Attendees of a massive block party in Deland, Florida are claiming racial bias and disproportionate policing of their community by law enforcement officials. Volusia County officials have denied accusations of racism after several people were arrested and say some police officers were also injured.

The block party advertised on social media drew a crowd of 3,000 mostly Black people on Saturday as the state reopened businesses and public spaces. Deland is about 22 miles from Daytona Beach.

According to a statement released by Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the party started relatively uneventful but “things started getting out of hand as day turned to night.”

In aerial footage, officers are heard talking on the video, planning how they can best manage and “break-up” the large crowds at the party that started on private property.

“I think they’re running it until 10, so, just so we don’t have a big problem, let’s let them run it until 10 as long as they behave,” one officer is heard saying over the video.

In a statement on Twitter on Monday, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said, “I don’t accept the accusations that we’re racists, or that our actions Saturday were racially motivated. It’s not true, and it’s not a fair conclusion from the video.”

Police describe an altercation between two men. One party attendee was charged with two counts of possession of a weapon/ammunition by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting an officer without violence. The other attendee was arrested on many of the same charges, with the exception of tampering with evidence. [READ MORE]

“Not only was this a public safety issue, but it was a matter of public health,” Deland Police Chief Umberger said during a press conference, “no one should be getting together in large groups of 50 or more as of today under any circumstances.”

When asked if the party was against the law and if the social distancing mandate was enforceable, Chitwood referred to the recent unsuccessful social distancing arrests made in New York.

“Our officers, we’ve told them, don’t get in the middle of trying to enforce social distancing. You talk about strained community relations with police, now we’re going to tell people they can’t stand—you’re five feet apart, you’re not six—we really need to take a step back and think it through,” Chief Umberger said.

OUR COMMUNITY

Civil liberty and community activists are expressing concerns of possible profiling in Black and Hispanic communities over the sharing of COVID_19 data with law enforcement entities. In at least 35 states, public health officials are sharing the addresses of people who have the virus with first responders. While some say the action is designed to protect those on the front line, others believe the measure will only exacerbate tensions between police and communities of color. Some believe the data is also being shared with immigration officials.

THE PANDEMIC

In 2019, U.S. births fell to the fewest number of newborns in 35 years. The decline represents a decade-long national “baby bust” that some experts believe the pandemic and its impact on the economy will lower the birth rate even more. The birth rate has been falling annually since 2007 as a result of the recession. Birth rates continued to fall for teen moms and for women in their 20s.

On Wednesday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported at least 68 grocery store workers at companies it represents have died from the Covid-19 virus. In addition, 10,000 grocery store employees have been sickened or exposed to the virus. The union has also been vocally opposed to grocery stores that have phased out their “hero pay” programs. Grocery store chain Kroger ended its bonus pay program last weekend, opting instead to pay a one-time “Thank You Pay” of $400 for full-time workers and $200 for part-time employees.

STATES

Rebekah Jones, former manager of the Geographic Information System team at Florida’s Department of Health, says she’s been fired for refusing to manipulate data in reference to COVID-19 cases. Jones said her firing came after she would not “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

Jones helped create a data portal that has provided detailed information on COVID-19 cases broken down by ZIP code. The Florida COVID-19 dashboard has been praised by researchers in the state and by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator.

Public health officials in states such as Virginia, Texas, Vermont, Florida and Georgia are accused of manipulation coronavirus infection statistics to deliberately make things look better than they are. Epidemiologists and other concerned experts say the risk is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about reopening states and going about their daily activities may believe that the virus is under more control than it actually is.

POLITICS

On Tuesday, District Judge Fred Biery ruled that all voters afraid of getting the coronavirus in Texas can request absentee mail-in ballots. Judge Biery ruled that the “disability” provision in the state’s vote-by-mail election code applies to all registered voters who “lack immunity from Covid-19 and fear infection at polling places.”

“The Court finds such fear and anxiety is inextricably intertwined with voters’ physical health. Such apprehension will limit citizens’ rights to cast their votes in person. The Court also finds that lack of immunity from Covid-19 is indeed a physical condition,” Biery said in his ruling, which is in effect until the case goes to trial or the pandemic subsides.

Republican opponents argue that the expanded application of a “disability” could lead to voter fraud.

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