More of This The Latina prosecutor who built the case against Derek Chauvin
Lola Velazquez-Aguilu, her husband and two children were headed on a family vacation last summer when a call came.
It was Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who had just taken over the state’s prosecution of the former police officers accused of killing George Floyd. Ellison (D) wanted her to serve as a special prosecutor on the case, but she was reluctant.
A former federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota, Velazquez-Aguilu, 41, had spent much of the past few years tied up in grueling trials, long hours that had taken a toll at home. Her son had called her crying during her last big case because he desperately missed his mom.
“For me, the first thought was, I don’t know that I can do this to my family,” she said.
But as she ended the call with Ellison, she heard that same son call out to her from the back seat, where he had quietly been listening to the attorney general’s pitch via the car’s Bluetooth. The 11-year-old knew all about Floyd from the news and the protests that had erupted across the Twin Cities in the aftermath of his May 2020 death.
“Mom, you have to do this,” he told her. When Velazquez-Aguilu began to remind him how hard the last trial had been on him, he interrupted. “Mom, I know,” he said. “But I’ll be okay.”
Something in her son’s voice made her think of the viral video that had captured Floyd crying out for his own mother as he begged for air, and ultimately his life, with a White police officer’s knee pressed into his neck until he went limp.
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Watch This How to be a better Trans ally
Speaking Of… Trans incarcerated are suing for their right to gender confirmation surgery
REIYN KEOHANE’S HANDWRITING is tidy, with small, looping letters, lots of exclamation points, and the occasional smiley face. Months after I received my first letter from her, Keohane, who is 27, called me. At the time, she had been in the Wakulla Correctional Institution, just south of Tallahassee, Florida, for five months. In a lilting voice and a faint drawl she talked about growing up in Fort Myers. She told me how, as a kid who’d been assigned male at birth, she watched Ellen DeGeneres with her mom and thought, “I want to be like that when I grow up.” At 14 she came out as transgender. Her mom took her shopping in the women’s department at Macy’s. She grew her curly, walnut-colored hair out to her shoulders.
From that day forward, Keohane identified as a woman. In the coming years, she sought treatment for intense feelings of dysphoria, obtained a gender dysphoria diagnosis, and changed her legal name. Then, in 2013, she was arrested for stabbing a roommate. The evidence presented in the available court documents suggests that Keohane attacked the other woman, then fled the scene, and she pleaded guilty. (Since at least 2017, however, Keohane has insisted she was acting in self-defense, and she recently hired an appellate attorney in an attempt to overturn her plea.) After receiving a sentence of 15 years, Keohane arrived at the South Florida Reception Center in leg irons. She handed over everything she’d brought with her—legal papers, stamps and envelopes, bras, and underwear—to a prison employee and was handed a set of boxer shorts, a T-shirt, and a blue shirt and pants. Then she sat in a tattered chair and, as a line of men waited their turn and watched, a barber sheared off her hair.
More than 20 percent of trans women (and nearly 50 percent of Black trans people) have been incarcerated at some point in their lives, driven into the criminal justice system by over-policing and poverty as well as structural and individual discrimination. Once they end up behind bars, almost all are incarcerated according to the sex they were assigned at birth. That means being locked up in men’s facilities, where many experience long stints in solitary confinement and near-routine physical and sexual violence at the hands of both prisoners and guards.
Though she’d lived as a woman in the years preceding her arrest, Keohane had been placed in a men’s prison, where she wasn’t allowed to grow out her hair or get the clothing, body wash, or deodorant available at the women’s prison. These could be seen as inconsequential things, but to Keohane they were essential. As a kid, she says, her parents had refused to let her take hormones, but at least she’d had control over how she dressed and wore her hair. When she was 19, she started hormone therapy, but now the Department of Corrections, in apparent violation of its own policy, was denying her that treatment too. In a men’s prison, wearing men’s clothes, she felt severed from the lifelines that had sustained her.
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Say It Louder There is no debate over critical race theory
Ibram X. Kendi is the director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. He is the author of several books, including How to Be an Antiracist.
The United States is not in the midst of a “culture war” over race and racism. The animating force of our current conflict is not our differing values, beliefs, moral codes, or practices. The American people aren’t divided. The American people are being divided.
Republican operatives have buried the actual definition of critical race theory: “a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country,” as the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who helped coin the term, recently defined it. Instead, the attacks on critical race theory are based on made-up definitions and descriptors. “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist,” Senator Ted Cruz has said. “It basically teaches that certain children are inherently bad people because of the color of their skin,” said the Alabama state legislator Chris Pringle.
There are differing points of view about race and racism. But what we are seeing and hearing on news shows, in school-district meetings, in op-ed pages, in legislative halls, and in social-media feeds aren’t multiple sides with differing points of view. There’s only one side in our so-called culture war right now.
The Republican operatives, who dismiss the expositions of critical race theorists and anti-racists in order to define critical race theory and anti-racism, and then attack those definitions, are effectively debating themselves. They have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster.
Read the story on The Atlantic
Less of This The SCOTUS voting rights decision is worse than you think
Guy-Uriel E. Charles is the Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. professor of law at Harvard Law School and faculty director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Luis E. Fuentes-Rohwer is a professor and the Harry T. Ice Faculty Fellow at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
The Voting Rights Act regime as we knew it is gone, and it’s not coming back.
Once thought of as the crown jewel of the Second Reconstruction, the VRA has lost its luster. For the past decade or so, the Supreme Court has systematically reduced the scope and reach of the law. The Court’s decision last week in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee is only the latest case, and certainly will not be the last, to interpret the act in a manner that will sideline it—permanently.
The Democratic National Committee, along with other plaintiffs, challenged two Arizona voting laws that it argued discriminated against voters of color. One law required voters to cast their ballot in their assigned precinct or else their vote would not count. A second law prohibited third parties, such as voting-rights activists, from collecting mail-in ballots from voters who were unable or unwilling to submit those ballots themselves (though it expressly allowed caregivers and family members to do so). The plaintiffs argued that these laws violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, along with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Section 2 of the VRA prohibits the government from providing “less opportunity” for voters of color “to participate in the political process.” It protects voters from voting rules that are intended to or have the effect of discriminating on the basis of race.
Brnovich was about Section 2 of the VRA and was the Court’s first opportunity to determine how to apply the section to claims alleging denial of the right to vote. The defendants argued that the laws did not violate Section 2 because they were neutral voting laws that regulated the time, place, and manner of voting—the kinds of things that states are empowered to do under the Constitution. The district court ruled for the defendants, but the Ninth Circuit reversed that decision, siding with the plaintiffs. In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court’s six conversative justices agreed with the defendants. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a fiery dissent, which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined.
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