October 19, 2020

As many as 100 ballots were damaged on Sunday night when a ballot box in Baldwin Park, California, went up in flames.

Firefighters were called to the scene at around 8 p.m. The charred ballots inside the metal box were transferred to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office, and they are trying to determine if any can be saved. Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Leslie Lua told the Los Angeles Times arson is being investigated as a possible cause, and if that's the case, it will be the first time a ballot box in the county has ever intentionally been set on fire.

Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano on Monday said the county decided where to put the drop-off boxes, and this box was in an area that was "not particularly well-lit." The fire "angers me," he told the Times. "You're literally denying someone's constitutional right to vote, and that's unacceptable." Lozano said he's already heard from many residents who are now worried about something happening to their ballots, so they are holding onto them until Election Day or will vote in person.

The ballot boxes are being emptied every 72 hours, but Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is asking they now be emptied out nightly until the election. So far, more than 3.7 million ballots have already been cast in California, with 1 million coming out of Los Angeles County. Catherine Garcia

September 23, 2020

When asked by a reporter on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he not be re-elected in November, President Trump refused, saying, "Well, we're going to have to see what happens."

More people are expected to use mail-in ballots in the general election because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims that this will lead to voter fraud designed to hurt him. On Wednesday, Trump said the ballots are "a disaster. Get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very — we'll have a very peaceful, there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control."

This isn't the first time Trump has hinted he won't accept the election results, and he is also prone to suggesting he will serve more than two terms in office. The Atlantic reported on Wednesday that Trump's campaign is discussing "contingency plans to bypass election results" should Trump lose in November, including appointing "loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority." Catherine Garcia

September 14, 2020

Facebook knew about dozens of election manipulation efforts around the world and either pushed them off or "ignored" them entirely, a former employee says.

In a 6,600-word memo obtained by BuzzFeed News, former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang details how she "found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry." But with limited resources, Zhang was often left to deal with those myriad attempts on her own, choosing either to prioritize them or push them off.

In her time at Facebook, Zhang said she had "personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I've lost count." That included finding inauthentic assets — fake accounts — aimed at boosting Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez; 10.5 million fake reactions and fans backing politicians in Brazil and the U.S.; and inauthentic activity supporting several Ukrainian politicians.

But Facebook tended to "focus on global activity that posed public relations risks, as opposed to electoral or civic harm," Buzzfeed News reports from the memo. And so Zhang, blaming a lack of resources devoted to the issue, was among a team providing "whack-a-mole" solutions to issues of global importance, Buzzfeed News continues. "Facebook projects an image of strength and competence to the outside world," Zhang wrote. "But the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents." And while she and other employees did the best jobs they could, Zhang said she's certain mistakes were made, and "I know that I have blood on my hands by now."

Zhang declined to speak with BuzzFeed News. A Facebook spokesperson said the company has "built specialized teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated inauthentic behavior," and that it investigated the instances Zhang outlined. Read more at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk

September 11, 2020

Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner thinks President Trump's coronavirus admissions should land him in prison.

In a Thursday appearance on SiriusXM's The Dean Obeidallah Show, the MSNBC legal analyst gave an incredibly harsh assessment of Trump's interviews with veteran reporter Bob Woodward. Trump's insistence in March that he wanted to "play down" the coronavirus threat despite knowing its deadliness "upped his own criminal ante to second-degree murder," Kirschner said, breaking down the pieces of the alleged charge step by step.

"There are only two elements for second-degree murder. The first is you caused the death of another," Kirschner said Thursday. That factor was fulfilled because Trump "was lying to the American people about the danger this virus posed," and now 190,000 people are dead, Kirschner said. "The second element is the intent element," which would "get tricky if we didn't have Trump's incriminating admissions," he continued. But "in my opinion as a career prosecutor," Trump admitted to "conscious disregard" of the risk his coronavirus downplay created, thus admitting to "second-degree murder" that he "must be held accountable" for, Kirschner finished. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 4, 2020

The Aurora Police Department in Colorado is apologizing after a video was posted online showing officers with their guns drawn as five members of a Black family, including a 6-year-old girl, lie face down in a parking lot.

The department says the officers mistakenly thought the family was in a stolen car. The incident took place on Sunday, with Brittany Gilliam telling CBS Denver she was sitting in the car with her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, 14-year-old niece, and 17-year-old niece when a police officer approached. "He proceeded to handcuff me and I saw him handcuff the kids, so I started getting angry, why are you handcuffing kids," she said. Video shows Gilliam, her sister, and her 17-year-old niece in handcuffs, with the entire family face down on the asphalt and one of the children screaming, "I want my mother!"

The police department said Gilliam's car had the same license plate number as a suspected stolen motorcycle they were looking for — except Gilliam's plate wasn't from the right state. This was considered a "high-risk stop," Interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said in a statement, and protocol calls for officers "drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground."

Wilson said the department will now look into enacting new practices and training for high-risk stops, and while Gilliam, who plans on filing a federal lawsuit against the department for excessive force, wants to see "better protocol," she is mostly worried about her daughter, sister, and nieces. "Those kids are not okay," she said. "They're never going to be okay. That was a traumatic experience. Would your kids be okay after that? Having a gun pulled on them and laid on the ground. Especially a 6-year-old."

The Aurora Police Department is already under scrutiny following last year's officer-involved death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who was detained as he walked home from the store. He died after being placed in a chokehold and injected with ketamine. Catherine Garcia

July 19, 2020

During a live interview on The Mo'Kelly Show conducted Saturday night, political operative Roger Stone seemingly says about host Morris O'Kelly, "I don't feel like arguing with this Negro."

Stone, who was found guilty of witness tampering and lying to Congress, had his sentence commuted earlier this month by President Trump. Stone and Trump are old friends, and O'Kelly, who is Black, alluded to this when he said to Stone: "There are thousands of people treated unfairly daily. How your number just happened to come up in the lottery — I am guessing it was more than just luck, Roger, right?"

Stone called into the show, and at this point, it sounded like he muttered something about "arguing with this Negro." O'Kelly asked Stone to repeat himself, but he didn't say anything for about 40 seconds, acting as if he had lost connection. Stone then denied using the term, telling O'Kelly, "You're out of your mind."

In a text message to The New York Times on Sunday, Stone said that on the recording, "somebody can very clearly be heard using the alleged [epithet]" but "at no time did I call [O'Kelly] a Negro. That said, Mr. O'Kelly needs to spend a little more time studying Black history and institutions," as the word is "far from a slur." It was a commonly used term through the 1960s, but for the last several decades has been considered offensive.

Stone claimed that his sound feed was cut off three times, but O'Kelly told the Times there were no technical issues. The term Negro is "the diet version of the n-word, but as an African American man, it's something I deal with pretty frequently," O'Kelly said. "If there's a takeaway from the conversation, it is that Roger Stone gave an unvarnished look into what is in the heart of many Americans today." Catherine Garcia

July 14, 2020

It's fair to say a nationwide school shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic forced American students into an unexpected adjustment period. But for 15-year-old Grace, a rough transition landed her in juvenile detention for more than two months, ProPublica reports in a collaboration with the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine.

Grace, who is Black, and her mother Charisse live in a mostly white suburb of Detroit, where schools closed in mid-March and remote learning began April 15. That monthlong break left Grace, who has ADHD, "unmotivated," and a lack of live instruction made it easy for her to get distracted, ProPublica writes. She would miss alarms in the morning, and ended up far behind on her work.

Grace had been in detention before, on charges of assaulting her mother and stealing a cell phone in a school locker room, and was on probation when the pandemic hit. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) suspended the confinement of juveniles who violate probation during the pandemic, but left an exception for children who posed a "substantial and immediate safety risk to others."

Citing those past charges, a judge found Grace "guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school" and called her a "threat to (the) community," ProPublica reports. And so Grace ended up handcuffed and taken to detention again, where she spent more than two months sleeping on a mattress on a concrete slab and locked in her room for 12 hours every day. She still hasn't worked with a teacher in person or online, and hasn't gotten more than packets of material from her school, Grace says.

ProPublica referred to Grace and Charisse by their middle names to protect their identities. Read more, including about how Black students are disproportionately incarcerated, at ProPublica. Kathryn Krawczyk

June 23, 2020

Several Democratic lawmakers in Florida are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to apologize for "appalling" comments he made last week linking "overwhelmingly Hispanic" farmworkers and day laborers to a jump in the state's number of coronavirus cases.

Natascha Ortero-Santiago, vice president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, has called on him to release "an announcement or a statement saying where he has gotten this information that Latinos are the ones spreading and are the cause of the exponential growth of COVID-19." In an email to NBC News, a DeSantis spokesperson said he has made sure farmworkers are getting tested and treated for COVID-19, and "if these Democrats were so concerned, why didn't they step up to help them?"

In April, dozens of organizations sent a letter to DeSantis and state lawmakers asking for more testing in agricultural areas and personal protective equipment for farmworkers. Most live in cramped housing, work side-by-side, and drive to and from the fields in crowded buses, making it easier for illnesses to spread. Because of that, Doctors Without Borders launched its first mission to Florida in May.

While officials say testing has recently increased in agricultural communities, Patria Rojas, a public health expert at Florida International University, told The Miami Herald there are a lot of reasons why farm workers aren't participating. Most don't have cars and can't go to a drive-thru site, they work long hours, and "anti-immigrant sentiment" forces some migrants to stay under the radar. "There's a lot of under-testing because of that," Rojas said. "If it's true that there is a lot of positive COVID-19 among the agricultural community, we don't know."

Since mid-May, Florida has had a surge in coronavirus cases, and now has more than 100,000 cases and 3,173 deaths. Most have been reported in the state's most populous area, Miami-Dade County, NBC News reports. Video and photos recently taken in Miami restaurants — nowhere near the agricultural fields — show people dancing and eating close together, not wearing masks.

DeSantis said coronavirus is spreading "in 20- and 30-year-olds faster than we would like to see," and while he has admitted an increase in testing can't be the only reason behind the spike in cases, he will not alter Florida's reopening plan or order that everyone wear masks. Catherine Garcia

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