Yup. Since the 1940s, California has used prison labor to fight wildfires, with inmates risking their lives on the front lines of the blazes. This year, the state's wildfires have already burned a record 2 million acres, killed eight people, and destroyed over 3,300 buildings – and wildfire season could still last for months. Now, hundreds of inmates have been called in again to help the state as it deals with more than two dozen fires. But the practice doesn't come without controversy.
One issue is COVID-19. Many inmate firefighters were released early under a program to help curb outbreaks in prisons. Others reportedly became infected or were forced to quarantine. Overall, the number of inmate firefighters able to help this year was cut in half. Another issue? Inmates get minimal to no payment. We're talking three to five dollars a day for those helping with things like clearing brush – and an extra dollar an hour for those in front of the flames. And despite risking their lives to save others and learning the art of the trade, these inmates typically can't become firefighters after they serve their sentences. The reason: their criminal records.
State lawmakers are on it. Last week, the state legislature passed a bill to give nonviolent offenders who've helped fight fires as inmates the opportunity to have their records expunged so they can become firefighters. The California assemblywoman who introduced the bill said, "those that have served on the fire lines deserve a second chance." Now, the bill heads to the governor's desk for his signature.
For years, CA inmates have found themselves on the front lines of some of the worst fires in history. And have helped protect people and homes in California. Now – as hundreds step up once again to fight these deadly fires – they could be granted a second chance at a career and life.
The Rohingya. Yesterday, the New York Times reported the first documented confession of crimes against Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar soldiers. Reminder: The Rohingya are a minority group that have lived in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for generations. In 2017, a military crackdown killed an estimated 6,700 Rohingya and forced over 700,000 others to flee to Bangladesh, where they remain out of fear for their safety. Myanmar's government has repeatedly denied its involvement in a genocidal campaign. But two soldiers who've deserted the military reportedly gave a video testimony of their crimes, detailing massacres and rapes and saying they were ordered to "shoot all you see and all you hear." Now, the report could be used as evidence of crimes against humanity.
AstraZeneca. Yesterday, the pharma giant paused global trials of its COVID-19 vaccine that was developed with Oxford University. The reason: one of the volunteers in a late-stage clinical trial in the UK suffered an "unexplained illness." The person is reportedly expected to recover. Now, the company will pause all trials while it investigates the safety of its vaccine.
The DOJ. Yesterday, it filed court papers to take over as President Trump's defense team in a defamation lawsuit filed by a woman who accused Trump of sexual assault. Last year, journalist E Jean Carroll claimed Trump raped her at a department store in the '90s. Trump denied that – saying he never met her and that she was using the publicity to sell a book. Carroll then sued, saying Trump's comments hurt her reputation and career. Now, the DOJ wants to move the case to federal court and replace the president's lawyers with those who work for the government. Critics say the department is acting in favor of Trump's personal interests. But the DOJ is saying 'read the fine print.' If a federal judge rules in the DOJ's favor, it could delay or end the suit. And it could mean US taxpayers would have to pay any damages awarded in the case.
Rochester, New York. Yesterday, the city's police chief resigned amid criticism surrounding the death of Daniel Prude. Last week, the 41-year-old Black man's family released a video of his March arrest, showing officers putting a hood over his head and restraining him. Prude later died at a hospital and his death was ruled a homicide. The video ignited protests and led to the suspension of seven officers. The NY attorney general also said a grand jury will investigate. Now, the city's police chief said he's stepping down because of "the mischaracterization and the politicization" of the department's actions. The deputy chief and entire command staff also resigned. The officers will reportedly keep their pensions and health benefits.
Skimm’d by Maria del Carmen Corpus, Mariza Smajlaj, Ellen Burke, Niven McCall-Mazza, and Clem Robineau
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