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DOJ Investigating Whether or Not to Pursue Hate Crime Charges in Ahmaud Arbery Case

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  • On Thursday, the two men who allegedly chased and gunned down unarmed black runner Ahmaud Arbery were arrested for his murder after walking free for more than two months after his death. 
  • On Friday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said that the agency has “sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 
  • On Saturday, new footage showing Arbery at a house under construction emerged, though the lawyer for Arbery’s family argued he didn’t take anything and that this wasn’t enough to justify his death.
  • On Sunday, state Attorney General Chris Carr asked the DOJ to investigate local authorities’ handling of the case.
  • On Monday, the DOJ announced it was investigating whether or not to issue federal hate crime charges.

McMichaels Arrested for Arbery’s Death

On Monday, Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the agency is “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate” in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

That announcement is part of a series of rapidly-advancing developments in what began as a slow-to-develop story. For more than two months, Gregory and Travis McMichael walked free after allegedly chasing and gunning down Arbery. On Thursday, they were finally charged with murder. 

Their arrests come just two days after a video appearing to capture their confrontation leaked online. 

According to prosecutors, on Feb. 23, Arbery reportedly went out for a jog in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia. During that jog, someone called 911, saying they saw Arbery in a house that was under construction. Before the call ended, Arbery had already left the house. 

Shortly thereafter, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael also saw Arbery, believing him to be the culprit behind a recent series of break-ins. He and his 34-year-old son Travis reportedly grabbed a revolver and a shotgun before chasing Arbery down the road in their truck. Minutes later, Arbery was dead after being shot by Travis McMichael as the two fought over the shotgun.

Friday morning, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said the agency had found “more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 

At that press conference, Reynolds also addressed questions about potentially arresting a third person. That’s because, according to former prosecutor George Barnhill, another man joined the McMichaels in “hot pursuit” of Arbery. 

Currently, that’s believed to be William Bryan, who filmed that leaked video. Reynolds said that Bryan—along with others—is being investigated. While Reynolds said that more arrests could be made, he also stressed that the agency is going to be guided by facts before making any more arrests.

Bryan’s lawyer has argued that Bryan fully cooperated with the investigation and that he is simply “a witness to the tragic shooting.”

“There had been a number of crimes in the neighborhood, and [Bryan] didn’t recognize [Arbery] and a vehicle that he did recognize was following [Arbery],” that attorney said.

Seemingly countering that testimony, according to a police report, Gregory McMichael said Bryan “attempted to block” Arbery as the men pursued him but “was unsuccessful.”

Video of Arbery in Home Under Construction

On Saturday, several local outlets published more footage of Arbery just before his death. In that footage, a man that appears to be Arbery can be seen going into the house that was under construction.

Notably, he’s only there for a few minutes. He doesn’t appear to take anything. 

In a separate piece of footage, another person runs up to a stand of trees across the street and appears to be watching what’s going on. That footage then ends with Arbery leaving and running back down the street.

After this, the GBI confirmed this video to be part of its investigation, but it wouldn’t say if the first figure in the video was, in fact, Arbery.

Later Saturday, the attorney for Arbery’s family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that his office does believe the person in the video is Arbery. Still, Merritt said that the existence of such footage is no justification for Arbery’s death.

“He engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period,” Merritt said. “Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property.”

Ahmaud’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law,” he added. “This video confirms that Mr. Arbery’s murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified.”

In this time, more videos showing a man that could be Arbery at that house at night have also emerged—some of them reportedly from as far back as October 2019; however, they have not yet been confirmed to show Arbery, and it is unknown why this man was there. Currently, there is little information and large scale reporting on it.

According to Atlanta-based criminal defense lawyer Manny Arora, who spoke with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, even though Arbery was in that home, that’s not necessarily a crime. At worst, it’s a misdemeanor, unless he was found to have taken anything. 

According to Georgia law, a citizen can arrest a person only if they see that person committing a felony. In most cases, they’re required to use reasonable force to detain a person. Deadly force can only be used to prevent a forcible felony or for self-defense.

Contrary to that law, the McMichaels allegedly initiated this attack with their guns. Arbery was unarmed.

“If you initiate an assault, you don’t get [to] then claim self-defense if the other person reacts to them being assaulted,” Arora said. 

In fact, the evidence that Arbery did not commit a felony in that home on Feb. 23 has been corroborated by the home’s owner, Larry English, who has told media outlets that he has never filed a police report for any stolen property or robbery. 

According to Glynn County police records, there haven’t been any recent burglaries in the neighborhood, except for one filed on Jan. 1 when someone stole a handgun from an unlocked truck parked at the McMichaels’ house.

Georgia AG Asks DOJ to Investigate Arbery Case

Sunday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Department of Justice to investigate how local authorities handled this case. 

Much of the criticism around the case and the lack of charges has been pinned back to the fact that not one but two prosecutors recused themselves for potential conflicts of interest because they had professional connections to Gregory McMichael, who is a former Glynn County police officer.

The second prosecutor in the case, Barnhill, reportedly advised police not to arrest the McMichaels as he was removing himself from the investigation.

“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” he wrote to police. “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.” 

Now, it is also being reported that Barnhill reportedly told detectives that Arbery’s killing was a “justifiable homicide.” 

That seemingly contradicts with GBI Director Reynolds saying the agency has “sufficient probable cause” for murder.

Monday morning, the DOJ said it’s considering AG Carr’s request, along with its investigation into potentially charging the McMichaels with a hate crime.

Among notable reactions, on Saturday, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Yo Gotti, and Meek Mill all penned a letter through Roc Nation, calling for justice in Arbery’s death. In that letter, the singers address Governor Brian Kemp, AG Carr, and the third prosecutor in the case, Tom Durden.

Though they say the McMichaels’ arrest is “a positive first step on the long road toward justice,” they add that such a development “only strengthens our resolve to see that justice is eventually served.”

In the letter, they also call for Durden to recuse himself and for Carr to appoint a special prosecutor.

Though it’s unknown what effect this letter specifically had, Monday morning, it was reported that Durden would be stepping aside. It was then announced that Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been appointed to lead the prosecution against the McMichaels.

See what others are saying: (Atlanta-Journal Constitution) (New York Post) (The Washington Post)

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College Board Changes AP African American Studies After Backlash From DeSantis Amid Education Culture War

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As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.


College Board Rolls Out Curriculum

The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.

The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.

In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.” 

Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.

Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.

According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.

Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”

It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism. 

The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”

DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War

DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.

Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”

Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.” 

To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.

Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too. 

Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Biden Announces Plan to End COVID Emergency in May

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The decision would drastically change the government’s long-standing pandemic response and shift Americans’ access to COVID-related services.


Emergency Declarations at an End

In a statement Monday, The White House announced that it would be ending the COVID national emergency and public health emergency declarations on May 11.

The move will entirely restructure the federal government’s response to the pandemic to treat it as endemic and upend policies that have been in place for the last three years. Although more than 500 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID on average each day — which is around two times the number of daily deaths during a bad flu season — life has largely returned to normal.

Most Americans are vaccinated, and even President Joe Biden himself said the pandemic was “over” back in September. The new announcement comes in part as a response to resolutions Republicans brought to the House floor last week that would end the declarations immediately.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House argued.

Lapses in Coverage and Care

Federal officials decided that a phase-out would make more sense because the U.S. has come to rely on several systems and benefits under the emergencies.

One of the most significant changes that will have the biggest impact on Americans in their day-to-day lives is access to COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines that have been free throughout the pandemic.

Once the emergencies end, a very complex wave of changes will take place that differs from person to person depending on their insurance — or lack thereof — and even possibly what state they live in.

Currently, people with private health insurance or Medicare coverage have been allowed eight free COVID tests a month and insurers had to cover those tests, even if they were administered out of network.

Once the emergency ends, some Americans will have to pay out of pocket, as well as for antiviral COVID treatments like Paxlovid. 

Notably, it has been reported that vaccines will still be included for all those people covered by both private and public insurance. That, however, may not be the case for those without insurance — a group that is also more likely to be the most affected by rising costs for tests and treatments.

Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Washington Post that when the emergency declarations end, states that opted to provide Medicaid coverage for tests, treatments, and shots will lose the federal funds that matched costs at 100%.

“To me, that’s the biggest issue for the general public to think about,” she said. “The uninsured and underinsured have no guaranteed access to covid vaccines, tests or treatments.”

When it comes to vaccines, those costs could be significant. Moderna and Pfizer have both said they might charge as much as $130 per dose of vaccine once the federal government stops paying and the shots are transitioned to the private market. That figure is nearly quadruple what federal offices have paid for the doses.

The shift to the private market could happen fairly soon, especially because Republicans have refused Biden’s request that they put billions of dollars towards additional free COVID testing and shots to extend those efforts.

There could also be a spike in the number of uninsured or underinsured Americans because the $1.7 trillion spending bill passed last year ends a rule that banned states from kicking people off Medicaid, leaving millions at risk of losing coverage.

Other Possible Outcomes

Ending the declarations could also set up a battle around immigration because the Biden administration has said the move will bring an end to Title 42 — the Trump-era public health measure that placed restrictions on border crossings and other migrant policies.

Biden has previously tried to cut the program, but the Supreme Court kept it in place. House Republicans rejected the White House’s claim that the program would be terminated, arguing it is not tied to the public health emergency.

Beyond that, the termination of the declarations would require health providers to make numerous adjustments because many of the flexibilities they were allowed in a number of areas would be cut. 

As a result, the administration says a phase-out of those policies over the next few months is necessary, arguing that hospitals and nursing homes “will be plunged into chaos” if they are cut immediately. House Republicans, however, are insistent on moving forward their legislation that would do just that, though the Democratic-controlled Senate could block their proposals.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates

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The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.


Same War, New Battlefield

Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.

Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.

Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.

Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources. 

Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.

According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.

Xbox Under Fire

To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture. 

While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.

“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.

“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,”  Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.

Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”

The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.”  That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want

Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.

The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.

“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)

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