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Monday, October 3, 2022

Fears of Coronavirus Spread as Cities Face Continuing Protests, Mounting Damage

Dozens of jurisdictions across the country imposed curfews Sunday evening in an effort to try to prevent another day of nationwide protests from erupting into more clashes with police, arson or looting, as leaders worried about whether protest crowds would also fuel the coronavirus pandemic.

Los Angeles County’s curfew began at 6 p.m., with the cities of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills bumping their curfews up to 4 p.m. Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day reported “a great deal of property damage caused by opportunistic looters” who took advantage of the demonstrations that were held to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.

The driver of a tanker truck, Bogdan Vechirko, was arrested in Minneapolis on Sunday after driving his semi into a crowd of protesters on I-35W, which was closed to traffic. Video showed crowds diving out of the way and no injuries were reported. “The Minnesota State Patrol and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are jointly investigating what happened with the semi that drove into demonstrators tonight on I-35W,” said the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “The incident is being investigated as a criminal matter.”

National Guard units have been activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C. “We must not let these illegal and dangerous actions detract from the anger so many feel at the deep injustice laid so ugly and bare by the death of George Floyd,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement announcing his decision to call up as many guardsmen as needed to stem the unrest.

In D.C., which was under curfew from 11 p.m. Sunday until 6 a.m. Monday, police reported “multiple fires intentionally set around the city” and extinguished by fire crews, including in the basement at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church and in the lobby of the AFL-CIO headquarters. Businesses already impacted by the coronavirus pandemic have been targeted by looters and vandals. Police announced multiple felony riot arrests and released surveillance photos of other wanted individuals.

President Trump spent nearly an hour in the bunker Friday night as protesters gathered in Lafayette Square next to the White House, reported the Associated Press.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told ABC News that the death of Floyd, for which one officer now faces third-degree murder and manslaughter charges, “should have never happened in America and it’s a tragic thing.” Video showed Derek Chauvin, who was fired from the police department, with his knee on the neck of Floyd, who was face-down on the street and pleading for help as he couldn’t breathe, for nearly nine minutes.

“We mourn with them and we grieve with them and what happened there was horrific and I can’t even imagine what that poor family’s going through as this video is played over and over again,” O’Brien said. “…There are a few bad apples out there that are — whether they’re racist or they’re ill-trained or they’re just vicious — they’ve got to be rooted out of law enforcement because 99.9 percent of our law enforcement officers are heroes and they’re doing great work protecting the American people.”

The inherent lack of social distancing combined with not all protesters and police wearing face masks compounded the challenges for cities across the country struggling to safely reopen their economies with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to take lives.

“Yesterday, around 11:30 last night, I realized that I hadn’t looked at our coronavirus numbers in two days. And that’s frightening, because it’s a pandemic, and people of color are getting hit harder,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN on Sunday. “I am extremely concerned when we are seeing mass gatherings. And we know what’s already happening in our community with this virus, if we’re going to see the other side of this in a couple of weeks.”

“But, right now, we’re talking about cars being burned and businesses being vandalized. And there are still so many issues that are right before us that we have lost sight of,” she noted, referring to race relations in America.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that Minnesota was seeing a climb in coronavirus cases before the death of Floyd on Memorial Day. “There’s going to be a lot of issues coming out of what’s happen in the last week,” he said. “But one of them is going to be that chance of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he and other governors are worried about what they’re seeing in the protest crowds.

“There’s no question that, when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets, it’s not healthy,” Hogan told CNN. “There’s about a 14-day incubation period. So, two weeks from now across America, we’re going to find out whether or not this gives us a spike and drives the numbers back up again or not.”

“But we went from a stay-at-home order. Most states in America had rules about no crowds of 10 or more. And now we’re seeing thousands of people jammed in together in close proximity.”

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Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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