With more than 120,000 people dead and over 2 million positive cases of Covid-19, US President Donald Trump is going ahead with his re-election campaign rally planned for Saturday 20 June. Despite the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, earlier this week saying there was no way he would attend: “I’m in a high risk category.” Fauci is 79 years old, Donald Trump is 74.
By Wednesday this week a crowd of people were already camped outside the Oklahoma venue. Some had been there since Monday. Trump’s eager supporters practised little or no social distancing and there were very few masks to be seen – in a city that has seen a 100% jump in Covid-19 cases in the past week. While appearing loath to wear masks, the #MAGA (Make America Great Again) rally supporters did however don their red MAGA hats and T-shirts. Tulsa health officials have publicly voiced their concerns and are urging high risk individuals to watch from home but the indoor rally is going ahead as planned.
The indoor rally at the BOK Centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is expected to attract 100,000 Trump supporters to a 20,000 capacity venue. Speaking to Fox News, Trump said, “There is just a hunger for the rallies and I enjoy doing them.” Enjoy them he well might but he is aware of the risks and all attending the rally have to sign a waiver which is found at the bottom of the online attendance form and states that if anyone contracts the virus at the rally, they only have themselves to blame.
Tulsa Mayor Republican GT Bynum said it was an honour that Trump had chosen Tulsa for his rally but that at risk people should not attend. He also said that while he would greet the president, he would not be attending the rally and that, ideally, the rally should be pushed back “to when it’s safer”. In the face of fears that the event could likely be a super-spreader, or mass coronavirus spreading event – according to preliminary research, 70% of people who test positive do not spread the virus to anyone – it is at multiple person events where most of the spreading occurs. The Trump campaign will do temperature checks on everyone entering the venue and masks will be offered but the wearing of them will be left to personal choice.
The president of the United States of America is notorious for not wearing a mask. In early April at a coronavirus daily briefing, on the point of wearing masks, he said, “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it… it’s only a recommendation.” Consistently refusing to be seen in one, he caused a stir at the end of May when he toured a Ford components plant in Michigan and removed his mask during the tour. He then told reporters that he did not need to wear a mask as he had been tested (for the virus) and added that the people with him had also been tested. Afterward Michigan State Attorney General Dana Nessel told CNN, “The president is like a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules.”
Another contentious issue around the rally had been resolved by moving the date – the rally had originally been planned for 19 June, known as Juneteenth in the US. One of the most famous dates in American history, it marks the day in 1865 when the last African-American slaves in Galveston, Texas were freed. The day marks the end of slavery and the Civil War and is also known as Emancipation Day.
Trump had come under significant pressure for choosing the date of the end of slavery for his rally and then the city of Tulsa, where in 1921 around 300 black people were killed when whites went on a violent rampage against black residents and their businesses – the Tulsa Race Massacre. Tulsa at the time was known for housing an affluent African-American community in Greenwood, an area referred to as “The Black Wall Street”. It appears that what ignited the violence was the sighting of a white woman in the company of a black man a day or two before the attacks. It is recorded that afterwards, 35 city blocks were nothing but smouldering ruins, more than 800 people had been injured and some 300 were dead (read the details here).
Trump agreed to move the date “out of respect” (read pushback from African-American leaders) but on Thursday told the Wall Street Journal that actually, no one knew what it was and he had made people aware of Juneteenth, that he “… did something good: I made Juneteenth famous.” While the president of the United States may believe that few other Americans know Juneteenth – especially at a time when #BlackLivesMatter protests are reverberating and resonating around the world after the killing of George Floyd on 25 May – it just takes a quick whip around the internet to see that the president is mistaken.
A group of Tulsa businesses and residents have also gone to court to try to make sure that the mandated precautions are taken at the rally. Their suit was turned away by a state court on Wednesday 17 June, so they turned to the state Supreme Court and on Thursday 18 June filed a motion that the lower court be ordered to grant their request. They are hoping for an emergency hearing on Friday 19 June, or as it is called and recognised in 47 states in America: Juneteenth. DM
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