Sunday, 10 July 2016

Another black man shot dead by US police; Five police officers killed at anti-violence protest

2nd such incident in a week adds to public ire as grisly videos of the shootings air over social media
The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2016

WASHINGTON • A man has been shot by Minnesota police after being pulled over while driving, in at least the second shooting this week of a black man by police officers in the United States.

The aftermath of the latest shooting was captured in a grisly video and streamed live via Facebook.

"Oh my God, please don't tell me he's dead, please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that... You shot four bullets into him, sir," a woman, identified on her Facebook page as Ms Lavish Reynolds, is heard saying in the video shot on her camera phone.

Family and activists yesterday identified the victim as school cafeteria worker Philando Castile, 32.

In the video, he can be seen in the driver's seat, large bloodstains spreading through his white shirt. At least one officer was pointing a gun through the driver's side window.

As Mr Castile moans and appears to lose consciousness, the officer can be heard in the background shouting expletives in apparent frustration.

Ms Reynolds explains that, after being pulled over for a broken tail light, her boyfriend was shot while reaching for his driver's licence. She says he was legally licensed to carry a firearm and had told officers that he had a gun in the car.

Ms Reynolds was sitting next to him, and her young daughter was also travelling in the car.

The shooting occurred on Wednesday night in Falcon Heights, a town north of the state capital St Paul. Mr Castile died in hospital. The police said the incident was being investigated, and the officer involved had been put on leave.

The shooting occurred the same day that the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting on Tuesday of a black man by the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police.

The victim, Mr Alton Sterling, 37, was killed as two white police officers responded to a call about an armed man. The officers had Mr Sterling pinned to the pavement when at least one of them shot him.

As in the Minnesota case, the encounter was captured on mobile phone videos - one by a bystander and another by a store owner.

They have been seen repeatedly on television and social media, triggering anger over alleged police brutality against African-Americans.

Mr Sterling, who was selling compact discs outside a food store at the time of the incident, had a long criminal history including convictions for battery and illegal possession of a gun.

But it is not clear if the officers knew any of that when they tried to arrest him. The police said they had been put on administrative leave.

Several hundred people gathered for a prayer vigil on Wednesday near the spot where Mr Sterling was killed, with speakers urging peaceful protests, justice and unity.

Government officials and the police have vowed a complete and transparent investigation and appealed to the city of Baton Rouge - after a numbing series of high-profile, racially charged incidents elsewhere - to remain calm.

The two shootings came on the eve of a closely watched trial in Baltimore yesterday of an officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a broken spine in the back of a police van.

His death last year, a week after being arrested, triggered rioting in which nearly 400 buildings were damaged or destroyed.


Five cops killed in Dallas sniper attack
Shots fired during protest against killing of 2 black men by white police officers this week
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

DALLAS • Five police officers were killed and seven wounded in a sniper attack in downtown Dallas, in a shocking escalation of racially motivated violence in the United States.

The attack on Thursday night came during one of several protests across the country against the killing of two black men by white police officers this week.

There was heavy police presence during the march in Dallas, which began peacefully.

President Barack Obama, who was travelling in Poland, condemned the violence against police. "We still don't know all of the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement," he said.

Police described the sniper ambush as carefully planned, with some shots apparently fired from rooftop positions.

They said they had taken three people into custody before killing a fourth with a robot-controlled bomb after a long stand-off in a downtown garage.

"We had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect. We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot," Dallas police chief David Brown told reporters at City Hall.

"He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers."

While talking to police negotiators, the suspect said he was not affiliated with any group and acted alone.

But at an earlier news conference, the police chief said four people armed with rifles were believed to have carried out the attacks. They were thought to have positioned themselves in triangulated locations near the end of the route that the protesters planned to take.

US media outlets identified the suspect who died in the stand-off as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, a Texas resident.

It was the deadliest day for police in the US since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, and the attack appeared likely to further strain already tense race relations in the country.

Witnesses said shots rang out as the protest in Dallas was winding down, sending marchers screaming and running in panic through the city's streets.

A total of 12 police officers and two civilians were shot during the attack, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. Three of the officers who were shot were women, he said.

Mr Rawlings said the people in custody, including one black woman, were "not being cooperative" with police investigators.

Police said the suspect who was in the stand-off also said there were bombs in the garage where he was holed up, as well as in other places downtown.

After conducting sweeps, police said they found no explosives. Parts of downtown Dallas were closed off for hours, with no bus or rail service and flight restrictions.

As officials called for calm and unity, Mr Obama said that anger over issues of race was no grounds for violence.

"Let's be clear: There's no possible justification for these kinds of attacks, or any violence against law enforcement," he said.


Protest turns deadly as shots are fired at cops
Terrified protesters scatter in all directions amid sniper attack a few blocks from JFK assassination site
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

DALLAS • It began peacefully. For two hours, roughly 800 people marched, chanting and waiving signs to protest against recent police shootings of black men in the United States.

But as dusk settled over Dallas on Thursday, bullets suddenly began flying, the crack of high-powered ammunition cannoning off skyscrapers and across the downtown area. Terrified protesters scattered in all directions as startled police officers, who had been guarding the march, gazed up in search of the origin of the shots.

"I didn't see anybody else get shot, just the cops. I saw cops getting shot, right there in plain sight," said witness Cortney Washington.

Another witness, Mr Lynn Mays, recounted the moment when the shooting began: "All of a sudden, we started hearing gunshots out of nowhere. At first, we couldn't identify it because we were not expecting it, then we started hearing more, rapid fire. One police officer who was standing there pushed me out of the way because it was coming in our direction… next thing you know, we heard 'Officer down'."

The shootings occurred only a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Protest organiser Cory Hughes told CNN: "There were blacks, whites, Latinos, everybody. There was a mixed community here protesting. And this just came out of nowhere... It was complete pandemonium."

While most protesters ran for cover, a few turned their cameras from the demonstration to the chaos unfolding around them. In perhaps the most shocking footage to emerge on the horrific and highly televised night, a gunman was seen sneaking up behind a police officer and shooting the cop several times in the back at point-blank range. It is unclear if the officer survived.

"It looked like an execution, honestly," Mr Ismael DeJesus, who took the video from an apartment building, told CNN.

Videos taken by bystanders also showed officers dragging fallen comrades out of the line of fire.

Some showed officers choking back tears for their fallen colleagues. One officer appeared to brace himself against his vehicle as grief overcame him.

Officials said a total of five police officers were killed by at least one sniper. Two civilians were also injured. One suspect, who was involved in a three-hour stand-off with police, was killed while three other suspects were in custody.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said it was "a heartbreaking morning" and called for unity. "We as a city, we as a country, must come together and lock arms and heal the wounds we all feel," he said.

Outside the city's Parkland Hospital, police saluted their fellow officers who lost their lives or were wounded in the shooting. Other people later joined the officers for an impromptu vigil.

Presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, cancelled planned events following the attack.

"This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion. We will pull through these tragedies," Mr Trump said in a statement.

Mrs Clinton said on Twitter: "I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families and all who serve with them."


Rise in fatal shootings by US police
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

WASHINGTON • As the use of deadly force by police once again roils the nation, the number of fatal shootings by officers has increased from 465 in the first six months of last year to 491 for the same period this year, according to an ongoing two-year study by The Washington Post.

This year has also seen more officers shot and killed in the course of duty and more prosecuted for questionable shootings.

While the pace of fatal shootings has risen slightly two years after a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, the grim encounters are also increasingly being captured on video and stoking outrage.

Details of the fatal encounters so far this year remain strikingly similar to shootings in all of 2015: Blacks continued to be shot at 2.5 times the rate of whites.

About half of those killed were white and about half were minorities. Fewer than 10 per cent of all those killed were unarmed. One quarter were mentally ill.

But there are notable differences: More of the shootings were captured on video, from 76 in the first half of last year to 105 in the same period this year. The videos were recorded by police-worn body cameras, surveillance cameras, those mounted on patrol cars or bystanders' smartphone cameras.

The number of fatal shootings of black women has also risen. Nearly the same number of black women have been killed so far this year as in all of 2015 - eight compared with 10.

Last year, the Post began to log every fatal police shooting in the nation and then analysed more than a dozen details about each event.

The project revealed that in 2015, nearly 1,000 people were fatally shot by police, more than twice the average annual number reported by the FBI in previous years.

The Post has expanded the effort this year, culling media reports and filing hundreds of public-records requests to obtain the names and work histories of officers involved in fatal shootings - information that is not tracked by any federal agency.

As was the case in 2015, in most fatal shootings this year, officers were confronted by subjects armed with guns.

In the first six months of this year, 20 officers were fatally shot in the line of duty, compared with 16 in the first six months of 2015, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Officials representing rank-and-file officers say it is criminals who make it hard to reduce the number of fatal shootings by police.

"Police are dealing with a lot of violent individuals," said Mr Jim Pasco, executive director of the Nashville-based national Fraternal Order of Police. "And the criteria for using deadly force hasn't changed essentially, so why would the numbers change?"

After Ferguson, a White House task force called for teaching officers new skills to de-escalate volatile encounters.

Hundreds of police chiefs also pushed new policies for dealing with the mentally ill.

And thousands of departments began outfitting officers with the body-worn cameras, hoping this would curb the use of excessive force.

But criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston said there will be a "lag time" before there is a measurable drop in deaths, even among the departments that are earnestly embracing training reforms.

"It takes time to get everyone through training... It takes time to change a culture," he said.

Meanwhile, the Post analysis showed that in the past 18 months, murder and manslaughter charges brought against officers in fatal shootings have tripled, while the presence of video evidence in these cases has doubled.

But it suggests that the ubiquitous nature of video has not yet had the deterrent effect that police and civil rights groups had hoped for, at least as it applies to fatal force.

Mr Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he thinks video will never alter rates of fatal shootings.

"There's a lot of hoopla surrounding the idea that body-worn cameras and the ubiquitous nature of social media would dramatically change the number of instances of deadly force. Unfortunately, this is not driven so much by police but by the aggressive criminal behaviour of suspects."


Recent incidents
The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2016

FREDDIE GRAY Baltimore, Maryland; April 12, 2015

Police officers arrest Mr Freddie Gray, 25. He is handcuffed and eventually placed on his stomach in a police van. While in transit, Mr Gray asks for medical help but none is given and the police van is diverted to assist in an unrelated case. Mr Gray is later found to be in cardiac arrest, having suffered serious spinal injuries in the van. He dies on April 19, leading to rioting in Baltimore and protests in other United States cities.

Six officers are later charged over the incident. One trial ends in a hung jury, and two others in acquittal. The fourth trial started on Thursday.

WALTER SCOTT North Charleston, South Carolina; April 4, 2015

A video shows police officer Michael Slager gunning down a fleeing black man, 50-year-old Walter Scott, after a traffic stop. Following an altercation, Slager then draws his gun and fires seven to eight shots in Mr Scott's back as he flees.

Slager was charged with murder in June last year. His trial is due to open on Oct 31.

TAMIR RICE Cleveland, Ohio; Nov 22, 2014

A video emerges of US police officers shooting dead Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a replica gun, just seconds after confronting him. In December last year, the US authorities announced that the police officers concerned will not be prosecuted.

MICHAEL BROWN Ferguson, Missouri; Aug 9, 2014

A white police officer shoots and kills 18-year-old Michael Brown, unleashing sometimes violent protests. A subsequent decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson prompts riots in Ferguson and raises tensions from New York to Seattle.

In March last year, the US Justice Department publishes a scathing report on the shooting, condemning Ferguson's city hall, police department and municipal court for targeting the city's African-American majority.

ERIC GARNER Staten Island, New York; July 17, 2014

Mr Eric Garner, 43, dies after being held in a police chokehold while he is being arrested for selling cigarettes illegally. In an amateur video, police officers are seen wrestling him to the ground. Mr Garner is heard repeating: "I can't breathe." A coroner declares the death a homicide. But a grand jury opts not to charge the white officer involved.


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