1984 shot four Black youths on a train and was dubbed the "subway vigilante."

"Say her name!" a speaker shouted.

"Ashli Babbitt! Ashli Babbitt!" the crowd chanted.

"American hero!" a woman yelled.

In the days after Jan. 6, interest in her death was far more muted. In Washington, only journalists showed up for a Jan. 9 candlelight vigil advertised for Babbitt at the Washington Monument. Fliers for the event described her as a "wife, mother, veteran, patriot" who was "unjustly killed by US Capitol police."

At the same time, groups such as the Anti-Defamation League were tracking use of her name on right-wing social media, including a rendering of her face imposed over an image of the Capitol, a drop of blood falling from her neck. In the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, Andrew Anglin wrote that Babbitt "was murdered by cops."

"She was protecting America from the enemies of the people," Anglin wrote. "There was absolutely no reason to shoot her, and the cop should be charged with murder."

Three months later, federal prosecutors cleared the Capitol Police officer who shot Babbitt of any wrongdoing, saying he had not violated her civil rights.

The officer, a lieutenant, was not identified, an omission seized on by House Republicans.

"Who executed Ashli Babbitt?" Gosar, a Trump ally, asked acting U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Rosen at a hearing in May. A month later, while questioning FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, Gosar said the officer "appeared to be hiding, lying in wait and then gave no warning before killing her."

Gosar's statements about Babbitt's death, as well as those arrested, have been echoed by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Louis Gohmert, R-Tex., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

"If this country can demand justice for someone like George Floyd," Greene told a Newsmax host, "then we can certainly demand justice for Ashli Babbitt."

On Thursday, she, Gaetz, Gosar and Gohmert showed up at the D.C. jail, demanding to inspect the treatment of those detained in connection with Jan. 6. They were turned away.

Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the narrative suggested by such assertions allows Trump and his allies to "flip what happened and present the attackers as victims."

"The only word that comes to mind is the amplification of a fringe narrative," he said. "It's not as though the narrative has changed. It's spread and taken hold in larger portions of Trump's base."

Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign operative and the leader of Look Ahead America, said initially his group had difficulty drawing crowds to rallies for the Jan. 6 arrestees because "people were afraid to come. The FBI was putting peoples' pictures up all over the place."

But he said he has had an easier time more recently - a Phoenix rally in mid-July drew 250 people - "because the issue is being taken seriously."

Trump, he said, inserted himself into the discourse because he's "reacting to the fact that we have people bombarding legislators, doing rallies and putting up signs. We have done so much to raise awareness that he thinks, 'It's time I should probably talk about it.' "

At the Manhattan rally, the emcee, Castronuova, held a sign that read "Rest in Peace Ashli Babbitt" as Babbitt's mother, speaking by phone, told the crowd she felt comfort knowing that the day her daughter died "was a good day for her."

"Until those son-of-a-bitches took her out of it, she was in her moment," Witthoeft said. "They tried to silence Ashli's voice but all they did was make it louder because America was watching."

"Stand tall, stand proud, stand together," she told the crowd.

After the call ended, Castronuova promised the audience that "insurrectionist is no longer going to come up" when they "Google Ashli Babbitt's name in five years."

"They will not rewrite history," Castronuova shouted. "She's a martyr, okay?"

- - -

After her death, Ashli Babbitt's body remained in Washington for weeks while law enforcement completed investigations. Then she was cremated, in keeping with her wishes, and her remains were flown back to San Diego in February, her mother said.

Not long after, her family boarded a boat and scattered her ashes in the waters off Dog Beach. A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."

Witthoeft, during the hour-long telephone interview, said she has avoided watching footage of Jan. 6, including "the video of my daughter being murdered."

"I just won't do it," she said, beginning to cry. "They carried my daughter out like a dying animal."

Since her daughter's death, she has become politically active. On Saturday, she attended a Trump rally in Phoenix, where she received a standing ovation when Gosar introduced her.

She said she received no response from the offices of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., despite having left "at least 20 messages." When she called the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Witthoeft said an aide told her that " 'although this incident is unfortunate, your daughter should not have stormed the Capitol.' "

Asked about Trump, whose call to her occurred six months after her daughter's death, Witthoeft laughed nervously and said, "It's a tricky question. This is such a roller coaster. I feel different things depending on the day.

"If I were to say something negative about Donald Trump," she said, "my daughter would roll over in the grave, or on her seabed. Out of respect for my daughter, I shouldn't ever say anything negative about him. She felt strongly enough about him to lay down her life for him and, in death, I believe she loves him still. I know she loves him still."

Roger Witthoeft, Babbitt's brother, said he partially blames Trump for his sister's death. Trump's speech that day, he said, "should've been: 'I'll do it in 2024, we'll get them next time.' "

"Like every other rally, people would've cheered them on, and there might have been some little bit of stuff going on," he said. "Everyone was just pumped up, and the word selection wasn't the greatest."

Nevertheless, Michelle and Roger Witthoeft both say they hope Trump runs again. And Roger Witthoeft said his sister, if she were alive, would not regret what she did Jan. 6. "She would've taken the exact same steps, knowing the outcome," he said. "My sister died for a bigger picture, a bigger cause."

These days, Michelle Wittheoft said, she writes letters to Jan. 6 arrestees.

"I plan on writing them all - not because I'm Ashli's mom - I love and support what they did," she said. "They're in jail because they are Trump supporters."

Referring to her daughter, she said, "She made the ultimate sacrifice to bring attention to a stolen election."

"Half the country loves her and half the country hates her," she said. "It's weird to have your child belong to the world."


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Has Congress learned nothing about how to deal with a pandemic?

By catherine rampell
Has Congress learned nothing about how to deal with a pandemic?


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By Catherine Rampell

We've learned a lot over the past year about what's needed to deal with a pandemic. Yet legislative negotiations about public health funding would suggest we've learned nothing at all.

Both before and after his election, President Joe Biden made a persuasive case for why the government must do more to not only respond to ongoing public health crises but also prepare for future ones. That included asking Congress for $30 billion as part of his infrastructure proposal.

This money was to be spent on "biopreparedness and biosecurity." Think: rebuilding the national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies. Expanding lab and testing capacity. Supporting faster vaccine production. Hiring supervisors who can quickly train and scale up the workforces needed in a crisis, such as contact-tracers. Research and development for new therapeutics.

And more basic uses, such as upgrading health officials' IT.

"I literally would wake up at 2 and 3 in the morning [last year] in a cold sweat because we couldn't get data out of our data systems," said John Wiesman, who was secretary of health for Washington state last year when it was an early covid-19 hotspot. "The volume of lab test results coming in was way larger than the systems were ever designed for."

With computer systems down for hours or sometimes days, Wiesman told me in an interview, he and his colleagues were frequently in the dark about the extent of the outbreak and which populations were at greatest risk. Many others were too.

"A common theme that I heard from a lot of our members is that they were keeping the fax industry alive during the pandemic," said Carolyn Mullen, who runs government affairs and public relations at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. "There's one story where one fax machine couldn't talk to another fax machine, so someone had to go to [the store] and purchase an updated fax machine."

Despite these and other troubling incidents, Biden's preparedness-funding request got cut completely from the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Public health experts then hoped it would be shifted into the reconciliation bill that Democrats plan to pass with a party-line vote. Senate aides have told me, however, that while there is a line item in the reconciliation package for pandemic preparedness funding, it has been shaved down -- from Biden's original $30 billion to about $5 billion.

The White House has so far not publicly weighed in on the shrinkage.

Lawmakers do not appear to have substantive objections to spending more on pandemic preparedness; rather, they are slimming down lots of programs to fit everything into this one bill. So what's the big deal if some public health money gets left out? After all, Congress already appropriated $10 billion for similar measures in an earlier covid-19 relief bill. But despite this useful down payment, public health experts worry about the "cliff" looming in a couple of years when this money runs out.

"People don't move or take a job if you say, 'Oh, well, I can basically assure you funding for nine months or a year,'" Wiesman said.

Pandemic preparedness would be a disastrously short-sighted priority to short-change, for at least three reasons.

First is (obviously) the potential to prevent needless suffering and death. Completely eliminating casualties from infectious disease or other public health threats would be impossible. But lives could have been saved last year if government officials had had the foresight and funds to invest in better public health infrastructure in advance.

Second is the economic argument: Not spending adequately on pandemic preparedness is more expensive than adequately spending on it. Covid-19 cost the U.S. economy around $16 trillion, according to an estimate last fall from economists David M. Cutler and Lawrence H. Summers (a Washington Post contributing columnist). That's more than 3,000 times the cost of what Dems presently plan to add to their spending on pandemic preparedness.

An ounce of prevention in this case is truly worth pounds -- if not tons -- of cure.

Finally, consider the national security implications.

The United States can't use the tools available to China and other authoritarian states to control outbreaks -- which include, say, limiting population movement under threat of force. Presumably we don't want these tools, either. That means we need to invest in public health interventions that conform with democratic values, such as the wraparound services (food and PPE delivery, sick leave, etc.) that allow people to self-isolate safely and voluntarily.

If we don't undertake these measures, bad actors might notice, and ultimately exploit, our relative vulnerabilities.

A year and a half into covid-19, with more than 613,000 Americans dead and cases rising again, lawmakers still aren't ready to commit the funds necessary to prevent another tragedy of this scale. If these conditions aren't sufficiently motivating, what would be?

- - -

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

Sarah Palin, once on the cutting edge of crazy, is now back in the pack

By dana milbank
Sarah Palin, once on the cutting edge of crazy, is now back in the pack


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By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON - Sarah Palin was Trump before Trump. Can she be Trump after Trump?

You betcha!

(At least that's what she thinks.)

The former Alaska governor, 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, reality TV personality and human gaffe machine is teasing the possibility of challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's Republican Senate primary next year. "If God wants me to do it I will," she told New Apostolic Reformation movement leader Ché Ahn, as first reported by Right Wing Watch.

Hopefully, for Palin's sake, this is a different God from the one she appealed to in '08 when she put the election "in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4." She has also said it was God's will to fight the Iraq war, build a gas pipeline, and for her to skip an important speech in 2011: "I had nothing to wear, and God knew that, too."

The more immediate obstacles to Palin's ambition, though, are not in the Heavens but here on Earth.

Will Tina Fey revive her Palin impression? ("I can see Russia from my house!") Has Alaska moved on? Murkowski already has a (Trump-backed) challenger, and Palin has been spending a lot of time in the far southern part of Alaska - namely, Arizona. And has the party moved on? Palin captivated the Republican base in 2008 with her unique blend of ignorance, insults and winks at political violence. But such attributes no longer make her a standout in the GOP.

For those who came of age in the last decade, it's hard to appreciate the many gifts she bestowed on late-night comics. On her understanding of the Bush doctrine: "In what respect, Charlie?" On which newspapers and magazines she reads: "All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years." On examples of John McCain's record: "I'll try to find you some and I'll bring 'em to ya'." On foreign policy: "As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska." On her ethics woes: "I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out."

Those of a certain age remember, fondly, her telling us the difference between hockey moms and pit bulls ("lipstick"), her Christmas gift exchange with her husband ("he's got the rifle, I've got the rack"), and the time she fielded questions while turkeys were being slaughtered in the background. We remember, rather less fondly, her "death panel" lies, her pioneering attacks on Joe Biden's age, her claim that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists," and the map she promoted in 2010 showing 20 Democratic districts in rifle crosshairs.

She so dominated the political landscape - Fox News's Bill O'Reilly had done 664 segments mentioning her from 2008 to early 2011, and Sean Hannity 411 segments - that after 42 columns mentioning Palin I pledged to quit her for an entire month in February, 2011. "This is kind of stupid," Jay Leno remarked at the time. "If you're going to choose a month to be Palin-free, don't pick the shortest month."

Palin's star has since fallen. Husband Todd filed for divorce. Son Track amassed an assault record. Family members took part in a boozy birthday-party brawl. Her PAC closed. She has a website that posts "byline-free clickbait," the Anchorage Daily News reports, and she makes video messages wishing people happy birthdays and the like for $199 a pop.

She floated a Senate challenge to Murkowski last fall, and nobody much noticed. Will they care now? Doubtful. Palin herself has acknowledged that people think of her as a "has been." And there's a specific reason for that. When she burst onto the national stage 13 summers ago, she was on the cutting edge of crazy. But the problem with launching a crazy contest is that, once started, it never ends: There's always somebody willing to take things up a notch.

Trump supplanted Palin, and now there are 147 insurrectionist Republicans in Congress and countless would-be authoritarians in state governments. QAnon's Marjorie Taylor Greene holds pole position today, and Palin is back in the pack. What was crazy in '08 is now the Republican norm.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

The fight between progressive and centrist Democrats is heating up all over again

By eugene robinson
The fight between progressive and centrist Democrats is heating up all over again


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By Eugene Robinson

Given all the money and attention focused on Tuesday's special-election primary in Ohio's 11th Congressional District, you might think that one titan of the left, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was running against a powerful Democratic Party grandee, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. Basically, you'd be right.

The seat opened up when incumbent Marcia L. Fudge was sworn in as secretary of housing and urban development. The district is so heavily Democratic that the primary will likely determine the November result. As such, the race has become a proxy for the ideological struggle between the Democratic Party's progressive and establishment wings. That both Sanders and Clyburn would show up Saturday in Cleveland to hold dueling campaign events for their favored candidates is a sign of how each faction measures the stakes.

The contest will have no numerical impact on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's slim majority. But the result could give progressives badly needed momentum and a chance to crow after months of suffering in relative silence as the Biden administration and congressional Democrats pursued a program of compromise.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who has been one of Sanders's most loyal and outspoken supporters, especially during his two presidential campaigns, is generally favored to win. Actually, "loyal and outspoken" are an understatement: A fiery progressive, Turner last year compared voting for then-candidate Joe Biden to having to eat a bowl of excrement.

That kind of rhetoric offended Clyburn and other establishment Democrats, who have thrown their weight behind Turner's main opponent, Cuyahoga County council member Shontel Brown. She may have a chance against the front-runner, though polling is scant and turnout in a primary for an off-year special election is expected to be low, making it even more difficult to get a fix on the race.

Turner has raised $5.6 million and Brown $2.4 million. Once, these would have been staggering figures for a race that won't change the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in Washington. But those numbers show what the stakes have become in this clash between Democrats.

With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, progressives see the opportunity -- perhaps fleeting -- for sweeping change. But they have been frustrated by the refusal of Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin III, W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) to consider eliminating or bypassing the Senate filibuster that allows Republicans to block progressive legislation. And House progressives have watched in frustration as Senate Democrats have negotiated a slimmed-down infrastructure bill.

The progressive wing of the party is also on a losing streak. Sanders lost the 2020 presidential primary race after Clyburn rescued Biden's flagging campaign with an endorsement that propelled him to a string of victories, starting in South Carolina. Since then, progressive contenders have lost a special House election in Louisiana, a gubernatorial primary in Virginia and a mayoral primary in New York.

With the charismatic Turner, they have the potential for a victory. Hers would be a loud, uncompromising and sometimes impolitic voice in the House to rally, or even shame, her fellow progressives. With Sanders at her side this weekend, she made clear that she would see her job not as supporting the Biden administration but as representing her constituents -- and pushing for measures such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.

Brown has sought to portray the choice as between "insults and results, [between] lip service and public service." Clyburn and the establishment-minded members of the Congressional Black Caucus who support Brown have emphasized the need for Democratic unity as Biden tries to govern a bitterly divided nation.

They have a point. Look at the challenges Pelosi, D-Calif., already faces. Assuming the bipartisan infrastructure deal passes the Senate, the speaker will have to convince the House to swallow a much smaller package than the Democratic majority wanted, with practically none of the "human infrastructure" and climate-related spending that progressives consider essential.

Pelosi -- and her chief head-counter, Clyburn -- could have relied on Fudge as a vote in support of the leadership's decisions. If and when Turner arrives in Washington, progressives would have an additional vote to potentially withhold from such a settlement, and thus more leverage over what kinds of compromises the House will accept going forward.

Another progressive, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., has been staging a sit-in at the Capitol to protest Pelosi's decision to recess the House without acting to extend the moratorium on evictions, which expired on Saturday. My guess is that Turner, if she were in office, might well be out there with her.

So maybe you thought the progressives-vs.-pragmatists struggle within the Democratic Party was over, at least for now? Not a chance. Centrists may have been on something of a roll recently, but they underestimate the party's activist left at their own peril.

- - -

Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

Among the vaccine hesitant, lethal lunacy

By michael gerson
Among the vaccine hesitant, lethal lunacy


Advance for release Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, and thereafter

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By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- The text, "I should have gotten the damn vaccine," from a dying fiance and father, captures the delta moment in America. The courage of the man's fiancee in sharing their story, hoping that other covid-19 vaccine holdouts would learn from it, is deeply admirable. The messages on social media blaming her family for its own tragedy are typical of depersonalized Internet viciousness.

But they should also lead to some reflection. Many people, I suspect, felt a tinge of vindication when the pandemic turned hard against portions of the country where vaccine skepticism has been, for many, an ideological commitment, a cultural assumption or a result of distrusting science. This reaction, for the most part, has not been against individuals or families but against the aggregate. Yet the aggregate, of course, is the sum of dying individuals and suffering families. And at least one of those families now has five children without a father.

Some of America may be suffering an outbreak of schadenfreude. Many have walked past the empty vaccination sites at Walmart and Costco, in a country where only half the people have taken the full dose of a miracle medicine that could save their lives. At some point, doesn't recklessness deserve its reward?

But God help us if everyone got the health outcomes we deserved, when we eat poorly, or refuse to exercise, or ignore symptoms of illness -- any of which might eventually bring a higher risk of death than covid vaccine hesitancy. Some of us take our recklessness in smaller, extended dosages. (Though it is worse when your neighbor might suffer a cost.)

And finding satisfaction in someone else's pain is ugly. Just ugly. A recent reminder of this on the hard right stuck with me. Many in right-wing media chose to mock the emotion displayed by police officers last week testifying before the Jan. 6 select committee about their experiences during the Capitol assault. Such malice in reaction to pain is an essential part of the MAGA ethos. But the face of Dinesh D'Souza -- one of the right's professional trolls -- remains haunting. It was a picture of glee in reaction to trauma and injury. Cruelty is the very worst emotion on the face -- a horrid parody of joy.

This is a time when the golden rule comes in particularly handy. Would we want others to feel satisfaction at our death and the suffering of our families? Even if we were miniaturized to the size of a statistic? As individuals and as a country, we need to talk ourselves down from this ledge.

The dramatic vaccine uptake in some red states in response to the delta variant surge should not be a source of self-satisfaction but of actual satisfaction. It indicates that not all hesitancy is rooted in unreachable ideology. We know from the statistics that much of this refusal can be traced to age and income. The full vaccination rate for people ages 65 to 74 is more than 80%. For people 25 to 39, it is about 48%. By comparing regional figures, we know that some hesitancy must be fed by ideology. But certainly not all. We have not yet reached the line where hesitancy becomes a stone wall of ideological refusal. And people who do the right thing now are coming to the aid of their families, neighbors and country, just like those vaccinated before them.

This does not mean that I am reconciled to the capitalization on vaccine hesitancy by right-wing media and politicians. One quote in a story featuring a Southern Missouri man who ended up on a ventilator should haunt all the ideological entrepreneurs selling skepticism. "I was strongly against getting the vaccine," he said. "Just because we're a strong conservative family."

Who defined the refusal of an essential medicine as an attribute of a "strong conservative family"? Who sold medical Russian roulette as a traditional value? Certainly those who make money off the listeners, hits and viewers that sowing doubt brings.

Yet it is political figures who merit the most disgust. Consider Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. His state is the epicenter of the delta outbreak, accounting for 1 of every 5 new covid infections nationwide. Yet he is not, as the Daytona Beach News-Journal points out, holding daily emergency briefings. Instead: "DeSantis sent out a campaign email accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci . . . of somehow scheming with the Chinese over the spread of the coronavirus -- while at the same time proclaiming the economic folly of taking basic precautions against the disease." Last week, the DeSantis campaign rolled out a line of T-shirts and beer koozies with anti-Fauci themes. "Yep," the News-Journal concluded, "He has merch."

This remains lethal lunacy.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is

What Trump and Harris have to learn from Ron Popeil

By megan mcardle
What Trump and Harris have to learn from Ron Popeil


Advance for release Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON -- The world lost a great talker when Ron Popeil died Wednesday at the age of 86. Looking over his old infomercials, as many of my generation have done these past few days, I wondered whether politics didn't also lose a great teacher.

At the beginning of one of the many infomercials the TV pitchman made for his Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ, his assistant flashes an armful of magazines where Popeil has been written up: People, Good Housekeeping, Response. "And the New Yorker," she continues, "gave you a nine-page spread."

"Very nice," Popeil nods, then holds up a finger. "And very accurate, by the way, too."

It's an odd moment for a journalist to watch -- are viewers of infomercials familiar with the New Yorker's first-rate fact-checking department? But of course, Popeil was making a joke. Infomercials, after all, often targeted the same audience as our former pitchman-in-chief: homemakers, blue-collar workers and salespeople. And we all know how much that demographic loves a good dig at the media.

It's hard to get mad about it, though. That was what made Popeil such a legendary hawker: You knew exactly what he was doing, and that you were his target, and somehow, it didn't matter. You liked him anyway.

There's a lesson in this for any politician who wants to command what we might call the Popeil Demographic -- most particularly for two named "Harris" and "Trump," who may well find themselves battling for that demographic in coming years.

As Matthew Yglesias recently pointed out in his policy newsletter, the main obstacle Kamala D. Harris faces in becoming Joe Biden's successor is that "she's never before been in a place where winning the allegiance of swing voters has been important to her mission, and so she's never really focused on that."

"The median voter," he adds, "is a 50-something White person who didn't go to college and lives in the suburbs of an unfashionable city." Sounds a lot like the Popeil Demographic, one the vice president frankly didn't waste much time pitching during the 2020 primaries.

So what might Ron Popeil teach Harris about capturing their hearts? First, forget glamour demographics and go for the bread and butter. But second, forget the symbolic and concentrate on the practical.

Consider a Nike ad -- sweaty, triumphant figures with winsome faces and sleek physiques, who leap and run through a luminous landscape. Inspiring, right? But imagine you'd never heard of Nike. What product are they selling? Why should you buy it?

From his very first TV spot in the 1950s, for the Chop-O-Matic, Popeil began with the value proposition -- "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to show you the greatest kitchen appliance ever made" -- then demonstrated how many problems it could solve. He told simple stories that explained why his solution was better than the alternatives: "Those potato pancakes won't fall apart. They won't be tasteless or rubbery, as when you grate them." Then he made the offer even better: a bonus cookbook with 50 "secret" recipes, absolutely free!

He didn't try to sell you on the Popeil lifestyle. He didn't try to make you a different and better person. He tried to convince you that, with his products, you could enjoy the lifestyle you already had -- it'd just be cheaper, healthier and more convenient.

Most fundamentally, Popeil respected his audience. He never talked down to anyone and always performed with a bit of a wink, so his viewers knew that he knew they knew the score. It was fine, in fact, if they looked down on him a bit -- he not only sold spray-on hair-in-a-can, he brought it into an unrelated infomercial and applied it to his own bald spot, to get a laugh. The Popeil Demographic ate it up and came back for seconds and thirds.

Which suggests a lesson for Donald Trump as much as for Harris. Great pitchmen never get mad, because customers don't buy after you yell at them. They accentuate the positive, not the negative. All great pitchmen try to amp up the urgency so you'll buy right now, but Popeil didn't claim that an apocalyptic future awaited anyone who settled for his competitor's product. A great pitchman offers you more great stuff, not less disaster.

That's a good lesson for both sides in our current culture war, but especially for Trump, whose relentless negativity ultimately alienated more voters than it attracted -- as well as legislative allies, ones he badly needed. There's a reason Trump left office with few policy achievements to speak of -- and why Biden is currently moving forward with the kind of bipartisan infrastructure deal that Trump kept promising.

Which is Popeil's final lesson for any aspiring president: You have to deliver on the product.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

A simple process of elimination

By gene weingarten
A simple process of elimination


Advance for release Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

EDITORS NOTE: This column is a locked-room mystery with the solution appearing at the end. If you prefer to run the solution on another page, please change the last sentence of the mystery ("The solution is below.") to "The solution is on page XX."

WASHINGTON -- (BEG ITAL)The following account is true, except for the participation of Holmes and Watson. (END ITAL)

From the reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.

In reading my notes from the summer of '21, I encountered the facts of a case which exemplifies the particular deductive skills of my friend Sherlock Holmes. It was early afternoon in the flat we shared. Holmes was brutishly walloping a raw ham rump with a cricket bat, to test a theory about the bruising of flesh in homicidal attacks. The great detective stopped and said, "I hear a step upon the stair. It will be a slovenly mustached man of advanced age."

It was, indeed. "Holmes, you astound me," I whispered. "How could you have known that?" "I saw him through the window," Holmes whispered back, "walking up to our door."

Our visitor was in a pitiful state of agitation. His hair was frighteningly disheveled. His Semitic features suggested intelligence, but his shambling gait and inattention to his tonsure and sartorial presence suggested a man under extraordinary stress. He said: "I have a locked-room mystery, Mr. Holmes, and I fear it will strain even your talents ... ." Holmes's eyes twinkled. Instantly, he was fully engaged.

The man's story was relatively simple. The wretched fellow had obtained a new pet, a 1-year-old hound who had been inadequately civilized by her previous owner. Her name was Lexington. She did not understand the common courtesies incumbent upon a household animal. She unburdened herself at will, passing water in the house, often in one particular room, a second-floor study. And so our visitor, reasonably, closed the door. And yet, puddles of the abominable liquid continued to appear in the centre of the room, day after day!

Holmes began to pace. "Were the windows open, or openable, from the exterior of the home, perhaps penetrable? Might they be susceptible to entrance from, say, an ourang-outang? My police colleague, C. Auguste Dupin, encountered just such a praeternaturally nimble villain."

The windows were closed and locked, the man said.

"Was the door locked with a latchkey?" I interjected. There was silence in the room. I fancied I'd stumbled upon something important. Eventually, Holmes turned to me and said, "It is your thesis, Watson, that a dog -- lacking opposable thumbs or even a semblance of intellect or cunning -- could manipulate a doorknob, walk into a room, perform as she wished, then exit the room and primly close the door after herself so as to disguise her crime?"

Holmes turned back to our guest.

"Picture the room in your mind," he said, crisply. "Is there a bell rope to summon servants?" "No, sir. We have no servants." "Might there be a small aperture in the ceiling, perhaps at the base of a chandelier, through which a viper might slither, drop to the ground and deposit his venom upon the floor? Were you careful in handling this excrescence? I encountered just such an event once, and it was part of a sinister and deadly plot."

The ceiling was unbreached, the man said, and added, a little starchily, that the excrescence clearly was what it appeared to be. Holmes rose. "This is a most singular case, sir, and I shall be honored to take it on. We must go to the scene. I fear there is no time to lose."

The home was one of several in a row, built in 1936 during the depths of the American Depression. It was comfortable and well appointed but clearly the work of common craftsmen who were paid for their skill and their haste, but not too well. Holmes produced a magnifying glass and got down on his knees. Then, after mere moments, he improbably turned to his host and said, "I believe I have solved it. When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is the answer. Please bring me a tablespoon, a bowl of soup -- chicken consommé, if possible -- a cotton swab, a golf ball, two kitchen matches, a hypodermic needle, some decent shag tobacco and a large towel suitable for the bath."

In minutes, Holmes had cracked the case. How did he do it? (BEG ITAL)The answer is below.(END ITAL)

- - -

(BEG ITAL)Solution to Gene Weingarten's locked-room mystery:(END ITAL)

Holmes knew that the floors in old houses, hastily constructed, are susceptible to "sloping." Typically, the slope leads from the edge of a room to the middle, where the joists are farthest from supporting structures. Holmes used the golf ball to ascertain that, when it was placed on the floor in front of the study, it rolled toward the door.

Satisfied he was on the right path, he then poured the consommé outside the door. It was the approximate viscosity of urine. It seeped beneath the door and collected in the centre of the room. Now the solution was clear to us all: Denied access to her favorite bathroom, Lexington had peed as close to it as she could get. The towel was for mop-up. The tobacco, spoon, hypo, cotton swab and matches were to satisfy Holmes's vilest habits, often indulged after a successful deduction.

- - -

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

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