The Nationwide Aftermath of the Michael Brown Shooting

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U.S. President Barack Obama has orders the examination of federal programs and funding allowing state and local enforcement to purchase military hardware out of concern at how much equipment was used during the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, according to a senior Obama administration official on Saturday, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal report, Obama orders review of U.S. police use of military hardware. The review will be led by White House staff including the Domestic Policy Council, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and relevant U.S. agencies including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury, and conducted in coordination with Congress. At the White House news conference Monday, Obama said he wanted to make sure police purchase equipment needed because there is “a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred.” A growing number of lawmakers have voiced concerned over the militarization of U.S. police forces through programs facilitated by the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security. House of Representative lawmakers defeated a bill to halt the 1033 program, which allows the purchase of this equipment, 355-62 vote in June, however concerns about the handling of the crisis in Ferguson have revived the reform effort. The article reports: “The Pentagon has transferred more than $4 billion of equipment including armored vehicles, tents, rifles and night-vision goggles to local and state agencies since 2006, of which about 36 percent involved new equipment. Over the past year alone, the Pentagon said, it has transferred some 600 armored military trucks known as MRAPS that were built for the war in Iraq. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded more than $35 billion in grants over the past decade.” U.S. weapons makers have been eying other markets for years to drum up business for their products developed for the military to offset declines in U.S. and European military spending.

Back in Ferguson, Michael Brown Sr., the fathers of the unarmed black teenager shot to death by a police officer, asked Sunday for protests to pause on the day of his son’s funeral, Mollie Reilly reports, Michael Brown’s Father Asks For Pause In Protests On Day Of Son’s Funeral. He told BuzzFeed, “I would like for no protesting going on. We just want a moment of silence that whole day. Just out of respect for our son.” Saturday marked the two week anniversary of the shooting with Brown’s father telling KSHB regarding officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot Michael Brown: “We’re hurt. There’s no telling what he’s doing. He has his life, but our son is gone.” Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree told NBC, “I think the first thing that needs to happen, you need to arrest Officer Wilson. He shot and killed a man, shot him multiple times. No one knows anything about him, no one knows why he did it.” The Christian Science Monitor points out not all agree that Wilson should be taken into custody as one law professor at Harvard was quoted as saying, “We should not arrest [Officer Darren Wilson] until there’s a substantial level of proof of criminality, even if it appeared that the police acted improperly.” Unfortunately, Missouri’s Defense of Jurisdiction statute fives police officers broad authority to use deadly force in cases when, “He or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, when he reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest” and when the subject “May otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay.” The Business Insider points out that if Wilson is charged for Brown’s death, his attorney can invoke the law by arguing that he believed Brown posed a serious threat to his life. Wilson’s supporters have started fundraising campaigns for the officer including a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $230,000 and two Facebook pages in support of Wilson have almost 100,000 likes. CNN reports, “It may be until mid-October before the panel gets through all of the evidence. That’s so important to see as much evidence as they can. So if this officer … is charged, it may not happen until then.” Until then, Salon notes that the prosecution has two choices: first, “immediately press charges, issue a warrant for the officer’s arrest and arrest Officer Wilson.” Or it could hold back, then “present the case to a grand jury and see if the grand jury will find probable cause to indict the officer.” Regardless of whether Wilson is soon arrested, the grand jury would still have to find probable cause before he would be indicted. Michael Brown’s funeral is scheduled for Monday.

As for the man of the hour, Darren Wilson remains a bit of mystery yet many have rallied around the somewhat disgraced officer thanks to the less than fair media coverage of the officer. Wilson supporters agree the media is a perpetrator believing he has been misrepresented and maligned since the shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, according to Matt Sledge, Darren Wilson Supporters Rally To Bash Media, Ferguson Protesters. Sharon, one of many people who only offered a first name or no name at all said, “It takes two sides to every story, and I think he has gotten such a bad rap.” A 12 person grand jury began considering whether to indict Wilson for his role in Brown’s death on Wednesday with some supporters expressing sympathy for Brown’s family, while few others, seemed to think the 18 year old should be spared the rush to judgement that Officer Wilson received. There has been three nights of peace in Ferguson following days of violent clashes with police and protestors directly following the shooting. While both black and white protestors have come out every night in Ferguson, no African Americans appeared to attend the pro-Wilson gathering. The Washington Post reported Wilson worked previously at a department that was disbanded by authorities over racial tension in Jennings, Missouri, three years ago when Wilson was a rookie cop. The newspaper described the department as “a mainly white department mired in controversy and notorious for its fraught relationship with residents, especially the African American majority… not an ideal place to learn how to police.” The city council decided that tensions between officers and black residents were so bad that everyone had to be fired to build a new, more credible department. Just days after Brown was killed, Kajieme Powell, another black man was fatally shot by police after allegedly stealing energy drinks and donuts from a convenience store. St. Louis Police said the man was armed with a knife, but raw video of the incident appears contradictory. Later last week, Lieutenant Ray Albers of the St. Ann Police was suspended after being filmed pointing a semi-automatic rifle at a protestor and threatening to kill him. On Aug. 22, St. Louis County officer Dan Page was removed from duty after a video of him making bigoted comments was released.

As Natasha Bach points out, Police Violence Has Been Going On Forever. No Wonder People Are Fed Up With It, the fact remains that the number of people killed by police annually is unknown, but we do know that five unarmed black men have been killed by police in the last month alone. Besides protestors protesting the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, they are voicing their anger at an old police problem namely the violence directed at black and brown people. Besides the Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell shooting, here are a few other instances of excessive force used by police nationwide from Bach’s report:

“The horrific beating of Rodney King by five police officers in Los Angeles in 1991 — and the subsequent acquittal of his assailants — sparked the L.A. riots of 1992, leading to 53 deaths, some at the hands of police. It was also a video introduction to police brutality for those in America who may have doubted its severity.

Twenty years later, a police beating or shooting has a decent chance of getting caught on camera — either the one on the phone in everybody’s hand or the surveillance camera pointing down at the street. The latter captured Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, being beaten to death by authorities in Fullerton, California, after being mistaken for a suspect in a series of car break-ins in the area. They, too, were acquitted.

Footage shows Oscar Grant being restrained by BART transit officers on the train platform in Oakland, California, following an altercation. Unarmed and lying on the platform, Grant was shot to death by James Mehserle, who claimed to have mistaken his gun for his taser. The alleged accidental death of Grant at the Fruitvale BART station was memorialized in last year’s film Fruitvale Station.

In June, Edgar Vargas Arzate was running from police in Santa Ana, California, near where Thomas was beaten, before surrendering in the front yard of a neighbor’s home. He was lying unarmed and face-down in the grass, but officers still savagely beat Arzate. When he was taken into custody, he was charged with assaulting an officer.

In July, Staten Island resident Eric Garner was suspected by the NYPD of selling untaxed cigarettes. When he refused arrest, an officer put the asthmatic man in a chokehold. Garner repeatedly screamed ‘I can’t breathe!’ and died soon after.”

Will Justice Be Served in Ferguson, Missouri?


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The video above shows the suburban St. Louis police officer who threatened to kill protestors with his weapon drawn in Ferguson is Lt. Ray Albers, according to his boss, Sebastian Murdock reports, CONFIRMED: Cop Who Threatened Ferguson Protesters Is Lt. Ray Albers. The 20 year police veteran and Army veteran of four was caught on video screaming at protestors, “I will fucking kill you,” while pointing his rifle at civilians, St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez told The Huffington Post Wednesday night. Jiminez said Albers told the chief he felt sick to his stomach and “should of known better.” He was placed on indefinite, unpaid suspension while an investigation is underway. Jimenez said, “It’s frustrating, because we told [our officers] before we went down there that there would be lots of people trying to antagonize to provoke them into saying something. Whether you’re a pedestrian or protesters, you have to be professional, and [Albers’] actions weren’t in any way, shape or form. He saw three to four suspects with bandanas on, and saw one of them raise a gun towards him. That made him draw his weapon up to the crowd, and he was scanning and moving that weapon back and forth, trying to asses the scene. … Him seeing the gun in the crowd, he had every right to protect himself in fear of danger until he assessed the scene. Most of the protesters are really good people, but there’s a small percentage of people that are out there trying to antagonize and make the protesters look bad. When he was asked the name, you need to be giving your name so they know who to contact. So when he said, ‘Go F yourself,’ that was uncalled for too.” On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the day after two journalist were arrested while covering Ferguson: “Here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.” The explanation for so many journalist being arresting in Ferguson, according to Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol: “We’re not sure who’s a journalist and who’s not. And yes if I see someone with a $50,000 camera on his shoulder I’m pretty sure. But some journalists are walking around and all you have is a cell phone because you’re from a small media outlet.” Legally, the police are within their rights as a general counsel for the National Photographers Press Association told The Poynter Institute that while reporters are protected by the first amendment, police can order journalist away from a dangerous area and non compliance with the order can lead to arrest. 48 news organizations have penned a letter to the Ferguson police force citing concerns for journalistic freedom and asking for increased transparency for law enforcement.

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson to meet with federal investigators and reassure residents of the racially torn suburb, Jim Suhr reports, Holder: ‘Change is coming’ after police shooting. The visit comes as a grand jury the same day in Clayton heard evidence to determine whether the officer who shot Brown would be charged. Outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton, where the grand jury was convened, two dozen protestors gathers in a prayer circle, chanted and held signs asking prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step aside due to deep family connections with police cited by black leaders concerned about his ability to be impartial in the case of Darren Wilson who fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9. McCulloch’s father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect. The protests were subdued Tuesday night with smaller crowds, fewer confrontations and no tear gas. However, 47 arrests did occur mainly due to people defying orders to disperse. IN a letter published late Tuesday on the St. Louis Post Dispatch website, Holder promised a thorough investigation and the arrest patterns “must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.” The department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown’s death from conducting the independent autopsy to sending dozens of FBI agents to Ferguson to find witnesses to the shooting. As for the county grand jury, prosecutor’s spokesman Ed Magee said Wednesday that there is no timeline for how long the process could take, but it could be weeks. In a public statement, officials said, “We plan to learn from this tragedy, as we further provide for the safety of our residents and businesses and progress our community through reconciliation and healing.”

As for the officer responsible, an incomplete picture of Texas born Ferguson officer Darren Wilson has emerged since the Aug. 9 shooting as either an aggressor whose deadly gunfire constituted a daylight execution or a law enforcer wrongfully maligned for just doing his job according to Jim Suhr, Picture emerges of officer in Ferguson shooting. The Brown family’s attorney labeled Wilson as a murderer, though the investigation continues and no charges are filed. An online fundraising drive on Wilson’s behalf as of Thursday has raised $77,000 in donations. Former high school classmate and hockey buddy, Jake Shepard, said having talked to Wilson since the shooting: “I think he’s kind of struggling a little bit, but I think he’s doing OK. He didn’t really want to talk much about it. But I can tell you for sure it was not racially motivated. He’s not the type of person to harbor any hate for anybody. He was always nice, respectable and well-mannered, a gentleman. He doesn’t have anything bad to say about anybody, ever. He’s very genuine.” Similar depictions of Wilson have come from his boss, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.

The Situation in Ferguson Continues to Worsen as the National Guard Steps In

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On Sunday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to do another autopsy on the black Missouri teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer that incited a week of peaceful and sometimes violent protests in suburban St. Louis, Nigel Duara and Jim Suhr report, Federal autopsy ordered in Missouri teen’s death. Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon cited a family member’s request and the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the case of 18 year old Michael Brown to explain the decision. In statement, Fallon explained: “This independent examination will take place as soon as possible. Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.” Justice Department officials said a day earlier 40 FBI agents went door to door gathering information in the Ferguson, Missouri, neighborhood where the unarmed Brown was shot to death in the middle of the street on Aug. 9. Holder’s latest announcement followed the first night of state imposed curfew in Ferguson which ended with tear gas and seven arrests after police in riot gear used armored vehicles to disperse protestors. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson explained the protestors were not the reason for the escalated police reaction early Sunday after the midnight curfew, but a report of people who broke into a barbeque restaurant and took to the roof and a man flashed a handgun in the street as armored vehicles approached a crowd of protestors. The protests have been going on since Brown’s death intensified racial tensions between the black community and mostly white Ferguson Police Department, causing several clashes with police and protestors prompting Missouri’s governor to bring in the Highway Patrol to take over security. As the curfew arrived on Sunday, most left but some protestors refused to leave the area as officers announced over a loudspeaker: “You are in violation of a state-imposed curfew. You must disperse immediately.” As officers put gas masks on, a chant from the crowd erupted: “We have the right to assemble peacefully.” A moment later, police fired canisters into the crowd including tear gas and smoke, according to what Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz told the Associated Press. Nigel Duara and Jim Suhr reports, Private autopsy reveals Brown was shot 6 times, the preliminary autopsy revealed Brown was shot six times including twice in the head. Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner, told the New York Times that one bullet entered the top pf Brown’s skull suggesting that his head was bent forward when he suffered the fatal injury. In addition, Brown was shot four times in the right arm and all bullets were fired into his front. David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights sections of Miami’s U.S. attorney’s office, said a federally conducted autopsy “more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises.” Back in Ferguson, the latest clashes happened three hours before Gov. Jay Nixon’s state imposed curfew as police shouted over bullhorns that the protest were no longer peaceful making it unclear why officers acted ahead of the deadline to get people off the streets.

Earlier in the day, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, whose agency is in charge of security in Ferguson, said he had met with Brown’s family and the experience “brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart.” He added: “When this is over. I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby. “We all need to thank the Browns for Michael. Because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men.” Police had little to say about the encounter between Brown and the officer, except to say the officer and Brown were involved in a scuffled that resulted in Brown being shot and the officer being injured. However, witnesses say the teenager had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple shots. The officer who shot brown was identified as Darren Wilson, a six year veteran of the force and had no prior complaints against him. Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting and the department will not say anything about his whereabouts. On Sunday, 150 people gathers in St. Louis to show support for Wilson as the crowd protested outside a TV station who broadcast in front of the officer’s home. The St. Louis Post Dispatch said the station, KSDK, apologized. The group composed mostly of police and relatives of officers carried signs urging people to wait for all the facts. Unfortunately, due to the tense situation escalating after the first night of the curfew, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Monday ordered the National Guard to the St. Louis suburb, Nigel Duara and Jim Suhr report, Mo. governor sends National Guard to Ferguson. Nixon said the National Guard will help restore peace and order to Ferguson where over the fatal shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown has entered its second week. Police defended their action toward protesters and only responded due to gunfire, looting, vandalism and protesters who hurled Molotov cocktails. In a statement, Nixon said: “These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served and to feel safe in their own homes.” Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in command in Ferguson, said: “Based on the conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of response.”

The Battle for Civil Rights in Ferguson Continues 50 Years Later

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Michael Brown, 18, walked to his grandmother’s neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug.9 when he was fatally shot by a police officer sparking outrage from people around the country and inciting clashes with the people of Ferguson and the “militarized” police with their armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets. As Cate Matthews puts it, Photos From Ferguson And 1960s Protests Side By Side Make It Clear How Little Has Changed, the scene in Ferguson looks like the 1960s when such responses were far too common. Social media, however, has changed the way the world sees these action as internet users across the country have uploaded images of the police response to civil rights protests and photos from Ferguson that look eerily similar raising the question: How far have we really come? Sharon Cohen and Alan Scher Zagier, Police images fuel outrage in St. Louis and beyond, describe the images as reminiscent of a war zone with helmeted officers pointing weapons from armored trucks, flash grenades lighting the night sky and tear gas being launched into the crowds. The clashes between police and protestors in the St. Louis suburb has sparked heavy criticism and raised question about whether the tactics used were causing the same violence they aimed to prevent after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer and criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburg, said: “It’s clear what is going on in Ferguson is a complete, hyper-exaggerated, hysterical response on the part of law enforcement. It’s clear that there is no one in charge and no one to corral the officers … and restrain them from engaging in an unprecedented show of brutal force against civilians. It’s horrifying and shameful and a disgrace.” On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the Missouri State Highway Patrol were relieving the officers of Ferguson and taking over security in the suburb commenting “that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit.” It was the fourth day of street protests spurred by the shooting of the 18 year old by a white police officer resulting in 60 people being arrested since last Sunday. On Thursday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the police are trying to balance the public’s rights to protests with public safety adding that: “If firebombs are being thrown, property gets destroyed, shots get fired … we have to respond to deadly force.” St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman defended the actions of the police: “In talking to these guys, it is scary. They hear gunshots going off, and they don’t know where they’re coming from.” He also said coins, bricks and rocks also have been thrown at police. Two officers have been injured. One had an ankle broken by a thrown brick, according to authorities. President Obama, who is on vacation, said while “emotions are raw now,” there needs to be a “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the use of military equipment by Ferguson police sent a “conflicting message.” Missouri officials have accepted the help of the Justice Department to control the crowds and help with public safety “without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force.” During a visit to Ferguson, Sen. Claire McCaskill said “the militarization of the response became more of a problem than the solution. It escalated the situation. … These people need to be allowed to exercise their rights, with safety and respect.” The events in Ferguson were part of a growing trend among police departments around the country, according to a American Civil Liberties Union reports in June that states police were overwhelmingly relying on SWAT raids for routine work like small amounts of drugs and serving warrants using assault rifles, battering rams and flash grenades. These raids also disproportionately affected minorities.

Late Friday, Jim Salter reports, Police, protestors clash again in Ferguson, police and 200 protestors clashed after another tense day in the suburb following a news conference in which officer Darren Wilson was names and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson release alleged documents that state Brown stole a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store then strong armed a man on the way out. Just before midnight, a rowdy but mostly well behaved crowd broke into the same store and began looting it, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson. Meanwhile, peaceful protestors blocked off the front of the store eventually to help protect it yelling at the aggressors to stop. Wilson, the officer named in the shooting, has been on paid administrative leave and St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation into the shooting wraps up. On Friday, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to take over the case as he did not believe McCulloch could be objective. Koster said Missouri law does not allow unless he opts out and McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said McCulloch will not surrender the case. Some disturbing news out of the St. Louis suburb comes in the form of increased gun sales, according to local gun shops, Hunter Stuart reports, Ferguson Unrest Is Causing Locals To Stock Up On Guns. The unrest in Ferguson is sending residents to the gun shop. Dorian Johnson, 22, who was with Brown when the shooting happened, explained to a local news outlet KSDK-TV that the officer shot Brown while he was running away and then shot him again after Brown put his hands in the air. Brown was two days away from attending college, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Since the shooting, dozens of arrest have been made and reports of gunfire around town including: “A 19-year-old was shot by police Wednesday after allegedly pointing a gun at an officer; the teen is in critical condition. A woman was shot in the head during an alleged drive-by shooting early Wednesday morning. Police have urged protesters to assemble only during daylight hours. Authorities even asked the Federal Aviation Administration to institute a no-fly zone over Ferguson after police helicopters were allegedly fired at.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spoke to the media about the situation in Ferguson shortly after the Ferguson Police Department revealed the name of the officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, according to Paige Lavender, Jay Nixon: ‘Nothing Should Deter Figuring Out How And Why Michael Brown Was Killed’. Nixon stated: “Nothing should deter figuring out how and why Michael Brown was killed.” Nixon said he thinks the decision to give Missouri State Highway Patrol control of the situation in Ferguson made a positive difference in the last 18 hours. Lavender reports before the media was addressed that Nixon released a statement on the Ferguson Police Departments’ release of Wilson’s name: “I’m pleased that the people of Ferguson and the region began to get some long-overdue information today, and I will continue to call for openness and transparency as the parallel investigations into this tragedy proceed to their necessary conclusions. For the sake of the family, the citizens of Ferguson, and the entire region, it is vital that the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown move forward in a thorough, open and transparent manner to ensure that trust is restored and justice is done.” No arrest were made on Thursday night, according to Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol who also spoke at the press conference which was a welcomed relief from previous nights of police clashes with protestors in Ferguson.

While Nixon remains optimistic about the situation, Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia called on President Barack Obama to declare martial law in Ferguson, Missouri as police clashed with protestors after the killing of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last Saturday, Alex Lazar reports, Rep. John Lewis On Ferguson: ‘Declare Martial Law’. In a Thursday interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Lewis said, “It is very sad and unbelievable. It’s unreal to see what the police is doing there. First of all, Ferguson, Missouri, is part of the United States of America. People have a right to protest. They have a right to dissent. They have a right to march in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. And the press has a right to cover it.” Lewis, who marched in 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and suffered a fractured skull by police, told Mitchell the situation reminds him of “the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s,” pointing to the lack of black officers on the St. Louis suburb’s police force. Lewis added that President Obama “should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest. And people should come together. Reasonable elected officials, community leaders and address what is happening there.” He ended by saying: “If we fail to act, the fires of frustration and discontent will continue to burn, not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but all across America.”

Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

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After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”

NRA Believes Stalkers’ Have the Right to Bear Arms

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Wayne LaPierre (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

The National Rifle Association has now taken up the fight against federal legislation banning those convicted of domestic violence against dating partners and stalking from purchasing guns, according to Laura Bassett’s article on June 25, NRA Fights For Convicted Stalkers’ Gun Rights. The federal law already prevents persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from purchasing firearms. However, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) proposes the addition of convicted stalkers to the group and is in favor of expanding the definition of convicted domestic violence against “intimate partners” to include dating partners, according to legislation S. 1290 which she introduced. Bassett reports that two different senators’ aides confirmed that the NRA sent letters to lawmakers strongly opposing the measure even describing it as “a bill to turn disputes between family members and social acquaintances into lifetime firearm prohibitions.” The letter from the nation’s largest gun lobby also states that the measure “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.” Klobuchar in an email to HuffPost stated, “As a former prosecutor, I know how domestic violence and stalking can take lives and tear apart families. This is a commonsense bill that would protect victims and keep our families safe, and I will continue to work to move this legislation forward.”

Legislation has been gaining momentum in the states that would prevent all convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns and even the NRA has relaxed its stance on such bills over the past year due to the fact one of its own top officials was convicted of domestic violence and prohibited from owning a firearm. However, the federal push for domestic violence gun bans has raised some red flags for the gun rights groupies e.g. Klobuchar, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) have all introduced measures to expand and strengthen gun restriction for people who are convicted of domestic abuse or stalking or who have emergency temporary restraining orders issued. According to a report released last week by the Center for American Progress, stalkers and physically abusive dating partners are just as deadly as violent spouses. In addition, domestic abusers with access to guns are seven times more likely to kill their partners than those without access.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head in 2011, met last week with House and Senate leadership, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, numerous other lawmakers and policy experts to discuss what Congress can do to protect women from gun violence committed at the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers, Basset reports. Giffords’ gun violence prevention PAC, Americans for Responsible Solution, found that women in gun friendly Texas favor a law requiring stalkers to turn in their firearms. Halyley Zachary, executive director of the PAC, told HuffPost:  “Protecting women from gun violence means ensuring we have laws that keep guns out of the hands of stalkers and domestic abusers. By opposing this commonsense bill, [NRA chief] Wayne LaPierre and the NRA leadership has once again shown it is out of step with the vast majority of Americans and responsible gun owners. Now, the question for NRA-backed candidates around the country is: do they share the NRA’s position?”

Caught in the Crossfire: Unintentional Shooting Deaths Since Newtown

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

According to a study released on June 25,2014  by Everytown for Gun Safety, at least 100 children have died due to unintentional gunfire in the year following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. John Feinblatt, the president of the group who conducted the study, explains to HuffPost, “Too often we just say it is an accident or inevitable. But what this data shows is it’s preventable.” In Sam Stein’s article for HuffPost, 100 Children Died In Unintentional Shootings In Year After Newtown, that the report entitled Innocents Lost: A Year of Unintentional Child Gun Deaths examines in great detail the frequency, causes and victims of these shootings. According to Everytown, 73 percent of the shootings counted were done by minors who are defined as 14 or younger. While 57 percent of the cases showed that the victims were shot by someone else usually an older peer, 35 percent involved the victim shooting him or herself and usually involved younger victims. Further data shows that the these shootings occurred in familiar placed to the victims with 84 percent being killed in their home, a friend’s home or a family car and ,in 76 percent of the cases, the gun belonged to a parent or family member. The shooting found in the study occurred in 35 states with most happening in small towns and rural areas.  Stein explains that the finding from Everytown come from extensive review of news stories and subscription service in the 12 months after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook. Any shooting found to contain any ambiguity as to whether it was accidental or not or could not be confirmed as accidental by law enforcement officials was left out resulting in a possible under-counting of the final results published in HuffPost.

The group, Everytown, itself has had its fair share of controversy due to the methodology used to count the school shootings which are kept in a separate database since Newtown, according to Stein. Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for the group, insists that the criteria used to calculate the findings were fair and arguments against it were driven by pro-gun supporters. The numbers calculated in the report are higher than what the Center for Disease Control projects which is an average of 62 children per year ages 14 and under. Stein figures that the 100 children killed per year works out to 2 children killed per week. The issue for Everytown with respect to gun control comes in the form of poor education about how to properly store firearms and the dangers. The group supports the idea of imposing criminal liability for irresponsible gun storage in the form of well tailored child safety laws as the report even cites Florida’s Child Access Prevention law. Feinblatt sums it up by saying,”There is no question when you look around the country you see a real patchwork of laws having to deal with child access, and yet we have research that is compelling that laws that impose criminal sanctions are effective. We only have to look towards the drunk driving movement. … It decreased and deterred people from drunk driving, which obviously we have come to accept as dangerous. And we need to come to the same acceptance.”