A Moving Biography of George Floyd

A moving short biography of George Floyd, based on intensive research, has been published by the Washington Post.[1] Here is a summary.

Floyd’s Ancestors

“Floyd’s great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr., spent the first eight years of his life enslaved in North Carolina, where tobacco fields financed American dynasties — and perpetuated inequality — that endured from the 19th century until today.”

“Stewart was freed in the mid-1860s, the result of a bloody Civil War that led to the emancipation of nearly 4 million Black Americans who had toiled under a brutal system of chattel slavery.”

“Despite having no formal education — teaching enslaved people to read and write was deemed illegal by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1830 — Stewart acquired 500 acres of land by the time he reached his 20s. . . .[But] Stewart lost it all when White farmers seized the land, using legally questionable maneuvers that were common in the postwar South.” Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrison, who has maintained certain family records, said, “The land was stolen from him. He was ‘targeted’ by White usurpers due to his relative wealth. ‘They used to call him the rich nigger.’”

“Floyd’s grandparents were North Carolina sharecroppers, working farms owned by White landowners in exchange for a portion of the crop. They too fell victim to state-sanctioned discrimination and wage theft, according to Harrelson and other family members. As they raised their 14 children — including Floyd’s mother, Larcenia — they were repeatedly forced out of the shacks they rented with their labor, and regularly cheated out of their pay.”

Although they were “unable to bequeath financial wealth to their descendants, . . .[they] passed down an ethic of hard work, a reverence for education and a deep familial bond borne out of shared perseverance. . . . Larcenia and her 12 surviving siblings all graduated from high school, a source of pride for their sharecropper parents who never attended.”

The grandparents also passed down an “unshakable fear of White exploitation, and a skepticism toward a system that had treated the family’s dark skin as a permission slip for oppression.”

Floyd’s Early Years in Houston

“Floyd was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973, a time when Whites-only service at restaurants and segregated seating in movie theaters were fresh wounds.”

In 1977 his mother, a single mom, and her children moved to Houston, where they lived “in a predominantly Black Houston neighborhood where White flight, underinvestment and mass incarceration fostered a crucible of inequality.”

“In the crumbling Houston public housing complex where Floyd grew up — known as The Bricks’ — kids were accustomed to police jumping from cars to harass and detain them. His underfunded and underperforming public high school in the city’s historically Black Third Ward left him unprepared for college.”

According to his younger brother, their mother “used to always tell us that growing up in America [as a Black man], you already have two strikes. And you’re going to have to work three times as hard as everybody else, if you want to make it in this world.”

“Schools  remained deeply unequal as Floyd moved through predominantly Black classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s. . . . By the time Floyd left high school in 1993, he wasn’t academically prepared to go to college.”

“But his athletic skills earned him a place at a two-year program in South Florida before he transferred closer to home — to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a small, mostly Latino school known as a pipeline to the NFL. Big Floyd was always talking about going to the [NFL] league. . . . Floyd, a tight end, went to practice every day, but he wasn’t making the grades or completing the credits that would have allowed him to get on the field. . . . Floyd’s time in college ended with neither a degree nor a draft into professional sports. With his two planned routes out of Third Ward blocked, he moved back to Cuney Homes in 1997.”

Troubled Years in Houston

“It didn’t take much time before he was in trouble with the law.”

“Police . . . arrested him in August 1997 for delivering less than a gram of cocaine. A judge sentenced him to six months in jail. It was the first of at least nine arrests in Harris County over the course of a decade, mostly for low-level drug crimes or theft.”

In 2004 he also was convicted for selling less than a gram of cocaine, which now is under review because the arresting officer has been charged with regularly falsifying evidence in drug cases.

“The most serious charge that Floyd faced was in 2007, for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors said the then-33-year-old [Floyd] and four others forced their way into a private home and that Floyd had held a woman at gunpoint while others ransacked the place, looking for drugs and money. After a plea deal, Floyd would spend four years at a privately run prison nearly three hours northwest of Houston. There, he largely languished, without access to vocational training or substance abuse treatment. Once jovial and confident, Floyd left prison deflated, introspective and terrified at the prospect of being locked up again, according to family members and friends.”

“Throughout his lifetime, Floyd’s identity as a Black man exposed him to a gauntlet of injustices that derailed, diminished and ultimately destroyed him.” His life, in short, “underscores how systemic racism has calcified within many of America’s institutions, creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement and health care.”

.“Floyd spent a quarter of his adult life incarcerated, cycling through a criminal justice system that studies show unjustly targets Blacks. His longest stint was at a private prison in a predominantly White town where the jail housing mostly minority inmates generated a third of the town’s budget.”

“Floyd made many mistakes of his own doing. His choices landed him in jail on drug and robbery charges, while also leaving him without a college degree and with limited career prospects. He acknowledged many of his poor decisions and tried to warn others against making them too. But for him, each misstep further narrowed his opportunities.”

“In a video he posted on social media aimed at convincing young people in his neighborhood to put away their guns, he said, ‘I got my shortcomings and my flaws. I ain’t better than nobody else.’”

“When Floyd stumbled, he fell far, ultimately battling drugs, hypertension, claustrophobia and depression.”

Floyd’s Move to Minneapolis

In 2017, at the urging of a Houston pastor, Floyd left Houston to move to Minneapolis in an attempt to leave his troubles behind him. “After arriving in Minneapolis, he enrolled in a rehabilitation program, began training to become a commercial truck driver and took up jobs working security at the Salvation Army and a Latin nightclub.”

“Floyd kept a list of goals in his house to make sure he was living a meaningful life. ‘Staying clean,’ was one of them.”

In Spring 2020 he “contracted the coronavirus and lost his security job when the pandemic forced the nightclub to close. Over Memorial Day weekend he felt better, and on May 25th told a friend he was going to run out for cigarettes and promised to call later.

Instead he was killed.

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[1] Olorunnipa & Witte, George Floyd’s America: Born with two strikes, Wash. Post (Oct.8, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 7): Latest Statistics  

The morning news on April 2 has these COVID-19 statistics for the world: 946,000 confirmed cases and 45,000 deaths. The most deaths have been in Italy at 13,155 and Spain at 10,003.[1]

The U.S. Situation[2]

The U.S. now has the most cases in the world with 214,461 and the third-most deaths at 4,841. In addition, the federal government is projecting U.S. total deaths (best case) to be 100,000 to 240,000

Adding to the gravity of the situation in the U.S., the federal government’s “emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging, according to Department of Homeland Security officials involved in the frantic acquisition effort.”

According to an anonymous DHS  official, ““The stockpile was designed to respond to a handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic. This is not only a U.S. government problem. The supply chain for PPE worldwide has broken down, and there is a lot of price-gouging happening.”

Moreover, thousands more of the ventilators in the federal stockpile do not work and are unavailable “after the contract to maintain . . .  [them] lapsed late last summer, and a contracting dispute meant that a new firm did not begin its work until late January.”

State of Minnesota Situation [3]

 My State of Minnesota has 689 cases and 17 deaths as it struggles to acquire needed supplies and equipment. The peak of our cases is now expected between early May and early June followed by the highest need for hospital beds.

“Several hospitals are adding more beds on their campuses. ‘The limiting factor is the availability of ventilators to be able to equip those rooms,’ Jan Malcolm, the State Health Commissioner, said. Operating rooms could also be converted to intensive care because many of them have ventilators. The state is also scouting locations for temporary hospitals, using buildings, such as closed nursing homes, that could house patients who don’t need critical care and are not infected with the coronavirus. The goal is to add 2,750 temporary beds, with 1,000 of them in the metro area.

According to Lee Schafer, a business columnist for the StarTribune, Minnesota’s hospital system is designed to handle “a normal patient load” because “unused capacity costs money” and  because “health care in this state was efficient.”

Conclusion

All of the these developments  makes a Minnesota senior citizen currently in overall good health like this blogger realize that if he contracts the COVID-19 virus during the next 60 days or so, he will enter the hospital system at its most stressful period. Therefore, it is even more important now to maintain six feet of separation from other people, to avoid groups of 10 or more people, to cover your mouth when you cough, to wash your hands frequently and to maintain physical fitness. Finally make sure your wills, trust agreements and health care directives are up to date. And study the Protective Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) and determine your choices on that form.[4]

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (April 2, 2020).

[2] N. 1 supra; Miroff, Protective gear in national stockpile is nearly depleted, DHS officials  say, Wash. Post (April 1, 2020); Miroff, Gloves, masks and ventilators near gone, StarTribune (April 2, 2020) (print edition); Madhani, Freking & Alonso-Zaldivar, Trump says ‘life and death’ at stake in following guidelines, StarTribune (April 1, 2020).

[3] Tracking coronavirus in Minnesota, StarTribune (April 1, 2020); Howatt, Minnesota COVID-19 cases increase by 60 to 689 with 5 more deaths, StarTribune (April 2, 2020); Schafer. Here’s why Minnesota doesn’t have enough hospital beds right now, StarTribune (April 2, 2020).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentarie.com: Pandemic  Journal (# 5): POLST (Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) (Mar. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 6): Maintaining Physical Fitness (April 1, 2020). Here are the earlier posts in this ongoing series: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (03/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem (Mar. 28, 2020);

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses

Sunday morning’s news outlets reported that worldwide there now are over 300,000 persons who have contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  and at least 12,944 have died of this infection while the U.S. statistics are more than 24,300 cases and more than 370 deaths. My State of Minnesota has 169 confirmed cases and its first death while the state’s most populous county (Hennepin with the City of Minneapolis), where I live, has  57 confirmed cases and no deaths.

This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic.

This first post will focus on some of today’s overall perspectives from those who know about what is happening: Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who has talked with a lot of experts, and Michael Osterholm, now at the University of Minnesota as Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School.[1]

Other posts will discuss other important developments in the crisis as well as his personal reactions to these problems.

Kristof’s Analysis[2]

One of the most disturbing Sunday articles was by Nicholas Kristof, who set forth what experts are seeing as the “worst case” and “best case” for the U.S. in March 2021, one year from now.

Worst Case

“More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.”

The U.S. “badly bungled testing, and President Trump repeatedly dismissed the coronavirus, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear,’ and insisting he wasn’t ‘concerned at all.’ . . .The United States has still done only a bit more than 10 percent as many tests per capita as Canada, Austria and Denmark.”

“By some counts, the United States is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory, and it’s difficult to see how America can pirouette from the path of Italy to that of South Korea. The United States may already have 100,000 infected citizens — nobody knows. That’s too many to trace. Indeed, one can argue that the U.S. is not only on the same path as Italy but is also less prepared, for America has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does — and a shorter life expectancy even in the best of times.”

“Mitre, a nonprofit that does work on health care, calculated that coronavirus cases are doubling more quickly in the United States than in any other country it examined, including Italy and Iran.” Two experts’ models suggest “that up to 366,000 I.C.U. beds might be needed in the United States for coronavirus patients at one time, more than 10 times the number available.”

Therefore, the U.S. “should be urgently ramping up investment in vaccines and therapies, addressing the severe shortages of medical supplies and equipment, and giving retired physicians and military medics legal authority to practice in a crisis.” But that is not happening. Moreover, the U.S. “isn’t protecting health workers with the same determination” as China did after its initial failure to do so.“In the worst-case scenario, will social services collapse in some areas? Will order fray? Gun sales are increasing, because some people expect chaos and crime.” The U.S. “is in a weaker position than some other countries to confront the virus because it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage, and the only one that does not guarantee paid sick leave. With chronic diseases, the burden of these gaps is felt primarily by the poor; with infectious diseases, the burden will be shared by all Americans.”

Best Case

“Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.”

According to Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist, “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out.” Another expert,  Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor at Stanford Medical School, agreed. Two other lethal coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, both petered out, and that is possible here. “My hope is that Covid-19 will not survive.”

“Several countries have shown that decisive action can turn the tide on Covid-19, at least for a time.” This especially is true for Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that “responded with the standard epidemiological tool kit: vigilance and rapid response, testing, isolating the sick, tracing contacts, quarantining those exposed, ensuring social distancing and providing reliable information. They did not shut down their entire countries.”

It is possible that the U.S. and other Northern Hemisphere nations soon will experience warmer weather that will dampen the coronavirus as was true with two of the four other coronaviruses.

“There is hope that some antiviral medicines currently in clinical trials will be successful.”

Finally there is hope that “the coronavirus may be less lethal than was originally feared, so long as health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Yet another expert, “Dr. Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, summed up all of these considerations: ‘I’m not pessimistic. I think this can work.’ She thinks it will take eight weeks of social distancing to have a chance to slow the virus, and success will depend on people changing behaviors and on hospitals not being overrun. ‘If warm weather helps, if we can get these drugs, if we can get companies to produce more ventilators, we have a window to tamp this down.’”

Our Responses

“This crisis should be a wake-up call to address long-term vulnerabilities. That means providing universal health coverage and paid sick leave.”  The coronavirus legislation adopted last week does not do that. “It guarantees sick leave to only about one-fifth of private-sector workers. It’s a symbol of the inadequacy of America’s preparedness.”

“More broadly, the United States must remedy its health priorities: We pour resources into clinical medicine but neglect public health. . . . The United States has a decentralized and spotty public health system, and it has endured painful budget cuts, yet historically public health has saved more lives than clinical medicine.”

Osterholm’s Perspective[3]

U.S. Difficulty in Appreciating Risk of Pandemics

First, the U.S. government and citizens “had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … . We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.”

Second, “we tend to lack creative imagination. {Yet those ]who knew health care knew that health care [had been] carved down to the bone for which there was no resiliency of any substantial nature, no excess capacity, no monies to stockpile large volumes of protective equipment.”  In addition, there has been “no real understanding of the vulnerability of this country outsourcing all of its drug supply manufacturing to places like China.”

Third, “I think it’s human nature to not want to believe this” risk.

This January Osterholm wrote a notification for the CIDRAP leadership forum, saying, “ “I now am absolutely convinced this is going to be a pandemic. This will be a worldwide epidemic. We will see major transmission around the world. And what has happened in Wuhan [China] will happen in other places.” But this warning had no impact on U.S. policies.

 U.S. Needs ‘New Normal’

 U.S. and others need to find a new normal, a way to live with COVID-19. We “can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work.” Instead, we need a national goal.

We must “make every effort to … protect those most vulnerable. And we [need to] continue to emphasize social distancing, … [and] keep the hospitals from being overrun. We [must] keep doing that until we get a vaccine. . . . It won’t be perfect. Some people will get sick, some may die.”

“People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk.” They want the truth, and they are not getting it from the Trump administration.

“[A recent British scientific paper] said crowd size really makes no difference. We really have no data on crowd size. Their modeling says we have to have contact … that if you shook hands with all 50,000 people in an arena, you got a problem. But if you didn’t, the risk of transmission is not nearly as great as people think it is. We also don’t have good data that we have major transmission in schools from kids to kids and that they take it home to Mom and Dad.”

“Singapore did not close schools. Hong Kong did. We saw no difference. . . . {On the other hand,] I do know it makes a difference in saving lives in a hospital when you take out 20% of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists who can’t work because they’re at home [to watch their kids]. I know that is a risk in putting grandparents in so that some can keep working.”

He is hopeful about some new potential treatments for COVID-19, such as chloroquine, that are being studied, but that, he says, is not a strategy.

Conclusion

As a retired lawyer in his 80’s with no experience or expertise on these global health issues, I concur in Professor Osterholm’s assertion that others and I want the truth from our government and national and local leaders. That truth will include admissions that they do not yet know certain important factors, that they are investigating those issues in a focused, disciplined, scientific manner and that the rest of us need to follow developments in the pandemic and follow the straightforward instructions: wash your hands frequently and carefully, maintain at least six-feet social distancing with other people and do not join groups of (10?) or more people. As noted above, other posts will explore my personal reactions to all of this situation.

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[1] Osterholm also currently holds, and has held, other important positions in this field and is the co-author of “the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them.” (CiDRAP, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH.)

[2] Kristof, The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst, N.Y. Times (Mar. 20, 2020).

[3] Burcum, Coronavirus pandemic: What’s ‘normal’ now? What’s next? An interview with Michael Osterholm, StarTribune (Mar. 22, 2020). /