- Kim Kardashian West has helped release over 17 inmates by funding a prison reform campaign.
- The 90 days of Freedom campaign is working to release prisoners under the First Step Act, the 2018 law that allows nonviolent offenders to be considered for early release if they display good behavior, among other requirements.
- The move is one of several others that the reality star turned criminal justice reform advocate has made in recent months.
90 Days of Freedom
Kim Kardashian West has carried on with her commitment to fighting for prison reform. In the last three months, she has been quietly working with a nonprofit law firm to help commute the life sentences of 17 first-time nonviolent drug offenders.
Kardashian West helped fund the 90 Days of Freedom Campaign, which was launched after President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act. The sweeping criminal justice reform bill was signed into law in December and eased mandatory minimum drug sentences, among other things.
The 90 Days of Freedom campaign was started by Kardashian West’s lawyer, Brittany K. Barnett who heads the Buried Alive Project, in partnership with lawyer MiAngel Cody of The Decarceration Collective. Barnett and Cody are utilizing the newly signed First Step Act as grounds for the releases of low-level drug offenders serving life sentences who have displayed good behavior.
“Kim Kardashian has been instrumental in funding the legal fees for vital attorney representation, transportation for newly freed prisoners so they have a ride home to their families and reentry costs related to our clients’ smooth transition back into society,” Cody told CBS News.
Those freed with help from the campaign include Terrence Byrd. Byrd was convicted in 1995 for possession with intent to sell less than a kilo of crack cocaine, or as the Buried Alive Project puts it in its profile of Byrd, “about enough to fill a small sandwich bag.”
According to a report from TMZ, others who were freed include Jamelle Carraway, who served 11 years of a life sentence for cocaine possession, and Eric Balcom, who is now back with his family in Florida after 16 years behind bars on a drug charge.
Barnett praised Kardashian West for her help, telling CNN, “(Kim) has been on the phone as we’ve told clients they are coming home.”
“I think one, she really wants to be taken seriously, so she is really focused on learning the system and the people who are directly impacted,” she added.
Kim’s Focus on Criminal Justice
Kardashian West made headlines last year when she visited President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss criminal justice reform and the case of Alice Marie Johnson. The 63-year-old was a first-time non-violent drug offender who had already served 21 years of a life sentence. About a week after the meeting, the President commuted her sentence.
But Kardashian West’s efforts didn’t stop there, the reality star turned criminal justice reform advocate continued helping others impacted by the prison system like Matthew Charles. Charles was one of the first inmates released under the First Step Act and is widely recognized as one of the faces of criminal justice reform.
Charles was struggling to find a place that would rent to him after his release. Kardashian West stepped in offering to pay his rent for five years, but his application was still denied. Even so, the two hoped his story would shine a light on the obstacles former inmates face after their release.
She has spent many months immersing herself in law, meeting with fellow advocates, inmates, and politicians to learn more about the prison system.
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For the last year, I have immersed myself in learning about the criminal justice system. I visited prisons, met with formerly incarcerated people, and helped with cases of individual injustice – including two death penalty cases. I have met with and am very supportive of Governor Newsom and his decision to help bring an end to the California Death Penalty. Racial bias and unfairness run deep throughout the justice system but especially when it comes to the death penalty. And we should not be okay with the risk that an innocent person could be executed. I hope we can turn toward better solutions that focus more on healing victims of trauma and prioritizing fairness and justice.
In April Kardashian West revealed that she is studying to become a lawyer and plans to take the bar exam as early as 2022. She began a four-year apprenticeship with a law firm in San Francisco last summer.
“I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society,” Kardashian West told Vogue. “I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more.”
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Last year I registered with the California State Bar to study law. For the next 4 years, a minimum of 18 hours a week is required, I will take written and multiple choice tests monthly. As my first year is almost coming to an end I am preparing for the baby bar, a mini version of the bar, which is required when studying law this way. I’ve seen some comments from people who are saying it’s my privilege or my money that got me here, but that’s not the case. One person actually said I should “stay in my lane.” I want people to understand that there is nothing that should limit your pursuit of your dreams, and the accomplishment of new goals. You can create your own lanes, just as I am. The state bar doesn’t care who you are. This option is available to anyone who’s state allows it. It’s true I did not finish college. You need 60 college credits (I had 75) to take part in “reading the law”, which is an in office law school being apprenticed by lawyers. For anyone assuming this is the easy way out, it’s not. My weekends are spent away from my kids while I read and study. I work all day, put my kids to bed and spend my nights studying. There are times I feel overwhelmed and when I feel like I can’t do it but I get the pep talks I need from the people around me supporting me. I changed my number last year and disconnected from everyone because I have made this strict commitment to follow a dream of mine – It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I want to thank Van Jones for believing in me and introducing me to Jessica Jackson. Jessica along with Erin Haney have taken on the role of my mentors and I am forever grateful to them both putting in so much time with me, believing in me and supporting me through this journey. This week I have a big torts essay due on negligence. Wish me luck ✨⚖️
Her efforts to help those struggling in the prison system will surely continue. Just law week, Kardashian West celebrated the release of a Miami man who spent over two decades behind bars.
Oxygen Media also recently greenlighted a two-hour documentary that will capture her efforts to free prisoners she believes were unfairly sentenced The project currently has the working title: “Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project.”
Federal Officials Distribute Medical Gear Seized in Price-Gouging Investigation
- Federal agents seized essential medical gear including 192,000 N95 respirator masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 598,000 medical grade gloves, from a man in Brooklyn, NY hoarding and reselling supplies at a 700% mark up.
- When agents confronted the man, he allegedly lied about his crimes and coughed towards them, saying he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
- He was charged with assaulting federal officers and making false statements to law enforcement.
- Officials took possession of the items and distributed them to NY and NJ health departments, saying they will pay the man “fair market value” for the goods.
Federal officials said Thursday that they seized thousands of masks and other essential medical supplies from an alleged hoarder in Brooklyn this week, which they redistributed to health departments in New York and New Jersey.
The supplies, taken from 43-year-old Baruch Feldheim, included 192,000 N95 respirator masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 598,000 medical grade gloves, surgical gowns, disinfectant towels, hand sanitizer, and spray disinfectant.
The Department of Justice and Health and Human Services said the equipment was seized by a task force created to crack down on coronavirus-related hoarding and price gouging.
While personal protective equipment, known as PPE, is in high demand all over the world, it is especially needed in New York and New Jersey, where the most coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States.
The investigation against Feldheim came after a New Jersey doctor told NBC News in an interview last month that because of the severe supply shortages, he resorted to buying protective equipment on the black market at an extremely high price.
Federal agents approached the doctor for more information and he directed them to a WhatsApp group where sales were being facilitated. The doctor told investigators Feldheim charged him $12,000 for a large order of maks, gowns, gloves, and hazmat gear. The F.B.I described that price as a 700% markup.
The doctor told investigators that when he went to pick up his order at an auto repair shop in Irvington, N.J., he saw enough pallets of medical gear, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and surgical equipment to supply an entire hospital. FBI agents even said they themselves saw people walking away from Feldheim’s residence with boxes or bags of what appeared to be medical supplies.
“It’s the most un-American thing I can think of right now, in a time of crisis, for anybody to take materials that they know are needed on the front line and take them out of the supply chain, hide them and try to sell them at a markup,” Craig Carpenito, the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey who was tapped by the attorney general last week to lead the task force, told CNN
Federal agents first confronted Feldheim outside his home Sunday, where he reportedly lied about owning and selling large quantities of supplies. He also allegedly coughed towards the agents, telling them he had tested positive for the virus, authorities said.
The following day, Justice Department prosecutors in Newark charged Feldheim with assaulting federal officers and making false statements to law enforcement. Carpenito told CNN prosecutors were still investigating and considering charges of hoarding and price gouging under the Defense Production Act.
Feildheim’s defense lawyer, James Moriarty, denied the charges and said his client had not entered a plea yet, according to Reuters.
As far as the seized goods, Health and Human Services said it used its Defense Production Act authority to take possession of the items for the US government and will pay Feldheim the “fair market value” for them. The materials were inspected and redistributed to the health departments of New York State, New Jersey, and New York City, the authorities said.
In a message sent to his F.B.I. colleagues sent Thursday, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Newark office, Gregory W. Ehrie, said the efforts of law enforcement officers were making a difference during the healthcare crisis.
“It is gratifying when the challenging and risky work of our agents has such positive and tangible results,” Ehrie wrote.
“Profiteers need to be aware that we are looking for them and will do whatever necessary to help stem the tide of this crisis. The public needs to know that they are a force multiplier in our efforts and should bring us any information that could curtail criminal activity.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Fox News)
Dr. Fauci Receives Security Detail After Increased Threats
- The government is increasing Dr. Fauci’s personal security detail over concerns for his safety.
- According to reports, the decision is due to unwanted communication from admirers and the recent spread of right-wing conspiracy theories claiming he is a “deep-state” agent sent to undermine Trump.
- When asked if he felt threatened during an interview Thursday, Dr. Fauci responded in part: “I’ve chosen this life.”
Dr. Fauci Security Concerns
Government officials have decided to give Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, a personal security detail amid growing concerns over the doctor’s safety.
The move was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post and has since been confirmed to other outlets.
According to sources in the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who spoke to the Post, the concerns “include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers.”
While the Post reported that the “exact nature of the threats” were not clear, sources told the newspaper that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had “recently grew concerned about Fauci’s safety as his profile rose and he endured more vitriolic criticism online.”
Conspiracy Theories and Smear Campaign
Dr. Fauci has been the target of right-wing smear campaigns and conspiracy theories. According to reports, the conspiracies center around the idea that he is part of a “deep-state” plot to undermine Trump, stemming from the fact that Dr. Fauci has been known to correct or clarify statements the president has made.
While some of these conspiracies have been connected to the doctor for several weeks now, many point to a press conference on March 20 as a specific instance that caused them to gain traction.
During the conference, Trump referred to the State Department the “Deep State Department,” and Dr. Fauci, standing behind him, put his hand over his eyes.
Fauci later claimed he just had a lozenge stuck in his throat, but the incident became fuel for right-wing conspiracy theorists, who claimed that it was evidence Dr. Fauci was trying to undermine Trump.
“On Twitter and Facebook, a post that falsely claimed he was part of a secret cabal who opposed Mr. Trump was soon shared thousands of times, reaching roughly 1.5 million people,” the New York Times reported.
After that, the online attacks grew as more prominent right-wing pundits and blogs began to spread them.
Conservative platforms including as the Gateway Pundit and the American Thinker shared an email Dr. Fauci sent in 2013 that had been published by WikiLeaks, where Fauci praised Hillary Clinton’s “stamina and capability” during her testimony during the Bengazhi hearings.
The American Thinker ran that story with the headline: “Anthony Fauci, the NIH’s face of the coronavirus, is a Deep-State Hillary Clinton–loving stooge.”
Those emails were also shared by Bill Mitchell, a far-right podcast host with more than half a million followers.
“Is Fauci a Hillary plant? Think about this,” he wrote on Twitter. “Trump makes a hopeful statement on #hydrochloroquine and Fauci immediately runs to #CNN, Trump’s most hated #FakeNews outlet to contradict him? That is EXACTLY what a Hillary plant would do.”
Mitchell and others have also accused Fauci of destroying the economy. That point was echoed in another article by the American Thinker, which was retweeted by Fox News Host Laura Ingraham to her 3.2 million followers.
These conspiracies have since been spread on most social media platforms.
“On YouTube, conspiracy-theory videos about Dr. Fauci have racked up hundreds of thousands of views in the past week,” the New York Times wrote. “In private Facebook groups, posts disparaging him have also been shared hundreds of times and liked by thousands of people.”
Buzzfeed News also reported that the conspiracy theories involving Dr. Fauci had been shared on 4chan, where “anonymous users have posted dozens of huge threads about Fauci, implying he’s part of a global pedophile ring after surfacing a photo of him and singer Elton John, claiming Trump has secretly fired him, and accusing him of being part of a global Jewish cabal.”
Trump, however, has tried to tamp down accusations that there are tensions between him and Fauci. In fact, in the last few days, he has taken up more of the doctor’s recommendations regarding social distancing and other concerns.
When asked about the security detail during a press briefing Wednesday, Dr. Fauci did not comment, but Trump interjected, “He doesn’t need security, everybody loves him.”
During an interview Thursday morning on NBC, Dr. Fauci was asked if he felt threatened.
“I’ve chosen this life. I mean I know what it is,” he responded. “There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do, and just put all that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it, and just forge ahead.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Buzzfeed News)
Politicians and Celebrities Push for Changes to Improve Vote by Mail Access
- Nancy Pelosi is pushing for funding to expand voting by mail as the coronavirus leaves people trapped at home, unable to go to polling locations. This has come with some pushback from several including the President, but Pelosi and others feel this is how voting should be done going forward.
- Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Khloe Kardashian, Sia, and more are also joining a campaign to encourage others to vote by mail.
- In the several states that do not allow all voters to cast ballots in the mail, these stars are telling citizens to contact representatives to make this method more accessible.
- In addition to voting by mail, some election officials believe electronic voting could be an effective tool in the future.
Pelosi’s Vote by Mail Plan
As the coronavirus postpones primary elections and keeps people at home, politicians and celebrities alike are calling for expanded access to voting by mail.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she is seeking between $2 billion and $4 billion in funding for voting by mail in the next stimulus package.
She is also looking to increase funding for the post office. Pelosi initially announced her intentions to expand voting by mail on Tuesday during an interview on Morning Joe.
“The integrity of the election system is central to our democracy,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could oppose our enabling the states to have vote by mail.”
The Speaker has faced opposition, though. Some fear that this could lead to lower-income voters who tend to move a lot not having an easy way to vote. President Donald Trump has also expressed issues with stretching voting options. On Monday, he claimed Republicans would never get elected if voting by mail increased.
Pelosi, however, does not believe the President’s claims.
“I think that’s necessary for our country to have a Republican party and I feel sad that the President does not have confidence that his party can not convince the American people about a path to go forward,” she said on Morning Joe.
Celebrities Speak Up
On top of Pelosi’s efforts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden are working on legislation that will allow more voters to vote early and by mail. Politicians are also not the only ones advocating for voting by mail. Celebrities have partnered up with Represent Us to start a #VoteAtHome campaign. Represent Us is an organization that brings people from across the political spectrum to do a number of things, including fighting political corruption and bribery, and improving our election system.
Stars like Khloe Kardashian, Sia and Sarah Silverman have all posted to their social media channels with #VoteAtHome, encouraging their followers to apply for absentee ballots so they can vote safely while in lockdowns.
Several states, however, do not allow people to vote from home. Right now, only 34 states will allow voters to vote absentee without any excuse come November. A handful of states are allowing extended vote-by-mail measures due to the coronavirus, but it is unclear if this will apply to November’s presidential election. There are 12 states that do not grant absentee ballots without an excuse and changing rules in those states could prove to be difficult.
Because of this, the stars who partnered with Represent Us are encouraging people to contact their representatives and demand that voting by mail be accessible to everyone. Actress Jennifer Lawrence made a video for the group encouraging those watching to speak up.
“A bill in congress and your Secretary of State can fix this right now,” the Academy Award winner said about voting by mail restrictions. “So go to Represent.Us/VoteAtHome to find out how you can call your representatives in support of #VoteAtHome. This is extremely important. It’s our elections we’re talking about, so please help spread the word.”
Voting by mail is not the only solution some see for voting in the age of coronavirus. Two election officials wrote a piece for TechCrunch in support of electronic voting. While the method might seem new and flashy, 23 states and D.C. already let some voters cast ballots via email, while five more allow some to do so via a web portal.
Amelia Powers-Gardner and Chris Walker, the officials who wrote the piece, believe there have always been good reasons to move to online voting.
“Traditional voting methods simply don’t work for those living abroad, deployed in the military or those with disabilities,” they wrote. “As election officials, it’s our duty to stand up for the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
With the outbreak right now, though, the two believe this could be the time to start taking the subject seriously.
“Expanding voter participation by ensuring ballot access for all citizens is paramount to protecting our democracy, Powers-Gardner and Walker said.
“In the 21st century, that will necessarily include electronic methods, particularly as we face challenges with voters abroad and contemplate emerging challenges at home like COVID-19, where large public gatherings — and long lines — spark new threats to consider.”
It goes without saying that electronic voting comes with a great number of security concerns. Still, Powers-Gardner and Walker think that with the developments of new technologies, it is possible.
The two cited an instance in Utah where the state’s oldest voter, at the age of 106, was able to vote from an app after she broke her ankle and could not hold a pen steadily. Pilots around the country are also showing progress and allowing for audits to ensure accurate results.