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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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In Baltimore, a judge has declared a mistrial in the case of the first police officer to be charged in the death of Freddie Gray, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges against Officer William Porter. Gray died in April from injuries sustained in the back of a police van. Gray’s family and attorney say his voice box was crushed and his spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.” A preliminary autopsy report showed the 25-year-old African-American man died of a spinal injury. Attorneys are expected to meet this morning to decide if Porter should be tried again. Gray’s death in April sparked large protests in Baltimore. On Wednesday, scores of Baltimore residents took to the streets again to protest the hung jury. At least two people were arrested. We’ll go to Baltimore for more on the case after headlines.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, white police officer Jason Van Dyke has been formally indicted on six counts of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald more than one year ago. Dash cam video, only recently released by court order, shows the teenager posing no threat and walking away from the officers at a distance as Officer Van Dyke jumps out of his police car and opens fire, striking McDonald 16 times. The case has sparked massive protests across Chicago, the ouster of former Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy, and increasing calls for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. On Wednesday, as Mayor Emanuel was visiting the boys’ charter school Urban Prep Charter Academy in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood, students began chanting “16 Shots”—the slogan many protesters have been using in calling for Emanuel’s resignation.
Students: “Sixteen shots! Sixteen shots! Sixteen shots!”
Mayor Emanuel abruptly left after the assembly.
New York has agreed to overhaul the system of solitary confinement in state prisons, following a three-year legal battle by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Currently, New York state holds 4,000 prisoners in solitary confinement in 6-foot-by-10-foot cells for 23 hours a day, often for years. The new agreement seeks to reduce dramatically the number of people in solitary confinement and the length of their stay. It imposes a maximum sentence of three months in solitary for most disciplinary violations and bars the use of solitary confinement for first-time violations for drug use or possession. New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman wrote: “No prison system of this size has ever taken on such sweeping and comprehensive reforms to solitary confinement at one time. Today marks the end of the era where incarcerated New Yorkers are simply thrown into the box to be forgotten under torturous conditions as a punishment of first resort.”
Federal prosecutors have announced they will file criminal charges against a friend and former neighbor of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting massacre, which killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center on December 2. Officials have accused Enrique Marquez of buying two assault rifles three years ago, which authorities say were used in the shooting.
Congress is voting on a $1.1 trillion budget deal today, which includes a provision to end the decades-old ban on exporting U.S.-produced crude oil. Lifting the crude oil export ban has long been a demand of the oil industry. Companies including BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Hess, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake Energy and Marathon Oil have all lobbied for bills to lift the ban within the last few years. Environmental group Oil Change International says lifting the ban will incentivize further domestic oil production and is “a disaster for the climate.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve says it’s lifting interest rates for the first time since the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the interest rate hike reflects the economic recovery has “clearly come a long way.” In response, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote: “At a time when real unemployment is nearly 10 percent and youth unemployment is off the charts, we need to do everything possible to create millions of good-paying jobs and raise the wages of the American people. The Fed should act with the same sense of urgency to rebuild the disappearing middle class as it did to bail out Wall Street banks seven years ago.”
In Turkey, at least seven people have been killed by Turkish security forces, as authorities have declared a curfew across the mainly Kurdish southeast region. At least two of those killed were protesters who were demonstrating against a police crackdown. The deaths come amid an escalating Turkish police and military crackdown across Kurdish communities in Turkey’s southeast. A resident of the southeast town of Cizre, who did not give his name for safety reasons, spoke out against the repression.
Cizre resident: “I find these policies erroneous. The pressure on Kurdish people has become unacceptable. What is it that we cannot share? Enough is enough. We want peace.”
In Nevada, a media mystery may have been revealed. Fortune magazine first reported that major Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson has bought Nevada’s largest daily newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for $140 million. Last week’s purchase was reportedly arranged by Adelson’s son-in-law. The revelation follows a week of questions and uncertainty as the Adelson family attempted to keep the purchase secret, even from the newspaper’s own staff. Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Sean Whaley tweeted last week: “I have some stories to write Monday but I don’t know who I’m working for. I am not happy.”
Republican presidential candidates have returned to the campaign trail following Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate. In Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose office the U.S. Justice Department has said holds a “systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections,” introduced candidate Donald Trump at a rally by reminding the audience that the two of them are both prominent “birthers” who question the validity of President Obama’s U.S. birth certificate.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio: “We have something in common—the birth certificate investigation, which is still going on; illegal immigration. And one more thing we share: birthday.”
Donald Trump has been one of the leaders of the birther movement. In 2011, he claimed to have sent investigators to Hawaii.
In Illinois, the private Christian school Wheaton College has suspended a tenured professor who has begun wearing a headscarf in solidarity with her Muslim neighbors. Political science professor Larycia Hawkins posted on Facebook: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” In response, Wheaton College suspended Hawkins, saying that her words violated an oath required by the school. Speaking at a news conference at a Chicago church Wednesday, Hawkins said that wearing the headscarf is “embodied solidarity.”
Larycia Hawkins: “The point of this is being in embodied solidarity. Theoretical solidarity is not solidarity. So, being with people requires sacrificing our bodies, and that’s what I’m doing. And I won’t—I won’t turn back on that. I won’t look back, and I’ll continue to do this until Christmas.”
And five years ago today, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. On December 17, 2010, the 26-year-old protested authorities’ harassment as he tried to sell fruit and vegetables in a market. The act led to protests across Tunisia, which eventually brought about the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, followed by the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring.