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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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New York City is grappling with the aftermath of the first targeted killings of police officers in years. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed in broad daylight while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday. The shooter, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, fled to a nearby subway station where he turned the gun on himself, dying of a single gunshot wound. Earlier in the day, Brinsley shot his former girlfriend in Maryland. She survived and called police. He later used her Instagram account to make anti-police statements suggesting he would kill officers to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the shootings.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: “It’s clear that this was an assassination, that these officers were shot execution-style — particularly despicable act, which goes at the very heart of our society and our democracy. When a police officer is murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society. It is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on everything we hold dear.”
Criminal records show Brinsley had a troubled history with the law, with multiple arrests and at least two years behind bars. His family says he had mental issues, including a reported suicide attempt a year ago.
The NYPD officers’ double-killing was condemned by the families of unarmed African Americans recently killed by police and the protest groups that have sprung up in response. On Sunday, Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and his widow, Esaw Garner, said the killings have no connection to their cause.
Gwen Carr: “We are going in peace, and anyone who’s standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence, because we are not about that. These two police officers lost their lives senselessly, and our condolences to the families, and we stand with the families.”
Esaw Garner: “I just want to express my condolences and heartfelt sadness for these two officers and their family. I know what they’re going through to lose a loved one right before the holidays and everything. It’s so sad, and I would ask that everyone that is protesting with us, please protest in a nonviolent way. My husband was not a violent man, so we don’t want any violence connected to his name.”
The NYPD officers’ murders have highlighted police animosity toward New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over his response to issues of police brutality, racial profiling, and the recent protests. Some officers turned their backs to de Blasio on Saturday evening when he walked through the hospital where the slain pair was taken. The head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s biggest police union, said de Blasio “has blood on his hands.” The group later denied issuing a widely circulated statement that claimed “we have … become a 'wartime' police department [and] will act accordingly.”
Protests against police brutality and racial profiling continued in New York City over the weekend, with actions including a sit-in at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center Mall on Saturday and a silent march in Harlem on Sunday.
Protests were also held across the country this weekend. More than 1,500 demonstrators shut down Minnesota’s Mall of America for several hours on Saturday afternoon calling for justice in the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. At least 25 people were arrested. One day earlier, dozens of protesters were arrested in Milwaukee after blocking traffic on a major highway for over an hour. The action centered on the case of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed mentally disabled black man shot dead during a confrontation with a police officer on April 30. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has called up the National Guard to be on standby.
The prosecutor who oversaw the Michael Brown grand jury has acknowledged knowingly calling witnesses who weren’t telling the truth. In his first interview since announcing the non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson last month, Bob McCulloch told a St. Louis radio station he decided to call all potential witnesses, even those who lied.
Bob McCulloch: “Early on, I decided that anyone who claimed to have witnessed anything was going to be presented to the grand jury. And I knew that no matter how I handled this, there would be criticism of it. So if I didn’t put those witnesses on, then we’d be discussing now why I didn’t put those witnesses on, even though their statements were not accurate … But I thought it was much more important to present anybody and everybody, and some that, yes, clearly were not telling the truth. No question about it.”
McCulloch claims the lying went “both ways.” He acknowledged that one witness who testified in Wilson’s favor “clearly wasn’t present” at the scene, an apparent reference to “Witness 40,” a woman with a history of mental issues, racist comments and fabricated claims. In a letter, Missouri state lawmaker Karla May called for investigating McCulloch for prosecutorial misconduct, saying: “There is at least some evidence to suggest that McCulloch manipulated the grand jury process from the beginning to ensure that Officer Wilson would not be indicted.”
President Obama says the United States is considering putting North Korea back on its list of terrorism sponsors after the hacking of Sony Pictures. Last week, the movie studio nixed the release of the comedy film “The Interview” about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The cancellation followed threats against theaters and a hack of corporate data which officials say was ordered by the North Korean government. Speaking to CNN, President Obama said the United States will respond proportionally, but said he does not consider the hacking an act of war.
President Obama: “No, I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cybervandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionally.”
North Korea has denied involvement and proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. government to prove it. In a statement, a North Korean official said: “We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as … the CIA does.” The official also warned the United States of “serious consequences” if the United States rejects the proposal and launches “countermeasures.”
President Obama delivered his final news conference of the year Friday at the White House. Obama addressed last week’s historic agreement to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying he will call on Congress to end the long-running embargo.
President Obama: “We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo. That’s codified in the LIBERTAD Act. And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it. And I will certainly weigh in. I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.”
Speaking the next day in Havana, Cuban President Raúl Castro pledged to improve the nation’s economy in the wake of the agreement. Castro also called on the United States to respect Cuba’s political system after decades of meddling.
Cuban President Raúl Castro: “In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours. … We can’t pretend that by improving ties with the Unites States, Cuba will renounce the ideas for which it has fought for more than a century, for which its people have shed a lot of blood and have run the biggest of risks.”
On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked President Obama to demand the extradition of Black Panther Assata Shakur. Shakur was convicted of killing Trooper Werner Foerster after being pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike. The encounter left both the officer and a fellow Black Panther, Zayd Malik Shakur, dead. Assata Shakur has said she was shot by police with both arms in the air, and then again from the back. She was sentenced to life in prison but managed to escape and flee to Cuba, where she has lived since 1984. In a letter to Obama, Christie said Shakur should be returned to New Jersey before any diplomatic ties are restored.
At his White House news conference on Friday, President Obama also addressed his pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama said the pipeline would not even have “nominal” benefit to U.S. consumers. And although acknowledging it would create some temporary jobs, Obama said the United States could create far more by investing in public infrastructure.
President Obama: “There’s a global oil market. It’s very good for Canadian oil companies, and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers. It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers. … Those aren’t, you know, completely insignificant if, you know — it’s just like any other project. But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country, something that Congress could authorize, we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs or a million jobs.”
President Obama Obama only took questions from female reporters at his Friday news conference — eight in total — a decision the White House says was deliberate.
New figures show the official death toll from Ebola in West Africa has topped 7,300 out of more than 19,000 known infections. The World Health Organization says western Sierra Leone is currently the “hotspot” of the continued outbreak, though the most victims have died in Liberia.
The United States has released four Afghan prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. All four will return to Afghanistan where they will apparently be able to live without restriction. Speaking to CNN, President Obama said he will do everything he can to close Guantánamo.
President Obama: “I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it. It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values. And it is wildly expensive. … We need to close that facility, and I’m going to do everything I can.”
Candy Crowley: “Right. You want them here in a supermax, right? That hasn’t changed?”
Presidnet Obama: “I think that it does not make sense for us to spend millions of dollars per individual, when we have a way of solving this problem that’s more consistent with our values.”
With the latest release, there are 132 prisoners left at Guantánamo.