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Elijah McClain’s Death to Be Investigated Nearly a Year Later. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced he was launching an investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was killed in police custody in August 2019.
  • The move comes amid intense pressure for McClain’s case to be reopened as his story has spread on social media and gained national attention in recent days.
  • Police were called on McClain as he was walking home listening to music and wearing a ski mask, which he wore because he had anemia and was easily made cold. A man driving by told police he thought McClain was “sketchy.”
  • Police confronted McClain and placed him in a chokehold before medics arrived and injected with ketamine. He suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died a week later after his family removed him from life support.
  • Three officers involved in McClains death were placed on administrative leave and eventually cleared by the police department, which found that they had used appropriate levels of force and responded in accordance with their training.

Elijah McClain

Nearly a year after the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was killed in police custody, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor Thursday to investigate the case following massive public outcry. 

On the evening of Aug. 24, 2019, McClain was listening to music while walking home from a local shop in Aurora, Colorado. He wore a ski mask and was listening to music on headphones. 

McClain’s family later said he often wore a ski mask because he had anemia and became cold easily. A man driving down the same street saw McClain and called the police and told them to come.

“He has a full-on mask on,” the man said, according to audio of the call uploaded by the Aurora Police Department. “I just turned around and he’s like, putting his hands up.”

“He looks sketchy. He might be a good person or a bad person.”

At least four officers responded to the scene. Body camera footage shows that they got out of their cars and called for McClain to stop walking. It is unclear if he heard them, and after some confused exchanges, he stopped. 

Officers are then seen blocking McClain’s path before reaching out to grab him. 

“I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries that I am speaking,” McClain said, recoiling from the officers. “You guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen. Let go of me.”

“Relax or I’m going to have to change this situation,” one officer says. Police later said he had resisted them.

Struggle Ensues Absent Body Camera Footage

From there, a struggle ensues, and the officers place McClain in a chokehold. However, at this point, the body camera footage becomes jumbled. Police said their cameras came off during the scuffle.

In the audio from the cameras, McClain can be heard crying, repeatedly saying “it hurts,” and begging the officers to stop. At one point he says “I can’t breathe.”

While McClain remained in the chokehold, the other officers could be heard talking in the background, largely ignoring him. At one point, one of them told another to move his camera.

Then, one of the police claims McClain tried to reach for another officer’s gun. There are more sounds of struggling. Someone picks up a camera and McClain is seen on his side with his hands behind his back and an officer’s knee in his torso.

McClain tries to roll over to vomit and the police yell at him to stop fighting.

“If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out here and he’s going to bite you,” one of them says.

McClain vomits and passes out.

Aurora Fire Rescue arrived on the scene later, and a fire medic injected McClain with ketamine to sedate him. The officers told the medic they believed he was on drugs.

“Whatever he’s on, he has incredible strength,” one of them said. McClain’s autopsy later revealed that he only had marijuana in his system, which is legal in Colorado. 

McClain suffered a heart attack during the ambulance ride to the hospital. Three days later, he was declared brain dead. He died on Aug. 30 after his family took him off life support.

No Criminal Charges

In early November, the Adams County Coroner’s Office concluded that McClain’s autopsy showed he died from “undetermined causes.”

“The decedent was violently struggling with officers who were attempting to restrain him. Most likely the decedent’s physical exertion contributed to death,” the autopsy report said. “It is unclear if the officers’ actions contributed as well.”

Shortly after that, the district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges.

Three officers involved in McClain’s death — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema — were placed on administrative leave for around three months. In February, all three were cleared of wrongdoing by the Aurora Police Department.

The department determined that the officers had used an appropriate level of force that was consistent with their training.

Gov. Polis Reopens Case

In recent weeks, McClain’s case has been brought into the public eye as a focal point in the grassroots movement against systemic racism and police violence.

In early June, several protests took place in Colorado calling for his case to be reopened. Shortly after, three members of Aurora’s city council asked the city manager to open an independent investigation.

Over the last week, McClain’s story has been shared widely on social media platforms and garnered national media attention, prompting intensified calls for his death to be investigated. State and local officials said they have received thousands of calls and emails, and a petition circulating online gained over three million signatures.

In a statement Thursday, Polis announced that he had signed an executive order designating Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate the case and decide if the facts supported criminal prosecution.

“I was moved by speaking with Elijah’s mother and her description of her son as a responsible and curious child who became a vegetarian to be healthier, and who could inspire the darkest soul,” he said in the statement.

“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern.”

In the executive order, Polis noted that it was an incredibly rare move for the state to disregard a district attorney’s decision to not pursue criminal charges, but argued it was necessary as the previous investigations left out relevant details.

“This, however, is the truly exceptional case where widely reported facts are not addressed in any current investigation,” he wrote. “These omissions merit a supplemental evaluation of the case by an independent prosecutor and thus warrant this Executive Order.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Denver Post) (Al Jazeera)

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China Imposes Retaliatory Sanctions on US Officials Over Xinjiang Criticisms

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  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last week over the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
  • The decision was the latest escalation during a time of heightened tensions between the two nations over policies in Hong Kong, the trade war, and questions about sovereignty in the South China Sea, among other matters.
  • In response, China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
  • However, what exactly the Chinese sanctions will do is currently unclear as officials haven’t given specifics yet.

Sanctions and Counter Sanctions

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were sanctioned by China on Monday over their involvement in criticizing the nation’s actions in Xinjiang. Two other American officials faced sanctions as well for interfering in “China’s internal affairs,” as characterized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese sanctions were in retaliation over earlier sanctions the U.S. placed on Chinese officials last Thursday. The U.S. was able to do this following the passage of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act last month. That law allows the U.S. to place sanctions, in line with the Global Magnitsky Act, on officials who are involved in the ongoing repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

When the law was passed in mid-June, China warned that if the U.S. actually imposed any sanctions they would do the same in retaliation. after Thursday’s announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We urge the US to immediately rescind its wrong decision and stop making any remarks or moves that interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interests. The Chinese side will firmly fight back if the US obstinately pursues such agenda.”

Zhao Lijian, Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry speaking to reporters about US-imposed Sanctions. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Despite China’s threat, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain Chinese officials and organizations involved in Xinjiang on July 9. The sanctions include freezing the assets these officials hold in the U.S., as well as restricting the ability of the officials and their immediate family members’ to enter the U.S.

In a statement on July 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote, “The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.”

Out of the four named individuals in the sanctions, one stands out: Chen Quanguo. Chen is the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang and part of the Politburo and the highest-ranking Chinese official to ever be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. He first received infamy for his actions while doing the same job in Tibet from 2011-2016.

The Treasury Department named three other individuals who would have their assets frozen for helping Chen set up the surveillance and detention families in Xinjiang.

Additionally, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and the State Department added that officials who worked with the XPSB were also liable to have themselves and their families denied entry into the U.S.

When speaking about the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world.”

Tit-for-Tat Hostilities

However, these sanctions will likely end up being largely symbolic because these officials don’t travel to the U.S. in the first place. It’s also believed that their assets aren’t based in America but in China.

Even as a symbolic act, it still made China upset. On Monday, the country imposed its own sanctions against the four U.S. officials in retaliation, including the aforementioned Senators Cruz and Rubio.

Cruz was likely placed on this list for his work as part of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Two other officials part of that committee were also named, including Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sam Brownback, a lawyer who also serves as the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.,

Rubio was likely named over his co-sponsorship of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Interestingly though, China avoided issuing sanctions on the other co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ).

As far as what these sanctions will actually do, that’s a little unclear. So far, China hasn’t given any specifics as to what the penalties would be.

These recent sanctions are just the next step in ongoing tit-for-tats between the two countries. There’s an ongoing trade war, tensions over how Hong Kong is being treated by the mainland Chinese, issues over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and major problems with how the Chinese are treating ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The problems in Xinjiang are so bad, that there are pundits and experts calling it a cultural genocide.

Even outside of the US, China has increasingly been pressured to change course over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Al Jazeera) (NPR)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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