These days, it’s hard to stop news from Washington, D.C., from flooding your news feed. We take a moment every week to bring you important stories beyond the White House and the Capitol. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. Two months ago, U.S. Park Police fatally shot a Northern Virginia man. Authorities still aren’t sure what happened.
In November, a 25-year-old man was fatally shot by U.S. Park Police officers after a car chase on the George Washington parkway in Virginia.
Last week, Fairfax County Police released video of the shooting and the brief car chase before it, showing for the first time that two U.S. park police officers fired nine shots into the vehicle, though “there also does not appear to be any interaction with or provocation” by the driver, Bijan C. Ghaisar, beforehand, the Washington Post reported.
Ghaisar had four gunshots to the head and once in the wrist, police said. He died Nov. 27, 10 days after the incident. A spokesman for the Park Police would not tell the Post why the officers were fired, or where the investigation stands. [The Washington Post]
Why it matters: Police fatally shot nearly 1,000 people in 2017, according to the Post’s police shooting database. The newspaper has tracked those numbers since shortly after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson drew scrutiny to how police departments nationwide train their officers, and how transparent they are about shooting cases and their aftermaths.
The Park Police officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave. But 10 weeks after the incident, more information has still not been released by Park Police or the FBI. That has sparked outrage from friends and family of Ghaisar, who worked as an accountant after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University.
The release of the video was unusual because it came from the dashcam of a Fairfax County police cruiser who trailed the car chase as it was happening — not by the U.S. Park Police, the agency involved in the incident, or the FBI, the agency investigating it.
“The video does not provide all the answers,” Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said in a statement. But “this is a national issue, and this is a step toward transparency in the law enforcement profession,” he told the Post.
2. Months after major hurricanes caused widespread damage in certain parts of the U.S., where does recovery stand?
It’s been months since Hurricanes Harvey and Maria caused unprecedented damage across Texas and Puerto Rico. While some areas, like Houston, are getting back on their feet, others are far from what they used to know as normal. In Rockport, Texas, earlier this month, PBS NewsHour’s Gretchen Frazee found mountains of debris — “tree branches intertwined with metal sheeting, and what used to be the roofs and walls of homes” — still piled in the highway medians. In this town less than 200 miles south of downtown Houston, tourism drives 90 percent of the economy, and it will take three to five years to completely rebuild, Frazee reported. Businesses and residents aren’t sure whether they’ll survive that wait.
On another recent trip to Puerto Rico, the NewsHour found that nearly a third of the island’s 1.5 million electric customers were still without power. Special correspondent Monica Villamizar reported “there will be a real shift in demographics in the island as people try to leave for the mainland to try to find a better future.” [PBS NewsHour]
Why it matters: The federal government provided some disaster relief funding immediately after the hurricanes hit last fall. But governors from the states hardest hit by 2017’s record year for disasters — namely, in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California — have lobbied lawmakers to approve more funding so they can keep recovery on track. An $81 billion emergency aid bill passed by the House in December has been stalled in the Senate by the fight over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and how to fund the government, which has already forced a three-day shutdown. (Read more about the different issues at play here). The next deadline to fund the government is Feb. 8, but it’s unclear whether lawmakers will agree on a spending plan — or how much to give to disaster relief — by then.
3. Chinese researchers clone monkeys, opening the possibility of cloning humans
Scientists in China have successfully cloned monkeys using the same technique used to clone the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, more than two decades ago.
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai say they cloned the two identical macaque monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, through somatic cell nuclear transfer. This process involves transferring DNA from the nuclei of fetal monkey cells into eggs that had their own DNA removed.
This was the first time scientists have successfully cloned primates, a biological category that includes monkeys, apes and humans. [The Associated Press]
Why it matters: Researchers believe this feat could open the possibility of cloning people.
Muming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the breakthrough shows it’s now theoretically possible to clone humans. Poo said his team doesn’t intend to do that any time soon.
Other scientists, including Michigan State University’s Jose Cibelli, told the AP that researchers must consider ethical issues when raising the possibility of cloning people, including the suffering caused by the many lost pregnancies that occur during the process. But the breakthrough could help in other ways, creating more genetically identical monkeys that can be used in medical research to study diseases and test treatments.
4. Researchers may have uncovered the last known U.S. slave ship
A journalist in Alabama said he may have found the remains of the last known ship to bring slaves to the United States.
AL.com’s Ben Raines wrote on Jan. 23 that, using “historical records and accounts from old timers,” he found the burned remnants of the Clotilda caked in mud in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a few miles north of Mobile. Weather conditions — a low tide brought on by the same weather system that caused the “bomb cyclone” along the East Coast — made finding the ship easier, Raines wrote.
After finding the remains, Raines brought experts and archaeologists to the area to determine if they are, in fact, part of the Clotilda. The ship brought 110 African slaves to Alabama in the summer of 1860 as a bet to show that slaves could still be brought over, even with federal troops stationed in Mobile Bay. While the practice of slavery was still legal in the U.S., transporting slaves from abroad was outlawed in 1808. [AL.com]
Why it matters: While the story of the Clotilda was passed down from generation to generation — and the hunt for the ship began after the person who financed the voyage boasted about it in the newspaper in 1890 — there was no proof until now that the ship actually existed.
“This is the proof that we needed,” Lorna Gail Woods, whose great-great-grandfather was the oldest slave aboard the ship, told the New York Times. “I am elated because so many people said that it didn’t really happen that way, that we made the story up.”
The story of the Clotilda hit national television during a recent episode of Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” on PBS featuring Questlove, the drummer for the Roots. He finds out during the episode that his relatives were brought to the U.S. aboard the Clotilda.
5. These skiers could become the first Afghans to compete in Winter Olympics
Two skiers from Afghanistan are trying to become the country’s first athletes to participate in the Winter Olympics.
Buzzfeed reports that Alishah Farhang and Sajjad Husaini are training in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and hope to qualify for the Olympics next month in South Korea.
Neither of the athletes had heard about the sport until 2011, when a group of Europeans arrived to ski Afghanistan’s slopes. Soon after, the two started to practice and compete in the sport. Eventually, they won the Afghan Ski Challenge, a competition that had been set up in the country by the Europeans.
It’s unlikely the two will collect enough qualifying points make it to the Olympics, Buzzfeed said. But Farhang and Husaini said they’ll continue competing even if they fail to make the cut. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently asked the Olympic Committee to make an exception for the duo since they’ll likely fall short of reaching the Olympics on their own. [Buzzfeed]
Why it matters: Afghanistan has seen multiple terror-related events in recent weeks, but Farhang and Husaini say they don’t want such events to influence the way people view their home country.
Husaini told Buzzfeed that he and his teammate meet many people who are surprised to learn they’re from Afghanistan because they view the nation as a place filled solely with “terrorists or refugees.”
“Making it to the Olympics would show people that Afghanistan is not just conflict,” Farhang told Buzzfeed. “And I am sure it would inspire lots of young people in Afghanistan, as well as encourage the government to help more athletes.”