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Fires Continue to Spread Across West

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  • Unprecedented fires have been raging across the West Coast, with California, Oregon, and Washington particularly affected.
  • Currently, more than 100 large fires are blazing in the West, and more than half are in the three coastal states alone.
  • In California, more than three million acres have been burned, a record for a single year.
  • The governor of Oregon said Thursday that the state had never seen so many uncontained fires. As of Friday, 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — had been forced to evacuate their homes.
  • Washington, too, is dealing with record-breaking blazes, as well as massive plumes of smoke that have migrated north from California and Oregon, creating dangerous air conditions.

Fires Spread

Dozens of fires continue to tear up and down the West Coast as California, Oregon, and Washington endure a historic wildfire season.

As of Friday morning, there were at least 100 large fires burning across 12 western states, and more than half of the fires were just in the three coastal states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). 

At least 15 people have died, though officials expect the toll to rise. Entire towns have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands have had to evacuate, and thousands of homes have been lost.

Pictures of apocalyptic orange skies and hazy cityscapes continued to circulate as smoke from the persistent blazes created dangerous air conditions for millions of people.

On Friday, four of the five cities with the worst air quality indexes in the world were Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco, the air quality monitoring website IQAir.com reported.

California

California currently has the most active large fires, with at least 24 current blazes, per the NIFC.

More than three million acres have been burned in California, a record for a single year. Reportedly, an estimated 64,000 people are under evacuation orders.

One of the worst blazes, the August Complex in Northern California, is now considered the biggest fire in the state’s recorded history, according to the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire. The complex of multiple fires has been burning in the Mendocino National Forest since Aug. 17 when it was started by lightning.

The fires, which doubled in size this week, have burnt 471,185 acres and are only 24% contained. 

Several other large fires have also been raging across the northern parts of the state with little containment. Dozens are missing and thousands of homes and structures are believed to have been damaged or destroyed. 

The Bear Fire, which turned the skies of San Francisco orange earlier this week, has forced thousands to evacuate and reportedly damaged around 2,000 structures. Meanwhile, in Southern California, fires also blazed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.

In Los Angeles, some residents are warily watching the Bobcat Fire, which has burnt around 24,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest just 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles, prompting evacuation warnings for a number of populous areas, including the city of Pasadena.

In a statement on Twitter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the historic magnitude of this year’s fire season and pleaded with residents to obey evacuation orders.

“6 of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020,” he wrote. “If you are asked to evacuate please do so immediately. Listen to your local authorities and stay safe.”

Oregon

Just north of California, blazes are spreading rapidly in Oregon, which has never seen so many uncontained fires, according to the state’s governor, Kate Brown.

More than 900,000 acres have burned in the recent fires, nearly double the average of 500,000 a year the state has seen for the last decade.

“I want to be up front in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Brown said during a press conference Thursday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”

So far, more than 500,000 people in Oregon — over 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.

As the fires spread further North, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the city Thursday night. Pictures showed packed, smoke-filled highways as residents fled the approaching infernos.

In addition to the fires, officials in the state are also dealing with widespread misinformation. Several law enforcement agencies have to contradict false rumors that either far-left or far-right groups had purposely started some of the blazes. 

Many of the rumors appear to center around false claims that the far-left group Antifa was responsible for intentionally causing several fires.

Numerous law enforcement officials in multiple jurisdictions have fervently disputed those claims, including the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which asked that community members stop spreading the misinformation in a post on Facebook.  

“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the post said. “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.  Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!”

Washington

Washington state is also experiencing unprecedented fires. As of Friday, 16 major fires had scorched around 625,000 acres, the NIFC reported. 

“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequal in Washington state history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday,

In addition to the fallout from their own fires, huge masses of smoke from the wildfires in 

Oregon and California have also been migrating north. On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service warned that a huge cloud of smoke would descend on Washington Friday, creating dangerous air conditions across the state. 

That same day, the Bureau of Land Management of Oregon and Washington shared satellite images on Twitter of massive smoke plumes along the coast.

Officials in all three states continue to worry as they try to contain the historic fires all along the coastal states. Right now, at least seven weeks remain in the prime fire season, and experts say that conditions may be made worse by the La Niña climate pattern, which often brings dry weather and winds across parts of California and the Southwest.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (USA Today)

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Derek Chauvin and 3 Others Ex-Officers Indicted on Civil Rights Charges Over George Floyd’s Death

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  • The Justice Department filed federal criminal charges Friday against Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers after a grand jury indicted them for violating the civil rights of George Floyd.
  • The indictment charges Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao for violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force. All three, as well as Thomas Lane, were also charged with failing to provide medical care to Floyd. 
  • Chauvin was additionally hit with two counts in a separate indictment, which claims he violated the civil rights of a 14-year-old boy who he allegedly held by the neck and repeatedly beat with a flashlight during a 2017 arrest.
  • Chauvin was already convicted last month of murder and manslaughter over Floyd’s death, which Kueng, Lane, and Thao were previously charged for allegedly aiding and abetting.

Former Minneapolis Officers Hit With Federal Charges

A federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin and three other former Minneapolis police officers for violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest that lead to his death last summer, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Chauvin, specifically, was charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Ex-officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted for willfully failing to intervene in Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.

All three men, as well as former officer Thomas Lane, face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In a second, separate indictment, Chauvin was hit with two counts of civil rights violations related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017. During that incident, Chauvin allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

The announcement, which follows a months-long investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, comes just over two weeks after Chauvin was found guilty of three state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

He is currently awaiting his June 25 sentencing in a maximum-security prison.

State-Level Charges

Kueng, Lane, and Thao all face state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Kueng and Lane were the first officers to responded to a call from a convenience store employee who claimed that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill. Body camera footage showed Floyd sitting in the car and Lane drawing his gun as the officers ordered him out and handcuffed him. 

Floyd can be heard pleading with the officers not to shoot him.

Shortly after, Chauvin and Thao arrived, and the footage shows Chauvin joining the other officers in their attempt to put Floyd into the back of a police car. In the struggle, the officers forced Floyd to the ground, with Chauvin kneeling on his neck while Kueng and Lane held his back and legs. 

Meanwhile, in cellphone footage taken at the scene, Thao can be seen ordering bystanders to stay away, and later preventing a Minneapolis firefighter from giving Floyd medical aid.

Their trial is set to begin in late August, and all three are free on bond. The new federal charges, however, will likely be more difficult to prove.

According to legal experts, prosecutors will have to show beyond reasonable doubt that the officers knew that they were depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights but continued to do so anyway.

The high legal standard is also hard to establish, as officers can easily claim they acted out of fear or even poor judgment.

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

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Caitlyn Jenner Says Her Friends Are Fleeing California Because of the Homeless Population

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  • California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage after an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday that was filmed from her Malibu airplane hangar. 
  • “My friends are leaving California,” she said. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’”
  • Many criticized Jenner for sounding out of touch and unsympathetic to real issues in California and suggested that she prioritize helping the homeless population rather than incredibly wealthy state residents.

Caitlyn Jenner’s Remarks

California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner sparked outrage on Wednesday after suggesting that wealthy people are fleeing the state because of its homeless population.

Jenner sat down for an interview in her Malibu airplane hangar with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Jenner is one of the handful of Republicans aiming to unseat current Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election in the fall. While polls show that most Californians do not support recalling Newsom, the conservative-led movement to do so gained enough signatures to land on the ballot.

“My friends are leaving California,” Jenner claimed during the interview. “My hangar, the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, ‘where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.’” 

“I don’t want to leave,” she continued. “Either I stay and fight, or I get out of here.”

Jenner’s Remarks Prompt Backlash

Her remarks were criticized online by people who thought Jenner sounded unsympathetic and out of touch to the real issues in the state. Many found it hypocritical that Jenner has slammed Newsom for being elite but was so concerned for wealthy people who don’t like having to see unhoused residents on the street.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Ca.) called Jenner out on Twitter for seemingly fighting for a small percentage of Californians. 

Unlike you, Dems are focused on the 99% of people who don’t own planes or hangars,” he wrote. “And you know what’s going to help reduce homelessness? The #AmericanRescuePlan, which your party opposed.”

Others suggested she prioritize directly addressing the homeless situation.

“If you don’t like the homeless situation, instead of hiding in your PRIVATE PLANE HANGAR, your campaign should be about helping them,” actress Merrin Dungey said. “They don’t like their situation either. Your lifelong privilege is showing. It’s not a good color.”

Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist and reality star, is one of the most prominent transgender Americans. Because homelessness is such a common issue within the trans community, some were frustrated she was not using her campaign to fix the situation, and rather used it to complain about how it impacted her wealthy friends. 

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

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Derek Chauvin Seeks New Trial In George Floyd Murder Case

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  • A lawyer for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, filed a motion Tuesday for a new trial.
  • Among other complaints about Chauvin’s conviction, the attorney cited “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”
  • He also claimed the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial, arguing that publicity before and during it threatened its fairness. 
  • John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

Derek Chauvin’s Attorney Files Motion for New Trial

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is officially asking for a new trial, hoping to overturn his conviction for the murder of George Floyd.

His attorney, Eric Nelson, filed court paperwork Tuesday laying out a number of errors he believes were made during Chauvin’s legal proceedings that violated his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. Nelson cited alleged issues, including, “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law.”

The filing did not cite any specific examples of jury misconduct, but Nelson also argued that the court “abused its discretion” by not granting a change of venue or sequestering the jury for the duration of the trial.

The court proceedings took place in the same city where Floyd was killed and where protesters drew national attention by calling for justice in his name. As a result, Nelson claimed that publicity before and during the trial threatened its fairness. He also argued that a defense expert witness was intimidated after he testified, but before the jury deliberated.

His filing asks for a hearing to impeach the guilty verdict, in part, on the grounds that the 12 jurors “felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations.”

It’s unclear exactly what will come of this request, but John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, told CNN, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments and the State will vigorously oppose them.”

For instance, a judge previously denied Chauvin’s request to move the trial in March, saying, “I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (CBS)

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