In This Episode
- The Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke earlier this year will not face any criminal charges. Locke was a 22-year-old Black man who was killed while members of the Minneapolis Police SWAT team executed a no-knock warrant on his cousin’s apartment.
- An FDA advisory committee met yesterday to discuss the next phase of COVID vaccines and boosters. Dr. Abdul el-Sayed, an epidemiologist and the host of Crooked’s “America Dissected” joins us to discuss what might come next as we consider the fall months.
- And in headlines: Ukrainian officials are building cases against Russia for alleged war crimes, the president of Sri Lanka is defying calls to step down, and oil and gas executives appeared before a House committee yesterday.
NY Times: “Promised a New Culture, Women Say the N.F.L. Instead Pushed Them Aside” – https://nyti.ms/3jjdi9L
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Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, April 7th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where the odds that we’ll watch this year’s Oscar movies are getting worse by the day.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, as we get further and further away from Hollywood’s biggest night, the chance of a Coda viewing drops closer to zero.
Priyanka Aribindi: I may never actually know how powerful is the dog.
Gideon Resnick: Or what a dune is, in this particular context. On today’s show, an FDA advisory committee talks vaccine strategy. Plus attorneys general from six states tell the NFL that they might bring legal action against the league if it doesn’t become a better workplace for women.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke earlier this year will not face any criminal charges. Locke was a 22-year old Black man and he was killed on February 2nd, while members of the Minneapolis police SWAT team executed a no-knock warrant in his cousin’s apartment. Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Hennepin County attorney who reviewed the case, said that this may not have happened if it was not for the no-knock warrant. But yesterday they announced that there was insufficient, admissible evidence to file criminal charges against the officer. Mark Hanneman.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that point about the no-knock warrant seems the most salient of those. And so because this happened a little while back, can you give us a refresher on some of the details here?
Priyanka Aribindi: Sure. So the body camera footage was released by the Minneapolis Police Department, and it shows Locke appearing to wake up as officers burst into the apartment, shining a light into his face. As he sits up, a gun can be seen in his hand, but then three gunshots are heard, all of them fired by one officer, Mark Hanneman. It remains unclear if Locke was even told to drop the gun in his hand. All of this happens extremely quickly in under 10 seconds. There are also a bunch of other details adding to the egregious nature of his death and what follows. For one, he didn’t actually live in the apartment where he was killed and wasn’t named on the warrant. But police nonetheless initially described him as a suspect. Later, they said that they were incorrect and that the error was caused by a lack of information, but Locke’s parents were understandably incensed by this. They said the police were trying to smear him by saying this, and they noted that Amir was licensed to carry a firearm in the first place.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So what was the reaction to yesterday’s announcement that the officer, who is still on the force, is not going to face any criminal charges?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, as you can imagine, people are really not OK with this decision. Here is Locke’s mother, Karen Wells.
[clip of Karen Wells] I am not disappointed. I am disgusted with the city of Minneapolis.
Priyanka Aribindi: She vowed to keep the pressure on Minneapolis lawmakers and address the officer, saying this:
[clip of Karen Wells] This is not over. You may have been found not guilty, but in the eyes of me, being the mother who I am, you are guilty.
Gideon Resnick: And the Minneapolis police were already under, shall we say, a microscope for several high-profile cases of brutality. That includes George Floyd’s murder nearly two years ago, as well as the police killing of Dante Wright just last year. So what is the status now of attempts to reform the department?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yet incidents like this have really happened way too often here and around the country. The city’s police department is currently under what’s called a “patterns and practices investigation” by the Justice Department. Their Civil Rights Division. And Amir Locke’s case is reportedly being looked at as part of that inquiry. In Minneapolis, people have protested police brutality for years, but they are still very split on how to actually reform the police. Last fall, voters there rejected a ballot initiative that would have replaced their police department with a new agency that offered major reforms. And when it comes to no-knock warrants, which have been at the forefront of some of these conversations since Breonna Taylor’s death in 2020, progress hasn’t entirely been achieved either. After Floyd’s death, the mayor of Minneapolis implemented a new policy that his campaign called a ban on these no-knock warrants, but the wording still allowed police to use them, namely in this situation. On Tuesday, the mayor put forth an update to the policy, but it still allows for exceptions in quote, “exigent circumstances.” Since his killing, Locke’s family has been pushing for these kinds of warrants to be banned completely in Minnesota and nationwide.
Gideon Resnick: Right. Makes all the sense in the world. Moving to another story that we’ve been following: yesterday, a panel of experts advising the FDA met to discuss a lot of things related to the pandemic in the U.S.. This came after the FDA had authorized a second vaccine booster for people 50 and over and those with immunocompromising conditions. The agency based that decision in large part on data from Israel showing that an additional booster provided more short-term protection for adults 60 and older. Though the protection against infection, not severe disease or hospitalization, waned after about four weeks.
Priyanka Aribindi: Got it. OK, so what were some of the major takeaways of yesterday’s meeting?
Gideon Resnick: It seemed like there was a lot of uncertainty, which is not the most reassuring thing to say, but it is true. So much of the conversation was around what is going to happen potentially in the fall and winter of this year, and what a U.S. strategy should look like in response to that given what we know now. So there were a lot of overlapping concerns about this fall. For instance, potentially more transmission, as there has been seasonally for our pandemic lives, waning collective immunity, and the conceivable evolution of this virus, which seems to like to evolve in an annoying amount of ways. So the FDA advisory panel did not actually come up with a framework yesterday on exactly when or how a vaccine could potentially be altered before the fall. But the panel did indicate that it’s likely going to meet again in the summer to talk more in-depth about all of this.
Priyanka Aribindi: OK, so if they do eventually recommend an update to COVID vaccines, what should we know about how long something like that could even take?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it seems like it has to happen relatively soon, or the decision does, at least. So the timeframe, would be somewhat narrow, according to Robert Johnson of the Department of Health and Human Services. He said that it would be challenging to pull this off in time if companies were not on the way to a clinical trial by actually around the beginning of next month.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh wow.
Gideon Resnick: So again, there are so many uncertainties in a moment filled with moving targets, as smarter people than me have referred to it. One of them is the expert take I wanted to get on this, so I caught up yesterday with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He is an epidemiologist. He is the host of America. Dissected. He is our resident expert in these confusing moments. I asked him about this hearing and what might come next.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, the thing to remember, Gideon is that we are talking about multiple moving targets, right? And the question right now is A, are we going to see a surge now? The second is, is there going to be a surge in the fall, and are cases are going to go up then? The third question is, if there is a surge in the fall, what is the variant that would cause it? And then from there, the next question is, how effective will our current vaccines be against that? Next question is, will there be a better version of the vaccine against that? And how do we know? And when will we know? Will we know fast enough to be able to actually develop and manufacture new vaccines before then? And then the last question is how much immunity will we have by then? So a lot of moving targets. It’d be like skeet shooting, but you don’t really know what gun you’re going to use, you don’t know when the disc is going to be fired, you don’t know what you have for bullets, and ultimately, you don’t know whether or not your bullets will actually destroy the disc if they hit them.
Gideon Resnick: Great. So we have a lot of information to run with. Love where we’re at. So let’s talk about the hypothetical of a new vaccine is, let’s say, reformatted, if you will, for lack of a better word, in order to confront a changing virus. What would the likely timeline on that be?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So according to the advisory committee meeting, experts think that we’d have to have a trial end by latest June to be able to actually develop and manufacture enough vaccine for a new version of the booster. But again, efficacy is waning here. And so the question is, can we create something new? But ultimately, we’re at this moving targets problem because we don’t know what viral evolution will have for us. Frankly, we don’t even know if there’s going to be a surge in the fall. We’re just basing it off of the fact that every fall through COVID, there has been some surge. The high likelihood is that even if there was a surge, it wouldn’t be as bad as what we just came through when it came to Omicron. But you still want to protect, you know, life and livelihood.
Gideon Resnick: And when we are doing this difficult task of sort of extrapolating out here and we sort of think about what the rest of the year might look like, how much of the kind of collective immunity that we are imagining is about boosters potentially wearing off in efficacy, or needing something else because the virus itself has changed.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to be clear here, this isn’t wearing off like when you breathe helium and then all of a sudden your voice goes high and then comes back to complete normal. When we talk about waning efficacy, we’re just saying that it’s not as effective as it is, you know, two months after a dose. And so you’re going really from somewhere around the high 80s to 90% effective, to something like high 60s, 66%, 70% effective. So there’s still immunity that you get built up over all of these doses that you had. So I don’t want people to think that all of a sudden their immunity is gone. So that’s important to remember. The other question here is, you know, how high can we expect a new dose to give us? What is the difference across a whole population of being in the 70s versus being in the 90s when you’re talking about herd immunity? And so as you think about it, it’s not just the vaccines that people have had, it’s also the fact that best estimates suggest that Omicron affected about 45% of the population. And so it’s also the natural immunity that you get there. And so I wish I could give you a very solid answer, but the collective immunity that we have is likely rather high. The question is whether or not it would be worth vaccinating the whole population again in order to bump that up in the face of a new surge. The last point I’ll say here is if you look at the strategy that the FDA and the CDC followed, they’re recommending vaccines to people who could have a potentially really bad outcome. Right? And so in some respects they’re splitting the difference between the idea of living with the virus and protecting people who potentially could get really sick if they were infected.
Gideon Resnick: So Priyanka, that’s my chat with the host of American Dissected, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. We will, of course, update you as things progress here, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: in Ukraine, Russia has withdrawn all of its troops that had once surrounded the cities of Kiev and Chernihiv, according to a senior Pentagon official. But in the eastern side of the country, civilians are rapidly fleeing based on reports that Russian forces are preparing to mount a stronger offensive in that region. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are collecting data about the massive death and destruction that has been leveled across their country. They say they’re using about 50,000 investigators to build cases against Russia for alleged war crimes. Then, on the international stage, the U.S. and other allies imposed even more sanctions on Russia yesterday, by targeting two of the country’s biggest banks. The move effectively freezes Russia out of America’s financial system. Here’s President Biden speaking yesterday:
[clip of President Biden] Together with our allies and our partners, we’re going to keep raising the economic cost and ratchet up the pain for Putin and further increase Russia’s economic isolation.
Gideon Resnick: The White House also announced that it is sanctioning close associates of Vladimir Putin, including his adult daughters, so that they are cut off from any of their assets held in the U.S.
Priyanka Aribindi: The president of Sri Lanka is defying calls to step down as his country weathers a historic economic crisis, which partly resulted from his policies. Amid widespread protests that began in response to shortages of food, water, and fuel, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a national emergency last week that allowed him to suspend laws, authorize arrests without warrants, and seize property–OK, that is wild. That coincided with the resignation of his entire cabinet, with the exception of the President’s brother, the Prime Minister. Rajapaksa revoked his emergency order on Tuesday. The situation remains unstable, with former members of his ruling coalition calling for the formation of a new interim government. Among Sri Lankan citizens, the economic crisis has been extremely hard-felt. It has involved waiting in endless lines for basic goods, which the government is rationing. Blackouts have been frequent. And some lawmakers are warning that shortages could only get worse.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Priyanka Aribindi: Sounds like a nightmare.
Gideon Resnick: The league where the goal seems to be getting the ball onto the wrong side of history, the National Football League, could face consequences for fostering discrimination and sexism. Attorneys general from six states sent a letter to. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday saying that the league needs to improve its workplace culture for women, otherwise they might take legal action. The AGs were prompted by a New York Times article in February that detailed complaints from over 30 former NFL employees. We’ll link to that story in our show notes, but for one example, one woman described a meeting about the 2014 video showing then-NFL player Ray Rice beating his then fiancée unconscious. In that meeting, the female employee said that a male colleague argued that Rice’s fiancée shared the blame for the incident cheese–geez–and that others in the room agreed with him.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh my god!
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I don’t want to think about that exchange any further. The AGs that cosigned yesterday’s letter are from New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington. In response, the NFL issued a statement that said it is already working to make the league better for women and quote,” We look forward to sharing with the attorneys general the policies, practices, protocols, education programs, and partnerships we have implemented to act on this commitment”. This is the like we hear you, Succession line.
Priyanka Aribindi: What in the PR bullshit does that even mean?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So this new letter comes on top of an existing congressional investigation into how the NFL handled widespread claims of sexual harassment by former female employees of Washington’s team, the Commanders.
Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, I don’t know much about football. I am not particularly a fan, but just having been on this show, reporting on these stories for the past few months . . .
Gideon Resnick: Things aren’t right there.
Priyanka Aribindi: I got to say this seems like the shittiest workplace in America. If you are at the NFL, someone come on this podcast, we’d love to talk to you. We got questions.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. It’s bad.
Priyanka Aribindi: The out-of-the-box thinkers who had the idea to put the number six on science at gas stations, oil and gas executives for the country’s largest companies, appeared before a house committee yesterday to defend themselves against accusations of price gouging. Energy companies are currently raking in record profits, and at the same time, President Biden’s approval ratings are near the lowest of his presidency as conservatives fight to tag him with the high gas prices that Americans are seeing at the pump. Those prices shot up in late February as Russia invaded Ukraine. At yesterday’s hearing, the oil company executives insisted that the prices were tied to forces beyond their control and that they’re not attempting to make money off of the war. Republicans at the hearing pointed to Biden’s energy policies and regulations as the cause of high prices, but the real explanation is a simple supply and demand one. People are driving around again but gas production hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. The hearing put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of pushing executives to produce more fossil fuels faster, which would lower prices. The evil goo called crude oil, truly has us up against the ropes, and the only way to knock it out is with a fistful of windmills and solar panels.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s our Fern Gully script. We’re still working on it, but those are the contours. Hopefully, people will buy it from us. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, close your eyes when you see the numbers on the gas pump, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just reviews of never-to-be-watched Oscar movies like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And let’s knock out the goo!
Gideon Resnick: It is our only slim chance of survival.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, knock out the goo. It’s bad.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.