Extra! Extra! is back after a three-week hiatus and wow… so much has happened around the world in that short time. This week we look at the latest horrifying anti-trans legislation passed in Tennessee, the ongoing failures of America’s criminal justice system one year after George Floyd’s murder, the latest round of violence in Gaza, disparities in vaccine access and more.
Himani: The horrifying and shameful onslaught against the basic rights and dignity of trans people continues. As the headline states, Tennessee just passed a bill requiring businesses to publicly declare that they serve trans customers. One can easily imagine that this law will make it near-impossible for trans people in Tennessee to go about the basics of day to day life, like going to the grocery store or filling up a tank of gas — as if those encounters weren’t fraught enough with rampant transphobia and the constant looming threat of harassment and violence. Basically, the state just sanctioned even more harassment from businesses and other bigoted customers. Of course, there will be the businesses that stand in solidarity, but I think we all know the kinds of protests and boycotts they will be met with.
There is one way to stop this, which is to pass the Equality Act. But that and so much other legislation has been stymied by the likes of Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin in their adamant refusal to change the Senate rules around the filibuster.
Rachel: This is so sickening to even read about, and its implications, as Himani explains, are even worse — one thing that strikes me is that this is designed to respond to the fact that trans people actually have more support and solidarity among the general populace than the right wing would want, and that there are business owners who want to serve them. Much like how their inability (thus far) to fully criminalize abortion has led to Republican laws that require doctors who provide abortion to have outlandish and unnecessary levels of certification and resources just to make it harder for them to do their work. The goal here is to punish not only trans people, but any business owners who don’t want to shun them by othering them as well and trying to make them vulnerable by association to the violence and harassment directed at trans people.
Himani: On the other end, Vermont has joined a handful of states and Washington, D.C. in banning the use of the legal argument violence against a gay or trans person is jutififed on the basis of those identities. While this news is certainly welcome, it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to watch basic human rights move in opposite directions on a state-by-state basis. This is, of course, the case with trans rights, but we see the same thing, more or less, happening with reproductive rights and voter suppression (more on this below). One of the many things that’s alarming about this trend is that the states which are passing the most repressive laws are also the ones that have the most outsize power on the federal level. For instance, my rights may be safe in New Jersey, for now at least, but it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds in terms of repressive federal legislation on some of these issues, given the state of the U.S. Senate and the ultraconservative Supreme Court.
Himani: This was utterly heartbreaking news. In response to the violence and the need for protections for LGBTQ+ people, activist Ymania Brown is quoted saying, “It’s hard for me to say, yes, Poli’s death is going to result in wide sweeping changes, because a lot of it depends not on us, because we’re ready, it depends on legislators and parliamentarians in the Pacific to stand up and develop a backbone. They need to care enough about humanity to say, yes, this is a group of people that need protection and then we can have changes.”
In light of the onslaught of anti-trans legislation in the U.S. and Sinema and Manchin’s obstructionist support of the filibuster (as noted above), it’s hard not to feel like that statement rings true broadly across the world.
Himani: This was a heartbreaking look at a previously uncovered side of the depravity of MS-13. And a warning that this article is quite graphic in its descriptions of murder and violence.
The Ongoing Failures of America’s Criminal Justice System
Natalie: I’ve been thinking about Darnella Frazier every day since the Derek Chauvin was found guilty. I’ve been worried about her. I’ve worried that police will retaliate against her as they’ve done with others. I feared for her life, just as Feidin Santana worried for his — “I felt that my life, with this information, might be in danger,” he said — as he held onto the video of Walter Scott’s killing in Charleston, South Carolina. And, on top of it all, she was just a kid: forget worrying about the future, how does she recover from what she’s already seen?
My heart broke as I read her statement, on the one year anniversary of Floyd’s death…that she’s having panic and anxiety attacks and remains (understandably) hesitant to trust. How do we protect Darnella Frazier (and all the future Darnella Fraziers)? They deserve to be protected. I wish this piece had offered more answers about how we can do that.
Himani: This is again one of those situations where the Black community has been raising these issues for years — how the violence of police brutality extends beyond those directly harmed — and the rest of the country has been slow to respond and to address that reality. As Natalie says, there truly are not enough resources dedicated towards supporting those who have been and continue to be traumatized by the violence and constant threat of violence they are forced to live with on a daily basis.
We talk about defunding the police and we talk about reparations. This is just one more aspect of the systemic issues that adds urgency to both.
Rachel: One thing that specifically haunts me in Darnella’s statement and coverage of her aftermath is how much responsibility she feels — she talks about her guilt for feeling like she should have been able to save George Floyd somehow, and that she’s carrying that on top of the compounded trauma and grief is unconscionable. I think it speaks to not only the emotional fallout of watching unspeakable violence for a child, but also the deeply warped system America has tacitly developed for “justice” against killer police — that if any accountability it all is to occur, it will only be because of a bystander with a phone who commits to becoming an overnight civil rights activist and giving over years of their lives and the loss of a private identity just to stand by the proof that this murder happened. The reality is that when footage is in control of the state, like body cams or CCTV footage, they can just… decide not to release it, or cover it up for years while lying about what it depicts (like the footage of the murder of Adam Toledo,
or the months-long coordinated effort by multiple journalists and activists that was required to release footage of Laquan McDonald’s murder).
In the years of public debate and state hand-wringing over police murders, it’s slowly become widely accepted that one of the only effective tools we have in even getting the state to admit a murder happened, let alone address it, is private citizens’ video footage — which effectively deputizes every individual citizen with a crushing amount of responsibility, and holds them accountable for the impossible task of ensuring their community members’ safety against an overpowered and violent state. I’m so furious and heartbroken that Darnella had to witness George Floyd’s murder, and the fact that she’s made to feel responsible for it on top of that because the state has tasked her with the job it’s supposed to be doing is one of the most evil phenomena I can imagine.
Natalie: End. The. Death. Penalty.
Himani: Again and again and again we learn that every institution in this country lacks the most basic of considerations when it comes to how they treat the Black community. It’s truly galling.
And How’s That “Police Reform” Going, One Year Later?
Natalie: This headline feels a little misleading…this isn’t an embattled police chief hiring Olivia Pope to get them out of trouble — that would make sense and wouldn’t be much of a surprise to me — this is a police chief working with a defacto Pro-Cop Political Action Committee (Operation Safety Now). I don’t trust a marketing/PR consultant who works for free in a city that he doesn’t even live in. Everything about this seems shady.
I coupled this piece from the Minnesota Reformer with a recent piece from The Appeal, contrasting the mayorships of Minneapolis’ Jacob Frey and St. Paul’s Melvin Carter. The explanation about the decentralized mayor’s office in Minneapolis explains why Frey would coordinate with a group like Operation Safety Now.
Natalie: I’ve been following Samuel Sinyangwe’s work with Campaign Zero and Mapping Police Violence for a while now…so perhaps the only thing that really surprised me about this article is that people were expecting police behavior to change. If witnessing unjust black death was capable of changing the behavior of police departments, it would have been changed long ago.
But police are failing because the system enables them. The system that, in the wake of George Floyd’s death pledge $50 billion towards building racial equity — both in their communities and within their organization — and, according to a report in the Financial Times, only $250 million has been donated thus far. In Congress, the George Floyd Policing Act sits awaiting Senate approval (and faces a likely filibuster if the Democratic Majority tries to force a vote). Even municipalities and states that have tried reform, “progress in each has been fitful and difficult”…and most of that progress was, really, just the bare minimum. It’s hard not to feel discouraged…like all we’re ever going to get from those who can enact change is lip service.
Himani: This article is from a few weeks ago but the situation has, basically, remained the same. The legislation put forward in Congress is not enough to address the magnitude of the problems in the criminal justice system, and yet even that legislation is at a full stand still. And while it’s true that to really change policing requires changes at state and local levels, the fundamental issues at every level are, more or less, the same: the disproportionate power held by the Republican party; the unequalled money and influence of police, police unions and related special interest groups; the unmerited adulation of law enforcement in this country; and the complete gutting of non-police services and resources for people to rely on when faced with any number of crises. As Natalie says above, it’s really hard not to feel discouraged.
On the Violence in Gaza
Rachel: One perspective I’ve really appreciated as an American the past few weeks is that it’s not possible to oppose the U.S.’s police state and legacy of colonialism and imperialism while supporting the occupation of Palestine — not because they’re parallel, but because they’re actively linked and interdependent. Palestinians were offering advice to Ferguson protesters on managing tear gas assaults back in 2014, because (as the last story illustrates) Israel’s occupation is executed with American funding and weapons, including the same tear gas canisters our militarized police departments use. This coverage of “right-wing Israelis,” in which “Right-wing Jewish groups openly organised a series of attacks on Palestinian homes and businesses via WhatsApp, which the Shin Bet official said hinted of broader organsiations, such as political parties, being behind at least some of the violence” comes the same week that the U.S. senate has failed to move forward on even forming a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 coup attempt by right-wing American extremists. Much like how Trump’s election accompanied a surge of neo-fascist political efforts across the globe, from Jair Bolsonaro to Marine le Pen, American legacies of violent nationalism that exerts itself through violent subjugation of an othered minority group isn’t confined to American borders.
Himani: I like to think of myself as a person who is unflinching about condemning violence. And yet, on this particular topic, I often find myself self-censoring. I’m hesitant to say what I think, though I believe it and know it to be true. If we were talking about police brutality in the U.S. or Hindu supremacist extremism in India, for instance, I certainly would not mince my words. What happened most recently in Gaza and has been happening for a long time is truly unconscionable. I’m really appreciative of the journalists who came forward for this reporting to talk about the longstanding challenges of reporting about what’s happening honestly because I deeply believe that the way in which we talk and write about issues informs how people think about what’s actually happening. The censorship journalists have experienced from their own organizations on covering what’s happening on the ground is incredibly shocking, given that the Israel Defense Forces (once again) targeted news organizations in the latest round of violence. I’m also deeply appreciative of Jewish people who are saying what needs to be said at this time.
COVID around the World
Himani: We’ve been talking about the global disparities in access to vaccines for months now, and that problem persists. I really appreciated this article for giving voice and perspective to people all over the world on how these disparities are affecting them.
Himani: I’ve been watching the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Philippines because I had previously read about the catastrophic rollout of the dengue vaccine a few years ago. Basically, a vaccine to protect against dengue fever was administered in the general population, despite concerns in the scientific community that the vaccine could have unintended consequences. And then it did. This led to a more general mistrust of vaccines and a subsequent surge in measles that killed well over 300 people. Four years later, the Philippines is still dealing with the fallout as vaccine hesitancy is contributing to low uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines. This is despite recent surges in COVID in the Philippines leading to a horrifying shortage of hospital beds.
I think what’s hard is that there’s this constant push and pull with the pandemic, and there has been from the start. The science on what is happening with COVID has both decades of precedence and is, at the same time, emergent. There’s an extent to which I can understand why people are hesitant. But I lay the blame of that squarely on the shoulders of unethical and incomptent political leaders who have downplayed the pandemic from the start, undermined science and refuse to provide adequate economic support to their populations, and the pharma industry which has too long of a history of putting profits over people’s health and well being.
As we’ve seen again and again in the pandemic, the only real answer is transparency around what we do and don’t know about the vaccines, making them available to people who want to get them (so that their successes can help build trust within the larger communities) and a more inclusive community outreach strategy.
What to Make of the Latest Masking Guidance in the U.S.
Natalie: I agree with Dr. Boyd that the CDC should have waited to make this recommendation “when it is reasonable and safe for the populations made MOST vulnerable, not for those who are the least.” Though their guidance was supposed to be applicable to only people who are fully vaccinated, it was completely predictable that non-vaccinated folks would shed their masks as well. Only 48.5% of adults in my home state of North Carolina are fully vaccinated at this moment but if I walk into a grocery store or sit on crowded the sidelines of my nephew’s soccer games, the other 51.5% aren’t still wearing their masks. They heard what they wanted to hear…and the CDC should have anticipated that.
Natalie: This article is from a few weeks back but still worth a read if you’ve seen some of the other critiques of people wearing masks (i.e., The Atlantic’s piece on “Liberals who Can’t Quit the Lockdown”). We need to make space to acknowledge the trauma that we’ve all experienced. We keep trying to rush back to normal but millions of people have died all over the world: things are never going to be normal again.
On the State of Voting in America
Natalie: Absolutely. Yes.
Natalie: John Roberts’ entire career has been leading up until the moment until the moment that he can kill the Voting Rights Act, and he is on the cusp of victory.
Natalie: Back when Arizona Republicans were moving to audit the Maricopa County vote for the third (!!) time, they bypassed groups with experience and the field and contracted with Cyber Ninjas, a group that “had not placed a formal bid for the contract and had no experience with election audits.” Jennifer Morrell, a national expert on post-election audits, went down to Maricopa County to observe the proceedings and reported back, “In more than a decade working on elections, audits and recounts across the country, I’ve never seen one this mismanaged.” Earlier this week, the tech company running the audit opted not to renew its contract and an Arizona-based group, with no discernable experience (natch!), has taken over.
Arizona Republicans wanted to restore the reign of their grifter president so they got a grifter organization to try and help them do it.
I’m less worried about the outcome of the audit itself — I’m not convinced we’ll ever see reporting from it, to be quite honest — as I am about the precedent being set. We are on a scary path that leads away from democracy and towards more authoritarian leaders determining which election results they deem legitimate.
Additional International News
Natalie: This is so, so scary. Raman Pratasevich’s work became a lifeline following the election in Belarus when their authoritarian president shut down the internet to hide the fact that he’d stolen an election. Really stolen an election, not fake stolen an election as Donald Trump suggests. Authorities in Belarus released a video of him, with bruises that suggest that Pratasevich is being tortured, in which he coerced into confessing to the crimes that he didn’t commit. Pratasevich’s girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was also taken off the flight, is being held at a prison notorious for its torture of political prisoners. The whole thing feels like it’s out of a spy movie…and the thing that makes it worse? I’m not sure there’s anything the international community can do to stop it.
So far, the EU has enacted some sanctions and it prohibiting flights into Belarusian airspace…and the United States will likely follow their lead…but Alexander Lukashenko is going to align himself with Vladimir Putin in an effort to stymie European opposition. Once Russia gets involved — as a big player in providing resources to the rest of Europe — there’s going to be an increasing reluctance to do anything, especially to save Pratasevich. GQ‘s national security and foreign policy correspondent, Julia Ioffe, summed it up in a recent interview:
I think that’s what people like Putin and Lukashenko have learned: that you don’t have to give an inch to these people, and you can kill them, and also — what we saw with [Mohammad bin Salman] and Khashoggi — you can kill your opponents in the most horrific, brutal, medieval ways. And people will fuss in the West and they’ll condemn you and issue statements. They might even punish you economically. But at the end of the day, they’re not going to come and force you from your throne. The days of Iraq and George W. Bush are over. And I think the lesson is repression works.
Whatever statements and sanctions are issued, it seems clear: there will be more Raman Pratasevichs…and now we’re clearing the way for countries to pluck them out of the sky…and that’s a horror we’re going to have to learn to grapple with.
Natalie: This isn’t dissimilar to the conversation about Russia’s tacit support of Belarus and how it will stymie the opposition from the European Union…even countries inclined to do the right thing are hamstrung by their economic fates being tied to one superpower. For the EU, that’s Russia and for Pakistan that’s China. As Vice notes in their reporting, “the promise of Chinese money seemingly overpowers the desire to stop what is happening to Uyghur Muslims.” I worry that the lure of Chinese money will keep others from offering refuge, including — most egregiously — Turkey who, despite sharing a linguistic, cultural and religious heritage with Uyghurs, have contributed to spreading China’s lies about what’s happening there.
Himani: So much of what Natalie said above about what’s happening in Belarus applies to this situation in Myanmar. Over 800 people have been killed, and yet the military junta isn’t even flinching because they can basically do whatever they want.
Himani: It seems there are two ways that democracies die. One is through outright violence, typically involving the military, since they have so much power. And the second is the slow gutting of democratic norms to effectively disenfranchise and silence dissidents. We are watching both play out across the world. And, at the same time, it’s hard for me to not see the blatant parallels to what has happened in the U.S. since last November’s election. In some ways, we’ve had both: we had the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the state-by-state voter suppression efforts. I really do worry what the future holds for us. As I look around the world and see how these issues are unfolding elsewhere, things don’t look so hot anywhere, really.