India is in a state of crisis as COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals run out of oxygen. India recorded 315,000 new infections on Thursday — the highest daily caseload reported by any country since the start of the pandemic. India also reported its highest daily death toll with 2,100 fatalities. Hospitals in New Delhi and other cities have run out of oxygen. Workers at crematories report they are overwhelmed.
Rajesh Kumar: “Every day, I handle around 30 to 40 bodies of COVID victims. A few days ago, my health wasn’t good, and the workload was too much, and I fainted three times here while handling the dead bodies.”
The United States reported another 63,000 coronavirus cases and over 800 COVID deaths on Wednesday as the White House said it has reached a goal of administering 200 million vaccine doses within President Biden’s first 100 days. The pace of U.S. vaccinations has begun to slow, with an 11% drop in a weekly rolling average. Polls show about one in four U.S. residents might not get vaccinated. On Wednesday, President Biden urged U.S. employers to provide paid time off for workers to receive vaccines and time to recover from any side effects.
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the probe Wednesday, one day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
Attorney General Merrick Garland: “Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. … The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests.”
The probe is separate from a federal criminal investigation into whether Chauvin violated George Floyd’s civil rights.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections reports Derek Chauvin is being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day at the Oak Park Heights prison, where he’s being held ahead of a sentencing hearing in June. A prison spokesperson said Chauvin will be kept away from other prisoners out of concern for his safety.
Family and friends gathered Wednesday for a public viewing of the body of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black father fatally shot by a white police officer during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. Reverend Al Sharpton is delivering the eulogy at Wright’s funeral in a Minneapolis church today.
This comes as Minnesota state lawmakers are considering legislation that would end qualified immunity for officers, place limits on when police can stop drivers, require the speedy release of body-camera footage in officer-involved shootings and strengthen civilian oversight of police.
In North Carolina, protesters took to the streets of Elizabeth City overnight, demanding the release of body-camera footage showing the police killing of Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old father and Black man. Police haven’t revealed details of the shooting, though an eyewitness said Brown was fired on multiple times while trying to drive away from officers. This is Keith Rivers, president of the local NAACP chapter.
Keith Rivers: “People are feeling tired, people are frustrated, and people want this to stop. And the only way it’s going to stop is if we first have transparency, because transparency brings about trust. And when you have trust, then we can move forward in the march and the fight for justice.”
In Columbus, Ohio, hundreds of protesters staged sit-ins and marched on police headquarters Wednesday to protest the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Authorities have released body-camera video of Tuesday’s killing. The disturbing footage appears to show Bryant swinging a knife at two people as an officer arrived on the scene. The officer fired four shots, killing the girl. Authorities identified the officer as Nicholas Reardon, who joined the Columbus police force in 2019 after serving in the U.S. Air National Guard, where he received an expert marksman badge.
Republican lawmakers around the country continue to push bills cracking down on protests. Legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa passed bills giving immunity to drivers who hit demonstrators with their cars. Meanwhile, a Florida nonprofit on Wednesday sued Governor Ron DeSantis after he signed sweeping so-called anti-riot legislation. Among other things, it bars local governments from cutting police budgets without state approval and raises penalties on demonstrators accused of a crime, including damage to historical monuments or statues. Over 80 anti-protest bills in at least 34 states have been introduced this legislative year — over twice as many than in any other year.
The European Union has announced plans to cut carbon emissions by 55% — compared to 1990 levels — by the end of the decade. Environmental groups say the plan fails to meet the challenge of the climate crisis and is not in line with the Paris Agreement’s ambition of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The White House is hosting a virtual summit on the climate crisis today — Earth Day — with 40 leaders representing the world’s major economies, including China. Ahead of the summit, President Biden announced plans to unwind Trump-era rules that prevented California from adopting its own, more stringent auto efficiency standards. He also pledged the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
Environmental groups criticized Biden’s pledge as inadequate. Food & Water Watch said in a statement, “As the world’s historical largest emitter of climate pollution, we have a duty to do much more, and to act with greater urgency.”
Meanwhile, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will propose a migration agreement at this week’s climate summit. The proposal would see Central American asylum seekers and Mexican nationals granted a six-month U.S. work visa and a possible path to citizenship, if they spend three years planting trees and crops across Mexico.
An internal investigation by the U.S. Capitol Police into the deadly January 6 insurrection has found that, just ahead of the riot, an officer directed all units to be on the lookout for anti-Trump protesters — not the pro-Trump insurrectionists who went on to attack Congress. The revelation came in a congressional hearing Wednesday as California Congressmember Zoe Lofgren quoted a transcript of Capitol Police radio transmissions.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren: “A radio broadcast was sent to all outside units: 'Attention, all units on the field, we're not looking for any pro-Trump in the crowd. We’re only looking for any anti-pro-Trump who wants to start a fight.’”
Six Capitol Police officers have been suspended over their roles in the January 6 uprising, including an officer who posed for selfies with insurrectionists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to Western nations against intervening in national and regional issues, citing the situation in Belarus and Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin: “We really do not want to burn bridges, but if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness, and himself intends to finally burn or even blow up these bridges, then he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, quick and tough. … But I hope that no one will think of crossing the so-called red line regarding Russia.”
Human Rights Watch is calling on Thai authorities to release activists charged with insulting the monarchy and taking part in protests demanding democratic reforms. Two student activists have gone on hunger strike to protest their pretrial detention. Human Rights Watch said, “The Thai government should stop this witch hunt against peaceful dissenters and demonstrate respect for human rights by permitting all viewpoints.”
Back in the U.S., the Senate confirmed Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general Wednesday in a narrow 51-49 vote, after Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski joined with Democrats. Gupta, a civil rights attorney, will be the first Indian American and first woman of color to assume the role.
A U.S. judge has ordered the city of Los Angeles to shelter all unhoused residents of Skid Row. Judge David Carter said, “All of the rhetoric, promises, plans, and budgeting cannot obscure the shameful reality of this crisis — that year after year, there are more homeless Angelenos, and year after year, more homeless Angelenos die on the streets.” The judge’s order says all women and children on Skid Row need to be sheltered within 90 days, and every unhoused person in the area must have shelter by mid-October.
Here in New York, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced it will stop prosecuting sex work and “unlicensed massage.” The DA is also dismissing over 5,000 cases of “loitering” connected to sex work, or what’s commonly known as the “walking while trans” law, which was repealed earlier this year. Advocates welcomed the news but said full decriminalization of sex work is still needed.
Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressmember Pramila Jayapal have introduced legislation that would tax Wall Street to pay for higher education. The bill would make community college free to all and would eliminate tuition and fees at public four-year colleges for families earning up to $125,000 annually. The costs would be offset by a 0.5% tax on stock trades and smaller taxes on bonds and derivatives trades.
In a statement, Senator Sanders said, “In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. If we are going to have the kind of standard of living that the American people deserve, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world.”