Auschwitz marks anniversary virtually as survivors fear end of an era

By Kacper Pempel and Joanna Plucinska

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Marian Turski, a 94-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, was marking the 76th anniversary of its liberation by Soviet troops on Wednesday only virtually, aware that he might never return as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

Survivors and museum officials told Reuters they fear the pandemic could end the era where Auschwitz’s former prisoners can tell their own stories to visitors on site. Most Auschwitz survivors are in their eighties and nineties.

“Even if there was no pandemic, there would be fewer survivors at every anniversary,” Turski told Reuters in a Zoom interview from his Warsaw home.

“People at my age who are already vulnerable to many other illnesses are also in the first line of fire for this virus.”

He declined an in-person interview, in part due to the pandemic risks.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial preserves the Auschwitz death camp set up on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during World War Two. More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in gas chambers at the camp or from starvation, cold and disease.

Wednesday’s ceremony marking the camp’s liberation will take place virtually starting at 1500 GMT, with speeches by survivors, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Israeli and Russian diplomats, as well as a debate on the Holocaust’s influence on children.

Other virtual ceremonies will also take place to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Memorial has been closed to visitors for 161 days due to the pandemic. In 2019 it was visited by around 2.3 million people. In 2020 that number dropped to around 502,000.

The Museum’s director, Piotr Cywinski, acknowledged virtual events and education programs were not as effective in passing on the lessons of the Holocaust and World War Two.

“Nothing will replace witnessing the place in its authentic state, because this isn’t just about seeing and listening. This is about looking around, in your own steps, touching, experiencing different perspectives, understanding,” Cywinski told Reuters.

WARNING THE WORLD

Survivors emphasized the importance of finding ways to keep Auschwitz relevant after they can no longer tell their own stories, amid a rise in far-right movements and anti-Semitism.

In Germany, former finance minister and now president of the lower house of parliament, Wolfgang Schaeuble, warned that “our culture of remembrance does not protect us from a brazen reinterpretation and even a denial of history”.

He added that racism and anti-Semitism were spreading through internet forums and conspiracy theories, stressing society’s collective responsibility to honor the memory of the Holocaust.

Some Auschwitz survivors, like Bogdan Bartnikowski, 89, said they were optimistic that the pandemic would not end their chances of returning to the memorial and telling their stories.

“I have hope that for sure there will continue to be groups of visitors to the museum,” Bartnikowski said. “Us former prisoners will not be lacking.”

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel; additional reporting by Philip Pullella and Madeline Chambers; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Giles Elgood)

Uncertain U.S. election outcome opens way for protests

By Michael Martina and Heather Timmons

DETROIT (Reuters) – After months of protests about racism and police brutality, the United States is now likely to see street demonstrations over the cliffhanger presidential election, after President Donald Trump falsely claimed victory and called for voting to stop.

About 100 people gathered for an interfaith event before a planned march through downtown Detroit, in the battleground state of Michigan, on Wednesday morning to demand a full vote count and what they called a peaceful transition of power.

The protest flyer called people to action to stop Trump from “stealing the election.”

Democrat-leaning activists were planning “protect the vote” rallies around Michigan on Wednesday afternoon, including one in front of the state capitol in Lansing.

“The message is that Michigan is fighting back and every vote must be counted,” said Kenny Williams Jr., a spokesman for Detroit Action, one of the groups organizing the Detroit event. “We understand that Republicans will likely try every trick in the book to win this election. But we are making our voices heard in saying that every vote must be counted.”

The excruciatingly close election hung in the balance, with a handful of closely contested states set to decide the outcome in the coming hours or days.

Trump falsely claimed victory in the early hours of the morning and made unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud in an extraordinary attack on the electoral process.

Michigan is still counting tens of thousands of ballots and expects to have an unofficial tally by the end of the day, the state’s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, told reporters.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is narrowly leading Republican Trump with about 96% of the votes tallied in Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Trump’s remarks were the sort of call that protest organizers had planned for. The “Protect the Results” coalition of over 130 groups, from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for the Rule of Law, has said it had about 500 protests organized around the country.

“There were two criteria that were out there: One is Trump officially trying to block the counting of votes and other was falsely declaring that he won, and he did both last night,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that supports left-wing Democrats running for office.

Fears of violence on Tuesday did not materialize as Americans turned out by the millions to vote. There were only a handful of incidents reported on an otherwise tranquil Election Day.

The concerns about possible unrest were heightened after a summer of protests, some of which turned violent, against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

(Reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Allen and Frank McGurty; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Kentucky court releases recording of Breonna Taylor grand jury proceedings

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Kentucky’s attorney general on Friday released audio recordings of the grand jury proceedings that cleared three policemen of homicide charges in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor.

The release offers a rare peek at the inner workings of a grand jury, which is normally kept secret, in a case that has captured national attention and prompted street protests in the debate over racism and police use of force.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed 14 audio files of grand jury testimony with the Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk. He had previously said there were more than 20 hours of proceedings, and Reuters has begun to review them.

Cameron served as special prosecutor in the Taylor case. Acting on his recommendation, the grand jury last week cleared two white officers of homicide and charged a third with wanton endangerment for stray bullets that hit a neighboring apartment in the March 13 shooting that led to the death of Taylor.

Cameron had revealed in a Louisville television interview on Tuesday that he recommended only the one endangerment charge that was returned, saying the grand jury had the responsibility to bring additional charges if it believed they were warranted.

Prosecutors have wide leeway in how to present evidence to a grand jury, which then decides whether to bring charges. Nine of the 12 grand jurors must agree on a charge in order to return an indictment.

Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes have supported street protests calling for the arrest of the officers and demanding justice for Taylor, 26, a Black emergency medical technician.

As the raid unfolded, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired once at what he said he believed was a criminal intrusion, wounding one officer. Three officers then shot 32 rounds, six of which hit Taylor, killing her.

The Taylor family has won a $12 million wrongful death settlement from the city of Louisville but still asked for the evidence to be made public, questioning whether Cameron sought to shield the officers from criminal liability.

The Kentucky governor, Louisville’s mayor and even a member of the grand jury itself had called for the proceedings to be released, increasing the pressure on Cameron, a Black Republican whom President Donald Trump has praised as a rising star in the party.

In the end, it was the judge overseeing the criminal case of the officer charged with wanton endangerment who ordered the recordings to be entered in the court file, making them public.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dan Grebler and Aurora Ellis)

Teenager charged with killing two in Kenosha to fight extradition, lawyer says

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two protesters and injuring another during demonstrations about race and justice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will fight his requested extradition from Illinois, his lawyer told a court hearing on Friday.

Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged by Kenosha County’s district attorney with six crimes for shooting three people who tried to subdue or disarm him during protests on Aug. 25, killing 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, 26.

Rittenhouse participated in the hearing at the Lake County Circuit Court in Illinois via video link from the detention facility where he is being held. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and a gray mask covered his face.

“Good morning, your honor,” he addressed the judge in his only remarks in the hearing, which lasted just a few minutes.

John Pierce, one of Rittenhouse’s lawyers, said he planned to fight the request by Kenosha prosecutors that he be transferred to Wisconsin to face the charges.

“We intend to challenge extradition by writ of habeas corpus,” Pierce said. “And so we would ask that the procedures be put in place whereby extradition documents are in fact sent from Wisconsin so we can review them.”

The teenager had traveled to Kenosha on Aug. 25 from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, in a self-appointed role to protect the streets of Kenosha where the police shooting of Jacob Blake had sparked unrest during protests against police brutality and racism.

Rittenhouse’s legal team have said that he feared for his life when he fired his semi-automatic rifle and was acting in self-defense. Cellphone videos from the night show chaotic scenes, including one where Rittenhouse is chased and falls down before his encounter with Huber and another man, Gaige Grosskreutz.

Huber appeared to hit Rittenhouse in the shoulder with a skateboard and tried to grab his rifle before being shot, according to the criminal complaint. Rittenhouse then pointed the rifle at Grosskreutz, who had a hand gun. Grosskreutz was shot but survived.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have also sought to portray the case as a referendum on the right to bear arms following a summer of sometimes violent protests in major U.S. cities.

“A 17-year-old American citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after,” the narrator says in a video released this week by a group tied to his legal team. “Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Shooting of 27-year-old man under investigation in Pennsylvania

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – The mayor of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Monday called for an overhaul of how the city responds to mental health situations after a police officer shot and killed a 27-year-old man who ran at him, allegedly threatening him with a knife.

The shooting on Sunday sparked sometimes-violent protests overnight, turning the city of about 60,000 people into the latest flashpoint in a summer of civil unrest across the United States over racism and use of force by the police.

The Lancaster City Bureau of Police released body camera footage which appeared to show Ricardo Munoz cursing, and running at the officer with a knife in his right hand. The officer shot and killed Munoz, who died at the scene.

Munoz was out on $1 million bail after being charged with aggravated assault last year, court records showed.

At a press conference on Monday, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace called on the governor and state legislators to work together to come up with better protocols for responding to 911 calls involving people who may have mental health issues.

She said the shooting highlighted a broader problem of poverty impacting as many as half of the city’s residents — a predicament exacerbated by budget cuts and the coronavirus pandemic and disproportionately impacting minority communities.

“We must fund housing, social services, and education equitably and adequately in this city,” she said. “Lancaster, if we care so deeply about loving our neighbor then let’s do it.”

The Lancaster police department said it had arrested 8 people early on Monday for arson and other crimes, with four of those detained from outside the county. Some protesters threw bricks at the police station and post office, the police said.

Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said in a statement her office was investigating the shooting to determine whether there was a justified use of force.

She said a preliminary review showed “that the officer fired as a man, clearly armed with a knife, ran toward the officer in a threatening manner.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Portland police arrest 11 after overnight protests

(Reuters) – Police arrested 11 people in Portland as protests continued to take place after 100 days of demonstrations in the Oregon city against racism and police brutality.

Tuesday night, a group began gathering at the site of the Saturday Market and marched in the street to the area of Transit Police Department offices, the police said in a statement.

As the crowd arrived, some stood on the train rails, which interfered with trains getting through the area. Other members of the group stood in the street, blocking vehicular traffic, the police added.

The police said they ordered the demonstrators to disperse. Some adhered while others continued to march around in the streets and threw projectiles such as eggs and water bottles toward officers.

Portland police said they used some munitions to control the crowd but no CS gas, the main component of tear gas.

The police did not mention any injuries but said they made 11 arrests on charges such as interfering with a peace officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and attempting escape.

Portland has seen nightly protests for over three months that have at times turned into violent clashes between demonstrators and officers, as well as between right- and left-wing groups.

Demonstrations erupted around the United States following the death in May of George Floyd, a Black man, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

White nationalism upsurge in U.S. echoes historical pattern, say scholars

By Katanga Johnson and Jim Urquhart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first Black woman is on a major party presidential ticket, Americans of all races are showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and at the same time white nationalists are ramping up recruiting efforts and public activism.

That nationwide backing for America’s stated goal of equal rights for all has been met by a rise in hate-related activities is part of a decades-long pattern in the United States, six scholars and historians say – any expansion of civil rights for a minority group leads to a rise in intolerance.

“Each wave of civil rights progress brings us a little closer to real equity, but there will always be backlash from those who feel threatened by that progress,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of research with the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University in Washington. People who feel vulnerable to change become “eager to recruit and radicalize support to slow things down, even if by use of violence or radicalized propaganda,” she said.

After the first Black president, Barack Obama, was elected in 2008, the number of hate groups “ballooned,” Miller-Idriss said, just as Ku Klux Klan activity grew again after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed. decision desegregating schools, and during the 1960’s civil rights movement. Backlashes happened after women got the right to vote, and as LGBTQ rights expanded, too.

One of the things that makes this moment so heated is there’s been a bigger embrace by politicians, businesses and white people in general supporting racial justice movements than in the past, historians and civil rights experts said.

America rests on the “great social challenge of creating a successful harmonious, multiracial democracy,” said Simon Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP). The backlash against that accelerated during the Black Lives Matter protests and “is both a political one and a violent, social one,” he said.

Protests against excessive use of force by police and racism swept the United States, and the world, this summer after a Black man, George Floyd, died on May 25 while a white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck.

The latest police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23 has sparked more protests that have sometimes become violent.

Two white nationalist groups, who want an independent state for whites, told Reuters their numbers are also increasing, which Reuters could not independently confirm. The National Socialist Movement Corporation and the ShieldWall Network said many of the new prospects reject the Black Lives Matter protesters mainly out of fear the demonstrations will impose on their freedoms, such as the right to bear arms.

“I’ve got guns. I’ve got a lot of bullets and an armor, too. And if people come down my street looking for trouble, I am going to fight it,” Burt Colucci, self-described commander of the Corporation, said a prospective recruit told him in a recent phone call.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has documented 3,566 “extremist propaganda incidents” and events in 2020, compared to 2,704 in the same period of 2019. Almost 80% of this year’s cases involve white nationalist ideology, the civil rights advocacy organization found. Anti-Semitic incidents and plots and attacks of terrorism among others made up the rest, the ADL said.

MARCH IN WASHINGTON

Patriot Front, a white nationalist group, marched in Washington in February, and flyers and leaflets advertising the group have been found on college campuses from Arizona to Vermont in recent months. White nationalist groups posted messages on Facebook this summer advocating bringing guns to Black Lives Matter protests, and staged demonstrations in Florida and Pennsylvania in July.

While the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States is growing, whites remain a majority, about 60% of all Americans, according to Pew Research Center analysis published a year ago.

One-third of eligible voters in the Nov. 3 elections, in which Senator Kamala Harris of Jamaican and Indian parentage is running on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s ticket, will be non-white, according to Pew, up from one-quarter in 2000.

Most Americans say they embrace diversity, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last year about race, society, and their political engagement. Sixty-three percent said the statement “I prefer to live in a community with people who come from diverse cultures” reflects their point of view.

Among registered Democrats, that affirmative answer jumped to 78%, while among Republicans it dropped to 45%.

In the election campaign, Biden has accused President Donald Trump of stoking divisions. The Trump campaign has said that the president “works hard to empower all Americans.”

‘HEAR THE RAGE’

“I’ve never seen the country so divided – not only divided, but charged, on all sides,” said Billy Roper of the Arkansas-based white nationalist organization, ShieldWall Network.

America has been at similar crossroads before, though, the scholars and historians interviewed by Reuters say.

The Ku Klux Klan, founded at the end of the U.S. Civil War, is the oldest and most violent of white extremist organizations, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) civil rights advocacy group. The KKK, bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive policies during the period known as Reconstruction, used violence against Black people in Southern states, particularly to deny them the newly-won right to vote.

Women’s voting rights, granted in 1920, coincided with a rise of the word “bitch” in newspapers around the country, Representative Pramila Jayapal said recently on the floor of the House of Representatives because, she contends, voting “was just a little too much power for too many men across the country.”

During the early years of the civil rights movement, a number of monuments honoring the war heroes of the Confederacy, the slavery-supporting states that lost the Civil War, were erected in the South, according to a SPLC report.

At least 780 monuments remained in public places in the South and elsewhere in the United States as of February 2019, the report said, among other Confederate symbols that are deeply divisive. Of those monuments, 604 were dedicated before 1950, but 28 others were unveiled from 1950 to 1970 and 34 after 2000.

National legalization of gay marriage in 2015 contributed to a powerful resurgence in conservative politics and legal challenges to LGBTQ rights, advocates said.

Colucci says his group has seen an uptick in calls and emails after racial justice protests and growing corporate and public support for Black Lives Matter and other groups.

“Some of those e-mails, I mean, you could just hear the rage,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington and Jim Urquhart; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)

Protesters sue Kenosha claiming arrests, curfew violate U.S. Constitution

By Keith Coffman

(Reuters) – Four people arrested for curfew violations while protesting the shooting of a Black man by a white policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin sued the city and county governments on Tuesday, claiming they were denied free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that more than 150 people protesting the shooting have been taken into custody while pro-police demonstrators have been allowed to freely take to the streets, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“In Kenosha, there are two sets of laws – one that applies to those who protest police brutality and racism, and another for those who support the police,” the plaintiffs argue in their complaint, which seeks a temporary restraining order until the litigation can be heard in court.

Reuters could not reach city and county officials for comment after business hours.

Kenosha has been the scene of sometimes violent protests after video footage surfaced showing a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, 29, multiple times in the back.

Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down and the officer, Rusten Sheskey, was placed on administrative leave during an investigation.

The protesters claim in their lawsuit that police were using the curfew to prevent them from taking part in constitutionally protected activity.

The plaintiffs also say police are selectively enforcing the curfew by not arresting pro-police demonstrators, a violation of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the constitution.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, was filed on the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump visited Kenosha over the objections of some local officials.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stephen Coates)

‘I Have A Dream’: New march on Washington to mark fraught anniversary of King’s speech

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people were expected to march in Washington, D.C. on Friday to denounce racism, protest police brutality and commemorate the anniversary of the march in 1963 where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In his historic and often-repeated speech, King envisioned a time his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Its 57th anniversary comes at the end of a summer of racial unrest and nationwide protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Earlier this week, protests seized Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police officers shot another African-American man, Jacob Blake, multiple times in front of his young children while his back was turned. Blake survived the shooting, but has been paralyzed, his lawyers told reporters earlier this week.

Friday’s protest, called “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” was planned in the wake of Floyd’s death by civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer representing Blake and Floyd’s family, will speak, as will Sharpton, members of Floyd’s family, and King’s son, Martin Luther King III, among others.

After speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, participants will walk to the Martin Luther King memorial about a half mile away.

This summer’s uprisings drew parallels to those seen in 1968, after King’s own murder, five years after his famous speech.

The march also comes as Black people suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed about 180,000 Americans. Blacks have been more likely to be sickened and die from the virus and to lose jobs from the economic fallout.

Washington requires people coming from so-called coronavirus high-risk states, which currently includes both Wisconsin and Minnesota, to quarantine for 14 days when visiting the district.

Organizers say they are taking the pandemic into account by restricting access to buses from those states, distributing masks and checking temperatures. There will also be free COVID-19 testing provided at the event.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who received national attention when the district painted “Black Lives Matter” on the street steps away from the White House, has warned attendees that it may be difficult to socially distance during the march.

In addition to the live march, there will be a virtual commemoration featuring Reverend William Barber, a prominent civil rights activist and the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. It will also include civil rights activists, politicians, artists and entertainers.

Kerrigan Williams, a founder of Freedom Fighters DC, said the group was organizing its own march on Friday after the March on Washington to promote a more radical agenda that includes replacing police departments with other public safety systems.

She said the group believes “the march on Washington is too reformist and performative for our taste.”

Separately, a wing of the Movement for Black Lives, a network of Black activists and organizations, has scheduled the “Black National Convention” on Friday night, following national conventions by the Democratic and Republican parties over the past two weeks.

The three-hour live streamed convention, which has been in the works since last fall, will feature about 100 Black activists and discussions about criminal justice and capitalism, said Jessica Byrd, an organizer for the event.

“We feel like it’s going to be a Black political Homecoming weekend,” she said.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Gregorio)

Protester’s arrest leads to crowd forming at Pittsburgh mayor’s home

(Reuters) – Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he had “serious concerns” over the tactics used in the arrest of a 25-year-old protester on Saturday, after the detention led a crowd of demonstrators showing up at the mayor’s home on Sunday.

Matthew Cartier, 25, was arrested on Saturday at a Black Lives Matter protest. A video cited by CBS News showed armed officers putting Cartier into an unmarked van; police say he interfered with public safety.

Local media footage showed a crowd gathering outside Peduto’s home on Sunday, carrying signs with slogans such as “Defund the Police”.

The crowd of about 150 marched to outside the mayor’s house after rallying in Mellon Park, according to local media reports.

Police said Cartier was arrested because he stepped in front of cars, tried to direct traffic and blocked an intersection used for hospitals and the University of Pittsburgh.

He was charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways and other public passages. Cartier was released on recognizance bond Sunday.

“We did it with the tactics and tools necessary to do it safely for not only the individual being arrested, for the public at large and for the protesters their selves,” an official from the Pittsburgh Police told the media.

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Sunday that officers were “in clear violation of their own guidelines.”

“The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

Protests against racism and police brutality have spread across the United States and around the world after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African-American man, who was killed when an officer knelt on his neck for about nine minutes.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)