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Days after Buffalo mass shooting, the House approves a bill to fight domestic terror

As police and FBI agents continue their investigation into the shooting at Tops Market in Buffalo, N.Y., last weekend, Congress is considering legislation to address domestic terrorism. Authorities say the attack was believed to be motivated by racial hatred.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The House of Representatives narrowly approved legislation on Wednesday to elevate the federal government’s efforts to combat the threat of domestic terrorism.

The vote was 222-203.

The action came days after a gunman wearing body armor killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. He was arrested and law enforcement quickly said it was a racially motivated hate crime.

The bill, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, creates offices at the departments of Homeland Security and Justice and the FBI specifically focused on investigating and tracking domestic terror threats. It also directs these offices to share potential risks and take steps to prevent future attacks.

The legislation had bipartisan support when it was introduced earlier this year. A similar measure was approved by voice vote by the House in September of 2020, just months before the Jan. 6 insurrection. But only one Republican — Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — joined all House Democrats to approve the bill late Wednesday evening.

Without votes for gun bill, Democrats target domestic terror

Without the votes to pass any new gun control measures in a narrowly divided Congress, House Democrats said it was worth focusing on something that shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., the sponsor of the bill, told NPR he pushed for a vote on the bill since it was something that garnered support from both parties in the last Congress.

“This past weekend, we had the shooting in Buffalo. We had a shooting in California. We had a shooting in my district, a gang shooting where a 14 year old boy was killed,” he said. “We need to address what is an epidemic of gun violence in the country. We need to tackle the challenge of domestic extremism. And the only way we do that is finding a bipartisan way to to push the ball forward together.”

The Illinois Democrat said the threats are going up and there’s a need to elevate efforts to find ways to prevent future incidents.

“I can’t say this law would have stopped what happened in Buffalo,” Schneider said. “What I can say is that if we give the abilities of the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security to try to intercept these threats before they become a reality, maybe we stop the next Buffalo or the next El Paso, the next Pittsburgh attack.”

Republicans argue federal effort could target parents

GOP lawmakers who voted for the 2020 bill now argue the Biden administration would overreach if the bill is put into place. Many maintain it would allow the Justice Department to label parents criticizing their school boards as domestic terrorists.

“The difference from two years ago and now is that the DOJ has started going after concerned parents showing up at school board meetings, labeling them domestic terrorists, ” Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler said on the House floor in response to Democrats’ pointing out earlier support for the measure.

The controversy stems from a memo issued by the Justice Department in October 2021 that directs federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the uptick in threats to school boards following intense debates in communities about vaccine and mask mandates.

Attorney General Merrick Garland last fall knocked down allegations there was a concerted effort to target parents. In a hearing he told a House panel “The Justice Department supports the First Amendment rights of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish,” and added, “That’s not what this memo is about.”

Nebraska Republican Don Bacon, one of GOP sponsors of the current bill says conservative media attacking the bill has made voters in his district worried.

“They feel like it’s been politicized, these investigations. So actually I hear from folks, are they going investigate me because I’m pro-life? And I’m not saying just one or two. I heard it from dozens of constituents — ‘How could you be on this bill?'”

Even hours before the vote, Bacon was torn, telling NPR “I like Brad Schneider. Brad and I work well together on this stuff and and I think there’s a case to be made to vote for it, too. So I’m giving you the other side — the pushback I’m getting. But I got out of the bill for a reason and I thought there was some goodness to it as well.”

The debate on the House floor grew tense at times. Bacon said he didn’t like the tone and said he thought some Democrats were suggesting some members in his party were racist.

Texas Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who represents the El Paso district where a gunman in 2019 targeted Hispanic shoppers at a Walmart, leaving 22 people dead and 26 injured, urged passage of a bill to address what she said was a rising problem.

“America has a racism problem. America has a hate problem, and America has a domestic terrorism problem,” she said.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Garland last week saying he heard from some parents who say they were being investigated to actions related to their protests of school officials.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on GOP lawmakers claims about the House legislation.

Schneider pushed back at the claims about federal overreach, saying, “It’s not a new statute, doesn’t create any new statutes or penalties. It gives our federal law enforcement resources to identify the growing threats of domestic terrorism like what we saw in Buffalo and hopefully prevent these types of events in the future.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told NPR on Tuesday that a partisan vote on the issue would “say that the Republican Party is not as focused as domestic terrorism as they need to be because they think a lot of their ‘stand back and stand by guys’ may be implicated.”

The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he planned to introduce a bill matching the House bill and said both parties on Capitol Hill should agree it’s time to focus on the issue before it gets even worse.

“As we took 9/11 seriously, we need to take this seriously, he said.”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the Senate would take a procedural vote to advance the bill next week, but it’s unclear the measure has the 60 votes needed.

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Happy is an Asian elephant. But can she also be considered a person?

Bronx Zoo elephant Happy strolls inside the zoo’s Asia habitat in New York in 2018.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

Bebeto Matthews/AP

She has four limbs, expressive eyes and likes to stroll through greenery in New York City. Happy, by species, is an Asian elephant. But can she also be considered a person?

That question was before New York’s highest court Wednesday in a closely watched case over whether a basic human right can be extended to an animal.

The advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project say yes: Happy is an autonomous, cognitively complex elephant worthy of the right reserved in law for “a person.” The Bronx Zoo, where Happy resides, says no: Through an attorney, the zoo argues Happy is neither illegally imprisoned nor a person, but a well-cared-for elephant “respected as the magnificent creature she is.”

Happy has lived at the Bronx Zoo for 45 years. The state Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether she should be released through a habeas corpus proceeding, which is a way for people to challenge illegal confinement.

The Nonhuman Rights Project wants her moved from a “one-acre prison” at the zoo to a more spacious sanctuary.

“She has an interest in exercising her choices and deciding who she wants to be with, and where to go, and what to do, and what to eat,” project attorney Monica Miller told The Associated Press ahead of the oral arguments. “And the zoo is prohibiting her from making any of those choices herself.”

The group said that in 2005, Happy became the first elephant to pass a self-awareness indicator test, repeatedly touching a white “X” on her forehead as she looked into a large mirror.

Bronx Zoo elephant Happy strolls in a habitat inside the zoo’s Asia display in 2018 in New York.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

Bebeto Matthews/AP

The zoo and its supporters warn that a win for advocates at the Nonhuman Rights Project could open the door to more legal actions on behalf of animals, including pets and other species in zoos.

“If there’s going to entire be a rewrite and a granting to animals of rights that they never had before, shouldn’t that be done by the Legislature?” Kenneth Manning, an attorney for zoo operator Wildlife Conservation Society, asked the judges.

Happy was born in the wild in Asia in the early 1970s, captured and brought as a 1-year-old to the United States, where she was eventually named for one of the characters from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Happy arrived at the Bronx Zoo in 1977 with fellow elephant Grumpy, who was fatally injured in a 2002 confrontation with two other elephants.

Happy now lives in an enclosure adjacent to the zoo’s other elephant, Patty. The zoo’s attorney argued in court filings that Happy can swim, forage and engage in other behavior natural for elephants.

“The blatant exploitation of Happy the elephant by NRP to advance their coordinated agenda shows no concern for the individual animal and reveals the fact they are willing to sacrifice Happy’s health and psychological well-being to set precedent,” the zoo said in a prepared statement.

NRP’s attorneys say no matter how Happy is being treated at the zoo, her right to “bodily liberty” is being violated. They argue that if the court recognizes Happy’s right to that liberty under habeas corpus, she will be a “person” for that purpose. And then she must be released.

Judges peppered attorneys for both side with pointed questions during oral arguments. Judge Jenny Rivera asked Miller about the implications of NRP’s position on human-animal relationships.

“So does that mean that I couldn’t keep a dog?” Rivera asked. “I mean, dogs can memorize words.”

Miller said right now there’s more evidence showing elephants are extraordinarily cognitively complex with advanced analytical abilities.

Lower courts have ruled against the NRP. And the group has failed to prevail in similar cases, including those involving a chimpanzee in upstate New York named Tommy.

But last October, at the urging of a different animal rights group, a federal judge ruled that Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s infamous “cocaine hippos” could be recognized as people or “interested persons” with legal rights in the U.S. The decision had no real ramifications for the hippos themselves, given that they reside in Colombia.

Opponents hope the NRP’s string of court losses continues with the high-profile New York court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the New York Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups said the NRP’s “new-fangled theory of personhood” would sweep up pigs, cows and chickens. The National Association for Biomedical Research said authorizing such petitions on behalf of animals could drive up the costs of conducting critical research. State and national associations representing veterinarians filed a brief saying NRP’s lawsuit promotes animals’ personhood rights above animals’ welfare.

Supporters of NRP’s action include public figures such as Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. Many of them see this case as a chance for society to take a step forward in the ethical treatment of animals.

“We believe this legal moment for Happy represents a key cultural crossroads for thinking more openly and honestly—and less selfishly—about what it would mean to treat the particularity of non-human animals with the moral seriousness it deserves,” a brief submitted by Catholic academic theologians read.

The court’s decision is expected in the coming months.

At least one animal rights advocate suggests a lone court decision won’t change society’s view of animal use. Rutgers Law School professor Gary Francione, who is not involved in the case, said that would require a broader cultural shift.

“I’ve been a vegan for 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, I disagree with animal use altogether,” Francione said. “Just to have the court start saying that non-human animals are persons under the law is going to raise all sorts of questions, the answers to which are not going to be amenable to many people.”

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Grubhub offered free lunches in New York City. That's when the chaos began

Tyler Merfeld co-owns Toad Style BK in New York and says his restaurant was overwhelmed by the promotion.

Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR

Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR

When I first saw that Grubhub was running a free lunch promotion for New Yorkers on Tuesday, my mind did not begin to ponder logistics or labor shortages.

All I thought was what kind of sandwich I would be treating myself to that day. Spoiler alert: I did not receive my sandwich.

The reality for myself, and many others who tried to redeem this deal in all five NYC boroughs, was a slew of canceled orders, undelivered food, and restaurants that found themselves overwhelmed by sudden — and unexpected — demand.

The problems began when Grubhub, the food delivery platform, began advertising a $15 credit for New Yorkers from 11am-2pm. Demand surged and at one point there were 6,000 orders a minute coming through the app.

Then it appeared to crash.

Social media was swamped with people complaining of long waits or that restaurants they frequented appeared to be unavailable for delivery, or just offline.

I did manage to successfully place my order at a local restaurant, Toad Style BK, but half an hour later received a message saying it had been canceled. The merchant had failed to accept my order.

So I went to investigate.

Abby Horetz, a line cook at Toad Style BK who was working at the time of the Grubhub promo, says that her first reaction to the influx of orders was plain confusion.

Abby Horetz is a line cook at Toad Style.

Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR

Manuela Lopez Restrepo/NPR

“We were getting six tickets at a time. I tried to pause it, but more just kept coming in,” she said.

On top of the flurry of orders, the restaurant was training a new hire, receiving a produce shipment, and getting a health inspection.

Tyler Merfeld, who co-owns Toad Style BK with his wife Jillian Camera, said that they were completely overwhelmed by the promotion. He said Grubhub didn’t directly inform them about the deal.

“I would totally welcome this kind of promotion,” Merfeld said. “It’s awesome to get so much business, but we would have liked to have had foresight. We could have had more people working. It was busier than the Super Bowl.”

@euffyxoxo If you’re wondering what free lunch looked like in NYC this afternoon…. All this food gone to waste! #nyc #foodwaste ♬ Song Oh no oh no oh no no no – Hip Hop

Other restaurants reported food waste because of the mismatch in orders and drivers. One user on Tiktok showed bags and containers of unclaimed orders being thrown away, writing: “This is what free lunch looks like.”

Horetz said that after a flood of orders, she noticed cancellations, and began saving finished orders for other customers so that they wouldn’t go to waste.

In a statement to NPR, Grubhub said it had sent advance notice to restaurants in preparation for the promotion and increased “driver incentives to help support demand”, but added that “no one could anticipate the level of demand and unfortunately that caused strain on some restaurants.”

For many hungry New Yorkers this week, there really was no such thing as a free lunch.

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Biden invokes the Defense Production Act for the baby formula shortage

Infant formula is stacked on a table during a baby formula drive to help with the shortage on Saturday in Houston.

David J. Phillip/AP

David J. Phillip/AP

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and authorized flights to import supply from overseas, as he faces mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant.

The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers, in an effort to eliminate production bottlenecks. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly formula supplies that meet federal standards from overseas to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.”

Supplies of baby formula across the country have been severely curtailed in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and increasingly anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children.

“I know parents across the country are worried about finding enough formula to feed their babies,” Biden said in a video statement released by the White House. “As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”

The announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S.

In a letter Wednesday to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, Biden directed the agencies to work with the Pentagon to identify overseas supply of formula that meets U.S. standards over the next week, so that chartered Defense Department flights can swiftly fly it to the U.S.

“Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped-up production,” Biden wrote.

Regulators said Monday that they’d reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its Sturgis, Michigan, plant, the nation’s largest formula plant, which has been closed since February due to contamination issues. The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production.

People wait in line during a baby formula drive to help with the baby formula shortage on Saturday in Houston.

David J. Phillip/AP

David J. Phillip/AP

After getting the FDA’s OK, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing.

“I’ve directed my team to do everything possible to ensure there’s enough safe baby formula and that it is quickly reaching families that need it the most,” Biden said in the statement, calling it “one of my top priorities.”

The White House actions come as the Democratic-led House is expected to approve two bills Wednesday addressing the baby formula shortage as lawmakers look to show progress on what has become a frightening development for many families.

One bill expected to have wide bipartisan support would give the secretary of the Department of Agriculture the ability to issue a narrow set of waivers in the event of a supply disruption. The goal is to give participants in an assistance program commonly known as WIC the ability to use vouchers to purchase formula from any producer rather than be limited to one brand that may be unavailable. The WIC program accounts for about half of infant formula sales in the U.S.

The other measure, a $28 million emergency spending bill to boost resources at the Food and Drug Administration, is expected to have less bipartisan support and it’s unclear whether the Senate will take it up.

“This is throwing more FDA staff at a problem that needs more production, not more FDA staff,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the money would increase FDA staffing to boost inspections of domestic and international suppliers, prevent fraudulent products from getting onto store shelves and acquire better data on the marketplace.

Abbott’s voluntary recall was triggered by four illnesses reported in babies who had consumed powdered formula from its plant. All four infants were hospitalized with a rare type of bacterial infection and two died.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant. Under Monday’s agreement, Abbott must regularly consult with an outside safety expert to restart and maintain production.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from two babies by federal investigators.

But FDA officials pushed back on that reasoning Monday on a call with reporters — their first time publicly addressing the company’s argument. FDA staffers noted they were unable to collect bacterial strains from two of the four patients, limiting their chances of finding a match.

“Right from the get-go we were limited in our ability to determine with a causal link whether the product was linked to these four cases because we only had sequences on two,” FDA’s food director Susan Mayne said.

Fixing the violations uncovered at Abbott’s plant will take time, according to former FDA officials. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

As part of the FDA’s new import policy, regulators said companies would need to provide documentation of their factory’s inspections.

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Mariupol has fallen to Russia. Here's what that means for Ukraine

A Russian serviceman patrols the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

The Ukrainian city of Mariupol is now in Russian hands, after more than two months of bitter fighting and constant Russian shelling that destroyed massive swaths of the city and killed thousands of civilians, according to local officials.

Ukraine formally declared an end to its combat mission in Mariupol late Monday. Evacuations of Ukrainian soldiers from the Azovstal steel plant, Ukraine’s last military holdout, began earlier that day.

The Russian Defense Ministry says nearly 1,000 soldiers have surrendered since then, including dozens of wounded soldiers being treated at a hospital in the Donetsk region of Ukraine controlled by Russian and separatist forces.

It is unclear how many Ukrainian soldiers remain in Mariupol. “The evacuation mission continues, it is overseen by our military and intelligence. The most influential international mediators are involved,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials said this week that they expect the evacuated soldiers to eventually be exchanged in prisoner of war swaps. But some Russian politicians have protested that idea, calling the Mariupol defenders “Nazi criminals.”

The fight for Mariupol had been a source of morale for Ukrainians as a “David and Goliath story,” said Rita Konaev, an expert on the Russian military at Georgetown University.

For months, Ukrainians had celebrated the small number of soldiers who managed to keep the city from falling into Russian hands, despite near-constant shelling and Russia’s firepower advantage.

“The main goal was to hold back the enemy, and they did it as long as possible. Thank you to our heroes, our defenders, for holding the fort of Mariupol for such a long time,” said Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, speaking on Ukrainian TV Monday.

Why was Russia so focused on seizing Mariupol?

Mariupol is located between Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the region of Eastern Ukraine called Donbas, much of which was already controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Most of the current fighting is taking place in the Donbas region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the “independence” of two enclaves there prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Those are the two areas — so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics — that have faced Russian aggression since 2014.

“Mariupol is right in between them. So taking Mariupol is part of the campaign in the south and the southeast to connect the Russian-held areas, essentially,” said Konaev, who spoke to NPR in March.

By controlling Mariupol, Russia has solidified its land bridge to Crimea and now controls the entire north shore of the Sea of Azov.

The central district of Mariupol on Wednesday, two days after Ukraine says it ended its combat mission in the city.

Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images

Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images

What could it mean for Ukraine that Mariupol is in Russian hands?

In the short term, the Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol had been cut off the rest of Ukraine’s armed forces for months. Only a few thousand were estimated to be left in the city by the time they were backed up into Azovstal.

The country is pursuing the return of those soldiers via prisoner swaps. “I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive,” Zelenskyy said earlier this week.

In the long term, Mariupol was an important economic center for Ukraine because of its status as a port city. In peacetime, it is a major site for exporting Ukrainian steel and grain.

That status has already been altered by war, Liam Collins, a retired colonel with U.S. Army Special Forces who has trained Ukrainian forces, told NPR in March. With Mariupol under siege, it’s not able to currently produce for the war effort, he said.

The major impact would come if a negotiated settlement partitions off part of Ukraine, said Collins: “Ukraine’s not going to want to do that after 2014 and 2015 [when Russia essentially took part of Eastern Ukraine], but it’s always a possibility.”

If Russia holds Mariupol for a long time, preventing Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov, it will damage Ukraine’s finances and economic sustainability, hindering the country’s ability to sell and ship its products.

“It’s part of a broader effort to effectively cut Ukraine off from access to the sea, which is a really important part of Ukrainian economy and trade,” Konaev said.

What was the fighting there like, and how did it come to focus on a steel plant?

Mariupol has been a focus of the Russian military from the beginning of its invasion. Russian forces reached Mariupol just days after the invasion began on Feb. 24, and they encircled the city by early March.

Through weeks of intense street fighting and relentless shelling, Russia pushed Ukrainian forces farther and farther back until they were pinned inside the Azovstal plant, their backs to the coast, with nowhere else to retreat.

On April 21, Russian military officials declared victory in Mariupol after capturing the rest of the city.

The humanitarian situation inside the city, described to NPR by people who fled from March through May, was deplorable. Residents leaving Mariupol uniformly described a lack of access to food, water, heat or communications. Many sheltered in basements for weeks on end as shells and airstrikes landed around them constantly.

Some of the war’s most shocking moments have occurred in Mariupol, including the destruction of a maternity hospital and a strike on the city’s Drama Theater, where more than 1,000 civilians were sheltering.

As the fighting came to the steel plant, hundreds of civilians were sheltering in the plant’s network of underground bunkers and tunnels that date back to the Soviet era. Many were evacuated earlier this month in convoys led by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.

“The last few days we were there, I became convinced that the steel plant was going to collapse on us. How could it stand up to this kind of bombing?” said Alex Dybko, an English teacher who sheltered in the plant for weeks with his wife and son before evacuating to Zaporizhzhia this month.

A Russian military vehicle painted with the letter Z drives past destroyed houses in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

What’s next for Mariupol?

Local officials say more than 20,000 civilians have died in the city. The damage to the city has been massive. Ukrainian officials say about 100,000 civilians remain in Mariupol, which was home to about 430,000 residents before the war.

This week, Russia organized the first press tours for foreign journalists to visit the city. It has largely been unsafe for the media since the war began.

U.S. officials have said that they believe that Russia could be looking to annex the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of eastern Ukraine this month. Mariupol is part of the Donetsk oblast.

“We believe that the Kremlin may try to hold sham referenda to try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy. This is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook,” Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told reporters earlier this month.

The U.S. and its allies recently said they will never recognize redrawn Ukrainian borders.

As for the larger war, Collins says Russia cannot win simply by conquering a certain amount of territory. “There are no winners in this. It’s war. Both nations are going to lose regardless of the outcome. It’s just a matter of which one loses more,” he said.

Additional reporting by NPR’s Joanna Kakissis and Hanna Palamarenko in Zaporizhzhia.

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New York attorney general launches probe of Twitch and Discord after Buffalo shooting

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday announced a probe into online platforms, including Twitch and 4chan, in connection with the Buffalo mass shooting.

Richard Drew/AP

Richard Drew/AP

The New York attorney general’s office said Wednesday that it has launched an investigation into tech platforms including video-streaming site Twitch, messaging platform Discord and the anonymous message board 4chan in connection with the mass shooting in Buffalo that killed 10 people.

“Time and time again, we have seen the real-world devastation that is borne of these dangerous and hateful platforms, and we are doing everything in our power to shine a spotlight on this alarming behavior and take action to ensure it never happens again,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul requested the investigation; she wrote to the state’s prosecutors that the Buffalo massacre “raises questions about the role of social media platforms in the promotion of violence. These questions need to be answered.”

The Buffalo suspect appears to have credited the racist memes and discussion found on 4chan with influencing him in an alleged 180-page screed posted online.

A person who identified as the suspect’s name, Payton Gendron, outlined plans on Discord for an attack.

A Discord spokesperson said the suspect used a private forum on the site as a digital journal. The company said shortly before the Buffalo attack, a small group of people were invited to the forum, but before that it was viewed only by the suspect.

And the suspect live-streamed the violence on Amazon-owned Twitch, which says it was able to remove the feed in less than two minutes after it started. Still, the graphic footage quickly spread across the internet.

In her statement, James said the investigation is targeting Twitch, 4chan, 8chan and Discord, but the probe may eventually include other tech platforms.

“The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence, and then stream it for the world to see is bone-chilling and unfathomable,” James said. “As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that were stolen, we are taking serious action to investigate these companies for their roles in this attack.”

The responsibility of social media companies in connection with radicalizing mass shooters and helping the individuals amplify footage of violence is a topic that has long been hotly debated.

And it is a discussion that is complicated by the legal landscape in the U.S., since online platforms are afforded sweeping protection from being held liable for what users post.

There are narrow ways to get around the legal shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, including if a social media site carries content that violates a federal criminal law.

“If a suspect commits a federal hate crime and prosecutors also name an online service as a defendant, Section 230 categorically does not apply to them,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. “However, the odds that an internet service would be held liable for a user’s hate crimes are very, very low.”

For attorney general James and other investigators attempting to hold tech companies to account for how people use the services, the legal road is always going to be a tough one, Goldman said.

He said courts have held that a platform’s content moderation decisions count as a kind of free speech protected by the First Amendment. In order to overcome that, a prosecutor would have to show that a social media company had enough knowledge of bad actions that broke the law.

“How much knowledge is enough? Generally simply knowing people are doing something bad on a service is not enough knowledge,” Goldman said.

Twitch and Discord say they are cooperating with several law enforcement agencies investigation the shooting, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement, Twitch noted the challenge of moderating live broadcasts on its platforms, noting that the company is “continuously evaluating our policies, processes and products to keep communities safe.”

Twitch added that: “Bigotry and hate don’t happen in a vacuum. They’re enabled by a permissive culture when we don’t create spaces where people feel empowered to speak up.”

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Illinois Bans Ghost Guns, Becoming 1st Midwestern State To Outlaw The Untraceable Weapons

AUBURN GRESHAM — A new state law bans a type of untraceable gun as local leaders face increasing pressure to drive down violent crime.

Governor JB Pritzker signed a law Wednesday to block the sale, possession, transfer, and manufacture of ghost guns, which are untraceable and unregistered, have no serial numbers and require no background checks to buy. Ghost guns can be assembled through kits, or created through 3D printers.

lllinois is the first state in the Midwest to enact the law. 

The legislation was spearheaded by State Sen. Jacqueline Collins and State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner, who is challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot for mayor in 2023. Lightfoot made an unscheduled appearance at Pritzker’s presser to praise the legislation.

More than 20,000 ghost guns were used in criminal investigations across the country in 2021, 10 times the number in 2016, Pritzker said. Chicago police confiscated nearly 500 ghost guns in 2021, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said.

“In short, in an America where gun violence has become a scourge on so many neighborhoods, Illinois is taking a common sense approach to advancing public safety and justice from all directions,” Pritzker said at a press conference at the Ark of St. Sabina, 7800 S. Racine Ave.

Buckner said cracking down on gun violence is especially critical to keeping young people safe, noting 16-year-old Seandell Holliday, who was shot and killed Downtown Saturday. Police said another teenager arrested at the scene but not connected to Holliday’s killing had a ghost gun.

“These dangerous weapons are not entering into our communities, they have entered, and they are affecting children at a young age and making all of us much less safe,” Buckner said. “This law will help prevent those guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people — whether they be kids, whether they be criminals who shoot up our streets and recruit our children into violent activities.”

Lightfoot said “mayors all over the country are grappling” with ghost guns and national legislation is needed to to prevent nearby states from funneling illegal guns into the state and “endangering lives here in the city.” 

“We must take this moment and appreciate the work that has been done, but the work is not over,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got to continue, and we cannot rest until we see every state step up, and particularly every state in the Midwest, so that Chicagoans can sleep a little bit easier knowing that these dangerous weapons of mass destruction … are off our streets and out of the hands of children once and forever.” 

Collins said the law will “drive healing” in Black and Brown communities that have “experienced fatal gun violence far more than their white counterparts.” 

“The attack on people of color occurring nationwide is fatiguing, disgusting and unfounded,” Collins said. “Our country must begin to prioritize the safety and well being of these targeted individuals, and I am proud to lead that charge in Illinois.” 

Community leaders, violence prevention organizers and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office also praised the legislation.

Delphine Cherry, founder of the Tender Youth Foundation and a survivor of gun violence, lost two children to gun violence 20 years apart. She said the ghost gun law is a step toward ending “senseless and preventable gun violence that destroys too many families and communities.” 

“While no law will stop gun violence, stopping the sale of deadly, untraceable guns will save many lives and stop many others from experiencing the pain I have to live through every day,” Cherry said. 

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West Fest 2022 Lineup Includes Lala Lala, Protomartyr, Deerhoof, Local DJs And More

WEST TOWN — West Fest is returning to West Town this July after a two-year COVID hiatus, featuring more than 20 bands and DJs, local vendors and more.

Sponsored by the West Town Chamber of Commerce, the annual street festival runs July 8-10 on Chicago Avenue between Wood Street and Damen Avenue.

Acts this year include local indie rockers Lala Lala, Detroit post punk band Protomartyr, experimental rock group Deerhoof and more. Local DJs like Derrick Carter and Mark Farina will perform at a special Chicago House DJ stage.

The festival also includes children’s entertainers as part of its Kids Fest. Attendees are also encouraged to bring their dogs to the Pets Fest, which will raise funds for animal rescue organizations.

Street vendors and local businesses will operate booths throughout the festival. West Fest is free with a $10 donation, which benefits the West Town Chamber, Talcott Fine Arts School, and Sabin Dual Language School.

West Fest and Do Division, also organized by the West Town Chamber, were canceled in 2020, instead offering live-streamed performances. They were canceled again in 2021. The city had cleared outdoor festivals to return during a dip of coronavirus cases but the green light came too late for Do Division to make necessary arrangements.

Here’s the full lineup:

Main stage:            

DJ stage:                

Credit: Facebook / Provided
West Fest Chicago

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Foxtrot Giving Away Cubs Tickets To Celebrate Opening Of Wrigleyville Store

WRIGLEYVILLE — Upscale convenience store and cafe Foxtrot opened Wednesday in Wrigleyville’s Gallagher Way, and it’s giving away Cubs tickets to celebrate.

The new Foxtrot store, 3649 N. Clark St., marks the brand’s 14th location in Chicago, according to a news release. Foxtrot is celebrating with deals and giveaways throughout the week, including a chance for shoppers to win tickets to Saturday’s Cubs game if they visit the store Wednesday.

Anyone who pays using Foxtrot’s app on Thursday or Friday will receive a free pack of the brand’s gummies, a Chicago magnet and a foam finger, according to the company. Saturday is family day, and the store will have a face-painter, cornhole games on the patio and a visit from Cubs mascot Clark.

Credit: Provided/Foxtrot
Foxtrot’s Wrigleyville store marks the brand’s 14th location in Chicago.

“Wrigleyville is home to so many of my favorite memories in the city, and the opportunity to open right outside of Wrigley Field is one we couldn’t be more excited to take on,” Mike LaVitola, co-founder and CEO of Foxtrot, previously said.

The 2,750-square-foot store is designed by Foxtrot’s in-house design team and Chicago-based architecture firm Range Design & Architecture, according to a Foxtrot news release.

The store offers all-day cafe service with a food menu and full coffee bar, as well as the brand’s shopping selection of everyday essentials, locally sourced goods and grab-and-go foods, according to Foxtrot. The store offers five-minute pickup and 30-minute delivery through its app.

“We’re excited to join this community and continue our growth throughout Chicago, and this location is also a fantastic opportunity to introduce Foxtrot to new customers who are visiting for a game or concert,” LaVitola said.

Credit: Provided/Foxtrot
Foxtrot offers a selection of everyday items, coffee and grab-and-go foods.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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Instead Of Demolishing Century And Consumer Buildings, Let Us Turn Them Into A National Archive Center, Preservationists Ask Feds

DOWNTOWN — Chicago preservationists are hoping to save the Loop’s historic Century and Consumer Buildings by transforming the neglected State Street skyscrapers into a National Archive Center.

Built in in the early 1910s, the two buildings at 202-220 S. State St. have been neglected by the federal government who bought the buildings in 2007 for a potential office expansion that never materialized, preservationists said.

A $141 million plan to build luxury apartments in the buildings was scrapped in 2019 over security concerns raised by judges at the Dirksen federal courthouse, which neighbors the buildings, according to the Tribune. Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have named the buildings to their most endangered lists.

RELATED: Century And Consumers Buildings, Beverly’s Pike House Top List Of Most Endangered Historic Places In Illinois

The federal government plans to tear the towers down at a cost of $52 million. But the Chicago Collaborative Archive Center, supported by Preservation Chicago, JLK Architects and Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, is proposing that the buildings be turned in a national archive center. Preservationists argue that an archive center would meet the security guidelines while serving as a major hub for archive-based research.

Credit: Chicago Collaborative Archive Center
A proposal to save the Century and Consumer Buildings along State Street includes turning the two buildings into a national archive center – the first of its kind for Chicago.

Under their plan, most of the building would be used for archival storage, which requires limited light and a 24-hour climate-controlled environment. This allows for the west walls facing the Federal Center to be sealed and eliminate the possibility of a security threat to the courthouse. Additionally, the center would have less than 30 employees and visitors would require a reservation, according to a news release.

There are already four archival groups interested in the proposed development, including the Franciscan Central Archives, Order of Franciscan Minor, 6 USA provinces, Archives of the Episcopal Church and McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies, according to the group.

“A collaborative archive of this proposed size is rare in the country,” said Christopher Allison, a historian and Director of the McGreal Center at Dominican University, in a statement. “It would become a major hub for archive-based research and would consolidate precious sources in one space.”

The proposal also includes classrooms, a lecture hall and exhibit space on the lower levels specifically facing State and Adams streets away from the federal buildings. Part of the building’s ground floor could be used for commercial space at State and Adams streets. Each of these spaces would have security on site, according to the plan’s executive summary.

“We are building great momentum on a plan for reuse for these extraordinary buildings,” Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said in a statement. “Our challenge now is to stop the federal wheels of demolition motion and steer toward a viable reuse.”

The proposal acknowledges renovation costs will be a challenge, but Chicago Collaborative Archive Center officials plan to apply for grants and tax credits to help with the cost.

“There are certainly many challenges in making this vision a reality, but we are taking actionable steps forward to achieve the ultimate goal,” said Holly Fiedler, province archivist for Sisters of St. Francis.

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