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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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2 Officers Shot, 127 Arrested in Louisville Following Breonna Taylor Decision

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  • Protests erupted across the country Wednesday night following the announcement that officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor would not face charges related to her death.
  • One of the three officers was indicted on wanton endangerment because he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to some shots entering the neighbor’s apartment.
  • Over 127 people were arrested in Louisville, and two police officers in the city were shot but are in stable condition. A suspect has been charged in the shooting. 
  • Across the country, many protests were peaceful, but others led to unrest, including some held in Denver and Buffalo where drivers rammed into protesters. 

Louisville Protests

At least 127 people were arrested and two officers were shot Wednesday during protests in Louisville, Kentucky over the lack of charges filed against the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. 

Protests began in the afternoon and carried on throughout the night after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced a grand jury’s decision. Two of the involved officers will face no charges, and one, Brett Hankison, was indicted on wanton endangerment. That charge does not directly link to Taylor’s death but was instead brought on over the fact that he blindly fired throughout her apartment, leading to shots entering her neighbor’s apartment. 

Many were outraged that none of the officers would face charges related to Taylor’s killing, prompting protests across the country. In Louisville, where the case took place, the Courier Journal reports that the majority of the 127 arrests were over curfew and unlawful assembly violations. Two of those arrested were reporters for the Daily Caller

Two officers were also shot after they responded to reports of gunfire at a busy intersection. They are both in stable condition and sustained non-life-threatening injuries. A suspect is in custody and was charged with two counts of first-degree assault of a police officer and other counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. The FBI will be aiding in the investigation into what happened. 

After this shooting, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addressed his state and the protesters in it. 

“Sadly we have seen at least one individual turn non-violent ways of expressing ourselves into the shooting of at least two law enforcement officers,” he said. “We know that the answer to violence is never violence. And we are thinking about those two officers and their families tonight. So I’m asking everybody, please, go home.” 

Other political leaders also responded to the shooting. President Donald Trump said he spoke to Beshear and said the federal government was ready to step in as protests escalated. Beshear had already approved the deployment of the National Guard earlier on Wednesday. A curfew was also implemented in Louisville. 

Presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was praying for the officers who were shot. 

“Even amidst the profound grief & anger today’s decision generated, violence is never & can never be the answer,” he wrote. 

Nationwide Protests

More protests were held at cities all across the country, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. 

Many protests remained peaceful as demonstrators marched, calling for justice and changes to the criminal justice system. In some places, however, protests led to unrest. 

At least 13 people were arrested in Seattle during protests. Local reports say fires were set, explosives were thrown, property in the area was damaged, and some officers got hurt. In one incident in the city, a viral video shows a police bike riding over someone’s head. Police are aware of the video and told the Washington Post they would be referring it to the city’s Office of Police Accountability for an investigation.

In Portland, authorities declared a demonstration a riot after rocks were thrown at a precinct’s window. A protester also threw a molotov cocktail, which hit an officer, though the flames were extinguished. Officers said that multiple arrests were made. 

Video footage captured in Denver showed a driver ramming through protesters. No one at the scene sustained major injuries. Police have detained someone related to this incident. 

In Buffalo, another video shows a the driver of a truck barreling into protestors. Local reports say a person riding their bike was hit and has broken bones but is in stable condition. The driver of the truck is in police custody. 

Responses to Lack of Charges

Before protests began, many took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Ben Crump, who represents Taylor’s family, said the decision was “offensive to her memory.”

“It’s yet another example of no accountability for the genocide of persons of color by white police officers,” he wrote in a statement. “With all we know about Breonna Taylor’s killing, how could a fair and just system result in today’s decision?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said it was time for a fundamental change in our criminal justice system. 

“Everyone-and I do mean everyone-should be against officers being able to walk into your home and kill you with impunity,” activist Brittnay Packnett Cunningham wrote

Celebrities also spoke out, including LeBron James, who said he was not surprised by the verdict but that his heart was still heavy. 

Kerry Washington encouraged her followers to vote, and Daniel Levy told his to donate to the Louisville Community Bail Fund. 

With all the ongoing public frustrations, Governor Beshear went on CNN and asked the state’s Attorney General to make information from the investigation public so that there can be transparency when it comes to how the decision was reached. 

Background

Taylor was killed in what has been described as a botched police raid in March. Three officers were sent to her apartment on a warrant because they believed her ex boyfriend had send drugs there. No drugs were found in the apartment.

While officers claim that they knocked and announced themselves, Taylor’s family, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who was there at the time, and her neighbors say they did not. When they entered the apartment, it was the middle of the night and Walker thought there was a break in, potentially by Taylor’s ex. He shot at the officers. The officers returned fire, killing Taylor. 

The case has led to national outrage as Louisville officials have been slow to respond, investigate, and announce consequences.

See what others are saying: (Courier Journal) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)

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4 UC Campuses Admitted Dozens of Wealthy and Well-Connected Students Despite Being Less Qualified, State Audit Finds

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  • University of California campuses admitted 64 less-qualified but well-connected students between 2013 and 2018, state auditor Elaine Howle said in a report published Tuesday. 
  • In the audit, Howle concluded that the UC system “has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.” In an interview with NBC News, she also said hundreds of more students could have been unfairly accepted into these four universities. 
  • In one example described in the audit, an applicant made the lowest possible scores on their application and was flagged as “do not recommend,” yet a donor relations admin passed on that application to a coach, noting that the applicant’s father had the capacity to donate major gifts to the school.
  • Howle has now recommended that the UC Office of the President oversees admissions for at least three years and said campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents.

Audit of UC Campuses

The University of California admitted dozens of less-qualified, well-connected applicants over a six-year period, “[depriving] more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” according to a state audit report published Tuesday.

The report details how four UC campuses — Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego — admitted 64 students (and possibly more) between the 2013-2014 and 2018-2019 academic years. According to state auditor Elaine Howle, the majority of those applicants were white, and at least half came from families with average yearly incomes over $150,000.

In one example outlined in the report, a child of a major donor applied to UC Berkeley but received the lowest possible score on their application, which was marked “Do Not Recommend.” Despite this, a donor relations administrator later passed that application along to an unnamed coach while noting  that the family had a “huge capacity” to donate and was “already a big supporter of Cal.”

According to the audit, the coach then identified that applicant as a qualified student athlete, even though the applicant “had played only a single year of the sport in high school and at a low level of competition.”

After accepting a spot at Berkeley, the student’s family donated several thousand dollars to the team, but as the report notes, “The applicant never competed with the team, and the coaches removed the applicant from the team after the season ended.”

Source: CA State Auditor

In a different example laid out in the audit, a UCLA coach admitted a student as an athlete as a favor to a donor, even though that student’s application had already been marked “Denied.” 

In fact, 22 of the total 64 applicants were admitted with the endorsement of athletic departments, despite not meeting the athletic qualifications. 

In another example, an applicant who babysat for the colleague of the former admissions director was accepted into one of the schools.

Howle’s Recommendations

In a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and the California state legislature prefacing the report, Howle concluded “that the university has allowed for improper influence in admissions decisions, and it has not treated applicants fairly or consistently.”

“By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” she added. 

As part of several recommendations, Howle said the UC Office of the President should oversee admissions for at least three years to “ensure that all admissions decisions are merit‑based and conform to the university’s policies on admissions.”

That recommedation will likely be especially stressed for UC Berkeley, which dominated the report with 42 of the total cases.

Still, in an interview with NBC News, Howle said she believes the UC system’s unfair admissions practice could run even deeper.

“There’s at least another 400 or so students… that were really questionable,” she told the outlet. 

Because of all those factors combined, Howle has also recommended that beginning with the current admissions cycle, campuses should be required to verify athletic recruits’ talents and review donation records for possible impropriety.

In general, Howle noted that “applicants’ chances of admission were also unfairly affected by UC Berkeley’s, UCLA’s, and UC San Diego’s failures to properly train and monitor the staff who review and rate applications.”

According to Howle, at times, admissions staff were “overly strict or overly lenient in their review of applications,” which made “applicants’ chances of admission unduly dependent on the individual staff who rated them rather than on the students’ qualifications.”

UC President Responds

UC President Michael Drake said Howle’s audit follows two internal audits that identified many of the same issues, with Drake noting that Howle’s audit will be used to improve the admissions system.

“Individuals involved in improper activities will be disciplined appropriately,” he stressed. 

A spokesperson for UCLA said its athletics-related incidents happened before the school adopted additional safeguards. Both UCLA and UC Berkeley noted that they have improved their admissions policies within recent years and that their review processes are fair. 

UC Santa Barbara also said it has adopted recent safeguards, including having faculty committees review an athlete’s academic and athletic history.

Still, Howle’s audit uncovered many more cases of unfair admissions than an internal UC audit released in February, which found only two instances of possible impropriety. That audit was ordered by then-UC President Janet Napolitano following the national college admissions scandal that has led to convictions for actresses such as Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (NBC News) (CNN)

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Celebrities, Tech Companies, and Others Draw Attention to National Voter Registration Day

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  • Celebrities including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ryan Reynolds, John Legend, and others took to social media to encourage their fans to register to vote in recognition of National Voter Registration Day.
  • Social media companies themselves have also launched their own efforts to get Americans to register. 
  • Facebook said Monday it has already registered 2.5 million people, but many say Facebook’s efforts do not go far enough and that people should be suspicious of its motives.

National Voter Registration Day

Thousands of businesses, election officials, celebrities, and others joined together Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, a non-partisan campaign to register Americans to vote.

“National Voter Registration Day seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise,” the official website for National Voter Registration Day states.“Every year millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register.”

The annual campaign has been highly successful in the past. According to the website, since the event first started in 2012, “nearly 3 million voters across all 50 states have registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day, including 1.3 million in 2018-2019 alone.”

But there is still a lot of work to be done. Nearly one in every four eligible Americans are currently not registered to vote, and as the campaign pointed out in a statement, “this year, due to COVID-19, voter registration is more important than ever.”

“Because of the closure of DMVs and halting of voter registration field programs amid the pandemic, the number of new and updated voter registrations collected across the country has fallen dramatically since March,” the statement continued.

To combat that, partners and community groups are hosting “both digital voter registration drives and safe, in-person registration events,” in addition to “working to provide accurate information to voters on how to prepare to cast a ballot, either through mail-in voting, early in-person voting, or going to the polls on Election Day.”

Celebrities Promote Campaign

Many partner organizations took to social media to promote the event Tuesday, as well as celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, Katy Perry, Kesha, John Legend, and more.

“This National Voter Registration Day, research the voting rights in your state and make a plan to vote,” Legend wrote on Twitter. “By making your voice heard at the polls, you can determine the future of our country’s criminal justice system.” 

Taylor Swift, who, accordiong to vote.org, inspired 65,000 people to register to vote in in 2018, also shared the campaign and emphasized its importance in an Instagram story.

“Hey guys, it’s National Voter Registration Day today. The election is November 3rd. It’s really coming up, and I’ve put together a swipe-up of resources,” the singer said. “You can register if you’re a first-time voter, you can check your registration, you can request an absentee ballot, you can figure out the process of voting early. We need everyone, and it is more important than I can even possibly say.”

Facebook’s Voter Registration Efforts

In addition to celebrities joining in on the campaign on social media, most of the major social media platforms themselves also took part.

Earlier this week, Twitter said it would roll out its biggest push yet to get people to register on Tuesday. Facebook, for its part, already begun its efforts even before National Voter Registration Day.

On Monday, the company said in a statement that estimated it has already helped 2.5 million people register to vote this year through Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger — already more than the 2 million it registered in 2016 and 2018. With just over a month until the election, the platform seems it is well on its way to completing its goal of registering 4 million people by the election. 

As part of its efforts to meet that goal and others, Facebook has implemented a number of initiatives. In August, the company launched a “voting information center” with resources about voting on Facebook and Instagram. 

Last weekend, it held a poll worker recruitment drive and announced it would be giving paid time off its U.S.-based employees who want to work at the polls. Just over this past weekend, Facebook also started providing users with information about how to register to vote at the top of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. 

The platform has also done a number of things internally to prepare for the election. Earlier this month, it announced several changes it had made to fight against voting misinformation, most notably including not running new political ads the week before the election.

While some say these moves by Facebook are commendable, many have believe they fall short. Others have even said we should be suspect of Facebook’s motives.

“Corporations are political entities, and we should not assume that platform voter registration campaigns are being done with only public good in mind and aren’t also strategic,” Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University who studies social media, told USA Today. 

“Social media companies have a lot at stake right now as they face increasing regulation. Their efforts to register voters could be serving corporate goals, and we need to make sure they are not strategically registering voters in a way that could skew the election.” 

Facebook and the Election

Facebook’s recent voter registration efforts also come as the company is receiving significant public pressure to do more ahead of the election.

Last week, numerous celebrities including Kim Kardashian-West, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lawrence, and others boycotted Instagram and Facebook for 24 hours to demand the company do more to address misinformation and hate speech as part of the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign.

That campaign also led major boycotts against Facebook back in July by persuading huge companies like Mircosoft, Adidas, Ford, Coca-Cola, and more to temporarily halt their spending on the platform.

Despite all the mounting pressure, it is still unclear if Facebook will take any drastic steps.

During an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Facebook’s Head of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said that the company will take serious steps to “restrict the circulation of content” on the platform if the presidential election descends into widespread chaos or violent unrest.

While Clegg did not provide any specifics, he did say the company had plans for a variety of outcomes, including civic unrest or having in-person votes counted faster than mail-in ballots.

While the country prepares for what is widely expected to be an incredibly contentious race, many worry that Facebook is not doing enough to prevent unrest, violence, and the misinformation in the lead up to Nov. 3rd.

As far as if Facebook will heed the demands that it do more before the election, that remains to be unseen.

“As well as fighting a rising tide of misinformation from both foreign and domestic operatives, experts warn that Facebook must prevent the platform from being used to foment violence,” The Times wrote.

“Mr. Clegg said Facebook was carrying out ‘proactive sweeps’ for dangerous groups and incitement, including ‘in areas where we know that their activity is likely to be more pronounced in other parts of the country.’” 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (The Financial Times) (Billboard)

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