• Today Is Bicycle Day, Which Isn’t Quite What You Think

    Aaron Chown/PA Wire/Zuma

    Today is Bicycle Day, and the lieutenant governor of New York wants you to celebrate by going for a spin on the newly completed Empire State Trail, which honestly looks idyllic.

    But Bicycle Day is about more than honoring everyone’s favorite two-wheeled form of transportation. On this day 78 years ago, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide, the substance he had first synthesized five years prior. During the bicycle ride from his laboratory to his home in Basel, the story goes, Hofmann experienced dramatic changes in sensory perception—the first acid trip.

    Psychedelics enthusiasts celebrate the discovery annually by turning on, tuning in, and dropping out on April 19, Bicycle Day. Biking under the influence is not recommended, although it could be quite interesting.

  • More Than 3 Million People Have Died From COVID-19 Worldwide

    A man stands above the National Covid Memorial Wall outside St Thomas' Hospital IN London, UK on April 13, 2021.Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images via ZUMA

    The global death count from the coronavirus surpassed 3 million on Saturday, a solemn milestone as the pandemic continues to rage around the world and vaccine distribution efforts stumble in many countries. 

    The United States leads the world in total deaths with over 566,000, according to tracking done by the Johns Hopkins University. Brazil, where a variant of the virus coupled with the government’s poor response has pushed the country’s medical system to its breaking point, has the second highest number of casualties and one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. It accounts for roughly a quarter of the lives lost around the world in the last month. A recent surge in cases in India has left some morgues “overflowing,” the New York Times reports.

    In the United States, a promising vaccine rollout is bringing hope of a return to some normalcy this summer. But cases numbers here are still higher than they were for much of last year, until the winter surge, and in recent days have been growing.

    In many countries, vaccination campaigns will take much longer, producing global vaccine inequities. Countries with higher incomes are vaccinating 25 times faster than those with lower incomes, according to Bloomberg. They also own, and can distribute, far more doses of the vaccines. Geographic rifts are emerging too. Less than 2 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines administered have been administered across the entire continent of Africa. Pauses in administering the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines in the US and Europe are slowing the vaccination process. And of course, the longer the pandemic continues, the more possibility there are that vaccine-resistant variants will take hold and spread, threatening progress.

    More than a year after COVID-19 began spreading around the world, scientists have made extraordinary leaps in combatting it and bringing hope of the pandemic’s end—but for now, the death toll keeps rising. 

  • Justice Department Goes After Roger Stone, Again. This Time for $2 Million in Unpaid Taxes.

    Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty

    On Friday, the Justice Department hit Roger Stone again, this time for failing to pay nearly $2 million in taxes, penalties, and interest. It was less than four months ago that Donald Trump pardoned his longtime advisor.

    According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Florida, Stone and his wife, Nydia Stone, failed to fully pay their taxes from 2007 to 2011. In 2018, Stone filed separately but again failed to pay his full tax bill. The complaint also alleges that the Stones used a corporation, Drake Ventures, to shield their money from the IRS in recent years. “The Stones’ use of Drake Ventures to hold their funds allowed them to shield their personal income from enforced collection and fund a lavish lifestyle despite owing nearly $2 million,” the complaint states. The Stones were well aware of their debt to the United States and in 2017 entered into an agreement to pay nearly $20,000 per month to the IRS.

    In January 2019, Stone was indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 election. Shortly thereafter, the couple created a new trust, bought a new home in the name of the trust, and stopped paying the IRS. “The Stones intended to defraud the United States by maintaining their assets in Drake Ventures’ accounts, which they completely controlled, and using these assets to purchase the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust,” the complaint reads. 

    In November 2019, a jury convicted Stone of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering and sentenced him to 40 months in prison. After his pardon last December, Stone still failed to stay out of trouble. He has recently come under scrutiny for his association with members of the Oath Keepers, an extremist group. Six members who acted as bodyguards for Stone participated in the January 6 Capitol attack.

    Stone told the Associated Press that the government’s tax case against him is “politically motivated” and that its last case against him left him broke. “The American people will learn, in court, that I am on the verge of bankruptcy and that there are no assets for the government to take,” he said.

  • Chauvin’s Lawyer Uses the “Everything But the Knee” Defense

    Court TV Pool/AP

    On Wednesday, in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer accused of murder, a defense witness introduced a brand new theory of what killed George Floyd last May. After dozens of witnesses testified that Floyd died because Chauvin kneeled on his neck for approximately nine minutes, Dr. David Fowler, who has been involved in other high-profile police cases as Maryland’s former chief medical examiner, countered that a slew of contributing factors likely led to Floyd’s death—including the carbon monoxide from a police car’s exhaust pipe. This new assertion only served one purpose: To muddy the waters for the jury that will decide Chauvin’s fate.

    Bystander video of Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe went viral and sparked nationwide protests, but throughout the trial the defense was intent on creating reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. Not only could Floyd have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, but what about his heart condition? And didn’t he really suffer from a drug overdose? In other words, everything but Derek Chauvin’s knee killed George Floyd.

    The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was homicide, and several of the state’s witnesses testified that Floyd died because he couldn’t breathe due to the police restraint. Dr. Fowler, however, said that Floyd’s death was more consistent with sudden cardiac arrest. He told the court that he couldn’t be certain of the victim’s cause of death due to the multiple factors that likely contributed to it. “I would fall back to undetermined in this particular case,” he said.

    We’ve heard about heart conditions and drugs before, but Dr. Fowler’s theory of poisoning by carbon monoxide from a police car’s exhaust when Floyd was handcuffed and laying on the ground brought a new level of creativity to the trial. Not that Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, and Dr. Fowler were suggesting that the main cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, but rather that it could have been a contributing factor. “Now, again, you’re not suggesting to the jury that Mr. Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning?” Nelson asked the doctor. “No, not exclusively,” he answered.

    But here’s where something interesting happened: Dr. Fowler mentioned carbon monoxide so frequently that when he was being cross-examined by the prosecution, Jerry Blackwell, the state’s lawyer grilled Fowler about it. “Do you agree with me that there was no finding of carbon monoxide poisoning from Dr. Baker’s autopsy review?” Blackwell asked. Dr. Fowler agreed. Still, the whole idea of carbon monoxide as a remote and unlikely factor nonetheless somehow became normalized. Then, on Thursday morning, the state sought to include new evidence showing Floyd’s body had a normal range of carbon monoxide in it, but Judge Peter Cahill wouldn’t allow it. 

    Dr. Fowler’s testimony serves the purpose of confusing the jurors, who will be sequestered in order to deliberate after closing arguments that begin on Monday. He essentially offered the proposition that despite all the other testimony, despite the video evidence to the contrary, no one can definitely know what killed Floyd last May. And if the jury can’t definitively say that it was Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he could no longer breathe, as several witnesses testified, then they can’t issue a guilty verdict. By arguing that it was a drug overdose, a cardiac event, and maybe even car exhaust fumes, the defense renders Chauvin in his capacity as a law enforcement officer, if not powerless, then limited in his capacity to inflict deadly harm. It wasn’t a white police officer that killed Floyd. It was Floyd’s own body, and by extension, his own fault.

  • Jim Jordan Started Ranting About “Lost Liberty” in the Pandemic. Dr. Fauci Wasn’t Having It.

    Susan Walsh/Pool/CNP/Zuma

    At a House coronavirus hearing on Thursday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) began berating Dr. Anthony Fauci about the liberties he believes have been restricted thanks to mask mandates and social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. Fauci was not amused.

    “Dr. Fauci, over the last year, Americans’ First Amendment rights have been completely attacked,” Jordan said, his mask slipping under his nose. “Your right to go to church, your right to assemble, your right to petition your government, freedom of the press, freedom of speech have all been assaulted.”

    As an example of a limit on freedom of assembly, Jordan referenced a curfew in Ohio meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus—but he didn’t mention the curfews enacted in many cities last spring in response to protests against police violence. To Jordan, limiting the capacities of places of worship and restricting constituents’ access to their state houses constitute egregious violations of the rights to worship and to petition the government.

    “I don’t look at this as a liberty thing, Congressman Jordan,” Fauci said. “I look at this as a public health thing.”

  • Indigenous and Environmental Groups Warn Biden Not to Trust Bolsonaro

    A Brazilian soldier puts out fires in the Amazon in 2019.Leo Correa/AP

    In a campaign video released on Monday, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) urged President Joe Biden not to trust the far-right Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro. “We know the White House is making a secret climate deal with Bolsonaro,” the message says. “Do not let this man negotiate the future of the Amazon.” The video, which is going viral and has been shared by celebrities like actor Mark Ruffalo and Brazilian singer Anitta, goes on to say Brazil’s president has declared war on Indigenous people and on democracy, is spreading “COVID, lies, and hate,” and has called into question the results of the United States’ presidential elections that culminated in his friend and ally Donald Trump’s defeat. “Here’s the deal, Mr. President: It’s either the Amazon or Bolsonaro. You can’t have both. Which side are you on?”

    Bolsonaro is among the 40 world leaders Biden invited to attend a virtual climate summit next week on Earth Day “to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.” The US and Brazilian governments have reportedly been negotiating a billion-dollar agreement to fight deforestation and climate change. According to the Brazilian government, Brazil’s minister of the environment, Ricardo Salles, and other Cabinet members, as well as representatives of the Foreign Affairs ministry, have met with former Secretary of State John Kerry, who Biden appointed as the US special presidential envoy for climate, as part of a series of online bilateral meetings.

    Last month, Salles said in an interview that Brazil would commit to reducing the deforestation of the Amazon by 40 percent in exchange for $1 billion in funds over one year from the US government. One-third of those funds would go toward financing direct initiatives to curb deforestation, and two-thirds to foster economic development in the region. According to Brazil’s most prominent newspaper, the Folha de S. Paulo, Salles showed Kerry’s team a PowerPoint presentation with the illustration of a stray dog wagging its tail and drooling over a case of rotisserie-style chickens—the kind you can find in any bakery in Brazil.

    The image, which Folha de S. Paulo reported was not immediately understood by the US officials, apparently carried the message that the Brazilian government is eagerly anticipating a reward for any collaboration on climate, but is likely “to bite and run.”

    Last week, almost 200 Brazilian civil society organizations and collectives published the open letter, which they sent to the offices of Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Kerry, and Democratic lawmakers. They warned that giving “resources and political prestige to Bolsonaro” and entering any deals without the Brazilian government showing a good-faith effort to reverse its anti-environmental agenda would amount to an endorsement of the “humanitarian tragedy” and destructive policies underway in the country. “It is not reasonable to expect the solutions for the Amazon and its people will come from negotiations made behind closed doors with your worst enemy,” the letter reads. For Greenpeace Brazil, giving Bolsonaro “a blank check” comes with no guarantee that the money would be used to protect the rainforest. In fact, it could risk making Biden complicit in its ongoing environmental destruction. 

    The prospect of a deal between the two countries on the environment marks a shift from the more adversarial stances both leaders took before the US election. At a presidential debate in September, Biden suggested that Brazil might suffer “economic consequences” if it didn’t “stop tearing down” the Amazon and called for the international community to offer $20 billion to end illegal deforestation. In response, Bolsonaro characterized Biden’s remarks as “coward threats” and an attack on Brazil’s sovereignty. Since his election, the US president has sent his Brazilian counterpart a letter outlining opportunities for bilateral collaboration on the pandemic and climate.

    Behind the scenes, however, the Biden administration has strongly signaled that Brazil’s approach to climate will set the tone for the relations between the two countries moving forward. A State Department spokesperson recently told CNN that the US expects “a very clear commitment” from the Brazilian government to fight deforestation in the Amazon, and Todd Chapman, the US ambassador to Brazil, reportedly gave Bolsonaro an ultimatum to set environmental goals at the April summit. 

    “Bolsonaro is the problem, not a solution,” Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory network of organizations, wrote on Twitter. Indeed, the Brazilian president’s record on the environment is nothing short of disastrous. During his administration, deforestation rates in the Amazon—driven by land-grabbing and illegal logging and mining—reached a 12-year high. This March a loss of 367,61 km² (or about 90,838 acres) was recorded, threatening an increased risk of wildfires. Bolsonaro has consistently dismantled environmental policies, loosened regulations, and drained enforcement agencies of resources, while staffing them with military appointees. Just last week, Salles fired four officials in leadership positions at the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), which handed out 42 percent fewer fines for violations against the Amazon in 2020 when compared to the previous year. 

    All this has taken place amid one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, largely as a result of Bolsonaro’s refusal to follow and implement public health recommendations, for which he’s currently facing a congressional investigation. Bolsonaro has also proposed a bill to allow mining on protected land. It’s just one example of how he’s taken advantage of the national focus on the pandemic to weaken environmental protections, while invasions of Indigenous territories by miners, ranchers, and land grabbers and attacks on environmentalists have spiked. The administration’s strategy of deploying military troops to fight deforestation has failed. About $500 million in donations from developed countries to the Amazon Fund, which is managed by the Brazilian Development Bank, have remained untouched, raising questions about how serious the government has been in its request for additional foreign aid, now from the US. Meanwhile, the minister of the environment is pushing to pass so-called “land-grabber bills” that would lead to even more occupation and exploitation of public lands. 

    Earlier this year, Indigenous leaders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity for the persecution of Indigenous people and environmental damage. Environmentalists say his actions rise to the level of “ecocide,” which has yet to be recognized under international criminal law. Indigenous communities have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with more than 52,000 confirmed cases among 163 different populations. In the face of existential threats to their lives and livelihoods, they are demanding a seat at the table in any negotiation with the United States about the Amazon. “Biden’s election has enshrined the will of Americans to be in the right side of history,” the letter signed by APIB and other Indigenous and environmental groups says. “Doing it right for Brazilians would be a powerful show of that will.” 

  • The Cop Who Shot Daunte Wright Will Be Charged With Manslaughter

    Henry Pan/Zuma

    Kim Potter, the former police officer who fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright this weekend, will be charged with second-degree manslaughter, a Minnesota prosecutor announced Wednesday.

    The announcement of charges against Potter comes after days of clashes between protesters and police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, the Minneapolis suburb where Potter killed Wright with a single bullet after repeatedly shouting, “Taser!” Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force, resigned on Tuesday. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison, although the state recommends lower sentences for people with no prior criminal records.

    Meanwhile, the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd continues in a Minneapolis courtroom not far from the site of Wright’s death.

  • The Cop Who Shot Daunte Wright Just Resigned

    A protestor confronts police during a demonstration over the death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.ImageSPACE/Zuma

    Kim Potter, the police officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Sunday, has resigned, as has the city’s police chief.

    Potter, a 26-year veteran police officer, repeatedly shouted, “Taser!” before firing one fatal shot into Wright’s car. Tim Gannon, the former police chief, said that Potter had mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of her taser.

    Wright’s parents don’t accept that explanation. “I lost my son,” Aubrey Wright, Daunte’s father, said in an interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America today. “He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that.”

    “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability,” Potter wrote in her resignation letter, “but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”

    Watch Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott announce the resignations below:

  • The NCAA Signals It Might Remove Championships From States that Target Trans Athletes

    Stephen Groves/AP

    On Monday, the NCAA made its most definitive statement yet regarding transgender athletes and the flurry of state-level bills seeking to ban them from organized sports. The association’s Board of Governors reiterated their “unequivocal” support for trans athletes. Taking a further step, the board even suggested that championship play would only happen in cities and states that are “free from discrimination.” It isn’t the NCAA pulling out of states with anti-trans bills yet. But it’s a signal they might.

    “The NCAA has a long-standing policy that provides a more inclusive path for transgender participation in college sports,” the statement says. They point out that their approach—since 2010 they’ve allowed trans women to compete as long as they’re taking testosterone suppressing drugs—is in line with both the international and U.S. Olympic committees’ regulations. “Our clear expectation as the Association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect.”

    Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee have all passed bills in recent weeks that would prohibit trans athletes from competing in women’s divisions. At least 20 other states are still considering similar legislation, including West Virginia, where an anti-trans sports bill is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a similar bill—thanks at least in part to pressure from the NCAA—only to issue a series of executive orders that, in essence, do the exact same thing, but don’t explicitly reference transgender people. The bills are the latest iteration of the right’s moral panic over LGBTQ rights, complete with the (patronizing) claim that cisgender women need to be “protected” from their transgender peers. 

    The NCAA has become one of the more vocal opponents of trans-exclusionary politics, dating back to a high profile boycott of North Carolina after the state passed its controversial “bathroom bill” in 2016. The bill likely cost the state billions in lost revenue thanks to business boycotts, including the NCAA. Nonetheless, the Association has also been criticized for its poor treatment of women athletes and belated response to the anti-trans bills. More than 500 NCAA athletes signed a letter to the NCAA president and Board of Governors earlier this year, calling out their silence on the issue. 

    “The harm these bills will cause will be felt by generations of athletes to come,” they wrote. “Trans youth will not be able to play and excel at the sports they love, causing a ripple effect that will eventually remove an integral element of the diversity of college sport. Failure to speak up now will harm current and future athletes—perhaps irreparably.” 

  • “A Really Tragic Thing”: Biden Reacts to Daunte Wright’s Death

    People protest the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.ImageSPACE/Zuma

    Before leading a discussion of his infrastructure plan in the Oval Office on Monday, President Biden took a moment to acknowledge the death of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man whom police shot during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday.

    “I haven’t called Daunte Wright’s family, but my prayers are with their family,” Biden said. “It’s a really tragic thing that happened.”

    An officer shot Wright in what police are calling an “accidental discharge.” In video released by the department, an officer yells “Taser!” multiple times before firing her gun. “Holy shit, I just shot him,” the officer says. “It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department said.

    Wright was reportedly stopped for traffic violations. Police chose to arrest him because of an existing warrant, according to the New York Times.

    As my colleague Madison Pauly reported, the suburb’s police department works with the private company Lexipol, “which sells policy handbooks and training modules to police departments across the country.” Critics have pushed back against this practice:

    According to the company, the policies it drafts for police—including those that govern the use of force—are based on “best practices,” court precedent, and federal and state laws, and police departments are encouraged to customize them.

    But some experts criticize the policies for being overly permissive or vague, giving officers as much latitude as legally possible. And that’s by design. “One of our secret sauces, so to speak, is rarely if ever will you see the use of the word ‘shall’ in our policies,” Bruce Praet, an ex-cop and one of Lexipol’s founders, said in a 2019 webinar. “Nothing in police work is black and white except the car you drive…So policies need to be flexible.”

    Biden called for a “full-blown investigation” into Wright’s death to determine the officer’s intent. “In the meantime,” he said, “I want to make it clear, again, there is absolutely no justification…for looting.”

    Biden’s remarks, though tempered, stand in contrast to former President Trump’s refusal to address the killing of George Floyd in the months after he died under the knee of then-officer Derek Chauvin, even as protests against police violence erupted across the nation. Instead of addressing racism in law enforcement, Trump tended to call for more policing, often repeating—and tweeting—the phrase, “law and order.” In a Minneapolis courtroom near where Wright was killed, Chauvin’s trial is ongoing.

    “We do know that the anger, pain, and trauma that exists in the Black community in that environment is real,” Biden said. But until a thorough investigation takes place, “I’m calling for peace and calm.”

  • Police in Minnesota Suburb Where Daunte Wright Was Killed Rely on Policies Designed to Protect Cops

    Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim GannonStephen Maturen/Getty

    Authorities have released body camera footage of the shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed by a police officer on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis. The footage appears to depict an officer yelling “Taser! Taser!” as she points a weapon at Wright for several seconds. Then she appears to fire a shot at Wright through the open door of his car. 

    “Holy shit,” the officer says in the footage as the car accelerates away. “I just shot him.” 

    The officer has been placed on administrative leave while the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates. At a Monday press conference, Brooklyn Center Police Department Chief Tim Gannon called the shooting an “accidental discharge.” “It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon told reporters. 

    How could a police officer make such an error? Pressed on the officer’s training, background, and length of employment, Gannon demurred, calling her only “very senior.” Members of his police department, he explained, wear their gun and Taser on opposite sides of their body and go through “numerous trainings throughout the year” on firearms, Tasers, and tactics.

    The police department’s own policy manual, posted on Brooklyn Center’s city website, offers some further clues to the situation. The manual is written by a private company called Lexipol, which sells policy handbooks and training modules to police departments across the country. According to the company, the policies it drafts for police—including those that govern the use of force—are based on “best practices,” court precedent, and federal and state laws, and police departments are encouraged to customize them.

    But some experts criticize the policies for being overly permissive or vague, giving officers as much latitude as legally possible. And that’s by design. “One of our secret sauces, so to speak, is rarely if ever will you see the use of the word ‘shall’ in our policies,” Bruce Praet, an ex-cop and one of Lexipol’s founders, said in a 2019 webinar. “Nothing in police work is black and white except the car you drive…So policies need to be flexible.” One of those policies states that an officer’s use of deadly force is justified in the face of an “imminent” threat of serious injury or death. Imminent, according to Lexipol, is broader than immediate, and includes any situation in which an officer “reasonably believes” an individual has a weapon and intends to use it.

    As I reported last year in a story involving the fatal police shooting of Kris Jackson, a Black 22-year-old in California:

    Some of the company’s policies, including the use-of-force policy challenged by Jackson’s family, depart in significant ways from recommendations by mainstream policing organizations. The National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, a collaboration between 11 major law enforcement groups, requires cops to try deescalation techniques before using force if possible. Lexipol discourages police departments from requiring them. Lexipol’s policy allows officers to shoot at moving vehicles in some circumstances, a practice that the Police Executive Research Forum recommends against because it may injure or kill civilians and officers. The ACLU has contested Lexipol’s rules for handling immigration violations, which in some states include a provision allowing cops to consider “a lack of English proficiency” when deciding whether someone may have entered the country illegally.

    Despite these challenges, the company has marketed its policies as a way to decrease cities’ liability in police misconduct lawsuits. In its communications with potential clients, Lexipol has claimed that agencies that use its policies are sued less frequently and pay out smaller settlements, according to a Texas Law Review analysis of public records. The company’s critics argue that it accomplishes this with vague or permissive rules that meet bare-minimum legal requirements rather than holding officers to a higher standard. “They want to make it impossible, or nearly impossible, for anybody to point to the policy and say it was violated,” says Carl Takei, an ACLU senior staff attorney specializing in police practices. “Defining ‘imminent’ in a way that removes all of the immi­nence? That’s a classic Lexipol policy.” Samuel Sinyangwe, a racial justice activist and data analyst who has looked at hundreds of police departments’ policies, concludes that Lexipol’s use-of-force guidelines usually lack requirements that have been shown to reduce police violence. Lexipol did not respond to a request for comment.

    Since the death of George Floyd sparked a nationwide outcry against police violence and racism, Lexipol has updated its use of force policy and rolled out a website dedicated to explaining it. Now, the company may come under scrutiny again. On Sunday, Sinyangwe drew attention to Brooklyn Center’s use of Lexipol policies on Twitter, writing that the company has “no interest in accountability.” 

    With Wright’s death currently under investigation, it’s still unclear what Lexipol policies adopted by Brooklyn Center police may be relevant to the shooting. For example, according to the department’s Lexipol-provided manual, Tasers must be “clearly and distinctly marked to differentiate them from the duty weapon and any other device.”

    Yet other language in the policy is vague and full of loopholes. “The use of the TASER device on certain individuals should generally be avoided,” the policy states, unless other options “reasonably appear ineffective” under the “totality of the circumstances.” Those “certain individuals” who shouldn’t be tased include “obvious juveniles”; those with “obviously low body mass”; and those “whose position or activity may result in collateral injury (e.g., falls from height, operating vehicles).”

    After Wright was shot, his car traveled for several blocks before crashing into another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

  • The House Ethics Committee Is Investigating Matt Gaetz

    Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Zuma

    The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is reportedly also the subject of a Justice Department inquiry into whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her travel, potentially violating federal sex trafficking laws.

    In a statement, the committee listed a litany of allegations for which it would be investigating Gaetz: that he may have “engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.”

    Still, the representative’s legal troubles—and his lack of support from fellow Republicans—haven’t kept him from trying to make a buck:

  • US Gun Violence Is an “International Embarrassment,” Biden Says

    Yuri Gripas/Pool/CNP/Zuma

    Less than a month after mass shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boulder, Colorado, left 18 people dead, President Biden called gun violence an “international embarrassment,” called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and announced a series of executive actions aimed at restricting access to firearms.

    “Enough prayers,” he said in the Rose Garden Thursday. “Time for some action.”

    Biden insisted that none of his executive actions violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, noting that even the First Amendment has its limitations. He called on Congress to pass a national extreme risk protection order law, or “red flag” law, and announced an executive action directing the Justice Department to draft model legislation that would make it easier for states to pass such laws, meant to bar people from accessing firearms if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

    Other aspects of Biden’s order are aimed at stopping the proliferation of homemade “ghost guns” that lack serial numbers, investing in community-based violence mitigation, and ensuring that the Justice Department publishes an annual report on firearms trafficking.

    The president also urged the Senate to approve House-passed legislation that would require background checks for gun purchases at gun shows, close a loophole that allows people to buy guns without a completed background check if the check isn’t processed within three days; and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

    The recent gun violence has not been limited to Atlanta and Boulder. Earlier today, former NFL player Phillip Adams allegedly shot and killed five people before killing himself. 

    After his talk, Biden shared an elbow bump with former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot during a 2011 assassination attempt. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation,” he concluded.

  • Trump Breaks His Silence to Give the Weakest Possible Defense of Matt Gaetz

    Paul Hennessy/ZUMA

    Nearly a week after allegations of sex trafficking involving Rep. Matt Gaetz—one of Donald Trump’s most flamboyant, unapologetic defenders in Congress—became public, the former president is finally acknowledging the Florida congressman’s existence. But his new statement, clocking in at just 24 words, is far from the full-throated defense Gaetz was likely hoping to receive.

    “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” reads Trump’s Wednesday statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”

    The statement specifically responds to only a small part of Gaetz’s imploding scandals, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that it involves Trump himself. On Tuesday night, the New York Times reported that Gaetz, in the final weeks of Trump’s presidency, approached the White House for “blanket preemptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional aides.” The request came as the Justice Department began questioning Gaetz about his alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old. Trump’s response on Wednesday appears carefully worded to note that Gaetz did not ask him personally for such pardons—never mind that the Times never reported that.

    As for the allegations of sex trafficking a minor, paying for sex, and other sordid details that have emerged in the past week, Trump merely noted that Gaetz denies them all. That rather milquetoast defense is a good reminder that Trump, who stands credibly accused by more than 20 women of sexual assault and misconduct, also denies the allegations against him.

  • Cuomo’s Turn to the Left Is Only Proving He Was The Problem

    Lev Radin/ZUMA

    Andrew Cuomo is on a curious streak of being good at his job. In the last week, after years of countless false starts, the New York governor announced a deal to legalize marijuana. He finally signed a bill to end solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails. And, on Monday, reports emerged that Cuomo was nearing a deal to impose new taxes on millionaires and corporate franchises. These are all big, popular, progressive wins from a Democratic governor. 

    Yet, it all comes as the three-term Democrat faces the biggest threats to his political career after a wave of sexual harassment allegations and a separate scandal over his administration’s manipulation of coronavirus data. Some have chalked up the governor’s dramatic leftward shift in recent weeks as a strategic effort to distract from mounting demands within his own party for him to resign.

    But none of this should absolve him. Cuomo’s newfound willingness to take action on distinctly progressive issues—and perhaps, more importantly, the smooth ease with which he is suddenly able to turn the left’s biggest policy priorities into a political reality—exposes that it was Cuomo who largely stood in the way of such progress in the first place. After all, Democrats have had trifecta control of the state’s government since 2019. That it took the worst scandals of a political career to convince him to finally take action on overwhelmingly popular policies that had otherwise languished in Albany is not just telling, but serves as a useful reminder that Cuomo is eager to fashion himself into a progressive hero when it benefits him most. 

    It adds to a poor record, too. His work to legalize gay marriage and enact increased gun control, both significant wins, once appeared prime to turn him into a potential presidential candidate. But for progressives, they did little to cover up Cuomo’s devastating cuts to social programs such as Medicaid—including during the pandemic—in a state where one out of every three rely on the critical healthcare program, his frequent battles with unions, and pervasive accusations of running an abusive government plagued with rampant corruption. As for his accomplishments, many saw the governor riding on the coattails of a movement that had put in years of tireless work to make their policies popular. “You can be a politician’s politician and tough to move on an issue until you see a public out there that’s clamoring,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal once told The Atlantic. “You still deserve credit for getting it done, but where were you when an issue was not popular?”

    Still, Cuomo, who often views himself as the only adult in the room, bashed those who questioned his progressive credentials. 

    “I am the left,” he declared in a July 2019 radio interview, before firing off at critics for engaging in fantastical policies that lacked, according to him, a “realistic plan or knowledge.” In the same conversation, Cuomo boldly labeled himself the “most progressive leader” in New York. Now, the rush to usher in these policies should only be seen as a self-serving, last-ditch effort to save a floundering political career.

    But Cuomo’s recent embrace of a more left leaning platform could also reflect a larger awakening among establishment Democrats, who seem increasingly willing to break with the supposed center. Once derided as magical, fringe ideas—held by dangerous amateurs who didn’t know better—this agenda is proving itself not only overwhelmingly popular with the electorate, but actually achievable. The same realization could be applied to the early days of the current White House, where President Biden, once a vocal defender of the filibuster, is hinting that he may support eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to advance most legislation. Other moderate Democrats, including Amy Klobuchar, have also come out in support of filibuster reform. In another potential reversal, White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Politico on Thursday that Biden is still considering taking executive action to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt. Polls have shown that a majority of Americans support both changes to the filibuster and some form of government aid to helps students repay loans.

    For the most part, this is all pretty encouraging stuff. But in the case of Andrew Cuomo, it really makes you wonder what more could be achieved when self-serving men get out of the way and start thinking about what’s best for the people. How much could have been done if Cuomo didn’t need to stop it from happening to burnish his own reputation? For now, the left will welcome and reap the benefits—and keep telling Cuomo to resign. 

  • Don’t Listen to the GOP: Colorado May Stink at Baseball, But it Wins on Voting

    Denver's Coors Field.Russell Lansford/Icon SMI via Zuma

    Being a willing fan of the Colorado Rockies is not easy. Our team is a national punchline, and we’re starting off the 2021 season having traded away Nolan Arenado, a once-in-a-generation third baseman whose only crime was to ask for the team to try. Arenado is now playing for an actual baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Rockies even paid the Cardinals $50 million to take him. Between the Arenado/Rockies divorce, the depressing intransigence of management, and the general state of play over the last couple of years, things haven’t been exactly fun.

    But on Tuesday, Colorado baseball got a very rare bit of good news: Denver’s Coors Field will play host to this summer’s All-Star game, after Major League Baseball decided it did not want one of its premiere events associated with Georgia’s new laws that will make it harder for people to vote.

    “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing it would yank the event. “Fair access to voting continues to have our unwavering support.” 

    The selection makes perfect sense: Colorado’s election laws have helped foster one of the nation’s highest levels of voter turnout. Despite that, once the game landed in Denver, Republicans and conservatives immediately howled hypocrisy, ludicrously claiming the state has more “restrictive” voting laws than Georgia. To do so, they cited Colorado’s own voter ID rule, and the fact that the state has two fewer in-person early voting days than Georgia now will.

    While that last bit is technically true, it’s pretty irrelevant to Coloradans, the vast majority of whom vote by mail on ballots mailed to them automatically by local governments weeks before Election Day. Meanwhile, Georgia’s new law cuts the time voters can request an absentee ballot in half and bars election officials from even mailing out absentee ballot applications.

    As for ID, as was quickly pointed out by the Washington Post and others, there are major differences between Colorado’s existing requirements and Georgia’s new ones. For the relatively small amount of Colorado voters who turn out in person, the state’s voter ID requirements are classified as “non-strict” by the National Council of State Legislatures. For one, they accept a broader range of documents then Georgia’s new “strict” requirements. And if a voter can’t produce acceptable ID, they can vote by provisional ballot, “at which time,” according to the Post, “elections officials are charged with verifying their eligibility.” Under Georgia’s new rules, voters forced to cast provisional ballots because they can’t produce a photo ID are tasked with, on their own, presenting one to officials within 72 hours. When it comes to mail voters, the overwhelming majority of Coloradans usually don’t have to worry about ID, while in Georgia, all mail voters will now have to provide some proof of identification, every time they send a ballot.

    Major League Baseball’s decision wasn’t made in a vacuum, and was made even though it knew the sport would invite inevitable blowback based on former President Donald Trump’s false claims that Georgia’s 2020 elections were fraudulent. The state’s top election officials, including the Republican secretary of state, have said the notion is utterly unfounded.

    That’s why White House Press Secretary said Tuesday that Georgia’s laws were “built on a lie”: 

    This year, us Rockies fans know we’re looking at another basement finish. We lament the loss of Arenado and wish him the best in St. Louis. But at least we can take comfort that Colorado’s election regime, widely hailed as a national model, has helped give the fans who watched him grow a chance to see him take Coors Field once more and see him play his sixth-straight All-Star game.

  • This Former Trump Official Was Just Banned From Federal Office for Violating the Hatch Act

    Kathy Willens/AP

    After making a video featuring New York City Housing Authority buildings and using it at the 2020 Republican National Convention, former Trump official Lynne Patton, who served as a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been banned from serving in government for four years.

    On Tuesday, the US Office of Special Counsel announced that Patton agreed to the ban plus a $1,000 fine after legal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against her for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity.

    According to documents obtained by CREW, Patton misrepresented her intentions to NYCHA tenants telling them the video would “highlight nonpartisan issues” about the dire conditions of public housing in New York—not that it would be used to promote former president Donald Trump’s re-election effort.

    That still doesn’t fully explain why the video seemed so bizarre when it aired at the RNC last August. Among other distortions, the video blamed Democrats and undocumented immigrants for long waiting lists for public housing. Then there’s the unusual experience of seeing a pro-public housing video for a president who’d been sued for housing discrimination. As I wrote last year:

    The incoherence of the messaging again begs the question: Who in the world was this video for? The handful of Black conservatives who like to dabble in xenophobia as a reason for the current state of affairs for our community? Is there a Public Housing Lovers Caucus in the Republican party that we don’t know about?

    Despite the deluge of racism coming from the Trump White House, I found when I profiled her in 2019, that Patton, a Black woman, was a very loyal Trump official.

    Black conservatives like Patton, long confusing to liberals, are positively confounding in the age of Trump. Why do they stick by a president who makes openly racist statements and inspires white supremacists? But Patton insisted that she’s worked for Donald Trump and his family for a decade and truly believes that if they were racist, “one of the children would have slipped up by now.”

    During her four year tenure at HUD, Patton served as a model Trump official, always toeing the line. She heavily-focused on owning the libs in her Twitter feed, spent a month living in public housing to see conditions firsthand, and made a guest appearance at the hearing of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who accused his ex-boss of racism. Mark Meadows, who would go on to serve as Trump’s Chief of Staff, used Patton as a representation of why Trump wasn’t racist. 

    Of course, she regularly blew off previous accusations of being excessively, illegally political in her behavior. In September 2019, when Twitter users called her out for a possible violation of the Hatch Act  she responded: “What part of I don’t give a shit don’t you understand?”

    Perhaps that was the right mentality all along. Patton’s ban only lasts as long as President Joe Biden’s current term. That means the door will be open for her to get a job in any future Republican administration. 

  • Stream “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” If You’re a “Good” Christian

    Lil Nas X/Screenshot/YouTube

    What does it mean to be a “good” Christian? I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church and in the company of YoungLife—an over-the-top, (some would even joke) cult group for adolescent, “friendly” evangelicalism. The question was a part of daily life. It is a part of my daily life. (I still practice the Christian faith.) And Lil Nas X’s new song and video, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” seemed to re-stoke that debate within me.

    Amid a flurry of Christian imagery—the Garden of Eden, a snake, heaven and hell, ancient Rome, the devil—Montero (Lil Nas X’s given name) asks where he fits into God’s world. Or, if he fits at all. And it struck me. This is one of the most obvious Christian works I’ve seen!

    And yet, many Christians didn’t see it that way. “Devil worshipping, wicked nonsense,” a pastor called it. The governor of South Dakota, Republican Kristi Noem, weighed in with similar anger. After seeing Lil Nas X collaborated with fashion brand MSCHF (pronounced “mischief”) to launch limited edition “Satan Shoes” in promotion of the track (each shoe contained a single drop of human blood), Noem even took to Twitter to claim that the only thing more exclusive than these sneakers was “[our kids’] God-given eternal soul.” Turning Point USA’s Alex Clark took to her “Poplitics” IGTV show to go on an almost 10-minute tirade against the artist, incorrectly claiming he has no Grammy Awards (he has two), calling his fans “jobless gays on Twitter,” and calling the shoes “100 percent Satanic” before telling Lil Nas X that “hell and the devil are completely real.”

    I am not foolish. I understand why a Black gay man bothers some Christians. (And why the video—in which Lil Nas X pole dances down to Hell and gives Satan a lap dance—really, really bothers them.) But I also saw something else. Montero is engaging with the Church’s symbols seriously. Most pop stars sell “sex” in their work in a way that rejects the Church completely. But Montero is asking to be part of its lineage. In many ways, Montero’s claim here is not a rejection of the Church or its value. It’s an invitation for Christians to reflect and ask questions about how they might align their faith with Christ’s message: love.

    Because yes, our love looks like this, conflicted by religion, pained by its oppression, and reactive to those who condemn us. It looks like this music video.

    “If your initial reaction is being offended, that’s totally understandable,” Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project, tells me. “But I also encourage people to think more about why he thinks this—what does that say about the church? Because this is the message that so many queer people have gotten.” Montero himself made this exact point, tweeting: “i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”

    Vines has spent years walking the fine line between the type of conservative Christianity that Montero has brought out of the woodwork and LGBTQ+ affirming theology. And he understands the backlash. But he’s also serious about where the backlash is coming from. “It’s definitely possible to be LGBTQ and Christian,” Vines says over the phone. “The video is just a reminder of how far there still is to go before that message can even be heard and internalized by so many people because so many churches still are teaching a false dichotomy.”

    With the initial release, Montero released a short note to his 14-year-old self: “you see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say i’m pushing an agenda. but the truth is, i am. the agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be. sending you love from the future.” In his breakdown of the track for Genius, he furthers that perspective: “Anything I do or say it’s me opening my mouth and a lot of people see it as me opening my mouth for so many people. And not because I’m Lil Nas X, but because of my identity itself too.” Built into his narrative from the get-go is no question as to why he’s doing it. It’s to tell his truth—or testimony, as we like to call it in Jesus circles. We Christians don’t get to disregard someone’s lived truth just because we don’t like it or we don’t like the story it tells.

     

    “There have been other artists who have brought forth some sort of imagery or depictions that have created a little bit of this,” explains Rev. Timoth Sylvia of Newman Congregational Church in Rhode Island, who went semi-viral TikTok for his theological perspective on the track. “What I keep landing on is that the difference here is a Little Nas X is gay.” And he’s right.

    @revtimoth

    @lilnasx ushering in the Great Emergence. #Christianity #hell #toxictheology #church #rummage #lgbtq #falseteacher #queerpastor#therev

    ♬ Oh No – Kreepa

    There is a lot of trauma in my childhood and my young adult life that stems from these two identities that were pitted against each other for no reason. Seeing Montero’s interpretation of his own journey with that white-heterosexual-Christian-based culture, personally, was powerful. The star gives credence to queer people who are looking for more than an invitation to “exist,” it gives us the tools to dismantle rhetorical and systematic oppression through humor, shock, and allegory. It can give queer people the language and the imagery to have conversations around why the ideas the church purports about queerness are painful, manipulative, and completely at odds with who Christ is. Montero pulls back the curtain for others like him, giving us the tools to claim our seat at Christ’s table.

    It’s the healing power of the church that Montero invites us queer folk into. “It’s as if folks are feeling that they’re seen,” says Rev. Sylvia. “That’s such an important element of the healing process, that someone has acknowledged my trauma, someone has acknowledged my pain. And they’re willing to sit with me in it.”

  • “A Scam”: New Report Details How Trump Campaign Bilked Millions From Supporters

    Mother Jones illustration; Getty, Michael Brochstein/Getty

    When Donald Trump’s campaign budget was largely tapped this fall, his staff resorted to deceptive online fundraising practices that tricked donors into signing up to make extra or recurring credit card payments.

    According to a New York Times report, the strategies, which involved automatically checking boxes above language consenting to the donations buried below lines and lines of near gibberish, sparked a huge number of complaints, which helped push the campaign to refund an eye popping $64.3 million dollars. According to insiders interviewed by the Times in credit card fraud departments, complaints about unwanted and unexpected charges from Trump donors accounted for as much as 3% of all traffic for periods during the campaign—a stunning number when compared to the massive amount of non-political credit card transactions the companies process.  “It felt,” one victim tells the Times, “like it was a scam.”

    From the New York Times.

    The Trump campaign paid out many of those refunds after the November election, as new piles of cash were coming in, purportedly earmarked to fund legal battles related to his false claim that his reelection was stolen. As the Times reports, “the money that Mr. Trump eventually had to refund amounted to an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race.”

    Since leaving office, Trump has kept his political money machine operational. Just last month he sent cease and desist letters to the Republican National Committee and other party arms demanding they stop using his name and likeness in fundraising, and told donors to instead give to a PAC he controls.

  • Republicans Rush to Cancel Baseball

    Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds hits a foul ball in a spring training game.Ross D. Franklin

    Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it would move two marquee scheduled events—July’s All Star Game and its player draft—from Atlanta in response to a new law, ushered in by the state’s Republican legislature and governor, that makes it harder for many Georgians to cast ballots. The bill comes just months after voters turned out in massive numbers and handed unprecedented victories to President Joe Biden and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock—all Democrats.

    In response to the relocations, elected Republicans quickly took the field to voice support for stripping Major League Baseball of a federal antitrust exemption that has been key to the league’s operations since it was won in a controversial 1922 Supreme Court case.

    Rep. Jeff Duncan—a South Carolina Republican whose Twitter bio notes he is a “Lover of football”—was among the earliest to float the step, which was quickly endorsed in one way or another by several of his party’s most prominent figures, including Donald Trump Jr. and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

    No other US sport has such an exemption, and while it’s been repeatedly held up in the courts and sustained by subsequent Congressional action, its effects have long been debated. Some credit it with helping keep longstanding teams operating in small markets, while others have complained it gives owners unfair advantages.

    But moving to take it away now, after nearly a century, is a clear act of retaliation against a corporate entity that dared to take a position contrary to the modern GOP. That’s foul ball.