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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | Jan. 22-29

A summary of key events from this past week.

Former Vice President Mike Pence takes “full responsibility” for classified documents found at his private Indiana residence (Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Classified Documents Found at Former Vice President Pence’s Private Residence

This week, former Vice President Mike Pence reported that his staff had found a “small number of documents” from his time in the White House at his private residence in Carmel, Indiana. According to a letter from Mr. Pence’s representative, Greg Jacob, the documents were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to Pence’s house at the close of the Trump administration. In the wake of classified documents being found at former president Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden’s homes, Pence said he had thought “out of an abundance of caution it would be appropriate to review (his) personal records.” In their search, Pence’s staff found documents with classified markings, which Jacob wrote Pence “immediately secured… in a locked safe pending further direction on proper handling from the National Archives.”

For his part, Pence had directed his counsel to “fully cooperate” in any investigation. “While I was not aware that those classified documents were in our personal residence, let me be clear: those classified documents should not have been in my personal residence. Mistakes were made, and I take full responsibility,” Pence told reporters on Friday. “I think now’s the time when we just ought to rededicate ourselves to greater diligence,” he said, adding that he would “welcome a broader discussion in the Congress, and in the public debate about classified documents.”

Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram Accounts Restored

Two years after former U.S. President Donald Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram, Meta, the parent company of the two platforms, said it would reinstate the former president’s accounts. On January 7, 2021, the day after protestors stormed the Capitol building, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg removed Trump’s social media access, saying his posts ran the risk of inciting more violence. Now, the company has determined that the risk to public safety has “sufficiently receded” since January 2021. “The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad, and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.

Since Meta’s announcement, several Democrats have come out against the decision. “Trump incited an insurrection and tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff tweeted, “giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous.” However, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, emphasized that their decision to restore Trump’s account “does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.” He mentioned that Trump could be subject to a temporary ban for violating community guidelines, and for content that does not violate Meta’s rule but “contributes to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6, such as content that delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon,” Meta may limit distribution of the posts by removing the reshare button or removing the posts from feeds, leaving them available only on Trump’s page.

Still, it is unclear how much of an effect Meta’s actions will have. Many question whether Trump will even choose to use Facebook again. Since Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, lifted Trump’s ban in November, Trump has not tweeted once, instead using his own social media platform, Truth Social. Some experts claim that Meta’s move may also influence other social media companies to follow suit. “Usually these companies do fly in a flock and whoever makes the first movements, other companies do tend to try to, in succession, follow behind,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. However, some companies, such as Snapchat, have openly refused to restore Trump’s accounts. Others, like YouTube, Discord, Reddit, and several other companies have remained silent. Regardless of what happens, the decision to restore Trump's accounts is invariably a win for the former president as he begins his 2024 presidential campaign.

Protests Erupt Over the Murder of 29-Year-Old Tyre Nichols

On January 7, five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, pulled 29-year-old Tyre Nichols over for alleged reckless driving. Released bodycam footage shows officers pulling Nichols out of the car and pushing him to the ground. After he tried to run away, officers caught him in a neighborhood and proceeded to beat him aggressively. Three days later, Nichols died in the hospital from his injuries.

While the five officers involved were fired from the department and charged with second-degree murder, the release of the bodycam footage sparked protests across the country. While most demonstrations were peaceful, tensions were high in several cities. For example, officials shut down Grand Central Station in response to demonstrators gathering in Times Square. In Los Angeles, protestors tore down the protective barrier around the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. Several cities were even forced to call the National Guard to de-escalate. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency, allowing National Guardsmen to help in Atlanta. Despite all this, Nichols’ family has been adamant that protests must remain peaceful. “We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar. We do not want any type of disturbance,” said Rodney Wells, Nichols’ father. “I don’t want us burning up cities, tearing up our streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” added Nichol’s mother, RowVaughn Wells.

In response to the violence in Memphis, two Tennessee state lawmakers announced that they would introduce police reform legislation. According to Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who represents part of Memphis and is working on the bill, it would address mental health care for law enforcement officers, hiring, training, and discipline practices, among other things. However, this is only one example; all across the country, people have begun calling for police reform. On Capitol Hill, some Democrats have begun talking about reviving the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in 2020 but failed to gain traction in the Senate. “It’s the right starting point,” said Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “but that in and of itself is not enough. We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional, and humane way.”



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