A grand jury here in St. Louis, Missouri, has chosen not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. The decision follows three months of deliberation by the jury of nine whites and three blacks, including four hours of testimony from Wilson himself. The grand jury decision set off outrage in Ferguson and communities across the country who see Brown’s killing as part of a wide-scale pattern of police mistreatment of people of color. Shortly after the verdict, police fired tear gas on protesters in Ferguson. At least a dozen buildings in Ferguson were broken into and burned, and sporadic gunfire was heard overnight. At least 61 people were arrested. We’ll have more from here on the ground after headlines.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been forced to resign under pressure from President Obama less than two years after taking office. Obama announced Hagel’s departure on Monday.
President Obama: “Last month, Chuck came to me to discuss the final quarter of my presidency and determined that having guided the department through this transition, it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service. Let me just say that Chuck is and has been a great friend of mine. I’ve known him, admired him and trusted him for nearly a decade, since I was a green-behind-the-ears freshman senator and we were both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
The announcement comes just weeks after a spokesperson for Hagel said he intended to remain in his post until the end of Obama’s presidency. Hagel had criticized the Obama administration’s war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, writing in a leaked memo last month that the president’s policy could implode over a lack of clarity on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hagel will keep his post until the Senate confirms his successor. Topping the list of contenders is Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense who heads the think tank Center for a New American Security, which is funded mainly by military contractors. She would be the first woman to lead the U.S. military.
A new report finds U.S. drone strikes kill 28 unidentified people for every intended target. While the Obama administration has claimed its drone strikes are precise, the group Reprieve found that strikes targeting 41 people in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 other, unnamed people. The 41 targets have been reported killed as many as six times each. In its attempts to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri alone, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults. Al-Zawahiri remains alive.
Secretary of State John Kerry has announced talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program will be extended for seven months after world powers failed to meet a self-imposed deadline. A long-term deal would allow Iranian uranium enrichment and relief from crippling U.S.-led sanctions in return for extensive international inspections. Kerry said the talks have been “tough.”
John Kerry: “These talks aren’t going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough. And they’ve been tough, and they’re going to stay tough. But in these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface.”
Talks are expected to resume next month.
In Mexico, 11 people arrested during last week’s mass protest over the disappearance of 43 students have been moved to maximum security prisons in different states. Authorities made the arrests last week after tens of thousands gathered in Mexico City’s main square to protest the students’ disappearance at the hands of police in collusion with a drug gang. The detainees face charges of attempted murder and riot. Supporters say the arrests mark an uptick in repression by Mexican authorities responding to the nationwide unrest. At a march in Mexico City Saturday, Ana Cruz Olguín said her daughter, Hillary Analí González, was detained arbitrarily and sent to a prison in the state of Nayarit.
Ana Cruz Olguín: “I am appalled by what has happened. I don’t want any other parent to experience what I am with my daughter. I hope that no other parent has to cry for their children, as I do. I hope that none of this repeats. I demand that they free my daughter. She is a good student. She is a good girl. She has never attacked anyone nor had any problems.”
In Florida, an African-American woman facing decades in prison for firing what she says was a warning shot into a wall near her abusive husband has taken a plea deal. Marissa Alexander’s case generated national outrage after she was sentenced to 20 years in prison, even though she didn’t kill anyone, while, in another Florida case, George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting African-American teenager Trayvon Martin dead. Alexander’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to use Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in her defense, saying she feared for her life when she fired the shot. After an appeals court ordered a new trial over faulty jury instructions, Florida prosecutors sought a 60-year term, three times her original sentence. On Monday, Alexander took a plea deal to serve three years, a sentence she has nearly completed. She is due to be released on January 27.
In Britain, a group of journalists is suing London’s Metropolitan Police after obtaining surveillance records that show they were spied on for years. One of the journalists, Jason Parkinson, said police collected details about his clothing, his partner and which protests he was covering.
Venues in Washington state and Connecticut have become the latest to cancel appearances by comedian Bill Cosby amidst a growing scandal over reports Cosby drugged and raped women over a period of four decades. At least 18 women have now accused Cosby of sexual assault, including former model Jewel Allison, who told the New York Daily News, “We may be looking at America’s greatest serial rapist that ever got away with this for the longest amount of time.”
Jewel Allison: “Why this case now, I believe, is holding a lot of weight is that we’re having a series of women, finally, thank God, coming out and saying, 'This happened to me,' 'This happened to me,' 'This happened to me, too.' And so, even if you blacked out or you don’t remember the entire rape or the entire assault, there’s strength in numbers.”
A former NBC employee, Frank Scotti, told the Daily News he acted as a fixer for Cosby, guarding his dressing room while he was inside with young models, and helping Cosby pay off eight women. Reports have also focused on the media’s role, particularly since claims against Cosby surfaced years ago. Robin Mizrahi, a former reporter for the National Enquirer tabloid, told The Guardian she filed a story in 2005 about a woman who accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her. But under pressure from Cosby’s attorneys, her editors killed the story in exchange for a favorable, front-page interview with Cosby.
State university students across California have staged a mass campus walkout as part of ongoing protests over tuition hikes. At UC Berkeley, students have occupied Wheeler Hall since last week when the UC Board of Regents approved plans to raise tuition by up to 5 percent annually over the next five years. Students have occupied other buildings across the UC system, from Santa Cruz to San Diego.
And President Obama has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18 people, including three civil rights activists murdered by the Ku Klux Klan 50 years ago. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were targeted by the Klan after traveling to Mississippi to register black voters. In a White House ceremony, Obama noted it took more than four decades to bring the organizer of the murders, Edgar Ray Killen, to justice.
President Obama: “And in that Freedom Summer, these three Americans refused to sit on the sidelines. Their brutal murder by a gang of Ku Klux Klan members shook the conscience of our nation. It took 44 days to find their bodies, 41 years to bring the lead perpetrator to justice. And while they’re often remembered for how they died, we honor them today for how they lived: with the idealism and the courage of youth.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Other recipients Monday included actress Meryl Streep, musician Stevie Wonder, actress and activist Marlo Thomas, Native American activist Suzan Harjo and Chilean novelist Isabel Allende.