On Chicago’s South Side, some violence-weary residents open to federal investigators

By Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Many Chicagoans vehemently oppose President Donald Trump’s pledge to send federal officers to the third-largest U.S. city, after seeing camouflaged agents deployed in Portland club and tear-gas anti-racism protesters.

But in South and West Side neighborhoods hit hardest by a recent spike in gang violence, some Chicago residents welcomed the move and said federal agents may be able to help solve crimes.

“I appreciate it and I like it,” said Cedrick Easterling, a former gang member, who was shoveling garbage scattered in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood as part of his work clearing vacant lots.

“If you sit at that park, you will hear shots all over Englewood,” said Easterling, who was once shot himself, pointing south toward Ogden Park. Like most in Chicago, Easterling is not a fan of Trump, who won just 51 of the city’s 2,069 precincts in the 2016 presidential election.

Easterling, 54, has lived in Englewood since he was seven. He said crime is particularly bad this year and Trump should consider bringing in the National Guard and using drones to record evidence of crimes as they occur

Others were more cautious, saying they feared an increased federal presence would erode civil liberties in a city that has had long-standing problems with police brutality in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Trump said last week that hundreds of officers from the FBI and other federal agencies would help fight crime in Chicago. The city is suffering a spike in violent crime, including a drive-by shooting by suspected gang members at a funeral last week that wounded 15 people.

Trump has sought to project a law-and-order stance as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, targeting cities controlled by Democrats who he says are soft on criminals. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight of 10 people Reuters interviewed in wealthier and safer areas on Chicago’s North Side opposed any form of intervention from Trump, saying federal officers could fan tensions in the city and would not address underlying issues such as unemployment.

“I don’t see how the feds are going to help with anything,” said Michael Flaherty, a 53-year-old architect who lives in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

“They’re violent. Violence doesn’t fix violence.”

The view was often more nuanced on the South and West Sides, where a much higher proportion of residents have experienced violent crime.

Junior Jaber, 28, recalled the day four years ago when his friend Paul Hamilton, then 47, was killed by a stray bullet while walking his dog in Ogden Park.

“I was mad. He had nothing to do with anything,” said Jaber, who runs Englewood Food Mart, where Hamilton worked as a butcher. “We got to do something. It’s almost like a war zone out here.”

Jaber said he was all for it when he learned of Trump’s plan to send in federal agents.

“They should clean it all up. Just do their job,” said the 28-year-old father of two as he sold sodas, lottery tickets and pints of liquor.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the reinforcements to Chicago do not involve the type of forces that were deployed to Portland and have been accused of civil rights violations and using excessive force.

Protesters said uniformed personnel without name tags or agency badges snatched young people off the streets into unmarked vans before eventually releasing them.

Protests have continued around the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody. The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the use of force in Portland and whether federal agents had proper identification.

Black Lives Matter activists, who have led protests against police brutality in Chicago, are suing federal officials to try to ensure agents do not violate civil rights. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has told residents all new federal resources would be “investigatory in nature” and vowed to pursue all available legal options if federal officers go beyond that.

‘INNOCENT BYSTANDERS’

While Chicago’s murder rate had been falling in recent years, there were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200% compared with the same period in 2019, police department data shows.

Some residents of East Garfield Park, a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, support federal intervention after gang shootings hit unintended targets, said Damien Morris, director of violence prevention initiatives for local nonprofit Breakthrough.

“When you have women and kids getting shot – innocent bystanders – you have residents that feel like something needs to happen,” Morris said.

Trump sent a smaller number of special agents and law enforcement researchers to Chicago in 2017 after a spike in violent crime.

Phil Bridgeman, 49, said he opposes all federal law enforcement in Chicago. Even if the federal agents could help solve high-profile cases, he said, they will not solve the root causes of violent crime.

“It’s not going to help, it’s going to agitate,” said Bridgeman as he sold “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts in the middle of a busy boulevard.

Vaughn Bryant, executive director of anti-violence group Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, was concerned by “a greater threat to people’s freedom,” with the arrival of more agents.

In Englewood, a man who goes by the name Joe Pug sat in a lawn chair with several other people on a sidewalk opposite a small police station. The 49-year-old, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, supports federal agents investigating shootings.

He said the South and West Sides also need massive investments in education and job creation, especially for young Black men.

“There is nothing here, nothing for them,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Daniel Wallis)

Trump to send federal forces to more ‘Democrat’ cities

By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he would send law enforcement to more U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in Oregon with unmarked cars and unidentified forces angered people across the country.

Trump, a Republican, cited New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, as places to send federal agents, noting the cities’ mayors were “liberal Democrats.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot frequently blasts Trump on Twitter.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

State and local leaders in Oregon, as well as members of Congress, have called for Trump to remove Department of Homeland Security secret police forces from Portland, Oregon, after videos showed unidentified federal personnel rounding up people and whisking them away in black minivans.

“Not only do I believe he is breaking the law, but he is also endangering the lives of Portlanders,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted, having previously called the federal presence “political theater” in an election year.

Trump, trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in June declared himself “president of law and order” and threatened to send the U.S. military into cities after sometimes violent protests and looting in the aftermath of African American ‘s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Federal agents last week began cracking down on Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism, using tear gas to defend federal buildings and taking some activists into custody without explanation.

“They grab a lot of people and jail the leaders. These are anarchists,” Trump said of federal agents sent to the historically liberal city to quell often unruly protests.

Despite a national outcry over the tactics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Monday said they would not back down and would not apologize.

The state of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Trump administration for unlawfully detaining Oregon residents, and some Republicans spoke out against its tactics on Monday.

“There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” tweeted U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Homeland Security was making plans to deploy around 150 agents in the city this week where police defending a statue clashed with protesters on Friday.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Deborah Bloom in Portland; Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. officials defend Portland crackdown: ‘We’re not going to apologize’

By Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Homeland Security officials said on Monday they had no intention of pulling back in Portland, Oregon, and defended the federal crackdown on anti-racism protests, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement units to Portland to back up the Federal Protective Service responsible for guarding U.S. government facilities after receiving intelligence about planned attacks around July 4, the DHS officials said.

“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities. We are not escalating, we are protecting,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in other “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his Republican administration moves to intervene in urban centers he says have lost control of demonstrations. Protests began across the country after the police killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.

In Portland, federal officers last week started cracking down on crowds, using tear gas to disperse protesters and taking some into custody in unmarked cars.

Portland Police early on Monday provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse downtown.

Wolf said federal law enforcement was doing its job.

“We’re not going to apologize for it,” he said. “We’re going to do it professionally and do it correctly.”

The clampdown in the liberal city has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.

Cuccinelli said if federal authorities receive the same kind of intelligence threat in other places, they would respond the same way. “It’s really as simple as that,” he said.

On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.

Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.

Cuccinelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.

“We will maintain our presence,” he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Ex-Atlanta policeman charged in Brooks’ death freed from jail, official says

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – The former Atlanta police officer charged in last month’s death of Rayshard Brooks, which touched off days of anti-racism protests, has been released from jail on bail, an official said on Wednesday.

A Georgia County judge on Tuesday set bond for Garrett Rolfe, 27, at $500,000, and added numerous conditions, including that he wears an ankle monitor and obeys a curfew.

Rolfe left Gwinnett County Jail at 12:27 a.m. EDT (0337 GMT) on Wednesday, according to county Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shannon Volkodav.

Representatives for the jail, police, Rolfe and Brooks’ family were not immediately available for comment.

The white policeman is charged with felony murder and 10 other offenses in the shooting of Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, at a Wendy’s parking lot in south Atlanta.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick said she would allow Rolfe to be freed from jail while awaiting trial because she did not believe the former officer was a danger to the community or a flight risk.

Brooks’ June 12 death exacerbated tensions in the United States over police brutality and racism stoked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Surveillance and cellphone video of the Atlanta shooting was widely viewed on social media, triggering sometimes-violent demonstrations and the burning of the fast-food restaurant.

At Tuesday’s hearing, before the judge gave her decision, Brooks’ widow Tomika Miller asked the court to deny bond, saying she would not feel safe with the former officer free.

“I say ‘no’ because mentally, I’m not able to handle it. I don’t feel safe with him out there,” she said.

Rolfe’s attorneys have said they intend to present strong evidence asserting he was legally justified in using deadly force because he was acting in self-defense. Rolfe was fired from the police and had been held at the Gwinnett County jail.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bernadette Baum)

George Floyd to be buried Tuesday as global anti-racism protests spread

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – George Floyd will be buried in Houston on Tuesday two weeks after his death while being held by police in a Minneapolis street, and more anti-racism rallies inspired by his treatment were set to take place in the United States and in Europe.

Thousands of mourners paid their respects on Monday, filing past his open coffin at the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston, Texas, where Floyd grew up.

Some mourners bowed their heads, others made the sign of the cross or raised a fist. Many wore face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in a service that lasted more than six hours. The funeral will be a private ceremony and he will buried next to his mother’s grave.

“I’m glad he got the send-off he deserved,” Marcus Williams, a 46-year-old black resident of Houston, said outside. “I want the police killings to stop. I want them to reform the process to achieve justice, and stop the killing.”

Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Unarmed and handcuffed, he lay face down in the street, gasping for air and groaning for help before falling silent, footage filmed by a bystander showed.

His death unleashed a surge of protests across the U.S. cities against racism and the systematic mistreatment of black people.

Though mostly peaceful, there have been episodes of arson, looting and clashes with police, whose often heavy-handed tactics have fueled the rage.

The case also thrust President Donald Trump into a political crisis. He has repeatedly threatened to order the military on to the streets to restore order and has struggled to unite the nation.

People stand in front of a makeshift memorial as protesters rally against racial inequality and the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

The demonstrations have reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement and raised demands for racial justice and police reforms to the top of the political agenda ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“I’m here to protest the mistreatment of our black bodies. It’s not going to stop unless we keep protesting,” said Erica Corley, 34, one of the hundreds attending a gathering in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

AROUND THE WORLD

Floyd’s death triggered protests across the globe, particularly in countries with a history of colonialism and involvement in the slave trade.

In Britain, thousands of people of all races rallied in several cities over the weekend. In the port city of Bristol, the statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from trading African slaves, was pulled down and dumped in the harbor.

A protest is scheduled for Tuesday night at Oxford University to demand the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a 19th-century businessman in southern Africa long accused of imperialist exploitation.

Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered a review of London statues and street names which largely reflect Britain’s empire in the reign of Queen Victoria.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored,” Khan said.

The British parliament held a minute’s silence at 11 a.m. to mark Floyd’s death.

In France, the family of a black Frenchman who died in police custody called for a nationwide protest on Saturday and spurned a government offer of talks.

Adama Traore died in July 2016 after three police officers used their weight to restrain him. His family and supporters have demanded that the officers involved be held to account. No one has been charged.

Thousands of people marched in Paris last Saturday to mark Traore’s death and in solidarity with the U.S. protesters.

MURDER CHARGE

Derek Chauvin, 44, the policeman who knelt on Floyd’s neck and is charged with second-degree murder, made his first court appearance in Minneapolis by video link on Monday. A judge ordered his bail raised from $1 million to $1.25 million.

Chauvin’s co-defendants, three fellow officers, are accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. All four were dismissed from the police department the day after Floyd’s death.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met with Floyd’s relatives for more than an hour in Houston on Monday.

“He listened, heard their pain and shared in their woe,” family lawyer Benjamin Crump said. “That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

In Washington, Democrats in Congress announced legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime and to allow victims of police misconduct and their families to sue law enforcement for damages in civil court, ending a legal doctrine known as qualified immunity.

Trump resisted calls to defund police departments, saying 99% of police were “great, great people”.

In Richmond, Virginia, a judge issued a 10-day injunction blocking plans by the state governor to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams in Houston, David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington, Andrea Shalal in Silver Spring, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brad Brooks in Austin, Guy Faulconbridge in London, and Lucine Libert in Paris, Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Nick Macfie)