(TMU) — On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing a task force to tackle what he called the “sobering and heartbreaking” issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The president added that such action “should’ve been done a long time ago.”
The new task force, Operation Lady Justice, will be overseen by U.S. Attorney General William Barr and interior secretary David Bernhardt. Barr announced a plan, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative, to address the crisis on Friday during a visit with tribal leaders in Montana at the Flathead Reservation.
Barr said in a statement:
“American Indian and Alaska Native people suffer from unacceptable and disproportionately high levels of violence, which can have lasting impacts on families and communities. Too many of these families have experienced the loss of loved ones who went missing or were murdered.”
While signing the executive order, Trump explained:
“We will leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our tribal communities, and we will not waver in this mission.”
The signing comes as U.S. states, including Minnesota, also move to create task forces to tackle the issue.
“This certainly opens up opportunities for states and tribes to collaborate with federal resources,” Minnesota Representative and co-chair of the state’s task force, Mary Kunesh-Podein, said of the order.
It has been well known for years among North American’s Indigenous population that Native women face some of continent’s highest rates of sexual violence, murder, and domestic abuse, but the issue had previously gained little traction outside of the Indigenous community.
The National Institute of Justice has estimated that a shocking 84%—or 1.5 million—Indigenous women have experienced violence while more than half have experienced sexual violence. But according to an Urban Indian Health Institute report released in 2018, only 116 of the 5,712 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous girls from 2016 were logged in the Justice Department’s database.
And according to a 2008 study, women in some Native communities are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average.
Earlier this year, a $92 million National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada concluded that the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country are victims of a “Canadian genocide.” The report highlighted that the violence faced by Indigenous women and girls is disproportionate and “rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies.”
And despite the studies and statistics, many fear these numbers significantly undercut reality.
The new U.S. initiative will invest $1.5 million to hire coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices across the country. The coordinators will develop protocols to help coordinate law enforcement responses to reported missing persons. The protocols will also apply to unsolved cases.
The initiative will also pave the way for local or tribal law enforcement to call on the FBI to assist in such cases and for a multi-jurisdictional team to review the numerous cold cases that have sat untouched for years.
The department will conduct an in-depth analysis of its data collection practices and databases in search of ways to improve current practices.
At the signing on Tuesday, President Trump was joined at the signing of the executive order by Barr, Native American tribal leaders, and administration officials.
Shannon Holsey, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, said in a statement:
“While there is so much that needs to be done to stop the violence perpetrated on Native women and girls, I appreciate the Administration for taking an important first step in establishing this Task Force.”
Violence against Native women is not reserved to violence perpetrated by Native men or solely on reservations. Unfortunately, for years it was nearly impossible to take action against non-Native perpetrators who abused women on reservations. In fact, it was actually prohibited under federal law.
In 2013, Deborah Parker, a board member of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, traveled to Washington DC to help pass legislation paving the way for non-Native abusers to face consequences for their actions on reservations. Parker’s tribe, the Tulalip Tribes, became the first to implement the new legislation after an Indigenous women was raped and assaulted. Shockingly, it was the 20th time tribal police interacted with the perpetrator but the very first time they possessed the power to arrest him.
In the first five years after the new legislation was enacted, a report from the National Congress of American Indians revealed that 18 tribes were able to make 143 arrests that were previously impossible. And 85 of those defendants account for a shocking 378 prior contacts with tribal police whose hands were previously tied.
Despite the progress made with Tuesday’s executive order signing, Iowa senator Joni Ernst introduced the Senate Republicans’ version of the Violence Against Women Act (Vawa) reauthorization bill that would actually roll back the progress made in 2013, providing non-Native abusers a loophole if they don’t wish to comply with tribal laws.
This comes after 33 House Republicans joined Democrats in April to pass a comprehensive Vawa reauthorization that would expand the gains made in 2013. While the bill boasted 47 Democrat co-sponsors, it was void of Republican support.
“It is predominantly Republicans who are telling tribal Nations that we are incapable of protecting our people. We’ve worked with folks from both sides of the aisle but at this time to make it a political game is incredibly harmful.
I am a mom. I want to make sure my daughter isn’t abused. And if we have well supported court systems criminals will know. They will know not to come on our reservations and harm our women.”
“We know where the sexual predators go. They are preying on Native women in numbers that are just offensive because they know that they can commit offenses with impunity,” Alaska’s Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, said last Thursday.
Louisiana man who was given life sentence for stealing hedge clippers finally walks free
A man who was serving a life sentence in Louisiana for stealing hedge clippers from someone’s garage in 1997 has been granted parole after spending 23 years in prison.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, was facing life behind bars due to the attempted burglary conviction and his criminal record. However, the state’s draconian habitual offender laws led to Bryant’s harsh sentence.
Bryant’s life sentence became the subject of withering criticism from civil liberties advocates and the chief justice of Louisiana’s Supreme Court, who called the sentence “cruel and unusual” and a legacy of slavery and racism in the Southern state.
According to Bryant’s parole panel, Bryant’s criminal record consisted of 22 arrests and 11 convictions. The past convictions included four felonies, only one of which was for a violent crime – an attempted armed robbery of a taxi driver in 1979.
In 1997, Bryant was driving when his car stalled and he went into somebody’s garage looking for a tank of gas. At that point, he was encountered and attempted to flee on foot.
When police apprehended him, he was accused of having stolen a pair of hedge clippers that were found in his vehicle, a claim that he denied. Evidence suggested that he had, however, intended to commit theft. Bryant’s previous criminal record and the state’s harsh repeat offender laws led to him receiving a life sentence, which he tried to appeal for the next 23 years.
Two months ago, Bryant’s case appeared before the Louisiana Supreme Court, which voted 5-1 to reject the appeal. The five votes came from while male board members, while the sole dissenting vote came from Bernette J. Johnson, the state’s first Black Chief Justice, who called for a review of the case.
In her opinion, Chief Justice Johnson blasted the sentence as completely disproportionate to the crime, noting that Bryant’s sentence had already cost taxpayers $518,667.
“Harsh habitual offender laws … permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes,” Johnson wrote. “This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.”
“If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she added.
Additionally, she described his past criminal offenses as the sort of “petty theft” rooted in the “ravages of poverty or addiction.”
She also blasted the state’s notorious repeat offender law as similar to the racist Black Codes and “Pig Laws” that unjustly penalized poor Black people for crimes like stealing farm animals or being unemployed, while also treating common misdemeanors and trivial offenses as felonies. In Mississippi, “pig laws” meant that any theft of property over $10 was enhanced to grand larceny. As a result of the “pig laws,” the prison population quadrupled.
On Thursday, the Committee on Parole voted unanimously to release him by a vote of 3-0. Bryant will be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings due to his history of drug and alcohol abuse, and he must also perform community service and adhere to a curfew.
Louisiana State University (LSU) Professor Robert Lancaster, director of the LSU Parole and Re-entry Clinic, represented Bryant during the hearing. Bryant was also assisted by Kelsey Jenkins, a third-year LSU Law student who helped Lancaster draft a memo that was submitted in support of early release.
“Mr. Bryant’s sentence is an example of the flaws in Louisiana’s criminal legal system, but the Parole Committee’s decision to grant him early release shows the importance of periodic evaluation of an individual’s rehabilitation, which Mr. Bryant will continue with the support of the Louisiana Parole Project, Inc.,” wrote Jenkins.
Rights defenders such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana hailed the decision as long overdue.
“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences, and for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses,” said Louisiana ACLU executive director Alanah Odoms in an emailed statement.
Jelly Belly founder launches Gold Ticket treasure hunt, and the winner gets their own candy factory
It seems like something straight out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: the man behind Jelly Belly has launched a nationwide treasure hunt for golden tickets, and the winner could receive their very own candy factory.
David Klein’s Jelly Belly took the world by storm in 1976 with its lineup of colorful jelly beans, which used natural ingredients to offer intense, gourmet-quality flavors such as strawberry daiquiri, coffee, French vanilla, pink lemonade, and even buttered popcorn.
Klein sold his stake in the wildly popular jelly bean company in 1980. However, the candy creator now runs a company called Spectrum Confections that specializes in CBD-infused gourmet jelly beans, including such beloved mainstays as toasted marshmallow, piña colada, strawberry cheesecake, cinnamon, mango, and spicy licorice.
This is The Candyman..want to thank everyone who helped make our CBD jelly beans a world wide success. Overnight success that took 44 years…
And as Klein’s storied career reaches its end, the inventor is marking his coming retirement with a series of treasure hunts for golden tickets.
In a video message posted online last week, Klein said that the big winner will receive the keys to their very own candy factory. Thousands of dollars in prizes are also up for grabs.
It certainly reads like something ripped straight from the pages of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1965 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – but don’t expect the tickets to be hidden in the candy you’ll find on grocery store shelves.
“David and his partner have started going across the USA hiding gold style tickets in the form of necklaces in places they come across with an interesting story,” noted a press release from the company. “Plans are to have multiple treasure hunts for these gold tickets in each state.”
One treasure hunter in all 50 states will be able to win a prize of $5,000, while the lucky participant who wins the candy factory winner must track down the “ultimate treasure.”
“You will be looking for a Gold Ticket in the form of a necklace with a tag that includes a code you need to use to verify your find,” according to contest rules.
The candy factory is actually one of Klein’s “Candyman Kitchens,” a 4,000-square foot property located in Florida. It remains unknown what the actual value of the factory is.
The winner will also receive an all-expenses paid trip and tuition for candy-making courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
However, the contest isn’t free. Participants must pay $49.99 to receive the riddle specific to their state. The website to enter the contest has already crashed due to the heavy influx of traffic, while a gold ticket Facebook group has also gone live and attracted tens of thousands of members in a matter of days.
Needless to say, demand for the golden tickets is extremely high.
“Each treasure hunt has a strict limit of 1,000 participants,” added Klein.
Klein is excited about how well the contest has already been received.
“The world needs this right now, we have received thousands of comments from people who say this has come at such a perfect time,” Klein told ABC7.
Ancient 2,000-year-old redwoods feared destroyed in California wildfires have amazingly survived
When terrifying wildfires ripped through Big Basin Redwoods State Park, one of California’s oldest and most cherished nature reserves, it wasn’t the campgrounds, nature center and other structures that people were mourning.
Instead, wildlife lovers and conservationists were heartbroken and devastated that old-growth redwoods, some as old as 2,000 years old, had been destroyed.
However, it turns out that even the thousands of lightning strikes and staggeringly massive forest fires that laid waste to the Santa Cruz Mountains were unable to destroy some of the oldest and tallest living things on Earth.
“We are devastated to report that Big Basin, as we have known it, loved it, and cherished it for generations, is gone,” the redwood conservationists at Sempervirens Fund said in a painful statement on Thursday. “Early reports are that the wildfire has consumed much of the park’s historic facilities. We do not yet know the fate of the park’s grandest old trees.”
We are devastated to report that Big Basin State Park, as we have known it, loved it, and cherished it for generations, is gone. Here’s what we know right now –https://t.co/EY1jBw78wj #CZULightningComplex #CaliforniaFire #BigBasin #BigBasinMemories
— Sempervirens Fund (@SempervirensFnd) August 20, 2020
However, an Associated Press reporter was happy to discover that most of the ancient redwoods feared to have been annihilated by the blaze have been scorched but are still standing tall – including the towering redwood named “Mother of the Forest” which once stood at 329 feet high prior to a recent storm and has a mighty circumference of 70 feet on the ground.
“That is such good news, I can’t tell you how much that gives me peace of mind,” Sempervirens conservation director Laura McLendon told AP.
Forest fires are a natural and regularly-occuring feature of redwood forests, and the bark of redwood trees is extremely fire-resistant – but the tragic announcements that the park had been wiped off the face of the Earth by the fires turned out to be misleading.
California’s venerable Big Basin state park, “home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco,” was founded in 1902 and receives a quarter of a million visitors each year. And while the 18,000-acre park is surely reeling after sustaining massive damage from the raging inferno that tore through it, the park’s infrastructure can certainly be rebuilt.
Some of the scenes from Big Basin State Park. The parks headquarters and visitors center was burned to the ground during the recent blazes that have ravaged the region. #CZULightningComplexFire #BigBasin @mercnews https://t.co/AjS8nRFSXi pic.twitter.com/uY930A0mDI
— Randy Vazquez (@RandyVMedia) August 21, 2020
“But the forest is not gone … it will regrow,” McLendon said.
Indeed, redwood trees are extremely durable – which is why many of them have histories that date back to before the founding of the Roman Empire. And Big Basin’s redwoods bear the scars of wildfires, windstorm, and lightning strikes of centuries past.
“Every old growth redwood I’ve ever seen, in Big Basin and other parks, has fire scars on them,” McLendon said. “They’ve been through multiple fires, possibly worse than this.”
It’s part of the majestic redwood forest’s natural process: when trees are seemingly destroyed, new trunks simply sprout up in place of the old growth. Meanwhile, fallen trees become nurse trees upon which new redwoods grow, while banana slugs and insects crucial to the ancient forest’s ecological balance are sustained under the logs.
— Randy Vazquez (@RandyVMedia) August 21, 2020
“The reason those trees are so old is because they are really resilient,” said State Parks District Superintendent Chris Spohrer.
Following the fire that ripped through the park, Steller’s jays and woodpeckers returned to the park to scour the forest for insects.
The park had been closed during the COVID-19 lockdown and had only recently reopened following the state’s relaxation of the quarantine. However, the park is now facing indefinite closure, with fallen trees blocking roads, and buildings including the nature museum, ranger’s office, campground bathrooms, and historic park headquarters being utterly wiped out. Several large trees are still burning.
— Randy Vazquez (@RandyVMedia) August 21, 2020
“The historic structures in California’s first state park are almost completely destroyed. It’s awful,” said Sam Hodder, the president of Save the Redwoods League, an environmentalist organization based in San Francisco that was founded in 1918.
“We are grateful that everybody got out and everybody is safe. That’s the most important thing,” Hodder said. “To have lost something that has been transforming people’s lives for more than 110 years, such an iconic place, such a terrific example of what parks mean to communities, it’s heartbreaking.”
But once the campgrounds are rebuilt, trails are cleared, and damaged oaks, firs and madrones are rehabilitated, the park will likely flourish in due time.
“The forest, in some ways, is resetting,” McLendon said.
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