- The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, started Monday, marking the first in a series of trials over Floyd’s high-profile death.
- Chauvin has already pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter. Another charge of third-degree murder is currently being debated by higher courts.
- Jury selection, which has been complicated by the widespread news coverage of the case, is expected to take three weeks, and deliberations are set to start in late April or early May.
- Minneapolis has been preparing for possible fallout from the trial for months by drastically ramping up security, though demonstrations have so far been largely peaceful.
Derek Chauvin’s Hearing Starts
The first trial in the death of George Floyd officially kicked off Monday. The trial will focus entirely on Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
The trial, which been described as one of the most important in the nation’s history, comes nearly a year after Floyd’s death prompted months of civil unrest all across the country and ushered in a new era of civil rights reforms and discussions.
What Is Chauvin Charged With?
Chauvin currently faces two charges.
The first charge is second-degree unintentional murder, which alleges that Chauvin killed Floyd “without intent” while committing or attempting to commit felony third-degree assault. The charge is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
The second charge is second-degree manslaughter, which alleges that Chauvin “consciously took the chances of causing death or great bodily harm.” If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
To prove their case, prosecutors have indicated that the evidence they will show will likely include the viral video of Floyd’s death. That footage was shot by a 17-year-old civilian and was also caught on body cameras from the other officers on the scene.
According to reports, the prosecutors have sought to introduce evidence of past examples where Chauvin used force as a police officer, including several arrests in which he used a similar neck restraint.
Notably, prosecutors also filed an additional charge of third-degree murder that was dismissed in October by Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the case. Cahill argued the charge requires the actions of Chauvin to be “eminently dangerous ‘to others,’” which he said did not happen in this instance.
On Friday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Cahill should reconsider the state’s motion, a decision that the defense said they will take to the state’s Supreme Court if necessary. A final decision has yet to be made.
What’s Chauvin’s Defense?
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to both claims. His attorney said in an October court filing that he will argue that the former officer is not guilty because he acted in self-defense and used reasonable and authorized force.
One of the main elements of Chauvin’s defense is the argument that Floyd died from the drugs found in his system by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner as well as other underlying health problems, such as heart disease.
That specific argument, however, might be tenuous. It is true that the examiner listed heart disease, Floyd’s recovery from COVID, and his recent fentanyl and methamphetamine use as other “significant conditions” that lead to his death.
Still, the examiner also declared Floyd’s death a homicide, listing “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” as the specific cause of death.
The Issue of Jury Selection
Chauvin’s defense team has also argued it will be impossible for him to have an impartial jury in Minnesota because the case was so widely reported on, highlighting the complicated nature of jury selection in the high-profile case.
Cahill said that the issue would exist in any court in the country, and has taken special precautions for enlisting a jury. He began the jury process much earlier than usual, sending a 16-page questionnaire to prospective jurors back in December about their views on policing, how much they knew about the case, and if they participated in the protests.
The jury selection is currently expected to take about three weeks. Cahill has said that opening arguments will start no later than March 29.
A Long Road Ahead
While Monday marks the first day of the trial process, it will not be wrapped up quickly. The trial itself effectively will not start until the end of the month, and parties involved in the case believe a jury will not start deliberations until late April or early May.
Even then, once the decision is handed down, there still will be a trial for the three other officers implicated in Floyd’s death, which is currently scheduled for August.
The city of Minneapolis, however, has been preparing for this for months, taking a number of precautions to prevent violence and unrest. In addition to ramping up security all over the city, including preparing the deployment of the National Gaurd if needed, the Hennepin County Government Center has also been surrounded by fencing and barricades, and extreme limits on who can enter the vicinity have been imposed.
Demonstrations seen so far have been largely peaceful, with protesters gathering for vigils. One person was killed and another injured near a memorial over the weekend, though little details have been provided. More protests and vigils will likely take place in the coming weeks and months.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (USA Today)
California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program
State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.
Rent Relief in the Works
The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.
It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.
However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”
The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”
Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.
Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.
Eviction Ban Complications
Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.
According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.
State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.
Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week.
But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.
As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.
State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus
Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.
California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.
While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.
The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.
“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Hill)
Manhattan City Council Candidate Says He’s “Not Ashamed” After BDSM Video Leaks Online
While many applauded the candidate’s response, others suspect the entire ordeal may have been manufactured for publicity.
BDSM Video Leaks
Zack Weiner, a 26-year-old candidate for Manhattan’s City Council, has caught a flood of attention in recent days after responding to a BDSM video of himself that leaked online.
According to the New York Post, which first reported on the leak Saturday, the video was published by an anonymous Twitter account earlier this month.
“My magnificent domme friend played with Upper West Side city council candidate Zack Weiner and I’m the only one who has the footage,” the tweet reportedly read.
The video was flagged to the Post by Weiner’s campaign manager, Joe Gallagher, the news outlet said. The tabloid also claimed it showed Weiner gagged while “subjecting himself to various abuses by a leather-bound woman who pours wax on him and clips his nipples with clothespins.”
The footage was filmed at Parthenon studio in Midtown, which the Post described as known for its high-quality BDSM dungeons, and Weiner actually confirmed the video’s authenticity to the outlet, saying it was filmed at that location in 2019 with a former girlfriend that he met during a Halloween party.
Weiner Says He’s “Not Ashamed”
Weiner took to Twitter on Saturday to address the private video head on.
“Whoops. I didn’t want anyone to see that, but here we are,” he wrote.
“I am not ashamed of the private video circulating of me on Twitter. This was a recreational activity that I did with my friend at the time, for fun. Like many young people, I have grown into a world where some of our most private moments have been documented online.”
“While a few loud voices on Twitter might chastise me for the video, most people see the video for what it is: a distraction. I trust that voters will choose a city council representative based on their policies and their ability to best serve the community,” he continued.
In his comments to the Post, he added, “I am a proud BDSMer. I like BDSM activity.” He also said he had no idea how the footage surfaced, saying “It’s definitely a violation of trust.”
Praise and Suspicions
Many people online have applauded Weiner for refusing to apologize for private consensual acts. One, for example, tweeted, “Yeah – as long as this was between 2 (or more) consenting adults – I don’t care one bit. If this info ALONE would cause you to vote for somebody else, then I am FAR MORE worried about YOUR participation in Government than his!”
In fact, many have said they would vote for him after learning of the video and slammed critics, as well as the tabloid, for “kink-shaming.”
It’s worth noting that the Post’s article described Weiner as someone who “has mostly been a nonentity in the race for the Upper West Side’s 6th District.” It pointed to the fact that he has no endorsements and that his campaign barely raised $10,000 — most of which allegedly came from himself and his campaign manager.
Because of this, along with Gallagher’s contact with the Post, some have speculated that the entire ordeal may have been some kind of stunt manufactured for publicity.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Insider) (HITC)
Supreme Court Rejects Third Challenge to Affordable Care Act
In the 7-2 decision, the justices argued the Republican-led states that brought the challenge forth failed to show how the law caused injury and thus had no legal standing.
SCOTUS Issues Opinion on Individual Mandate
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the third Republican-led challenge to the Affordable Care Act to ever reach the high court.
The issue at hand was the provision of the law, commonly known as Obamacare, that requires people to either purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty: the so-called individual mandate.
The individual mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of Obamacare and it has already been before SCOTUS, which upheld the provision in 2012 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.
However, as part of the sweeping 2017 tax bill, the Republican-held Congress set the penalty for not having health care to $0. As a result, a group of Republican-led states headed by Texas sued, arguing that because their GOP colleagues made the mandate zero dollars, it no longer raised revenues and could not be considered a tax, thus making it unconstitutional.
The states also argued that the individual mandate is such a key part of Obamacare that it could not be separated without getting rid of the entire law.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected that argument in a 7-2 decision, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.
Majority Opinion Finds No Injury
In the majority decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the Republican states had no grounds to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by their own colleagues zeroing out the penalty.
“There is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance,” he wrote, adding that the states “have not demonstrated that an unenforceable mandate will cause their residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo.”
Breyer also argued that because of this, the court did not need to decide on the broader issue of whether the 2017 tax bill rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional and if that provision could be separated from the ACA.
The highly anticipated decision will officially keep Obamacare as the law of the land, ensuring that the roughly 20 million people enrolled still have health insurance. While there may be other challenges to the law hard-fought by conservatives, this latest ruling sends a key signal about the limits of the Republican efforts to achieve their agenda through the high court, even with the strong conservative majority.
While the court has now struck down challenges to Obamacare three times, Thursday’s decision marked the largest margin of victory of all three challenges to the ACA.
For now, the ACA appears to be fairly insulated from legal challenges, though it will still likely face more. In a tweet following the SCOTUS decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) vowed to keep fighting Obamacare, adding that the individual mandate “was unconstitutional when it was enacted and it is still unconstitutional.”