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Illinois to Expunge Nearly 800,000 Marijuana Convictions

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  • 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)

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Journalists Say Northwestern School Paper Should Not Have Apologized for Protest Coverage

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  • A Northwestern student paper apologized after activists critiqued it for covering a public protest.
  • Critics specifically focused on a reporter who tweeted photos from the protest, and other reporters using the school’s directory to contact sources.
  • Several outlets and journalists have spoken up saying student reporters should not have apologized for doing their jobs, as they were just doing what was required to cover the protest.
  • The Dean of Northwestern’s Journalism School has also defended the student reporters, saying they were following ethical standards and should not have to apologize for that.

Northwestern Paper Publishes Apology

Reporters are speaking out after a Northwestern University student newspaper apologized for how it covered a recent public protest. 

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the school’s campus on November 5, The Daily Northwestern sent reporters to cover his speech, as well as the protests surrounding it.

According to The New York Times, protesters were pushing through the back of the building. Police tried to stop them from entering but ultimately failed. This series of events was documented by one of the reporters, Colin Boyle, who is a photographer for The Daily. 

Some of the activists attending the protest disagreed with the paper’s coverage of the events, particularly the photography. Boyle posted his photos to Twitter in a move some found to be inappropriate. One student depicted in the photos referred to it as “trauma porn.”

After facing this backlash from protesters, The Daily published an editorial on Sunday largely apologizing for their coverage. 

“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward,” the piece, signed by eight editors said. 

They also noted that some saw the photos taken to be “retraumatizing and invasive.”

“Those photos have since been taken down,” the editorial continued. “On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.”

The piece also addressed student reporters using the student directory to contact sources for the article. They said they would no longer continue this practice because it is an “invasion of privacy” and promised to find a new way to reach out to sources. 

“Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups,” the piece said.

Reporters Speak Out

This editorial ended up getting attention on both a local and national level. News outlets and journalists alike made comments saying that the student paper should not have published this piece because the student journalists were just doing their job.

“The Daily is apologizing for posting photographs of protesters at a public demonstration. In what world is that “invasive?” the Chicago Sun-Timeseditorial board said. “The real concern, for anybody who cares about the state of our free society, should be quite the opposite. The real concern should be the frequent efforts by government to keep journalists and protesters far apart to tamp down voices of dissent.”

They also defended students using the directory as a method to contact sources. 

“Requesting an interview, via text or any other polite means, is not an ‘invasion of privacy.’ Not even in the world of campus safe spaces,” the piece continued. “It’s a request for an interview, to which anybody can say no.”

Guy Benson, a Fox News contributor who got his degree from Northwestern spoke about the piece on a Wednesday segment of Fox and Friends. 

“It was sort of grovelingly apologetic for doing the sin of journalism,” he said. “They committed journalism by asking questions of students, contacting students for comment, publishing on the record quotes from people, and taking photographs of a public protest from a public event. And that is all just totally proper.” 

A Huffington Post news editor, Saba Hamedy, approached the situation from a sympathetic angle, calling it a learning opportunity.

Dean Responds

The Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Charles Whitaker, published a statement of his own, defending the student’s right to report on the world around them and condemning others for pressuring them into apologizing for doing so.

“The coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism,” he wrote. “I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the ‘sin’ of doing journalism.”

“It is naïve, not to mention wrong-headed, to declare, as many of our student activists have, that The Daily staff and other student journalists had somehow violated the personal space of the protestors by reporting on the proceedings, which were conducted in the open and were designed, ostensibly, to garner attention,” he continued.

As for The Daily’s editorial itself, he called it “heartfelt, though not well-considered.” 

“I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared,” he said. “I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would effect a measure of community healing.”

The Other Side of the Aisle

Though, not everyone thought the apology was out of line. Some did think The Daily needed to address what happened. 

One student said this showed that journalists often “don’t care about people, they care about stories and headlines.”

Reporter Karen Kho pointed out that many reporters were getting upset about this industry-related situation, but don’t speak as much about other problems in the field of journalism, “such the lack of diversity in their newsrooms, declines in public trust, or how reporting can further hurt underrepresented communities.”

Others also pointed out the school’s history when it comes to protests.

What the Students Involved Are Saying

Some of the student journalists involved in the story also spoke about the events. 

Troy Closson, the paper’s editor in chief, published a Twitter thread partially justifying the editorial but also acknowledging over-correction.

He added that balancing this role with the knowledge that the paper has historically not treated students of color well has been a challenge. Closson said he appreciates people raising their voices about their coverage and said the staff is learning to navigate the space of being student journalists. 

Boyle spoke to The Washington Post about what was going through his mind as he took photos at the protests.

“These are my peers, these are people that I might have class with,” he told the paper. “If something happened, God forbid, I was the only camera that was non-police-owned in that area, to my knowledge.”

On Twitter, he said that he has reflected a lot on what it means to be a journalist. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Veteran Burial Problem: Why Veteran Cemeteries Are Running Out of Space & What’s Next

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Over the last few decades, veteran cemeteries throughout the US have been facing an ongoing problem — they’ve been running out of space. In an effort to address this, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically the National Cemetery Administration, has been working to acquire new land to expand current national cemeteries and establish new ones.

They’ve also launched the Urban Initiative and the Rural Initiative in order to improve accessibility for veterans living in densely populated cities and in more rural parts of the country, respectively. But the challenges don’t end there. As it stands, national cemeteries are still at risk of running out of room within the next twenty to thirty years. And as a result, new changes are being proposed; changes that would impact eligibility requirements and potentially limit which veterans can and cannot be buried below ground. Watch the video to find out more.

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BART Apologizes After a Man Was Handcuffed for Eating a Sandwich on a Train Platform

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  • Protestors have staged “eat ins” and spoken out on social media in support of a BART rider who was handcuffed and cited for eating a sandwich on a train platform, a violation of CA law. 
  • BART’s General Manager noted that the man refused to provide identification, and “cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm throughout the entire engagement.”
  • But still, the official apologized to the rider and said the transit agency’s independent police auditor is investigating the incident.

Viral Video 

A transit official in California’s Bay Area apologized Monday after a video showed a man waiting to catch a train being handcuffed and cited for eating a breakfast sandwich on the station platform. 

In a now-viral video posted to Facebook Friday, a police officer is seen detaining a man who has since been identified as 31-year-old Steve Foster. Foster was heading to work around 8 a.m. on Nov. 4 when an officer stopped to tell him he was breaking the law by eating on the platform.

According to Bay Area Transit Authority (BART) General Manager Bob Powers, before the video starts, the officer asked the passenger not to eat and decided to move forward with a citation when he continued to do so. 

The video shows the officer holding onto Foster’s backpack as the two argue. “You are detained and you’re not free to go,” the officer says.

“You came up here and fucked with me,” Foster responds. “You singled me out, out of all these people.”

“You’re eating,” the officer says.

“Yeah, so what,” Foster responds.

“It’s against the law,” the officer says. “I tried to explain that to you. It’s a violation of California law. I have the right to detain you.”

The officer threatens to send Foster to jail for resisting arrest and eventually calls for backup. Foster’s friend, who filmed the encounter, tells the officer that there are no signs in the station that say passengers can’t eat on the platform. 

“Why is there a store downstairs selling food if we’re not allowed to eat up here?” she says. 

“Where is the sign up here that says we can’t eat on the platform? We know we can’t eat on the train.”  

Foster continues to eat and tell the officer he does this every morning. The officer continues to hold onto the backpack to detain Foster for refusing to give his name. Foster becomes more frustrated and throws profanities at him.

“You don’t get no pussy at home. I know you ain’t. When was the last time you got your dick sucked? I know it’s been a while,” Foster tells the officer before asking him to call his supervisor.

“I just missed two trains because of your fa**ot ass. You fucking fa*. Ask your momma what my name is,” he also tells the officer. 

“Show me a sign where it says I cant eat on the platform,” Foster says, but before the officer can respond he shouts in his face. “Shut up n***a. You ain’t got shit to say and now you feel stupid n***a…You nerd. You fucking nerd. Let my bag go.” 

After a few minutes, three other officers arrive and handcuff Foster before walking him down the platform and through the station. One of the officers then tells him he is being held because he matches the description of someone who was creating a disturbance on the platform. 

In a second video, the officer tells Foster’s friend he was initially responding to a report of a possibly intoxicated woman on the platform, whom he never found. That’s when he spotted Foster and let him know there is no eating on BART. He also tells the friend there are in fact signs that say there is no eating in the paid area of BART.

Foster was given a citation for the infraction and released after providing his name to the police. 

Reactions

After the footage circulated across social media, (in some cases, shorter edited clips) many users and BART riders expressed their frustration.

The incident even sparked protests and “eat ins” over the weekend, with more scheduled to continue. One Facebook event for this coming Saturday is called “Eat a McMuffin on BART: They Can’t Stop Us All.” 

According to BART Communications Director Alicia Trost, eating is prohibited in the “paid area” of the transit stations, meaning once passengers pass through the ticketing gate. The specific California law is PC 640 (b) (1): “Eating or drinking in or on a system facility or vehicle in areas where those activities are prohibited by that system.”

Though many social media users thought Foster was arrested for the incident, the BART spokesperson clarified that he was only issued a citation for eating. The spokesperson said Foster was “lawfully handcuffed when he refused to provide his identification,” and added that “the court will determine level of fine he should pay.”

Similar statements were provided on social media to users who had questions about the situation.

BART Apology 

In his Monday statement, General Manager Powers said, “As a transportation system, our concern with eating is related to the cleanliness of our stations and system.”

“This was not the case in the incident at Pleasant Hill station on Monday,” he continued. 

He noted that Foster, “refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out the entire engagement,” but added that context of the situation was important. 

The officer was doing his job but context is key. Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.”

“I’m disappointed [by] how the situation unfolded. I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video,” he added.

In response to the statement, Foster told KGO–TV “I’m definitely upset, mad, a little frustrated, angry about it.”

“I hope they start focusing on stuff that actually matters like people shooting up dope, hopping the BART, people getting stabbed.” He also told other news outlets that he believes he was singled out because of his race and want the officer who cuffed him to be disciplined.

Foster said he is looking into his legal options as of now. According to Powers, the transit agency’s independent police auditor is investigating the incident.

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (NBC Bay Area) (CNN)

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