Mar 9, 2023 - Podcasts

DOJ finds Louisville police violated civil rights

The Louisville Metro Police Department has engaged in systemic discriminatory practices that violate the U.S. Constitution, according to a new report released yesterday from the Department of Justice.

  • Plus, local libraries find new ways to support communities.
  • And, Arkansas loosens child labor laws.

Guests: The Washington Post's David Nakamura and San Jose Public Library's Jill Bourne.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, March 9th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: local libraries find new ways to support communities. Plus, Arkansas loosens its child labor protections. But first, the DOJ says Louisville, Kentucky police repeatedly violated civil rights. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

DOJ says Louisville police repeatedly violated civil rights

NIALA: The Louisville Metro Police Department has engaged in systemic discriminatory practices that violate the U.S. Constitution. That's according to a new report released yesterday from the U.S. Department of Justice. It's the culmination of a two year investigation launched after the 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who was shot to death by Louisville Police. David Nakamura covers the Justice Department and Civil Rights for the Washington Post, and he’s here with more –

So David, we’re almost at the 3-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death… what exactly did this DOJ report say?

DAVID NAKAMURA: The main takeaways was that this department consistently used excessive force, uh, and made a number of civil rights violations, in the years leading up to Breonna Taylor’s killing. And this is something that advocates there had been talking about for years. The Justice Department has a number of specific incidents, some of which had been made public before, some of which have not, about, uh, officers mistreating, particularly Black people, Black suspects, uh, using tasers inappropriately, immediately escalating situations, throwing people to the ground, beating them with their flashlight. In one case, a woman who was in an arguing room with some other folks, they beat her several times with a flashlight. So many times the officers didn't even recall how many. And these are incidents that have piled up and the idea is that, the Justice Department is now saying, look, this is something that was happening well before Breonna Taylor's death, and it's something that the department really needs to take serious and, and sort of sweeping action to, to fix.

NIALA: And so there's this negotiated agreement between the Louisville Police Department and the Justice Department. What will that achieve?

DAVID: The federal investigation now, uh, kicks off a negotiating round in which, uh, the two sides will come to some sort of agreement to probably install a federal monitor. And layout basically hundreds of reforms and changes, some of which the department has already been trying to undertake in the past two years. This is a process now called the consent agreement, that once it's approved by the court, could last five years or even longer as we've seen in other cities.

NIALA: And how has that worked in other cities? Because this isn't the first time we've seen the DOJ get involved.

DAVID: Congress gave the DOJ the power to have these consent agreements after Rodney King's beating in Los Angeles. But there's been very mixed, uh, you know, outcomes. In some cases, departments have had to go under a second, federal oversight. And there's been cases where they've showed some progress, but in the end, a lot of the money that's spent, advocates on the ground, legal experts have said these are not the big sweeping changes that federal officials have hoped for. In other cases, they've seen more progress about a reduction of excessive force among some police. Uh, Vanita Gupta, number three official in DOJ, today cited some of those cases. She said Baltimore has shown some improvements and New Orleans. But it's, no, it's no given and it costs a lot of money for each city and could last quite a long time.

NIALA: And are there broader implications for police departments across the country?

DAVID: There are broader implications because this Department of Justice under Merrick Garland has, you know, reinstated the use of these consent decrees and these what are called pattern and practice investigations, which are really powerful federal, uh, oversight. Dozens of federal officials have been in, in Louisville over the, periodically over the past two years. They've looked through all the body camera footage, uh, records, facilities training, accountability. And this is something where they're saying, look, other departments need to take notice of this. It's expensive, it's time consuming, it's disruptive to some, in some ways if they don't want to feist this kind of oversight from the federal government they need to get in gear and make changes proactively. This is a message that DOJ has sent out that, uh, these are coming, if you don't fix your police department.

NIALA: David Nakamura covers the Justice Department and Civil Rights for the Washington Post. Thanks David.

DAVID: Anytime. Thanks a lot.

Arkansas loosens child labor laws

NIALA: Now, an update to a story we’ve been following, now…

In Arkansas, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed a law loosening restrictions on child labor.

According to the Youth Hiring Act of 2023, those under 16 in Arkansas no longer have to verify their age or include a written consent from a parent or guardian before getting hired.

This comes soon after the U.S. Labor Department announced a crackdown on child labor laws – after tracking a 69% increase in illegally employed kids since 2018. We’ll keep watching this story.

After the break: the changing role of local libraries.

Local libraries find new ways to support communities

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Three years after the start of Covid-19, many US libraries have permanently changed their offerings and their roles in their communities in response to the challenges of the pandemic. We asked you to tell us about your relationship to your local library today, and it turns out so many of you had something to say. Here's some of what you told us.

LEE: My name is Lee and I live in Charleston, South Carolina. I am a trauma therapist and the world has changed and gotten a lot more stressful for a lot of us the past several years. And I've realized that I need to make more time in my life for the important things. And making my weekly trek to the library is top on that list. I go every Friday, not only pick up my books, but to chat with the librarians, many of whom have been employed there since we moved here in 2008. So it's also a sense of community and continuity. Kind of an anchor during a lot of instability.

DEAN: Hello, my name's Dean Gandley from Rocky Point in New York. What we've seen in our public library is over here in the third district is smart recovery programs. Where they have not only people struggling with addiction coming to these programs, but you also have family members and they have meetings so they can learn how to deal with a member of the family with an opioid addiction or an addiction in general.

KALEB: This is Kaleb Eisele from Portland, Oregon. I have been a writer and remote worker for the past several years, and even before Covid, public libraries have been the safest and most reliable place for me to go and do my work. I am in different libraries all over my state, and I couldn't do what I do without them.

NIALA: Thanks to everyone who sent in their thoughts.

One library system that's serving its community in a new way is in San Jose, California, where they’re leading an initiative to get more residents connected to broadband internet. Jill Bourne is the city librarian of San Jose. I spoke to her recently at a Knight foundation library conference in Miami.

JILL BOURNE: While San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley, we actually have many, many households either unconnected or under connected, and many households who are technically connected, but their only connection is a smartphone. And so really we've had the dialogue for a while of, you know, how can we help our residents become more connected. And recognizing that if we're truly gonna try to achieve equity for our communities, we need to make sure that all of our residents have access to strong broadband access. and really speed up our response to that very urgent need in our community.

NIALA: I think people tend to think you can check out a mobile hotspot at a library. You know, we've even heard of people offering cell phones in different communities, like in Las Vegas from their public library system. You're talking about actually broadband access and building wifi networks and the library's involved in that.

JILL: Correct. So the library is involved in leading that effort, which is actually implemented by partners, consultants that we've hired to do a lot of the work. And our Department of Transportation is a key partner because they have the assets, the actual light poles are utilized to mount the wifi antennas on. And, one of our projects was to partner with our largest high school district, which has happened to be in the Eastside of San Jose, which is the most unconnected of our communities. And, um, we co-funded the build out of community wifi networks in the attendance areas of the seven high schools in the district.

And so, um, we were really able to accelerate that during the pandemic because there were one time funds available through federal sources. This became a really ideal, uh, way to utilize that fund because we already had a strong partner who had funding and we were able to partner together to accelerate all those projects. So we actually have, I believe four of the networks are up and running, and the other three are gonna be completed within this fiscal year. When all the networks are up and running, it's effectively gonna connect about 300,000 residents to free internet. And I think in the end it actually made total sense for the library to lead this initiative. Even though in the beginning it seemed very sort of strange.

NIALA: So how would you define a library's role in a community when it comes to technology now post pandemic for you all with the San Jose Public Library?

JILL: The library's role is really around working with community to understand what their individual needs are and then how, what kind of tools, what kind of support they need to be able to pursue those goals for themselves. It's not unlike how we've always built collections, how we always provided computer access in our buildings. The library is very connected to the community, and the community trusts and wants their libraries.

NIALA: Jill Bourne is the city librarian in charge of San Jose's Public Library. Thanks, Jill.

JILL: Thank you so much.

NIALA: Remember you can always text your thoughts and ideas to me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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