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9/11 First Responder and Advocate Luis Alvarez dies at 53

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Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD bomb squad detective who described for Congress his medical issues during an impassioned appeal for an extension of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, died Saturday in a hospice in New York. He was 53.

His death from complications of cancer linked to the time he spent with other first responders in the rubble at ground zero was announced in a Facebook statement from his family.

Luis Alvarez

“We told him at the end that he had won this battle by the many lives he had touched by sharing his three year battle,” the statement said.
“He was at peace with that, surrounded by family. Thank you for giving us this time we have had with him, it was a blessing.”
Alvarez entered end-of-life hospice care last week.

Alvarez vowed to fight for benefits until the end

On June 11, a frail Alvarez made his way to Washington with other first responders to testify in a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing for an extension of the fund for police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers who became ill after laboring at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks. He received a standing ovation that day.
“I’m now in hospice, because (there) is nothing else the doctors can do to fight the cancer,” Alvarez wrote in a Facebook post the following week. “Still here, still breathing, Still fighting.”
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill tweeted a photo of Alvarez on Saturday with the message: “Our NYPD family & all 1st responders mourn as we remember retired NYPD Bomb Squad Det. Luis Alvarez, who passed this morning.
His strength — physical, mental & emotional — led us all, & we vow to #NeverForget him or his legacy — which was, simply, to have others do what’s right.”
Retired NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez, 53, an American hero suffering from 9/11-related cancer, is now in hospice care. “You all said you would never forget,” he told an MIA Congress last week. “It is my goal & it is my legacy to see that you do the right thing.”
Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said of Alvarez: “He exemplified the NYPD motto, “Fidelis Ad Mortem” or “Faithful Unto Death.” Detective Lou Alvarez has lost his battle with 9/11-related cancer. An inspiration, a warrior, a friend—we will carry his sword.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said via Twitter, “Det. Alvarez lost his fight against cancer, but his fight for 9/11 responders and survivors continues. He dedicated his life to protecting others and advocating on behalf of those ailing after the attacks. It is time for Congress to honor his sacrifice.”
John Feal, a 9/11 first responders and advocate, said that on Tuesday he gave Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Alvarez’s badges a symbol of the importance of the victim compensation fund.
“That was Luis’ intention,” Feal told CNN this week. “Luis wanted Mitch McConnell to have his badge. And let me tell you something, for a New York City police officer to give up his badge, that’s like somebody donating an organ, and Luis wanted the Senate majority leader to understand the importance of this and to be reminded that people are sick and dying.”
Feal told reporters the Senate majority leader committed to holding a vote to extend the fund after sitting down with him and other 9/11 first responders on Capitol Hill.

‘I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero’

Alvarez wrote last week that the decline in his health had nothing to do with the trip to Washington. But organizers said the trip is a struggle for ailing first responders like the former detective.
Some lawmakers on the panel did not show up for the hearing this month, leading to a fiery speech from comedian and fund proponent Jon Stewart.”As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said.
Alvarez, speaking slowly, told law-makers in the room that he planned to get his 69th round of chemotherapy the next day.
“You made me come down here the day before my 69th round of chemo, and I’m going to make sure that you never forget to take care of the 9/11 responders,” he said.
Alvarez said the police officers, fire fighters, paramedics and others at ground zero were doing what they do every day — helping others.
“We were there together with one mission, and we left after completing that mission,” he said. “I have been to many places in this world and done many things, but I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but ground zero when I was there.”
He added, “Now that the 9/11 illnesses have taken many of us, we are all worried about our children and spouses and our families if we are not here.”
Last week, Alvarez posted on Facebook that a nurse noticed he was disoriented when he went for chemo treatment. Tests then revealed that his liver had completely shut down because of his tumors, he said.
“So now I’m resting and I’m at peace. I will continue to fight until the Good Lord decides it’s time,” he wrote. “I will try to do a few more interviews to keep a light on our fight for the VCF benefits we all justly deserve. Please take care of yourselves and each other.”
Alvarez was born in Havana, Cuba in October 1965. He was married to Alaine Parker Alvarez, and has three sons. Hegraduated in 1983 from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in Queens, New York. He later studied at the City University of New York.
He was appointed to the NYPD in 1990 and retired as a detective in October 2010.
Alvarez is also survived by his parents, Aida and Felipe; his sister, Aida Lugo; and his brothers, Philip and Fernando.

More than 12,500 cases of cancer diagnosed

The fund Alvarez and others fought for was created in the months following the 2001 attacks and was initially active for two years, paying more than $7 billion relating to injuries and deaths caused by the 9/11 attacks.
But first responders who spent weeks at the site breathing in noxious air clouded with debris from the collapsed buildings — after New York and federal officials told them it was safe — have since been diagnosed with a variety of debilitating illnesses and cancers.

This is why Jon Stewart is so mad about 9/11 fundingCongress and President Barack Obama agreed in 2010 to pay their medical costs, reopened the fund and set aside $2.7 billion to pay victims just learning about chronic health problems resulting from their work in 2001. In 2012, the government determined that cancers can be compensated as part of the fund.

It wasn’t nearly enough money, however, and in 2015 Congress added $4.6 billion in funding, along with new controls and limits on some payments. The special master who administers the fund anticipates that total payouts for claims filed before the measure expires in 2020 could be far higher: $11.6 billion, if a current uptick in claims — largely caused by an increase in serious illnesses and deaths — continues.
The current proposal to permanently extend the fund would authorize it through 2089. It has plenty of support in the House, where it passed the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Mitch McConnell indicated that Congress would address the fund.
As of May, more than 12,500 cases of cancer had also been diagnosed, according to The World Trade Center Health Program, a separate health care program related to the victim fund run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most diagnosed ailments are upper and lower respiratory issues like asthma, gastrointestinal problems like reflux, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health conditions.
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CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Released After Arrest Live On Air During Minneapolis Protest Broadcast; Governor Apologizes

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4TH UPDATE, 12 PM PT: CNN says that it accepts Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s apology after reporter Omar Jimenez and a network crew were arrested early Wednesday while covering the George Floyd protests. Watch the video of the arrest above.

A CNN spokesperson said, “We accept Governor Walz’s apology and appreciate the sincerity of his words about the arrest of our crew this morning.  As journalists, the First Amendment gives us not only the right but also the responsibility to shine light in darkness and hold those in power to account.  With that in mind, we will move forward and continue our work in Minneapolis and everywhere else stories need to be told.”

Jimenez and two members of the crew, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, were arrested as they were doing a CNN live shot. They were released, but CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker spoke with Walz to express his concern over what happened.

The Minnesota State Patrol issued a statement that said, “In the course of clearing the streets and restoring order at Lake Street and Snelling Avenue, four people were arrested by State Patrol troopers, including three members of a CNN crew. The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

But CNN responded with a statement that said “This is not accurate — our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists. We thank Minnesota @GovTimWalz for his swift action this morning to aid in the release of our crew.”

3RD UPDATE, 9:37 AM PT: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that he takes “fully responsibility” for the arrest of Omar Jimenez and a CNN crew as they covered protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd.

“I take full responsibility there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen calls were made immediately,” Walz said at a press conference. “This is a very public apology to that team.”

He added, “In a situation like this, even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust. The community that’s down there, that’s terrorized by this, if they see a reporter being arrested, their assumption is that something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is that is unacceptable. We will continue to strive to make sure that accessibility is maintained, that not only that, the protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority.”

He said that he spoke with CNN president Jeff Zucker soon after the arrests, and Zucker wanted to know what happened.

“I appreciate his understanding in a situation, that he was rightfully incredibly angry, and that falls squarely on me that apology has been issued, and I think going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Walz said.

Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said that CNN may have a claim in this situation, as other journalists have sued government agencies and officials in the past for arrests during protest situations. In an email, she said that the First Amendment prohibits government officials, including police officers from interfering with news gathering or retaliating against journalists for protected speech.

“These claims can be difficult to establish, and there have been cases recently … that suggest that the bar for proving that an arrest violated and individual’s First Amendment rights is high.

“That said, having watched the video here, it doesn’t appear that the police had probable cause for an arrest; the CNN crew responded professionally, identified themselves as journalists, and repeatedly asked where they should stand; they were arrested anyway.”

According to the Reporters Committee, there were nine arrests of journalists in the U.S. in 2019, five of which took place at protests. That was compared to 11 in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents broadcast journalists, issued this statement Friday afternoon: “As journalists it is our job to cover protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies — some peaceful, some not. We do this without interfering with protesters or law enforcement. The arrest of Omar Jimenez, who was clearly identified as a credentialed member of the news media, is unacceptable.”

One of Jimenez’s colleagues also covering the protests, Josh Campbell, said that he received the “opposite treatment” from police. He identified himself and his news outlet and was allowed to remain in a designated area, he told CNN’s John Berman.

“Let me just say something — it is a statement of fact. You Josh Campbell are white. Omar Jimenez is not. I do not know if that played into this,” Berman said.

“There was a lot different here than what Omar experienced,” Berman said.

2ND UPDATE, 4:44 AM: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew have now been released from policy custody after their arrest live on air this morning mid-broadcast from the Minneapolis protests. As per below, state Governor Tim Walz intervened directly in the incident after calling CNN president Jeff Zucker to apologize.

After being released, Jimenez immediately took to the air again to recount the story and update on his situation.

“Everyone was pretty cordial after that [my arrest] happened,” said Jimenez, who added that a police officer told him he was “just following orders”.

“They weren’t violent with me, we were having conversation about how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city. A lot of these people are on edge,” the reporter continued. “The one thing that gave me a little bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV. When you talk within the community about, let’s say what happened with George Floyd, there’s discussion that, what’s happening isn’t new, it’s being filmed. That speaks to the power of having something that happens on camera. You can have people speak up for you without you saying anything.

“You guys [CNN anchors] saw what was happening, I was living what was happening, and the country was seeing what was happening unfold in real time right before their eyes – you don’t have to doubt my story, it’s not filtered in any sort of way, that gave me a little bit of comfort,” said Jimenez.

Twitter has been flooded with condemnation for the incident and praise directed at Jimenez for his professionalism.

UPDATED, 4:28 AM: CNN is now reporting that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has spoken directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker to take full responsibility for the incident, and is working to have Jimenez and his crew released immediately. “It was totally unacceptable and inadvertent what happened… they clearly had the right to be there, we want the media to cover this [the protests], it is never acceptable for this to happen,” Walz told Zucker, according to CNN’s John Berman.

PREVIOUSLY 3:30 AM: CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew have been arrested during a live broadcast from the Minneapolis protests.

Footage quickly emerged online, and many of Jimenez’s colleagues took to Twitter in outcry.

The incident took place shortly after 6AM EST (3AM PST) during the live filming of CNN’s weekday morning show New Day.

In the footage, Jimenez, sporting a virus protective mask, is being quizzed by his anchors Alisyn Camerota and John Berman in front of a group of riot police as they move to arrest a nearby person. State patrol then approach the presenter and his crew, and Jimenez can be heard telling the officers that the four-strong unit can move “where they would like” to get out of their way in a cooperative and non-confrontational manner. The officers surround the crew as Jimenez continues to report live on air, before he is told that he is under arrest and placed in handcuffs, displaying them to the camera as he is walked away. After a moment, the crew are also placed into handcuffs.

“That is an American television reporter being led away by police officers. He clearly identified himself as a reporter and was respectfully explaining to the police that the CNN team was there and moving away as they would request, and then for some reason he was taken into police custody live on television,” said anchor John Berman off screen.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Berman adds on several occasions. The camera continued to roll after the arrests, sitting on the floor at the feet of the officers.

Fellow CNN Josh Campell, who is white, was also in the area but was not arrested. “I identified myself… they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area’… What happened to Omar (Jimenez) was clearly a lot different… I was treated much differently than he (Jimenez) was,” he told the network.

CNN has confirmed the incident and called for the immediate release of its employees. “A CNN reporter and his production team were arrested this morning in Minneapolis for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves – a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The authorities in Minnesota, including the Governor, must release the three CNN employees immediately,” a statement from the network read.

Fierce protests have been raging in Minneapolis since an unarmed black man, George Floyd, died in police custody on Monday. Overnight, protesters broke into a police precinct in the city and set it on fire as the violence escalated. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has activated the state National Guard in a bid to restore order. Four officers involved in the incident have been fired but have not yet faced charges, with prosecutors stating they are still gathering evidence.

President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Friday that the military would “assume control” in the city if the disturbances continue, adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. His remarks have provoked a huge blowback and were subsequently flagged by Twitter for violating its rules around “glorifying violence”.

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New video appears to show three police officers kneeling on George Floyd

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New video posted on social media appears to show three Minneapolis Police Department officers kneeling on George Floyd during his arrest.

Previous video from eyewitness Darnella Frazier showed Floyd, 46, being knelt on by one officer–Derek Chauvin.

The new video shows the other side of the Minneapolis police vehicle where the arrest occurred. The video appears to show Chauvin and two other officers kneeling on Floyd.

Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday afternoon, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Four officers were involved in the incident and all have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd was arrested after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, police have said. Outrage grew after the first video surfaced showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The 46-year-old, who was unarmed and handcuffed, died after the arrest.

Minneapolis police said in a statement earlier this week that officers had been responding to an alleged forgery on Monday evening and that during the arrest, Floyd “physically resisted” them.

However, surveillance footage from the nearby Dragon Wok restaurant does not appear to support the claim that Floyd resisted arrest during the initial encounter. However, there are several minutes where Floyd’s and the officers interactions cannot be seen from the camera’s vantage point.

This new video appears to have been taken before the Frazier video, but after that surveillance video.

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Veterans Affairs Gives 1,300 Vets Unproven COVID-19 Drug Touted By Trump

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The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has been giving 1,300 veterans hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus since late March — even though the drug has not been proven to be effective against the illness and may even trigger fatal heart problems.

In a study of 100,000 patients with COVID-19 published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, patients who received hydroxychloroquine had a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to those who were not given the drug. “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine” on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

An April study of veterans who were given the drug — relentlessly hawked by President Donald Trump — produced similar findings.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter Friday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that despite mounting concerns about the drug, the VA will continue to use hydroxychloroquine for veterans.

Revelations of the use of the controversial antimalarial drug have sparked concerns about the effects it may have on veterans, many of whom are older and have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to a fatal side effect of the drug: heart arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

“Veterans’ groups remain deeply concerned that the VA has made large purchases of this drug and appears to have administered it to veterans despite the well-known, and in some cases, fatal risks,” Schumer wrote Wilkie earlier this month.

After Wilkie’s letter on Friday, Schumer responded in a statement later that day, saying, “This drug may be useless or even harmful for COVID-19 patients, but the VA continues to administer it to hundreds of vets. Why are we just learning this?”

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” he continued. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

Trump has been aggressively pitching hydroxychloroquine since March, even though the drug had not yet undergone clinical trials examining its effectiveness against COVID-19.

“What do we have to lose?” he asked during a briefing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have both warned against using the drug to treat COVID-19.

Last Monday, the president attacked a study of veterans treated with the drug that showed no benefits against the coronavirus. He called the findings a “Trump enemy statement,” insisting they were politically motivated. He then claimed that he had been taking the drug for weeks, though he stopped on Friday.

The Trump administration ordered 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine before it underwent trials for COVID-19 treatment. The VA also bulk-ordered some 6.3 million doses, according to Wilkie’s letter.

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