U.S. companies should consider slavery reparations, Vista Equity CEO says

By Jessica DiNapoli

(Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black Americans especially hard after decades of social and economic injustices, but it also presents an opportunity for systemic change, said financier Robert Smith, the wealthiest African-American according to Forbes.

In a video interview with Reuters, the CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners said companies that profited from the Transatlantic slave trade should consider making reparations to African-Americans.

“I think that’s going to be a political decision that’s going to have to be made and decided upon. But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?” Smith said in a video interview.

Corporations “can bring their expertise and capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover,” he added. “I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach. But I think action needs to be taken.”

The death of George Floyd in May reignited protests in the United States and globally against racism and police brutality. Floyd, an African-American man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“People are saying now, what can I do to make real systemic change and eliminate and eradicate racism in America?” said Smith. “That is an outgrowth of the protest and the realization that this racism is unjust and can’t stand.”

Smith said he was pushing U.S. lawmakers to make more aid available to Black communities. The average small business has two months of working capital, whereas Black businesses have just two weeks, he said.

“How do we restore, repair and regenerate the economic activity in these communities utilizing the force of the U.S. government and business and partnerships?” Smith said.

Smith said he has been focused on getting capital to community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions, that serve Black and economically disadvantaged communities.

Roughly 70% of the African-American community does not have access to a bank branch, he said, leaving many reliant on the financial institutions specifically targeting minorities and economically disadvantaged areas.

Smith, who grew up during the late 1960’s Civil Rights era and now runs a buyout firm that focuses on investing in software companies, said he sees a more broad-based coalition of support for equality for Black people.

“The allies weren’t as widespread,” when he was growing up, Smith said. “Employees of companies are also going to hold the leaders accountable to do something about it. We have a chance for systemic change.”

Smith, the first African-American to sign Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ ‘Giving Pledge’, has supported Black people extensively in his philanthropic efforts. Last year, he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 at the historically Black Morehouse College.

(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and David Gregorio)

Civil rights icon John Lewis praised by past presidents at funeral

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – More than 1,000 people gathered outside a historic Atlanta church to pay their last respects to longtime U.S. Representative John Lewis as former presidents praised the civil rights pioneer at his funeral on Thursday.

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both spoke of Lewis’s humble beginnings on a farm in Troy, Alabama, to becoming a leader of the Black civil rights movement and ultimately the man known as the “conscience of Congress.”

They spoke in front of the American flag-draped casket bearing Lewis’ body at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Once preached. King, a mentor to Lewis in the civil rights struggle, was assassinated in 1968.

“We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis,” said Bush, who remembered joining Lewis in Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of the watershed march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “The story that began in Troy isn’t ending here today, nor is the work.”

Lewis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son who strove for equality for Blacks in an America grappling with racial bigotry and segregation, was a fiercely determined champion of nonviolent protest and was inspired by King.

Lewis was first elected in 1986 to represent Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives. His death came at a time of reckoning across the United States over racial injustice, with widespread protests condemning unequal police treatment of Black Americans and institutions removing or renaming tributes to former leaders of the pro-slavery Confederacy.

The funeral follows a week of memorial services.

The coffin bearing his body was escorted across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, decades after his beating there drew a national spotlight to the struggle for racial equality. And on Monday his casket was taken to the U.S. Capitol in Washington where it lay in state through Tuesday.

Nathan Knight, 73, a retired building contractor, said he came to the funeral to honor a man he met as a young boy in 1958, joined in marches over the years, and was present when Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

“The reason why it’s important for me to be here is because he has been a teacher, a leader and a mentor to me,” Knight said outside the church, where more than a thousand people had gathered, some watching the service on a large TV screen outside. “I can vote today because of him, because of him and Dr. King.”

In an essay written shortly before his death and published in the New York Times on Thursday, Lewis called on the nation to come together for justice and equality.

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war,” Lewis wrote. “So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. civil rights groups protest ‘out-of-touch’ Justice Department police commission

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prominent U.S. civil rights groups are refusing to appear before a Justice Department law enforcement commission set up to recommend ways to increase respect for police and reduce crime, calling it out of touch with public anger over policing.

The Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was established in January, before the latest wave of mass protests over police use of force against Black Americans set off by the May killing of George Floyd.

Its mission statement did not mention racial disparities in criminal justice or address excessive use of force by police, and unlike a similar Obama administration commission, its members represent only federal, state and local law enforcement, with no civil rights advocates, defense attorneys or even big-city police departments taking part.

Civil rights leaders told Reuters they only received invitations to testify after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sued the commission in April, contending it was violating federal open-meeting laws and lacked diverse viewpoints. That case is pending, and the Justice Department has asked a federal judge to have it dismissed.

“It is so completely out of touch with what is happening,” said Kanya Bennett, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

After the protests over Floyd’s death began, the commission held some hearings about the excessive use of force and community policing, but they were announced with little advanced warning and were closed to the public. President Donald Trump has struck a strict “law-and-order” tone in his response to the protests.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the commission would be addressing the issues outlined in a police reform executive order signed by Trump in June including “accreditation and how to assist law enforcement and communities in their response to homelessness, addiction and mental health.”

The commission is expected to release a report in October offering recommendations for decreasing crime, addressing mental health and homelessness issues, and promoting respect for police officers.

‘SHAM COMMISSION’

U.S. civil rights groups including the ACLU have refused to attend the hearings, submitting only written testimony.

“The ACLU is not going to participate in a sham commission that was formed for the sole purpose of promoting a ‘blue lives matter’ narrative,” Bennett said.

Commission Chairman Phil Keith said at a June meeting that of the nearly 30 civil rights and other advocacy groups invited to testify, only a handful accepted, including the North Carolina-based Racial Equity Institute and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Deena Hayes-Greene, a co-founder of the Racial Equity Institute, said she learned other groups had declined invitations at the meeting she attended. Norman Reimer, executive director of the NACDL, said he was cynical about the commission but thought it was important to express his group’s views.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said it had not received an invitation to participate.

The commission “fails to consider … the long and fraught history of police community relations, especially in Black and brown communities and the nexus between unconstitutional policing and the violations of civil rights,” said Sakira Cook, director of the justice reform program with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. civil rights agency says employers can test workers for COVID-19

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – The U.S. agency that enforces civil rights laws against disability discrimination said on Thursday that companies can test employees for COVID-19 before permitting them to enter the workplace as long as the tests are accurate and reliable.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last month said employers may take workers’ temperatures without violating the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but Thursday’s guidance appears to authorize a broader array of testing options.

The commission said mandatory medical testing, which is generally prohibited by the ADA, is allowed if it is “job related and consistent with business necessity.”

Applying that standard, the new guidance allows employers to take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, because the virus poses a “direct threat” to the health of others.

But before implementing testing, employers should review standards from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other authorities about which type of testing is considered safe and accurate, the commission said.

And employers who test workers should still require employees to observe infection control practices, such as social distancing and regular handwashing, to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

The EEOC announcement comes as some states begin to lift shelter-in-place orders and allow businesses to reopen and their employees to return to work.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

In global war on coronavirus, some fear civil rights are collateral damage

By Luke Baker, Matthew Tostevin and Devjyot Ghoshal

LONDON/BANGKOK/DELHI (Reuters) – In Armenia, journalists must by law include information from the government in their stories about COVID-19. In the Philippines, the president has told security forces that if anyone violates the lockdown they should “shoot them dead”. In Hungary, the premier can rule by decree indefinitely.

Across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas, governments have introduced states of emergency to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, imposing some of the most stringent restrictions on civil liberties since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, lawyers and human rights campaigners said.

While such experts agree extraordinary measures are needed to tackle the deadliest pandemic in a century, some are worried about an erosion of core rights, and the risk that sweeping measures will not be rolled back afterwards.

“In many ways, the virus risks replicating the reaction to Sept. 11,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, referring to the welter of security and surveillance legislation imposed around the world after the al Qaeda attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

“People were fearful and asked governments to protect them. Many governments took advantage of that to undermine rights in ways that far outlasted the terrorist threat,” he told Reuters.

Roth was speaking about legislation in countries including the United States, Britain and EU states which increased collection of visa and immigrant data and counter-terrorism powers.

Some measures imposed in response to a crisis can become normalised, such as longer security queues at airports as a trade-off for feeling safer flying. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, similar trade-offs may become widely acceptable around issues such as surveillance, according to some political and social commentators.

South Korea’s use of mobile phone and other data to track potential carriers of the virus and impose quarantines has been a successful strategy and is a model that could be replicated around the world to guard against pandemics, they say.

Political consultant Bruno Macaes, a former Portuguese minister, said people’s obsession with privacy had made it harder to combat threats like pandemics, when technology to trace the virus could help.

“I am more and more convinced the greatest battle of our time is against the ‘religion of privacy’. It literally could get us all killed,” he added.

EXTRAORDINARY CRISIS

As the virus has spread from China across the world, with more than 1.4 million people infected and 82,000 dead, governments have passed laws and issued executive orders.

The first priority of the measures is to protect public health and limit the spread of the disease.

“It’s quite an extraordinary crisis, and I don’t really have trouble with a government doing sensible if extraordinary things to protect people,” said Clive Stafford-Smith, a leading civil rights lawyer.

The U.S.-headquartered International Center for Not-For-Profit Law has set up a database to track legislation and how it impinges on civic freedoms and human rights.

By its count, 68 countries have so far made emergency declarations, while nine have introduced measures that affect expression, 11 have ratcheted up surveillance and a total of 72 have imposed restrictions on assembly.

EXTRAORDINARY POWERS

In Hungary for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose party dominates parliament, has been granted the right to rule by decree in order to fight the epidemic, with no time-limit on those powers and the ability to jail people for up to five years if they spread false information or hinder efforts to quell the virus.

The Hungarian government said the law empowered it to adopt only measures for “preventing, controlling and eliminating” the coronavirus. Spokesman Zolan Kovacs said nobody knew how long the pandemic would persist, but that parliament could revoke the extra powers.

In Cambodia, meanwhile, an emergency law has been drafted to give additional powers to Hun Sen, who has been in office for 35 years and has been condemned by Western countries for a crackdown on opponents, civil rights groups and the media. The law is for three months and can be extended if needed.

The Cambodian government did not respond to a request for comment. Hun Sen defended the law at a news conference this week, saying it was only required so that he could declare a state of emergency, if needed, to stop the virus and saving the economy.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former coup leader who kept power after a disputed election last year, has invoked emergency powers that allow him to return to governing by decree. The powers run to the end of the month, but also can be extended.

“The government is only using emergency power where it is necessary to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” said Thai government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat.

In the Philippines, the head of police said President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to shoot lockdown violators was a sign of his seriousness rather than indicating people would be shot.

Neither the presidential spokesman nor the cabinet secretary responded to a request for comment.

PUBLIC HEALTH

For Roth and other human rights advocates, the dangers are not only to fundamental freedoms but to public health. They say restrictions on the media could limit the dissemination of information helpful in curbing the virus’s spread, for instance.

Indian premier Narendra Modi, criticised in the media for a lack of preparedness including inadequate protective gear for health workers, has been accused by opponents of trying to muzzle the press by demanding that it get government clearance before publishing coronavirus news, a request rejected by India’s supreme court.

The Indian government did not respond to a request for comment, while the Armenian government said it had no immediate comment. Both have said they want to prevent the spread of misinformation, which could hamper efforts to control the outbreak.

Carl Dolan, head of advocacy at the Open Society European Policy Institute, warned about the tendency for some governments to keep extraordinary powers on their books long after the threat they were introduced to tackle has passed.

Dolan proposed a mandatory review of such measures at least every six months, warning otherwise of a risk of “a gradual slide into authoritarianism”.

(Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul, Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh, Krisztina Than in Budapest, Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Panu Wongcha-Um in Bangkok, Linda Sieg in Tokyo, John Mair in Sydney, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Editing by Pravin Char)

Citing racial bias, U.S. high court tosses black man’s murder conviction

Death row inmate Curtis Flowers. Courtesy Mississippi Department of Corrections/via REUTERS

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, confronting racial bias in the American criminal justice system, on Friday threw out a black Mississippi death row inmate’s conviction in his sixth trial for a 1996 quadruple murder conviction, finding that a prosecutor unlawfully blocked black potential jurors.

The court, in a 7-2 ruling written by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that the prosecutor’s actions violated the right of Curtis Flowers, 49, under the U.S. Constitution to receive a fair trial. The ruling does not preclude Mississippi from putting Flowers on trial for a seventh time.

Kavanaugh, appointed by President Donald Trump last year, wrote that the prosecutors sought to strike black jurors through all six trials. Prosecutors “engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors” at his sixth trial, Kavanaugh added.

The prosecution’s decision in the most recent trial to strike one black juror in particular “was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent,” Kavanaugh wrote.

The decision was the latest of several in recent years in which the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individual criminal defendants on race-related issues.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump in 2017, and fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the case.

In his dissenting opinion, Thomas described the ruling as “manifestly incorrect.” Thomas noted the court’s majority “does not dispute that the evidence was sufficient to convict Flowers or that he was tried by an impartial jury.”

Thomas, the only black Supreme Court justice and one of its most conservative members, asked his first questions during an oral argument in three years when the case was argued in March. His questions centered on whether defense lawyers for Flowers during his trials had excluded white potential jurors.

In U.S. trials, prosecutors and defense lawyers can dismiss – or “strike” – a certain number of prospective jurors during the jury selection process without stating a reason. Some prosecutors, including in Southern states like Mississippi, have been accused over the decades of trying to ensure predominately white juries for trials of black defendants to help win convictions.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that people cannot be excluded from a jury because of their race, based on the right to a fair trial under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment and the 14th Amendment promise of equal protection under the law. Friday’s ruling applied that precedent and, Kavanaugh wrote, “we break no new legal ground.”

Flowers was appealing his 2010 conviction, in his sixth trial, on charges of murdering four people at the Tardy Furniture store where he previously worked in the small central Mississippi city of Winona. There were 11 white jurors and one black juror.

His lawyers accused long-serving Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans, who is white, of engaging in a pattern of removing black jurors that indicated an unlawful discriminatory motive. Evans has given non-racial reasons for striking black potential jurors.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, said it is now up to Evans to decide whether Flowers will face another trial. Evans could not immediately be reached for comment.

Flowers’ lawyer, Sheri Lynn Johnson, expressed hope Flowers would not face another trial.

“A seventh trial would be unprecedented, and completely unwarranted given both the flimsiness of the evidence against him and the long trail of misconduct that has kept him wrongfully incarcerated all these years,” Johnson said.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law civil rights group, said the ruling should “sound an alarm” for prosecutors who engage in racial discrimination during jury selection.

“Racial bias continues to infect virtually every stage of our criminal justice system, including the jury selection process,” Clarke added.

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a black Georgia death row inmate who also said black potential jurors were excluded by the prosecution in his case. In 2017, the court ruled in separate cases that a Hispanic man could challenge his conviction based on a juror’s racist comments and that a black Texas death row inmate could seek to avoid execution due to testimony from an expert witness at trial who said the man was more likely to commit future crimes because of his race.

Flowers was found guilty in his first three trials – the first one with an all-white jury and the next two with just one black juror – but those convictions were thrown out by Mississippi’s top court. Several black jurors participated in the fourth and fifth trials, which ended without a verdict because the jury both times failed to produce a unanimous decision.

Prosecutors have said Flowers was upset with the store owner for firing him and withholding his paycheck to cover the cost of batteries he had damaged. Flowers was convicted of killing store owner Bertha Tardy, 59; bookkeeper Carmen Rigby, 45; delivery worker Robert Golden, 42; and part-time employee Derrick Stewart, 16. All except Golden were white.

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Supreme Court to decide if LGBT workers protected under sex discrimination law

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether U.S. law banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sex protects gay and transgender workers, as the conservative-majority court waded into a fierce dispute involving a divisive social issue.

At issue in the high-profile legal fight is whether gay and transgender people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion.

The court will take up two cases concerning gay people who have said they were fired due to their sexual orientation, one involving a New York skydiving instructor named Donald Zarda and another brought by a former county child welfare services coordinator from Georgia named Gerald Bostock.

The court also will take up a Detroit funeral home’s bid to reverse a ruling that it violated federal law by firing a transgender funeral director named Aimee Stephens after Stephens revealed plans to transition from male to female.

The court will hear oral arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October.

President Donald Trump’s administration has argued that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity. The Republican president’s administration reversed the approach taken under Democratic former President Barack Obama by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination.

The Title VII fight marks the first major test on a divisive social issue for the nine justices since Trump’s conservative appointee Brett Kavanaugh joined the court in October after a contentious Senate confirmation process. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative noted for his support for gay rights who retired last year.

Kennedy wrote the 5-4 ruling in 2015 legalizing gay marriage nationally, a landmark in the U.S. gay rights movement. Kennedy also was the author of the court’s important 2003 ruling striking down laws criminalizing gay sex.

The Supreme Court has a 5-4 conservative majority that includes two Trump appointees, Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

The legal fight centers on the definition of “sex” in Title VII. The plaintiffs in the cases, along with civil rights groups and many large companies, have argued that discriminating against gay and transgender workers is inherently based on their sex and thus is unlawful.

But Trump’s Justice Department and the employers that were sued have argued that Congress did not mean for Title VII to extend to gay and transgender people when it passed the law in 1964.

Zarda, fired after revealing his sexual orientation in 2010, died in a 2014 accident while participating in a form of skydiving in which people jump off a high structure or cliff. His estate has continued the litigation.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2018 ruled in Zarda’s favor after a trial judge threw out his original claim.

Bostock worked for Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, from 2003 until being fired in 2013 shortly after he started participating in a gay recreational softball league called the “Hotlanta Softball League.” The county has said he was fired following an audit of the program he managed. His lawsuit was tossed out the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Harris Funeral Homes, the employer in the transgender case, is owned by Thomas Rost, who identifies himself as a devout Christian. The company has a strict sex-specific dress code that requires male employees to wear suits and women to wear dresses or skirts. Stephens, formerly known as Anthony Stephens, joined the company in October 2007.

Stephens was fired when he announced plans to transition from male to female.

Rost said that “this is not going to work out,” according to court papers. Stephens subsequently turned to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued on Stephens’ behalf in 2014. The company is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 ruled against the company.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Colorado baker in case of Supreme Court sues state over ‘persecution’

FILE PHOTO: Baker Jack Phillips decorates a cake in his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado U.S. on September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado baker who won a narrow Supreme Court victory over his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple is suing the state after it launched another case against him for declining to create a cake for a transgender woman.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in the city of Lakewood, accuses Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission of violating his constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of religion, equal protection and due process, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Tuesday.

“This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips,” the written complaint alleges. Also named in the lawsuit are Governor John Hickenlooper and Cynthia Coffman, the state attorney general.

Phillips seeks permanent injunctions against the state from taking any enforcement action against Phillips, who the lawsuit says was “vindicated” by the Supreme Court ruling.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado’s civil rights commission was hostile toward Phillips’ Christian beliefs when it cited him for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012, but did not rule on whether he violated Colorado’s public accommodation statute.

Through a spokeswoman, the civil rights commission declined to comment on Phillips’ lawsuit.

The lawsuit stems from a complaint filed by Denver attorney Autumn Scardina with the civil rights commission in 2017, in which she claims that Phillips refused to bake a cake that “celebrates my transition from male to female,” court documents showed.

Scardina did not immediately return a phone message left at her law office.

The director of the state’s Civil Rights Division, Aubrey Elenis, ruled in June that Phillips discriminated against Scardina.

“The evidence thus demonstrates that the refusal to provide service to (Scardina) was based on (her) transgender status,” Elenis wrote in a probable cause determination.

The finding by Elenis requires both sides to resolve the issue through “compulsory mediation,” the document said.

Phillips is also seeking $100,000 in punitive damages against Elenis “for her unconstitutional actions,” according to the lawsuit.

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, a group that advocates for the LGBTQ community, blasted the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative Christian group whose lawyers represent Phillips.

“We have seen the ADF launch similar lawsuits across the country that target nondiscrimination laws and civil rights agencies, and this broad lawsuit they filed on behalf of Jack Phillips reads as more of the same,” Ramos said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan WHitcomb)

Civil rights ‘Freedom Riders’ cherish Martin Luther King’s lasting legacy, 50 years on

Freedom Riders Bob and Helen Singleton are pictured at their home in this still image from video in Inglewood, California, U.S., March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Devall

By Jane Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Bob Singleton only met civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once, but that meeting changed his life.

As the 50th anniversary of King’s death approaches on April 4, Singleton and others have been reflecting on the man who inspired them and the legacy he left behind.

It was early 1961 and the then 24-year-old college student was protesting against Woolworths’ racially segregated southern lunch counters at a picket line outside the company’s Hollywood, California, store when King was introduced to him by a mutual acquaintance.

“He marched with us in front of the Woolworths store and that really made me, from that point on, an organizer,” said Singleton, now 81.

Soon after that meeting, Singleton organized a group of University of California Los Angeles students to travel to Jackson, Mississippi, to enforce federal desegregation laws at the train terminal.

They were known as the Freedom Riders, and among the group was Singleton’s wife, Helen, now 85. She, too, was inspired by King.

“He was able to make you feel that, whatever burden you might be carrying, carry it with dignity and hope. And then also take action,” she said.

The Singletons and hundreds of other young Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed. But by November 1961, the federal Interstate Commerce Commission’s ruling prohibiting segregation on interstate transportation facilities was being enforced across the South.

“We won that battle,” said Bob Farrell, 81, who was arrested in Houston, Texas, in one of the last organized Freedom Rides in August, 1961. “Inside of one year we contributed to changing public policy that had been there since the beginning of the 20th century.”

But the civil rights struggle was far from over. King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by an avowed segregationist on April 4, 1968.

Farrell traveled to Atlanta for his funeral.

“I can remember what it was like finally getting over to Ebenezer Baptist Church and preparing for the great march to Morehouse College where Dr. King was going to be temporarily buried,” he said.

“The silence, the silence once the body came out of the church, the silence on that long march and then the memorial celebration at Morehouse College with the speakers,” he said. “It was just something I’ve never experienced before or since.”

The Singletons and Farrell agree there has been significant progress in racial equality in the five decades since King’s death, but all are dismayed at the current state of U.S. race relations.

“The fact that, 50 years later, there’s so much still to be done just demonstrates to me and to others how deep, how very, very deep white supremacy, its premises and the dynamic that still propels our nation, is still there,” Farrell said.

(Reporting by Jane Ross; Editing by Paul Tait)

Remove barriers to membership talks, Turkey tells EU before summit

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik, speaks during a news conference at Ataturk International airport in Istanbul, Turkey March 26, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

By Alissa de Carbonnel and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA/VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said he will seek the removal at a summit with the EU on Monday of all obstacles to a stalled membership bid, which the bloc however believes are of Ankara’s own making.

Criticism from European Union governments of what many view as Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism at home and his intervention in Syria’s war has created an uneasy backdrop to the gathering in the Black Sea port of Varna.

Some countries had called for an end to long-stalled accession talks and had hesitated to agree to meet him.

But Erdogan said it was time for the EU to “keep its promises” to Turkey, which started formal membership negotiations in 2005 that stalled five years and have now effectively collapsed.

“EU membership continues to be our strategic goal,” Erdogan told reporters before departing for the summit. “In today’s EU summit, we will convey our expectations about the lifting of the obstacles our country has faced.”

Erdogan, who has alarmed the West with a massive purge since a failed coup attempt in July 2016, remains an important ally in the U.S.-led NATO alliance and the fight against Islamic militants, and the destination for many Syrians fleeing war.

Turkey shares a border with Iraq, Syria and with Russia in the Black Sea, and the EU is its biggest foreign investor and trading partner.

CASH ONLY

EU leaders are likely to provide Erdogan with 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in fresh cash to extend a 2016 deal on Turkey taking in Syrian refugees.

They will go no further than that, as Brussels considers the EU membership bid a separate process focused on rule of law, press freedoms and economic reforms.

But Erdogan on Monday appeared to conflate the two.

“Our country has fulfilled all responsibilities as part of the 2016 migrant deal, but the EU has not shown the same sincerity in keeping its promises and still does not do so,” Erdogan said.

“In terms of counter-terrorism, we will convey that we expect unconditional support and cooperation from the EU.”

EU officials say Turkey’s post-coup crackdown on civil rights has taken it further from complying with EU membership criteria.

“The differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will represent the bloc along with European Council President Donald Tusk.

“(Varna)…will be a frank and open debate, where we will not hide our differences but will seek to improve our cooperation,” Juncker said after a two-day EU summit that condemned what they said were Turkey’s illegal actions in a standoff over Mediterranean gas with Greece and Cyprus.

DIALOGUE OR CONDEMNATION?

Turkey’s EU membership process is not formally frozen, but talks have not taken place for over a year.

Host Bulgaria, which also shares a border with Turkey holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is eager to keep ties as positive as possible.

“The meeting in Varna is likely to be one of the last opportunities to maintain dialogue,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said.

Meanwhile Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, the country the most opposed to Turkey’s EU membership aspirations, called in an interview in Die Welt newspaper for the EU to condemn Ankara for escalating the seven-year-long war in Syria.

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Tulay Karadeniz in Varna; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel @AdeCar and Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)