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Portland Protesters Say They’re Being Detained by Federal Agents in Unmarked Cars

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  • According to personal accounts and videos posted online, federal law enforcement officers in Portland have been driving around in unmarked vehicles and detaining people on the street without explanation.
  • The move comes amid days of escalating tensions between protesters and the federal agents deployed by President Trump to quell demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
  • State and local officials have continually asked the Trump administration to remove the feds, who they say have made the situation worse and more violent by clashing with the demonstrators and firing tear gas and munitions.
  • However, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has said he will not remove his agents, and earlier this week, Trump praised their efforts, falsely claiming that many people had been jailed and that the protests had stopped.

Feds in Unmarked Vehicles

Unidentified federal law enforcement agents in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon since at least July 14, according to local reports.

Multiple videos posted online show the law enforcement officers driving up to people, detaining them without explanation, and then driving off, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP) reported Thursday. 

Personal accounts given to the media also support the allegations. According to interviews conducted by OPB, the agents have detained people involved in the ongoing demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.

Some of the individuals detained were not near federal property, and it is unclear if the people being arrested committed any crimes.

Demonstrators Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea told reporters that they were walking home in the early hours of Wednesday when a group of people warned them that people in camouflage were driving around in unmarked cars and taking people off the street.

Minutes later, an unmarked minivan pulled up in front of them, and several armed people in camouflage and body armor got out.

“I was terrified,” Pettibone told The Washington Post. “It was like being preyed upon.”

Both men told reporters that they ran when they encountered the mysterious agents. O’Shea, who said he was pursued by a second unmarked van, filmed the dark scene.

“Feds are driving around, grabbing people off the streets,” O’Shea said in the video, given by OPB, which verified that the metadata confirmed the time and place of the protesters’ story. “I didn’t do anything fucking wrong. I’m recording this. I had to let somebody know that this is what happens.”

Pettibone, however, was unable to escape the feds. 

“I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said to OPB. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.”

He said the agents, who never identified themselves, drove him to a federal courthouse and placed him in a holding cell. Eventually, two officers went to the cell and read him his Miranda rights. They asked if he would waive his rights and answer some questions, but he declined and asked for a lawyer.

The officers responded by ending the interview and releasing Pettibone, who said that they would not tell him why he had been arrested or provide him with any record of his arrest.

While both he and O’Shea said they regularly attend protests, neither could think of anything they had done that would make them targets of law enforcement.

The two men told OPD they believed the feds went after them simply because they were near a protest and wearing black. 

Escalating Tensions

The new allegations come amid escalating tensions brought by the presence of federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security, which were deployed to the streets of Portland by President Donald Trump in response to the weeks of ongoing protests in the city.

The agents, who are supposed to protect federal property, have continually clashed violently with protesters. They have frequently deployed tear gas, even though a recent law prohibits the Portland police from using the chemical unless there is a clear safety risk.

On Saturday, Marshals Service officers shot a peaceful protester in the face with so-called “less-than-lethal” munitions. Photos and videos of the incident circulated online showed the man in the street bleeding from his head. According to reports, he was hospitalized with a skull fracture.

State and local leaders have repeatedly called on federal authorities and the Trump administration to remove the agents, whose presence they never requested in the first place. Those calls have grown with the recent escalations.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has called the federal response “irresponsible” and demanded that the feds stay inside federal buildings or leave the city. Separately, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese has said that the federal response is a “significant setback” in the efforts to ease tensions.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also accused the agents of making the situation worse, saying in a tweet on Thursday that the “shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

Clashes With the Trump Administration

Others have also accused President Trump of deploying the federal officers for his own political gain.

“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a tweet on Thursday. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

Brown also took aim at acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

“He is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” she wrote. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”

Those remarks were also echoed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who referred to the feds as “Donald Trump’s secret police” in a tweet Thursday.

“Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media,” he added.

However, both Trump and Wolf have made it clear that they plan to ignore the officials’ calls.

During an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Wolf said that he was well aware that local and state leaders wanted federal authorities to “pack up and go home,” but added, “that’s just not gonna happen on my watch.”

President Trump, for his part, praised the federal efforts during a press conference Monday.

“We’ve done a great job in Portland,” Trump said. “I guess, we have many people right now in jail, and we very much quelled it. And if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do if you know what you’re doing.”

According to reports, only about a dozen people have been arrested, and the protests have continued throughout the week with violent confrontations between protesters and federal law enforcement.

See what others are saying: (Oregon Public Broadcasting) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)

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FDA Finds Violations and Unsanitary Conditions at Emergent J&J Plant as Lawmakers Open Investigations

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  • The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it found numerous safety violations at Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant responsible for ruining more than 15 million Johnson & Johnson Vaccines.
  • The FDA said it watched security footage of employees ignoring cross-contamination protocols and improperly handling medical waste. It also found brown and black residue on the floors and walls of the plant, respectively. 
  • Separately, top House Democrats launched an investigation into how Emergent won contracts to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not those contracts were the result of an improper relationship between the plant and a former Trump administration official.
  • Democrats are also investigating Emergent’s role as the country’s only provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.

The FDA’s Unforgiving Report

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a damning inspection report Wednesday on Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant that ruined 15 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

Among a multitude of violations, inspectors workers hadn’t been properly trained. They also found that medical waste had been improperly handled, saying “such waste was transported through the warehouse before disposal and has the potential to contaminate the warehouse and adjacent areas.”

For example, it found that employees had used their gloved hands to put waste into bags, that they drug the waste through hallways, and that they even allowed it to touch walls.

Made worse was the fact that the FDA found peeling paint on the walls of several sensitive work areas, with inspectors noting that they found paint flecks all along the floors around the walls. As the agency reported, that peeling — as well as additional wall damage — “impacts the firms’ ability to adequately clean and disinfect the area.”

Moreover, inspectors said they found an unknown brown residue attached to the walls, as well as a black residue on the floor.

Through reviewing security footage, inspectors said workers repeatedly failed to follow procedures that were meant to prevent vaccine cross-contamination.

Notably, that backs up information that had been previously reported, particularly that those 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines were ruined because of cross-contamination with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. That said, it’s important to note that none of those vaccines were ever distributed to the public because the FDA never gave the plant approval to do so.

It’s possible that the report also describes the event that specifically led to the vaccine cross-contamination, as it mentions that through security footage, it watched an employee travel from one area of the plant where one vaccine was being made, to another area of the plant where the other vaccine was being made — all without that employee changing their protective gear. 

With that finding, the FDA said Emergent didn’t properly investigate its workers’ movements as a potential cause of contamination. More broadly, it also noted that even after the plant was made aware of the contamination, it only performed routine cleaning and didn’t take further decontamination steps.

Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role in Winning Vaccine Contracts

Alongside the FDA’s recent report, top House Democrats have now launched an investigation into how Emergent won several multi-million dollar contracts.

Those lawmakers are specifically looking into what role Dr. Robert Kadlec played in helping the company obtain the contract and if it was influenced by Kadlec’s previous role as a consultant for Emergent. 

Kadlec was the assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Donald Trump, and as this group of Democrats alleges, Kadlec “appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.”

Those Democrats went on to say that after Kadlec’s confirmation, Emergent obtained millions in contracts from his agency — including some that “were awarded without competitive bidding.” In fact, the Trump administration ultimately awarded $628 million to the plant, even though it had fallen short on federal investigations.

Emergent also reportedly tried to encourage oversight of the stockpile to be shifted from the CDC to an office under Kadlec’s control. 

“We are concerned by the costs to taxpayers and the potential impact on our nation’s vaccination efforts caused by Emergent’s failed attempts to manufacture these vaccines,” the Democrats said. 

Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role as Sole Anthrax Provider

It doesn’t end there. Those lawmakers are also looking into Emergent’s role as the country’s sole provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.

“Emergent has raised the government purchasing price of the anthrax vaccine by 800% since acquiring the drug in 1998,” they said. “As a result, through most of the last decade, nearly half of the SNS’s budget has been spent purchasing Emergent’s anthrax vaccine.” 

When Emergent acquired that anthrax vaccine license in 1998, the vaccine was selling for about $3.35 a dose. Today, it’s over $30.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (CNBC)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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