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The state of Arkansas killed Ledell Lee Thursday, just hours after a flurry of court activity cleared the way for his execution, in what could be the first of four death sentences carried out in Arkansas this month. Prison officials injected Lee with the sedative midazolam, the anesthetic vecuronium bromide and the toxin potassium chloride. He was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m., four minutes before his death warrant was set to expire. Lee was convicted of murdering Debra Reese in Little Rock more than 20 years ago; he went to his death proclaiming his innocence. Lee’s killing came after newly confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 ruling that paved the way for Arkansas to proceed with the execution. It was Arkansas’s first since 2005, but officials are seeking to execute three more prisoners next week, before the state’s supply of midazolam expires at the end of April. Arkansas initially planned to carry out eight executions this month in what critics called a “conveyor belt of death.”
CNN is reporting the Trump administration has prepared an arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. At a Thursday news conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed that the Justice Department is seeking to put Assange in jail.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks. And some of them are quite serious. So, yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts. And whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put people in jail.”
Last week, CIA chief Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service,” calling Julian Assange and his supporters “demons.” That’s despite Pompeo’s praise for WikiLeaks on Twitter last year and despite this comment from Donald Trump on the campaign trail last October.
Donald Trump: “This just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!”
We’ll have more on the Trump administration’s plans to seek the arrest of Julian Assange after headlines. We’ll speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week he was amazed that a federal judge “sitting on an island in the Pacific” had the power to halt President Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from six majority-Muslim nations. Sessions was referring to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii, who ruled in March that Trump’s executive order violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bars discrimination on religious grounds.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional powers.”
Attorney General Sessions’s comments drew condemnation from Hawaii’s congressional delegation. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono accused Sessions of “dog whistle politics,” tweeting, “Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences- including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant & dangerous.”
In more immigration news, a mother detained more than 500 days with her 4-year-old son is speaking out after the Supreme Court ruled this week she has no right for a judge to review her pending deportation to Honduras. She is one of two dozen families represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. On Monday, the court ruled the executive branch is the sole judge in cases like hers that are fast-tracked through a process called “expedited removal”—or when an immigration agent can decide if someone has “credible fear” of persecution based on a single interview. The woman spoke to Rewire in an exclusive interview from the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania.
“Lorena”: “I feel very afraid. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep at night if I’m forced to return to Honduras. I’m a single mother, and we are especially vulnerable.”
The murder rate in Honduras is 10 times the global average.
Immigrant rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for 2017. Vizguerra skipped a scheduled check-in with ICE officials in February and instead sought refuge in a Denver church basement, along with her four children, fearing she’d be deported under the newly inaugurated Trump administration. On Thursday, Vizguerra spoke outside the First Unitarian Society church about the Time magazine award.
Jeanette Vizguerra: “I don’t know if it’s going to help my case or not, but what I do know is that this award hopefully helps take away the label that people have for those of us who are undocumented immigrants—that we are criminals or that we don’t contribute. I’ve been here 20 years contributing, working and paying my taxes. In fact, I finished my taxes from inside First Unitarian Church. And I can show them to anyone who wants to see them, unlike President Trump.”
In New York City, immigrant workers at the Tom Cat Bakery are calling for a “day without bread,” as about 18 workers face the loss of their jobs today after their employer demanded valid working papers. This morning, activists locked themselves to the underside of Tom Cat Bakery trucks, stalling delivery of bread while police worked to cut them out. Meanwhile, over 100 of the workers’ supporters rallied outside the bakery in solidarity with the workers. This is Tom Cat Bakery employee Osias Davila.
Osias Davila: “There are workers who have been here for 10 years, 18 years, and so it’s unjust that Tom Cat treats us this way, after we have given so much for the company to grow. It’s a very large business with a lot of production. So what we’re asking for at this time is that there is justice and that they stand up for their workers.”
Also in New York City, police arrested nine people Thursday at a nonviolent protest against President Trump’s proposal to cut $6.2 billion from the budget of HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. New York is home to the nation’s largest stock of public housing, and the protesters said the cuts would devastate their communities.
Kayla Schwarz: “They’re proposing crazy stuff, like they’re going to like kick everyone out of public housing in five years. Five hundred thousand people in New York City? Right. Like that’s going to work. I mean, housing already is cut to the bone. There’s nowhere to cut. It’s just a disaster.”
Carmen Quinones: “This is serious stuff. People are going homeless. This is not a joke anymore. And Trump ain’t making it no better.”
Among those arrested was New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres. HUD Director Ben Carson said in March he favors Trump’s proposal to slash his agency’s budget by 14 percent, saying the cuts would promote “fiscal responsibility.”
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro has accused his opponents of mounting a coup, as opposition politicians led mass rallies nationwide for a second straight day Thursday calling for a new elections. Across the country, police battled street protesters armed with firebombs, responding with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, leaving three people dead. President Maduro rallied hundreds of thousands of his supporters for counterprotests and threatened to arrest opposition leader Henrique Capriles and National Assembly President Julio Borges.
President Nicolás Maduro: “Julio Borges, you are the head of the coup. Later, don’t complain when the law comes for you. Julio Borges, I am telling you ahead of time. I am telling you in defense of my motherland and in defense of the people.”
President Maduro accused the Trump administration of backing a coup, comparing it to the Bush administration’s support for an unsuccessful attempt in 2002 to overthrow then-President Hugo Chávez. Meanwhile, General Motors said Thursday it will cease its operations in Venezuela, after saying the Maduro government seized one of its manufacturing plants.
The United Nations says it’s found 17 mass graves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said there are reports the graves were dug by government soldiers, who have been accused of raping and killing civilians. This is U.N. spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell.
Elizabeth Throssell: “Now, in Tshimbulu, they confirmed the existence of 15 mass graves that have been dug in a cemetery and two mass graves that had been dug in Tshienke. They heard reports from local people that these graves had been dug by soldiers from the armed forces, the DRC armed forces.”
In Paris, France, a gunman opened fire with an automatic rifle on the Champs-Élysées Thursday, killing a police officer and seriously wounding two others before he was shot dead. Police identified the attacker as Karim Cheurfi, a French citizen who served 15 years in prison after he was convicted in 2001 of shooting police officers. ISIS claimed responsibility, saying one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack. The assault came just days before French voters head to the polls Sunday for an election that will see the top two presidential candidates advance to a runoff election on May 7.
In media news, former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly will receive a payout of about $25 million—equivalent to one year’s salary—after he was fired on Wednesday amid revelations that over a half-dozen women accused him of sexual harassment. O’Reilly’s payout follows a $40 million severance package paid to former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes last year, after he was accused of sexual harassment by more than 20 women.
In Ohio, state regulators say crews constructing the $4.2 billion Rover Pipeline spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluid at two different sites, fouling wetlands and threatening water quality. The pipeline is being constructed by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company that built the Dakota Access pipeline, which faced months of resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux and members of hundreds of other indigenous tribes and their allies.
Dow Chemical is asking the Trump administration to reject the findings of government scientists as they prepare a report on how pesticides known as organophosphates threaten human health and thousands of critically endangered species. Organophosphates were originally derived from a nerve agent developed in Nazi Germany. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked even small amounts of the chemicals to low birth weight and brain damage in children. Last month, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt overturned a ban on one of the pesticides, produced by Dow Chemical, just before it was set to take effect. Dow Chemical paid $1 million to underwrite Donald Trump’s January inauguration, and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was tapped by President Trump to head a White House manufacturing working group.
And tens of thousands of scientists and their supporters will rally in Washington, D.C., and in other cities across the U.S. Saturday for a national “March for Science.” The rallies come as the Trump administration pursues an unprecedented campaign of science denial—on issues including climate change, vaccines and the environment. Ahead of the march, astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson released a video calling science denial a threat to democracy.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: “And so, science is a fundamental part of the country that we are. But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not; what is reliable, what is not reliable; what should you believe, what should you not believe. And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”
Democracy Now! will broadcast live from the March for Science in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time. You can go to democracynow.org to tune in to the broadcast.