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Newark’s Water Crisis Intensifies as Reports Show City-Issued Filters Failed to Remove Lead Contamination

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  • After a report found a small number of city-issued filters failed to remove lead from Newark’s water system, the city advised all affected residents to avoid drinking from tap water.
  • Monday, the city and state began handing out water bottles, but people soon discovered the water was months past its best-by date. 
  • Many have called for Mayor Ras Baraka to resign because the city has faced elevated lead levels for years, but residents were not told the water was unsafe to drink until last year.

Asking for Federal Aid

Newark and New Jersey state officials are asking the Federal government to step in after the city began handing out bottled water earlier this week in response to growing concerns of lead contaminating its water service lines.

On Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy visited the city and reiterated the need for federal aid, saying the state does not have enough water bottles to continue passing out for an extended period of time.

“Everybody, young and old, big and small, regardless of where you are in this state, in this community certainly in Newark in this country: clean water is a right, not a privilege, for everybody, and we believe that with great passion,” Murphy said in a press conference

Earlier in the day, Senator Cory Booker — who lives in Newark — tweeted about the need for federal aid in his hometown.

“It’s shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own,” he wrote.

Newark’s Lead Crisis Explained

Old and corroding water service lines have propagated Newark’s lead issues for years. 

Since the 2010-2011 academic year, the Newark Board of Education has found elevated lead-water levels in schools every year. Despite attempting to fix the problem by installing new water lines, it persisted. 

In 2016, over 30 schools resorted to using bottled water after shutting off fountains, and thousands of children have been tested to see if they have increased levels of lead in their blood, with about 25 percent of Newark children under six having detectable lead levels.

In 2017, it was reported that 1 in every 10 households in Newark had twice the amount of lead the Environmental Protection Agency sets as a federal standard.

In the fall of last year, the city began handing out lead-safe PÜR filters. The city has estimated it has distributed more than 38,000 filters since October.

The increased calls for federal aid come after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Aug. 9 statement to Mayor Ras Baraka, urging the city to begin handing out bottled water after it seemed some lead-safe filters were not adequately removing lead from water.

“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said.

The next day, Baraka held a press conference and announced the city had received reports that two of three tested filters contained lead levels four times above what the EPA allows.

“A small sample of water filters provided to the City of Newark may not be removing lead to the low levels expected by city, state and federal officials,” a report released by the city on Monday said.

Also on Monday, city and state officials began handing out water bottles, advising those in affected areas to use bottled water to drink, cook, and prepare baby formula. 

Later, people began to notice the water was past its best-by date of May 30, and 50,000 more bottles had to be ordered. The state maintains the expired water was likely still safe to drink.

Residents waiting for water faced heat and long lines. Some said they were turned away if they weren’t from a specific area.

At the same time, Baraka has continually encouraged people to run their water for activities like showering or washing dishes. Currently, the city is attempting a corrosion-control treatment meant to re-coat old pipes.

Baraka has said residents should flush their water for 3-5 minutes before using it but has said the process will take some time. 

Because the water crisis affects mostly low-income and African American households, many are drawing comparisons to Flint, though Baraka has denied those associations and called them false comparisons.

Calls for Baraka to Resign

Despite the efforts taken by the city, some are saying Baraka should resign because until last fall, the city denied having a dangerous amount of lead in the water system. 

“It’s wrong,” one resident told ABC. “Something should be done about this. This has been going on for a while, and they’ve been covering it up and nobody didn’t do nothing about it.” 

After being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Newark released a June 2018 statement saying “the City’s water is not contaminated with lead.”

“The lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council is based on the premise that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the City’s drinking water,” the statement reads. “That charge is absolutely and outrageously false. The truth is that the water supplied by the city is pure, safe and fully complies with federal and state regulations. The NRDC has seriously mischaracterized the facts.

Many residents have spoken up about similar claims, saying the city lied to them.

“‘Your water’s fine, everything’s fine,’” Evette Jordan said she was told in an interview with CBS This Morning.

“That’s what you heard from the city?” reporter Anna Werner asked her.

“Yes, through several robocalls, through press conferences from our mayor,” Jordan said.

Though Newark admitted to the problems with lead in schools in the June statement, it argued it wasn’t to blame because the lead “stems from privately owned lead service lines,” not city mains.

See what others are saying: (WABC) (Star-Ledger) (New York Times)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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Derek Chauvin Qualifies for Longer Sentence Over George Floyd’s Murder, Judge Rules

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  • A judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin ruled Wednesday that there were enough aggravating factors in the former officer’s murder of George Floyd that could qualify him for a longer prison sentence.
  • While Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges he faced, Minnesota state law only allows him to receive prison time for the most serious charge of second-degree homicide, which has a max sentence of 40 years but a recommended sentence of 12.5 years for people with no criminal history.
  • The judge ultimately agreed that Chauvin qualifies for longer sentencing because prosecutors had proven that he abused his power as a police officer, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
  • Chauvin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

Judge Cahill Rules on Aggravating Factors

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, thus qualifying him for a longer sentence.

While the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he was facing, Minnesota law says that he will only face sentencing for the most serious charge, which in this case is second-degree murder.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, but state sentencing guidelines recommend 12 and a half years for someone with no criminal history. Prosecutors asked Judge Cahill for what’s called an “upward sentencing departure,” arguing that there were five factors that should open Chauvin up to a maximum sentence.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Cahill wrote that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt four of those five factors.

In his decision, Cahill agreed with the prosecutor’s claim that Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority” as a police officer and that he “knew from his training and experience” that the neck restraint he used Floyd in “danger of positional asphyxia.” 

Cahill also supported the argument that the former officer had been “particularly cruel” to Floyd, who he wrote “was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge he was likely to die,” adding that Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.”

The third and fourth aggravating factors that the judge sided with prosecutors on were that Chauvin had committed the crime as part of a group of three or more people and that he perpetrated that crime in front of children.

Notably, Cahill did reject the fifth aggravating factor brought by prosecutors, who argued Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed and held facedown on the street. The judge said that prosecutors did not prove that argument, writing that Floyd had been able to resist arrest before he was put on the ground.

Additional Charges

The ruling comes just a few days after Chauvin and the three other officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges by a grand jury.

Chauvin was also indicted on a second, separate federal charge related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017, during which he allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

According to reports, if he is convicted, he would likely serve the federal sentence at the same time as his state one. However, the federal charges may impact the pending August trial of the three other officers, who have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Separately, last week, Chauvin’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging misconduct by the judge, prosecutors, and jurors, signaling additional continued litigation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Teens Attack and Rob 80-Year-Old Asian Man in Northern California

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  • Viral surveillance footage shows an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area being assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police say are teenagers.
  • Police believe the suspects are as young as 16, and at one point, one can be heard in the video giggling from the getaway car as the victim cries for help. 
  • The news comes after the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data showing that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March.

Suspect Laughs at Victim During Attack

Surveillance video going viral on social media captured an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area getting assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police believe are teenagers.

The full video is extremely distressing. It shows the man getting knocked to the ground, trying to fight off his attackers as he cries for help. To make matters worse, at one point, high-pitched giggles can be heard coming from another teen in the background. That person appears to be inside a getaway car nearby.

The victim was robbed of a watch and sustained minor injuries. Police have also said that a vehicle similar to the one used in this case was spotted at a strong-armed robbery in a nearby San Leandro area less than two hours later, where another victim was robbed of her purse.

Police believe the suspects are as young as 16.

Surge of Crimes Against Asians in U.S.

This is just the latest violent attack against an Asian person making headlines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, reports emerged regarding two Asian women who were attacked with a hammer in Times Square by someone demanding they remove their masks. Two other Asian women were recently stabbed while waiting for the bus in downtown San Francisco.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data Thursday saying that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March — with Chinese people as victims in 44% of these acts.

Vancouver Sees Massive Influx of Anti-Asian Hate

While anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in the U.S., the situation may be worse in Canada, specifically in Vancouver. Around 42% of people in Vancouver are of Asian descent and at least 25% speak Chinese — making it the most heavily Asian city in North America.

Still, it witnessed a 717% year-over-year surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Bloomberg even dubbed it the Anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, saying more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in the city of 700,000 people last year than in the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

That’s part of why people all across the city are participating in more organized action to speak out against anti-Asian hate. For instance, several rallies took place in Vancouver Monday to mark the National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism.

See what others are saying: (ABC 7) (Bloomberg) (Forbes)

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