18-Year-Old Transgender Activist Pulled Into Unmarked Van by NYPD

A popular video of an unmarked Kia minivan stopping near a protest against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) shows a group of plainclothes officers using physical force to push a protester down to the pavement and shoving her into the unmarked car. 

The protester, named Nikki Stone is an eighteen-year-old transgender woman who was peacefully protesting against the NYPD. She was physically assaulted by officers as about 200 people were leaving a small plaza during a demonstration against police brutality. As protestors rushed to record the violence and help her, several officers arrived on bicycles, pushing the crowd away from the vehicle. Protestors at the scene described the incident as a “kidnapping.” Stone has since been released from police custody, facing multiple charges. 

Late Tuesday, the NYPD confirmed that officers had arrested a protestor and moved her into an unmarked van. They claimed that she had been taken into custody for damaging police cameras around City Hall Park. 

“The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects,” NYPD said. “When she was placed into the Warrant Squad’s unmarked gray minivan, it was behind a cordon of NYPD bicycle cops in bright yellow and blue uniform shirts there to help effect the arrest.”

This behavior and violence perpetrated by the NYPD was eerily similar to the extremely violent tactics seen in Portland, Oregon. Earlier this month, reports claimed that in Portland, protesters were being “detained and placed into unmarked vans,” according to The Hill

Although the NYPD claimed that they were “assaulted with rocks and bottles,” videos and protesters told different stories. Clara Krabber, a 20-year-old Oxford student who was at the protest said “we literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning.”

Stone is currently experiencing houselessness, please donate to her housing here.

Sources: NYPD News 07/29/20, The Hill 07/29/20, The Washington Post 07/29/20, Insider 07/29/20

U.N. Report Documents State Violence Against Repatriated North Korean Women

The U.N. human rights office released a report Tuesday showing women in North Korea faced violent human rights abuses in prison after being forcibly returned to the country when seeking employment abroad.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report cites testimony from more than 100 women who escaped after their detention. Detainees described unsanitary conditions in prisons and gender-based violence including rape and forced abortion by guards.

“There were two pregnant women, three months and five months pregnant, who were kicked very badly so that they would have lost their baby by the time they left the facility,” one of the women said.

Tuesday’s new report is the newest document illuminating systemic human rights abuses taking place in North Korea. The country has been repeatedly criticized for abuses in the past and has been sanctioned for violating human rights and threatening to use nuclear attacks against other nations.

Women who testified in the report were often victims of human trafficking as they desperately attempted to escape North Korea. Many faced labor and sexual exploitation.

“It is heartbreaking to read these stories of women who fled their country looking to make ends meet, but who ended up being punished,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement. “These women have a right to justice, truth and reparation.”

North Korea did not immediately respond to this report but has said in the past that criticism of its human rights record was aimed at overthrowing its current regime.

Along with the report, the U.N. human rights office also urged countries to which the women fled, including China, to respect the principle of “non-refoulement,” meaning not deporting people to countries where they could face a real threat of human rights abuses.

Detainees were tortured more severely if they had visited churches while abroad, a witness recounted.

“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead,” the woman said. “I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain.”

Sources: Time 07/28/20; Reuters 07/28/20; DW 07/28/20

Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Abortion Ban

A federal judge temporarily blocked Tennessee’s abortion law on Friday. The law – or “heartbeat bill” – would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks.

The bill was previously stopped through a temporary restraining order by District Judge William L. Campbell less than an hour after being signed into law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood were among the groups that filed the lawsuit against the bill. The temporary restraining order was set to expire by July 27.

The ruling Friday granted a preliminary injunction on the bill, meaning the state won’t be able to implement the ban while it is being tried in court.

Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said of the bill: “As Tennessee and the rest of the country grapple with the dueling public health crises of systemic racism and COVID-19, relitigating the constitutional right to abortion is the last thing politicians should be wasting valuable time and resources on… Let’s be clear — abortion bans are part of a larger, racist public health infrastructure that systematically forces people of color to navigate more barriers just to get the health care they need.”

The Tennessee law was set to take action immediately after passage. Along with banning abortion after fetal heartbeat detection – which can occur as early as six weeks, and before many people know they are pregnant – the law also bans abortions due to sex/race or diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as for juveniles within the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. The bill offers an exception in the case of life endangerment, but not in the cases of rape or incest. If a doctor performs an abortion under the law, they would face a Class C felony charge.

The Governor of Tennessee Bill Lee has boasted the ban to be the most conservative in the nation, and many lawmakers see it as a potential challenge to Roe. V. Wade.

“As the deep roots and tragedies of white supremacy are laid bare, and the pandemic exposes long-ignored health inequities, these anti-abortion lawmakers chose to utilize the state’s limited resources to defend clearly unconstitutional abortion bans that prey on stereotypes, disproportionately harm communities of color, and further entrench systemic racism,” said Jessica Sklarsky, the lead attorney on the case.

Sources: Tennessean 07/27, Reuters 07/27, New York Times 07/27, Feminist Majority Foundation Newswire 07/27

New Planned Parenthood Clinic in Alabama Offers Abortion Services

In Birmingham, Alabama a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Southside area has opened and plans to offer abortion services to the community. The clinic had a soft opening on July 14 and is now open for business. 

The vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast, Barbara Ann Luttrell said “It’s 11,000 square feet, a state-of-the-art facility…we will offer a full spectrum of reproductive health services.” According to Luttrell, at some point, it will start providing abortions. “I don’t have an exact date,” she said. Abortions hadn’t been offered regularly in Southside since 2017. 

In 1988, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Southside was a gathering point for anti-abortion protests, especially for Operation Rescue, a “leading pro-life Christian activist” organization. Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic, killing Robert Sanderson. The clinic was not affiliated with Planned Parenthood. 

Anti-choice groups often surround and picket abortion clinics with volunteer “sidewalk counselors.” These “counselors” attempt to dissuade people from having an abortion. Anticipating trouble, the new facility has a “fenced-in parking area with a gate and security cameras,” according to AL News. Luttrell stated that “security is our number one concern” and “we want our staff to feel safe and secure. We want our patients to feel safe and secure.” Already, there have been protests in front of the construction site. 

As the Birmingham clinic opens, Luttrell assured interviewers, saying “we are absolutely used to having anti-abortion protesters, that’s nothing new.”

Soon after the construction of the new facility began in January 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed the Human Life Protection Act. The act made abortion illegal in Alabama except when the birther’s life is in danger. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued to stop the law from taking effect. The law was later deemed unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. 

Luttrell stated that Planned Parenthood wants to “make sure that abortion is safe, legal and available in Alabama.” This clinic will be the fourth clinic in Alabama to provide abortion services.  

Sources: FBI 07/27/20, AL News 07/27/20, LegiScan 07/27/20, ABC News 07/27/20

U.N. Women Calls Attention to Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence, Economic Insecurity

As gender-based violence and job loss become growing concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the executive director of U.N. Women highlights the struggles faced by women during this time.

In a statement released earlier this year, U.N. Women reported rising numbers of calls to domestic violence helplines and shelters worldwide during the pandemic. Alongside this, government authorities and women’s rights activists have seen an increase in reports of domestic violence.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, points out the gender lens of the coronavirus pandemic. “One of the worrying factors…is the shadow pandemic of the violence against women. Because in order to protect people from infection, people have had to shelter in and be locked in with their abusers. This has given us a bigger problem of how we intervene to save women in an abusive situation,” she said.

With over 243 million women and girls subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last year, Mlambo-Ngcuka stresses that services supporting and protecting victims of domestic abuse must remain open as essential services during the lockdown. She also believes abusers must be removed from homes in order to prevent victims from having to move around to find safety.

U.N. Women has been working in tandem with several organizations to end gender-based violence, including the World Health Organization. However, they have faced challenges with President Trump’s withdrawal of funding from the organization. “We need international institutions more than ever before. We need global solidarity. In the context of the virus, a virus anywhere is a virus everywhere … It means that the WHO will have lesser resources to support the countries that are struggling … All of that means that the fight against the virus is even more complex and more difficult,” she said.

Not only has the pandemic fostered an increase in gender-based violence, but women worldwide are also facing the challenges of job loss. With many women working in the informal sector, they are left without savings, insurance, and enforceable contracts, according to Mlambo-Ngcuka. In addition to their work on gender-based violence, U.N. Women is pushing for governments to provide a clear path of assistance for women in order to prevent economic setbacks.

Sources: U.N. Women 4/6/20; CNBC 7/24/20

Michigan Judge Declines to Release Black Girl Detained for Skipping Online Class

A Michigan judge declined on Monday to release a Black teenage girl from juvenile detention for failing to complete her schoolwork after classes transitioned online because of the pandemic.

The judge deemed that the 15-year-old, referred to with her middle name Grace, was benefitting from the detention and should not be allowed to return home. Grace had previously been put on probation after getting into physical arguments with her mother and stealing a classmate’s phone.

After she was charged for assault and larceny in March, the judge placed her in probation instead of detention, citing the coronavirus pandemic, ProPublica reported. The terms included regular check-ins with a caseworker and keeping up on schoolwork.

As schools nationwide transitioned to online learning amid the pandemic, Grace no longer had access to the support systems at school that previously helped her deal with her ADHD and mood disorder. Despite her teacher saying that Grace was trying hard, Grace was put on probation after her caseworker found out she went back to sleep after their morning check-in one day.

The judge says that she was detained not for missing homework but because she was a threat to her mother. By being in detention, however, Grace did not have as much access to education, therapy, and other support systems that previously improved her mental health.

“This situation is an emotional challenge, but is also a window into the brokenness that demands and deserves attention and repair as to prevent other children and families from being negatively impacted by a system that is supposed to offer protection and support,” Grace’s mother said in a statement.

After the ProPublica report prompted national attention, local residents showed up outside of the courthouse Monday to protest her continued detention. Grace’s case has also renewed the focus on the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects young Black people in the United States.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) suspected race was a factor in Grace’s detention.

“If it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this,” Dingell said Monday on MSNBC. “Putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”

Grace’s case is a symptom of the larger system that puts Black children in the legal system through school, according to Rai LaNier, Wayne County director at Michigan Liberation.

“A lot of Black children get their introduction to the criminal legal system through school, through detention, through the police getting involved because they have no other place to go,” LaNier said.

Sources: ProPublica 07/14/20; The New York Times 07/21/20; NBC 07/20/20

Elderly Cancer Patient Patricia Wright Released from Prison Amidst COVID-19

Patricia Wright, a 69-year-old cancer patient and inmate, was released from prison Tuesday morning. Wright was granted an emergency release by California Governor Gavin Newsom amidst the pandemic.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for 23 years, it is really indescribable,” said Wright. “Oh my God! I’m walking on cloud nine … I just want to sit down at the table with my family and embrace my children.”

Advocates and family members have been pushing for Wright’s release for years, but COVID-19 made the matter all the more urgent. Wright has had breast and ovarian cancer and is legally blind. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy, and doctors have said she has only months left to live.

On Friday, advisors to Governor Newsom announced that the state would be expediting the release of up to 8,000 incarcerated people. Those eligible would include incarcerated people over 30 who have less than 180 days left on their sentence. The goal of this initiative is to create more space in prisons and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in California prisons – which has already infected over 5,841 incarcerated people and caused the deaths of 31. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the United States could see up to 100,000 more deaths due to mass incarceration. This is because “the two things the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends for Americans to fight the virus – social distancing and personal hygiene – are both impossible in jails.”

Wright is only one of many elderly and vulnerable people incarcerated in California but is the first to be granted emergency release by Governor Newsom. The Governor has been hesitant to release people serving time for “violent” or “serious” offenses – even those who are at a high risk of dying due to the pandemic. According to advocates, there are at least 5,000 people incarcerated in California who are 65 years and older and at least 50,000 who have conditions that make them high-risk. Under the new initiative announced Friday, Wright would not have been eligible for release.

Chantel Bonet, Wright’s sister, said of the Governor: “I hope he will look at other inmates who are terminally ill, especially the elderly. You don’t know how meaningful it would be to help them and their families. And they are not a threat to society.”

On her release day, Patricia Wright was wheeled out to cheers of “you’re free!” Family members from across the country, including a granddaughter who had only ever known her grandmother behind bars, greeted her outside.

“We built a relationship over 20-plus years behind prison walls and over 15-minute phone calls,” said Wright’s daughter, Mistey Saffore. “In some ways, I still feel like I’m that 12-year-old little girl when my mom went to prison. I’m ready to just be in her presence.”

Sources: The Guardian 07/23, Feminist Newswire 07/23, Los Angeles Times 07/23, NPR 07/23

Federal Judge Rejects Release of Detained Immigrant Families

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in response to growing concern over the spread of COVID-19.

Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia, denied the blanket release of all families, believing that other options need to be considered. He said ICE had shown its adoption of safety guidelines to protect detainees from the virus, but concurred that “the agency continues to fall short of full compliance with its policies in practice.” This rejection means that parents will have to choose between separating from their children or risk exposing them to the virus by staying together in a confined setting.

Immigrant advocates have been encouraging the Trump administration to release families in custody, arguing that the most effective way to halt the spread of the virus is a release of all detainees. Last month, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the release of children detained for more than 20 days. However, there were concerns that ICE would force families to separate since the order didn’t cover children’s parents. Lawyers were intentional this time in asking for the release of parents as well.

In the ruling, Boasberg acknowledges the issues raised by the plaintiffs, including a failure to implement mask-wearing and social distancing practices at ICE facilities. Individuals detained at these facilities have described bleak conditions where social distancing is actually impossible and COVID-19 symptoms are managed improperly. Although these conditions are frequently denied by ICE, a June report by the Inspector General found that “facilities reported concerns with their inability to practice social distancing among detainees, and to isolate or quarantine individuals who may be infected with COVID-19.”

Attorneys for the detained families are reviewing their options. “Holding asylum seeking families in facilities with active COVID outbreaks or making them give up their kids to protect them is constitutionally punitive,” said attorney Amy Maldonado.

The number of positive coronavirus cases in ICE facilities continues to grow. There have been over 3,700 confirmed cases in custody, and there are currently over 900 detainees who are in isolation or monitoring.

Sources: CNN 7/22/20; Washington Post 7/22/20; Feminist Newswire 7/16/20

Trump Signs Memo to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from Census Numbers

President Donald Trump signed a presidential memo Tuesday aiming to exclude the number of undocumented immigrant populations when redistributing congressional seats following the 2020 census.

The unprecedented move, which civil rights advocates say is unconstitutional, comes a year after the Trump administration tried and failed to include a citizenship question in the census. If implemented, the measure would diminish the political power of areas with more concentrated immigrant populations, which often vote Democratic.

Trump’s move is prompting legal action from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and New York and California, all of whom also litigated the originally proposed citizenship question.

“His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

After the Trump administration announced a citizenship question last year, immigrant rights groups challenged the proposal in a suit that ultimately arrived at the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled with the liberals, writing that the administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question was “contrived.”

Despite the question being struck down and immigrant advocacy groups’ vigorous outreach, activists are still worried that undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families may have lingering fears about the question and not respond to the census.

Without the citizenship question, the Trump administration is trying to gather the information from states through driver’s license and state identification data, which do include citizenship status. So far, the administration has agreements with Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina, and South Dakota to gather the data.

As written in the Constitution, the census ultimately falls under Congress’s authority, not the president’s. In the 14th Amendment, which repealed the racist “three-fifth” clause in the original document, the census is required to count the “whole number of persons in each state,” not only citizens or residents with documentation.

Democratic leadership in Congress have also released statements pushing back on the move, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledging that the House will fight the order.

“Trump’s unlawful effort is designed to again inject fear and distrust into vulnerable and traditionally undercounted communities, while sowing chaos with the Census,” Pelosi said. “The House of Representatives will vigorously contest the President’s unconstitutional and unlawful attempt to impair the Census.”

Sources: NPR 07/21/20; CNN 07/21/20; NBC 07/21/20; NPR 07/14/20

“Anti-Feminist” Lawyer Allegedly Shoots Female Judge’s Family, Killing Her Son

Roy Den Hollander, a lawyer from George Washington University Law School, who described himself as an “anti-feminist” and someone who defends “men’s rights”, shot himself and is the primary suspect in the shooting of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ husband and son. The FBI has confirmed his death and the death of Salas’ son. When investigators found Hollander’s body, they also found an empty package nearby that was addressed to Judge Salas.

Hollander entered the Salas’ home in New Jersey dressed as a FedEx driver, shooting her son the moment he opened the door. The judge’s husband was also shot multiple times. After hearing screams and gunshots, Salas ran upstairs from the basement.

Salas’ husband was critically injured but is stable. According to the New Jersey Globe, Salas was unharmed in the attack. 

Judge Salas was nominated to her current position in 2010 by President Obama and was the first Latina to serve as a federal district judge in New Jersey. 

In his personal writings, Hollander revealed a “toxic stew” of sexist and racist bigotry, according to CNN News. Hollander had unsuccessfully filed lawsuits against night clubs and bars that offered “ladies’ nights,” saying that these nights violated the 14th Amendment. In 2011, he told the Times that “feminists have taken control over every institution in this country — they want to take control over men,” and that he would “fight them to my last dollar, last breath.” 

He also challenged the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act, or as he called it, the “Female Fraud Act,” and filed lawsuits against Columbia University for its women’s studies program. Included among writings found on his website were a “Cyclopedia,” a 152-page document on anti-feminist musings and an “Evolutionarily Correct Cyclopedia,” where he discussed chilling “solutions” to what he called “political commies” and feminists. 

One line reads “things begin to change when individual men start taking out those specific persons responsible for destroying their lives before committing suicide.”

Hollander had argued a case before Judge Salas where he represented a woman and her daughter attempting to register for the military’s selective service. He argued that the draft was unconstitutional because it did not allow women to register. The case asked complex questions about the treatment of women in the military. Salas sided against some of Hollander’s arguments but agreed with some as well, allowing the lawsuit to continue forward. 

In June of 2019, Hollander left the case, giving it to the larger law firm Boies Schiller, saying that he “would not be able to see the case through” because he was terminally ill, according to Nick Gravante, Boies Schiller’s managing partner. Boies Schiller had known about Holladner’s anti-woman past, but felt as though this case could advance equal rights for women. Gravante says that he did not know of any anger that Hollander had for Judge Salas and did not even know why he argued the case. 

On his website, Hollander wrote disparagingly about Salas in racist and sexist terms, saying that he often ran into trouble with Latina judges as they were “driven by an inferiority complex” and that Salas was “a lazy and incompetent Latina judge.” He pushed a white nationalist belief that organizations are “trying to convince America that whites, especially white males, were barbarians, and all those of a darker skin complexion were victims.”

Sources: CNN News 07/21/20; New Jersey Globe 07/21/20; New York Times 07/21/20

Supreme Court Rules Against Reinstating Florida Felon Voting Rights

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court order on Friday that will prohibit thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Florida from voting.

In 2018, the Florida electorate voted to amend the constitution to allow felons to vote. Felons who finished their parole or probation periods would be eligible, but felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be ineligible. In total, the amendment would restore the voting rights of about 1.4 million people.

In a move to limit the extent of the amendment, the Florida state legislature passed a law that only allowed felons to register on the condition that they had settled all fines and fees related to their sentence. But no central log of these fees existed, making it hard to even locate the true amount owed.

If a person voted without fully paying their fines, they would face potential prosecution.

After the passage of this law, two felons challenged it in court and won. Judge Robert Hinkle found that the majority of felons would be unable to vote due to an inability to pay or locate their fines, and likened the rule to an unconstitutional poll tax. His decision permanently barred the law from going into effect.

However, at the beginning of July, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Hinkle’s ruling and set a hearing for August 18th – the day of the Florida primary. Because of this order, the Florida state legislature’s law is in effect and felons who have not settled all fees cannot vote.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday upheld the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan made up the dissent.

“Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

According to Rick Hansen, a law professor at UCI, the court’s decision will not only have implications on Florida’s primary, but also the November general election.

Sources: NPR 07/20, The Hill 07/20, Politico 07/20

Wall of Moms Tear Gassed by Federal Agents in Portland, Oregon

Dozens of mothers linked arms in Portland, Oregon on Sunday in order to create a “Wall of Moms” around Black Lives Matter protesters, about 400 people, who have been under attack from federal law enforcement for weeks. 

Chanting “Feds stay clear, moms are here!” “Feds go home!” and “Leave our kids alone!” the group demonstrated clear support for protestors. The Wall of Moms began with a rally by a group called Moms Against Police Brutality, with some of the women involved saying that their children had been tear-gassed by law enforcement in earlier protests. Bev Barnum, an organizer of the Wall of Moms, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that they “are about protecting peaceful citizens’ right to protest.” The group protested peacefully, locking arms and chanting. Later, photos and videos show officers using tear gas to disperse the moms and the other protesters present. 

On Sunday, protesters “toppled a fence erected around the federal courthouse,” according to NBC News. Federal agents responded to these actions with tear gas and flash bangs. Once the fence was down, protesters cheered and approached the doors of the courthouse with protective gear on, such as hockey sticks, gas masks, helmets, and umbrellas. 

Portland police were not present at the protest and did not deploy gas or engage with the crowds. The law enforcement present were federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security. Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city’s mayor, blamed them for “escalating the situation.” On CNN, he said “their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism… They’re not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.” Federal agents from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and an “elite U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border” have been deployed to try to crush protests and protect federal property. 

On Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, alleging that federal law enforcement officers sent to Portland violated the Constitution by unlawfully detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause. Videos shared on social media document federal agents using unmarked vehicles, detaining people without explanation, and driving off. Rosenblum has asked for a restraining order in order to prevent officers from the Federal Protection Service, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Marshals Service from making further arrests. 

After the murder of George Floyd, Portland has seen sustained protests, with tensions recently escalating after one protester was critically injured by an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service. 

President Trump claimed in a tweet that the government is “trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” blaming local leadership for having “lost control of the anarchists and agitators.”

Sources: NBC News 07/20/20; USA Today 07/07/20;  BuzzFeed News  07/07/20; The Hill 07/07/20 

New Applications Rejected Despite Supreme Court DACA Ruling

Although the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program nearly a month ago, the Trump Administration is still not accepting new applications. Renewals are being accepted and processed, but hundreds of thousands of first-time applicants are left fearful of their future in the United States.

The DACA program protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children from deportation. Although it does not provide a path to citizenship, it allows recipients to work and study in the United States. The Trump Administration has long been at odds with the Obama-era program, and critics are now demanding that the administration complies with the court’s decision.

“That’s insane. That’s a violation of the order…Legally, there’s no basis to reject any new applications,” said Bill Ong Hing, professor of law and Director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco. The Center for American Progress (CAP) has also issued a release stating that by rejecting new applications, the administration is defying the court. Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at CAP said that the Supreme Court “gave the administration a command to restore the program to the way it was operating before September 2017’s attempted rescission. By failing to do that, the administration is at this moment in open defiance of the law.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees DACA applications, has said they are still underway in reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, but that it lacks a legal basis. USCIS will renew status for about 650,000 recipients but will reject the applications of more than 300,000 youth who are eligible for first-time applications.

Many fear that Trump will attempt to overturn DACA once again, but it is unclear if new attempts will comply with the Supreme Court ruling or will have to be challenged again. Trump has also made several conflicting statements on his stance on DACA, making the situation more complicated for young people seeking protection in the United States. “He has continued to make threats to end this very successful and popular DACA policy, while making these nonsensical and confusing statements that…create a level of stress and anxiety for DACA recipients and their family members,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Sources: Feminist Newswire 6/18/20; NPR 7/15/20; Center for American Progress 7/13/20; NBC News 7/16/20

Polish Election Results Cause Fear for LGBTQ Community

After Polish President Andrzej Duda narrowly won a second term last weekend, the country’s LGBTQ community fears increased homophobic legislation and exclusion from society.

Duda, who had said LGBTQ “ideology” was worse than communism, had also promised to ban same-sex marriage and adoption rights for LGBTQ couples. He won against liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski with 51% of the vote in the runoff election.

Beyond Duda’s policy proposals, his rhetoric demonizing the LGBTQ community is dangerous in itself, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

“Even the rhetoric of local administrations establishing LGBT-free zones, the impact of the rhetoric used by the candidate for president, really created a context of demonization of LGBT people,” Dam said. “And that itself is really dangerous in a modern society.”

Leading up to the election, Duda viciously dehumanized LGBTQ people, using the phrase “LGBT are not people.” A member of Duda’s Law and Justice Party had earlier said “LGBT are not people, they are an ideology.”

Hate crimes against Poland’s LGBTQ people have occurred for years and Duda’s homophobic rhetoric is only exacerbating the situation, according to Hubert Sobecki, head of a Warsaw-based LGBTQ-right group.

“It’s a disaster. You can call it a humanitarian disaster, but that wouldn’t even bring you close to the scope of human suffering those people are inflicting on us as a community,” Sobecki said. “They call us ‘ideology,’ but it’s not the ideology that is beaten up on the street.”

Duda has aligned his platform with increasingly homophobic trends in Russia, where the constitution now bans same-sex marriage. He also visited the White House last month, where President Donald Trump praised him for “doing a terrific job.” Duda leveraged his visit to the United States to leverage Trump’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric for his campaign, according to Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign.

Poland’s increasingly hostile environment has taken a toll on the mental health of young LGBTQ people in the country. A 2020 study shows that about 84% of young LGBTQ people now have suicidal thoughts. The percentage of queer teens who have attempted suicide climbed from 30% in 2016 to 45% this year.

Despaired by Duda’s reelection some LGBTQ people are thinking of leaving the country.

“I want to have the same rights as my sister has who lives with her husband,” Romana Dybalska, who is raising three children with her partner, said. “I believe that good times will still come to Poland, but at this point I am considering leaving this country.”

Sources: PBS NewsHour 7/15/20; NBC News 07/13/20; The Daily Beast 07/16/20.

COVID-19 Test Vaccine Displays Immune Response

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown an immune response in test participants. The vaccine is manufactured by the biotech company Moderna.

No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

According to researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the group developing the vaccine with Moderna, the vaccine appeared safe in the first 45 people who tested it. The vaccine used genetic material found in the virus to cause the immune system to fight COVID-19.

The volunteers were all healthy adults between the ages of 18 to 55. Each person received two separate vaccinations exactly 28 days apart. All of the volunteers developed antibodies after the second shot, and more than half of them experienced non-serious side effects.

It is not certain if this vaccine will make someone completely immune, but it could drastically reduce the severity of the illness – reducing COVID-19 to a bad cold.

This vaccine was the first one in development to be tested on humans. The next stage, Phase 3, will test the vaccine on 30,000 volunteers. Half of the people will receive the vaccine, and half of the people will receive placebos. The researchers will need to find that those in the former group were less likely to contract COVID-19 than those in the latter.

Even if this vaccine works, it will not immediately eradicate the virus. According to experts, we will need more than one, as no single company can produce the number of vaccinations necessary. Additionally, we do not yet have an infrastructure for distribution – a process that could leave many communities susceptible to the virus long after the creation of a vaccine.

The United States has seen over 3.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. 136,000 people have lost their lives to the virus, and an estimated 5.5 million people have lost their employer-provided healthcare during this time.

A virologist at Columbia University in New York, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, said of the news: “None of us are safe unless all of us are safe… it’s not just us. It’s everybody in the world.”

 Sources: The Hill 07/16, The New York Times 07/16, AP 07/16, Vox 07/16

Colorado Bans LGBTQ+ Panic Defense in Courtrooms

Colorado has become the 11th state to ban the LGBTQ+ “panic defense.” On Monday, Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law, prohibiting defendants from using the gender identity or sexual orientation of a victim to excuse their behavior in the courtroom.

“This bill is going to help us ensure that there aren’t biased arguments or bigoted arguments in our courtrooms here in Colorado,” said Amanda Gall, a sexual assault resource prosecutor with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. The bill requires that a perpetrator be responsible for their own actions, rather than relying on irrational fears and hatred to justify them.

The bill passed relatively easily, with only one lawmaker opposing it. One of its sponsors, Rep. Brianna Titone, said the support was “unlike anything I have ever seen.” For Titone, Colorado’s first openly transgender state lawmaker, the bill holds significant meaning. “For me, what this bill really means is protecting Black trans women, who are the most vulnerable of the communities we’re trying to protect here,” she said at the bill signing ceremony.

Although the defense is not frequently used in Colorado, its outlawing comes at a time of unprecedented danger for Black trans women. Between June 25 and July 3, six Black trans women were found dead. The most recent deaths of Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, Tatiana Hall, and Bree Black brings the total number of trans women who have died as a result of violence in 2020 to at least 22.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 128 crimes in Colorado in which individuals were victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gall believes this number to be underreported but says that it still shows the level of discrimination that exists in the state. The ban is a stepping stone towards ending this kind of discrimination.

In addition to the panic defense ban, Polis, who is the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the country, signed other LGBTQ-friendly bills into law on Monday. One allows pharmacists to prescribe HIV-prevention medication, making it more accessible across the state. Another simplifies the requirements to change the gender listed on government documents.

“We’ve come a long way here in Colorado since our days as the Hate State. We really went from a place where discrimination was legalized in the 1990s to where we are today, where Colorado is a leader,” shared Polis.

Sources: KOAA News 7/14/20; Colorado Politics 6/12/20; The Denver Post 7/13/20; Them. 7/14/20

After Weeks of Negotiation, Health Care Workers Win Pay Increase in France

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, French healthcare workers have been demanding higher pay, increased funding for hospitals, and more staff. France has been one of the hardest hit countries in Europe, with over 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths. This year, after seven weeks of tense and fraught negotiations with trade unions, the French government finally gave these workers “historic” pay raises: about 8 billion euros or about $9.1 billion. This decision came just in time to celebrate Bastille Day, with the French government hosting smaller gatherings on Bastille Day to honor these workers. 

A healthcare administrator from Paris named Laura Rezé, said that her wages will increase by about 183 euros, or about $208, a month. In an interview with CBS News, she said “it doesn’t make a huge overall difference, but it’s better than nothing.” She added “This is definitely progress… I just wish it didn’t take a pandemic for us to be seen and heard.”

Instead of the traditional Bastille Day parade this year, due to the pandemic, there was a military parade on the Place de la Concorde that was dedicated to nurses, doctors, and other hospital workers. There were several thousand spectators, including families of health care workers who had passed away during the pandemic, watching from socially-distanced seating. Officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland were also invited to watch due to their countries’ acceptance of French patients. 

After the ceremony, thousands of yellow vest activists, a grassroots movement that demands economic justice, and healthcare workers protested demanding increased public funding for healthcare and better contracts. They were met with tear gas from the police. 

Media Sources:  CBS News 07/15/20; BBC News 07/15/20; French Press Release 07/15/20; NBC News 07/15/20

Federal Judge Rules Doctors Can Distribute Abortion Pills by Mail

A federal judge ruled Monday that patients seeking the abortion pill do not need to visit a doctor in-person to obtain the pill during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision, issued by U.S. District judge Theodore Chang in Maryland, makes it legal for doctors to mail the abortion drug mifepristone. Used along with misoprostol, the drugs can end an early pregnancy or manage a miscarriage.

In his decision, Chang stated that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule requiring patients to go to a doctor during an ongoing pandemic can be dangerous and poses a “substantial obstacle” to people seeking an abortion, which would be unconstitutional.

“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” Chang wrote.

States hostile to abortion rights, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, joined the suit in support of the FDA, arguing any rulings could impact their own laws. The judge rejected their claim and said those states would still be able to impose regulations in addition to FDA rules.

The lawsuit was brought in May by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other groups after the FDA singled out mifepristone as the only drug that can be self-administered but required in-person pickup.

Skye Perryman, chief legal officer of ACOG, said the ruling correctly recognized the lack of medical basis for the FDA’s rules and the hardships people face in obtaining abortion care, especially during a pandemic.

“Today’s ruling recognizes the hardship and undue burden that many women have faced obtaining essential health care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perryman said.

Eva Chalas, the president of ACOG, also recognized how the FDA rule disproportionately affected communities of color that faced systemic discrimination and were hit especially hard during the pandemic.

“The FDA’s burdensome in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone has had a disproportionate effect on communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including communities of color who already face existing inequities and structural barriers to care,” Chalas said, “Suspending the REMS requirement for mifepristone for early pregnancy termination represents a necessary step forward in our collective work toward health equity during this unprecedented time of pandemic.”

Sources: PBS Newshour 07/13/20; Time 07/13/20; Forbes 07/13/20; ACOG 07/13/20; Feminist Newswire 05/28/20

Federal Judge Blocks Affordable Care Act Abortion Payment Requirement

On Friday, a federal judge blocked a new Affordable Care Act (ACA) abortion requirement. The regulation was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2019 and would have required ACA healthcare providers to issue a separate bill for abortion coverage.

Margaret Murray, the CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, stated that the decision was “a major win for access to care” and that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten Americans and our health care system we urge HHS to implement policies that promote access to care, not wrap coverage in red tape”

HHS announced the new requirement in December 2019, with plans to enforce it by June 27. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that date was pushed back to August 26. In February, Planned Parenthood of Maryland filed a lawsuit against the regulation. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and  Planned Parenthood Federation of America represented the plaintiffs.

The HHS requirement would’ve forced insurers on the ACA exchange to provide separate bills for abortion coverage.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover abortions – except in cases of rape, incest, or to save someone’s life. Insurers on the ACA exchange that cover abortion already must place enrollee’s abortion payments into a separate account. HHS stated their new regulation was an effort to ensure federal funds were separate from abortion care and in accordance with Congress’ “intent for (participating insurers) to collect two distinct payments, one for the coverage of (relevant) abortion services, and one for coverage of all other services covered.”

US District Court Judge Catherine Blake refuted the regulation, finding it an “unreasonable barrier” to healthcare access – which is in violation of the ACA. Blake stated the rule could result in people losing access to their health insurance. This might be due to insurers removing abortion coverage because the regulation is too burdensome, or due to enrollees missing a payment because they must keep track of multiple bills. Blake did not find a need for additional oversight regarding federal funds or a strong connection between the requirement and Congress’ intent.

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement: “Today is a huge victory for the people who need and deserve access to safe, legal abortion… abortion is essential health care, and this rule was an obvious attempt by the Trump administration to put it out of reach for millions of people in the country.”

Sources: CNN 07/13, Planned Parenthood 07/13, Planned Parenthood Action Fund 07/13, ACLU 07/13, Fierce Healthcare 07/13

ICE Transfers and Deportations Spread COVID-19 Within Detention Centers, Globally

As lockdowns, social distancing, and mask-wearing become the norm all across the world, ICE continues to detain people, moving them from state to state, often deporting them, which is contributing to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus both domestically and abroad. 

The Marshall Project and the New York Times conducted an investigation, published July 10, exposing how “unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus — and how pressure from the Trump administration led countries to take in sick deportees.”

In the investigation, they spoke to more than 30 immigrants, all of them describing unsanitary and cramped detention centers. They also told stories of protective gear and social distancing being almost nonexistent and impossible. When they got back to their country of origin, at least four deportees that the New York Times interviewed ended up testing positive for COVID-19. 

ICE has confirmed at least 3,000 COVID-19-positive detainees. In the investigation, the Marshall Project and the New York Times tracked over 750 domestic ICE flights since March. On these flights, ICE carried thousands of detainees to different centers, even if they were exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. They also tracked 200 deportation flights, often with detainees who had tested positive for the virus to other countries. Since March, Honduras and El Salvador accepted more than 6,000 deportees, Trump praising presidents of both the countries and saying that he would provide ventilators to them if they continued doing so. 

When ICE was asked about its own role in spreading the virus, the agency claimed that it followed guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and took precautions. Last week though, ICE stated that it is only able to test a sampling of immigrants before sending them to their home countries. Yet, deportations continue with 11 countries confirming that deportees returned home with the virus.

Media Sources: New York Times 07/13/2020; American Progress 07/13/2020; Los Angeles Times 07/13/2020


We must end the filibuster and put the ERA in the US Constitution! Give Now