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Protests continue in the St. Louis area as a grand jury nears a decision in the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. The grand jury is set to reconvene today as it weighs whether to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson. This weekend saw rallies in Ferguson and the neighboring community of Shaw amid expectations of an imminent announcement. At least eight schools in the Ferguson area have closed in anticipation. Wilson has been in talks with Ferguson officials on resigning from the police force even if he is not indicted. He has also met privately and off the record with a number of prominent news anchors to discuss a potential interview.
President Obama addressed the pending grand jury decision in an interview this weekend with ABC. Obama urged demonstrators to remain peaceful.
President Obama: “I think, first and foremost, keep protests peaceful. You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views. … [A]ny event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are. … [What] I’ve asked Eric Holder to do is to not just engage with the folks in Ferguson, but to engage nationally in a conversation between law enforcement and communities of color that oftentimes feel as if they are not being treated fairly by law enforcement officials.”
In a video statement on Friday, Holder unveiled new recommendations for law enforcement agencies on the handling of protests.
Attorney General Eric Holder: “The Justice Department encourages law enforcement officials in every jurisdiction to work with the communities that they serve to minimize needless confrontation. Now, of course, I recognize that progress will not come easily, and long-simmering tensions will not be cooled overnight. These struggles go to the heart of who we are and who we aspire to be, both as a nation and as a people. And it is clear that we have a great deal of important work still to do.”
The FBI and other federal agencies have sent dozens of agents and officials to Ferguson ahead of the grand jury’s decision. On Sunday, the St. Louis County Circuit Court said there is no guarantee grand jury evidence in the case will be made public after a decision is reached.
As Ferguson waits to see if Officer Wilson will be charged, at least two more unarmed African Americans have been killed in police shootings nationwide. On Saturday, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in a Cleveland park. Rice had been playing with a toy gun. Witnesses had called police warning he was waving it around, but at least one also stressed it was “probably fake.” An officer ordered Rice to put his hands up, but then shot him when he reached for the toy. Rice’s killing comes months after police in Beavercreek, Ohio, fatally shot 22-year-old John Crawford after he picked up a toy gun inside a Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile in New York City, an unarmed African American was shot dead by police in a Brooklyn housing project Thursday night. Akai Gurley was in the dimly lit stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses when he came across two officers. Police say the shooting appears to have been accidental and that Gurley was “totally innocent.” Protesters are calling for the officer’s arrest. On Saturday, New York Assemblyman-elect Charles Barron helped lead a march from the shooting scene to the police office for housing developments.
Charles Barron: “This is an outrage. We are angry. There’s no way, no way, a young man in a stairwell with two heavily armed police officers, and he’s unarmed, should be dead. This is madness. It must stop. People are outraged. This is happening all over the country. They have no value for black life. I don’t want to hear nothing about a dimly lit stairwell. I don’t want to hear nothing about him being startled. This young man should still be alive today.”
The officer, Peter Liang, has been placed on modified duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
President Obama has signed his historic executive order granting temporary legal status to over 4 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation. On Friday, Obama followed his action with a rally in Las Vegas, where he repeated his call for congressional passage of comprehensive reform.
President Obama: “Las Vegas, I’ve come back to Del Sol to tell you I’m not giving up. I will never give up. I will never give up. I will not give up. So, we’re not giving up. We’re going to keep on working with members of Congress to make permanent reform a reality. But until that day comes, there are actions that I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just, and this morning I began to take some of those actions.”
Republicans have vowed to challenge Obama’s executive action when they take control of Congress next year. Potential methods include lawsuits,
blocking executive-branch and judicial nominees, and using spending bills to defund implementation. In an interview on Sunday, President Obama said his response to Republicans is to “pass a bill.”
President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war. According to The New York Times, Obama has signed a classified order that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And, under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize American airstrikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year.
Meanwhile, at least 40 people have been killed in eastern Afghanistan after a suicide bomber attacked a volleyball match. According to the government of the province, at least 50 more were wounded at the tournament final. Most of the casualties were civilians.
Iran and six world powers including the U.S. are expected to miss a self-imposed deadline of today for reaching a nuclear deal in the latest round of talks. A long-term agreement would allow Iranian uranium enrichment and relief from crippling U.S.-led sanctions in return for extensive international inspections. But the U.S. has already floated the idea of extending the talks with the two sides still far apart. Key issues include the parameters for Iran’s enrichment program, the timetable for easing sanctions, and how long the deal would last. The extended talks are expected to resume next month in Oman.
Dozens of people have been killed in an attack by the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. The victims were residents of a northeastern fishing port and were reportedly shot on sight.
Meanwhile in Kenya, at least 28 people were killed on Saturday when al-Shabab militants attacked a bus in the town of Mandera. The Kenyan government says it’s killed dozens of fighters in a retaliatory operation.
The Israeli Cabinet has approved a measure that would legally define Israel as the state of the Jewish people, not of its citizens. Israel has always defined itself that way, but the bill would codify that into its Basic Laws. The full Israeli Parliament will vote on the law later this week.
A report from a Republican-led House panel has debunked Republican accusations about wrongdoing by the Obama administration after the fatal 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The report from the House Intelligence Committee follows five other reports which also found the administration did not purposefully provide misleading information. The report comes six months after House Speaker John Boehner created a special panel with a budget of $3.3 million to probe the Benghazi attacks. Democrats accuse them of mounting a witch hunt in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
The University of Virginia has suspended its fraternities following an article that revealed a pattern of sexual assault and impunity. The report in the magazine Rolling Stone focuses on a student named Jackie who was gang-raped at a fraternity during her first year on campus. After she reported the rape to the head of the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, the administration took no action, not even to warn students of a potential risk. Jackie later encountered two other women who said they were victims of gang rapes by the same frat. After the article went viral, Rolling Stone received what it called a “stunning” response from readers sharing their own stories of sexual assault at UVA. School president Teresa Sullivan called the article’s revelations “appalling,” and announced the fraternities would be suspended until the start of next semester — a period of less than two months.
Dozens of people have been arrested near Vancouver, Canada, in a blockade against test drilling for an extended oil pipeline. Protesters have camped out on Burnaby Mountain to stop the company Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline, which brings tar sands oil from Alberta to Canada’s west coast. Protester Tamo Campos spoke out after his arrest.
Tamo Campos: “Why are we putting our economic system, the market, above the very ecology that we all depend upon? We’re more dependent on clean water, fresh air and clean soil than the market. It’s the thing that keeps us alive. And we have to stand up to unjust laws, to make those the laws, because those are the laws that have always governed our lives. And indigenous people have had natural laws that predate colonial laws by thousands of years, and we need to respect that.”
Campos is the grandson of the prominent Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki. An 11-year-old girl was also among those detained on Sunday.
Hundreds of people rallied outside Fort Benning in Georgia over the weekend for the annual protest calling for the closure of a controversial military training base. Formerly known as the School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation has been used to train Latin American soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency and counternarcotics. Protesters included Courtney Collins, a youth activist from New Jersey.
Courtney Collins: “I definitely had to tell all my teachers before we left that, like, I wasn’t going to be in school for the next two days. And when they asked why I was going down to Georgia, I said that I was going on a protest for SOA. When they asked what that was, I just explained it as a school where they take in people from Third World countries and train them in 'democracy,' but they’re really teaching them how to torture people. And, like, they send them back down, and they’re major contributors in genocides and just awful, awful situations.”
On Saturday, protesters also rallied miles away at the privately owned Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, one of the nation’s largest prisons for undocumented immigrants. At least five people were arrested.
An Ohio man has been freed from prison after spending 39 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Ricky Jackson, a 59-year-old African-American man, had been jailed since 1975 on a murder conviction. The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of a 13-year-old witness. After a 2011 investigation, the witness recanted his testimony, saying he had implicated Jackson and two others under police coercion. The witness, Eddie Vernon, said police had fed him the story and threatened him with the arrest of his parents if he didn’t cooperate. On Friday, Ricky Jackson was freed after prosecutors dropped the case.
Ricky Jackson: “How does it feel? It’s extraordinary. I’m very happy, needless to say. Words can’t express how I feel right now. I’m just glad to be out, glad to be a free man.”
Reporter: “What are you going to do? Where are you going to go?”
Ricky Jackson: “Wow! I mean, you know, you sit in prison for so long, you think about this day. But when it actually comes, you don’t know what to do, but you just want to do something, you know, besides what you’ve been doing for 39 years.”
Reporter: “When you heard the judge say an hour ago, ’You’re a free man, goodbye,’ talk about what you were feeling. What was going on that we couldn’t see?”
Ricky Jackson: “I mean, it was like an emotional roller coaster. You know, just, I mean, the English language doesn’t fit what I’m feeling right now. I mean, I’m just on an emotional high right now.”
With nearly four decades wrongfully behind bars, Jackson is the longest-held U.S. prisoner to be exonerated. Another defendant who served slightly less time, Wiley Bridgeman, has also been released.
And former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry has died at the age of 78. Barry served four terms as D.C. mayor, making a 1994 comeback after being jailed for smoking crack cocaine in an FBI sting. Though known for substance abuse problems and allegations of cronyism, Barry was celebrated as a brave organizer during the civil rights movement and as the nation’s first African-American activist mayor. Washington, D.C., Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser paid tribute on Sunday.
Muriel Bowser: “We will miss Mayor Marion Barry. He has been an inspiration to so many people and a fighter for people,and a champion for the people of Ward 8. Mr. Barry, I can say this, lived up until the minute the way he wanted to live. And he has left a strong legacy for so many young people to follow.”
In a statement, President Obama said: “As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advance the cause of civil rights for all. During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty.”