Culture News

Tekashi 6ix9ine Is Afraid of Dying from Coronavirus in Prison, and He's Not Alone.

Healthcare professionals say that nonviolent and at-risk prisoners must released from facilities ASAP.

UPDATE: Tekashi 6ix9ine was released from prison this week. He will serve the rest of his sentence on house arrest.

The rapper, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, was incarcerated in December 2019 for involvement in a violent street gang. His lawyer, Lance Lazzarro, has called for his immediate release due to the fact that Hernandez suffers from asthma, a vulnerability that puts him at risk from coronavirus. Hernandez was also hospitalized last year for bronchitis and sinusitis, and he has been suffering from shortness of breath, one of the main symptoms of COVID-19.

"Mr. Hernandez has been complaining to prison officials this week of shortness of breath, but apparently the warden of his facility will not allow Mr. Hernandez to go to the hospital despite the recommendation of the facility's medical director that Mr. Hernandez be treated by a doctor at a hospital," Lazzaro said.

In Britain, Julian Assange's lawyers are also requesting the WikiLeaks founder's release on the basis of health risks. He will make an application for bail on Wednesday.

Tekashi 6ix9ine Isn't the Only Immunocompromised Prisoner—Most Just Don't Have Lawyers

Tekashi 6ix9ine and Julian Assange are a few of the many current prison inmates facing profound risks from coronavirus. Even if you dislike them personally, their desperate pleas should raise the alarm about the state of prisons on the whole in light of our global pandemic.

As the rest of the world self-isolates and as New York City shuts down, inmates remain in close quarters, making prisoners extremely vulnerable to exposure—and most of them don't have access to a lawyer and press coverage.

Prisons and coronavirus is a particularly dangerous combination, one that could lead to disaster. "Jails and prisons are often dirty and have really very little in the way of infection control," said Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at Rikers' Island. "There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap."

Inside prisons, it may be nearly impossible to successfully separate sick patients from well patients. Outbreaks are inevitable, and healthcare in prisons is often lacking to begin with.

Because of this, most public health officials are arguing that the best solution to the problem is mass release. According to the Marshall Project, Mark Stern, the former Assistant Secretary for the Washington State Department of Corrections, has suggested "downsizing" prison populations in order to ensure inmate and staff health and safety. Downsizing might involve releasing low-risk prisoners and proposing alternatives to arrest for certain crimes.

David Falthi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, puts it more succinctly. "The only effective response is to reduce the population density by releasing people," Fathi says, "starting with those who are most at risk of severe injury or death if they were to contract the virus." In particular, people who suffer from preexisting health conditions, like Tekashi 6ix9ine, and other vulnerable populations like older people, ought to be sent back to their families where they can isolate and be taken care of.

"Across the U.S. we have built a system of punishment that is traumatic, and this is only increased with the coronavirus," said Becca Fealk, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee of Arizona. "ADC must do more than just provide soap to reduce the chance of an outbreak. They need to release people, including older/aging adults who can be cared for by their loved ones."

Many prison administrations have insisted that they're complying with the CDC's guidelines with regards to their incarcerated populations, but if prisons aren't providing inmates with basic human rights and living supplies—and if even Tekashi 6ix9ine can't get to a doctor—how can we expect them to take care of people during an outbreak?

Prisons Begin Releasing Inmates—But Is It Enough?

Faced with a public health crisis that could lead to mass deaths, prisons all around the nation and the world are taking note. Alameda County plans to release 250 inmates, per NPR, and Los Angeles jails have also begun releasing nonviolent inmates. In New Jersey, up to 1,000 inmates will be released this Thursday, including those serving for parole violations and those serving municipal court convictions. In some places, prisons and law enforcement are coming together to reduce their inmate population. France has delayed or suspended short-term sentences, reducing daily prison admissions from 200 to 30.

These actions garnered support from Senator Kamala Harris, who tweeted that the Bureau of Prisons should release "all low-risk inmates, including those who are in pretrial detention because they can't afford to make bail."

Some jails are also beginning to waive copays in an effort to make sure their incarcerated populations receive healthcare.

"The state's decision to temporarily suspend the $4 copay — the equivalent of a week's worth of work at the prisoner minimum wage of 10 cents an hour — for people reporting cold and flu-like symptoms is a step in the right direction," said Prison Law Office attorney Corene Kendrick, "but it exposes how counterproductive it is to have such a barrier to seeking care. Unfortunately, prior to the COVID-19 crisis," she added, "We regularly heard from incarcerated people that there were shortages of hygiene supplies such as toilet paper and menstrual products." Many incarcerated people's families wind up paying for their hygiene and healthcare.

The coronavirus crisis is exposing the flaws in many institutions, and mass incarceration is just one of them. All these revelations beg deeper questions about why inmates weren't given these supplies or opportunities in the first place. Activists have been asking these questions for years, and the tragedy of the American carceral system has come to the fore in the case of migrants enclosed on the U.S.-Mexico border and in ICE facilities across the nation.

In three ICE detention centers in New Jersey, prisoners are currently on hunger strike in protest of poor conditions and coronavirus risks. One detainee told Vice that his fellow inmates are being kept in a small room without access to soap or even cleaning supplies.

"They say they are locking us in so we can be protected," said a current hunger striker named Olisa Uzoegwu. "But they don't do anything different. The cells stink. The toilets don't flush. There's never enough soap. They give out soap once a week. One bar of soap a week. How does that make any sense?"

This week, hundreds of doctors and thousands of activist organizations expressed this concern about these issues, flooding ICE with letters demanding that they release their overcrowded detention centers. The only crime committed by inmates in these facilities is usually non-sanctioned entry to the United States. Despite all this, ICE is still making arrests. Agents were spotted tracking down undocumented immigrants in San Francisco the day of the state's lockdown.

A Global Issue and a Gathering Storm: Colombia, France, Iran, and the US Grapple with Prison Risks

But the coronavirus pandemic is a global issue, and prisons all around the world are facing questions about how to handle incarcerated populations and prison employees. In some cases, inmates are taking things into their own hands. In Colombia, a prison riot left 23 inmates dead. Prisoners were rioting in protest of overcrowding and poor health services that they felt left them at an extreme risk. Riots have also broken out in prisons in Brazil and Italy.

The largest prison coronavirus outbreak in the nation is in New York City, with 38 inmates at the Rikers' Island prison testing positive; 20 have been released, and 200 more will be tested today. In As Mayor Bill DeBlasio considers whether to release 200 more people, 551 people serving "city sentences" for minor offenses and another 666 serving for technical parole or probation violations (like missing a drug test or a parole check-in) are trapped in Rikers alone. These are nonviolent offenders who do not deserve to be exposed to a potentially deadly virus. Still, the New York Police Chief has said that his officers will not cease making arrests, even though 70 officers have tested positive for COVID-19.

All across the nation and the world, jails are releasing inmates. Why they—especially nonviolent offenders—were there in the first place begs a different question. For now, the most important thing is to open the jails and let the people go. Short of mass release, prisons should not be arresting new inmates outside of extreme circumstances; they need to take more precautionary measures, institute comprehensive testing and quarantine, and follow protocols like those called for by the Federal Defenders of New York.

"A storm is coming," wrote Ross MacDonald, the chief physician at Rikers. "We have told you who is at risk. Please let as many out as you possibly can."

How to Help

In the meantime, anyone concerned can make a call to their state representative and inquiring about their current efforts; calling airports and prisons using this script from the New Sanctuary Coalition; participating in actions and protests like those being hosted by the Never Again Action, donating to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other similar organizations.



New Releases

Nicki Minaj's New Song Is a "Yikes" Indeed

The rapper's first song since announcing her hiatus falls flat.

Remember last year when Nicki Minaj said she was retiring to "have her family," and how nobody thought her time off would last?

Well, we were right. After a three-month hiatus from social media, Minaj has returned with her first new single of the year, "Yikes." She teased the track on Instagram a few days ago, and received an onslaught of backlash over a certain disconcerting line: "All you b-----s Rosa Parks, uh-oh, get your ass up." Yikes, indeed!

TMZ reports that Anita Peek, executive director of the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute, said the bus boycotter would be "extremely hurt" by the lyric if she were alive today to hear it. Fans were displeased, too, especially since the clip of the track first surfaced on Parks' birthday.

Controversy aside, "Yikes" is Minaj at her least compelling. With the exception of a feisty spoken introduction, her delivery is devoid of emotion. "Yikes, I play tag and you it for life / Yikes, you a clown, you do it for likes," she utters blandly in the chorus, over a minimalistic beat that could belong to any rapper. "Yikes" feels anonymous and tedious; it only affirms that the versatility of her Pink Friday days has run dry. It's time for Minaj to pass the torch.

www.youtube.com

Today, it was announced that Britney Spears would remain under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie.

This comes after Spears attempted to free herself from her father in court. A judge turned down a bid to stop her father from returning as her conservator, ignoring Britney's requests to make her interim conservator, Jodi Montgomery, permanent.

Spears also requested that a corporate fiduciary, the Bessemer Trust, be put in charge of her fortune instead of her father. "My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father. She will not perform as long as her father is in charge of her career," said Britney's lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III. At the hearing, attorneys for Spears and her mother Lynne urged her father to step down.

But Jamie Spears' attorney was able to successfully defend his role, claiming that there is not "a shred of evidence" that could support his suspension. Spears did achieve one small win in court: The Bessemer Trust has been appointed as co-conservator, and the judge also didn't rule out the possibility that Jamie might someday be removed from his role.


Not the first conservatorship drama

In September 2019, after more than 10 years under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie, Britney Spears was appointed a new conservator.

This came after widespread controversy following a difficult August for the Spears family. Over the summer, Jamie fell ill—and was put under a restraining order after he apparently attacked his 13-year-old grandson, Sean Federline. Jamie underwent a criminal investigation and was banned from seeing his grandsons for the next two years. Following these events Britney was appointed a new interim conservator, named Jodi Montgomery.

An experienced fiduciary worker, Montgomery had already been working with Britney in the context of a different role—her care manager. Previously, Montgomery was responsible for communicating with Spears' healthcare professionals. She has since been in charge of hiring security and caretakers for Spears, as well as managing restraining orders and health records.

What is a conservatorship?

A typical conservatorship is defined as a legal scenario where a "guardian or a protector is appointed by a judge to manage the financial affairs and/or daily life of another due to physical or mental limitations, or old age." In Britney's case, she was appointed a conservator after her public breakdown in 2007.

The specific details of the conservatorship have not been made public, but we do know that conservators control the financial and personal decisions of the conservatee. However, conservators are not allowed to force drugs or mental health residencies on anyone.

Why does Britney Spears need a conservatorship?

In addition to being one of the biggest stars of the 21st century, Britney has struggled with mental health issues for years. According to TMZ, Britney requires a conservatorship because of health issues that "prevent her from making sound decisions." Spears has a "disorder affecting her personality that can affect her state of mind," the article reports. "We're told she is doing 'extremely well' but needs the safety net of a conservatorship."

There is no clear consensus on what mental health issues Britney has, but we do know that she is on a cocktail of medications designed particularly for her. A change in these medications may have resulted in her April 2019 hospitalization, which sparked a new firestorm of speculation about Britney's autonomy and well-being.

What is the #FreeBritney movement?

The #FreeBritney movement began in 2017, when a podcast called Britney's Gram began investigating suspicious incidents around Britney's social media presence, speculating that Britney was somehow being held against her will. Apparently, they received a call from an anonymous source who said, "You guys are onto something."

The movement really took off after Spears canceled her Las Vegas residency in January 2019, and soon after, her father was appointed sole conservator. Then she checked herself into a mental health facility due to the stress from her father's illness. The podcasters continued to speculate, and the hashtag #FreeBritney took off.

Britney eventually slammed rumors that she was being held there against her will. She posted a video on Instagram with the caption, "My situation is unique but I promise I'm doing what is best at this moment." She also asked that fans respect her privacy as she "[deals] with all the hard things life is throwing [her] way."

Since then, the hashtag and movement itself have faced criticism from people who have defended Britney's personal life and privacy, as well as those who have lambasted #FreeBritney as a mental healthcare-shaming movement.

It's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with needing long-term healthcare or with allowing others to take charge and advise us. For someone like Britney, who was thrown into the public eye at a young age and who has faced endless harassment and traumatic experiences with her family, it's totally understandable that she might require assistance. Though our highly individualistic culture may tell us otherwise, there's nothing wrong with getting help, and having professional assistance is not a sign of weakness.

Fans call BS

Though it's very possible that Britney needs a conservatorship, Britney's consistent efforts to free herself from her father's clutches reveal that something is definitely afoot. Even if Britney needs a conservatorship, she shouldn't be forced to remain under her father's control; she should be granted the dignity of a professional caretaker or service at the very least.

Protest on, #FreeBritney martyrs. It seems Chris Crocker was onto something all along.


Leave Britney Alone (Complete) www.youtube.com


CULTURE

Lori Loughlin Pleads Not Guilty: Thought She Was “Breaking Rules, not Laws"

In the latest development with the college admissions cheating scandal, a source reports that the former 'Full House' star feels "manipulated."

JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images

Lori Loughlin and her husband Massimo Giannulli pleaded not guilty to all charges –– conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, honest services mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering –– in the scandal surrounding the college admissions scam.

The couple was accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella, into USC as crew recruitments, despite the fact that neither of them participates in the sport.

A source close to Loughlin told ET, "[Lori and her husband] claim they were under the impression they might be breaking rules, but not laws," and that "they feel they were manipulated by those involved and are planning that as part of their defense."

After the initial charges, Loughlin and Giannulli were indicted on a second charge of conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering on April 9th, on top of the initial charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The second charge came after Loughlin did not accept the plea bargain that would have allowed for a minimum two and a half year sentence and no additional money laundering charges. People reported on a source close to Loughlin who stated that at the time of rejecting the plea deal, she "didn't really realize how serious the charges were."

If convicted, Loughlin and Giannulli could serve up to 20 years in prison for each charge, totaling a maximum of 40 years. According to TMZ, the couple faces a minimum time of four years and nine months.

Another source told E! News, "Lori really believes she isn't guilty and that any parent would have done the same thing that she did if they were in that position."

Up until the second indictment, Loughlin was apparently under the impression that she would not be going to jail and instead expected a "slap on the wrist," according to ET. Now that the new charges are raised, things are looking far more dire.

One source told People: "[The prosecutors] are saying that the only way anyone's going to escape jail time is if they go to trial and are found not guilty."

It goes to show that trusting a con man running a fake charity to get your daughters into college is not the best move.


Sara is a music and culture writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has previously appeared in PAPER magazine and Stereogum.


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Finally, It Seems R. Kelly Is Getting His Due

America's most hated R&B singer is having a rough Friday.

NME

A warrant is out for R. Kelly's arrest now that he's finally been charged with criminal sexual abuse.

The Cook County State's Attorney Office and Chicago Police held a press conference on Friday afternoon to announce that the 52-year-old singer is facing a class 2 felony of aggravated criminal sexual abuse – ten counts of it. Nine of the ten counts refer to victims between 13 and 16 years old. According to the complaint, four victims report that Kelly "transmitted his semen onto [her] body for the purpose of Robert Kelly's or [her] sexual gratification or arousal, by the use of force or threat of force."

The charges follow recent reports of a third sex tape featuring Kelly with an underage girl. High profile lawyer Michael Avenatti represents the unidentified client who turned the tape over to Cook County officials in early February. After said client and another woman testified before the grand jury this week, the Cook County State's Attorney moved forward with charges and an arrest warrant.

In a series of Tweets on Friday, Avenatti announced a 4 P.M. press conference in Chicago to discuss "details of the investigation." Avenatti recently told The Associated Press that he possessed evidence that Kelly and his inner circle bribed witnesses involved in his 2008 trial for child pornography (he was found not guilty). The lawyer posted on Twitter, "It's over," and "After 25 years of serial sexual abuse and assault of underage girls, the day of reckoning for R Kelly has arrived."


Kelly is due to appear in court on March 8, but reports say he plans to turn himself in to authorities on Friday night. If convicted, each count carries a maximum sentence of three to seven years in prison, and he would finally be forced to register as a sex offender.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Erykah Badu Defends R. Kelly with “Unconditional Love”

The controversial singer who once claimed R. Kelly "has done more for black people than anyone" still has "unconditional love" for him.

Acclaim Magazine

The world has heard from R. Kelly's first high-profile defender.

Despite RCA Records dropping R. Kelly this week in the wake of renewed criminal investigations, controversial singer-songwriter Eryka Badu said she was "putting up a prayer" for him. During a performance in Chicago this past Saturday, Badu told the crowd, "I dunno how everybody else feel about it but I'm putting up a prayer right now for R. I hope he sees the light of day if he done all those things that we've seen on TV and heard those ladies talk about. I hope he sees the light of day and comes forward."

This initial remark on the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly already puts an off-puttingly kind spin on the allegations that Kelly sexually abused underaged girls–but that wasn't the end of Badu's commentary. When her audience responded with a wave of boos, she continued, "What y'all say, fuck him? That's not love. That's not unconditional love. But what if one of the people that was assaulted by R. Kelly grows up to be an offender, we gonna crucify them?"

The neo-soul singer wasn't finished, adding, "They 'bout to R Kelly me to death on the internet, I'm like goddamn. I just want peace and light for everybody and healing for those who are hurt because everyone involved has been hurt, victimised in some kinda way. Love for everybody."

The next day, Badu responded to stirring backlash on Twitter by posting a message directly addressed to R. Kelly. "I love you," she wrote. "Unconditionally. That doesn't mean I support your poor choices."

A few days prior to her Saturday concert, she'd alluded to her contentious opinion on Instagram. Badu captioned a post, "Having eyes that can see all points of view is a blessing...and a curse in the court of public opinion." When a fan replied that she was supporting a "rapist and paedophile," Badu responded, "Correction, love has little to do with supporting others' bad choices. Love is wisdom."

If Badu's opinions are genuine, rather than exploiting a high-profile scandal for publicity, perhaps that's why she was named by producer Dream Hampton as one of the celebrities who refused to be interviewed for Surviving R. Kelly. But throughout her career, Badu has often sought publicity by spouting controversial opinions. Last year, she defended Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, Bill Cosby, and even Hitler, saying that she sees "good in everybody" and that "Hitler was a wonderful painter." In 2017, she praised R. Kelly at the Soul Train Awards, saying that he'd "done more for black people than anyone"—which is funny before it sounds so despairingly wrong.

NME



Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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