Seattle plans to dismantle occupied protest zone after shootings

(Reuters) – Seattle authorities, alarmed by two weekend shootings, plan to start dismantling six blocks of streets in a part of the city occupied by activists protesting against police brutality and racial inequality across the United States.

A teenager was killed and at least two other people were wounded in the shootings in what is known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said city authorities were working to bring the CHOP zone to an end and that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) would soon move back into a precinct building its forces had largely abandoned in the area.

“SPD will be returning to the East Precinct. We will do it peacefully and in the near future”, Durkan told a news conference on Monday.

Durkan condemned the violence, writing on Twitter that it was “unacceptable”.

She said such violence distracted from changes in policing demanded by demonstrators.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said the demonstrations in the Seattle protest zone are being run by “anarchists”.

Anti-racism protests and demonstrations against police brutality have spread around the world since an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him in Minneapolis on May 25.

Protesters have also demanded authorities take down monuments honoring pro-slavery Confederate figures and the architects of Europe’s colonies.

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Teenager killed in Seattle protest zone shooting, one wounded

(Reuters) – Seattle police on Saturday said they were investigating the fatal shooting of one person and wounding of another in a part of the city occupied by activists protesting against police brutality and racial inequality across America.

The Seattle Police Department said it was investigating a shooting at 10th Avenue and East Pine inside the Capital Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area, which has been occupied by activists without any known police presence since June 8, when Seattle police abandoned the East Precinct located there.

The police said they responded to a report of shots fired in Cal Anderson Park at about 2:30 a.m. PDT (0930 GMT) only to learn that two male victims had already been moved to Harborview Medical Center by CHOP medics.

Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg confirmed the hospital received two shooting victims from Capital Hill in the early hours and that one, a 19-year-old, died shortly after arrival while the other was in critical condition in intensive care.

The police said that the suspect or suspects, for which they had no description, had fled and were still at large.

The occupation of the district came as widespread protests against police abuse and injustice took place across the United States after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died while he was in Minneapolis police custody. A bystander recorded video of the officer who was charged with murder holding a knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video footage after the Seattle shooting from Omari Salisbury, a reporter for Converge Media, showed a small group of police entering part of the protest zone on foot, holding riot shields and firearms, as occupants raised their hands and shouted at officers to drop their guns.

The footage, seen by Reuters, also showed people surrounding multiple police cars, which then left the area.

In a statement, the police called the protesters a “violent crowd that prevented officers safe access to the victims.”

(Reporting by Sinéad Carew; Editing by Tom Brown and Daniel Wallis)

Trump signs order on police reform after weeks of protests about racial injustice

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing criticism that his policies and inflammatory rhetoric have aggravated a racial divide in the United States, signed an order on Tuesday that he said would reform police practices even as he pressed for “law and order” nationwide.

After weeks of protests against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis, Trump sought to offer a policy response to rising concerns about racial injustice going into the Nov. 3 election, in which he is seeking a second term.

Trump, a Republican, opened his remarks by expressing sympathy to the families of victims of police violence, pledging to fight for justice and promising them their loved ones will not have died in vain. But he quickly pivoted to a defense of law enforcement officers and a threat of penalties to looters.

“Americans want law and order, they demand law and order,” Trump said at a ceremony at the White House, reiterating a call that has angered protesters who have poured onto streets from New York to Los Angeles.

“Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos, without law there is anarchy, and without safety there is catastrophe,” he said.

In his public comments and on Twitter, Trump has called for crackdowns on protesters and emphasized a forceful and militarized response to the social unrest sparked by the death of Floyd and others. Despite issuing a call for unity, he used his Rose Garden address on Tuesday to criticize former President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, for his record on police reforms. Opinion polls show widespread concerns among Americans about police brutality.

Tuesday’s order encourages police departments to employ the latest standards for use of force, improve information sharing so that officers with poor records are not hired without their backgrounds being known, and add social workers to law enforcement responses to non-violent cases involving drug addiction and homelessness, officials said.

Trump’s proposal would steer federal money toward police departments that get certification by outside bodies and would ban chokeholds unless an officer’s life was in danger. It also would encourage them to use less-lethal weapons such as stun guns.

Civil-rights groups and top Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the order was insufficient.

Trump reiterated that he opposes calls to “defund the police” by reimagining or dismantling police departments. Leading Democrats, including Biden, have not embraced such calls, but Republicans have jumped on the issue.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives is expected to vote later this month on sweeping legislation put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus to rein in police misconduct.

Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their own legislation on Wednesday that concentrates more on data collection than on policy changes in areas involving lethal force. Trump urged Congress to act.

Democrats want to allow victims of misconduct and their families to sue police. Republicans are pushing to reduce job protections for members of law enforcement unions.

Trump’s decision to ban chokeholds appears similar to the ban included in the Democratic legislation.

Republican lawmakers are divided on that issue.

Inimai Chettiar of the Justice Action Network said the use of grant money to influence police department policies could be an effective way to get results, but she noted that Trump’s Justice Department has resisted other reform efforts.

“I have a lot of skepticism in terms of how rigorously this is going to be implemented,” she said. Other civil-rights groups said Trump’s order did not go far enough.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Morgan and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Sonya Hepinstall, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

What is Juneteenth and how are people commemorating it this year?

(Reuters) – Juneteenth, an annual U.S. holiday on June 19, has taken on greater significance this year following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans.

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, also is known as Emancipation Day. It commemorates the day in 1865, after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War, when a Union general arrived in Texas to inform the last group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. In 1980, Texas officially declared it a holiday. It is now recognized in 46 other states and the District of Columbia. Although in part a celebration, the day is also observed solemnly to honor those who suffered during slavery in the United States with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans over 400 years ago.

WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT THIS YEAR?

This year Juneteenth coincides with global protests against racial injustice sparked by the May 25 death of Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody. It also accompanies the coronavirus outbreak, which has disproportionately affected communities of color. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump, who had already been under fire for his response to both crises, drew further criticism for scheduling a Friday re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has since moved it to Saturday. Tulsa is an important and especially sensitive site where a white mob massacred African-American residents in 1921. Community organizations nationwide will devote the day to discussions on policing and civil rights ahead of the November election.

HOW ARE PEOPLE MARKING THE DAY?

People will mark the 155th anniversary across the country with festive meals and gatherings. While many cities have canceled this year’s annual parades because of the pandemic, other groups have opted for virtual conferences or smaller events. In Washington, groups plan marches, protests and rallies. Amid the wave of racial justice protests, some U.S. businesses have committed to a change of policies, including recognition of the holiday. Among the companies that have announced they will recognize Juneteenth as a paid company holiday are the National Football League, the New York Times, and Twitter and Square.

(Curating by Aurora Ellis; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.N. rights body to examine ‘systemic’ U.S. racism and police brutality

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The top U.N. human rights body agreed on Monday to hold an urgent debate on allegations of “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests” in the United States and elsewhere on Wednesday.

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s decision followed a request last week by Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries in response to the killing of George Floyd, an African American, on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. His death has ignited protests across the nation and worldwide.

“We think it is a moment to really discuss this issue, as you have seen with the demonstrations all over Europe, including here in Geneva,” said Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s ambassador who serves as current president of the Council.

“This is a topic which is not just about one country, it goes well beyond that,” she told a news conference.

African countries may prepare a resolution for consideration at the debate, Tichy-Fisslberger added.

The United States is not a member of the 47-member state forum in Geneva, having quit it two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel.

The U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment on the Council’s decision, but last week issued a statement decrying the “senseless death of George Floyd” and saying that justice and transparency were “core values” of the United States.

The African group’s request, in a letter made public by the United Nations, said: “The death of George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated incident. The numbers of previous cases of unarmed people of African descent who met the same fate because of uncontrolled police violence are legion”.

The outrage provoked by the death underlines the importance of the Human Rights Council discussing these issues, the letter said, noting that 600 activist groups and victims’ relatives had called last week for a special session.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)

Pentagon chief orders review of National Guard’s response to protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered a review of the National Guard’s response to recent protests over police brutality and racism, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

“The report will address a range of issues, including training, equipping, organizing, manning, deployment, and employment of National Guard forces,” a statement said.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy will conduct the review, it said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

White House proposals on police reform being finalized, reduced immunity off table

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Wednesday it was putting the finishing touches on proposals to reform the police following George Floyd’s killing while in police custody, but warned that reducing immunity for officers was a non-starter.

Speaking at a White House briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said administration plans to address protester concerns about police brutality were reaching “final edits,” adding she hoped the proposals could be made public in the “coming days.”

“The president has spent the last 10 days quietly and diligently working on proposals to address the issues that the protesters raised across the country, legitimate issues,” McEnany said.

But she ruled out presidential support for efforts to reduce police immunity, which she said “would result in police pulling back.”

A Democratic bill unveiled on Monday included limits to those protections to make it easier for individuals to collect damages against officers in lawsuits.

A Reuters investigation published last month revealed how qualified immunity, refined over the years by the U.S. Supreme Court, has made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.

President Donald Trump has drawn fire for calling on state governors to crack down on the thousands across the country protesting Floyd’s death and threatening to send in the U.S. military even as he described himself as an ally to peaceful protesters.

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(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

Voices from U.S. protests against police brutality: ‘You can’t just sit on the sidelines’

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans have taken to the streets following the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer pinned his knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Protesters and activists say Floyd’s death, captured on video, is a particularly stark example of why U.S. policing policies should be reformed, and particularly their treatment of black men and women.

Police-involved fatalities in the United States average nearly three deaths per day, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed. Black and Latino men in the United States are twice as likely as white men to die during interactions with police.

Americans of all ages and races are pushing for police reform. Here are five who marched on Saturday in Washington, D.C.

ZEKE THOMAS

Zeke Thomas, 30, who works at a child welfare agency, attended the protest with his five-year-old son, Jay, in part to “show him how to fight, the proper way to fight.”

Asked what he wanted to see emerge from these protests, Thomas said, “Change, like actions that show that black lives matter.” He added that he wanted to see reforms made within police departments on their use of force and their general culture.

Patrick Keyser, an Episcopal priest, poses for a portrait as he takes part in a protest against racial inequality, in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2020. Picture taken June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

PATRICK KEYSER:

Patrick Keyser, 27, is an Episcopal priest who said he was attending the protest to show solidarity with the demonstrators and hoped they would lead to “an end to police brutality and the killing of black bodies at the hand of the police.”

“There comes a point where you can’t just sit on the sidelines. … I can’t quite put my hands on it, but there’s sort of this intangible spirit that I think anyone feels present here that are driving people to stand up peacefully.”

ANGELO VILLAGOMEZ:

Angelo Villagomez, 41, a resident of Washington, D.C. who is originally from the Northern Mariana Islands, said he hoped the protests would bring about a more just society.

“Today’s march is about ‘Black Lives Matter.’ It’s about George Floyd and all the young black men who lost their lives to” police brutality, the ocean conservationist said.

“People are listening maybe for the first time in their lives,” he added.

SAM GOLDMAN:

Sam Goldman, 33, drove to Washington, D.C. from her home of Philadelphia to be part of the protests. An organizer for the group Refuse Fascism, Goldman said she wanted to see an end to the presidency of Donald Trump.

“I genuinely do want to see the end to being murdered by the police … I want to see that there is no more police state,” Goldman said. She does not think those changes are possible if Trump wins the Nov. 3 election.

KATRINA FERNANDEZ

Katrina Fernandez, 42, is a homemaker who lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The mother of eight children aged three to 23, said her family drove nearly two hours to the federal district to teach her children about social justice.

“I felt like the best thing that I could do was come out here and show them what it feels like to be on the front line of something that we really, really believe in and that we want to see a change in,” Fernandez said, who was at the protest with her husband and seven of her eight children. Her oldest son is in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan.

Fernandez said she wanted to see “bad cops” thrown off police departments and the convictions of the officers involved in Floyd’s killing.

“It’s a real bad shame that I feel more safe with my son overseas deployed in a war-torn country than I do on American soil as a black civilian in civilian clothes,” Fernandez said.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Heather Timmons and Lisa Shumaker)

Washington, D.C. urges anti-racism protesters to get tested for coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington, D.C. on Wednesday urged people who had participated in protests against police brutality and systematic racism to get tested for the coronavirus.

The federal district joins a number of other locales, including Boston, Dallas and the state of New York, that have asked protesters to be tested, after thousands of people flooded the streets in demonstrations amid the pandemic that has sickened nearly 2 million Americans and killed about 112,000.

“If you are concerned that you have been exposed while out in the community or out at one of the demonstrations, we urge you to get tested … between three and five days, not sooner,” the federal district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, told reporters.

The district is encouraging protesters to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of the respiratory disease. It also encouraged them to work from home, if possible, for 14 days and restrict their movements, though top D.C. health official LaQuandra Nesbitt added that such restrictions were not the same as quarantining.

The U.S. capital has ramped up its availability of free testing, including offering COVID-19 tests at fire stations on evenings and weekends.

The calls for protesters to seek testing come as some public health experts, including top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, have warned that the demonstrations could lead to a spike in cases of the coronavirus.

Already, the D.C. National Guard has reported that some of its troops have tested positive for the virus, though it has not provided numbers for how many of them have been affected.

The protests, which started in Minneapolis and spread across the country and worldwide, were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. An African American, Floyd died after a white police officer pinned his knee against his neck, preventing Floyd from being able to breathe.

The U.S. capital has seen some of the largest protests in recent days.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tom Brown)

Mexican protesters clash with police over custody death

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans protested against police brutality on Thursday in the second-largest city, Guadalajara, calling for authorities to be held accountable for the death in custody of a local man allegedly arrested over not wearing a face mask in public.

Protests have swelled in cities worldwide since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis.

Protesters in the historic center of the state capital of Jalisco vandalized buildings, including the palace, and set ablaze several police cars, footage from network Milenio showed. Police were seen using force against protesters.

A media outlet said one of its photographers was kicked out after being mistaken for a protester.

However, the story was ridden with “many lies”, Jalisco Governor Enrique Alfaro responded in a video message late on Thursday. He denied the man depicted in the video had been held for not using a face mask, but gave no further details.

Alfaro said six police were injured, including one set on fire, with 22 male, and two female, protesters detained. He promised an investigation and condemned the violence, which he described as having been “never before seen”.

Mexico’s deputy minister for human rights requested case files from authorities in Jalisco and Baja California, where there may have been a similar incident in February.

Jalisco has implemented strict measures aimed to curb the spread of the coronavirus; wearing face masks is mandatory.

Although the exact circumstances of the death in Jalisco are not known, footage circulating on social media showed a young man, identified as Giovanni Lopez, being detained by police in early May. Bystanders can be heard saying the police were arresting him for not using a face mask.

Lopez, a construction worker, died in custody, the statement said.

(Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle)