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April 22, 2021: DOJ Investigates Minneapolis Police; Republican Bills Punish Dissent; Manhattan Decriminalizes Sex Work

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Police in Minneapolis, Minnesota just watched one of their own go down for murder. Now the federal government wants to throw open their books and make sure something like the George Floyd killing doesn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, Republicans looked on in horror as racial justice protests swept the country. Their response is to push for bills that would criminalize free speech in thirty four states.

And lastly, you may have heard the slogan sex work is work. Well, it’s a job that’s going to get a bit safer in New York, thanks to a policy change by the Manhattan District Attorney.


Now the real work begins. The Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis after a former officer was convicted in the killing of George Floyd there, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The decision came a day after the former officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, a verdict that set off a wave of relief across the country. Floyd’s death had led to months of mass protests against policing and the treatment of Black people in the United States.

The Justice Department was already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights, the AP reports. But Garland said that Tuesday’s verdict does not address systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. The new investigation is known as a pattern or practice – examining whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. It will be a more sweeping review of the entire police department. It may result in major changes to policing in the Minnesota city. It will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations and its treatment of people with behavioral health issues and will assess the department’s current systems of accountability, Garland said.

The AP says a public report will be issued if the department finds a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. The government also could bring a lawsuit against the police department, which in the past have typically ended in settlement agreements or consent decrees to force changes. Forcing changes? Gosh, what’s that squealing sound?

Republican Bills Punish Dissent

This disturbing update on the reactionary forces arrayed against change comes from the New York Times. Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters. A Republican proposal in Indiana would bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office. A Minnesota bill would prohibit those convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance. And in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation this week that created a harsh new level of infractions – a bill he’s called, "the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law- enforcement piece of legislation in the country."

The Times calls the measures part of a wave of new anti-protest legislation, sponsored and supported by Republicans, in the eleven months since Black Lives Matter protests swept the country following the death of George Floyd. GOP lawmakers in thirty four states have introduced eighty one anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session – more than twice as many proposals as in any other year. The Florida law imposes harsher penalties for existing public disorder crimes, turning misdemeanor offenses into felonies, creating new felony offenses and preventing defendants from being released on bail until they have appeared before a judge. The law also increases penalties for taking down monuments, including Confederate ones, making it punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. State Senator Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward County, calls the law, "racist at its core."

So far, three bills aimed at limiting protests have been signed into law – Florida’s and new laws in Arkansas and Kansas that target protesters who seek to disrupt oil pipelines. Others are likely to come soon. Clearly Republicans only care about free speech when it suits them.

Manhattan Decriminalizes Sex Work

Here’s a welcome development. The Times reports that the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced yesterday that it would no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage, putting one of the most high-profile law enforcement offices in the country behind the growing movement to change the criminal justice system’s approach to sex work. The district attorney, Cyrus Vance Junior, asked a judge yesterday morning to dismiss nine hundred and fourteen open cases involving prostitution and unlicensed massage, along with five thousand and eighty cases in which the charge was loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The law that made the latter charge a crime, which had become known as the walking while trans law, was repealed by New York State in February.

The announcement represents a substantive shift in the Manhattan DA’s approach to prostitution, according to the Times. Many of the cases Vance moved to dismiss dated to the 1970s and 1980s, when New York waged a war against prostitution in an effort to clean up its image as a center of iniquity and vice. In a statement, Vance said, "Criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers."

The Times reports that the office will continue to prosecute other crimes related to prostitution, including patronizing sex workers, promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. The office said that its policy would not stop it from bringing other charges that stem from prostitution-related arrests. That means, in effect, that the office will continue to prosecute pimps and sex traffickers, as well as people who pay for sex, without punishing the people who for decades have borne the brunt of law enforcement’s attention. So, it’s not an anything-goes libertarian fantasy, but it’s still a victory for sex workers.


President Joe Biden yesterday called on businesses and nonprofits to give employees paid time off for Covid vaccinations, the Washington Post reports. He also touted government funding to underwrite some of the costs of that time. Which is all as it should be.

The Post reports that police yesterday identified the officer who fatally shot a Black teenager in Colombus, Ohio. Officer Nicholas Reardon fired the shots that killed sixteen-year- old Ma’Khia Bryant outside a residential home on Tuesday afternoon. The girl’s aunt told the Post that police body camera footage showing the girl holding a knife, "doesn’t show the truth of what occurred." We’ll keep an eye on this one.

Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would add gender identity and gender expression to anti-discrimination statutes, the AP reports. The bill would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, financial services, health care, funeral arrangements, access to public services, education, youth services, criminal justice and transportation. It is headed to the Senate floor for debate, then to the governor for consideration. Cheers to that.

The Guardian reports that a public sector worker described as the king of absentees by the Italian press is said to have broken the national record by skipping work for fifteen years. The hospital employee allegedly collected a monthly salary totaling $647,000 despite not turning up to work since 2005. Now aged sixty seven, he faces charges of abuse of office, forgery and aggravated extortion. Alas, all good things must come to an end.


HOSTS - Sam Seder & Lucie Steiner

WRITER - Corey Pein

PRODUCER - Dorsey Shaw