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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, Maryland, thousands of people have continued to protest peacefully over the police custody death of Freddie Gray. Gray died of spinal injuries a week after he was arrested for looking a police lieutenant in the eye, then running away. His family said his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck. Overnight, thousands of police and National Guard troops continued to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew. Newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department would provide whatever resources are needed to control the protests.
Loretta Lynch: “I have been in direct contact with officials in Maryland, including the governor, and I’ve directed this department to provide any assistance that might be helpful in restoring calm and resolving the unrest that broke out across the city.”
After arresting more than 200 people overnight on Monday, Baltimore was forced to release about half of them Wednesday, amid a spate of legal challenges. Some of the prisoners said they were held without food for 18 hours. An 18-year-old shown in a picture smashing a police car with a traffic cone is being held on half a million dollars bail, after his stepfather convinced him to turn himself in. Schools reopened in Baltimore after they were closed following Monday night’s uprising, which saw cars and buildings torched. But the public was barred from attending a Baltimore Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards, meaning the teams played for an empty stadium. The Associated Press called it “one of the weirdest spectacles in major-league history.”
Thousands of people marched in cities from Boston to Chicago to Ferguson, Missouri, to show solidarity with Baltimore and connect the case of Freddie Gray with police killings of unarmed African Americans across the country. In Boston, protesters gathered in front of police headquarters, chanting “Being black is not a crime, same story every time.” In Minneapolis, protesters marched across town carrying a coffin. Here in New York City, at least 120 people were reportedly arrested as protesters shut down parts of the Holland Tunnel, West Side Highway and Times Square. Protester Al Patron said attention has focused too heavily on the tactics used during Monday night’s uprising in Baltimore and not enough on the underlying problems.
Al Patron: “And it’s getting lost. It’s getting lost. And instead of looking at the root, we’re looking at the riot, when the root is more important. They murdered somebody, you know? And a life was taken. So I think we need to, like, start paying attention to that instead of like — and put more on preservation of life than preservation of buildings or whatever and property. I don’t care about that. I care about people that look like me’s lives.”
It remains unclear exactly how Freddie Gray received the spinal injuries which killed him. Bystander video shows police dragging him to a van, as he screams in pain, his body apparently limp. According to a police timeline, Gray asked for an inhaler as he was going into the van, but a medic wasn’t called for more than 40 minutes. Now, The Washington Post has obtained a police document which contains an affidavit by a fellow prisoner who was in the van with Gray, but who couldn’t see him because they were separated by a metal partition. The document, written by a police investigator, says the fellow prisoner told police he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that Gray “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” Jason Downs, an attorney for Gray’s family, questioned the police account, saying, “We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord.” Downs continued: “We question the accuracy of the police reports we’ve seen thus far, including the police report that says Mr. Gray was arrested without force or incident.”
Hillary Clinton addressed the issue of police violence and criticized the U.S. system of mass incarceration in her first major policy speech since announcing her presidential bid. Speaking at Columbia University in New York, Clinton called for all police to wear body cameras, and said harsh sentences for drug offenses should be reformed.
Hillary Clinton: “We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America. There is something profoundly wrong when African-American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts. There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”
Clinton’s remarks contrast sharply with statements she made as first lady, when she supported the so-called “tough-on-crime” agenda of her husband, President Bill Clinton, including a 1994 law which led to harsher sentences for drug offenses and expanded the number of prisons and police.
In Nepal, a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have been rescued from piles of rubble where they were trapped for five days following a devastating earthquake. The girl was reportedly rescued in the devastated town of Bhaktapur. In the capital Kathmandu, rescuers worked for hours to save the teenage boy. The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake has continued to rise and now stands at 5,500. Bad weather has stalled the arrival of aid to remote villages.
A new report says the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan extends far beyond the terms described publicly by the White House. While the Obama administration has declared an end to the war in Afghanistan, The New York Times reports the U.S. military has actually transformed the war into an ongoing campaign of drone strikes and special operations raids. Publicly, officials have said the U.S. role is confined to counterterrorism against groups like al-Qaeda and protection of U.S. troops —- not continuing to fight the Taliban. But last month, U.S. and NATO forces conducted 52 airstrikes in Afghanistan, many against low— to mid-level Taliban fighters. One unnamed official alleged the United States is putting troops on the ground in Afghanistan to justify strikes under the guise of protecting them.
The Wall Street Journal has revealed the FBI helped facilitate a ransom payment from the family of U.S. hostage Warren Weinstein to al-Qaeda in 2012, in apparent contradiction of its own policy against paying ransoms for hostages. Weinstein, a U.S. government contractor, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in January. The family of James Foley, a U.S. journalist executed by ISIL, has said U.S. officials threatened them with criminal charges if they attempted to raise ransom money to free their son.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech to Congress Wednesday pressing lawmakers to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Abe said the implications of the TPP go far beyond the economy.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “Furthermore, the TPP goes far beyond just economic benefit. It is also about our security. Long-term, its strategic value is awesome.”
The TPP would encompass 40 percent of the global economy. It has faced a tidal wave of opposition from groups across the political spectrum who say it would undermine environmental and health regulations, hurt U.S. workers and grant special rights to corporations. Lawmakers are considering whether to grant Obama fast-track authority to push the deal through Congress without any amendments allowed.
In Brazil, more than 200 people have reportedly been injured in clashes between police and protesting teachers in the city of Curitiba. The teachers are protesting over changes to their state pensions. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades, while the mayor tweeted that the city “looks like a war zone.”
The Obama administration appears to have curbed its deportations of undocumented immigrants following public protests denouncing him as the “deporter-in-chief.” Obama has deported more people than any other president, including a record of well over 400,000 in 2012. But according to the Associated Press, the pace has been slowing, with 127,000 deportations over the first six months of this fiscal year. If the slowdown continues, this year could see the lowest number of deportations since 2006, under President George W. Bush.
California Governor Jerry Brown has issued an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. His target marks the most ambitious benchmark set by any government in North America to reduce dangerous carbon emissions over the next 15 years. This comes as one of the worst droughts in decades continues to ravage California, with 98 percent of the state now suffering from a water crisis.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of states to ban judicial candidates from personally requesting campaign contributions. The ruling allows 30 states where state and local judges are elected to keep their restrictions on donations. Chief Justice John Roberts, who supported the court’s previous decision in Citizens United to allow unlimited corporate political spending, backed the restrictions on judicial candidates, writing, “Judges are not politicians.”
A federal judge has struck down a Pennsylvania law restricting the speech of prisoners, calling it “manifestly unconstitutional.” The law was enacted after journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is imprisoned in Pennsylvania, gave a pre-taped commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont. The law authorized the censoring of prisoners’ public addresses if judges agree letting them speak would cause “mental anguish” to people impacted by their crimes. Judge Christopher Conner called the law “unlawfully proposed” and “patently over-broad.” Supporters of the law plan to appeal.
Pope Francis has taken on the gender pay gap. Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis called wage inequality a “pure scandal.”
Pope Francis: “As Christians, we must become more demanding about these issues. For instance, we must support decisively the right to equal pay for equal work. Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The discrepancy is a pure scandal.”
Pope Francis has rejected the possibility of equal work for women within the Catholic Church, saying the “door is closed” to women becoming priests.
In Mexico, human rights activists have called for urgent action to address violence against women. As the rule of law has collapsed in many areas of Mexico amid corruption and cartel violence during the ongoing U.S.-backed drug war, thousands of women have been killed or disappeared. The violence is particularly intense in the north, along the U.S.-Mexico border. In the northern state of Chihuahua, there were 23 murders for every 100,000 women in 2012. María de la Luz Estrada, director of the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide, said the government has failed to address the crisis.
María de la Luz Estrada: “We are talking about a national emergency of femicides, because women are being brutally murdered more often, and now there’s the pattern of them going missing. This happens because the government has not generated the mechanisms, the protocols, the search required to immediately find them and to prevent more crimes from being committed.”
Newly released documents show U.S. officials had raised concerns about the Germanwings pilot who crashed a plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 on board. The Federal Aviation Administration questioned whether Andreas Lubitz was fit to fly based on his history of depression. After his doctors said Lubitz had recovered, the FAA allowed him to travel to the United States to continue his pilot training with Lufthansa airlines.
And new research has found U.S. insurance companies are failing to provide adequate coverage to women and transgender people in violation of the Affordable Care Act. The National Women’s Law Center reviewed 100 insurance companies in 15 states, revealing more than half were violating the law. When it came to birth control, the center found, insurance companies are still not covering all methods or are imposing out-of-pocket costs.