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Irvine Park Zoo reopens with limitations

The Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls opened two weeks ago, but this year’s occasion was subdued by COVID-19. Many exhibits are open as in years past, but some aspects are closed or lessened, including the petting zoo, welcome center, aviary and pasture.

According to Dick Hebert, director of Chippewa County parks, recreation and forestry, the petting zoo is closed because of the inability to enact physical distancing. As of now, there are no new birds in the aviary, nor are there seasonal pasture animals like antelope and watusi.

The coronavirus has also resulted in changes to zoo employees’ responsibilities. Workers maintain physical distancing when possible, clean surfaces and wear personal protective equipment including face masks. Hebert said those determinations were made after consulting with the Chippewa County emergency operation center and Chippewa County Health Department.

There are no temperature checks or COVID-19 tests for employees, but if workers show symptoms, they are instructed to stay home and receive guidance from health professionals. Hebert said extra caution is used when employees interact with tigers and hyenas. A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York contracted COVID-19 in April. None of the animals at Irvine Park Zoo have been tested for coronavirus.

Last Thursday morning, a steady stream of visitors, including many families with young children, made their way through the zoo, which is part of more than 300 acres of Irvine Park. Five of those visitors were members of the Pipp family, who explored the park for the first time.

Paula and Steve Pipp live near Green Bay, while their son Alex Pipp and daughter-in-law Jessie Pipp reside in Minneapolis with their 20-month-old son Elias. They met in Chippewa Falls as a halfway point to visit the zoo and have an outdoor picnic in one of the park’s several shelters. (Another change is that park shelters are not accepting reservations and are now on a first-come, first-served basis).

The Pipps appreciated the various options for a child and adults.

“It’s nice that you can go at your own pace,,” Jessie Pipp said. “There’s so much here … You can go to the playground, you can go walk around. I think that’s a really neat aspect of this place, that it’s not just a zoo.”

The family expressed slight health concerns but felt safe overall in the spacious outdoor environment.

“There’s some hesitancy of touching doorknobs and gates and park benches,” Jessie Pipp said. “It’s trying to keep your distance and touch as little as possible, but it’s also really hard with a toddler who touches everything.”

Hebert said visitors like the Pipps have largely followed the zoo directions and recommendations, which include physical distancing. He added that it is challenging to keep areas like the petting zoo closed, but he has been impressed with the employees’ ability to shift responsibilities and adapt.

COVID-19 has presented additional labor challenges, though. For parks, recreation and forestry as a whole, the department would usually have around 50 seasonal employees, mostly local teenagers and young adults. This year that number is closer to five.

“We can’t offer them their summer jobs that they were expecting to get, and I know it’s hard for them to find a summer job right now,” Hebert said. “That’s been frustrating.”

The zoo opened on Memorial Day and closes on Labor Day. The Chippewa Falls Swimming Pool and Irvine Park Splash Pad are currently closed as well because of the inability to enforce physical distancing.

After consulting with county health officials, Hebert said his department will likely make final determinations later this month whether to open the pool, Splash Pad and exhibits this summer or keep them closed for the year.

“If we can’t open up by early July, I don’t think if it’s worth the time and effort to open up,” Hebert said. “It takes a minimum of two weeks to open up these facilities, so we’re looking at probably a mid-June date where we need to make a decision for the summer.”

Hebert said one of the most frustrating aspects is the uncertainty hanging over everything.

“We want to be good public servants and we want to be able to direct and help people, and it’s challenging,” Hebert said. “Usually we have answers. It’s been challenging not to have answers and to not know what’s going to happen next and what the future holds … Some people get frustrated, and I don’t blame them and I feel bad that we can’t provide more information or concrete scheduling, but everything is so topsy-turvy and up in the air.”

Despite limitations, Irvine Park Zoo has reopened, and Chippewa County officials will make further decisions regarding outdoor attractions in the weeks ahead.

Floyd protesters urged to get coronavirus tests

NEW YORK — With New York City poised to reopen after a more than two-month coronavirus shutdown, officials on Sunday lifted a curfew that was in place amid protests of police brutality and racial injustice. But they also urged that demonstrators be tested for COVID-19.

“Get a test. Get a test,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told people who have been participating in rallies and marches in memory of George Floyd.

He said the state would open 15 testing sites dedicated to protesters so they can get results quickly.

“I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with, assume I am positive for the virus,” Cuomo added.

The call is similar to those made in Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta following massive demonstrations, with free testing for protesters.

New York has been the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with black communities hit especially hard.

The Rev. Brandon Watts of Epiphany Church in Brooklyn, was mindful of the pandemic while organizing a “Pray & Protest” march with several other churches. He mandated that protesters wear masks, and he came with boxes of them. He also asked the group to try to maintain social distancing but acknowledged “it’s kind of hard in a protest.”

Attendees also were offered free coronavirus tests at one church.

“COVID-19 hit the inner city harder than anybody else,” Watts said. “And so we have to be very careful. We’re the only ones in a pandemic within a pandemic.”

Legislation demanded

Brooklyn resident Celeste Douglas attended her third protest in the past week and said she’ll continue until legislation is passed on budgets for police and education.

“I want to tell my children when they ask when this stuff started to change, I want to tell them I was a part of it,” Douglas said, acknowledging being nervous in a crowd during a pandemic but also planning to be tested.

Catherine Corien, a 60-year-old dental hygienist in Brooklyn, said fear of catching the virus prevented her from participating until Sunday. She finally ventured out and stood near the back, wearing a mask and keeping some distance from other protesters.

“I’m very concerned, but at the same time, a lot of people, if they are like me and decided to stay home, nothing would have happened,” she said. “I’m very proud of the people that came out.”

New York City prepared to enter its first phase of reopening after virus shutdowns. Up to 400,000 people are expected to head back to the workplace Monday, with many using a subway system that most New Yorkers have avoided since March because of crowding.

Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted the city’s 8 p.m. curfew imposed for the Floyd protests. The police pulled back on enforcing the curfew Saturday as thousands turned out.

“Last night was the best by far,” de Blasio said. “We had the biggest number of protesters, the fewest arrests, the fewest problems and that convinced me it was time for the curfew to go away. I have no intention of bringing it back.”

Chicago curfew lifted

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also lifted the city’s curfew, reopened downtown train stations and allowed full bus service to resume following days of largely calm protests.

Cities imposed curfews amid last week’s spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. Recent U.S. protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, as were rallies held around the globe.

Floyd’s body arrived in Texas for a third and final memorial service, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. A viewing is planned for Monday in Houston, followed by a service and burial Tuesday in suburban Pearland.

The 46-year-old out-of-work bouncer died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped responding. His death has drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans by police and the criminal justice system.

In Washington, National Guard troops from South Carolina were seen checking out of their hotel Sunday shortly before President Donald Trump tweeted he was giving the order to withdraw them from the nation’s capital.

The D.C. mayor had called on Trump last week to withdraw outside forces amid days of largely peaceful rallies after he ordered guard troops to “dominate the streets.”

At the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, protesters posed with the street sign and the yellow block lettering painted on the pavement by the city. As ice cream truck jingles mixed with protest chats, the district’s Metropolitan Police Department patrolled in place of federal law enforcement officers and National Guard troops.

On Saturday, a small group of demonstrators toppled a statue of a Confederate general in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has pledged to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee after days of Floyd protests.

AP featured
Duty to intervene: Floyd cops spoke up but didn't step in

Minneapolis was among several cities that had policies on the books requiring police officers to intervene to stop colleagues from using unreasonable force, but that didn’t save George Floyd and law enforcement experts say such rules will always run up against entrenched police culture and the fear of being ostracized and branded a “rat.”

Power dynamics may have been magnified in the Floyd case because two of the four officers involved were rookies and the most senior officer on the scene was a training officer, Derek Chauvin, a 19-year police veteran who was seen putting his knee on the back of the black man’s neck despite his cries that he couldn’t breathe.

Even though lawyers for the rookie officers say both men voiced their concerns about Chauvin’s actions in the moment, they ultimately failed to stop him. Chauvin is now charged with second-degree murder, and his three fellow officers are charged with aiding and abetting.

“This is a lesson for every cop in America: If you see something that is wrong, you need to step in,” said Joseph Giacalone, a former New York police sergeant who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “There are a lot of gray areas in policing, but this was crystal clear. … You’re better off being ostracized by the group than going to prison for murder.”

Added Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Fla., police chief who testifies in use-of-force cases: “They’re suffering the effects of an organizational culture that doesn’t allow that or reward that behavior. The fraternity of law enforcement is a tight fraternity and fraternities have a group think.”

Knowing their place

Attorneys for the two rookies, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, emphasized their place in police hierarchy in the now-fired officers’ initial court appearance this past week. They noted both were on just their fourth day as full-fledged cops at the time of Floyd’s May 25 arrest, while Chauvin was an authority figure as a designated training officer for new cops.

“They’re required to call him ‘Sir,’” Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, told the judge. “He has 20 years’ experience. What is my client supposed to do but to follow what the training officer said? Is that aiding and abetting a crime?”

Gray noted that Lane questioned Chauvin’s actions during the arrest, and Kueng’s lawyer Thomas Plunkett said his client told fellow cops, “You shouldn’t be doing this.”

But according to the criminal complaints that detailed Floyd’s arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill, the officers didn’t back up their words with actions.

Lane held Floyd’s legs and Kueng held his back while Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s head and neck. That’s when Floyd repeatedly said “I can’t breathe, “Mama” and “please.” At one point, Floyd said, “I’m about to die.” Nevertheless, Chauvin, Lane and Kueng didn’t move. And a fourth officer, Tou Thao, continued standing nearby keeping onlookers back.

Moments later, Lane asked “should we roll him on his side?” Chauvin replied: “No, staying put where we got him.” Lane said he was worried Floyd would experience excited delirium, a condition in which a person can become agitated and aggressive or suddenly die, according to the documents.

“That’s why we have him on his stomach,” Chauvin replied.

Despite his concerns, Lane didn’t do anything to help Floyd or to reduce the force being used on him, the complaint said. Neither he, nor Keung and Chauvin moved from their positions until an ambulance came and took Floyd to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Policy added

Minneapolis police added a “duty to intervene” policy in 2016, saying officers are required to “either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.” City officials moved Friday to strengthen that duty by seeking to make it enforceable in court, and to require officers to immediately report to their superiors when they see use of any neck restraint or chokehold.

Similar “duty to intervene” policies and initiatives had been in place for years in New York City, Miami and New Orleans. And since the Floyd case, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C., are among the places that have enacted such policies.

But, Scott said, “There’s policy and then there’s practice. More likely than not, practice and custom will prevail over policy.”

Departments often don’t reward officers for interfering with their colleagues or reporting that they broke policy, Scott said. And officers who do intervene risk being ostracized by their fellow officers and branded as an informer in the ranks.

“In law enforcement, if you’re considered an individual who can’t be trusted, you’re not going to have the timely backup from other officers,” Scott said. “That’s a legitimate fear factor.”

Geoff Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, said that when Lane questioned Chauvin in the moment, he was undoubtedly “scared to death.”

But ultimately, Alpert said, “he wasn’t courageous enough” to physically intervene to stop him. “He knew he would get hell from the 19-year veteran and all his buddies.”

Minority officers

Lost in the furor over Floyd’s case and the national protest and debate over issues of race and police brutality is the fact that half the four officers involved in his arrest were minorities, hired as part of a Minneapolis police program credited with helping to diversify the largely white force.

Thao, a 34-year-old of Southeast Asian Hmong descent with more than a decade on the force, and Kueng, a 26-year-old African American rookie who previously worked as a department store security guard, were both part of the community service officer program that brings in recruits to work part-time with the goal of making them regular members of the force.

Chauvin, 44, is white, as is Lane, though he is an outlier of a different sort, a 37-year-old rookie who joined the police after working as a juvenile detention guard.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank, said getting officers to take action, sometimes against more experienced colleagues, is at the heart of stopping abuses by police.

“These new officers are put in a position where they’re told, ‘This is your mentor. He will teach you,”’ he said. “A 20-year veteran is supposed to know what he is doing and clearly he didn’t. He made every mistake possible.”