President Obama met Wednesday at the White House with law enforcement officials and civil rights leaders after a week of nationwide protests over police brutality sparked by the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. At the White House meeting, Obama emphasized the need for building trust between police and communities.
President Barack Obama: "We’re not at a point yet where communities of color feel confident that their police departments are serving them with dignity and respect and equality. … We’re going to have to do more work together in thinking about how we can build confidence that after police officers have used force, and particularly deadly force, that there is confidence in how the investigation takes place and that justice is done."
Among those at the four-and-a-half-hour meeting were Reverend Al Sharpton, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson.
Meanwhile, police in Fresno, California, have released new body camera footage of a fatal police shooting. On June 25, police shot and killed 19-year-old Dylan Noble after a traffic stop. Noble was unarmed when shot four times—twice while he was standing up approaching officers and twice while he was lying on the ground. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer has said the officers believed Noble was going to shoot them. In the video, Noble can be seen approaching officers with one hand behind his back, as the officers warn him to get on the ground. As he gets closer, he says, "I hate my life," and then the officers open fire.
Officer: "Get down on the ground now! Get down on the ground now! Get you [bleep] on the ground! Fresno Police Department. Drop whatever you have in your hand. If you come forward, you’re going to get shot, man. Get down on the ground now!"
Dylan Noble: "I [bleep] hate my life!"
Officer: "Shots fired, suspect down. Start EMS Code 3. Let me see your hands. Keep your hands up! We cannot see his hand. Dude, keep your hands out. Quit reaching for what you’ve got. Keep your hands out! Dude, if you reach one more time, you will get shot again. Stop! Dude!"
Following the video’s release Wednesday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside police headquarters against police use of force. Police have not released the names of the officers involved in the shooting.
The family of Philando Castile said Wednesday they are prepared to pursue legal action against the police officers who fatally shot Castile during a traffic stop last week. Philando’s mother, Valerie Castile, said she hopes her son’s case prevents other deaths at the hands of the police.
Valerie Castile: "He is the driving force in me to make sure this doesn’t happen to another mother. It’s been going on too long. I used to look at TV and see other parents under these same circumstances and say, 'Wow, I hope that will never happen to me.' But it has. And now I have a voice, and I have to share that voice so you all will know exactly what happened."
Castile’s death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond "Lavish" Reynolds, in an extraordinary video in which she narrated the aftermath of the shooting while she was still in the car, with a police officer pointing a gun at her and her four-year-old daughter, as her boyfriend lay dying next to her. A public memorial is being held for Castile today in Minneapolis.
Basketball star LeBron James didn’t hesitate to talk about politics at last night’s ESPY Awards. James and other players used the annual ceremony to address the tension between police and protesters nationwide.
LeBron James: "I know tonight we honor Muhammad Ali, the GOAT, but to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence."
This comes as an increasing number of athletes and artists are speaking out against police brutality. On Saturday, members of the WNBA team the Minnesota Lynx wore warm-up jerseys printed with the names Philando Castile and Alton Sterling on the back, along with the words "Black Lives Matter" and an emblem of the Dallas Police Department. The three-time WNBA champions were playing the Dallas Wings. In response to the shirts, four off-duty Minneapolis police officers who were working security for the game walked off the job.
Cleveland police are making preparations to deal with mass arrests and large demonstrations ahead of next week’s Republican convention. City officials say some courts will be kept open almost 24 hours per day in case protesters are arrested en masse. Authorities have also opened up extra jail space to hold protesters. Ohio is also an open-carry state, meaning it is legal for demonstrators to publicly carry guns outside the convention. Calvin Williams is Cleveland’s police chief.
Police Chief Calvin Williams: "We’ll follow the state law and, of course, the U.S. Constitution as it applies to Second Amendment rights. We’ve done events in the past where people have presented themselves in an open-carry format, and we’ve handled that. We have tactics and policies in place that deal with that. I’m not going to get into specifics, but we’ve talked about, of course, since Dallas and other things have happened, how we better that."
Authorities, including the FBI, have been monitoring protest groups ahead of the convention and even approaching local activists. Police have also said they will deploy a video unit to document police interactions with demonstrators.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Baton Rouge Police Department for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators there last week. There have been regular demonstrations outside the Baton Rouge Police Department since the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling last week. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, police in Baton Rouge made more than 200 arrests last weekend. Demonstrators have accused police of using excessive force, wrongful arrests, and both physical and verbal abuse to break up the protests.
Baton Rouge police say they have arrested three people who were plotting to kill police with guns stolen from a pawn shop. Police detained 17-year-old Antonio Thomas early Saturday morning, alleging he had broken into a pawn shop to steal guns and ammunition. Police say he was in possession of a handgun and a BB gun from the store at the time. Police allege Thomas told them he and three other people had stolen the guns and were planning to shoot police officers. But a local newspaper has raised questions about the police’s account. The Acadiana Advocate reported Wednesday that the police report filed at the time of Thomas’s arrest makes no mention of the reported threat. On Tuesday, police held a press conference to announce the threat, where East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux spoke out.
Sheriff Sid Gauteaux: "Look what happened in Dallas: A very peaceful protest, and then some crazy madman did what he did. So I think the threat speaks for itself. We can’t take anything for granted anymore."
Police said they have also arrested a 20-year-old and a 13-year-old in connection to the case.
The Army has opened an investigation into Dallas sniper Micah Johnson’s military service. One week ago, Army veteran Micah Johnson shot and killed five police officers at the end of an anti-police brutality march. At least seven officers were also wounded in the attack. In 2014, a female soldier filed a sexual harassment claim against Johnson while he was serving in Afghanistan. She also requested and won the military equivalent of a restraining order for her and her family, and she recommended to the Army that Johnson receive mental health treatment. The Army sent Johnson back to the United States and recommended an other-than-honorable discharge. The Army is now investigating why Johnson received an honorable discharge, despite the Army’s own recommendation. Dallas Police Chief David Brown has said Johnson was planning a significantly larger attack, based on the bomb-making materials and journal found at Johnson’s home in Mesquite, just outside Dallas.
In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May took office on Wednesday. One of her first appointments was former London Mayor Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Johnson was one of the most vocal supporters of the campaign to have the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union. As foreign secretary, he will have to help the country navigate that process. Johnson is known for his ability to offend and insult other world leaders. Among other gaffes, he has called Hillary Clinton a "sadistic nurse in a mental hospital." He also wrote a poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sex with a goat.
In Detroit, two street artists appeared in court Wednesday to fight felony charges for allegedly painting the words "Free the Water" and a large black fist on the Highland Park water tower in 2014. Artists Antonio Cosme and William Lucka are facing up to four years in prison on felony charges of malicious destruction of property. Detroit has faced a water crisis in recent years, as the city has cut off running water from tens of thousands of families. Artists Antonio Cosme and William Lucka spoke Wednesday.
Antonio Cosme: "My name is Antonio Cosme, and this is William Lucka. The two of us are facing multiple felonies for allegedly painting 'Free the Water' on the Highland Park water tower in Detroit, Michigan."
William Lucka: "I’m facing eight additional felony charges. The judge signed over my warrant this morning. I’m supposed to turn myself in at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning."
Antonio Cosme: "The criminalization of artists is part of a larger war on public space. It’s coinciding with a war on public good. And privatization is being implemented on our public schools, on our water, our healthcare."
The United Nations has condemned Detroit’s ongoing water shutoffs as a violation of international human rights law.
Yale University has dropped charges against an employee who broke a stained-glass window depicting enslaved Africans carrying cotton. Corey Menafee worked for Yale University for about eight years. In June, as he was cleaning a dining room, Menafee stood on top of a table and broke the window with a broom handle. Menafee said the image is racist and degrading and that he had become sick of seeing it every day. Yale University police arrested Menafee and charged him with reckless endangerment and felony mischief. The window was in a building that had already generated controversy. Calhoun College is named after former Vice President John C. Calhoun, one of the most prominent pro-slavery figures in history. For years students have demanded Yale change the building’s name. The administration decided against a name change in April. We’ll have more on the case of Corey Menafee tomorrow on Democracy Now!
And Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the death of 28-year-old African-American woman Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail cell three days after she was arrested for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. On July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was returning from a job interview at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia. Dash cam footage of the arrest shows Encinia dragging Sandra Bland out of her car and threatening to "light [her] up." Sandra Bland can later be heard on video accusing the police officer of slamming her head into the ground. She said she had epilepsy, to which Trooper Encinia replies, "Good." Encinia was fired in March. Following her arrest, Bland spent three days in a Texas jail cell. Authorities have claimed Sandra Bland committed suicide while in jail by hanging herself with a garbage bag. But her family has rejected this claim. Her death sparked protests across the United States. According to a Huffington Post investigation, at least 810 other people have died in jails across the United States since Sandra Bland’s death one year ago. This comes as Sunday is the second anniversary of the police killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island. Click here to see our interview with his daughter, Erica Garner. She has planned a march for Sunday to Eric Garner’s memorial site.