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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 Parkland, Florida, 17 people were killed and 15 others wounded Wednesday in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, was the 18th school shooting this year. This is Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Sheriff Scott Israel: “We have 17 confirmed victims. Twelve victims were within the building. Two victims are outside, just outside the building. One victim is on the street at the corner of Pine Island. And two folks, people, lost their lives at the hospital.”
Reporter: “Can you speak to the number of weapons he had, and whether or not—we heard that a fire alarm was pulled off. Was that in anticipation of the shooting taking place?”
Sheriff Scott Israel: “I don’t know anything about the fire alarm at this point. He had countless magazines, multiple magazines. And at this point, we believe he had one AR-15 rifle.”
Police have identified the gunman as a 19-year-old former pupil named Nikolas Cruz. He was arrested a few miles away from the scene of the shooting. His classmates described him as a loner who was obsessed with guns. Police say his social media profile showed “very, very disturbing” content.
The New York Times reports that since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. This is Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy speaking on the Senate floor after the shooting on Wednesday.
Sen. Chris Murphy: “This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting, it only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else.”
After headlines, we’ll go to Florida for the latest on the shooting.
President Trump said Wednesday he is “totally opposed” to domestic violence, ending days of silence over the case of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned last week after evidence surfaced that he had abused his two ex-wives.
President Donald Trump: “I am totally opposed to domestic violence. And everybody here knows that. I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know it.”
Trump’s remarks came as members of Congress said they would convene committee hearings to investigate why White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly allowed Rob Porter to hold a temporary high-level security clearance for more than a year, despite accusations of domestic violence against him. Speaking in an interview with the Axios news outlet, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration hadn’t handled the Rob Porter case well.
Vice President Mike Pence: “Well, this administration has no tolerance for domestic violence, nor should any American. And as I said and as the White House has said, I think the White House could have handled this better, and I still feel that way.”
Despite those remarks, Vice President Pence pushed back against growing calls in Washington for John Kelly to resign as Trump’s chief of staff.
Vice President Mike Pence: “John Kelly has done a remarkable job as chief of staff for president of the United States. And I look—I look forward to continuing to work with him, for many, many months to come.”
In Syria, U.S. airstrikes and artillery fire last week reportedly killed scores of Russian mercenaries who had joined a failed assault on a base held by U.S. and Kurdish forces in Deir ez-Zor. Bloomberg reports that more than 200 soldiers-for-hire fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad were killed in the fighting, including many Russians. Meanwhile, some of the fiercest fighting in the 7-year-old conflict continues to rage in the northern city of Afrin, the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta and other parts of Syria. The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned Wednesday that civilians have been killed on a “horrific scale,” with more than 1,000 killed in the first week of February alone.
Staffan de Mistura: “I’ve been now four years special envoy. This is as violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I’ve seen in my time of tenure so far.”
On Wednesday, video circulated on social media showing an aid convoy arriving in the besieged rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. The nine trucks were the first to arrive in the area since late November of last year. They held food and supplies for an estimated 7,000 people in an area where 400,000 civilians remain trapped by fighting.
The latest violence in Syria came as the British charity Save the Children warned in a new report that at least 357 million children—or one in six worldwide—are living in conflict zones. Campaigner Kitty Arie says that number is up by 75 percent from the early 1990s.
In Libya, at least 23 people were killed Wednesday after a truck carrying an estimated 300 migrants overturned and crashed near the capitol, Tripoli. The crash left another 124 people injured. The crash came less than two weeks after 90 refugees were found drowned off the coast of Libya after their ship sank during an attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
South African President Jacob Zuma resigned from office Wednesday, effective immediately, after his ruling ANC party ordered him to step down or face a no-confidence vote. The 75-year-old Zuma had been in power since 2009 but faced widespread calls to step down amid a number of corruption scandals. Longtime ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa is poised to take Zuma’s place. Ramaphosa once led the National Union of Mineworkers under apartheid in the 1980s. He later built a business empire that included mining interests—including the Marikana platinum mine, where police killed 34 workers during a strike in 2012. Ramaphosa is now one of Africa’s wealthiest men, with a net worth of about $450 million.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died Wednesday of cancer in South Africa at the age of 65. In 2000, Tsvangirai founded the Movement for Democratic Change, which challenged longtime leader Robert Mugabe’s grip on power. In response, he was repeatedly arrested by Zimbabwean authorities and subjected to beatings and torture while in jail. In 2008, Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential election after leading in the first round of voting, after Mugabe’s security forces carried out a campaign of violence against his supporters. Between 2009 and 2013, Tsvangirai served as Mugabe’s prime minister in a power-sharing agreement.
In Canada, an all-white jury has acquitted a white farmer for murdering a young indigenous man from the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, sparking protests across Canada. In August 2016, the farmer, Gerald Stanley, fatally shot the Cree man, Colten Boushie, when he and a group of friends pulled up onto Stanley’s farmland after they got a flat tire. This is a protester at a demonstration in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Protester: “If Canada and Saskatchewan are serious about reconciliation, we want more than words and tears! We want action! And we want a say in the control and destiny of our rights and for our children and for future generations!”
Back in the United States, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is set to face tough questions before a House panel today, after a government report found he misused more than $120,000 in taxpayer funds to bring his wife along on an official trip to Europe that saw the pair visiting castles, taking boat rides and attending the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The scathing report by the U.S. inspector general found Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email to convince an ethics lawyer to approve a $4,300 ticket to fly Shulkin’s wife overseas. Investigators also found another of Shulkin’s aides “effectively acted as a personal travel concierge,” spending many hours arranging tourist activities for Shulkin and his wife, rather than conducting official VA business. On Wednesday, Colorado Republican Congressmember Mike Coffman called on Shulkin to resign, tweeting, “It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans.” Shulkin has been summoned to answer questions at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today.
In Los Angeles, federal immigration agents with ICE have launched a series of raids, arresting more than 100 people since Sunday. The sweep comes just weeks after a similar series of raids in Northern California. The LAPD and many other police departments across California have said they won’t cooperate with ICE on immigration enforcement, prompting ICE spokesperson Sarah Rodriguez to say in a statement that the agency was targeting L.A. and other sanctuary cities because they were “uncooperative jurisdictions.”
A federal appeals court has barred a predominantly white Alabama community from forming its own school district, ruling that racial animus led to efforts by Gardendale residents to secede from the majority-black Jefferson County school district. This case was covered extensively by New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who spoke recently on Democracy Now!
Nikole Hannah-Jones: “So, in this particular case, there was a flier about this effort to—for Gardendale to secede from the Jefferson County school system, and it listed a bunch of towns, and it said, you know, 'We have a choice to make. Do we want to be these towns?'—and then it listed several other towns—’Or do we want to be these towns?’ They never mentioned race, but it was clear to everyone who lived there the towns that the community did not want to be like were all heavily black, and the towns that the community did want to be like were all heavily white. And the white towns had seceded and broken their schools off from the larger system, and as a result, their schools and the towns were very white.”
Tuesday’s ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a lower court ruling that would have allowed the secession to proceed. Writing on behalf of a three-judge panel at the 11th Circuit, Judge William Pryor noted, “The district court found that the Gardendale Board acted with a discriminatory purpose to exclude black children from the proposed school system.” Despite that, Judge Pryor wrote, the district court improperly allowed the secession to continue.
And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he hopes to accelerate the closure of the notorious Rikers Island jail, which he previously promised to close within 10 years. The plan would see the city build a new jail in the Bronx while expanding existing jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Mayor de Blasio said it would also require a sharp reduction in the number of people New York puts behind bars.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “For this plan to work, in addition to the new facilities, we have to keep driving down the jail population. I’m going to say this every time we talk about this issue. We now are at about 9,000 individuals in our jail system on any given day. That number must go down to 5,000 for this overall plan to work. Now that’s going to take a lot. We believe it can be done. And we believe, when it’s done, it will be crucial to breaking that cycle of incarceration.”
A 2017 investigation by the Justice Department found that Rikers is home to a “culture of violence” that regularly sees prisoners beaten by both guards and other inmates. Among the cases of injustice that have called attention to Rikers is the story of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide in 2015 at the age of 22, after he was sent to Rikers for nearly three years without trial—much of it in solitary confinement—after he was accused of stealing a backpack.