Weighty Issues: McKee’s wide-ranging weekly press conference

Governor Daniel McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos fielded questions from the press today on all manner of non-pandemic issues. It’s the governor’s third such press conference, a step he views as one toward bringing the state back to normal. It’s a step different from his predecessor, former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who was notably inaccessible to Rhode Island’s temperamental fourth estate.

In prepared remarks to the press, the governor announced he signed the executive order this morning aligning mask guidance in Rhode Island to match that of the Center for Disease Control, but questions from reporters quickly centered on Providence schools. The state Department of Education has overseen a takeover of the long troubled school district since 2019. The district superintendent has come under fire this week for hiring Olayinka Alege, who was arrested this week for forcibly giving a foot massage to an underage male in Warwick. Alege has a history of “toe popping,” stemming from his time as assistant principal at a Tampa high school where students complained of it as strange punishment.

Gov. McKee is slated to meet with RIDE Commissioner Angelica Infante Green later today where they will discuss the situation of the toe-popping administrator. McKee declined to comment on the situation any further, as did Lieutenant Gov. Matos until the meeting with Commissioner Green was concluded. McKee added the result of the meeting would be announced later this week, and mentioned he questions the hiring practices of the administration. He is not scheduled to meet with the Providence Teachers Union as of this afternoon.

“The individual resigned, which was the right thing to do,” said the governor. The governor also declined to get into specifics when asked his opinion on how the state control of the Providence schools was going. “We don’t need to jump to conclusions of anything that is happening in schools right now,” said McKee. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, asked to meet with Gov. McKee this week. The governor’s administration professes not to know what the meeting is about, but did say Weingarten and the governor agree that schools have to reopen again at full capacity in the fall. The governor also said he supports SROS in schools.

Providence has seen an upsurge in gun violence over the last few weeks. The governor yesterday attended an event at the Nonviolence Institute with the state’s Congressional delegation. 

“‘People who are firing guns on the streets and killing people need to be held accountable. That’s our #1 priority…” said McKee. The governor said he supported making long-term investments into distressed communities. 

Rhode Island is about to be the recipient in millions of dollars in federal funds from the latest COVID legislation signed into law earlier this year. Gov. McKee is hosting his third community conversation on Thursday to determine a RI 2030 plan. The governor is also meeting with General Assembly leadership on an ongoing weekly basis to determine the best use of the funds.

Tourism is coming back strong, said the governor. Newport’s world famous Jazz and Folk Fests opened ticket sales this morning only to sell out in 30 minutes. The governor also announced that most hotels were reporting that they were fully booked between Memorial day and Labor Day, the state’s peak tourist season.

US Supreme Court rules 9-0 Cranston wrong in warrantless gun seizure

The Cranston Police were wrong to seize guns without a warrant from a possibly suicidal man’s home after he had already been transported to a hospital for psychological evaluation, the United States Supreme Court ruled this morning, unanimously, in a 9-0 vote. The case is Caniglia v. Strom (20-157).

On August 20, 2015, Edward Caniglia argued with his wife Kim in their home in Cranston. He got a handgun from the bedroom, put it on the table, and told her something like “shoot me now and get it over with.” It was not loaded, but she said she didn’t know that at the time. He went out for a ride while she returned the gun to the bedroom and hid its ammunition. When he got back the argument resumed, so she packed a bag and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning she was unable to reach him by telephone, so she was worried he had killed himself and called the police to ask them to accompany her back to the house to check the well-being of her husband, worried what she might find. She met with Ptlm. John Mastrati and explained the situation.

It turned out that her husband seemed fine, denying he was suicidal and saying the events of the prior night were simply him being dramatic. By this time, three other officers had arrived, Sgt. Brandon Barth, Ptlm. Wayne Russell, and Ptlm. Austin Smith. As the ranking officer, Barth determined that Mr. Caniglia posed an imminent danger to himself or others, and determined that he needed to be psychologically evaluated at a hospital. Barth decided to seize the firearms, getting telephone approval from his superior Cpt. Russell C. Henry, Jr.

Thomas W. Lyons III

In an interview with Motif, Caniglia’s attorney Thomas Lyons, of Strauss, Factor, Laing, and Lyons, said that his client felt he had no option to refuse the evaluation. “They came to the house, they spoke with him. He said he was fine. They said they didn’t believe him. They wanted him to go to the hospital for the psychological evaluation. He agreed to that, because it was also represented to him that they would not seize his handguns if he went to the hospital for the psychological evaluation and checked out okay. He went to the hospital. While he was still at the hospital, the police were still at his house, told his wife that he had agreed to the seizure of the handguns, and she showed them where they were. And they seized them,” Lyons said. “Our argument was that he did not voluntarily consent, he only agreed based on the representation the police made to him that if he went to the hospital, got checked out, was okay, they would not seize his firearms. And then when he agreed to that under duress, they nonetheless seized his firearms.”

Mrs. Caniglia had not wanted the police to intervene to the extent they did, Lyons said. “His wife actually testified that all she wanted the police to do when she contacted them was just accompany her to the house to make sure Ed was okay, and if Ed was fine, that’s all, she’d be fine, too. That was it. She just wanted someone to make what they call a ‘wellness call’ with her to make sure he was okay. And what happened was entirely unexpected to her.”

Without explanation or reason, Lyons said, the police refused to return the guns for over three months until they were sued in federal court, claiming a court order was required for the return of the guns. “That was one issue on which we did prevail before Judge McConnell at the federal district court: He held that the police requiring Mr. Caniglia to go to court to get a court order to get back his guns was a violation of his procedural due process rights,” Lyons said.

The key issue in the case was whether police could bypass the usual requirement for a warrant under the “community caretaking” exception to the constitutional Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure. For the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Decades ago [in Cady v. Dombrowski (1973)], this Court held that a warrantless search of an impounded vehicle for an unsecured firearm did not violate the Fourth Amendment. In reaching this conclusion, the Court observed that police officers who patrol the ‘public highways’ are often called to discharge noncriminal ‘community caretaking functions,’ such as responding to disabled vehicles or investigating accidents. The question today is whether Cady’s acknowledgment of these ‘caretaking’ duties creates a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home. It does not.”

Thomas’ opinion for the Court was unusually short, only four pages. For Thomas, the principle was simple: a house is not a car, so a search and seizure requires a warrant.

We asked Lyons why didn’t the Cranston Police just get a warrant? Mr. Caniglia was either at the hospital, or at least on his way to the hospital, with no access to his guns in his house. Lyons said it had been stipulated that there were no “exigent circumstances” requiring action so quickly that there would have been no time to obtain a warrant. Lyons said that “part of the argument that we raised was he was actually gone. He was gone like almost all day at the hospital as it turned out, waiting to see someone. So yes, they had plenty of time to get a warrant, certainly for the seizure of the guns. And for that matter, our position that we argued was they get plenty of time to get a warrant or a court order for his seizure [of Mr. Caniglia himself] because there were four police officers standing on his back deck talking with him, and he was just chatting with them and drinking his coffee. Our position was that it would not have been all that difficult for one of the four officers to leave the scene to make a phone call or otherwise get a warrant since it’s not very far in Rhode Island to a judge or a magistrate.”

A concurring opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, was even shorter, a single paragraph noting that prior cases allowed police officers to enter homes without warrants when there was a “need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury” or “an objectively reasonable basis for believing that medical assistance was needed, or persons were in danger.” At oral argument on March 24, Roberts asked whether the community was relevant to deciding what was appropriate for the police to do in checking on an elderly neighbor without a warrant, humorously referencing decades-old television shows: “Could it be that, you know, somebody like Andy of Mayberry is all right because people expect him to, you know, keep track of things, but, you know, Kojak isn’t?”

Justice Samuel Alito in a five-page concurrence – one page longer than the official opinion by Thomas – takes great pains to emphasize what the Court did not decide in the instant case. “The Court holds — and I entirely agree — that there is no special Fourth Amendment rule for a broad category of cases involving ‘community caretaking.’ As I understand the term, it describes the many police tasks that go beyond criminal law enforcement. These tasks vary widely, and there is no clear limit on how far they might extend in the future. The category potentially includes any non-law-enforcement work that a community chooses to assign, and because of the breadth of activities that may be described as community caretaking, we should not assume that the Fourth Amendment’s command of reasonableness applies in the same way to everything that might be viewed as falling into this broad category.”

Alito noted that it was not only the guns that were seized but the person transported to the hospital. “Assuming that petitioner did not voluntarily consent to go with the officers for a psychological assessment, he was seized and thus subjected to a serious deprivation of liberty. But was this warrantless seizure ‘reasonable’? We have addressed the standards required by due process for involuntary commitment to a mental treatment facility… but we have not addressed Fourth Amendment restrictions on seizures like the one that we must assume occurred here, i.e., a short-term seizure conducted for the purpose of ascertaining whether a person presents an imminent risk of suicide. Every State has laws allowing emergency seizures for psychiatric treatment, observation, or stabilization, but these laws vary in many respects, including the categories of persons who may request the emergency action, the reasons that can justify the action, the necessity of a judicial proceeding, and the nature of the proceeding. Mentioning these laws only in passing, petitioner asked us to render a decision that could call features of these laws into question. The Court appropriately refrains from doing so.”

Alito continued, “This case also implicates another body of law that petitioner glossed over: the so-called ‘red flag’ laws that some States are now enacting. These laws enable the police to seize guns pursuant to a court order to prevent their use for suicide or the infliction of harm on innocent persons… They typically specify the standard that must be met and the procedures that must be followed before firearms may be seized. Provisions of red flag laws may be challenged under the Fourth Amendment, and those cases may come before us. Our decision today does not address those issues.”

Lyons said, “While this doesn’t rule that red flag laws per se are unconstitutional, I think there is still the open question as to whether any particular red flag law may or may not be unconstitutional, and if it was based on a reasoning like community caretaking and it did not require, for example, some sort of previously issued court order or warrant, then it may be in some trouble.” Asked about the implication to the red flag law in RI specifically (“Red Flags: Taking Guns from the Mentally Ill”, by Michael Bilow, Mar 14, 2018), Lyons said, “I know one of the concerns that was out there was whether or not you had to get a court order in advance for the seizure, and the statute as presently written does require that as well as a follow-up proceeding at which the defendant is entitled to be present to object. In terms of the vagueness of the proceeding, of the statute, I think that there may still be questions about that, but to the extent to which it’s vague, that may depend on the particular circumstances of a particular case. So it’s a little hard to make a general statement about that.” The RI red flag law was not enacted until several years after the incident that gave rise to the Caniglia case.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also wrote his own five-page concurrence, saying that while he agreed with the Court that there is no “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment, the “exigent circumstances” exception would usually apply when police are trying to determine whether someone is injured or needs assistance. As noted, however, it had been agreed by the parties that there were no exigent circumstances in this particular case.

Asked how it felt to be on the winning side of a unanimous Supreme Court decision, “Well, I would say we are immensely gratified – and by ‘we,’ I would include our client – that the court ruled in his favor unanimously. It feels great,” Lyons said. “Now, the case isn’t over though, because there still may be issues to address on what they call remand, that is to say, when the case goes back down again [to the lower courts], but it means that we’re still alive, still in the hunt, so to speak.”

Originally the suit was brought not only against the City of Cranston, but against the individual police officers and police chief Col. Michael J. Winquist under the Civil Rights Act, and the case was dismissed against the police officers on grounds of “qualified immunity” that holds police officers cannot be held responsible for violating civil rights unless those rights have been clearly established by prior court cases. “Our position would be is that the defendants stipulated that exigent circumstances did not apply here. However, one issue, at least that remains, is so-called qualified immunity, and the district court had held, first, that our client’s constitutional rights were not violated, but even if they were violated then qualified immunity would apply. The First Circuit Court of Appeals did not address that issue on appeal, and so, conceivably, the defendants may, for example, argue that they’re still entitled to qualified immunity,” Lyons said. “I think we have some pretty good arguments on that. It is certainly clear that the City of Cranston as the municipal entity cannot claim the benefit of qualified immunity. I think that’s pluperfectly clear, and that was even something that the First Circuit, at least at oral argument, seemed to agree with, so, at least in that respect, I think we’re in fairly good shape. The issue of whether the individual officers can get qualified immunity may be something that gets argued further.”

Marc DeSisto, attorney for the City of Cranston, and Col. Michael J. Winquist, police chief at the time of the incident and still currently, did not respond to inquiries by press time.

Nice Vice: Kamala Harris visits Wayland Square

Books on the Square manager Jennifer Kandarian stands with one of the plethora of books from the display created by Percy Sutton just the evening before the historic visit by Vice President Harris

When Jennifer Kandarian awoke on Cinco de Mayo, she did not anticipate meeting Vice President Kamala Harris. As manager of Books on the Square on Angell Street in Providence, Kandarian hadn’t planned to even go in to work. It was her day off, but the rainy weather wasn’t going to lend to her plans for yard work. So she decided to switch her day off. “I had to wonder, ‘If I knew I was going to meet the vice president, would I have worn jeans?’” she said.

Thirty minutes before the vice president arrived at Books on the Square with 30 secret service people present, Kandarian got the call that they were having some visitors. Serendipitously, just the night before, Percy Sutton had put together a lovely display of their collection of Kamala Harris books.

The staff was thrilled to find out that they would have such a rock star visitor, along with former governor and current Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo. Raimondo was the reason for the visit. She and her family used to frequent the store on Sundays. Raimondo routinely declares, “This is my neighborhood store. The best place ever.”  

Books on the Square was already open for business when they got the call. When the entourage arrived, the store was so crowded that it was challenging to see Harris, let alone take photos. Team member Chris Byrnes noticed two teenagers at a book shelf “completely in their own world,” and took it upon himself to pop over and inform them of their possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a historic leader. Harris caught on to their presence and walked over to chat a bit with the surprised young women.

During this monumental visit, a secret serviceman shared with Kandarian that their team had made several visits to the store over the last weeks. In retrospect, it was intriguing to realize that they had been selling books to covert feds. Says Penny Fisher, “I didn’t know there was a pre-cursory perusal.”

Local co-op Urban Greens was aware that they would be in the socially distanced presence of our veep. Their council chair Philip Trevvett had two minutes to speak on the Social Enterprise Greenhouse. “The most important message that I tried to convey is that co-ops work for communities, that co-ops are a critical part of building an equitable economy and that will build community wealth across this country.” Trevett met the vice president bearing yams from Ghana and numerous locally produced items.

Pedestrians on drizzly Ives street photographed in awe the low-flying helicopter that appeared to be giving Vice President Harris a COVID-safe tour of the small businesses in Rhode Island.

News Analysis — Washington Park shooting is not a gun problem

As has been widely reported, the worst mass shooting in Providence history occurred last night in the Washington Park neighborhood. At a press conference this morning on Allens Avenue near the scene of the shooting, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare provided the details on what he described as an “active criminal investigation.”

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare at May 14, 2021, press conference on Washington Park shooting.

“What we do know, and we’ll be identifying those victims later today, there were eight people that were shot. The ninth person was injured by something other than a bullet. We had nine people that were treated. We believe all will recover. There were two that were critical and we believe there’s one that remains in serious condition, but all are expected to recover. Some have been released from the hospital,” Pare said. “We have not brought any criminal charges thus far. We know who all the nine victims are, obviously. We are attempting to identify others that we know that were here. We know there was an exchange of gunfire between one group that had three, possibly five, firearms that drove up in front of 87 Carolina [Avenue], and opened fire on at least three, if not five, individuals that were in and around the porch area. There was a return gunfire by at least two that were in or around 87 Carolina, and as a result there were eight injuries from gunfire.” Pare said all of those injured were between 19 and 25 years old.

Both Mayor Jorge Elorza and Pare identified the primary problem as guns, and there was a sharp break between them and several other speakers at the press conference, including state Sen. Tiara Mack and state Reps. Jose Batista and Grace Dias, who instead said that the main problem is the reasons why people want to shoot each other. The legislators, while acknowledging gun crime as a symptom, pointed to the root causes that drive young adults into social and economic despair.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza at May 14, 2021, press conference on Washington Park shooting.

Elorza focused on gun control. “What happened last night is very clear. There are too many guns and there are too many young people in our community ready to use them. We have to address this issue from both of those angles. We’ve been saying for a long time that we need to stop the flow of guns, illegal or otherwise, onto our streets. I was here last night about a half hour after the incident occurred. I was here a while talking with all of the police officers and almost to a tee, every single officer would tell me the same thing. They would shake their heads and tell me if there are too many guns out there. They told me that even not that long ago – five, six years ago – incidents like this would not happen because there may be a drive-by: maybe one person has a gun, maybe somebody has a revolver who’ll let off a few shots. What happened yesterday, is just something altogether different. Yesterday, there were five, six, maybe even more guns involved, each one of them semi-automatic, and in a matter of seconds we have dozens and dozens and dozens of rounds that are let off in a hail of gunfire. We as a society can’t allow this to happen and we have it in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen. We have called and we will continue to call for comprehensive and also common-sense gun control, to stop the flow of these guns onto our streets.”

Elorza is factually wrong about guns and appears to be confusing “semi-automatic” with “automatic.” I’ve addressed this common misunderstanding in great detail before (“Opinion Guns — The Facts, the History, the Philosophy”, by Michael Bilow, Feb 28, 2018) where I explained, “By federal law, fully automatic weapons have been heavily restricted from civilian use since 1934 and almost totally prohibited since 1986. ‘Semi-automatic’ simply means that, each time the trigger is pulled, one round is fired and the next round is chambered ready for firing: it is the conventional mechanism used in the vast majority of both rifles and handguns since the late 1800s. Nearly all guns in practical use today are semi-automatic.” Whatever “hail of gunfire” occurred was because there were a bunch of people firing from the car and then others firing back from the house, not because any of those guns were especially powerful or exotic.

Pare, avoiding the factual errors committed by his boss, made essentially the same flawed argument. “We have seen most recently, the number of guns and the number of shootings in the city go up pretty drastically. Typically, we’ll have shots fired with one or two or five shell casings. Now we’re finding that it’s typical for people to be shooting at one another or at homes with 20 and 30 shell casings that’s left behind, meaning there were 20 to 30 shots fired in that incident. We do everything to prevent this from happening.” While Pare did not explicitly say the shooting was gang-related, his language clearly left that impression: “These victims from last evening range from 19 years old to 25. These are young adults that are resorting to violence because of feuds on the street. And I’ll echo that there are too many guns that are accessible to too many young adults, and they resort to getting guns and firing at people. Sometimes innocent people get injured, and that needs to stop.”

If Elorza and Pare try to address this as a gun problem, they are doomed to fail. The absolute last people gun control could ever disarm are gang members already enmeshed in criminal activity. Anyone inclined to commit a drive-by shooting is unlikely to comply with restrictive gun laws. It’s also a reasonable inference that the people in the house, if they did in fact return fire, had guns because they felt threatened and therefore needed them for protection, a conclusion borne out by their being attacked in a drive-by shooting. Many of these young adults fully expect not to live long enough to see their 30th birthdays.

RI Sen. Tiara Mack at May 14, 2021, press conference on Washington Park shooting.

Putting the term “violence” in a broader social context, State Sen. Tiara Mack said, “This is a community and we have to recognize that there is also systemic violence, and not just the violence that we talk about that these young people engage in, these children 19 to 25 years old engage in, the violence of a system does not provide our young people, our families, with access to affordable housing, access to clean air, access to drinkable water. These are the systemic violences that this community faces every single day that we fight at the State House, at the city level, for a community to have all of the resources that they need. We are fighting against not just the violence of the streets, but violence of a system that tells us that our communities don’t deserve a living wage, violence of a community that does not afford the opportunities for economic advancement. We cannot just push the blame onto these young people who are a product of a system that has not allowed them to flourish.”

Mack cited the pandemic relief programs at the federal level, which will send money to local governments, as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with billions of dollars being put into our system to make sure that we have housing, clean air, renewable energy, quality schools in our communities. Right now, Providence public schools are in receivership. We have not seen our young people afforded the opportunities for educational advancement and an opportunity for jobs after they graduate from our schools. These are the problems that our young people face, and it comes out in the violence that we see right here on the street. We should not keep blaming our young people, or too many guns on the street.”

RI Rep. Jose Batista at May 14, 2021, press conference on Washington Park shooting.

State Rep. Jose Batista spoke in more personal terms. “I have yet to make any sort of statement on this issue just because of how complicated it is. And to me it’s particularly complicated because the one phrase that continues to come to my mind, as I think about the senseless violence that took place just here last night, is ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ I’ve spent my entire life in this community. I may be an elected official now, but even prior to that life, I’m a graduate of the public schools: Roger Williams Middle School, Classical High School. I have friends who are in jail sentences, and in some cases even worse. And rather than repeat so many of the important points that have been made today about policy and politics, the one thing that I think I’m uniquely qualified to talk about is the experience of young people in this community.”

Batista said he was particularly disturbed by “the disregard for life that took place here last night. And I don’t think it matters what political stripe we come from, or what skin color we are, but I think we can all agree that leadership begins with us. And if we want young people, particularly young people in this community, to value their lives, to value lives of each other, then we need to value their lives. We need to affirmatively, aggressively, passionately say their lives matter. It does not get any more simple than that.”

For Batista, he said the issue hits home in more ways than one. “Sadly, my house is four streets that way and this could have been a lot worse. It was indiscriminate. At its core, it was a plea for help. It was a plea for help. I wanted to think about those public schools and what it’s like to actually be in those classrooms, and what it’s like to maybe not feel like you have any options, like you don’t have a future. And I’m telling you, I have been that young person. Today, perhaps I might be celebrated because I have a law degree or because I’m an elected official but when I was 13-14 years old, I promise you, I was not very different from the young people involved in that violence last night. And at every turn, and every thought, I’m going to be thinking about that. I’m not going to be using judgment or lecturing or pontificating. I’m going to think about what was it like for me in my life, when perhaps I didn’t have much value for life either and begin from that point. And if we do that, we can begin to address what happened here last night. The violence may seem random, it may seem like it just happened now, but last night’s violence is the product of decades-long worth of failed policy that Senator Mack did such an excellent job talking about.”

Elorza and Pare would do well to listen to the people from the neighborhoods, such as Mack and Batista, and stop mischaracterizing a problem of social and economic despair as a gun problem: it’s not a gun problem, and it cannot be solved by misguided efforts at gun control. Elorza betrayed the inherent failure of his approach when he said, “we need to stop the flow of guns, illegal or otherwise, onto our streets” (emphasis added) – because he can only stop the legal guns and will never be able to stop the illegal guns wielded by criminals.

Slow Return to Normalcy: A summary of the governor’s May 13 press conference

State leaders continue to edge the Ocean State further back to normalcy. At today’s COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Dan McKee announced “not a single city or town has had more than 200 cases per 100,000 people this week.” Vaccine eligibility was opened to even younger cohorts this week, as children and teens aged 12-15 years of age can now get a COVID vaccine now that the FDA has issued emergency authorization for the cohorts. 

Gov. McKee today announced that out-of-state sports tournaments can recommence starting on Monday. Also starting on Monday, residency requirements for signing up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments will be waived. Gov. McKee said with tourist and the busy season upon the Ocean State, he wants to encourage tourists and other out-of-state visitors to get vaccinated if they have not already. 

Gov. McKee also called ending the federal UI boost of $300 “short-sighted” in his remarks today. The Department of Labor and Training, in conjunction with the state legislature, have drafted legislation that will let Rhode Islanders work more part time and still collect. DLT director Matt Weldon announced today that UI regulations in place prior to the pandemic would be coming back. DLT will be auditing more claims going forward and people collecting unemployment will be required to apply for three jobs a week starting May 23. He noted people collecting are not required to report the three jobs a week, but to have the information ready if an auditor calls or risk losing benefits. A new bill awaiting the governor’s signature ups the cap on wages someone can earn while collecting UI from 30% to 50% of their total benefits.

Nightclub owners received good news today. If they require all patrons to be vaccinated, they can open at 100% capacity starting Memorial Day weekend. Nightclubs declining to enforce vaccination among patrons will be limited to 50%. State leaders have yet to determine how nightclubs will check for vaccinations, whether they’ll need to see the physical card or an image of it on smartphones. 

CDC also announced today it would be relaxing its mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. Gov. McKee said he just saw the announcement himself, and his team will review it soon to make a decision for the state. 

“Still in a stable place,” said DoH director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott of today’s COVID-19 data. There have been 149 new cases since yesterday, with a test positivity rate of 1.3%. Ninety-six people remain hospitalized with the virus, with hospitalizations continuing to remain below 100 cases, a first since October before the big second surge. Twenty-two people remain in the intensive care unit and 15 people are on ventilators. DoH leaders also reported two additional fatalities bringing the total number of deaths in the Ocean State to 2,698. 

“When we vaccinate more people, our cases, our hospital admissions, our fatalities drop,” said Dr. Scott.

Almost 600,000 Rhode Islanders have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as of this afternoon, officially counting as partially vaccinated. There are 478,884 who have received the final shot and are officially fully vaccinated. State leaders continue to organize pop-up vaccine events, bringing them to local businesses, parks, beaches, recovery centers, grocery stores and transportation hubs by the end of the month. 

Gov. McKee announced this would be one of the final COVID-19 press briefings the state will be conducting. The governor’s office has biweekly conferences with the local press corp now, and the regular COVID response ones will be folded into that. There will be no press conference next week, with the final COVID one expected to be Thursday, May 28.

COVID Numbers Declining: A summary of the governor’s weekly press conference

Photo Credit: Small Frye Photography

Governor Dan Mckee and other public health leaders gave the weekly COVID-19 response briefing today.

Rhode Island’s COVID numbers continue to be on the decline. There have been 200 new cases of the coronavirus since yesterday, for a percent positive test rate of 1.1%. The weekly average has declined to 1.6%. There are 118 people hospitalized for reasons related to the virus. The weekly average for new hospital admissions is 112, down from 134 just last week. Twenty-three people are in the intensive care unit, and 16 people are on ventilators. 

“Things continue to get better, I remain cautiously optimistic,” said DoH’s Dr. Philip Chan. The B117 variant continues to be the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the Ocean State with public health leaders estimating it causes about 50% of current infections. Ninety percent of teachers in the state are vaccinated, and as a result, infections among educators have declined. Rates of COVID-19 among children are going up, mirroring national trends. A vaccine safe for under-16s is not expected to be consumer ready for many months.

Around 95/96% of people getting the first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine are returning for their second shots, COVID response director Tom McCarthy told Motif today. More than 581,000 people are at least partially vaccinated, not counting those who live out of state. There are 428,823 people considered fully vaccinated, which the state counts as two weeks from the final dose of any of the three vaccines currently available. 

Two of the state’s vaccine sites have performed 2,500 walk up appointments of the vaccine, with the state still working on at-home vaccine shots for residents older than 75 who have not received the vaccine. Approximately 280,000 people are left in the total eligibility pool, 13,500 of them are over the age of 75. “We have an ample supply of vaccines,” said Dr. Chan.

The first round of COVID restrictions are scheduled to be lifted starting tomorrow. Here are the highlights:

  • Mask wearing is still required indoors in public areas, but not outdoors if you are vaccinated and can socially distance at least three feet from others.
  • The social gathering limit is being raised to 25 for indoors and up to 75 people outdoors. 
  • Restaurants, venues, houses of worship, fitness centers and other businesses will see capacity limits lifted to 80% indoors with three feet of spacing, and 100% outdoors.
  • You can also start sitting at bars again without ordering food, but plexiglass is still required. 
  • Catered events can have up to 250 guests indoors and 500 guests outdoors with rapid on-site COVID testing still recommended. Standing service will only be allowed outside.

These loosened restrictions will remain in place until May 28, when many of them will be lifted. In other news, Gov. McKee announced today the state will reinstate and enforce work search requirements for people on unemployment starting May 23. State officials had previously waived the requirement for duration of the pandemic. 

Finally as the state reopens itself for business later this month, Gov McKee hinted that the state may seek a change of venue. For most of the pandemic, the state has hosted reporters at The Vets giving live updates, but McKee said today it may change soon to the State House, another sign of state leaders’ confidence in the handling of the pandemic.

Break Out Your Tin Foil Hat!

In this issue, we celebrate the many folks who contributed to fighting the virus, but this trivia is all about those who weren’t so helpful — conspiracy theorists. What are we even supposed to believe?!

Which tech billionaire created the coronavirus so he can use the vaccine to finally enact his master plan of inserting a microchip in every human being?

Bill Gates

The rollout of this new technology is the true culprit behind coronavirus symptoms. Name the technology.


Name the viral video sensation documentary, in which Judy Mikovits claimed the coronavirus was planned.


Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists refuse to take vaccines created with this new technology, fearing it will alter their DNA.

mRNA Technology

Although the former head of the CDC suggests it is possible the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, many conspiracy theorists made the improper claim it was a bioweapon. What does the Wuhan Institute of Virology actually study?

Bat coronaviruses

Do You Take Democracy with Your Coffee?: White Electric takes on a radical new experiment

A Providence favorite reopened its doors on May 1 under new ownership. White Electric has been a Westminster Street mainstay for years. Like many other local businesses, in the last year it’s been the victim of intermittent hours, COVID regulations and state-mandated lockdowns and pauses. Now it’s back for good, and the workers have transformed it into the state’s first workers’ cooperative coffee shop and a radical experiment in workplace democracy.

“It’s about having a meaningful impact in your workplace, having an actual voice and an actual say in how your workplace should be run,” said Danny Cordova, a member of CUPS Cooperative Inc, the workers cooperative that now owns the shop. The cooperative was born out of the original service workers union White Electric workers created last year. White Electric is now the first workers cooperative coffee shop in the city and the state. “We live in a democracy. We vote for our representatives, we vote for senators, we vote for a president and why can’t we do the same thing [at work]? We can’t vote for CEOs, we can’t vote for managers, and you can get fired for any reason,” continued Cordova.

Under the new cooperative structure, there’s no single owner of the business. Each worker is also an owner with equal say in how it is run. There are no managers, and no one is above anyone else in the workplace. Day-to-day operations behind the counter were largely self-directed before it became a cooperative, as all the worker-owners draw from a rich past experience in food service. Much of the division of labor for them now comes from tasks that management or owners typically would do.

“Working in a cafe is not inherently a menial job, there’s no reason for it not to be a respectful  job,” said Amanda Soule, another worker-owner of the cooperative. “People don’t respect coffee shop workers generally, and I think that that is often inherent in the structure of the cafe itself.” 

White Electric’s workers didn’t originally intend to form a cooperative. Last year the shop closed due to COVID restrictions, and reopened in June. In the interim, George Floyd was murdered and protests for racial justice were kicking off everywhere. Inspired by the movement, White Electric’s workers started reaching out to managers about workplace issues. Then-employees also wrote an internal letter asking for diverse hiring practices, anti-racism, sick pay and wheelchair access to the shop, among other requests. 

Management soon after laid off a lot of the workers. In response, workers started to organize and form a union. “[We wanted] to make sure people’s jobs would be protected beyond any of us as individuals and to make sure the things we had been asking for would actually be implemented,” said Chloe Chassaing, a worker-owner.

Workers received a lot of community support at this time as they formed the union, and much of the customer base of White Electric are fellow service workers. White Electric’s then-owners voluntarily recognized the union. In August, the union performed a card check so that it would be officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That same night, the owners sent out an email listing White Electric for sale.

But the owners were willing to sell to a worker’s cooperative, which was one of the suggestions workers made in they letter they wrote earlier in the year. Efforts to form a union changed gears entirely to start a cooperative. CUPS started raising money that autumn. A GoFundMe with the explicit mission of turning White Electric into a workers’ cooperative raised $25,000, and other funding came from bank loans. For months, it was not clear the shop would become a cooperative, with CUPS only reaching a sale agreement this past January. Closing date was mid-April, and the cooperative has been rushing to get the necessary permits to reopen.

The cooperative started with eight worker-owners. When White Electric announced they were hiring, they got more than 60 applicants in the first three days, seemingly defying the current popular media narrative of people preferring to stay on unemployment. The worker owners have pledged to pay above minimum wage, but see workplace democracy and culture as integral to its attractiveness for prospective employees.

“It’s not that people don’t want to go back to a food service job, it’s that people don’t want to go back to being disrespected by their employers and their customers every day,” said Soule. “There’s a bunch of people we interviewed on unemployment because they know this is a different kind of work environment.”

Any new employees will be tried out for six months before receiving the full share of ownership in the cooperative. The system for pay increases in the past left a lot of inequities, and the cooperative intends to make the process transparent and fair. In addition to base pay and tips, each worker-owner of the cooperative is entitled to a share of the money left over every year. But as with any new business, it might take a year or two before that happens. Worker-owners can also expect a set schedule, as opposed to some of the flexible schedules found in most mainstream coffee shops.

“We just work as a team, and that’s been a very winning strategy for a very long time,” said Cordova.

Our State of Public Health: A narrative beyond the pandemic

On the morning of February 28, 2020, a day before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Rhode Island, the Block Island Chamber of Commerce promoted the island’s largest rental property as a destination for family vacations, retreats, reunions and weddings. Featuring 12 bedrooms and 11.5 bathrooms, Hygeia House was built during the Gilded Age and run by a doctor-cum-hotelier who used the building for a period to house his medical office. He promoted “a salubrious island getaway, where sea breezes, fresh water and clean air would restore health.”

The name of the one-time hotel conjures an ancient character: Hygieia, the goddess of cleanliness and self-care in Greek and Roman myth. Today, her legacy lingers in language and in symbol, and not only on Block Island. In Athens, a shrine in her name sits within the Acropolis. In Rome, her statue stands with a wreath of laurel at the Trevi Fountain. In Providence, she kneels chiseled into the seal arched above the central window of the former home of the Rhode Island Medical Society, across from the State House.

Dr. Newell Warde, executive director of the Rhode Island Medical Society, said the symbolism of Hygieia could be seen as a shift from emphasizing treatment to prioritizing prevention and public health.

At a briefing on Capitol Hill that afternoon, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, awaited the COVID test results of students and faculty from Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket who had returned from a winter break touring from Milan to Barcelona by way of the French Riviera. In the meantime, and in line with the World Health Organization, she encouraged the practice of good hygiene — advice harkening back to its namesake Hygieia and the art of health.

Since the first confirmed cases traced to the Pawtucket high school’s European trip, COVID has infected at least one in seven Rhode Island residents. Of the more than 3 million dead worldwide, nearly 2,700 people locally have lost their lives. But statistics alone can’t measure the physical and emotional tolls, and while no community has been spared, the distribution of suffering mirrors longstanding inequalities. 

Sustained health inequalities, in terms of both access and outcomes, gave way to the language of “health equity” among policy makers. In 1990, U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island co-sponsored Senator Barbara Mikulski’s bill, the Women’s Health Equity Act, to coordinate initiatives “relating to disease, disorders, or other health conditions that are unique to, more prevalent in, or more serious for women, or for which risk factors or interventions are different for women.” The bill didn’t move forward. In 1993, U.S. Senator John H. Chafee of Rhode Island proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act, shortened to the HEART Act, as a bipartisan proposal for universal health insurance. It, too, proved unsuccessful.

Across the Atlantic, England introduced a framework of Health Action Zones to spur investment in areas with high rates of “social exclusion.” A US proposal to define similar Health Opportunity Zones across the country failed to gain enough support, but while it was under consideration the CDC collaborated with other federal agencies to convene its inaugural Weight of the Nation conference to minimize the health risks resulting from obesity rates. During opening remarks, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), introduced a pyramid for understanding and improving public health. At the foundation of his framework, the most influential factors were socioeconomic: poverty, education, housing and inequality.

The “Health Impact Pyramid” model resonated with a representative in attendance from Rhode Island. And in 2012, the state health department’s division of community, family health and equity introduced its own version. Three years later, with $2.15 million in funding from the CDC, Rhode Island defined 10 urban and rural areas as Health Equity Zones (now 11), allowing nonprofits and local governments to qualify for financial support to develop “innovative approaches to preventing chronic diseases, improve birth outcomes and improve the social and environmental conditions of our neighborhoods.”

Announced by the Rhode Island Department of Health two months before her confirmation as director, the responsibility for the implementation of Health Equity Zones fell to Alexander-Scott. Growing up in Brooklyn, Alexander-Scott witnessed neighborhoods with shifting demographics — and their influence on the state of public health. By the time Alexander-Scott turned 5, the borough’s population had shrunk by 14%, losing more than 650,000 white residents and gaining 66,000 Black residents within the span of a decade.

Alexander-Scott attended St. Saviour High School, a Catholic all-girls college preparatory school in the neighborhood of Park Slope. She co-captained her varsity basketball team, played varsity volleyball, served in student government, and participated in math league, mock trial and the earth club. She made National Honor Society and the Société Honoraire de Français. 

“I remember her at the altar,” said Rita Draghi, an art teacher at St. Saviour. “She reminded me of a queen. At such a young age, she was so full of poise and confidence. I knew she would go far.”

At Cornell University, Alexander-Scott majored in human development and family studies. On the Dean’s List, she also worked for a summer in AIDS advocacy in the Bronx and witnessed the university grapple with the fifth on-campus suicide of a student in a span of four years. Following in her mother’s footsteps, who was a nurse, Alexander-Scott attended medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, an hour north of her alma mater. There, she received the James L. Potts Award in honor of a doctor who helped develop Upstate as one of the country’s first programs to increase the opportunities for historically underrepresented students in the field of medicine. She began her residency at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island weeks before September 11, 2001.

Alexander-Scott arrived in Providence in 2005, during the city’s hottest summer on record. A fellowship placed her for two years in the pediatric departments of the Alpert Medical School and at Hasbro Children’s Hospital followed by a rotation in adult medicine at hospitals affiliated with Brown University. She traveled to Kenya and South Africa on medical missions, and moderated a conference on disparate healthcare issues for people of color in Rhode Island. Her first contribution to a medical journal detailed a local outbreak of an atypical form of bacterial pneumonia. Although the infection was found at school, she concluded “interrupting household transmission should be a priority during future outbreaks.”

As Rhode Island’s economy and employment buckled following the Great Recession, Alexander-Scott taught at Brown, served as a physician at multiple hospitals, and consulted with the Rhode Island Department of Health’s division of community, family health and equity. She first stepped into the public eye when defending Rhode Island’s shift in policy to move HIV testing from opt-in to opt-out. As a physician tending to infectious diseases, she witnessed the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. She also started her Master of Public Health degree at Brown.

“She always challenged me to look outside the medical room we were in and think about how we could best serve patients in their everyday environment,” said Dr. Sando Ojukwu, an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whom Alexander-Scott mentored at Brown’s Alpert Medical School.

In October 2014, Dr. Alexander-Scott provided public briefings on Ebola while then-director of the health department, Dr. Michael Fine, led the state’s response, including addressing Rhode Island’s Liberian community to ask for help in sharing health advice even as they worried and mourned for loved ones as the epidemic swelled in West Africa.

“Health is not possible without community,” Fine said in a statement introducing Health Equity Zones.

When Alexander-Scott stepped into her role as director of the Rhode Island Department of Health in May 2015, she inherited a budget for the fiscal year of almost $126 million and responsibility for nearly 500 full-time employees. Only 18% of the department’s budget came from the general fund allocated by Rhode Island’s elected officials. More than half came from federal government sources. Programs involving family and community health and equity accounted for 57% of the annual budget, an annual increase of 27%, broken out across health disparities, healthy homes and environments, chronic care and disease management, health promotion, preventative services, and perinatal and early childhood health. 

A sold-out Health Equity Summit hosted more than 300 attendees representing “every aspect of the determinants of health,” Alexander-Scott said in a video. In a Providence Journal op-ed, she championed the implementation of Health Equity Zones, writing “regardless of where we live, the costs of disparities are felt throughout our state.” She cited racial, economic and educational gaps in health: Black infants in Rhode Island were twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants, and residents without a high school diploma were twice as likely to smoke cigarettes than college graduates.

“Your ZIP code should not determine your life expectancy,” Alexander-Scott told the Rhode Island Health Center Association annual meeting during her first year, repeating a refrain spoken by others before her.

A 2018 health department brochure highlighted examples of “immediate impact” in the communities designated as Health Equity Zones, including training in mental health first aid and suicide prevention in Washington County, the passage of a cigarette and vaping ban in Bristol’s town parks, and a “Walking School Bus” program to improve elementary school attendance in the Providence neighborhood of Olneyville. A 2019 factsheet credits the model with contributing to a 44% decrease in childhood lead poisoning in Pawtucket, a 24% decrease in teen pregnancy in Central Falls, and 46 people in West Warwick diverted from the criminal justice system to receive opioid treatment. Amidst the COVID pandemic, Health Equity Zones informed community testing, education and vaccination programs, including the distribution of 400,000 surgical masks. And for 2021, the health department solicited proposals from municipalities and organizations in 15 additional communities to establish new Health Equity Zones with grants starting at $150,000 for infrastructure and $50,000 for capacity building.

But not all tides have lifted in the Ocean State. Since 1995, the percentage of adults with diabetes grew from 4.6% to 10.8% — affecting those without a high school diploma three times more than those with a university degree. United Health Foundation placed Rhode Island as the least healthy state in the country in measures of housing and transit. The age of housing in Rhode Island left 31% of homes with the potential of elevated lead risk, the second highest after New York. In 2019, the health department found that only 20% of the physical spaces licensed for infant and toddler care met its definition of quality, with 18 of the state’s 39 municipalities altogether lacking any quality care.

Since Alexander-Scott’s column in The Providence Journal, the racial gap in infant mortality she cited has more than doubled: The latest state data found Black infants in Rhode Island were 4.2 times more likely to die in their first year of life than white infants. In response, the health department convened an advisory group. The educational gap in smoking rates also doubled: In 2019, 5.4% of Rhode Islanders with a college degree smoked while the number climbed to 21.9% among those who didn’t complete high school.

Despite a vision that “all people in Rhode Island will have the opportunity to live a safe and healthy life in a safe and healthy community,” even before COVID the health department noted that “for the first time in modern years the current generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

The current pandemic revealed how better public health could minimize individual harm. A draft of the state’s vaccination rollout cited estimates that accounted for Rhode Islanders living with high blood pressure, 10% with asthma, 9% with diabetes and 6% with heart disease — conditions that could benefit from testing, data reporting and prevention efforts refined during COVID. In terms of health insurance, 4% were uninsured and 29% were underinsured, leaving a third of the state more likely to need guidance for preventative care.

Over the past year, reported rates of domestic violence, opioid deaths and substance abuse climbed. Even with vaccination progress, the virus and its variants will define the health landscape for years, with its long-term impact yet to be seen or measured in education, foster care and special needs programs.

The costs associated with managing the pandemic tripled the Rhode Island’s Department of Health budget from $193 million during the 2020 fiscal year, which covers July 2019 to June 2020. With a 2021 budget of $642 million — 85% from federal funds and 63% allocated to COVID care — Alexander-Scott now manages an organization of more than 500 employees. (Note: Although that number seems large, it’s 37% of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s 2020 revenue.)

In every crisis is a struggle for the narrative that lives on. As public officials and the general public have turned the pages following an uncertain plotline, there’s a temptation to close the book on the pandemic altogether. But COVID is only a chapter that speaks to the past and the future of public health — of whose stories are remembered and whose suffering is remedied. With or without the sea breezes of salubrious island getaways, all communities need more than hygiene, clean water and fresh air. For too many still, even those foundations remain a myth.

“At the beginning of COVID everyone was linked together, but now it’s about ourselves,” said Ojukwu. “Until we can view others as part of us, that’s what really pushes empathy and the change we need.”

Mommy Dearest: Mother’s Day isn’t always so nice

I’d argue that there are three words that cause turmoil in a lot of individuals. It’s not “I hate you” or even “I love you,” but simply, “Happy Mother’s Day.” Mother’s Day is a holiday that carries weight.

From social media posts that clog up timelines about how great some mothers are to the pressure to buy your mom the perfect gift or make sure her day is above and beyond the normal — it’s a lot. And it carries a stigma that I feel not a lot of us are aware of. Mother’s Day currently sees an increase in suicide attempts, making it one of the highest-risk holidays, following New Years Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day.

This holiday makes us examine our relationships, not only with our parent, but also with many around us who may be struggling to navigate the holiday.

A History

Mother’s Day started with feminist roots. Suffragist Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 as a way of calling for mothers to unite for world peace. However, what we now know as Mother’s Day didn’t come until the start of the early 20th century, when another woman, Anna Jarvis, wanted to honor her late mother and the sacrifices that women make for their children. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday – always the second Sunday in May. Now, this is where Mother’s Day became controversial. Despite all of her work, Jarvis was denouncing Mother’s Day by 1920. She felt it had become commercialized, and she actively campaigned against the holiday she helped create. Still, Mother’s Day persisted and has grown to be a conglomerate of merchandise that you cannot escape, but little attention is paid to the difficulty of the day.

Mother’s Day and Miscarriage or Infertility

Another topic that makes Mother’s Day difficult for a substantial number of people is infertility and miscarriage. Currently it’s estimated by the Mayo Clinic that between 10% and 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, or, broken down by SANDS (an organization dedicated to miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support) pregnancies that end in miscarriage typically are one in four.

While many miscarriages may not involve a hospital stay, a number do, and at its core, it’s a loss. The same goes for infertility, or those who cannot get pregnant. It’s said that 12% of women ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying that pregnancy to term.

Women who suffer a miscarriage tend to report a substantial amount of guilt and grief, with the feeling that their body is the reason that they cannot have a child. There are numerous support groups for this topic alone.

Child loss doesn’t come just from miscarriage, but from tragic circumstances. There are many women who have to face Mother’s Day every year knowing that their child has passed.

Toxic Family Relationships

There are also many family relationships that aren’t the stereotype of a Hallmark commercial and they struggle with their relationship with their parents. Not every mother is a good mother, and it falls on the child to decide how to navigate that relationship. Support groups are rapidly popping up online, such as Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, books with similar titles and websites dedicated to helping adult children with painful relationships. While I’m certain I could write a doctoral-level thesis on how these relationships are managed, what I want to say is simple: If someone identifies a difficult relationship with their parent, it’s their choice what they do with that. That being said, that’s looking at adults who may not want to celebrate Mother’s Day because of a strained or non-existent relationship. There’s also something crucial to be said about the experiences of children.

According to JAMA pediatrics, 14% of children experienced maltreatment from a caregiver, with 4% experiencing physical abuse. Critical studies have been coming out that address trauma in childhood and how it affects us as adults. You may have heard of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which, overly simplified, means that the more trauma that you experience as a child, the more likely there are to be adverse repercussions in adulthood.

The CDC currently reports that limiting or eliminating childhood trauma (the ACES) could prevent up to 21 million cases of depression, 1.9 million cases of heart disease, and up to 2.5 million cases of obesity. High levels of childhood trauma have also shown links to cancer, autoimmune issues and chronic pain, as well as higher levels of unemployment and risky behaviors such as smoking or chronic drinking. Abusive childhoods are not good for us, and many adults made the decision to cut ties due to the need to take care of themselves. 

Additionally, there are some adult children whose parents have cut them out because they don’t agree with their child’s lifestyle. Parental rejection is common among the LGBTQ+ community. It is a parent saying, “I don’t approve of you and your choices, and I won’t support you.” Sometimes the parent cuts off all ties and abandons the child (typically a teenager or an adult). Studies have now shown that this population is 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide due to parental rejection, and there is a sense of abandonment within the community.

Non-Traditional Families

For some, Mother’s Day can be awkward. Blended families, in which a child lives with a biological parent and a stepparent, currently make up 50% of family situations for children under the age of 13. Many stepmothers attest to the pain of Mother’s Day with the whole “I’m not their mom, but I do a lot for them…” type of thinking. And I’m sure that the initial retort is that “Well, stepmoms get their own day too…” Well, kind of. Stepparents’ day is September 16. Stepparents are lumped together into one day, while biological parents get a mother’s and a father’s day, and please tell me the last time you saw a card for that holiday. Mother’s Day for blended families leads to a lot of feelings that can be complex, hard, and above all: messy.

Stepparents aren’t the only type of non-traditional family that can struggle with Mother’s Day. Consider adopted children who have never met their biological mother. Adopted children tend to feel more guilt and shame surrounding their identity, with focus on the idea of, “Why did my parent do this?” or “Am I not good enough?” Currently 135,000 adoptions per year happen in the US, the majority of which come from the foster system.

Loss of a Parent

Many face Mother’s Day without their parent, and that grief comes flooding back each Mother’s Day simply because many people who have lost their parent find that Mother’s Day excludes them. No longer is it about a relationship that someone had, but about one they can never have again.

Relationships are complicated. And although may have the best relationship possible with your parent, remember that the weight of Mother’s Day may be affecting others. So before you post on social media about your mom being your best friend, bragging about how your children did something for you, or talking about how wonderful the day is, remember some are fighting a silent battle that you may not be aware of.

And to those of you fighting that battle: I see you. And you can get through this.