1. Needed: Database on police violence
Police violence is a major problem in the U.S. and that violence is particularly directed toward Black people, but specifics behind that consensus are hard to come by. However, as USAFacts explains, the U.S. has no agency that provides the public with comprehensive, annual data on excessive use of police force and officer-involved shootings. Individual data sets can be found, but they are often incomplete and usually several years old. The most recent Bureau of Justice statistics (BJS) on excessive police force give 2016 data. BJS reports 1,348 arrest-related deaths from the period June 1, 2015, through March 31, 2016—but offers nothing more recent. BJS also interviews arrestees, compiling data on their perceptions of police use of force, but this data is only released every three years; the most recently available data, released in 2018, was from 2015. That data showed that 65% of black arrestees, 53% of Hispanic arrestees, and 43% of white arrestees felt they had been subjected to excessive force.
The bottom line here is that DJS is not providing any information related to the current administration; the data available is all from the Obama administration. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has cause-of-death data from death certificates; its most recent material, from 2018, was released earlier in 2020. The CDC data shows 614 people killed in encounters with the police in 2018. The CDC also runs the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), but participation is not mandatory, so NVDRS includes material from only thirty-four states and the District of Columbia. The most recent data from this less-than-complete source shows 515 deaths due to police officers in 2016. In other words, we know we have a problem, but our government either cannot or will not produce the data that would let us understand the parameters of this problem in specific detail. S-HP
If you think that the time has come for a truly comprehensive, up-to-date national database on police use of force and office-involved shootings, here you’ll find out whom you can write.
2. LGBTQ+ Rights: What’s next?
The Supreme Court ruling that prohibitions on sex-based workplace discrimination include bars on discrimination based on LGBTQ+ identity represents a big win. But it’s a win in terms of workplace rights. Other areas of the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality—rules governing healthcare, education, landlord-tenant relations, access to public services, and more—will need additional litigation, though having this new precedent should help. All these issues could be solved without spending years in court if Congress were to pass H.R.5, the Equity Act. H.R.5 has passed the House and is now with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP
You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.5 by Senate Judiciary Committee leadership and tell your Senators you want them to vote in favor of H.R.5 when it reaches the Senate floor. Addresses are here.
3. Immigrants in detention: Toxic sprays and coronavirus
Immigrants imprisoned in the Adelanto Detention Center in California are suffering from “nosebleeds, fainting, headaches, stomach pain and a burning sensation in their skin” as a result of a toxic disinfectant, HDQ Neutral, being sprayed near them as often as 50 times a day, Democracy Now reports. The Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants have sent a letter to ICE and DHS identifying the many people who have had acute symptoms from the spray, as well as the safety precautions that should have been taken according to the safety guidelines–wearing goggles, avoiding inhalation, spraying only on surfaces, not on people, and so forth. The letter reads in part, “Since May 11, 2020, we have received reports multiple times per day from people in ICE detention at Adelanto regarding the negative and serious health consequences that they are suffering due to being exposed to hazardous chemicals being disseminated by the GEO Group staff.”
Not only are imprisoned immigrants in danger from toxic spray but from the coronavirus. The University of Chicago’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, along with El Otro Lado, have filed a lawsuit in federal court against ICE, DHS and Customs and Border Protection demanding that public records on the impact of the coronavirus be released. As Nicole Ramos, director of Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project, put it, “DHS must be held accountable for running what have essentially become COVID-19 death camps. We cannot detain immigrants during a pandemic while refusing to implement critical protective measures or provide lifesaving medical care, and if DHS cannot do so, all detained immigrants must set them free. To do anything else is unconscionable.” RLS
You can object to the use of dangerous chemicals and to the inadequate coronavirus protections within immigration detention centers and call for the release of those currently in immigration detention. In addition, you can demand a Congressional investigation of the use of hazardous chemicals and of coronavirus transmission in immigration detention centers. Addresses are here.
4. Coronavirus in prison
Deaths in prisons due to the coronavirus have risen 73% since mid-May, according to the New York Times, and 68,000 people are infected, double the number of a month ago. Prisons have tested relatively few inmates and medical care is inconsistent. In crowded conditions with limited access to protective measures, older inmates with respiratory conditions are especially at risk; as Fred Roehler, 77, a California prisoner with a chronic lung disease told the New York Times, “It’s like a sword hanging over my head. Any officer can bring it in.”
In addition, hundreds of people detained during Black Lives Matter protests have been held in crowded cells, many without masks, the Times notes; though they are supposed to be arraigned within 24 hours, three days has become common, according to a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society. Defense lawyers point out that most of these detentions were unnecessary; protesters could have been issued a summons instead. Some protestors have said that the long detentions were retaliatory, and that officers said that complaints would result in slower processing times. RLS
You can ask what your members of Congress, your governor and your State Department of Corrections are doing to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19. Addresses are here.
5. Five barriers to Indigeous voting rights identified
In 2017 and 2018, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition (NAVRC) held nine public hearings gathering information on the status of U.S. voting rights for First Peoples. Just this month, the NAVRC issued a report based on that substantial body of testimony, High Country News reports. The report identifies fives types of barriers faced by Native Americans: general barriers to participation; barriers to voter registration; barriers to casting a ballot; barriers to having votes counted; and barriers to vote by mail. The report proposes a number of needed actions including equitable election funding; direct outreach to Native American Voters; tribal programs emphasizing voting as a way to achieve political power; and activism directed to individual Secretaries of State in support of Native American voting rights by activists outside the Native American Community. The report also highlights the importance of passing the Native American Voting Rights Act (S.739 in the Senate; H.R.1694 in the House). These two identical pieces of legislation include expanding the types of facilities that can be used as voter registration agencies; increasing polling site accessibility; expanding requirements for bilingual voting accessibility; and establishing a Native American Voting Task Force grant program. S.739 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.R.1694 is with the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and with the House Administration Committee. S-HP
You can urge quick, positive action on S.739 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and on H.R.1694 by the House Judiciary Committee and its Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee and by the House Administration Committee. You can also ask your Secretary of State what programs your state has in place to facilitate Native American voting. Addresses are here.
6. Black Lives Matter–at the polling place
Writing in the New York Times, University of Chicago Professor Sendhil Mullainathan argues that a concrete action that businesses trying to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as opposed to the vagaries currently being spouted, would be providing paid time off for all employees to vote. He points out that in the U.S., where time is money, long waits at the polls are an unevenly distributed form of poll tax. He cites research by a group of economists showing that on average people living in predominantly black neighborhoods have a 29% longer wait at the polls than people living in predominantly white neighborhoods and that those voters in the predominantly black neighborhoods face a 79% greater chance of having to spend more than thirty minutes in line waiting to vote than do those in predominantly white neighborhoods. In other words, if you live in a predominantly Black neighborhood you will find yourself paying a greater poll tax in terms of paid work hours lost than will coworkers from predominantly white neighborhoods. What Mullainthan suggests isn’t a panacea—if businesses don’t diversify then paid time off to vote won’t truly benefit those locked out of the system—but it would accomplish more than a tweet saying “Popeyes is nothing without Black lives.” S-HP
You could tell your Congressmembers that as long as we’re shoveling coronavirus relief monies at major corporations, we could be pressuring them to start making paid time off to vote the norm and not an exception. You could also urge them to find ways to address systematic differences across polling places that make voting in predominantly black neighborhoods more costly than voting elsewhere.
7. Where are the new citizens?
In a March 18 response to the Coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended almost all activities—these include administering citizenship tests and swearing in of new citizens. Before these activities were cancelled, an average of 63,000 applicants took the oath of allegiance each month, the New York Times reports. Swearings-in began again in early June, but these are not processing anywhere the number of eligible individuals waiting to become citizens. One group of lawful permanent residents have sued the administration for the right to be sworn in before late September, which is the cut-off date for eligibility to vote in the November presidential election. Bipartisan Congressional calls for a solution—remote swearing in ceremonies or a temporary waiver of the swearing in, perhaps—have been met with resistance from the administration. USCIS says there is a legal obligation that the ceremonies be public and that requirement precludes remote swearings-in, but friends and family are not being allowed to attend socially distanced ceremonies, which suggests that they are not genuinely public. The use of remote technology doesn’t mean that ceremonies cannot be public, as anyone who has already watched C-SPAN or attended an online workshop or performance during the pandemic can attest.
There is some concern that one of the motivations behind this heel-dragging is the perception that recent immigrants are purported to lean Democratic. Several swing states potentially have enough individuals qualified to take the oath of allegiance that they could play a decisive role in those state’s elections. Nonetheless, Republican members of Congress from American Samoa, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah are among those urging USCIS, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, to find ways of expediting swearings-in in order to allow new citizens to vote in November. S-HP
You can join the bipartisan call for expedited swearings-in for those eligible to become citizens and point out that “public” does not have to mean “in person.” Addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
8. Safety of small nuclear reactors in doubt
At the moment, small module nuclear reactors (SMRs) have been designed but not built, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved the construction of one in Tennessee and more will no doubt be approved. As a consequence of this, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is proposing modifications that would only apply to these small modular reactors and other new technologies. Current requirements for larger nuclear reactors include a 10-mile plume emergency planning zone (the plume being the radioactive material that could be released in an accident or malfunction) and a 50-mile ingestion emergency planning zone to prevent food and water contamination. In the words of the NRC, the proposed rules would “adopt a scalable, plume pathway emergency zone approach [for SMRs] that is performance-based, consequence-oriented, and technologically inclusive,” suggesting that individual SMRs would be subject to individualized emergency planning zone (EPZ) requirements. For some small reactors, that might mean a determination that no EPZ is required for any area beyond the boundaries of the reactor site or it could mean EPZs much smaller than the current 10-mile and 50-mile zones. In fact, facilities with EPZs situated entirely on a reactor site would be exempt from both offsite radiological emergency planning and from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evaluation of site emergency plans.
Some well-respected scientists and regulators oppose the proposal and their views are reported in Utility Dive, a trade journal for the utility industry. According to Utility Dive, one NRC Commissioner, Jeff Baran, had provided written opposition to the proposal, nothing that it would be “a radical departure from more than 40 years of radiological emergency planning.” FEMA is similarly critical. The director of FEMA’s Technological Hazards Division has written, “FEMA believes that the NRC staff conclusion that the proposed methodology for offsite emergency preparedness maintains the same level of protection as a 10-mile EPZ is unsupported.”
Finally, Utility Dive reports that, based on measurements taken within the 10-mile EPZ at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor failure, Edwin Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, is critical of current EPZ planning: “This proposal is based on a fallacy,” he said. “The evidence [from Fukushima] demonstrates the 10-mile zone for existing reactors is not adequate and it certainly doesn’t support reducing the zone.” As part of the rules proposed, the NRC asks several questions, one of which is whether an ingestion EPZ is even necessary for sites where government or tribal authorities intended to seize any contaminated food supplies. Given that contaminated food would be located or grown on land that would presumably be similarly contaminated, this question makes little sense. How would removing contaminated food from a site prevent radiation dangers from the site itself? Comments are due July 27. S-HP
You might want to suggest that the NRC listen to critical experts and that modified regulations for SMRs need to be based on real-world observation, so that all reactor sites should be required to plan for 10-mile and 50-mile emergency zones [be sure to refer to NRC-2015-0225-0071 in your comment]: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=NRC-2015-0225-0071 ].
9. Trading fracking for parks’ funding
Some readers may have recently received an email for Openlands, an Illinois based group that is dedicated to “Connecting people in the region to nature where they live.” A perusal of the website makes it clear that they do a good bit of worthwhile work. Their most recent email, asking us to contact our Representatives to urge that they support S.3422, the Great American Outdoors Act, which recently made it through the Senate, suggests that they have not read the bill closely. According to Openlands, S.3422 “would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century… [and] would invest much needed money toward conservation, outdoor recreation, and park maintenance.”
Well, S.3422 is significant, but not in the way Openlands is suggesting. Their email doesn’t address the fact that S.3422 would tie funds for restoring National Parks and Lands to the amount of profit the federal government makes leasing federal lands and waters for development of oil, gas, coal, or renewable or alternative energy: 50% of the value of the federal government’s proceeds will be earmarked for parks. No fracking in Joshua Tree? Sorry if you really needed restoration, you’d prove it by allowing fracking. It comes as no surprise that the author of S.3422 is Cory Gardner (R-CO) one of the more fossil-fuel friendly members of the Senate. S-HP
You might urge your Representative to oppose this wolf-in-sheep’s clothing piece of legislation that ties park maintenance to allowing drilling for fossil fuels on federal lands.
10. New combinations of herbicides risk crops and human health
In the endless chemical war against weeds, Bayer/Monsanto has developed and sells genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant corn, which has encouraged the use of glyphosate (marketed as RoundUP) as a weed killer in agricultural areas. However, weeds are now becoming glyphosate-tolerant. As a result, Bayer/Monsanto has developed genetically engineered corn that is resistant not only to glysophate, but to a brew of chemicals: dicamba, glufosinate, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Piling up of chemical resistance is known as a “stacked herbicide-resistant trait.” Bayer/Monsanto has now petitioned the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to be allowed unregulated production and sales of this multi-chemical-resistant corn. As part of the decision-making process, APHIS is now soliciting public comments on the Bayer/Monsanto petition. Allowing unregulated production and sales of multi-chemical-resistant corn is a bad idea for many reasons, the most obvious being that weeds will develop a similar resistance over time ,requiring an even higher stack of herbicide-resistant traits in corn.
Enabling continued use of glysophate via this stacked-resistance corn allows the continued use of glysophate as a weed killer—as well as adding dicamba, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Continued use of glysophate is bad news, as US Right to Know explains:
- Glysophate is a carcinogen
- The use of glysophate is currently banned in parts of twenty-four states because of its carcinogenic properties
- In California, five counties and forty-one cities have banned glysophate use because of its carcinogenic properties
- In 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glysophate as “probably carcinogentic to humans”
- In 2017 the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics’ Reproductive Health Committee called for a “full global phase out of glysophate
- There are currently at least 52,000 individuals suing Bayer/Monsanto for glysophate-related cancer.
Adding dicamba to the mix has particular drawbacks because dicamba-resistant corn will encourage wider use of dicamba, a dangerous chemical: In a peer reviewed study, the National Institutes of Health have linked dicamba to multiple forms of cancer, in a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Historically, dicamba has been shown to have extensive dispersal, meaning that it travels significant distances beyond the area upon which it is used. More than 100 farmers are suing Bayer/Monsanto because, as reported in the Guardian, use of dicamba has “damaged orchards, gardens and organic and non-organic farm fields in multiple states.” Dicamba poses a threat to already-threatened monarch butterflies because it kills plants the monarchs rely on for nectar and reproduction. Glufosinate, quizalofop, and 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid have not been proven to be carcinogens, but like glyphosate and dicamba they will severely damage native plants and the ecosystems that rely upon them, the Center for Biological Diversity notes. Comments are due by July 7. S-HP
You can tell the APHIS that unregulated production and sales of multi-chemical resistant corn presents unacceptable dangers to public health and to native ecosystems: Docket No. APHIS-2020-0021, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale. MD 20737-1238 [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=APHIS-2020-0021-0001 ].
11. Rat poison kills more than rats: the danger to threatened species.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the availability of “draft human health and/or ecological risk assessments for the registration review of brodifacoum, bromadiolone, bromethalin, cholecalciferol, chlorophacinone, difenacoum, difethialone, diphacinone and diphacinone sodium salt, and warfarin and warfarin sodium salt,” and is now receiving public comments on its assessment, which would approve them for uses beyond those currently authorized. Those eleven chemicals have one thing in common: they are second-generation anticoagulants (SGAs) used as rodenticides. They are cause significant environmental damage and have a particularly damaging effect on threatened species. Consider the following:
- Anticoagulants are dangerous and potentially life-threatening to species that prey on rodents—or that prey on animals that prey on rodents. These predators include a number of threatened species including bobcats and Pacific fishers as well as a number of owl and hawk species, the Island Connection points out. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science notes the particular danger to raptors.
- There are effective methods of rodent control that don’t have these consequences.
- Anticoagulants are slow killers which means that over a period of time, rodents may consume enough to give them “super lethal” levels of anticoagulants.
- Rodents have the opportunity to travel out of the particular area of use before dying, increasing the risk of hurting threatened species.
- While labeling can help prevent misuse of SGAs many rodenticide users do not consult label directions before use. For example, a 2016 study of pesticide application practices in Missouri found that 57 percent of farmers applying pesticides in that state do not read label instructions before use.
- In approving new use,s the EPA must demonstrate that SGAs will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment when used according to “widespread and commonly recognized practice,” a higher bar than simply being safe when used in compliance with labeling.
- According to the Center for Biological Diversity, additional types of data collection and studies are needed to meet federal requirements before additional uses for SGAs can be approved. These include effects on pollinators; information concerning estrogen or other endocrine disruption effects; whether these pesticides or products containing them may have synergistic effects, meaning they become more dangerous when used in conjunction with other chemicals. Comments are due July 6. S-HP.
You can share your concerns about new uses for anticoagulant rodenticides with the EPA using any of the above arguments that speak to you. OPP Docket, Environmental Protection Agency Docket Center (EPA/DC), (28221T), 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460-0001 [you can also comment online at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0139-0019 ].
12. Hunting to be permitted in Alaska Wildlife Refuge
One of the goals of the Republican administration has been to open federal lands to greater public and commercial use. A rule proposed on June 11 by the Fish and Wildlife Service that affects Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is the latest of these efforts. Federal protections at this refuge exceed protections for State lands, which makes sense since areas given national recognition are particularly rare and vulnerable habitats. Current federal requirements that would be eliminated if this proposal is finalized address issues of hunting and firearms use, access to remote areas in Kenai, and use of motorized and nonmotorized vehicles. Some specifics of the proposal:
- A prohibition on killing brown bears at bait stations (the feds don’t use the word “killing”; instead, they refer to this activity as bear “harvesting”) would be eliminated.
- Annual opportunities for firearms discharge would be expanded, leaving the two peak tourism months of June and July the only times during which firearms discharge is prohibited, a change Alaska State government requested to make Kenai open to hunting during the entirety of the moose and brown bear hunting seasons.
- Non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles and game carts would be allowed at Kenai where they are currently prohibited for the purpose of habitat preservation.
- During the ice-fishing season, snow mobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and utility vehicles would be allowed on designated lakes and the lands providing access to these lakes; currently all of these vehicle types are prohibited at these locations.
- A requirement for a federal trapping permit would be revoked, meaning that trapping could follow less-strict state guidelines instead.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes these rule changes and plans to challenge them in court if they are approved, explains that the changes allow “ecologically harmful hunting methods” such as “gunning brown bears down at bait stations and using cruel leghold traps.” Comments due August 10.
You can defend the unique habitat of Kenai and the species making it their home by opposing rule changes that will allow greater incursions by motorized and non-motorized vehicles, increased hunting, and increased firearms use. Public Comments Processing, attn: FWS-R7-NWRS-2017-0058, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3808 [you can comment online at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/06/11/2020-10924/refuge-specific-regulations-public-use-kenai-national-wildlife-refuge#open-comment ] .
- The Americans of Conscience Checklist has a number of easy actions you can take to support voter empowerment and other important issues.
- If you’re part of a group that send postcards to people who need to hear from you, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s whole list here.
- In her list of items available for comment on the Federal Register, Martha sees evidence of the Trump administration’s rush to use the pandemic emergency to codify and solidify anti-environment regulatory actions and make them harder to undo. Read through them–pick a few to write comments on.
- If you didn’t have a chance to look at Chrysostom’s elections roundup last week, it’s worth reviewing some key races.