Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Jun 16: UK researchers release test results showing that a cheap, widely available steroid, dexamethasone, effectively treats COVID-19 patients. Officials associated with the United States’ Operation Warp Speed, a project to rapidly develop and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine, explain that the vaccine would be provided for free, at least to elderly patients and other vulnerable populations who cannot otherwise afford it. The Commerce Department reports that retail sales jumped by 17.7 percent in May, the biggest monthly jump on record. Senator Ted Cruz challenges actor Ron Perlman to a wrestling match. Trump says that if we stop testing for COVID, we will see fewer cases.

From the Cutting Room Floor

Transcript from the June 16 Montgomery, Alabama City Council hearing on a proposed ordinance put forth by Councilman Cornelius Calhoun to require people to wear masks amidst the rising COVID crisis. At this point in the hearing, three local physicians have already reported that the Montgomery hospitals are at capacity and that 90% of the people on ventilators are African American. Councilman Glen Pruitt has said he opposes the ordinance because it is unenforceable.

A citizen comes to the podium. He doesn’t give his name. He is African American.


CITIZEN: Councilman Calhoun, you need to be commended. This is not about a mask issue for certain people. The question on the table is DO BLACK LIVES MATTER.

He says these last words slowly, emphatically, unapologetically, in a council chamber in Montgomery, Alabama. He is a brave man. You feel the hair rise on the back of your neck as he speaks truth to power.

CITIZEN: The doctor said ninety percent [are on ventilators]. I lost six loved ones during this pandemic. I went up to the hospital the other day. I got a brother who is about to expire any day now. Just to watch him on that ventilator and all those patients on the ventilators, going beep…. beep. I didn’t see no white people up there. It’s real. And for white people who have already spoken, and your voice has been heard loud and clear to the rest of us who have not spoken about how this vote is going to [go]. Y’all have fought this mayor,

He points to Steven Reed, who is the first African American mayor of Montgomery

CITIZEN: And I have set back and listened. It’s not about COVID-19. It’s about making sure that this guy right here (he points to the mayor) fails. And it’s about making sure that the five of y’all stay in control. Because what y’all say goes! If Todd Strange (the previous white mayor of Mongomery) had did this, you’d be jumping up like a chili. All of y’all would’ve got in line. This is wrong! This stuff is attacking our community. I saw six of my family go down the drain because of COVID. You know what it feel like, Glen Pruitt, to lose a loved one. That’s what’s happening in the black community.

Glen Pruitt starts yelling from the dais. This man at the podium has just lost six of his family members, and Councilman Glen Pruitt has such little capacity for compassion that he cannot see that this man is hurting.

COUNCILMAN PRUITT: For you to sit up here and call somebody that! I’m gonna take that personally!! You’re dang right I do!

It isn’t clear what the man at the podium has done to cause such offense, aside from being black and simply reminding councilman Pruitt that we are all humans who grieve when we lose the people we love. The man at the podium refuses to be silenced.

CITIZEN: You know what it feel to lose a loved one! The doctor said just a little mask will save people’s lives. And y’all wanna make it political.

The president of the City Council, Charles Jinright, who is white, interrupts. He interrupts every African American speaker at this hearing.


The citizen jumps back in.

CITIZEN: No no. I’m not through. You have grass ordinances on the table that you don’t enforce! Do you know how many ordinances we have on the books that we don’t enforce?!?… This would just be another one.

He whispers, holding up his index finger.

But this is a good one. This is about saving lives. The other petty ordinances out there that lock black people up that are on the books, those are fine. Everything was fine when the previous mayor was in office. And y’all are wrong with what y’all are doin’. If y’all have any goodness in your heart and y’all really care about these citizens here in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, y’all who are supposed to fight for right. You need to do that right now. You need to let you’re voice be heard. It’s wrong man! Because our people are dying! I got a brother right now that is dying, and he is only mid-season.

Councilman Jinwright shuts him down again. The speaker steps away from the podium. He said all of that with no notes. The councilmembers ask him no questions. The next speaker is an African American man who has brought his maybe-seven-year-old son with him.

CITIZEN ERNEST CLAYVON: Yes Mr. Jinright, my name is Ernest Clayvon, **** Street. The problem I have is, Mr. Calhoun, I know your heart is in the right place, I know. I know you care and your intentions are good.

He touches his hand to his heart as he speaks. His son, whose face you can barely see over the podium, reaches up and touches his father’s hand.

CITIZEN ERNEST CLAYVON: But the road to hell was paved with good intentions. The problem IS enforcement. You can’t tell me it isn’t about enforcement… Look at the curfew law… Now, Birmingham had that rule, did you know that?… the face covering rule. They couldn’t make it a face mask because everybody couldn’t get a face mask so they had to make it a face covering… Are you aware of what happened to the lady in the Walmart?… The Black woman that was in Walmart, do you know what happened to her?

He slams his hand down on the podium.

CITIZEN ERNEST CLAYVON: She was THROWN down while she was HANDCUFFED in the back. Her crime was NOT wearing a face mask… When you pass this law, your intentions are good, but WHO do you think will get arrested?… All I’m saying is we have to look at the unintended consequences… We can’t cosign for any of this stuff!

This is a terrible choice to have to make. If you push for the law requiring masks, you might save your people who are disproportionately dying from this horrible virus. But in the process, you will give the white world yet another reason to police and brutalize your community. When he says, “we can’t cosign on this stuff,” this is what he means.

They vote down the mask-wearing ordinance, 5 to 4. 

Read more

Montgomery, Alabama City Council meeting, June 16, 2020.

“Gulfport residents react to city removing Mississippi State flag,” Sun Herald [Gulfport, MS], June 16, 2020.

Cesca, Bob. “A Brief History of the ‘Lost Cause’: Why This Toxic Myth Still Appeals to so Many White Americans.” Salon, June 16, 2020.

Chief Investigators of the Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) Trial on dexamethasone. “Low-Cost Dexamethasone Reduces Death by up to One Third in Hospitalised Patients with Severe Respiratory Complications of COVID-19.” RECOVERY, University of Oxford, June 16, 2020.

Duvall, Tessa. “Louisville Police Release the Breonna Taylor Incident Report. It’s Virtually Blank.” Louisville Courier-Journal, June 10, 2020.
Laws, Mike. “Why We Capitalize ‘Black’ (and Not ‘White’).” Columbia Journalism Review, June 16, 2020.
Levin, Sam. “‘It’s Not about Bad Apples’: How US Police Reforms Have Failed to Stop Brutality and Violence.” The Guardian, June 16, 2020, sec. US news.
Quinn, Anna. “Death Of Man Found Hanged In Fort Tryon Park Deemed Suicide: OCME.”, Washington Heights-Inwood, June 16, 2020.
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