In Arizona, voters are calling on Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to resign, following widespread accusations of voter suppression during Tuesday’s primary election. At multiple polling sites, voters waited in massive lines that topped more than five hours. Some sites also ran out of ballots. The voting fiasco comes after Maricopa County, which contains the city of Phoenix, cut the number of polling places from more than 200 sites to only 60. Phoenix is one of the most racially diverse cities in Arizona. On Wednesday, dozens of voters gathered outside the county elections office to call for Purcell’s resignation. Local voter Virginia Gallegos spoke out.
Virginia Gallegos: "What about the elderly people that were standing in line for four hours? There were two people behind me that stood there for four-and-a-half hours, and they were close to getting their ballots, but they couldn’t hold up any longer. They just gave up and left. The people in front of us also didn’t get their [ballots in the mail]. OK, so this is what you call democracy? I call it voter suppression."
More than 80,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Obama administration to investigate voter fraud in Tuesday’s election. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held a news conference Wednesday, calling the Arizona election a "disgrace."
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "In the United States of America, democracy is the foundation of our way of life. People should not have to wait five hours to vote. And what happened yesterday in Arizona is a disgrace. I hope that every state in this country learns from that and learns how to put together a proper election, where people can come in and vote in a timely manner and then go back to work."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Tuesday primary in Arizona.
In Yemen, as many as 50 people have been killed in a U.S. airstrike, making it the deadliest single attack by the United States in Yemen in the last five years. The Pentagon says the strike hit an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen’s southeast on Tuesday. Local medics say the attack struck the camp as people were queued up for the dinner line. Tuesday’s attack was at least the sixth U.S. airstrike in Yemen this year.
The Intercept has revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Blackwater founder Erik Prince for possible money laundering, ties to Chinese intelligence, and attempts to broker military services to foreign governments. Prince is currently the chairman of Frontier Services Group, an aviation and logistics firm specializing in shipping in Africa. But documents obtained by The Intercept show that Prince has also set up shell companies to offer paramilitary services to at least a half-dozen African nations, including Libya. Both the United States and the United Nations have imposed a series of restrictions on military dealings in Libya. Prince is also suspected of attempting to open Chinese bank accounts to move money for his Libyan associates. A former intelligence official told The Intercept, "Money laundering for Libyan officials using a Chinese bank—that is the issue that pushed it over the edge." We’ll have more on this story with journalist and Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill tomorrow.
The Pentagon is facing increasing questions about the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, following the death of Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin and the revelations of a newly disclosed U.S. base in northern Iraq. Unnamed Pentagon officials told The Washington Post that there are currently about 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq—a far higher number than previously reported. The U.S. troop level in Iraq is supposed to be officially capped at 3,870. But U.S. military spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren said, "People come through on a temporary basis and go above and below the force cap all the time."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings Wednesday on the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantánamo. The scheduled hearing came only one day after the attacks in Brussels. During the hearings, the Defense Department special envoy for Guantánamo closure, Paul Lewis, said U.S. allies have repeatedly called closing the military prison the "greatest single action the U.S. can take to fight terrorism."
Paul Lewis: "As with our military leaders, foreign leaders regularly cite the Guantánamo detention facility as an obstacle to counterterrorism efforts. In my written statement, I cite several statements. Cliff Sloan, Envoy Wolosky’s predecessor, noted an example: 'As a highly ranking security official from one of our staunchest allies on counterterrorism once told me, the greatest single action the United States can take to fight terrorism is to close Guantánamo.'"
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has signed a sweeping new law banning local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. The bill comes after Charlotte, North Carolina, passed an ordinance protecting the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The new statewide law, HB 2, not only blocks Charlotte’s ordinance, but it will prohibit all local governments from passing similar anti-discrimination measures. The North Carolina Legislature convened an emergency session Wednesday to push through the bill, which passed both the House and Senate, despite the fact that Senate Democrats walked out in protest. Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue issued a statement saying, "This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights and local autonomy." On Wednesday, transgender activist Lara Americo spoke out.
Lara Americo: "The true emergencies in North Carolina are subpar public schools, gerrymandered elections and the need for clean drinking water. This special session is hindering my rights as a transgender woman and the rights of the LGBT community. It’s also hindering Charlotte’s ability to govern itself. This is not how taxpayers’ money should be spent."
This comes as 32-year-old transgender woman Kourtney Yochum was shot and killed Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. The head of the housing complex where Yochum lived said, "I’m heartbroken. ... Everybody loved her. She was very popular." Yochum’s killing follows the murder of at least two transgender women in February. Last year, more than 20 transgender women were murdered—the highest number on record.
Meanwhile, a new report by Human Rights Watch says the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is failing to protect transgender women who are detained in ICE custody as they apply for asylum in the United States. The report says transgender women have been routinely held in men’s detention facilities, where they face sexual assault and abuse from both fellow detainees and guards. Many of the transgender women interviewed for the report said they were seeking asylum in the United States in the first place because they had experienced sexual assault and transphobia in their home countries.
Morocco has expelled United Nations staffers from Western Sahara. The move comes after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the term "occupation" to describe Morocco’s relationship to Western Sahara during a recent visit to the region. The expulsion of the U.N. staffers puts at risk the ceasefire between Morocco and the Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front. The Sahrawi have demanded independence ever since Morocco took over most of Western Sahara in 1975.
In news from the ongoing water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, an independent panel has slammed Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration for "intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice." The report explicitly accuses Snyder’s administration of failing to respond to the crisis of lead-poisoned water because Flint is a majority African-American city. The water crisis began when Flint’s unelected emergency manager appointed by Governor Snyder switched the source of the city’s drinking water from the Detroit system to the corrosive Flint River. The water corroded Flint’s aging pipes, causing poisonous levels of lead to leach into the drinking water. To see our recent extended interview with Flint activists Nayyirah Shariff and Melissa Mays, as well as our documentary report from when we were in Flint, "Thirsty for Democracy," visit democracynow.org.
In New York, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office has said it will not seek prison time for former NYPD officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of 28-year-old unarmed African American Akai Gurley. Liang’s conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson instead recommended Liang perform community service, be confined to his home for six months and be on probation for five years. In response, the family of Akai Gurley said, "Officer Liang recklessly had his gun out and pulled the trigger that night, took no steps to assist Akai as he lay dying, and because of that our family has lost Akai forever. The District Attorney’s inadequate recommendation diminishes what Peter Liang did. It diminishes Akai’s death." Protests are planned for outside the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for noon today.
And inside the Superdome in New Orleans, hundreds of protesters noisily disrupted a government auction of oil and gas drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. The government was attempting to auction off 43 million acres of offshore drilling rights. Cherri Foytlin of Idle No More Gulf Coast spoke out during the protest.
Cherri Foytlin: "I’m standing here with 200 brave souls that are saying no—no to the fossil fuel industry and yes to a just transition for all of our people. Woo! We marched up here, maybe 500, maybe a thousand people—I don’t know. But it’s the most amazing thing to see all these people stand together with self-determination and say it’s time for a new day in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s over. The fossil fuel industry, you’re on your way out. Make yourself a bed. You’re done. It’s over. Bye-bye."