with Mariana Alfaro

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Whatever the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the White House has bet the safest and surest path to solving the nation’s policing crisis runs through Congress not the courts, not the streets, and definitely not a blue-ribbon commission.

Closing arguments in the Chauvin trial are due to begin Monday, after the former police officer opted not to take the stand and give his account of what led to the death of George Floyd, who succumbed after Chauvin knelt on his neck and back for over nine minutes.

“Several jurors indicated during jury selection that they were interested in hearing Chauvin’s side of the story. And some observers believed his testimony might have been the only way to undo some of the damage from weeks of deeply fraught testimony from prosecution witnesses, including young people at the scene who told the jury of the cold look” on Chauvin’s face as he knelt on Floyd’s neck, and the fear and helplessness they felt as they watched the Black man die.”

No matter the courtroom outcome, President Biden will still face intense political pressure to address the underlying systemic crisis in American law enforcement, amid ample data it disproportionately stops, searches, imprisons and kills Blacks.

In the latest incident but surely and sadly not the last authorities released a video of events leading to a Chicago police officer shooting and killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

“The graphic video, which the city's Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) posted to its website, shows the police officer chasing Adam through an alley, ordering him to stop and show his hands. Adam appears to stop at the opening in a fence, turn and raise his hands as the officer fires once, striking him in the chest.”

Days before Chauvin’s defense rested, the White House announced Sunday Biden was setting aside a campaign promise to bring together experts, advocates and other stakeholders to recommend how to redress racial disparities in policing.

Instead of a commission — a time-honored way for politicians to substitute showy motion for concrete movement on an issue — Biden will push for legislation, bearing Floyd’s name, aimed at making law enforcement more accountable.

“The administration made the considered judgment that a police commission, at this time, would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area, which is to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law,” Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, told Politico.

A commission might have kept the pressure on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Who would be on it? Who would lead it? What would its rules be? When would it report? — delaying the inevitable request for Congress to act by weeks or months.

“We believe that the George Floyd Act has a lot of the components that will help rebuild the trust, help put in place many of the reforms that are, frankly, long overdue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. 

By throwing its weight behind the legislation, the White House is putting the onus for action — and, implicitly, the possibility of blame for inaction — on lawmakers.

The legislation cleared the House last month with only Democratic support. Its fate is unclear in the Senate, where passage requires 10 Republican votes, assuming Democrats stick together.

The proposal’s lead Democratic author in the House, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) has been discussing the way forward with Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, CNN reported, meaning the final form of the proposal is in flux.

“The current version of the House bill, passed on March 3, would overhaul qualified immunity laws for law enforcement, prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, ban on no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and establish a national registry of police misconduct maintained by the Department of Justice. The bill would also ban chokeholds at the federal level and classify them as a civil rights violation,” CNN said.

“Qualified immunity” is a controversial legal doctrine, developed by the Supreme Court, used to shield law enforcement from civil lawsuits alleging violations of federal law in the commission of their duties. Supporters say it protects police acting in good faith in difficult circumstances. Critics say it serves to sweep abuses under the rug. 

Rice’s statement came as a White police officer shot and killed a Black man, Daunte Wright, 10 miles from the site of Chauvin’s trial. Former police officer Kim Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Democrats say they need more than justice in individual cases in individual courtrooms.

“You need to have justice for the killings of Daunte Wright and George Floyd, but you also have to be able to address the systems that allow this to happen over and over again,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) told MSNBC on Thursday.

The Floyd bill “would make a huge difference for our ability to stop the worst of these excessive use-of-force standards and also make it easier to hold police officers accountable,” she said.

That was the message also from former President Barack Obama, whose two terms were punctuated with incidents of police shooting Black men.

The fact that this could happen even as the city of Minneapolis is going through the trial of Derek Chauvin and reliving the heart-wrenching murder of George Floyd indicates not just how important it is to conduct a full and transparent investigation, but also just how badly we need to reimagine policing and public safety in this country,” Obama said in a statement.

Scientific research has found Blacks bear the brunt of policing in America, and that while Black drivers are more likely to be searched, White drivers are consistently more likely to be found with contraband.

A study of 100 million traffic stops carried out 2011-2018 by 21 state patrol agencies and 35 municipal police departments found “police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias.”

In June 2020, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Lazaro Gamio of the New York Times looked at trends in Minneapolis, where Blacks are 19 percent of the population but account for 58 percent of the city’s police use-of-force incidents. 

“[W]hen the police get physical — with kicks, neck holds, punches, shoves, takedowns, Mace, Tasers or other forms of muscle — nearly 60 percent of the time the person subject to that force is black. And that is according to the city’s own figures."

The Washington Post has chronicled every fatal shooting by on-duty police since 2015 and found, among other things, Blacks “account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans” — 36 per million against 15 per million, respectively.

Quote of the day

Adam had many dreams that he will never get to live out,” Adam Toledo's mother, Elizabeth Toledo, wrote on a GoFundMe page. “Ironically one of his dreams was to become a police officer.”

What’s happening now

A gunman killed eight and injured several others at a FedEx facility before apparently shooting himself, Indianapolis police say. Indianapolis Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt said police were still working to confirm the identities of the shooter and the victims, Teo Armus, Timothy Bella and Mark Berman report. The FBI is assisting with the investigation. 

Indiana GOP Sens. Mike Braun and Todd C. Young extended condolences this morning to the victims’ families. Young called the shooting “a senseless tragedy,” while Braun said he mourned “for the individuals who’ve senselessly lost their lives, all of their loved ones, and their co-workers at FedEx who will be dealing with this tragedy for a long time to come.”

Congressional Democrats this morning seized on the shooting, seeking to put additional pressure on the Senate to pass legislation already approved by the House to tighten background checks on firearms purchases, John Wagner reports. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) argued the inability to pass meaningful gun control underscores why the Senate should abolish the filibuster. “The Senate needs to act and pass gun reform — NOW," he tweeted. “And if the filibuster stands in the way? Abolish it. Thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough anymore.” In Indianapolis, city council member Ali Brown urged Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) to address gun violence. Holcomb ordered flags to fly half-staff. 

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, both Indiana natives, expressed exasperation that shootings continue at such a pace. “It’s only April, and it’s not the first mass shooting in my hometown THIS YEAR,” Klain, a native of Indianapolis, tweeted. “We wake up once more to news of a mass shooting, this time in Indiana,” Buttigieg tweeted. “No country should accept this now-routine horror. It’s long past time to act.” 

The father of an employee at the FedEx facility who survived the shooting broke down in tears outside, crying over the latest gun attack in America: 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • How the Justice Department came to investigate Rep. Matt Gaetz,” by Matt Zapotosky and Michael Scherer: “The missive arrived at an Orlando-area preparatory school in October 2019, outlining a damaging allegation against a music teacher there. The teacher, [Brian Beute], in the letter’s telling, had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the purported student who had written it. ... Beute, who had recently announced his candidacy in the local tax collector’s race, knew the allegation was a lie, as investigators quickly determined. But what he could not foresee is how the ploy to sabotage his run for local office would drag the seedy politics in Seminole County, Fla., into the national spotlight. ... The allegations against Beute, federal investigators concluded, had been fabricated by his incumbent opponent, Joel Greenberg. ... But when authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices ... they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving [Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)]. ... 
    “Beute ... said he believes fallout from the case could force a reckoning for the lax oversight and clubby nature of Florida’s political system. ... When Greenberg was first charged by federal authorities in June 2020, the indictment was only for stalking and unlawfully using the identity of another person — both counts stemming from his bid to smear Beute. But as investigators sifted through electronic devices, according to people familiar with the matter, they found evidence of more alleged wrongdoing, including payments to women over electronic platforms. ... State authorities had known of allegations of misconduct surrounding Greenberg for years and had shown little appetite to bring a criminal case. While it is possible federal authorities would have pursued the matter eventually, given the allegations surrounding Greenberg, the crime against Beute gave them an immediate reason to arrest the tax collector and eventually open the investigation into Gaetz.”

… and beyond

  • Cars will take the streets back unless cities act quickly,” by the Atlantic’s Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow: “With traffic congestion still well below normal levels, and with the memory of car-free streets still fresh, cities can keep reducing their dependence on private vehicle ownership by making their streets more attractive and accessible to people without cars. Of the 130 mayors interviewed last summer by Boston University researchers, nearly half said they had closed some roads to through traffic, and about a third had shut some roads to all car traffic. Sadly, only a handful intended to make the changes permanent.”
  • Mysterious ailment, mysterious relief: Vaccines help some covid long haulers,” by Kaiser Heatlh News’s Will Stone: “Judy Dodd, who lives in New York City, is one of them. She spent nearly a year plagued by headaches, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and problems with her sense of smell, among other symptoms. She said she worried that this ‘slog through life’ was going to be her new normal. Everything changed after she got her covid vaccine.”

The first 100 days

Biden will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga today, his presidency’s first visit by a foreign leader. 
  • The two leaders will hold a formal Rose Garden news conference this evening, Wagner reports. Suga landed in the U.S. yesterday and is scheduled to arrive at the White House early this afternoon for what the administration is billing as an “official working visit.” Until now, Biden’s meetings with other world leaders have all been done via video because of the pandemic. He has not yet traveled overseas as president. Suga will also meet with Vice President Harris.
  • A variety of Chinese actions, including military moves in the South China Sea and perceived threats to Taiwan are on the agenda, along with human rights concerns,” Anne Gearan and Simon Denyer report. “Biden will tread more lightly on questions of China’s economic reach, which includes deep ties to Japanese businesses, U.S. analysts predicted. In turn, they said Suga is unlikely to press Biden very hard about reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, for which administration officials have shown little appetite.”
  • Climate change is also expected to be high on the agenda,the Times reports. Suga’s visit comes a week before Biden’s virtual summit with 40 world leaders on reducing planet-warming pollution. “According to two administration officials, the administration has prodded the Japanese government to cut emissions in half from 2013 levels by the end of the decade, and it is hoping to see an announcement on Friday that Japan will end government funding for the development of coal plants overseas.”
Biden’s Supreme Court commission may weigh overhauls beyond expanding seats. 
  • The commission is expected to meet today for a private planning session. “The agenda, the people said, is a proposal to divide into five working groups to develop research for the entire body to analyze on a broad range of issues, like imposing term limits or mandatory retirement ages,” the Times’s Charlie Savage reports.
  • “Other areas include proposals to limit the court’s ability to strike down acts of Congress, to require it to hear more types of appeals to reverse the falling number of cases it resolves each year, and to limit its ability to resolve important matters without first hearing arguments and receiving full briefings.”
Only 200 lawmakers, officials and staff will likely be allowed to attend Biden’s April 28 address to Congress. 
  • “Strict safety protocols will remain in place for Biden’s April 28 joint address inside the House chamber," Politico’s Melanie Zanona and Sarah Ferris report. “Such tight limits mean Democrats are already jockeying to score one of the precious few seats." “It will be musical chairs,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), who's known for arriving early to the State of the Union in order to secure a good spot.
An annual vaccine booster shot may be needed.
  • “Biden’s chief science officer for the pandemic response, David Kessler, told a House subcommittee hearing Thursday that the United States should plan for booster shots in the future,” Erin Cunningham and Marisa Iati report. “Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla [also] said that a ‘likely scenario’ included the need for a third vaccine dose six to 12 months after inoculation, after which ‘there will be an annual revaccination.’”
Former president George W. Bush will publish a new collection of portraits of immigrants in America “to humanize the debate on immigration and reform.” 
  • “New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been,” Bush writes in a Post op-ed in which he lays out a framework for changes to the American immigration system, including a path to citizenship for “Dreamers,” the modernization of the asylum system and an increase in legal immigration opportunities.
  • “The issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party,” he writes. “And no proposal on immigration will have credibility without confidence that our laws are carried out consistently and in good faith.”
  • Of his new book, Bush jokes that it might not “set the art world stirring.”

The new world order

  • “Russia’s Putin convenes security meeting in response to U.S. sanctions,” Robyn Dixon reports. "Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on Friday as Moscow moved quickly to respond after U.S. sanctions and expulsions of diplomats, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Peskov said a presidential aide informed U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan of Russia’s response, but added no further details. He said the Security Council meeting also focused on military development.”
  • “Hong Kong sentences democracy activists to prison over peaceful protest,” Shibani Mahtani and Theodora Yu report: “The penalties for the nine defendants, following guilty verdicts earlier this month, marked a new low for the viability of democratic opposition in Hong Kong as Beijing remodels the city into one that resembles any other in China."
  • “Cuba’s Castro era to end as Raúl expected to step down from Communist Party post,” by Anthony Faiola: “The anticipated exit of Raúl Castro, 89, has been a chronicle of a retirement foretold. Fidel Castro’s younger brother has hinted for a decade at an expiration date to his public life; he’s expected to step down as first secretary of the Communist Party when it meets this weekend in Havana.”

Hot on the left

U.S. police and public officials donated to Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois man accused of murdering two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., last year. “A data breach at Christian crowdfunding website [GiveSendGo] has revealed that serving police officers and public officials have donated money to fundraisers for accused vigilante murderers, far-right activists, and fellow officers accused of shooting black Americans,” the Guardian reports. “In many of these cases, the donations were attached to their official email addresses, raising questions about the use of public resources in supporting such campaigns. ... [Rittenhouse’s GiveSendGo’s online fundraiser earned him] $586,940. ... One donation for $25, made on 3 September last year, was made anonymously, but associated with the official email address for Sgt William Kelly, who currently serves as the executive officer of internal affairs in the Norfolk police department in Virginia. ... That donation also carried a comment. ... ‘Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.’ ” 

Hot on the right

“Publishing company Simon & Schuster won’t distribute wounded cop’s book on Breonna Taylor,” the Louisville Courier Journal reports. “Post Hill Press, a Tennessee-based publisher, confirmed Thursday morning it is publishing a book by Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly. ... Simon & Schuster distributes books by writers published by Post Hill Press, but it will not do so with this book. ... Mattingly fired six rounds during the March 13, 2020, attempted search of Taylor's apartment, shooting Taylor. He had been shot in the thigh moments earlier by Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who later said he thought intruders were breaking in. ... Some of [Post Hill Press’s] most high-profile authors include right-wing favorites Dan Bongino, Laura Loomer and embattled GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz.”

Reagan National Airport new concourse, visualized

A new concourse, meant to replace the notorious Gate 35X, is only one part of the airport’s makeover. Other changes, to enhance security, include constructing security checkpoint buildings and placing National Hall behind TSA barriers, off-limits to non-passengers.

This weekend in Washington

Biden will meet Suga today at 1:30 p.m. in the White House. At 2:30 p.m., the two will hold an expanded bilateral meeting, and at 4:15, the two will participate in a news conference. In the evening, Biden will travel to Delaware, where he will spend the weekend. 

In closing

Seth Meyers said the WaterGaetz saga is symbolic of the current state of the GOP: 

And we leave you with an extraterrestrial mystery to mull over this weekend: The Pentagon confirmed that leaked 2019 photos and video of “unidentified aerial phenomena” are indeed legitimate images of unexplained objects, CNN reports