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Flint Prosecutors Drop All Criminal Charges Against Government Officials

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  • Prosecutors in the Flint water investigation announced that they will drop all existing criminal charges regarding the Flint water crisis.
  • Prosecutors explained in a statement that they dropped the charges in order to start a new investigation.
  • They said that when they inherited the investigation from previous prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” about how it had been handled.
  • Residents of Flint, who already have little trust in the government, are upset with the decision.

Announcement

Michigan state prosecutors said Thursday that they are dropping all pending criminal charges brought against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis.

In a statement, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took control of the Flint investigation in January, said that they decided to drop the charges in order to launch a new, more complete investigation.

Hammoud and Worthy explained that when they took over the investigation from the previous team of prosecutors, they had “immediate and grave concerns” with how the investigation had been handled.

Contrary to accepted standards of criminal investigation and prosecution, all available evidence was not pursued,” they said in the statement.

They also said that the previous team had let law firms representing former Gov. Rick Snyder and other defendants have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

“We cannot provide the citizens of Flint the investigation they rightly deserve by continuing to build on a flawed foundation. Dismissing these cases allows us to move forward according to the non-negotiable requirements of a thorough, methodical and ethical investigation,” they continued.

Hammoud and Worthy also added that the dismissal will not prevent them from refiling the same charges against the officials or adding more charges and new defendants in the future.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel defended the prosecutors in a separate statement.

“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and a fearless and dedicated team of career prosecutors and investigators are hard at work to ensure those who harmed you are held accountable,” she said.

Flint Water Crisis

The Flint water crisis traces back to April of 2014, when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as part of a cost-saving effort.

However, proper precautions were not taken to prevent lead in the pipes from contaminating the clean water.

Previous coverage about the Flint water crisis.

Fifteen state and local officials involved in the oversight of Flint’s water system were charged by the Michigan attorney general’s office of crimes ranging from willful neglect of duty to involuntary manslaughter.

Seven of those accused took plea deals. Eight others, including the majority of high-ranking officials implicated in the scandal, were still waiting for trials.

Notable among those accused was Nick Lyon, the former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his failure to tell the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease linked to bacteria in the Flint River, which resulted in the deaths of at least 12 people.

Residents Respond

While prosecutors argue that the dismissal of criminal charges is necessary to expand the investigation, many Flint residents, who already have low trust in the government but crave justice, are more skeptical.

Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident and the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press that the announcement was “a slap in the face to Flint residents.”

“This has been bungled,” Shariff said. “I’m very disappointed with Dana Nessel’s office because she ran on a platform that she was going to provide justice for Flint residents, and it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”

Flint resident Melissa Mays, who founded the group Water You Fighting For, also told the Detroit Free Press that she was upset the decision was made without the residents of Flint. “It’s extremely terrifying,” she said.

Now, we have people who may or may not know what is going on, all it does is reinforce that our voices mean nothing.”

Another Flint resident named Fortina Harris told CNN that he feels helpless. “We’ve been dogged out, misused, abused and we still need to pay water bills and wash our bodies,” he said.

“We don’t get any supplement. No discounts or nothing for buying water. We got to fend for our self.”

Politicians Respond

Political figures who represent Flint in various government bodies also expressed their dissatisfaction with the prosecutors’ decision. Flint City Councilwoman Monica Galloway told CNN that she was “appalled” by the move.

“The lead impact on our children hasn’t even been realized, which means that there’s many unknowns for their future. They haven’t been made whole,” she said.

“It causes me to believe that Gov. Snyder just got a get out of jail free card. The people that are responsible will be walking away free.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, who represents Flint, echoed the same sentiment, telling the Detroit Free Press he wants “to see people behind bars.”

“Words cannot express how disappointed I am that justice continues to be delayed and denied to the people of my city,” Ananich said. “Months of investigation have turned into years, and the only thing to show for it is a bunch of lawyers who have gotten rich off the taxpayers’ dime.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, however, expressed more optimism.

“We’re excited about a full investigation,” Weaver said in an interview with a local news station.

“What we deserve is a full investigation because we know what happened in Flint was criminal adn we’ve been waiting for accountability and justice.”

See what others are saying: (The Free Detroit Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Philadelphia Man Commits Suicide After Being Harassed for Dating Trans Woman

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  • A Philadelphia man named Maurice Willoughby committed suicide after he was harassed by men on the street for dating a transgender woman. 
  • A video of that confrontation was shared on social media, causing the 20-year-old to face more bullying online, according to his friends.
  • #RipReese began trending on Twitter after news of his death broke, with many mourning Willoughby and confronting LGBTQ issues within the black community.

Video Goes Viral

A 20-year-old Philadelphia man committed suicide after a video spread online showing men harassing him on the street for dating a transgender woman.

The video shows several men verbally berating Maurice “Reese” Willoughby with homophobic comments as he defends his relationship in front of them.

According to his friends, Willoughby already lived with depression and struggled with it more as the video gained traction on the internet. They said the constant harassment he had experienced online played a role in his suicide, though his girlfriend, Faith Palmer, also referenced a drug addiction in relation to his death.

“Over the weekend Reese killed himself after the relentless taunting, bullying, mocking and disrespect he received after publicly proclaiming his love for his girl,” said a person who had been friendly with Willoughby in the past.

“And you know what breaks me about this? Is that when it comes to discussing the weight of transphobia and homophobia in the black community, especially amongst those who should speak up on it, all you hear is crickets? It’s no secret that every community has its issues no matter how beautiful the painted picture is, but damn we oppressed people are still out here oppressing our own people?”

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No matter how shitty the times are in which we live, sometimes you find something out and you’re just like, how could this happen? how could we let this happen? The couple in this photo is beautiful Reese and his girlfriend Faith. Reese was a black cisgender male, his girlfriend Faith, is a black transgender woman. Over the weekend Reese killed himself after the relentless taunting, bullying, mocking and disrespect he received after publicly proclaiming his love for his girl, and you know what breaks me about this? Is that when it comes to discussing the weight of transphobia and homophobia in the black community, especially amongst those who should speak up on it, all you hear is crickets? It’s no secret that every community has its issues no matter how beautiful the painted picture is, but damn we oppressed people are still out here oppressing our own people? don’t say black lives matter if that bracket doesn’t include black trans people and mental health in the black community, Reese fucking DM’d ME, and when I responded I never got a response back, this is garbage, and this hurts, Reese I’m so sorry, Faith, I’m so sorry, I lové you, I lové ya’ll, we lové you, we lové ya’ll. This is so trash, and I hate everything about this. IGNORANCE , HATRED AND TOXIC MASCULINITY KILLED OUR BROTHER. Rest in all power family, a lot of our sisters are up there with you.

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That was my friend and everyone who took part in bulling him need to be in jail,” another friend Amethyst Jade Lee said in a Facebook post.

Prior to his death, Willoughby reportedly made a Facebook post defending Palmer.

“Y’all can say whatever about faith,” he wrote, according to Aazios.com, “I really don’t care if she not passable  I don’t care if she wasn’t born a woman she is a woman to me & I love her flaws that’s what makes her faith if you heard her story it’s motivating….. I’m happy you should be happy for me”

Notably, Palmer also posted to Facebook, remembering Willoughby’s openness about their relationship.

“HE WASNT SCARED OF ANYONE SO HE FOUGHT BACK FOR US !” she wrote.

Online Reaction 

Since his death, people online have shared their thoughts on the situation, many addressing what they believe to be a disconnect between straight and LGBTQ+ individuals in the African American community.

“There’s a HUGE issue highlighted in the video of Reese being harrassed,” one Twitter user wrote. “And that’s that the black community needs to address the RAMPANT homophobia and transphobia so embedded in our culture. Because THAT shit is detrimental. #RipReese

According to the Human Rights Campaign, African American trans women face the highest rates of fatal violence within the LGBTQ+ community.

That reality has become more prominent in recent months after two transgender women in Dallas, Texas were killed earlier this year.

Because of the violence trans women face, many posthumously poured praise for Willoughby, saying he was brave for being open about his relationship in spite of all the backlash. That included singer Kehlani, who identifies as queer, as well as several others.

RIP REESE THANK U FOR LOVING HER OUT LOUD,” the singer wrote in all caps.

Others sought to criticize the men who harassed Willoughby in the video.

“My heart breaks for Reese, for his girlfriend, and their loved ones,” Pose producer Janet Mock said. “These men screaming at him are beyond fragile, standing on a shaky altar of masculinity, too insecure to do what Reese did: Unapologetically love a woman who everyone says is unworthy of love.”

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.

See what others are saying: (The Advocate) (Heavy) (Blavity)

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“Storm Area 51” Event Pushes Small Nevada County to Draft Emergency Declaration

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  • Officials in the remote Nevada area of Lincoln County have pre-signed an emergency declaration and are making preparations ahead of events next month tied to the “Storm Area 51” Facebook post.
  • The attention over the viral event set for Sept, 20 prompted its creator to quickly plan a music festival dubbed “Alienstock” in a small area with a population of only about 50. 
  • Officials fear that at least 10,000 if not more may show up for either event, which could result in issues including gas and water shortages, dropped cellphone and internet services, and car pile-ups, along with overcrowded medical centers and campsites.

How “Storm Area 51” Spawned “Alienstock”

A rural county in Nevada has voted to pre-sign an emergency declaration and has begun taking safety precautions in anticipation of the crowds that may appear because of the now-viral “Storm Area 51” Facebook event. 

Over 2 million people RSVP’d to the gathering on Facebook set for Sept. 20 and officials in Lincoln County fear that some might actually show up. The Facebook event invites people to “meet up in Rural Nevada” to “see them aliens” in the highly classified U.S. Air Force facility.

Area 51 is the subject of several conspiracy theories, largely due to its secretive nature and the lack of information the U.S. government releases about it. Some claim the site holds UFOs and others even believe time travel is being developed there. 

While many people signed on to raid the area, most were presumably only in it for laughs. However, the attention eventually prompted the brains behind the event page, Matthew Roberts, to plan a music festival in Rachel, Nevada named “Alienstock.” 

The free festival is being funded primarily through donations and with only a few more weeks left before the gathering, many are already drawing comparisons to notoriously failed events like the Fyre Festival and TanaCon. The website for Alienstock also provides little details and tells guests to expect “Live Music, Great Food, & a Camping Experience!”

Still, locals in the county say they are expecting at least 10,000 people to show up, whether it be with intentions to attend the festival or to storm the military base. Officials are working quickly to plan for the crowds, especially since festival organizers actually obtained a permit to host the event. The county also approved a concurrent event for the Alien Research Center in Hiko, about 45 minutes away from Rachel.

“Oh, we’re taking this seriously,” Lincoln County Commission Chairman Varlin Higbee told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “With the possibility of 35,000 to 40,000 people showing up, yeah, this is serious.”

“We passed this with the caveat that this may or may not happen,” said District D Commissioner Kevin Phillips. “We’re just trying to do the best we can to prepare for something we know not of. We have no pickin’ idea what we’re going to face – if anything.” 

Not Enough Resources in Rural Lincoln County 

Lincoln county only has about 5,200 residents. In fact, Rachel, Nevada, the closest residential town to Area 51, has a population of only about 50 people.

Residents and officials fear that the county does not have the resources to deal with a huge influx of visitors who would potentially crowd gas stations, medical centers, and internet and phone services. 

“The cellphone system is going to go down,” Chairman Higbee said. “You get more than a couple of hundred people there, and it’s going to crash. Cell service won’t be available.”

“Our infrastructure is to handle 5,000 people. All of a sudden you got over 30,000 people standing on your infrastructure — yeah, something’s got to give,” he later told the Daily News.

Officials said roads will likely pile up with cars or face accidents, which will be even more difficult to deal with if phone services are disrupted. 

Eric Holt, county emergency manager, asked commissioners to “pre-sign” the emergency declaration. According to Higbee, the declaration will allow Lincoln County to seek financial help and emergency personnel from the state.

“We don’t know where or how far our resources are going to go,” he said. “A lot of it is equipment and financing. The county only has so much money to deal with.

The county is also making efforts to work with the state and neighboring counties in anticipation of the inflow.

County Sheriff Kerry Lee said Tuesday he was meeting with state emergency planning officials to discuss logistics for the events. County officials have also met with leaders from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Clark County, the sheriffs of White Pine and Nye counties, and the Nevada Highway Patrol.

The permits approved for the events are conditional upon each group behind them coming forward with their complete plans at the Sept. 3 commission meeting.

“They have to have their security, medical, parking plans and few other things (ready),” Higbee explained to the Journal. “They have to have it in by then. It has to be cut and dry. It actually helps the county because now you got a face and a name to the event, instead of just turning people loose.”

In the meantime, Higbee is warning visitors to come prepared. “There are no restaurants, there’s no water, probably no gas, because the gas station’s going to run out,” Higbee told New York Daily News. “So come prepared, that’s all I can say.”

He also warned festivalgoers to not attempt to breach Area 51 and said there will be consequences for doing so. Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews warned those thinking of actually storming the base in a statement to USA TODAY as well.

“The Nevada Test and Training Range is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft,” McAndrews said. “Any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous.”

See what others are saying: (AP News) (USA Today) (NY Daily News)

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Planned Parenthood Rejects Federal Funds Over Abortion Restrictions

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  • A new Title X rule would prevent providers from referring patients to doctors or practices where they could be given an abortion.
  • As a result, Planned Parenthood, the largest provider under Title X, is withdrawing from its funding. 
  • Planned Parenthood will continue to operate using funds from other sources, however, patients could see higher out of pocket costs and longer waits for appointments.
  • Other organizations, including Maine Family Planning and the Vermont Department of Health, have also refused funding because of the rule, and more could follow. 

New Rule in Title X

Planned Parenthood announced Monday that it is bowing out of federal funding under Title X after a new rule would prevent it from referring patients to abortion services. 

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider under Title X funding. Since it was enacted in 1970, Title X has given family planning and related healthcare services to low-income patients, many of whom are women. It serves 4 million people annually, with close to 40 percent of its patients being served by Planned Parenthood.

The rule, penned by the Trump Administration, says that Title X providers cannot refer patients to doctors or practices that provide abortions, but makes an exception for cases of medical emergencies. It also allows for patients to receive other information on abortion. It goes on to say that a Title X provider can provide a patient with a list of providers “including some (but not the majority) who perform abortion as part of a comprehensive healthcare practice.”

“However, this list cannot serve as a referral for, nor identify those who provide abortion,” the rule continues. “And Title X providers cannot indicate those on the list who provide abortion.”

Planned Parenthood Refuses Funds

Planned Parenthood called the rule “unethical and dangerous” in a statement on Monday.

“Our patients come to us because they expect the best information and health care available. And we have a commitment to provide that to them,” Acting President Alexis McGill Johnson said. “But the gag rule would make it impossible for us to uphold that commitment. At Planned Parenthood, we refuse to cower to the Trump-Pence administration. We will not be bullied into withholding abortion information from our patients. Our patients deserve to make their own health care decisions, not to be forced to have Donald Trump or Mike Pence make those decisions for them.”

Planned Parenthood said they will remain open without Title X funding and will continue to operate with funds from other sources. The organization received $60 million annually from Title X and was the only Title X provider in some states. Reports say this could result in longer lines and higher out-of-pocket payments for many patients. 

Planned Parenthood is not the only organization refusing Title X funds because of this rule. Both Maine Family Planning and the Vermont Department of Health have announced their exit from the program. 

“Maine Family Planning withdraws from the Title X program—more in sorrow than in anger–because the Domestic Gag Rule, which the Office of Population Affairs is responsible for implementing, would fundamentally compromise the relationship our patients have with us as trusted providers of this most personal and private health care,” Maine Family Planning said in a statement. “It is simply wrong to deny patients accurate information about and access to abortion care.”

Maryland, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois, and New York have also indicated that programs in their state might refuse funding as well. 

Trump’s Support and Future of Title X Rule

Despite the dissent, the Trump Administration thinks the rule is beneficial. The White House said President Donald Trump was pleased with the rule in a statement published in May, when it was proposed.

“This important proposal would ensure compliance with the program’s existing statutory prohibition on funding programs in which abortion is a method of family planning,” the statement read. “The new proposed rule would not cut funds from the Title X program. Instead, it would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions.”

These Title X changes could see some hurdles, however. Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association have filed suits to block the rule. In July, district courts took their side, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed it to go into effect. The case is still ongoing and an oral argument in the 9th circuit court is scheduled for September 23.

The House of Representatives also passed a spending bill with language that would block the rule, moving the situation to the hands of the Senate.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Politico) (Washington Post)

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