Connect with us

U.S.

Illinois to Expunge Nearly 800,000 Marijuana Convictions

Published

on

  • Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.
  • Experts have said the law contains one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reforms compared to other states that have legalized marijuana.
  • Once in effect, the law will expunge the criminal records of nearly 770,000 people previously charged with buying or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less.
  • It also includes a social equity program that will provide grants and loans to people in communities impacted by the war on drugs and give them priority for obtaining business licenses to operate cannabis stores.

Legalization Bill

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana Tuesday when Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will make the sale of cannabis legal and implement sweeping criminal justice reform.

The bill is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will allow Illinois residents 21 and over to buy and possess up to 30 grams (1 ounce) of recreational marijuana. Non-residents visiting the state will be allowed to purchase up to 15 grams.

Once in effect, the law will also automatically expunge the criminal records of around 770,000 people convicted of purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less. Those convicted of buying or possessing 30 to 500 grams can petition a court to have their charges expunged.

The expungement provision is one of several in the bill targeted towards communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. 

“In the past 50 years, the war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with nonviolent offenders and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities,” Pritzker said at the bill signing.

“Studies have shown time and time again that black and white people tend to use cannabis at the same rates, but black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession,” he continued. “Today we are giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life.”

Social Equity Program

In addition to the expungements, the new law also includes a social equity program that will give grants and loans to individuals in communities affected by the war on drugs who want to start a cannabis business.

The program will also give preference to minorities who apply for businesses licenses. Heather Steans, the main Illinois state senator who sponsored the bill, predicted that at least 20% of licenses will go to people of color, according to Rolling Stone.

Additionally, the social equity program mandates that 25% of tax revenue from marijuana sales will go to redeveloping and reinvesting in communities that have been hurt by the war on drugs.

Opposition

Law enforcement organizations expressed concern over the bill throughout the legislative process.

Police have argued that enforcing driving under the influence laws will be difficult as the technology for testing marijuana impairment needs to be developed more.

While the legalization bill was being debated in the state’s legislature, law enforcement lobbyists successfully killed a measure that would have allowed adults over 21 to grow up to five marijuana plants for personal use.

Police again argued that enforcement would be difficult, and as a result, the bill was amended so only medical marijuana users can grow plants at home.

However, law enforcement was not the only group that opposed the legalization or specific parts of it. According to Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois NORML, the drug testing industry, as well as anti-drug groups and some religious organizations also fought against the bill.

Comprehensive Legalization

Illinois now joins Washington, D.C. and 10 other states that have already legalized marijuana.

However, the state’s new law is a landmark in several ways. Illinois is the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana through its legislature rather than through a ballot initiative.

The 11 states that have legalized marijuana, not including Washington, D.C.

Illinois’ social equity program also represents one of the most comprehensive criminal justice reforms among states that have legalized marijuana.

Other states where cannabis is legal now have similar provisions, but those provisions were implemented separately after the states had already passed legalization.

Just last month Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law that will allow misdemeanor marijuana convictions given before the drug was legalized to be vacated. The move came nearly seven years after the state voted to legalize marijuana.

In February, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to clear all eligible marijuana convictions when officials announced that they would dismiss 9,362 charges dating back to 1975. Again, the move came more than two years after California legalized marijuana.

Illinois’ new legalization law, by contrast, is the first one that mandates such extensive expungement from the start.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (The Associated Press) (CNN)

Advertisements

U.S.

Former Biden Staffer’s New Sexual-Assault Claims Spell Trouble for Time’s Up

Published

on

  • Tara Reade, who worked for Joe Biden’s Senate office in 1993, accused the former vice president of sexually assaulting her while she was employed by him.
  • Reade made the remarks while speaking with podcaster Katie Halper last week, bringing the new accusations to the public for the first time.
  • Reade had previously come forward last year with several other women who alleged that Biden touched or kissed them in ways that made them uncomfortable.
  • In an article published the day before, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported that Time’s Up, which helps accusers get their stories out, had refused to assist Reade.

New Allegations

Tara Reade first gained media attention in April of last year, when she became one of several women to publicly accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of innappropriate touching and kissing.

Reade, who worked in Biden’s Senate office in 1993, told The Union that Biden touched her several times in ways that made her feel uncomfortable. She also alleged that her responsibilities in Biden’s office were cut back after other staffers told her he wanted her to serve drinks at an event because he liked her legs and she refused.

Following Reade’s decision to come forward, a now-deleted Medium post surfaced where she wrote favorably about Russian leader Vladimir Putin, prompting accusations that she was a Russian asset and questions about her credibility.

After that, she largely went quiet. Then, last Tuesday, her story resurfaced when The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported that the organization Time’s Up, which was founded at the beginning of the #MeToo movement to help accusers get their stories out, had refused to help Reade.

According to Grim, Reade “decided that she wanted to continue telling her story and push back against what she saw as online defamation.”

To do so, Reade went to get help from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit housed within the National Women’s Law Center. She spoke to a program director in January who referred her to some attorneys.

Grim said Reade was encouraged by the conversation and that Time’s Up was not worried about the fact that she was a vocal supporter of Biden’s rival presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Then in February, Reade was told Time’s Up could not help her because Biden was a candidate for federal office, and they could risk losing their nonprofit status if they went forward with her case, Grim reported.

“The public relations firm that works on behalf of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is SKDKnickerbocker, whose managing director, Anita Dunn, is the top adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign,” Grim added at the end of his story.

Accusations on Podcast

The day after Grim published his article, podcaster Katie Halper shared a clip from her upcoming episode of The Katie Halper Show where she interviewed Reade.

Reade spoke to Halper in detail about an alleged sexual assault by Biden in 1993 separate from the harrassment claims, bringing the new accusations to the public for the first time. Reade said the backlash she recieved from coming forward with the harassment claims last year was so severe, she felt silenced. 

She said that she had gone to give Biden his gym bag, but when she got to him, Biden pushed her up against the wall and began ouching her with his hands.

“He went down my skirt but then up inside it and he penetrated me,” Reade said, adding that he did so with his fingers.

She said that after a while she pulled away from him. He seemed frustrated, and told Reade he thought she liked him.

“It’s like he implied that I had done this,” she added. “And for me, it was like everything shattered.” 

“I looked up to him. He was like my father’s age. He was this champion of women’s rights in my eyes and I couldn’t believe it was happening, she continued. “It seemed surreal.” 

Reade claimed that after it was over, Biden told her she was “nothing” to him and that she was going to be fine before walking away. 

Reade said she told three people after this happened: her mother, her brother, and a friend. Her mother, who has since passed on, encouraged her to contact the police. Her brother, however, says he told her to just let it go.

Halper and other reporters, including Grim, spoke with Reade’s brother and the anonymous friend to verify that they had been told this account in 1993, and they confirmed that they had. 

Times Up Inconsistencies

Biden’s team denied the allegations in a statement Friday.

“Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said. “We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false.”

But others, citing Grim’s article, felt as though there was something more nefarious going on behind the scenes.

One Twitter user alleged that the Reade’s story “was quashed because Times Up Legal Defense Fund’s PR firm managing director Anita Dunn is a major @joebiden campaign advisor.”

Another described the interaction as a “catch and kill operation.”

However, in an article published in Salon on Tuesday, writer Amanda Marcotte appread to provide a bit more context.

Marcotte said Reade told Salon she was not interested in suing Biden and that she was trying to find a lawyer to stop the smears about her being a Russian asset. At least one law firm Marcotte spoke to confirmed that it did not take Reade’s case and another indicated they made the same decision.

“Reade indicated that she was less interested in legal action and more in public relations representation,” Marcotte wrote. “But Time’s Up is primarily a legal organization, and is not in the business of running PR for accusers who aren’t going through the court system.”

That remark, however, received pushback from Grim as well as political pundit Krystal Ball.

In a tweet, Grim said that Marcotte’s statement was false, and shared a screenshot from the Time’s Up website that said they would help fund “media and storytelling.”

“This seems completely invented by Marcotte,” Ball responded. “Unless I’m wrong, Time’s Up didn’t even offer that as the reason.”

But Marcotte responded to Grim’s tweet, pointing out that her article explicitly said that Time’s Up only offered PR to people with legal cases and “no lawyer would take Reade on as a client.”

She also provided a screenshot and link to the website for Time’s Up legal defense fund, where it clearly states that in order for an accuser to get PR work from SKDKnickerbocker, “You must have an attorney to complete the evaluation and qualify for assistance.”

That, however, did not stop Ball from making the same accusations on Wednesday during her show Rising with Krystal & Saagar.

“Marcotte argues that Time’s Up doesn’t assist victims with PR efforts, something which the organization itself never argued,” Ball said. “And which is a fact belied by the mission statement which is posted on their website.”

See what others are saying: (The Intercept) (Salon) (Jezebel)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

U.S.

Asian People Are Being Harassed, Attacked, and Blamed for Causing the Coronavirus Pandemic

Published

on

  • Reports of racism both in the United States and internationally have skyrocketed, with many Asian people reporting discrimination and violent hate crimes from those blaming them for the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The FBI has described a Texas stabbing of four people, including an Asian family with two young children, as a hate crime. 
  • Police in Australia arrested a 17-year-old girl Monday after a viral video showed her berating and spitting on two Asian women in public.
  • Many have been quick to criticize U.S. President Donald Trump for his use of the term “Chinese” virus, which they say furthers the association between the coronavirus and Asian people.

Man Stabs Asian American Family in Hate Crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning that hate crimes against Asian American people will likely grow as the United States continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. 

“…hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease… endangering Asian American communities,” a FBI report obtained by ABC News said. “The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”

The report also classifies a March 14 stabbing at a Sam’s Club in Midland, Texas as a hate crime. That night, Bawi Cung, his wife, and their three children were shopping for groceries when the 19-year-old alleged male assailant stabbed Cung.

The man then ran off before coming back and stabbing two of Cung’s young children, a two-year-old and a six-year-old. Store employee Zach Owen then intervened and was stabbed, as well.

Meanwhile, off-duty Customs & Border Protection agent Bernie Ramirez was also and the store and heard the incident while shopping. He then stepped in, drew his gun on the 19-year-old stabber, and held that man down until police arrived.

The victims were then rushed to hospital. Reportedly, two of them were in critical condition, but besides scars, all have since recovered. Both Cung and one of his sons received stab wounds along the face, with his son’s wound stretching from behind his ear to his eye. Owen faced deep cuts on his hands and one of his legs.

Following the incident, Midland police launched an investigation. A couple of days later, the FBI took over that investigation and classified it as a hate crime. 

Girl Spits on Asian Women in Australia

The Midland Stabbing is not the only incidence of coronavirus-related violence that has occurred at Asian people’s expense. 

In Australia, a viral video shows two girls berating two Asian women on the street. 

“I got a knife in my bag, you wanna fuck around?” one of the girls says in the video. “You fucking, you Asian dog. Yeah, yeah, get the fuck out of here now!” 

The girl continues to shout at the women, and at one point kicks at them. Bystanders then rush to help. The girl jumps around the women and bystanders, holding her fists up as if she is about to punch one of them.

The girl then opts to spit instead. Reportedly, some of that spit got in one of the women’s eyes. The two victims went to the police, and Monday, police announced that they’d arrested both the girls harassing them.

The 17-year-old girl who spit is being charged with three counts of common assault, use offensive language in/near a public place, and two counts of attempts to stalk/intimidate/intend fear of harm. 

The other teenage girl was reportedly released without being charged.

Other Asian People Report Various Forms of Racism

While both those stories are examples of violent harassment where police caught the alleged criminals, the reality for many more Asian people is they will continue to see various forms of racism while the pandemic is active. 

Besides Texas, there have also been reports of surges of hate crimes in Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas.

“I was shopping at the Smith store for necessities, and as soon as I walk in an aisle a whole family covered their nose all of a sudden,” one Las Vegas man told CBS Las Vegas. “My son, who was living in L.A., he’s home now, but he was told to go home. We have a member whose mother was told not to touch her groceries because she doesn’t want her germs.”

In a op-ed for the LA Times published Tuesday morning, several Asian American columnists write:

“Coughing is now a doubly serious concern for Asian Americans. Like everyone else, we’re afraid of contracting the coronavirus. As a racial group, we have an additional fear: being profiled as disease-carriers and being maliciously coughed at.”

During the early days of the outbreak, many Asian-American restaurant owners reported major downturns in customers visiting their shops. In fact, many people online have “joked” about not going to Chinese restaurants in order to avoid the coronavirus. 

Though many restaurants across the country are not shut down on government orders, in February, the owner of a 100-year-old historic restaurant in New York City reported a 40% drop in business. He also said that one Monday in February was the slowest Monday he’d seen in five years.

Other restaurant owners have also reported similar drops in business. 

Outside of the U.S., in Canada, one doctor said her half-Chinese son was targeted by other children in school

“Today my son was cornered at school by kids who wanted to “test” him for #Coronavirus just because he is half-Chinese,” she said on Twitter in January before many schools closed. “They chased him. Scared him. And made him cry. I was the same age when I was bullied for being Pakistani. It’s 2020. I thought things had changed by now…”

Trump Insists to Call the Coronavirus the “Chinese” Virus

As Asian-Americans have faced increased levels of discrimination, President Donald Trump has remained adamant about about associating COVID-19 with China, repeatedly calling it the “Chinese” virus.

A reporter for The Washington Post also captured an image of one of Trump’s speeches where he crossed out “Corona” and wrote “Chinese” in its place. 

Source: The Washington Post

Trump’s resolve to call the coronavirus the “China” virus has resulted in reporters asking him if he believes the term is racist and why he uses it.

“Cause it comes from China,” he told a reporter in mid-March. “It’s not racist at all, no. Not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. It comes from China.” 

Despite this criticism, Trump has tweeted support for Asian-Americans, saying last week, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.”

“They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!” 

Nonetheless, critics say rhetoric like “China” virus is bound to fuel discrimination against Aisan people. 

“Donald Trump has put the lives of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants at risk,” Senator Kamala Harris said when tweeting about the Midland stabbing. 

See what others are saying: (News West 9) (ABC News) (10 Daily Australia)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

U.S.

Trump Classifies Gun Stores, Shooting Ranges, and Weapon Manufactures Essential Businesses

Published

on

  • The Trump Administration has ruled that gun shops are an essential business during coronavirus lockdowns.
  • This comes after several states and cities, including California, did not list firearm retailers as essential. The NRA hit California with a lawsuit, saying this choice “suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most.”
  • Not everyone has agreed with this ruling though. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the communications and documents that led the federal government to make this decision.
  • While this debate has been going on, gun retailers say they have seen a significant spike in gun and ammunition sales since fears about the coronavirus became widespread.

Trump Admin Rules Gun Shops Essential 

The federal government has ruled gun stores an essential business during coronavirus lockdowns, prompting gun control organizations to fight back. 

On Monday night, the Trump administration listed firearms stores, manufacturers, shooting ranges, and other related businesses as essential during the pandemic. Their decision comes after strong debates over what should happen to gun shops during shelter-in-place orders. After sheriffs in Los Angeles and other officials in California said that these stores should not be considered essential and should close, the National Rifle Association hit the state with a lawsuit. 

“Municipalities who target lawful gun stores for closure aren’t promoting safety,” Jason Ouimet, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Actions said in a statement. “By weaponizing their politics to disarm you and your loved ones, these shameless partisans are recklessly promoting a gun-control agenda that suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most.”

The Department of Homeland Security also recommended that gun shops remain open. After the new federal ruling came down, California said it will be opening up gun shops again. The NRA thanked President Donald Trump for his administration’s decision in a tweet. 

Opposition to Gun Stores Remaining Open

This ruling has not come without dissent, however. Over the past few weeks, many lawmakers have suggested that gun shops should close during the lockdown. 

“There’s no reason why gun stores should be given this exception,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a statement. “In fact, arming more Americans in their homes at a time of rising tension and anxiety seems more dangerous than ever.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has also been vocal about their opposition to this. On Tuesday morning, they said they will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request so they could see the communications and documents that led the government to decide gun shops should be essential.

“Americans have a right to know whether the Trump Administration is listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci or (NRA Executive) Wayne LaPierre when pushing to keep gun businesses open despite the risk of spreading coronavirus,” the group’s president, Kris Brown said in a statement. “The American people deserve answers as to whether our federal government has put industry interests and profits ahead of our public safety.

Gun Sales See Bump Amid Coronavirus

This ruling comes as gun sales are on the rise, something sellers are saying is a direct response to fears of the coronavirus. Online retailer Ammo.com said it has seen increased purchases and website traffic since the virus became a widespread concern.

“While people have stockpiled toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and pantry essentials, they’ve also purchased ammunition at an unprecedented rate,” Ammo.com said on its website.Here at Ammo.com, our growth in sales directly correlates with the rise of COVID-19 and its spread across the country.”

The increases the business has seen are staggering. Ammo.com has reported a 777% increase in revenue, 516% increase in transactions, and 350% increase in site traffic. It has also seen significantly higher conversion rates and order values. 

NPR spoke to a gun shop owner in Tulsa, Oklahoma who said gun sales at his store have gone up 20%, while ammunition sales roughly quintupled. 

Fears About Gun Ownership Amid Lockdowns

Increased gun ownership during this time of uncertainty and vulnerability does not sit well with everyone though. Gun control advocates fear that having people trapped inside with their weapons could lead to more gun violence.

As many are stuck inside due to lockdowns, there are already reports that domestic violence cases are increasing. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide goes up by 500%.

There are also fears that because so many people are panic buying, there are now new gun owners who may be unfamiliar with gun safety measures. Gun deaths significantly increase when proper safety care is not taken. Death by suicide is three times greater in homes with loaded firearms versus a home with an unloaded firearm, a statistic that is also troublesome because of the toll social isolation takes on depression and mental health. 

The Brady Campaign has also stated that eight children and teens are injured or killed a day due to an unlocked or unsupervised gun in the home. While kids cannot go to school and are spending more time at home than usual, some worry that this could lead to them getting their hands on a firearm.

Because of this, Brown has been advocating for all gun owners, new and old, to make sure they are being responsible with their weapons. 

“While it is understandable to seek what can feel like protection in times of upheaval, we must acknowledge the risks that bringing guns into the home pose and take all appropriate measures to mitigate that risk,” Brown stated.

“In this uncertain time, we urge all gun owners to ensure that their weapons are safely stored,” Brown continued. “Just like we can all do our part to slow the spread of this virus, we can do our part to help prevent unintentional shootings in the home.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Wall Street Journal) (Reuters)

Advertisements
Continue Reading