Orlando-area prosecutors are convening a grand jury to investigate the killing of the unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin nearly one month after his death. On Tuesday, the state attorney’s office for Brevard and Seminole Counties said a grand jury will begin hearing evidence next month, one day after the U.S. Department of Justice also announced a civil rights probe of the case. Martin was walking in a gated community in the Florida town of Sanford when he was shot dead by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman. Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defense even though he was the one following Martin. Martin himself was unarmed, weighed 80 pounds less, and can apparently be heard on a 911 phone call pleading for help. Local police have sided with Zimmerman, refusing to arrest him or press charges. On Tuesday, Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family, slammed the Sanford police.
Benjamin Crump: “The family does not trust the Sanford Police Department to investigate it fairly and impartially, because the previous lies that they feel they’ve been told by the Sanford Police Department. And it’s sad because had they just arrested George Zimmerman, it would have silenced a lot of their concerns and questions. Self-defense is a legal argument that you make in a courtroom, not an argument you make on the side of the road to police and get to go home and go to bed, or flee, even.”
More audio recordings have been released showing Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, has a history of calling local police to report the sight of African-American men in his neighborhood. This is one of those calls.
George Zimmerman: “I’m with the neighborhood watch, and we’ve had some burglaries and vandalisms lately. And this gentleman was walking in the neighborhood. I’ve seen him before on trash days going around picking up trash. I don’t know what his deal is.”
Dispatcher: “Is he white, black or Hispanic?”
Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and holding candy and iced tea when Zimmerman called police to report him as suspicious. Later today, supporters around the world are being urged to don hooded sweatshirts and upload pictures to social media websites under the hashtag, #millionhoodies. Martin’s parents are scheduled to appear at a “million hoodie” rally in New York City’s Union Square.
Mitt Romney has scored a lopsided victory in the Republican primary in Illinois, beating out top rival Rick Santorum. Romney addressed supporters near Chicago while Santorum spoke in Pennsylvania.
Mitt Romney: “And tonight we thank the people of Illinois for their vote and for this extraordinary victory. Thank you so much. And, you know, elections are about choices, and today hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois have joined millions of people across the country to join our cause.”
Rick Santorum: “If you look at what’s going to happen tonight, we’re going to win downstate, we’re going to win central Illinois, we’re going to win western Illinois. We won the areas that conservatives and Republicans populate, and we’re very happy about that. We’re happy about the delegates we’re going to get, too.”
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says he will not be recommending any further reductions of U.S. troops until later this year after the November elections. Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, General John Allen also confirmed the NATO occupation has lost 13 soldiers to attacks from Afghan forces so far this year.
Gen. John Allen: “Just since the 1st of January, the coalition has lost 60 brave troops in action, from six different nations. Thirteen of them were killed at the hands of what appear to have been Afghan security forces, some of whom were motivated, we believe, in part by the mishandling of religious materials. I wish I could tell you that this war was simple and that progress could easily be measured. But that’s not the way of counter-insurgencies. They are fraught with both successes and setbacks, which can exist in the same space and in the same time, but each must be seen in the larger context of the overall campaign. And I believe the campaign is on track.”
The attorney for the U.S. soldier accused in the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians spoke out again on Tuesday after meeting with his client at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. John Henry Browne said Staff Sgt. Robert Bales does not remember the shootings, and added that he thinks there’s “very little” evidence against his client.
John Henry Browne: “He has some memories of what occurred that evening and before the supposed incident, and he has some memories for what happened after the alleged incident, but he really doesn’t have memory for what happened between. … There’s no forensic evidence. There’s no medical examiner’s evidence. There’s no evidence about how many alleged victims or where those remains are. So it’s fascinating from a defense lawyer’s perspective. You know, prove it.”
Reporter: “There’s no evidence of a crime?”
John Henry Browne: “No, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Certainly from what I’ve read, there’s very little.”
The Obama administration has exempted nearly a dozen countries from sanctions intended to punish countries that purchase oil from Iran. The waiver will apply to Japan and 10 other European nations. The move came as President Obama delivered his annual message to the Iranian people on the Persian New Year of Nowruz. In his statement, Obama said the United States is seeking to reach out to Iran’s people despite imposing crippling sanctions.
President Obama: “Even as we’ve imposed sanctions on the Iranian government, today my administration is issuing new guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to provide software and services into Iran that will make it easier for the Iranian people to use the Internet. The United States will continue to draw attention to the electronic curtain that is cutting the Iranian people off from the world. And we hope that others will join us in advancing a basic freedom for the Iranian people: the freedom to connect with one another and with their fellow human beings.”
Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi has been transferred to an Israeli hospital after nearly five weeks on hunger strike protesting Israel’s administrative detention practices. A medical rights group is warning that Shalabi, who was arrested last month, is in grave danger. A lawyer for Shalabi said she has lost 35 pounds but is continuing her strike.
The U.S.-backed monarchy in Bahrain is vowing to proceed with the prosecution of 20 medics jailed for treating demonstrators during anti-government protests last year. The medics were sentenced by a military tribunal last September but are now being retried in civilian court. The announcement that the trial will proceed follows suggestions from the Bahraini government that the case against most of the medics would be dropped.
Hundreds of homes have been damaged in Mexico after an earthquake struck near the southern state of Oaxaca. The 7.4-magnitude quake also injured around a dozen people, but no major damage has been reported.
California prisoners and their advocates are calling on the United Nations to investigate the state’s solitary confinement units as a form of torture. More than 4,000 inmates in California are kept in so-called “segregated housing,” half of them for alleged ties to gangs. Under the current policy, gang members are made to stay in isolation for six years, unless they inform prison officials they have left the gang. Advocates compare the treatment of thousands of prisoners in California’s isolation units to the U.S. treatment of prisoners held at the military base at Guantánamo Bay.
Activists arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City over the weekend have spoken out about the police crackdown. On Tuesday, the activists joined with other victims of police brutality for a march to police headquarters in Manhattan.
Jen Waller: “It is when we speak out against the 1 percent and defy them by fighting for public space that we are brutalized. On Saturday night as I simply sat in a park, I was violently arrested with my friends and watched as bloodthirsty cops stomped on their faces, knelt on their necks, pulled them by their hair, and slammed them into windows. I watched as one friend was treated as a battering ram as they carried him into an MTA bus, slamming his head on every step and seat as they went along. I watched as a young woman’s rib was broken, as she hyperventilated, convulsed and seizured in the middle of the street.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled state employees cannot sue their employer if they are illegally denied medical leave. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court ruled state immunity from lawsuits involving monetary damages should apply to cases where employees are denied time off for illness or the sickness of family members under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The case was brought by a Maryland state employee who was fired after his request for a 10-day medical leave to deal with hypertension and diabetes was denied.
The Federal Communications Commission has announced it will make room in the airwaves for a new round of community radio stations. Among new policies adopted by the FCC are efforts to foster low-power FM radio stations in densely populated urban areas. Community radio advocates have hailed the decision, saying it will pave the way for the first new urban community radio stations in decades.