Friday, July 31, 2020

6 People Face Charges Arising from Protest at Texas Capitol

Six people have been arrested on a variety of charges as the state’s crackdown on protesters at the Texas Capitol continued.

The six were arrested over the past two weeks on charges arising from actions alleged to have occurred during demonstrations on May 30-31 against police brutality against Black and Hispanic persons, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday. All have been released on bond.

Gabriel Brett Krug, 22, of Temple, and Jordan Chance Teal, 18, of Austin, were charged with felonies. Krug was charged with felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor riot after he was accused of damaging state property at the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion. Teal was charged with felony assault on a public servant in the injuring of a state trooper. Messages to their attorneys were not immediately returned.

Meantime, Syed Imran Ali, 24, of Spring; Cassidy Julia Nordstrom, 26, and Nickia Kasha Hunt, 25, both of Austin; and Bryan Becerril, 17, of Pflugerville, face assorted misdemeanor charges, such as riot and criminal mischief. A message to Becerril’s attorney was not immediately returned, while court records list no attorneys for Ali, Nordstrom or Hunt.

Following the May 30 protest, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called in the National Guard to help guard the Capitol and reinforce state and local law enforcement officers.
LA Police Video Shows Protester with Hands Up Shot in Head
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police released body-worn camera footage Friday that shows a protester with his hands up as he is shot in the head with a less-than-lethal round when officers tried to contain demonstrations against police brutality in May.

The May 30 video depicts a chaotic scene with officers — who were reportedly being struck by rocks, glass bottles and frozen water bottles — screaming “Less lethal!” and “Leave the area!” and firing at fleeing protesters.

One protester, later identified as CJ Montano, is seen standing in the street with his hands raised. The video shows him crumpling to the ground as officers fire projectiles at the protesters. Others are seen helping Montano get out of harm’s way as officers in skirmish lines advance down the street.

Montano told the Los Angeles Times that he did not pose a threat to police and was targeted during the protests in the city’s Fairfax District. The 24-year-old former Marine told the newspaper he was hospitalized with serious bleeding in his brain and is still recovering from multiple symptoms.

LAPD officials are calling the incident an “unintentional head strike” and say they have not been able to interview Montano, who has notified the city that he plans to file a lawsuit unless he is compensated for his injuries.

“It just feels like it was all intentional, and it makes me feel sick,” Montano told the LA Times.

It’s not clear if Montano was struck with a sponge and foam bullets or a beanbag round. Authorities said they are investigating who fired the projectile at him.

LAPD policy requires that officers fire non-lethal projectiles at specific targets who present a threat. Officers are not supposed to aim for a person’s head or neck, or any people who are running away.

The department’s uses of force during the protests, which occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, have come under scrutiny. An LA Times review found that officers likely violated protocols governing batons and tactical weapons use as they sought to quell civil unrest.
Change Laws That Shield Police, Missouri Prosecutor Says

St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell announces Thursday, July 30, 2020, that no charges will be filed against former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown Jr. on August 9, 2014 in Clayton, Mo. Bell said his administration reopened the case and spent five months reinvestigating. (Chris Kohley/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — After a third review failed to uncover enough evidence to charge the officer who fatally shot Black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, some prosecutors and civil rights leaders agree it’s time to focus on changing the laws that shield police.

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said legislators need to take a hard look at laws that offer protection against prosecution for police officers that regular citizens aren’t afforded, pushing a message that has gained strong momentum in the two months since George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police launched a national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.

“We see those types of laws throughout the country, and it is something that handcuffs prosecutors in numerous ways when you are going about prosecuting officers who have committed unlawful use of force or police shootings,” Bell said.

Bell, St. Louis County’s first Black prosecuting attorney, was elected in 2018 as a reformist, and he has implemented sweeping changes that have reduced the jail population, ended prosecution of low-level marijuana crimes and sought to help offenders rehabilitate themselves.

He also established an independent unit to investigate officer-involved shootings, a division that spent five months looking at the 2014 death of Brown, who was shot by white Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. The shooting spurred months of unrest and helped solidify the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.

In the end, the progressive prosecutor came to the same result as his old-school, tough-on-crime predecessor, Bob McCulloch, as well as the U.S. Justice Department: Wilson didn’t commit murder or manslaughter “beyond a reasonable doubt” under Missouri law.

Bell stressed that the investigation didn’t exonerate Wilson, who who resigned in November 2014. Wilson and Brown became involved in a heated confrontation on Aug. 9, 2014. Wilson said that Brown came at him menacingly and that he killed him in self-defense.

“The question of whether we can prove a case at trial is different than clearing him of any and all wrongdoing,” Bell said. “There are so many points at which Darren Wilson could have handled the situation differently, and if he had, Michael Brown might still be alive.”

Civil rights leaders said the case shows that state laws need to be changed.

“I can’t be disappointed any longer in a system that has always performed with callousness against Black people and Black bodies, no matter who’s in charge,” said Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a Ferguson protester and educator who is now a national voice in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Scott Roberts, senior director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at Color of Change, said Bell’s decision not to charge Wilson “reinforces the importance of making the systemic changes necessary to end overpolicing and the structural racism built to protect police officers from accountability.”

Brown was among several young Black men whose deaths at the hands of police in 2014 spurred 24 states to pass law enforcement reform. An Associated Press analysis in June found that only about one-third of those states addressed use of force.

But many states and dozens of cities and counties are taking a closer look at use-of-force laws since Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air.

In Missouri, no new laws are on the horizon. Republican Gov. Mike Parson convened a special session this week to address violent crime — both St. Louis and Kansas City are seeing surges in killings and gun violence — but he rejected calls to include police reform measures.

Bell knows that many people were disappointed that he didn’t bring charges in Brown’s death but says prosecuting police shouldn’t be the “litmus test” for progress. He noted that reforms he’s implemented mean families of those involved in police violence are now getting support. Also, the county’s jail population has fallen by 30%, with thousands of people instead directed to programs such as drug or alcohol treatment.

“That’s a win,” Bell said. “Those are individuals who instead of being locked up for low-level, nonviolent crimes are able to stay at home with their families, keep their jobs. Single parents are able to keep their children.”

He plans additional reforms, including a policy of recording all grand jury sessions in homicide cases. His predecessor typically didn’t record those sessions but made an exception in the investigation of Brown’s death, Bell said.

“There are some protections that Darren Wilson received that no other defendant received, and the grand jury process would be an example of that,” Bell said. “He was invited to come into the grand jury, there was no vigorous cross-examination, he was able to tell his story without that hard questioning that we would expect from a prosecutor in any case like this, and that’s what the grand jury was able to see.”

Bell’s decision angered some. Not prosecuting Wilson was “like a stab in the back” to those who supported his candidacy, said Tiffany Cabán, a national political organizer for the Working Families Party, who joined the political party last November to help recruit and elect progressive-minded prosecutors and sheriffs nationwide.

“We aren’t electing heroes or saviors. We work to elect candidates that run on solid platforms, do the least amount of harm and are willing to be held accountable when they fall short,” said Cabán, who ran for district attorney in last year’s Democratic primary in Queens County, New York. She narrowly lost to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

Cabán also noted that in the years since prosecutor candidates began running and winning elections on promises to hold police officers accountable for misconduct and excessive force, criminal justice systems have noticeably shifted toward diversion programs rather than jail for nonviolent offenders.

However, she said, “those who rightfully remain deeply distrustful of a system that rarely has their interests at heart have another example to point to in Wesley Bell.”

In November, voters in at least two dozen states will decide local prosecutors and sheriff races. Bell said voters should consider candidates who have proposed reforms that will have the largest effect on people of color and those who have been systemically disenfranchised.

“I think we have to redefine what winning looks like,” Bell said. “The litmus test can’t be one or two individual cases. It has to be a big picture.”

Morrison reported from New York City.
Students Return to Campus amid Virus Growth in Some States

College students begin moving in for the fall semester at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, July 31, 2020. The first wave of college students returning to their dorms aren’t finding the typical mobs of students and parents. At N.C. State, the return of students was staggered over 10 days and students were greeted Friday by socially distant volunteers donning masks and face shields. . (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The first wave of college students returning to their dorms aren’t finding the typical mobs of students and parents. What they found Friday were strict safety protocols and some heightened anxiety amid a global pandemic where virus infections are growing in dozens of states.

North Carolina State University staggered the return of its students over 10 days and welcomed the first 900 students to campus, where they were greeted Friday by socially distant volunteers donning masks and face shields.

The rite of passage was a well-organized, but low-key affair, as boxes were unloaded, luggage was wheeled and beds were hauled.

“It’s just odd not seeing anybody. You expect it to be hustle and bustle and all that around, but there was nothing. It was pretty empty,” said Dominick DePaola, an incoming freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Across the country, students are jumping through additional hoops by getting tests, navigating travel quarantines, and abiding by strict rules.

Elon University in North Carolina, mailed testing kits to all 7,000 students ahead of their arrival in a few weeks. Maine’s Colby College will be testing students before they arrive and then three times a week for the first two weeks on campus. They’ll be tested twice a week after that, until the semester ends.

The University of Rhode Island is scaling back campus housing to abide by distancing requirements, causing a scramble for some students.

At N.C. State, the university usually houses 10,000 students but will have 6,700 on its Raleigh campus this fall, said Chancellor Randy Woodson. And those students were arriving over an extended period instead of all at once over a single weekend as they normally would.

“Just like the rest of the world, we have to figure out how to carry on,” said Betsy Flanagan, who was sending her freshman son, Arch, off to college. “This virus isn’t going away and it’s going to be with us for quite a while, so we all have to figure out how to safely exist and that includes continuing to educate our future.”

In West Virginia, one university put out the welcome mat Friday for students and their families, only to temporarily pull it away.

Over an eight-day stretch, students at West Virginia State University, a small historically black college, were given staggered, two-hour time slots to unload belongings into their residence halls, then were sent home until the start of the fall semester on Aug. 10.

“I don’t have anything to worry about,” said Jihad Shockley, a sophomore resident assistant from Columbus, Ohio, and a member of the Yellow Jackets’ men’s basketball team. “It’s like, if you get it, quarantine for two weeks (and) hope for the best. I guess I’m not really too scared about it.”

Nationwide, it appears that the second surge of confirmed virus cases appears to be leveling off. But scientists warn that trend is driven by four big, hard-hit places — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — and that cases are rising in more than two dozen other states.

Students appeared to be ready to accept the risk, and move on.

Freshman Nicholas Cecil, of Hilliard, Ohio, missed his senior season of baseball and his high school prom, called off due to the virus. He’s ready to put that behind him at West Virginia State University, where he’s on the baseball team.

“Honestly, it’s a new chapter in my life,” Cecil said. “It’s meeting new people, getting out, and playing baseball at a high level. It’s kind of the first step to being an adult. You’re living more so on your own.”

In North Carolina, students were happy to be on campus, even if it was a bit subdued, compared to the normal, frenetic move-in process.

“Because of corona, I didn’t really have too many expectations,” said Ann Grace Jacocks, an incoming freshman from Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“A lot of classes are going to be online, so that’s not fun, but other than that, I’m ready to go,” said Arch Flanagan, an incoming freshman.

Raby reported from Institute, West Virginia. Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed from Portland, Maine.
Fauci Confident Virus Vaccine Will Get to Americans in 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adjusts his face mask during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis hearing, Friday, July 31, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he remains confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year, telling lawmakers that a quarter-million Americans already have volunteered to take part in clinical trials.

But if the future looks encouraging, public health alarms are still going off in the present. Officials testifying with Fauci at a contentious House hearing acknowledged that the U.S. remains unable to deliver all COVID-19 test results within two or three days, and they jointly pleaded with Americans to comply with basic precautions such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and washing their hands frequently.

Those simple steps can deliver “the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down,” said a frustrated Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that he has studies to back that up.

Looking ahead, Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021. I don’t think it’s dreaming ... I believe it’s a reality (and) will be shown to be reality.” As the government’s top infectious disease expert, Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Under White House orders, federal health agencies and the Defense Department are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to deliver 300 million vaccine doses on a compressed timeline. That will happen only after the Food and Drug Administration determines that one or more vaccines are safe and effective. Several candidates are being tested.

Don’t look for a mass nationwide vaccination right away, Fauci told lawmakers. There will be a priority list based on recommendations from scientific advisers. Topping the list could be critical workers, such as as medical personnel, or vulnerable groups of people such as older adults with other underlying health problems.

“But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci said.

Fauci, Redfield, and Department of Health and Human Services “testing czar” Admiral Brett Giroir testified at a moment when early progress against the coronavirus seems to have been frittered away. High numbers of new cases cloud the nation’s path. The three officials appeared before a special House panel investigating the government’s pandemic response, itself sharply divided along party lines.

Nearly 4.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 150,000 have died. In recent weeks the virus has rebounded in the South and West, and now upticks are being seen in the Midwest. Testing bottlenecks remain a major issue.

Asked if it’s possible to deliver coronavirus test results to patients within 48 to 72 hours, Giroir acknowledged “it is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today given the demand and supply.”

But rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the pandemic. It makes it easier for public health workers to trace the contacts of an infected person. Delayed test results only allow more people to get infected.

Giroir said a two- to three-day turnaround “is absolutely a benchmark we can achieve moving forward.”

While hospitals can generally deliver in-house test results within 24 hours, large commercial labs that do about half the testing for the country take longer, particularly if there’s a surge in new cases.

The latest government data shows about 75% of test results are coming back within 5 days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.

The bitter politics surrounding the U.S. response to the coronavirus was evident at the hearing by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

As the health officials were testifying, President Donald Trump in a tweet repeated a false claim that high numbers of U.S. cases are due to extensive testing. Committee Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C., tried to enlist Fauci to rebut the president.

And Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio tried to press Fauci into saying that demonstrations against police violence toward Black Americans spread the virus and should be curbed. Fauci didn’t bite.

“You make all kinds of recommendations,” Jordan said, taking aim at Fauci. “You made comments on dating, baseball, and everything you can imagine ... I’m just asking should we try to limit the protesting?”

Fauci said it’s not his role to opine on curbing political protests. But Jordan shot back, noting that church services have been shut down due to virus precautions, and implying that Fauci has a double standard on two First Amendment rights, religious liberty and freedom of expression.

“I’m not favoring anybody over anybody,” Fauci answered. “And I don’t judge one crowd versus another crowd. When you’re in a crowd, particularly if you’re not wearing a mask, that induces the spread.”

Some Trump supporters have urged the president to sack Fauci, and the president’s tweet raised the stakes.

During the hearing Clyburn had displayed a chart showing rising cases in the U.S. juxtaposed with lower levels across Europe. That caught the president’s eye.

Trump tweeted: “Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World.”

Clyburn turned to Fauci for a real-time fact check.

“Now Dr. Fauci,” the chairman intoned, “do you agree with the president’s statement, or do you stand by your previous answer that the difference is caused by multiple factors including the fact that some states did not do a good job of reopening?”

Fauci answered directly.

“I stand by my previous statement that the increase in cases was due to a number of factors,” he said. One was “that in the attempt to reopen, that in some situations, states did not abide strictly by the guidelines that the task force and the White House had put out.”
Thousands of Asylum Seekers Dying on Trek Across Africa: UN
2020/7/30 17:03:41

Migrants disembark at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, Malta, on July 8, 2020. A group of 52 migrants who were rescued from the high seas on Saturday were allowed to disembark in Malta, local media reported on Wednesday. (Photo by Jonathan Borg/Xinhua)

Thousands of migrants have died after suffering "extreme" abuse while crossing Africa, according to a UN report on Wednesday that estimated 72 people perish each month on the continent's routes.

There has been considerable focus on the thousands lost at sea while trying to cross from Africa to Europe, but a new report found that routes from West and East Africa up toward the Mediterranean can be equally perilous.

Titled "On this journey, no one cares if you live or die," the report published jointly by the UN refugee agency and the Danish Refugee Council's Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) details horrific dangers many face along the way.

Most migrants making such journeys experience or witness "unspeakable brutality and inhumanity" by smugglers, traffickers, militias and sometimes state actors, the UNHCR said.

In 2018 and 2019 alone, at least 1,750 people died, corresponding to an average of 72 a month, "making it one of the most deadly routes for refugees and migrants in the world," the report found.

UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation, Vincent Cochetel, told reporters that those numbers were considered "a low estimate."

"That's just the visible tip of the iceberg." 

"For too long, the harrowing abuses experienced by refugees and migrants along these overland routes have remained largely invisible," UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in the statement.

The report, he said, documents "killings and widespread violence of the most brutal nature, perpetrated against desperate people fleeing war, violence and persecution."

Nearly a third of those who die along these overland routes tried to cross the Sahara Desert. Others perished in the south of war-ravaged Libya, while another deadly route crosses conflict-ridden Central African Republic and Mali.

Those who survive are often left severely traumatized.

This is particularly true for the many migrants who pass through Libya, where random killings, torture, forced labor and beatings are widespread, the report found.

US Cannot Have Real Economic Recovery as Long as Pandemic Continues: Global Times Editorial
Global Times 
2020/7/31 0:01:40

The US Commerce Department announced on Thursday that the country's GDP fell at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter. In 2019, the GDP rose by 2.1 percent in the second quarter. On Wednesday, the US surpassed 150,000 recorded COVID-19 deaths.

The two numbers clearly show that the US has fallen into unprecedented chaos. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many countries. But people did not expect that the US, as the most powerful superpower, has become one of the most severely hit countries. It is a reasonable assumption that the US could have performed much better.

The US' problem is that it refuses to seek truth from facts. The Trump administration has been deceiving itself and others on two issues. First, it blames China for US failure in the COVID-19 fight, and believes that the Trump administration has done a good job and does not need to adjust its measures. Second, it believes restarting the economy can succeed without controlling the epidemic. It believes it can safeguard the country's economy and stock market as long as it is determined.

The US economic performance in the second quarter is like a failed test paper, thrown directly into the face of the US government. By paying the price of 150,000 lives, the US has nearly given up everything and only focused on the economy, yet the US economy has still become one of the worst-performing countries on this. What a shame!

The Trump administration always takes pride in things that it should feel ashamed of. People are wondering how it is going to boast about the 32.9 percent drop this time.

The Trump administration only wants to escape public criticism and win reelection by deceiving and passing the buck to other countries. It is impossible for such a government to lead the US to make fundamental changes in the fight against epidemic. It can be expected that as the epidemic gradually rebounds, there will not be much improvement in the US' economic performance. It is unlikely that there will be a strong V-shaped recovery in the US GDP in the third quarter. There is a high probability that the US will continue to struggle with the pandemic, and its economy will linger between low-level recovery and another decline.

The following inference is somehow extreme, but it could become a reality: the COVID-19 pandemic may not disappear in one or two years. As long as the pandemic isn't put under control, the US will remain one of the worst-hit countries, and as long as it's struggling with the pandemic, it won't have real economic recovery.

If the US economic performance in the second quarter becomes a new basis, and future economic performance will fluctuate around this, it will result in severe consequences to the world. 

Poor people in the US will bear the brunt, suffering unemployment or forced to take low-paying jobs. Their fury could easily be exploited by politicians, becoming a new source of turbulence in the US, and even around the world.

No matter who is elected US president in November, he is likely to escalate the blame game with China. As the most powerful country in military, high technology, finance and international mobilization, US anxiety can easily turn into a storm across the ocean.

The US economic slump will also severely drag the world economy down. Other countries' economic recoveries will face a collapse from the center, as well as future uncertainty.

The US has long been the locomotive of the global economy and played the role of world cop. If it comes to a standstill, behaves erratically or even takes the lead in overthrowing the current order, what kind of new world would we face?

The Chinese people do not want to see the US fall like this. We know this is a world where countries are bound together. We hope there will be an orderly competition between major countries, instead of countries gaining through risks and chaos. What's a China-US zero sum game for and which country will benefit from it? Life is only a few decades, so it is more important to provide the two peoples with a steadily improving livelihood, than to focus on a competition whose result can only be appraised by historians.

No doubt the Trump administration is going down a wrong path. If the pandemic continues, the team may eventually not get what it wishes. Make adjustment earlier, join hands with China, and the global fight against the COVID-19 will take a new look immediately. This will be good for everyone, and a plus to the Trump administration.
City of Tulsa Will Remove Black Lives Matter Street Sign
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The city of Tulsa has decided to remove a massive “Black Lives Matter″ sign painted on a city street following a request from a group of local Republicans seeking permission to paint a “Back the Blue” sign.

Tulsa councilors decided to get rid of the sign during a Wednesday council meeting in which they discussed whether paintings on city streets are legal without permits.

The discussion kicked off last week after Bob Jack, chairman of the Tulsa Republican Party, asked his councilor about the procedure for painting a mural in support of law enforcement officers. Jack said it was a rhetorical question because he already knows the city does not have a process for street paintings.

Jack said he is not against the signs, but he doesn’t think it should be on a city street.

Tulsa City attorney David O’Meilia said paintings on city streets are only allowed for safety reasons, like crosswalks or yield signs.

Councilor Connie Dodson said she is not against what the “Black Lives Matter” sign represents.

“But (as) this discussion has shown, it is kind of a slippery slope when it gets into that kind of activity,” Dodson said.

Dodson asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft an ordinance “that would prohibit this type of free speech on our sidewalks and streets so that it is clear and then we don’t have the ambiguity anymore.”

Without the city’s approval, a group of activists and volunteers painted the sign just before the arrival of President Donald Trump for a campaign rally and Juneteenth, a state holiday commemorating the emancipation of Black slaves in America.

Briana Shea, who helped make the 250 foot (76.20 meters) long sign, said she thought it healed the community the days surrounding Trump’s visit.

“I am kind of disappointed that it was left up to a city vote, not a community vote, because it was all based around community and community (donated) dollars, not city dollars,” Shea said.

The Mayor’s Office said Wednesday that there is not a scheduled day or time to remove the “Black Lives Matter” sign.

City Traffic Engineer Kurt Kraft said he was told not to remove the street sign until the City Council could meet with the Mayor’s Office to discuss next steps.

Protesters Vary as Much as Their Arrests, AP Analysis Shows

FILE - In this July 29, 2020, file photo, federal agents arrest a demonstrator during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. An Associated Press analysis of more than 200 arrests shows that even those accused of breaking the law during the nightly rallies don’t neatly fit into President Donald Trump’s depiction of protesters as “anarchists and agitators.” (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Sheena McFerran was two rows behind a line of police at a protest in Portland, Oregon, when she saw officers pepper-spraying a Black man.

“I said, ‘Hell no,’ so I pulled his backpack back really hard and stepped into the space he was in,” said McFerran, a 34-year-old manager for the Sierra Club who’s white.

Edward Schinzing, 32, was just around the corner on another night. Prosecutors say he and 30 others broke into a building with a jail and courtrooms, destroyed an office and set it ablaze.

Both were arrested. Their disparate circumstances highlight what The Associated Press found in an analysis of more than 200 arrests: even those accused of breaking the law during the liberal city’s nightly rallies don’t neatly fit into President Donald Trump’s depiction of protesters as “anarchists and agitators.”

A review of court documents, social media posts and other public records from people arrested by federal and local authorities since mid-June reveals a group whose motives are as varied as the acts leading to their arrests.

They’re Black Lives Matter activists who have been in the streets since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, groups of self-proclaimed parents using leaf blowers to drive away tear gas and black-clad provocateurs taking advantage of the nightly chaos that’s gripped downtown Portland for over two months and led Trump to deploy federal agents in early July.

The AP found that 95% of those arrested by police and federal agents were local. The vast majority have no criminal record in Oregon. Many appear to be college students. Their average age was 28, court records show.

They’re mostly charged with misdemeanors like failing to comply with a lawful order, while some face felonies like arson and assault on an officer. Most people have been released, and some have been arrested more than once for similar offenses.

The federal government agreed Wednesday to draw down the number of agents whose presence has swelled the ranks of the protests. Federal forces have drawn more black-clad people accused of setting fires or assaulting officers but also military veterans seeking to lower tensions and a self-titled “Wall of Moms.”

“They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted of the U.S. officers.

Soon before the announcement, Trump insisted agents wouldn’t leave until local authorities “secured their city.” He’s spent weeks running Portland through the political playbook he used during the initial wave of nationwide demonstrations after Floyd’s death: painting those on the streets as anarchists and seeking to tie them to Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The U.S. Justice Department and Homeland Security officials have often highlighted destructive cases like Schinzing’s in their portrayal of protesters. The nightly unrest often follows a script: authorities declare a riot, sending hundreds of peaceful protesters home as smaller groups of demonstrators target the U.S. courthouse with bricks, laser pointers and fireworks. Federal agents respond with tear gas, stun grenades and arrests.

But AP’s analysis shows many of those arrested do not fit the caricature of an anarchist bent on destruction.

Moments before her arrest, police threw McFerran, the Sierra Club manager, to the ground, yanking off her mask and binding her wrists in zip ties. She was released after eight hours in jail and faces charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with police.

McFerran, who lives in Seattle, said she started protesting in her city and in Portland almost nightly after realizing she could do more in the fight for racial justice. Until Floyd’s killing, McFerran says she was a “tourist protester.”

“I realized I need to be participating in this legitimately every day,” she said. “I need to do this work.”

McFerran said she and her boyfriend, a former Army medic, provide security services and try to act as a “shield” between protesters of color and law enforcement.

Some of those charged with more serious offenses, such as assaulting officers and destroying property, have criminal histories. Most are white, according to court records.

Schinzing, who was photographed burning papers inside the county Justice Center, was ordered detained this week by a federal judge. He faces a felony arson charge, on top of unrelated harassment and assault charges from February, court records show. His court-appointed attorney declined to comment.

Acting Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf said federal agents have made 94 arrests in Portland since July 4.

“Our federal officers have faced assaults with Molotov cocktails, mortar-style, commercial-grade fireworks, accelerants, IEDs and other violent weapons,” Wolf said at a news conference about the withdrawal of federal agents.

Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender, said her office is representing “mothers, college students, lawyers” and others from across the state and country.

“It should concern everyone that there were arrests by unmarked police officers of Oregonians who were asking what’s going on and weren’t being given any answers,” Hay said.

The state sued over those allegations, which the Trump administration denies, but a judge found the state did not have standing to win an immediate court order restraining the federal agents.

Some Black activists say the political fight distracts from the focus on combating racist policing.

Mac Smiff, a 39-year-old father and analyst for a utility company, was arrested on June 6 and charged with interfering with a peace officer. He’s confident the charge will be dismissed, saying he got caught up as police swept through downtown after a protest.

A veteran activist, Smiff took to the streets after seeing a prominent politician talking about reducing funding for police on TV. He thought the wave of rallies following Floyd’s death seemed different, more focused, but said Trump deriding protesters as violent extremists is a familiar strategy.

“If you make the blame indiscriminate, then you can make the response indiscriminate. That’s just a tactic to justify using escalating force and chemical weapons against us,” Smiff said. “I own my house. I’m a professional human being. I’m out here fighting against corruption and police brutality. And the response is I’m a terrorist? That’s laughable at best.”

He welcomed the news that the federal presence in Portland would be winding down, saying the agents were a “distraction.”

“That was a side mission,” he said. “We came out here to defund the police.”

Naishadham reported from Atlanta, and Bleiberg from Dallas. Associated Press reporters Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, and AP/Report for America Statehouse News corps member Sara Cline in Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.
Portland Prepares for US Agents to Step Back from Protests

Federal agents keep demonstrators from advancing during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon police prepared Thursday to take over protecting a federal courthouse in Portland that’s been a target of violent protests, in a deal between the Democratic governor and the Trump administration that aimed to draw down the federal presence and offered hope for a much-needed detente in a city roiled by two months of unrest.

Portland police cleared out a park across from the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse that demonstrators have used as a staging ground, while state troopers headed into downtown Portland in preparation for their first night policing the protests against racial injustice. It’s not clear if the move will ease tensions in the liberal city, where people are decrying brutality by law enforcement.

Under the deal announced by Gov. Kate Brown, federal agents sent by President Donald Trump were to begin a phased withdrawal Thursday, with Oregon State Police taking over outside the building. But federal officials have pushed back, saying agents wouldn’t leave the city completely but be on standby in case they’re needed.

Trump insisted in a tweet that U.S. officers would stay in Portland until the violence was under control.

“If she can’t do it, the Federal Government will do it for her. We will not be leaving until there is safety!” Trump wrote about Brown, saying that she wasn’t doing enough to control the “anarchists & agitators.”

In preparation for the handover, state troopers, the local sheriff and Portland police met and agreed not to use tear gas except in cases where there’s a danger of serious injury or death, Mayor Ted Wheeler said. Federal agents sent to the city in early July have used it nightly as protesters lob rocks, fireworks and other objects.

“The federal officers are using C.S. gas broadly, indiscriminately and nightly,” said Wheeler, using another term for the chemical irritant. “And that is why it is escalating the behavior we’re seeing on the streets rather than deescalating it — and that’s why this must come to an end.”

Wheeler, who himself was gassed when he joined protesters outside the courthouse last week, added that tear gas “as a tactic really isn’t all that effective” because protesters have donned gas masks and often return to the action after recovering for a few minutes. The Democrat also apologized to peaceful demonstrators exposed to tear gas used by Portland police before federal officials arrived.

“It should never have happened. I take personal responsibility for it, and I’m sorry,” said Wheeler, who’s also the police commissioner and earned the nickname “Tear Gas Teddy” during the earlier protests.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he believes the new collaboration between local law enforcement agencies will be seen “as a victory in many ways.”

“A lot of people came out to express their displeasure of folks from the federal government here and engaging in crowd control with members of our community,” Lovell said. “So I’m hoping that on many levels that people are happy in this development.”

Also Thursday, a county judge granted a temporary restraining order barring the city, including police, from collecting or maintaining video or audio of protesters in public. The order stems from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and wouldn’t pertain to criminal investigations, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. It expires Aug. 10.

Portland has seen nightly demonstrations since George Floyd died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Demonstrations have at times attracted up to 10,000 people for peaceful marches and rallies around the city. But some protesters have turned to violence that’s been increasingly directed at the courthouse and other federal property.

The Trump administration sent federal agents to guard the courthouse earlier this month and quell the unrest but the deployment had the opposite effect, reinvigorating protesters who found a new rallying point in opposing the federal presence.

Nightly demonstrations at the courthouse now begin peacefully but end with demonstrators hurling fireworks, flares, rocks and ball bearings at federal agents, who respond with tear gas, stun grenades and pepper spray.

The U.S. government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday, and 400 people have been arrested by Portland police.

An AP analysis of more than 200 arrest records shows that even those accused of breaking the law during the nightly rallies don’t neatly fit into Trump’s neat depiction of protesters as “anarchists and agitators.”

The AP found that 95% of those arrested by police and federal agents were local. The vast majority have no criminal record in Oregon. Many appear to be college students and their average age was 28, court records show.
2nd US Virus Surge Hits Plateau, But Few Experts Celebrate

Passengers boards a Casco Bay Lines ferry bound for Peaks Island, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Portland, Maine. State officials reported more cases of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

NEW YORK (AP) — While deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are mounting rapidly, public health experts are seeing a flicker of good news: The second surge of confirmed cases appears to be leveling off.

Scientists aren’t celebrating by any means, warning that the trend is driven by four big, hard-hit places — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — and that cases are rising in close to 30 states in all, with the outbreak’s center of gravity seemingly shifting from the Sun Belt toward the Midwest.

Some experts wonder whether the apparent caseload improvements will endure. It’s also not clear when deaths will start coming down. COVID-19 deaths do not move in perfect lockstep with the infection curve, for the simple reason that it can take weeks to get sick and die from the virus.

The future? “I think it’s very difficult to predict,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost infectious-disease expert.

The virus has claimed over 150,000 lives in the U.S., by far the highest death toll in the world, plus more than a half-million others around the globe.

Over the past week, the average number of COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. has climbed more than 25%, from 843 to 1,057. Florida on Thursday reported 253 more deaths, setting its third straight single-day record, while Texas had 322 new fatalities and California had 391.

The number of confirmed infections nationwide has topped 4.4 million, which could be higher because of limits on testing and because some people are infected without feeling sick.

In other developments:

— The collateral damage from the virus mounted, with the U.S. economy shrinking at a dizzying 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter — by far the worst quarterly plunge on records dating to 1947. And more than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, further evidence that employers are still shedding jobs five months into the crisis.

— Amid the outbreak and the bad economic news, President Donald Trump for the first time publicly floated the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election, warning without evidence that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud. Changing Election Day would require an act of Congress, and the notion ran into immediate resistance from top Republicans and Democrats alike.

— Herman Cain, the former pizza-chain CEO who in 2012 unsuccessfully sought to become the first Black candidate to win the Republican nomination for president, died of complications from the virus at 74.

Based on a seven-day rolling average, daily cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. fell from 67,317 on July 22 to 65,266 on Wednesday, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is a decline of about 3%.

Researchers prefer to see two weeks of data pointing in the same direction to say whether a trend is genuine. “But I think it is real, yes,” said Ira Longini, a University of Florida biostatistician who has been tracking the coronavirus and has been a source of disease forecasts used by the government.

The Associated Press found the seven-day rolling average for new cases plateaued over two weeks in California and decreased in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

The trends in Arizona, Texas and Florida are “starting to bend the curve a bit,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher. Those states, along with California, have been pouring large numbers of cases each day into the national tally. So when those places make progress, the whole country looks better, she said.

Also, in another possible glimmer of hope, the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for the virus across the U.S. dropped from an average of 8.5% to 7.8% over the past week.

But with the outbreak heating up in the Midwest, Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers ordered masks be worn statewide because of a spike in cases, joining some 30 other states that have taken such measures.

The latest surge in cases became evident in June, weeks after states began reopening following a deadly explosion of cases in and around New York City in the early spring. Daily case counts rose to 70,000 or more earlier this month. Deaths, too, began to climb sharply, after a lag of a few weeks.

Some researchers believe that the recent leveling-off is the result of more people embracing social distancing and other precautions.

“I think a lot of it is people wearing masks because they’re scared,” Longini said.

But Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health, said the trend could also be due to natural dynamics of the virus that scientists to do not yet understand.

Without robust testing and other measures to keep the virus in check, a third peak is possible — or even likely — given that only an estimated 10% of Americans have been infected so far, experts said. And there’s no reason to believe the peak can’t be larger than the first two.

“This disease will continue to hopscotch around until it finds tinder — susceptible individuals — like any good fire,” said Khan, a former top infectious-disease outbreak investigator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fauci said he is “somewhat comforted” by the recent plateau. But a stabilization of cases at around 60,000 is “still at a very high level.” He said he is also worried about rising percentages of tests coming back positive in states like Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana.

“That’s a warning sign that you might be seeing a surge,” Fauci said. “They’ve really got to jump all over that.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Election Results May be Delayed — But Not Because of Fraud

President Donald Trump holds articles as he speaks during a news conference at the White House, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A shift to mail voting is increasing the chances that Americans will not know the winner of November’s presidential race on election night. But that doesn’t mean the results will be flawed or fraudulent, as President Donald Trump suggested on Thursday.

Trump, seeking to already undermine the results of an election he could lose, demanded that the winner of the Nov. 3 contest be known that night.

”I don’t want to be waiting around for weeks and months and literally, potentially if you really did it right, years, because you’ll never know,” Trump told reporters.

The president has repeatedly raised unsubstantiated fears of fraud involving mail-in voting, which is expected to be more widely used in the November election out of concern for safety given the COVID-19 election. On Thursday, as national and battleground state polls show Trump in political peril in his race against Democrat Joe Biden, he went even further, floating the idea of delaying the election until it could be conducted in person.

The prospect of a delayed election was rejected by fellow Republicans. Shifting Election Day is also virtually impossible for Trump on his own; the date — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change.

What is more likely to be delayed is the result. State election officials in some key battleground states have warned that it might take days to count the votes given what they expect will be a surge of ballots sent by mail. In an election as close as 2016′s, a delayed tally in key states could keep news organizations from calling a winner.

“It may be several days before we know the outcome of the election,” said Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, said in May. “We have to prepare for that now and accept that reality.”

Delayed results are common in a few states where elections are already conducted largely by mail. But a presidential election hasn’t been left in limbo since 2000, when ballot irregularities in Florida led to weeks of chaos and court fights.

For some election experts and Democrats, the prospect of similar uncertainty is especially worrisome this year, given Trump’s frequent declarations that mail-in voting is fraudulent and a “threat” to his reelection. The president has also refused to commit to accepting the results of the election, saying it’s too soon to make an ironclad guarantee.

Biden has said he thinks Trump may use his office to intervene and predicted earlier this summer that the president might try to delay the contest: “Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.”

As voters look for a safer alternative to in-person voting, election officials from both parties have promoted mail-in and absentee voting options. Requests for mail ballots have surged in the primaries. Many states expect to be scrambling to process millions more in November.

While each state runs its own process, those mail ballots can take longer to count. In some states, the ballots can be accepted several days after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked before polls closed. And while some states count the ballots as they come in, others — notably the critical battlegrounds of Michigan and Pennsylvania — have laws that forbid processing mail ballots until Election Day, guaranteeing the count will extend well past that night.

That doesn’t mean The Associated Press and other news organizations won’t call a winner. The AP regularly calls races before the official vote count is complete, using models based on partial results, past races and extensive polling.

But in particularly tight contests, the AP and other news organizations may hold off on declaring a winner. That could lead to a national roller coaster ride as the votes are counted.

In Arizona in 2018, for example, Republican Martha McSally was narrowly winning the initial tally of in-person votes and mail ballots that had arrived days before Election Day. More than a week later, after election officials were able to tally all the mail votes that arrived on Election Day, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won the senatorial race by more than 2 percentage points.

Arizona has since changed its procedures to try to speed up the vote count.

Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.
Trump, GOP Suggest Temporary Fix for $600 Jobless Benefit

President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows talk before Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. Trump is en route to Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and some of its Republican allies in the Senate are signaling they want to extend, at least temporarily, a $600-per-week expanded jobless benefit that has helped keep families and the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move looks to be too little, too late to prevent the lapse of the benefit officially on Friday.

Republicans have been fighting to trim back the $600 jobless benefit in the next coronavirus package, but President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans suggested they could accept keeping the full $600 benefit for now. Late-night talks were expected at the Capitol.

“We want a temporary extension of enhanced unemployment benefits,” Trump said at the White House. “This will provide a critical bridge for Americans who lost their jobs to the pandemic through no fault of their own.”

He added: “It has to be substantial.”

But Democrats have so far rejected a piecemeal approach, saying the next relief bill needs to move as a complete package. Before Trump spoke, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell adjourned the chamber for the weekend while taking a procedural step that could allow voting on a potential compromise next week. Talks so far have yielded little progress.

“I’m not very optimistic that we will have any kind of an agreement on a comprehensive bill in the near future,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He said he even doubted a deal could be struck next week.

Talks on the relief bill are at a standstill with few reasons for optimism despite sweeping agreement among Washington’s top power players that Congress must pass further relief in coming days and weeks.

Trump is eager for another round of relief, and it’s also a priority for GOP allies like McConnell, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer. Democrats hold a strong negotiating hand, with Republicans badly divided over their own proposal.

Raising the stakes, a bleak government report released Thursday said the economy shrank at a 33% annualized rate in the second quarter of the year, a stark reminder of the economic damage afflicting the country as lawmakers debate the size and scope of new relief.

“This jarring news should compel Congress to move swiftly to provide targeted and temporary assistance to unemployed Americans, employers, and state and local governments, and liability protections for businesses who follow public health guidelines,” said Neal Bradley of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the powerful business group.

But bipartisan talks have yet to reach a serious, productive phase. Democrats are playing hardball, insisting on a package that’s far larger than the $1 trillion-plus measure unveiled by McConnell on Monday. Thursday brought more tit-for-tat.

“They won’t engage. Period,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate. “The Democrats are saying, my way or the highway.”

Pelosi and McConnell have an extensive history, however. They often find ways to reach deals, though the process involves intense maneuvering and plenty of cross-talk.

In an interview late Wednesday, McConnell showed a willingness to consider some Democratic priorities, like additional food aid. He and Trump have made plain they are intent on getting a bill.

“The economy does need more help. We have divided government. We have to talk to each other,” McConnell said on the PBS NewsHour. “And we have to try to get an outcome.”

Schumer continued his daily fusillade against McConnell and Republicans controlling the Senate, noting that McConnell “refuses to go in the room” and join the talks in person, instead transferring ownership of the talks to Meadows, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been a key architect of previous accords.

“We’re trying to negotiate,” Schumer said. “Who’s holding things up?”

In another signal that Republicans are preparing to yield on the $600 jobless benefit, Arizona Republican Martha McSally, who is facing a tough reelection race this fall, offered a one-week extension of the benefit on the Senate floor. Schumer blocked the move.

Pelosi was dashing back to Washington after having traveled to Atlanta for the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon. Pelosi’s office announced a meeting for Thursday night with the White House negotiators.

Other stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans. Money for states and cities is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and lost tax revenue in shutdown economies.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash. Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to use $150 billion previously allotted for the virus on other needs.

It’s clear that Democrats are trying to push an advantage in the negotiations because Republicans are so split over the prospect of additional government spending and jobless benefits. Among the issues sure to gather momentum is a Democratic demand for a 15% increase in food stamp benefits.

Trump has dismissed the GOP bill as “semi-irrelevant” since it leaves out so many Democratic items.

Trump appears worried about the expiration of the $600 unemployment benefit boost as well as an expiring federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units, potentially sending households into devastating turmoil.

Trump has bristled at one provision of the GOP bill — he said his Republican allies should “go back to school and learn” after they balked at $1.7 billion for FBI headquarters. Trump wants the FBI’s central building to remain in Washington, across the street from his Trump International Hotel. If the FBI moved its headquarters, the site would become prime real estate for a competing hotel.

McConnell has rejected the FBI funding request — added to a $300 billion-plus appropriations package in private talks between Meadows and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala. — since it is unrelated to virus relief.
Prosecutor: No Charges for Officer in Michael Brown’s Death

FILE - Trinetta Brown, center left, 19, and Triniya Brown become emotional during a memorial service for their brother, Michael Brown, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in the Canfield Green apartment complex in Ferguson, Mo. St. Louis County's top prosecutor announced Thursday, July 30, 2020, that he will not charge the former police officer who fatally shot Brown. But, he said, "our investigation does not exonerate Darren Wilson." (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis County’s prosecutor announced Thursday that he will not charge the former police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a dramatic decision that could reopen old wounds amid a renewed and intense national conversation about racial injustice and the police treatment of people of color.

Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell’s decision marked the third time prosecutors investigated and opted not to charge Darren Wilson, the white officer who fatally shot Brown, a Black 18-year-old, on Aug. 9, 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November 2014, and the U.S. Department of Justice also declined to charge him in March 2015.

Civil rights leaders and Brown’s parents had hoped that Bell, the county’s first Black prosecutor who took office in January 2019, would see things differently.

“My heart breaks” for Brown’s parents, a somber Bell said during a news conference. “I know this is not the result they were looking for and that their pain will continue forever.”

Describing the announcement as “one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do,” Bell said that his office conducted a five-month, unannounced, review of witness statements, forensic reports and other evidence.

“The question for this office was a simple one: Could we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when Darren Wilson shot Micheal Brown he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law? After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did,” Bell said.

But, he said, “our investigation does not exonerate Darren Wilson.”

Wilson’s attorney, Jim Towey, said it was clear after three investigations that Wilson did nothing wrong.

“We all had the same conclusion: There was no crime,” Towey said.

“I am just hoping that everybody gets to have some closure, particularly the Brown family,” he said.

The shooting touched off months of unrest in Ferguson and made the St. Louis suburb synonymous with a national debate about police treatment of minority people. The Ferguson unrest helped solidify the national Black Lives Matter movement that began after Trayvon Martin, a Black 17-year-old, was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida in 2012.

The issue has taken on new life since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May after a white police officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Ferguson is among the cities around the world that has seen protests since Floyd’s death.

“This is a time for us to reflect on Michael’s life, to support Michael’s family and to honor a transformative movement that will forever be linked to his name,” Bell said.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a Ferguson protester and educator who has become a national voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, said she is pained “that there is still a gaping wound” for Brown’s family. She said she knows that the system must change.

“I’m not disappointed — I’m fed up and ever more committed, truth be told,” Cunningham said.

The Rev. Darryl Gray, a leading St. Louis activist, agreed that the system is at fault, not Bell’s investigation.

“What came out of this is a recognition that the system is set up to protect police officers. We now need to begin to address the legislation the police hide behind,” Gray said.

Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color Of Change, a national racial justice organization, said in a statement that Bell’s announcement “perpetuates a criminal justice system that fails Black communities by allowing police to operate with impunity.”

Bell — who ran as a reform-minded prosecutor promising to eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenders and to increase the use of programs that allow defendants to avoid jail time — faced no restrictions in re-examining Brown’s death. Wilson was never charged and tried, so double jeopardy was not an issue. There is no statute of limitations on filing murder charges.

As the news conference drew to a close, an activist who said he is a friend of Brown’s father erupted in anger.

“It’s over! One term!” Tory Russell, 36, of St. Louis, screamed at the prosecuting attorney. Police officers gently led him from the room.

Russell later told The Associated Press that he had just spoken with Michael Brown Sr. “He is hurting, and he’s not accepting of this.”

The shooting happened after Wilson told Brown and a friend to get out of the street as they walked down the middle of Canfield Drive. A scuffle between Wilson and Brown ensued, ending with the fatal shot. Wilson said Brown, who was not armed, came at him menacingly, forcing him to fire his gun in self-defense.

Brown’s body remained in the street for four hours, angering his family and nearby residents.

Bell’s predecessor, longtime prosecutor Bob McCulloch, was accused by critics of swaying the grand jury to its decision not to indict Wilson — an accusation he emphatically denied. Wilson resigned days after McCulloch’s Nov. 24, 2014, announcement that the grand jury would not indict the officer.

The Justice Department also declined to charge Wilson, but issued a scathing report citing racial bias in Ferguson’s police and courts. A consent agreement calls for sweeping reforms that are still being implemented.

Bell, a former Ferguson councilman, upset McCulloch, a staunch law-and-order prosecutor, in the 2018 Democratic primary and ran unopposed that November.

Bell, who, like McCulloch, is the son of a police officer, formed a special unit to look into officer-involved shootings like the one in Ferguson, as well as cases of potential wrongful convictions.

Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, asked Republican Gov. Mike Parson to reopen the investigation of Wilson in 2018, but Parson’s office said it had no legal authority to appoint a special prosecutor.

Associated Press reporter Aaron Morrison in New York City and Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.

Explaining AP style on Black and white:

This story has been corrected to show that Trayvon Martin was not killed by a white officer.
A Warning from Wisconsin
Wisconsin sells more paper, employs more people and has more paper mills than any other state. The industry was already in decline, but the coronavirus delivered a death blow.
Verso Corp.'s Wisconsin Rapids Mill is seen across the Wisconsin River on July 27, days before its closure.

By Peter Kendall 
Washington Post
JULY 30, 2020
WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. — Darrell Fox checked his email at the paper mill on a summer morning in June and immediately texted his wife at home: “Call me if you’re up.”

He didn’t want to tell her by text that the mill was closing.

They had met at the plant long ago, married and worked there together. Now they were losing their jobs together.

The massive paper mill has churned relentlessly since it began feeding off the energy of the Wisconsin River more than a century ago, forming the cornerstone of a city’s economy and producing glossy paper coveted by publishers during the heyday of U.S. magazines.

But the covid-19 pandemic has sped up a long-term trend — the waning need for the paper used in magazines and printed advertising — and Verso Corp.’s Wisconsin Rapids Mill will finally fall silent at the end of the month. The shutdown, announced June 9, will knock some 900 people out of work and has sent tremors across the region’s economy, reaching from the plant’s gates through town and deep into the Wisconsin forests that supply wood pulp to make paper.

The coronavirus is proving to be a decisive Darwinian force in industries from retail to energy to transportation, culling some businesses that might have been weakening for years while giving others a new jolt of life. The swiftness has been stunning, with each closure in turn affecting other businesses and their workers, as has been playing out already around Wisconsin Rapids.

“It impacts the 900 employees directly in the plant,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. “But the important thing to keep in mind is that the plant purchases and processes 25 percent of the timber coming off of Wisconsin’s land. That impacts the haulers who are bringing the wood to the plant, it impacts the loggers who are cutting down the wood, and then it affects the landowners.

“In Wisconsin, 2.4 million acres of managed forest is owned by counties, and they use the proceeds of the sales to fund their government operations,” Hughes said.

The closure is yet another destabilizing economic event in a state that Donald Trump carried only narrowly in 2016. The mill shutdown will result in the largest permanent layoff in Wisconsin since covid-19 barreled into the economy, according to layoff notices submitted to the state, shocking a county that Trump carried overwhelmingly with nearly 57 percent of the vote.

A local task force is exploring options to save the plant, which the company will continue to maintain in case a buyer emerges. One option being pushed by loggers in the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association is the formation of a cooperative to put the plant into the hands of the people who feed it and depend upon it.

Cindy Hansen, 51, and Darrell Fox, 47, at their home in Vesper, Wis., on July 28. The two met at the Wisconsin Rapids Mill and have been married for 23 years while continuing to work there.
Known as the Dairy State, Wisconsin is also a paper state. The industry in Wisconsin sells more paper, employs more people and has more paper mills than any other state, according to a 2019 study.

But the paper market, like everything, has been rocked by the novel coronavirus.

When it announced the shutdown, the company cited research that found demand for printing paper fell 38 percent year-over-year in April. The research forecast an even greater plunge to come, with operating rates falling 70 percent in the second quarter.

The trend line for the Wisconsin mill’s paper had been pitched downward long before the pandemic, however.

Katie Mencke, a senior consultant for paper industry researchers and advisers Fisher International, noted that the market for coated paper had been in decline for more than a decade as digital media supplanted print. Covid-19 only accelerated it, though dramatically.

“It was a very sudden stop,” said Mencke, comparing it to the last economic downturn to hammer the paper industry. “With the Great Recession, it was a very slow start.”

She noted some of the ways the coronavirus has eroded demand for magazines: Retail stores have removed them from end caps to reduce “touch points” for shoppers, salons are closed or have discarded them, and flights that haven’t been canceled don’t have airline magazines onboard to keep the planes cleaner.

At the same time, the market for other kinds of paper, such as packaging, is improving. But the costs of retooling the highly specialized machinery in a paper mill is enormous, she said.

In a statement, the company said it explored options for the plant, including converting it to make different paper, but has “been unsuccessful in finding a viable, economical and sustainable alternative.”

“There is so much capital invested in those mills, it is never easy for a company to walk away from that,” said Mencke. “When a company decides to shut something down, it is because it is the best case for the dollars, but it hurts the town and all of these families.”

Downtown Wisconsin Rapids, where the Verso mill's shutdown will affect 900 employees but also send reverberations throughout the local economy.

Looming changes

Many in Wisconsin Rapids can point to where the branches of their family tree are intertwined with the mill. In some cases, multiple family members work there now.

Cindy Hansen graduated from high school in 1987 and was working seasonal jobs at a canning plant and cranberry processor before taking a step up to working at the paper mill.

A few years later, Darrell Fox wore his high school letter jacket to the interviews and physical at the mill just weeks after his 18th birthday. His older brothers worked there, as had his dad, and it was all he had wanted to do.

Cindy trained Darrell when he started his new job, and after the two became good friends, he worked up the courage to ask her out.

Now married for 23 years, they have two sons, a home and land in remote Wisconsin they use as a getaway, all supported by their dual wages at the mill. “We basically could buy what we needed, when we needed it,” said Cindy, 51.

They have now ratcheted back their expectations from moving forward to just not losing what they have. “My goal is to not give anything up — we don’t want to have to sell anything,” said Darrell, 47.

They believe they are more fortunate than most, however, and have been interviewing for other jobs already. But those jobs pay considerably less, casting a shadow over their future retirement.

“We told the boys it is not going to be the same, and we can’t be buying them expensive things anymore,” said Cindy.

“We never spend foolishly, but you didn’t think twice if you wanted something — you could make it work,” said Darrell. “It’s not going to be like that anymore.”

Paper pioneer

The mill sits hard on the banks of the Wisconsin River, white water churning at its feet and white plumes billowing overhead from its tallest stack, about 28 stories up. Rows of logs waiting to be masticated into pulp stretch for nearly a half-mile, looming like the glacial ridges that dot the state.

The plant was once a hub of innovation. In 1904 it was the first to use electricity to power its paper machinery and pioneered making coated, glossy paper cheaper and faster, according to company histories.

The mill long ago boasted that it was the largest manufacturer of paper in the world, and in the 1930s became the sole manufacturer of the stock used to print Life magazine, according to a history produced by the Works Progress Administration in the 1940s.

The company says its list of current customers is confidential.

Many Wisconsin Rapids residents have lived parts of this history.

Rick Armagost is almost literally a product of the mill. His parents met there in the 1950s, with his dad eventually putting in 40 years. “I’ve been a mill rat all my life,” he said.

He joined the Marines after high school in the 1970s, then came back to Wisconsin Rapids and put in his application at the plant. In 1984, he got the call to start.

“That’s where you went to work,” he said. “It’s gotten me everything, on a high school education.”

At 26, the wages were good enough that he was able to buy a 120-acre farm outside of town, where he keeps about 20 head of beef and dairy cows.

Over time, though, he saw his earning power erode. His father had a higher standard of living working at the plant than he does, he said. “He went on a hunting trip and a fishing trip every year. He had a new vehicle every couple years. I have never had a new vehicle.”

He added: “That’s just America now.”

At 60, retirement is still far off. Armagost is discouraged by the thought of going back to school because he thinks his age would further dim his prospects of getting a job by the time he finished.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” he said starkly. Still, he feels worse for others.

“It is going to be bad for this town,” he said. “It is not just the 900 who work here. It is going to have a trickle-down effect on the whole town.”

Psychological toll

Businesses in Wisconsin Rapids, battered by the economic reaction to covid-19, are already feeling the impact.

Amy Sheide, 50, had already burned through her retirement income to make payroll at Great Expectations, her family’s restaurant and catering company, when the coronavirus struck. Then came the shock that the mill would close.

With only a few more paychecks coming, mill workers are forgoing dinners out and aren’t hosting catered events. What catering business remained amid the pandemic she saw vanish with the mill closing. “There are smaller graduation parties, not holding 50th-anniversary parties, retirement parties that will not take place,” she said.

She and her husband now work every shift at their restaurant. She can afford to schedule her wait staff shifts on only one or two days a month. The kitchen staff has had furloughs.

“Am I in danger of losing my business? Absolutely,” she said.

She worries also about the deeper psychological toll the closing will have on the town.

“It shakes the core of our community,” she said. “And you see a negative attitude — ‘The town is dying; there is nothing there anymore’ — when that is not true.”

The Wisconsin paper industry is a complex economic ecosystem that sprawls along the state’s rivers and reaches deep into its forests. It is populated by multinational corporations on one end, and on the other by independent operators who spend their days in the woods and answer to no one.

Paper was an $18.16 billion Wisconsin industry employing 30,262 workers at 34 mills, plus another 204 facilities that convert that paper into other products, according to a 2019 state study. Factoring in other parts of the supply chain, including loggers and truckers, it grows to $28.88 billion and 95,853 workers.

Those in that supply chain are now feeling the pain of the mill closure.

Logging company operator Laura Delaney was in the middle of a cut when she got word Verso was shutting down. Everything stopped.

“That wood is now just sitting there,” she said. “I can’t sell it.”

Her parents started their logging company in 1972, before she was born. Each winter, when her father would have no work pouring concrete, her parents headed into the woods, Delaney’s mother measuring the logs and her father cutting them with a chain saw.

Eventually, he stopped working construction and turned to logging full-time. Delaney, 41, now runs the business, and her parents are semiretired.

With Verso closed, she has scrambled to find other buyers but has had to shut down her company for a week and a half in both June and July, idling her 10 workers. Shutdowns take a heavy toll on her and others in her business, which typically requires significant debt for heavy equipment.

“It’s not like going to the store and buying a lawn mower,” Delaney said. “We went to the store and bought a machine that can cut this wood to length that is $750,000. A forwarder [to move logs to piles] costs $500,000. An outfitted truck costs $150,000.

“The bank doesn’t say ‘Skip the payment on that thing’ when it is just sitting there,” she said.

She is on the board of the timber association backing the proposal to turn the plant over to a cooperative that would include loggers. She believes the work done by the industry in Wisconsin is essential but overlooked.

“Whether you talk about it or not, we are in your life,” she said. “You know that Amazon carton? I made that cardboard. Have you eaten a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup this week? Well, sure enough, I made the paper that made those wrappers.”

The plant closing has infused all aspects of local life — including politics, as the presidential election approaches.

“Everyone in Wisconsin Rapids is either going to be related to someone who got laid off or will have some kind of close connection to someone who got laid off,” said John Blakeman, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. “At a personal level, voters will feel the impact directly or indirectly. That will probably mobilize voters, and it will probably come down to whether they hear the economic message that is meaningful to them and less on identity-based politics.”

From May to June, statewide voter approval for President Trump’s handling of the economy fell 4 percentage points to 50 percent, as voters’ view of the direction of the economy turned down sharply, a Marquette Law School poll found.

The poll also found that a majority of Wisconsin voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd protests. Overall, the June poll found 49 percent of voters said they would vote for former vice president Joe Biden compared with 41 percent who supported Trump, Biden’s largest margin in Marquette’s polling this year.

Blakeman noted that in the April primary, Wood County had relatively high turnout and that nearly half, or 49 percent, of voters cast a ballot for a Democratic candidate.

“There is something in the district that has energized Democratic voters, at least in the primary,” Blakeman said. “That is why I am thinking Trump will still carry the county, but his margin will be narrower.”

A task force convened by local elected officials is looking at options to revive the plant once it is mothballed by the company, including finding an outside buyer and converting it to make other kinds of paper.

The state development corporation is studying the viability of a cooperative, which would put operations into the hands of the plant workers, the loggers and the haulers.

“For me that is the most exciting effort,” said the development corporation’s Hughes. “It is an effort to control their own destiny and to have ownership interest where they are ‘it,’ they are the industry.”

That, Hughes said, would allow a long-term, sustainable plan for the plant, “so there is not someone just coming in and selling it for parts or closing it.”

State Rep. Scott Krug (R), one of the officials who launched the task force, called the cooperative proposal “the most intriguing idea out there.”

Krug said state money would be needed, but the work by the forestry industry and others has made him hopeful about the proposal. “They are further along than I thought they would be,” Krug said.

Dennis Schoeneck, 60, is one of those pushing for a cooperative with the timber association. He has worked his whole life in the woods. “I bought my first chain saw when I was 11,” he said.

Looking for a new outlet for his wood after the Verso closing, he was told at one mill that 90 loggers had been there before him.

A passionate proponent of managing forests and of paper as a sustainable resource — “What else should we use, plastic?” he said — he believes the same sustainable approach can save the mill.

“We won’t have any of those big dogs at the top making millions of dollars and not putting it back into the facility,” he said. “We would put it back into the facility.”

In addition to looking for ways to save the mill, the local task force is also exploring how to increase government and charitable aid to the region if their efforts fail.