Hong Kong police arrest more than 300 in first protest under new security law

By Scott Murdoch and Yanni Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets in defiance of sweeping security legislation introduced by China that critics say is aimed at snuffing out dissent.

Beijing unveiled the details of the much-anticipated law late on Tuesday after weeks of uncertainty, pushing China’s freest city and one of the world’s most glittering financial hubs on to a more authoritarian path.

As thousands of protesters gathered downtown for an annual rally marking the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China in 1997, riot police used pepper spray and fired pellets as they made arrests after crowds spilled into the streets chanting “resist till the end” and “Hong Kong independence”.

“I’m scared of going to jail but for justice I have to come out today, I have to stand up,” said one 35-year-old man who gave his name as Seth.

Police said they had made more than 300 arrests for illegal assembly and other offences, with nine involving suspected violations of the new law.

The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allow for extradition to the mainland for trial.

China’s parliament adopted the law in response to protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the city’s freedoms, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when it returned to Chinese rule.

Police cited the law for in confronting protesters.

“You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the … national security law,” police said in a message displayed on a purple banner.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.

But critics fear it is aimed ending the pro-democracy opposition and will crush the freedoms that are seen as key to Hong Kong’s success as a financial center.

The United States and its Asian and Western allies have criticized the legislation. Britain said it would stand by its word and offer all those in Hong Kong with British National Overseas status a “bespoke” immigration route. Britain and Canada also updated their travel advice for Hong Kong, saying there was an increased risk of detention.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Wednesday’s protests as heartbreaking and reprimanded HSBC and other banks for supporting the new law, saying the rights of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed for bankers’ bonuses.

Police fired water cannons to try to disperse the protesters. A game of cat-and-mouse reminiscent of last year’s often violent demonstrations followed, with protesters blocking roads before running away from riot police charging with batons, only to re-emerge elsewhere.

Police posted pictures on Twitter of an officer with a bleeding arm saying he was stabbed by “rioters holding sharp objects.” The suspects fled while bystanders offered no help, police said.

On July 1 last year, hundreds of protesters stormed and vandalized the city’s legislature to protest against a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Those protests evolved into anti-China demonstrations and calls for democracy, paralyzing parts of the city and paving the way for Beijing’s new law.

‘BIRTHDAY GIFT’

In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters suspects arrested by a new Beijing-run security office could be tried on the mainland.

He said the new office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong’s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland. Article 55 of the law states that Beijing’s security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over “complex” or “serious” cases.

“The law is a birthday gift to (Hong Kong) and will show its precious value in the future,” Zhang said, adding the law would not be applied retroactively.

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover, the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since 1997.

“It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability,” Lam said at the harbor-front venue where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, a staunch critic of the security law, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to China.

Some pro-Beijing officials and political commentators say the law is aimed at sealing Hong Kong’s “second return” to the motherland after the first failed to bring residents to heel.

Luo Huining, the head of Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong, said at the ceremony the law was a “common aspiration” of Hong Kong citizens.

Some pro-democracy activists gave up membership of their groups just before the law came into force into force at 11 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Tuesday, though they called for the campaign to carry on from abroad.

“I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong’s handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for ‘one country two systems’,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki.

(Reporting by Yanni Chow, Twinnie Siu, Pak Yiu, Scott Murdoch, Joyce Zhou, Clare Jim, Jessie Pang, Tyrone Siu and James Pomfret in Hong Kong, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, William James and Guy Faulconbridge in London and Denny Thomas in Toronto; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

New York City mayor says will cut $1 billion from police budget

By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed with the City Council to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s funding in the municipal budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which is due to be passed later on Tuesday, even as some lawmakers described the cuts as insufficient.

The budget negotiations were shaped by two crises that have shaken the city.

The coronavirus pandemic created a $9 billion shortfall in revenue, leading to deep cuts across city agencies, including the possibility that some 22,000 municipal workers could be laid off by the mayor later this year if labor unions cannot help find savings elsewhere.

And a month of nationwide protests against police violence gave new political heft to calls to defund police departments, forcing de Blasio to shift from his original April proposal of cutting NYPD funding by less than 1% while slashing youth services. Thousands of protesters began camping outside City Hall last week in what they called an occupation, demanding deep cuts to police funding.

“It’s time to do the work of reform, to think deeply about where our police have to be in the future,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday.

The NYPD’s $6 billion operating budget will be cut through overtime reductions, the cancellation of the July class of more than 1,000 new recruits, and the transfer of some responsibilities out of the NYPD, de Blasio said.

He would also restore some summer youth programs he had originally canceled.

A minority of left-wing lawmakers have criticized the cuts as insufficient and said they would oppose the budget’s passage later on Tuesday at a vote convened by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

They complain the proposal does not reduce the current number of police officers in the city, and that a large portion of what the mayor has called a $1 billion cut consists of transferring responsibility of school safety officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of 200 community groups which originally called for a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s budget, said their demands were still not being met.

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers,” Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for the coalition, said in a statement. “Moving police from the NYPD to other agencies does nothing to reduce police violence.”

New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also criticized the proposed budget, saying he would invoke an obscure provision in the City’s Charter and refuse to sign tax warrants in order to stop it being deployed in the absence of what he called “a commitment to true school safety reform.”

The total city budget comes to $88.1 billion, de Blasio said, down from $95.3 billion he had proposed earlier in the year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Former Atlanta officer charged with killing Black man to face judge in bail hearing

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A former Atlanta police officer who shot a Black man twice in the back, touching off mass demonstrations and the burning of the fast-food restaurant where the killing occurred, is scheduled to face a judge on Tuesday for a bond hearing.

Garret Rolfe, 27, is charged with felony murder and 10 other offenses in the June 12 shooting of Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy’s parking lot in south Atlanta. The incident, caught on surveillance and cellphone video, was widely viewed on social media.

In a motion filed on Monday, attorneys for Rolfe argued he deserved to be released on bond because he was a “longstanding, law-abiding member of the community, who will stay here to fight this case.”

The motion said there was strong evidence in Rolfe’s defense, asserting the former officer was legally justified in using deadly force as he was acting in self-defense.

The death of Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, heightened tensions over police brutality and racism stoked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Before the deadly encounter, Brooks was found sleeping in his car in the Wendy’s drive-thru, and had failed a sobriety test. He tussled with Rolfe and another police officer, wrested away one of their taser stun guns and ran, officials said. He appeared to fire the taser toward the officers, and was then shot twice in the back with one bullet piercing his heart as he fled.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has pursued the case aggressively, arguing that Brooks was not a threat.

Rolfe was fired and has been held without bond at the Gwinnett County jail. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, 26, was placed on administrative duty and charged with aggravated assault. The city’s police chief resigned after the incident.

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

Protesters fail to bring down Andrew Jackson statue near White House

By Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Protesters tried tearing down a statue of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, in a park near the White House on Monday, scrawling “killer scum” on its pedestal and pulling on the monument with ropes before police intervened.

The confrontation unfolded in Lafayette Square, where crowds peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer were forcibly displaced three weeks ago to make way for staged photos of President Trump holding up a bible in front of a nearby church.

The thwarted effort to topple the famed bronze likeness of Jackson astride a rearing horse was the latest bid, in protests fuelled by Floyd’s death, to destroy monuments of historical figures considered racist or divisive.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter saying that many people were arrested for the “disgraceful vandalism” in Lafayette Park and also for defacing the exterior of St. John’s Church.

“Ten years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. Beware!” he warned.

Monday’s incident began around dusk with scores of protesters, most wearing masks against coronavirus infection, breaking through a 6-foot-tall fence erected in recent days around the statute at the center of the park.

Protesters then climbed onto the monument, fastening ropes and cords around the sculpted heads of both Jackson and his horse and dousing the marble pedestal with yellow paint before the crowd began trying to yank the statute from its base.

Dozens of law enforcement officers, led by U.S. Park Police, stormed into the square, swinging batons and firing chemical agents to scatter protesters. By dark, police had taken control and outnumbered demonstrators in the immediate area.

Jackson, a former U.S. Army general nicknamed “Old Hickory,” served two terms in the White House, from 1829 to 1837, espousing a populist political style that has sometimes been compared with that of Trump.

Native American activists have long criticized Jackson, a Democrat, for signing the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which led to thousands of Native Americans being driven from their lands by the U.S. government and forced to march west, in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Many perished before arriving.

(Reporting by Tom Brenner in Washington; Additional reporting by Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)

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)

Second man charged with torching Minneapolis police station during protests

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A 22-year-old Minnesota man was charged on Tuesday with aiding and abetting the arson of a Minneapolis police station during protests over the death of a black man under a policeman’s knee, federal prosecutors said.

Dylan Robinson, who was arrested in Breckenridge, Colorado on Sunday, is accused of hurling a Molotov cocktail inside the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis and igniting a fire in the building’s stairwell on May 28, according to the criminal complaint.

Robinson appeared in U.S. district court in Denver on Tuesday to hear the charges against him, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota said in a written statement. Prosecutors said he is from Brainerd, Minnesota.

Robinson is the second man arrested June 3 in connection to the blaze. Branden Wolfe, 23, was arrested in Minnesota and charged with one count of aiding and abetting arson, federal prosecutors said.

The police station was set on fire during demonstrations three days after George Floyd, 46, died when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The incident was captured by a bystander’s cell phone video and led to the firing of Chauvin, who was later charged with second-degree murder. Three other Minneapolis police officers were also charged in the case.

Authorities said they identified Robinson from social media posts and surveillance cameras. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tracked him to Breckenridge, Colorado, a mountain town about 80 miles west of Denver, where he was taken into custody, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Robinson is due back in Denver federal court on Friday for a detention and removal hearing, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver told Reuters.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Michael Perry)

For U.S. blacks, Latinos, no sign of a broadly rising tide

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have opened a broader discussion about racial inequality in the United States.

The U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960s was a watershed when it came to formal de-segregation in housing, education, the workplace and public spaces. But more than a half century later, stark divisions remain in how the benefits of a $20 trillion economy are distributed among the largest racial and ethnic minorities and the country’s white majority.

An array of government programs has attempted to address the issue, including anti-poverty efforts, affirmative action to boost college enrollment, and preferences in contracting for minority-owned businesses.

But black and Latino families on average continue to earn less, have higher unemployment, and are harder hit when economic shocks like the coronavirus hit.

Graphic – Black vs white unemployment:

“The downturn has not fallen equally on all Americans, and those least able to shoulder the burden have been the most affected,” Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said this week.

That gap is most apparent in family net worth estimates. Black and Hispanic families accumulate proportionately less in real estate, stocks, business assets and other forms of wealth than white families.

Graphic – After decades, wealth gap remains:

Over time, that creates lower inheritances for children and more constraints when it comes to funding education or training – a dynamic that can help perpetuate the problem.

Some Fed officials have pointed to deep-seated racism as drag on the U.S. economy.

“By limiting economic and educational opportunities for a large number of Americans, institutionalized racism constrains this country’s economic potential,” Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Friday, calling for an end to racism as both a moral and economic imperative.

“The economic contributions of these Americans, in the form of work product and innovation, will be less than they otherwise could have been. Systemic racism is a yoke that drags on the American economy.”

The lack of progress after so many decades has led some to argue that a massive generational transfer, sometimes referred to as reparations, is needed to undo a legacy that has roots in slavery, but continued to compound through the era of formal segregation and beyond.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Heather Timmons and Sam Holmes)

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)

A picture and its story: A shooting in Seattle

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Stunned protesters surround a car that has driven into their ranks. A man is lying on the ground nearby. Another man exits the driver’s side of the vehicle brandishing a gun. The protesters back away from him and he runs off and melts into the crowd as medics rush to help the wounded man.

The dramatic scenes of a drive-by shooting on the streets of Seattle were captured by Reuters photographer Lindsey Wasson during protests against police brutality and racism that have rocked the city – and many other places across the United States – in recent days.

Wasson, a Seattle native, has been covering the protests in Washington state’s largest city since May 31.

She took the series of pictures on Sunday evening from the window of a local newspaper that has offices overlooking a street that became a flashpoint.

A combination picture shows Dan Gregory appearing to try and enter the vehicle of a man who tried to drive through the crowd during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, (top) and Gregory falling back and tended to by medics after being shot in the arm (bottom), in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

“I had maybe just stepped to the main window, and I was looking over the crowd and seeing what was going on. I heard a scream and commotion and rushed to the dirty side window to photograph what was happening in a side street,” she said.

“The whole sequence probably took a minute, it happened very quickly.”

Video taken by others at the scene show that the man who was injured fell to the ground after he appeared to lean into the car. The shooter handed himself over to the police shortly after the incident.

“Suspect in custody, gun recovered after man drove vehicle into crowd at 11th and Pine. Seattle Fire transported victim to hospital,” Seattle Police wrote in a tweet.

A police report of the incident obtained by a local NPR radio station named the injured man as Daniel Gregory and said he had a gunshot wound to the arm.

A GoFundMe page set up for Gregory said he was recovering in the hospital. Reuters could not immediately reach Gregory for comment.

The demonstrations were sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis two weeks ago, and have evolved into a movement for racial equality and reforms to police departments across the country.

For Wasson, the protests in her home town have been of a size and intensity unlike others she has seen before.

“It has been very odd to see something like this where you grew up. What feels different this time is the scale and how sustained it’s been. I’ve never seen it happen for this long, this extended energy and purpose,” she said.

The majority of her coverage of the protests over the last week has been of more peaceful moments, said Wasson.

At those times, she has focused on how she will tell the story. But it is also important for a photographer on the ground to read the situation and be aware of exit routes if needed, she added.

In this case, she had an unusually high vantage point that gave her the perfect view. Taking photos through glass is never ideal, because of the challenges related to reflection. How the images turn out depends on the light and how close you can get, said Wasson.

“It’s not ideal but at that particular moment it was the only thing available to me.”

(Reporting by Greg Scruggs and Rosalba O’Brien; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Mike Collett-White)