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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe” in a Palestinian refugee camp invaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria. Speaking Thursday, Ban said Yarmouk resembles a death camp.
Ban Ki-moon: “The Yarmouk refugee camp is the deepest circle of hell. After more than two years of a merciless siege, 18,000 Palestine refugees and Syrians are now being held hostage by Daesh and other extremist militants. A refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp. The residents of Yarmouk, including 3,500 children, are being turned into human shields. They face a double-edged sword — armed elements inside the camp and government forces outside.”
Palestinian officials have rejected the possibility of joining with the Syrian government to oust the ISIL militants. The statement from the Palestine Liberation Organization contradicts an earlier statement from the PLO’s envoy to Syria suggesting the Palestinians would join in military action.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said there is no guarantee of a final nuclear deal after Iran and world powers reached a historic framework agreement last week. In his first comments since the agreement was reached, Khamenei declared all economic sanctions on Iran must be lifted on the day any final deal is signed, and said foreign inspectors would not be allowed into military sites.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “If you ask me if I support or oppose the nuclear agreement, I neither support it nor oppose it, because nothing has happened yet. Nothing has been done yet. The whole issue lies in the details that they are meant to discuss one by one.”
Khamenei’s remarks may have been designed to placate hardliners opposed to the nuclear deal. Negotiators will seek to reach a final agreement before a June 30 deadline.
In the United States, massive tornadoes have torn through Illinois and other swaths of the Midwest, destroying homes and leaving heaps of debris in the street. At least one person was reportedly killed in Fairdale, Illinois, where most of the town’s buildings were damaged.
South Carolina authorities have released police dashboard camera video from the day North Charleston police officer Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Scott. Slager is charged with murder after a bystander’s cellphone video showed him shooting Scott in the back as he fled. The dash cam video did not capture the shooting, but does show Slager approaching Scott’s vehicle after pulling him over for a broken brake light. The two converse, and after Slager returns to his cruiser, Scott gets out of his car and begins to run. His family has said he may have fled because he was behind on his child support payments. Meanwhile, activists in North Charleston are calling for a citizen review board for police and city officials, saying the shooting is evidence of a longstanding pattern of racial bias. Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott, said the pattern applies to both people of color and the poor.
Anthony Scott: “Well, I wouldn’t say it was just an African-American thing; it would also be a minority thing. It would be a racial profiling type of thing, and in the city of North Charleston. And, I mean, if you’re a Hispanic or if you are a, I would say, low-income white American, it’s — they would be affected just as well as an African American. But, yes, I think they do stereotype, in the city of North Charleston, people of this sort.”
In St. Louis County, Missouri, municipal courts have agreed to adopt a uniform standard for fines and court costs. The move is part of an overhaul following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and a Justice Department report which accused police of acting as a “collection agency” to run the city off exorbitant fines. The municipal court in Ferguson issued 10,000 more arrest warrants in 2013 than there are people in the city, mostly for driving-related offenses.
In Mississippi, two young white women have been sentenced to prison for their role in the 2011 murder of an African-American man. Shelbie Brooke Richards and Sarah Adelia Graves admitted to recruiting fellow teenagers to travel around the Mississippi capital of Jackson looking for black people to assault. Both were in a pickup truck when the driver mowed down James Craig Anderson, killing him. Richards admitted she yelled a racial slur and encouraged the driver to beat Anderson and run him over. The driver was previously sentenced to 50 years in prison, and five other white men received lesser terms. On Thursday, Richards was sentenced to eight years and Graves to five years.
In New York City, Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, will spend another weekend at Rikers Island jail after a prosecutor demanded scrutiny of donations used to pay for his bail. Orta’s supporters raised nearly $40,000 to pay for his bail bond so he could be released from Rikers, where is being held on a drug charge. But Orta’s lawyers say the district attorney demanded a “bail source” hearing to determine if the funds were obtained illegally, even though they were publicly raised through the website GoFundMe. Orta and his family say police have targeted them over Orta’s filming of Garner’s death. (Click here to watch Thursday’s interview on Democracy Now! with Ramsey Orta’s attorneys and his aunt.)
In Sacramento, California, an African-Amercan activist is facing up to four years in prison for “lynching,” after she allegedly tried to pull a fellow protester away from police. Under a 1933 California law designed to protect black people from white mobs, the act of attempting to free someone from police custody can be defined as “lynching,” a felony offense. The law has been used repeatedly against activists, including Maile Hampton, who was arrested for her actions at a protest against police brutality. On Thursday, protesters packed a court hearing to support Hampton, who returns to court again on April 30. Following an outcry, local and state officials have vowed to remove the word “lynching” from California law.
President Obama has arrived in Panama to attend the Summit of the Americas along with other leaders from Canada, Central America, South America, the Caribbean — and for the first time, Cuba. Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro are reportedly due to meet informally at the summit, marking the first time presidents from the two countries have sat down since 1956. Meanwhile, on Thursday Obama announced the State Department has finished its review of whether Cuba should be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, but said he would wait to act until receiving final recommendations of White House advisers.
President Obama: “As you know, there is a process involved in reviewing whether or not a country should be on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. That review has been completed at the State Department; it is now forwarded to the White House. Our inter-agency team will go through the entire thing and then present it to me with a recommendation. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Fights broke out ahead of the Summit of the Americas Wednesday when anti-Castro Cuban demonstrators tried to lay flowers at a bust of Cuban patriarch José Martí near the Cuban Embassy in Panama City and were confronted by a group of pro-Castro activists. Cuban delegates also protested over reports that former CIA-backed paramilitary officer Félix Rodríguez, who was sent to kill Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967, was meeting with opposition groups in Panama City. We will have more on the summit after headlines.
An immigrant rights activist who was deported six months ago, after warning he could be killed if he returned home to Mexico, has been fatally shot in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Constantino Morales reportedly served as a police officer in Mexico, where he denounced drug trafficking and faced attempts on his life, before coming to United States to seek asylum. He was deported in September after his asylum bids were rejected. He leaves behind six children. Morales’ former activist group, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, called on Congress to pass immigration reform: “There are too many of these preventable stories.”
Hillary Clinton is reportedly poised to announce her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination this weekend. The move comes as a new investigation has revealed Clinton’s close ties to a Canadian oil company with a history of alleged violence in Colombia. The International Business Times reports while Clinton was secretary of state she backed a Colombian free trade pact she had previously opposed over concerns about labor rights, after the founder of oil giant Pacific Rubiales pledged millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. The founder, Frank Giustra, now serves on the Clinton Foundation’s board. Labor leaders say Clinton ignored accounts of attacks on union organizers in Colombia, instead backing the trade pact which benefited Giustra and other foreign investors.
The former governor of Rhode Island has announced he is exploring a run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Lincoln Chafee served in the Senate as a Republican and later became governor as an independent, before becoming a Democrat in 2013. He has criticized Clinton over her support for the Iraq War. Chafee’s father, John Chafee, also served as a senator and governor of Rhode Island, as well as secretary of the U.S. Navy.
Georgia has agreed to end its blanket ban on hormone treatment for transgender prisoners after the Department of Justice intervened on behalf of a transgender woman denied hormones for three years. The Justice Department voiced support for Ashley Diamond’s lawsuit over deprivation of the hormones she took for 17 years before her imprisonment. State officials say Diamond is now receiving the treatments.
Nineteen people have been arrested at Yale University in Connecticut for their role in a sit-in calling for Yale to purge its nearly $24 billion endowment from fossil fuel corporations. The students want school officials to reopen the discussion after deciding not to divest in August. Yale’s endowment is the third largest in the country. Students there join a growing number across the country who are demanding divestment from companies that drive global warming. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted a debate on divestment Thursday. Student activists covered the windows of a university building with colored paper spelling out the word “divest.” And Harvard Heat Week begins on Monday. Harvard Heat Week is the divestment efforts of students and professors at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has spoken out from a prison infirmary about the police killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina. Abu-Jamal, who is seriously ill at SCI Mahanoy, rose from his infirmary bed to record the commentary after a fellow prisoner wheeled in a television so he could watch coverage of the shooting. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Abu-Jamal discusses his reaction.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: “Remember the young man who allegedly shot — not killed — two cops in Ferguson several weeks ago? Every politician in America leaped at the chance to call the kid a punk, a thug. Now, what do you call Slager? What have you heard? Even though he’s been fired, he’s called 'officer' today, or 'Mr. Slager.' He killed a man for a traffic citation and lied about it. Is he a punk, a predator, or what Huey P. Newton used to call, a pig? From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Special thanks to Noelle Hanrahan at Prison Radio for the recording of that commentary. Mumia Abu-Jamal’s supporters say he remains severely ill after he was hospitalized for diabetic shock. Today his supporters have called a national day of action with protests in 10 cities to demand he be allowed to see a diabetes specialist. Abu-Jamal is in prison for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial.