Girl’s drowning sparks water riot in thirsty South African township

By Mfuneko Toyana

QWAQWA, South Africa (Reuters) – Eight-year-old Musa and her older sister Moleboheng trudged down the ravine with buckets and drum bottles to fetch water from a filthy stream because they were thirsty and tired of waiting for trucks meant to deliver emergency water that never showed up.

But Musa never returned, her mother Phindile Mbele recalled, choking back tears. The little girl drowned in the stream, which is thick with sewage, mud and algae, probably pulled down by a strong underwater current.

“We rushed down there. She was still under the water… Two boys from the neighborhood went in and one carried her out,” Mbele said. “The house is empty without her. She was such a sweet, quiet child”.

Musa’s death last month further enflamed the mood among residents of Mandela Park township on the edge of Qwaqwa in South Africa, turning intermittent protests over water shortages into a full-blown, week-long riot.

Protesters torched shops, overturned government vehicles and hurled bricks and bottles at riot police who responded with rubber bullets.

South Africans have protested for years over unreliable supplies of water and power, but chronic mismanagement has been compounded by the effects of last year’s drought, the worst in a century, which has been linked to climate change.

“It rains here all the time but they say there’s drought. Then how did that little girl drown because that stream was full?” said Malgas “Skinny” John, 39, who used rocks and burning tyres during the January riot to barricade the road leading into Qwaqwa in a face-off with police.

“We have to strike and burn things, only then do we get water,” said the unemployed father of two, as he queued with neighbors to fill his container from a water truck.

Locals, some wearing an African National Congress (ANC) t-shirt, stand in the queue for water at Marakong village, in the Free State province, South Africa, February 5, 2020. Picture taken February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“We’ll do it again, we’ll keep burning things if we have to,” John added.

Officials fear riots like the one seen at Qwaqwa could be a sign of worsening climate-linked instability to come, as dams and water pipes deteriorate further and the urban population continues to mushroom.

South Africa’s water minister Lindiwe Sisulu has promised 3 billion rand ($203 million) to end the shortages in Qwaqwa. Its municipality owes half a billion rand for water, out of a national unpaid bill of nearly 9 billion rand.

But even Sisulu’s own department has a 3.5 billion rand shortfall in maintenance funds, which it says risks a “detrimental impact on the national economy”, especially if water supplies to the thirsty power utility Eskom and liquid fuel maker Sasol are disrupted.

“We’ve been drinking this brown, filthy water since 2016,” said little Musa’s mother Mbele.

“Nothing will change. I know, soon, I will have to go the same stream where my daughter died to get water.”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. in deal to reform Baltimore police after Freddie Gray death

mural of late Freddie Gray in Baltimore

By Donna Owens

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – The city of Baltimore will enact a series of police reforms including changes in how officers use force and transport prisoners under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department filed in federal court on Thursday.

The agreement comes almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, of injuries sustained while in police custody sparked a day of rioting and arson in the majority-black city. It also led to an investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the deal, which is subject to a judge’s approval, would be binding even after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety,” Lynch told reporters, flanked by recently elected Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The 227-page consent decree agreement is the result of months of negotiations after a federal report released in August found that the city’s 2,600-member police department routinely violated black residents’ civil rights with strip searches, by excessively using force and other means.

The probe followed the April 2015 death of Gray, 25, who died of injuries sustained in the back of a police van. His was one of a series of high-profile deaths in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked an intense debate about race and justice and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Department of Justice is scheduled to release the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department on Friday in the Midwest city, local media reported. In Philadelphia on Friday, a report on reform efforts by the Philadelphia Police Department will be released, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors brought charges against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest but secured no convictions.

William Murphy Jr., an attorney who represented the Gray family in a civil suit against the city that led to a $6 million settlement, praised the deal.

“Make no mistake, today is a revolution in policing in Baltimore,” Murphy said.

The head of city’s police union was warier, saying his group had not been a part of the negotiations.

“Neither our rank and file members who will be the most affected, nor our attorneys, have had a chance to read the final product,” Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement.

City officials said union officials had been involved in talks early on but stopped attending meetings.

(Additional reporting by Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago. Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

Milwaukee imposes curfew to quell rioting sparked by police shooting

A burned down gas station is seen after disturbances following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – The city of Milwaukee imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on Monday in an attempt to quell rioting that erupted the previous two nights in response to the police shooting of an armed black man in one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

Mayor Tom Barrett also renewed his call for state officials to release a video of the Saturday night shooting in hopes it convinces angry protesters that deadly force against Sylville K. Smith, 23, was justified.

“There is a curfew that will be more strictly enforced tonight for teenagers,” Barrett told a news conference. “So parents, after 10 o’clock your teenagers better be home or in a place where they’re off the streets.”

Milwaukee has become the latest American city to be gripped by violence in response to police killings of black men in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 and Baltimore last year.

Famed for its breweries, Milwaukee is also one of the most segregated cities in America, with a large concentration of unemployed black men in the inner city separated from the mostly white suburbs.

Such inequality has afflicted many U.S. cities as a result of the loss of manufacturing jobs over the past three decades, sometimes stoking unrest when police use deadly force.

Police say Smith was stopped on Saturday afternoon for behaving suspiciously and that he then fled on foot between two homes. Smith was carrying a stolen handgun which he refused to drop when he was killed, police said.

The shooting led to a first night of protests over his death in which gunshots were fired, six businesses were torched and 17 people were arrested. Police reported four officers were injured and police cars were damaged before calm was restored.

On Sunday night, when police in riot gear faced off with protesters throwing bottles and bricks, four officers were injured and one other person suffered a gunshot wound, police said. Three police squad cars were damaged and 14 people were arrested, authorities said.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had activated the National Guard on Sunday in case more trouble flared, but despite the violence, police said the guardsmen were not called in.

This weekend’s shooting in Milwaukee was distinct in that the deceased was armed, according to the police account. The officer who fired the deadly shot was also black.

The mayor would like Wisconsin state officials to release the video to the public in order to corroborate the police account. State law requires all police shootings to be investigated by an independent state agency, giving the state control over such evidence.

“I want the video released. … I’m going to urge that it be released as quickly as possible,” said Barrett, who has yet to see it.

Police Chief Edward Flynn said on Sunday that video from the officer’s body camera showed Smith had turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand.

The video appeared to show the officer acting within the law, Flynn said, but because the audio was delayed it was unclear when the officer fired his weapon.

Police had stopped Smith’s car, leading to a chase on foot.

Police said Smith’s car was stopped because he was acting suspiciously, raising skepticism within largely African-American neighborhoods where people report racial discrimination from police. Smith also had a lengthy arrest record, officials said.

Asked at the news conference why officers had stopped the car on Saturday, Police Chief Edward Flynn said the officers had not been interviewed yet and that they would be interviewed later on Monday.

(Additional reporting David Ingram in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Up to 2,000 People Involved in ‘Riot’ at Kentucky Shopping Mall

Anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people — a large percentage of them middle-school- and high-school-aged kids — were involved in multiple altercations during a chaotic scene at a Kentucky shopping mall on Saturday evening, according to multiple published reports.

The disturbances happened at Mall St. Matthews in St. Matthews, Kentucky, a Louisville suburb.

Police told the Louisville Courier-Journal that most of the children were unsupervised. Law enforcement was still working to determine what exactly touched off the altercations, which began in the shopping center and later spilled out into nearby parking lots and businesses.

Speaking to NBC News, St. Matthews Police Spokesman Dennis McDonald described the situation as “a riot.” He said “a series of brawls” broke out across “the entire mall,” adding that he had not seen anything like the events of the evening in his 33 years as a police officer.

The mall has 130 stores and more than 23 acres of leasable space, according to its website.

The Courier-Journal reported that police initially received a single call for assistance to break up disorderly conduct, but got “dozens of others” as more people joined in and the altercations became more violent. McDonald told the newspaper the conflicts appeared to fuel each other, and “kind of a mob mentality” developed. Officers from at least four agencies responded to the situation.

Police were still trying to determine if the fights were gang-related or pre-planned, the Courier-Journal reported. But McDonald told the newspaper that parents and guardians of many kids appeared to be using the mall as a “babysitter,” noting that police believe most of Saturday’s troublemakers took public transportation to the mall or were dropped off there.

McDonald told the Courier-Journal that the mall should consider adopting a policy that would bar children below a certain age from visiting the mall without a parent accompanying them. He told the newspaper that could ultimately help prevent other disturbances from occurring there.

Local television station WLKY reported there weren’t any reports of injuries or arrests stemming from the confrontations. However, the mall decided to close more than an hour early, and one business manager told the station he lost more than $1,000 because of shutting his doors.

The mall was open Sunday, WLKY reported, though police stepped up their security presence there.

Venezuela Food Shortage Leads to Violence

Food shortages in the communist country of Venezuela are causing long lines and significant violence and rioting.

In one recent incident, a mob angered by lack of food stormed a National Guard posting in La Sibucara, looting the offices and burning it before slamming military trucks into the building and reducing it to rubble.

The country’s food situation has degraded to the level that people are standing in line for hours just to obtain basic food staples such as rice and milk.  The country’s economy has undergone triple digit inflation which President Nicolas Maduro blames on food smuggling and price speculation.

A survey of Venezuelans found that 30% have two meals or less each day because of lack of food and 70% say they have stopped buying some basic food staple because of excessive cost or lack of availability.

The worldwide fall in oil prices has significantly hurt the country and the government’s ability to control the populace.  When oil prices hovered around $100 a barrel, the government provided subsidized food and personal items such a diapers.  Residents were able to smuggle items like cheap gasoline to neighboring countries as significant profit.

Since the collapse of the market, the government has been unable to provide the cheap goods and have used soldiers to close the borders and intercept any attempts to smuggle goods.

Venezuelan residents told the Wall Street Journal that they have no choice but to attempt to smuggle goods.

“The people that used to give us work—the private companies, the rich—have all gone,” said a woman who identified herself as Palma in La Sibucara.. “It’s not the greatest business but we don’t have work and we have to find a way to eat.”

“I think we’re going to die of hunger,” Yusleidy Márquez said.

New Orleans Saints Player Takes Bold Stand On Ferguson

A member of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints is causing a bit of a stir in the wake of the Ferguson riots by saying the situation is not a problem of race.

Benjamin Watson, a tight end for the Saints, says the problem is sin.

Watson said he was sympathetic to the family and friends of Michael Brown and since he wasn’t there he can’t say exactly what happened but that ultimately the problem is our fallen world.

“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn,” wrote Watson.

“BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

Watson has repeated his stance on various networks including CNN, which cut him off when he began talking about Jesus.  The moment Watson said Jesus died for our sins, the CNN feed from Watson cut off and the network claimed they lost the feed.

Rioters Burn Down Multiple Ferguson Businesses

Rioters burned down multiple businesses and destroyed property throughout the night after hearing the grand jury’s findings that Michael Brown charged at Officer Darren Wilson resulting in the officer’s actions being justified.

KMOV-TV reported that the majority of the businesses that were destroyed by the looters were minority owned.

A large block of businesses on West Florissant Avenue were burned to the ground including Walgreens, Little Caesars Pizza, Title Max, Family Dollar, Autozone and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

Fire department officials say at one point last night there were so many fires started by the supporters of the Brown family that they did not have enough manpower and equipment to fight them all.

The rioters were shooting so much that the Federal Aviation Administration put in place a temporary ban for aircraft over the area out of fear they would be struck.  Flights into the St. Louis Airport had to be diverted around the area.

Police reports say 80 people were arrested as a result of the riots.

Ferguson Grand Jury Brings No Indictments

The grand jury in St. Louis County Missouri has issued no indictments in the case of officer Darren Wilson.

The grand jury made up of nine whites and three blacks examined every piece of evidence collected by the local, state and federal investigators.  They heard hours of testimony and were able to ask direct questions of those involved including officer Wilson.

The evidence showed the claims of supporters of Michael Brown did not know the facts of the case.

One witness said Brown charged at officer Darren Wilson in a manner that was “like a football player.  Head down.”

Wilson said that Brown attempted to grab his gun while the officer sat inside his cruiser.  When the officer fired a round through his car window in an attempt to back off Brown, the 18-year-old showed an “aggressive” posture.

“The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked,” Wilson told the grand jury. “He comes back toward me again with his hands up.”

“Just coming straight at me like he was going to run right through me,” Wilson said. “And when he gets about … 8 to 10 feet away … all I see is his head and that’s what I shot.”

The Justice Department says their investigation against Officer Wilson is still open and no decision has been made regarding charges.

National Guard Called In To Ferguson Area

Missouri’s governor is preparing for violence in the wake of the release of a grand jury’s decision on the Michael Brown case by deploying the National Guard and declaring a State of Emergency.

Governor Jay Nixon said the troops would only play “a backup role to police” in response to protesters breaking the law if they are dissatisfied with the grand jury’s actions.

Police in Ferguson had been criticized for their response to the violent protests following the death of Brown because some felt they acted in a too “militarized” manner.

St. Louis aldermen were upset about the declaration of the governor.

“The National Guard is called in when policing has failed. Military presence in my city will mark a historic failure on the part of (government),” Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, said on Twitter. “This is not a war. There is no military solution.”

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the city’s police force will handle any issues and that they will wear normal police attire unless “conditions become violent.”

Church Gives $40,000 To Ferguson Neighborhood

A Missouri church is stepping up to help residents of Ferguson, Missouri whose businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed by looters in the wake of the Michael Brown situation.

The Episcopal Church said it will provide $40,000 in grants to help those in need.

“This joint effort helps restock food pantry shelves to feed the hungry today, but it also provides nutritional counseling and food preparation education for a more healthy future,” said Bishop Stacy Sauls.  “… it helps local businesses get back on their feet, but it also partners with public and private groups to encourage entrepreneurship and sustainability; it provides a mechanism to deliver food and other assistance to shut-ins, but it does so by offering skills training to young adults and older youth that will help improve their lives for years to come.”

The Reverend Michael Dunnington of All Saints Episcopal Church told the Christian posts that he sees the grants helping multiple parts of the community.

“I think that this grant will go a long way to show the residents of Ferguson that the Episcopal Church cares about the immediate effects of the August troubles, and that we are interested in addressing longer-term needs in their community,” he told the Christian Post.

Dunnington added while protests are continuing in the town, they have been peaceful and not lead to further destruction.