A 50-car Union Pacific train derailed Saturday afternoon in Minnesota, leaving dozens of cars piled up in a lakeside wreckage.
The Albert Lea Police Department said in a statement that no one was injured in the derailment. The statement added that a Hazmat team was on scene “to assist with material load containment,” and that there was “nothing airborne at this time.”
Aerial footage from the local news station WCCO showed what appeared to be dozens of derailed train cars piled up on top of one another and partially submerged in water.
In the 11 months since the Black Lives Matter movement emerged across the country, scores of Republican-led states are attempting to crack down on protests by introducing what they call “anti-riot” legislation, The New York Times reported.
GOP lawmakers in two of those states – Minnesota and Indiana – want to step up penalties for protesters, seeking to bar people convicted of crimes during a protest from receiving student loans and unemployment aid.
On April 8, the Minnesota Legislature, led by Republican Sen. David Osmek, introduced a bill that would make anyone convicted of a protest-linked crime ineligible to receive student loans, mortgage assistance, and many other forms of state aid.
According to the bill text, a person convicted of a crime at any protest or civil rally “is ineligible for any type of state loan, grant, or assistance, including but not limited to college student loans and grants, rent and mortgage assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance, unemployment benefits and other employment assistance, Minnesota supplemental aid programs, business grants, medical assistance, general assistance, and energy assistance.”
This bill is particularly significant given the recent instances of police brutality in Minnesota, and the protests that have emerged around them. On Tuesday, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. His killing last May touched off a wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the nation.
As the Minnesota Daily reported, thousands of college students participated in protests in the state after Floyd’s death, and some University of Minnesota students are still awaiting their court date after being arrested for protesting in November.
And last Sunday, a Brooklyn Center police officer killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, prompting further protests and arrests of students in the area.
Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar spoke out against the bill shortly after it was introduced, saying that protesting is fundamental to the nature of this country.
“This particular provision (the bill) is created because, whether you want to say it or not, it’s created because there is a particular annoyance we have with a particular group of people who have decided to organize themselves because they are tired of being invisible and tired of being ignored,” Omar said.
The bill in Indiana mirrors the one Republican lawmakers put forward in Minnesota. It would prevent people convicted of protest-related crimes from tapping into unemployment benefits, student loans, public health insurance, and public housing.
It would bar those convicted of being part of an unlawful assembly from holding a state or local government job as well.
Other states are following with their own anti-protest bills. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed what he called an “anti-riot” bill into law which grants civil immunity to drivers who hit protesters and shields police departments from budget cuts
Civil rights advocates say that laws are already in the books to stave off riots and that Black Lives Matter demonstrations rarely turn violent. A report late last year from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit group, indicated that the vast majority (93%) of racial justice protests were peaceful.
The Washington Post analyzed 7,305 demonstrations last year, and found that 96% of them did not lead to destruction of property or violence against police officers.
The protests have been set against the backdrop of the trial against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. The courthouse where the trial takes place is only miles away from where an officer shot and killed Wright last week.
At the protest, Waters said she and the crowd are “looking for a guilty verdict” for Chauvin.
“We’ve got to stay in the streets, and we’ve got to demand justice,” she said, according to a video posted on Twitter from the event.
“I am hopeful that we will get a verdict that says, ‘guilty, guilty, guilty,’ and if we don’t, we cannot go away,” she added. “We’ve got to get more confrontational.”
Cruz, a Republican from Texas, blasted those remarks from Waters.
“Democrats actively encouraging riots & violence,” he tweeted in response, along with a Daily Mail article reporting Waters’ comments.
After Wright was killed, protests erupted in the streets of Brooklyn Center and the surrounding Minneapolis area.
Starting from day one of the protests, officials called in the National Guard and imposed a curfew. Protesters have since broken that curfew to demonstrate against police brutality.
At some of these protests, police clashed with demonstrators and fired tear gas and nonlethal rounds to disperse the crowds. Among the protesters who were tear-gassed was Wright’s aunt, Kelly Bryant.
She told Insider she watched people throw garbage at the police.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life. I was tear-gassed,” she said. “It was not a pretty sight. I was watching people loot and break windows, stealing stuff out of stores, burning stuff. It was bad. It was really bad.”
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The person who oversees Brooklyn Center’s day-to-day government operations was fired Monday, a day after police in the Minnesota city shot and killed a young Black man during a traffic stop.
“Effective immediately our city manager has been relieved of his duties,” Mayor Mike Elliott announced on Twitter.
On Sunday, a police officer in Brooklyn Center shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright in what their superiors insist is an accident. Body camera footage of the incident shows Wright scuffling with police and getting back into his car, at which point an officer can be heard shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Earlier in the day, Brooklyn Center City Manager Curt Boganey, amid calls to fire the officer who pulled the trigger, said all employees of the city are entitled to “due process with respect to discipline.”
“This employee will receive due process,” he said, “and that’s really all I can say today.”
He was removed from his position soon after. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, city council members also voted 3-2 to hand the former city manager’s authority over the police department to the mayor.
Wright’s killing comes at a particularly fraught time, as less than 20 minutes away, jurors hear testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
An individual who gets drunk on their own can not be qualified as “mentally incapacitated” in a rape case, the Minnesota Supreme Court said in a ruling released Wednesday.
The ruling comes in the case of man who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman he met following an incident where she was denied entry to a bar for being too drunk.
Francois Momolu Khalil was appealing the 2019 case in which he was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct because the woman was considered “mentally incapacitated.”
Court documents from the appeal said Khalil and two of his friends invited the woman and a friend to a party but instead took them to a private home where the woman, who was only identified by her initials, blacked out.
She woke up to find Khalil raping her. After telling him to stop, she then passed out again.
In a decision written by Justice Paul Thissen, the state’s supreme court said that the definition of “mentally incapacitated” – which was used by the lower court – “does not include a person who is voluntarily intoxicated by alcohol,” meaning that the designation only applies when the alcohol was given to someone without their knowledge.
This “unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute,” they added.
The ruling has garnered criticism from sexual assault survivors and advocates, including Abby Honold, who told MPR News that the language of the statute has always been a loophole that makes it difficult for sexual assault survivors to bring cases forward.
“There are a lot of people who are told when they report now, and when their case is referred to a prosecutor that essentially their sexual assault was technically legal. It’s always so heartbreaking to have to hear that from yet another survivor who came forward and reported,” Honold told the outlet.
In response to the ruling, state rep. Kelly Moller said she is sponsoring legislation that says consent can’t be given if a victim is incapacitated, even if they voluntarily took drugs or alcohol.
“Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice. Our laws must clearly reflect that understanding, and today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights the urgency lawmakers have to close this and other loopholes throughout our CSC law,” Rep. Moller said.
“Prosecutors, survivors, and advocates have identified the problem and the CSC Working Group did incredibly tough work to identify the solutions. Minnesotans who experience unthinkable trauma deserve to see the Legislature take action on this immediately.”
Khalil is serving a five-year prison sentence but his lawyer, Will Walker, told MPR News that he anticipates he will be released soon.
Insider has reached out to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office for comment.
Most recently, the Minnesota Department of Health identified 89 “breakthrough” infections in people who got two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
More than 800,000 people have been fully vaccinated in Minnesota to date, putting the breakthrough rate at around 0.01%.
“That’s well below one tenth of one percent – an incredibly small number of cases that dramatically illustrates how effective these vaccines are,” state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said in a briefing Wednesday.
Fully vaccinated people are less likely to get severe COVID-19
Although a small number of fully vaccinated people do get infected with COVID-19, they’re likely to have milder cases than they would’ve had they not gotten the vaccine.
Some breakthrough cases in Minnesota required hospitalization, but their outcomes were better overall, Andrew Olson, director of hospital medicine at M Health Fairview, told AP News.
None of the 89 fully vaccinated Minnesotans who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, Ehersmann said in the briefing Wednesday.
“It’s important to know that even if someone is vaccinated and then goes on to be one of the few unfortunate people to develop a breakthrough case, there still can be some level of protection provided by the vaccine,” she said.
When we reach herd immunity, breakthrough cases will be even less common
Breakthrough cases are not a reason to doubt vaccine effectiveness, Ehersmann said in the briefing. Health officials weren’t shocked that some vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-19; in fact, they were pleasantly surprised that the case rate for that group was so low.
Even if a small number of vaccinated people do get sick, their vaccinations bring the country closer to reaching the herd immunity threshold, where the people immune to the coronavirus will outnumber those who are not protected.
“At that point, the virus will not be able to find the small number of people who remain susceptible, either because they didn’t get vaccinated or because they didn’t have a strong enough immune response to the vaccine,” Ehersmann said.
The first known case of a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant from Brazil was reported in Minnesota on Monday, according to state public health officials.
The mutated coronavirus strain from Brazil is another known variant to be detected in the US, alongside another strain that was first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7.
Another variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, has also been reported originating from South Africa, B1.351, but infections from the strain have not been reported in the US as of Monday.
“The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today announced that its Public Health Laboratory has found the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil,” state health officials said in a statement Monday.
The person is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area, and started to develop symptoms during the first week of January, health officials said. A test sample from the patient was collected on January 9.
The infection from the Brazilian strain P.1 was detected through the health department’s “variant surveillance program,” in which the program collects 50 random samples from clinical laboratories and testing partners and tests the samples through whole-genome sequencing, according to the statement.
“We’re thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement.
Scientists have been particularly concerned about the P.1 coronavirus strain after the rapid surge of infections in the Brazilian city of Manaus, The Washington Post reported.
Mutations of a virus can occur in areas where the original strain runs rampant, which may have been the case in the UK and Brazil. A study published in the research journal Science found that more than three-quarters of the population in Manaus had already been infected by the coronavirus, which should have put residents close to herd immunity from the virus.
“We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do,” Malcolm said. “That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to evolve.”
“The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate,” the Minnesota health commissioner continued.