Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Aug. 21 2014 1:18 PM

Officer in Ferguson Calls Ron Johnson Strategy "Hug a Thug," Says He Wants to Punch Eric Holder

A St. Louis-area police officer who's been working in Ferguson falsely accused a group of protestors of shooting at police, said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson holds a racial “double standard,” and asserted that he would like to punch attorney general Eric Holder, the St. Louis Riverfront Times reports via a survey of the officer's Twitter posts.

The Riverfront Times appears to have noticed Sgt. Mike Weston's account when Weston said that a group of individuals tear-gassed in their own backyard last week had fired gunshots at police. A Times reporter who witnessed and recorded the incident says none of the protestors were armed. Weston admitted he could not support the accusation when contacted by the reporter—and wasn't even at the scene he was describing:

"There were shots being fired some yards, maybe not this particular one."
Weston then admitted that he wasn't in the group of police officers that was marching down the street and firing tear gas into yards. He said he was in the back closer to the command center, several blocks away.

The Times also found since-deleted tweets by Weston in which he says he's considering seeking out Eric Holder to punch him, accuses Ron Johnson of practicing a racial "double standard" in Ferguson, and characterizes Johnson's approach to protests as "Hug a Thug." Weston confirmed to the Times that the Twitter account in question was his.

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Aug. 21 2014 12:39 PM

Both United States Ebola Patients Released From Hospital

American Ebola patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, medical workers who contracted the virus while working with a missionary group in Liberia, have been released from Emory University hospital in Atlanta. Both left the hospital this morning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. "God saved my life," Brantly said at a press conference, asking listeners to pray for "the people of Liberia and West Africa."

Brantly and Writebol worked with the Samaritan's Purse organization led by Franklin Graham, whose father is evangelist Billy Graham. Both were treated with an experimental serum called ZMapp created by a company called Mapp Pharmaceuticals. The drug has since been given to a limited number of patients in Africa.

Here's video of today's press conference:

Aug. 21 2014 11:19 AM

Hamas Claims Responsibility for Kidnapping, Murder of Israeli Teenagers in June

One of the key precipitating events in the current war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Israel blamed Hamas for the killings, and the subsequent crackdown on the group may have provoked the rocket fire that set off Israel's airstrikes and ground invasion. It had remained an open question whether the kidnapping and murder had been ordered by Hamas' leadership or was the act of a rogue cell. Wednesday, though, a "a top Hamas official" living in Turkey claimed the killings were an organized Hamas operation. From Haaretz:

A video captured during the conference shows Salach Al-Aruri, who is based in Turkey and is considered a primary figure within Hamas, saying that the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were responsible for the abduction of the three youths, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16. ..."The al-Qassam's mujahedeen were the ones to carry out [the abduction] in show of support for the prisoners' hunger strike," he adds, referring to Palestinian inmates held in Israel.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israeli airstrikes killed three senior Hamas military commanders early this morning. The three men were mourned and buried by what the New York Times describes as a crowd of approximately 10,000 people.

Aug. 21 2014 10:22 AM

Were Police Justified in Shooting Kajieme Powell?

The St. Louis Police Department's release of video showing the Tuesday killing of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell by two officers has set off discussion of whether the decision to shoot Powell was justified. Initial police accounts of the incident said that Powell was holding a knife in an "overhand grip," had moved to within 3 or 4 feet of responding officers, and was acting erratically. The Huffington Post writes that the video "appears at odds" with that account:

... the newly released cell phone footage undermines the statement, showing Powell approaching the cops, but not coming as close as was reported, with his hands at his side. The officers began shooting within 15 seconds of their arrival, hitting Powell with a barrage of bullets.

In the video, several other people are standing near Powell and don't appear to be obviously in fear for their lives. Officers pull their vehicle up close to him and begin shooting soon after getting out of their car with guns drawn. Writes Vox:

The footage is horrifying to watch, in part for the speed with which it turns from comic to tragic. It begins with a man chuckling over Powell's erratic — but seemingly harmless — behavior. Seconds later, Powell is dead.

On the other side of the argument, it's inarguable that Powell refused officers' orders to drop his knife and then moved toward them. A source told CNN's Jake Tapper that police act under the assumption that a suspect armed with a knife standing within 20 feet will be able to wound them if their weapons are not already drawn:

A representative of the St. Louis Police Officers Association told St. Louis Public Radio the video is "exculpatory."* Watch the footage on YouTube here.

Correction, Aug. 21, 2014: This post originally misspelled St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Aug. 20 2014 9:58 PM

Supreme Court Puts Same-Sex Marriage in Virginia on Hold

The Supreme Court decreed today that same-sex marriage licenses won't be issued this week in Virginia after all, putting a lower court's ruling on hold on Wednesday.

From the Washington Post:

The court stayed a decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which on July 28 agreed with a district judge’s ruling that Virginia’s ban is unconstitutional. The same panel declined last week to delay its ruling.
The Supreme Court’s action was expected. Its one-paragraph order came without noted dissent from any of the nine justices and was consistent with its decision granting a stay in Utah, another state where a ban was found unconstitutional.

The court said the stay would continue until they decide whether or not to take the case. If they did take the case, the stay would continue untiil they issued a ruling. According to CNN, same-sex marriage is now legal in the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state.

Aug. 20 2014 9:15 PM

The Latest on Ferguson: Police Release Video of Kajieme Powell Shooting, Holder Visits

Slate will post running news updates about the situation in Ferguson below. For other Slate coverage of Ferguson, click here.

Update, 9:00 p.m.: St. Louis police released eyewitness video on Wednesday of the shooting of Kajieme Powell. The 25-year-old Powell was killed after a confrontation with police officers on Tuesday just a few miles from where unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson earlier this month. Two witnesses in the extremely graphic video said they saw the police handcuffing Powell after killing him. The St. Louis Police Department said that the two officers fired 12 shots at Powell after he ignored orders to put down a knife that they said appeared to be a steak knife.

The department tweeted:

In a meeting with 50 community leaders, meanwhile, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder explained that he could understand why black civilians are distrustful of those sworn to serve and protect. “I understand that mistrust,” Holder said. “I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man. … I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. … I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.” He also noted, “We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country.”

“History,” Holder said, “simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.”

Update, 11:50 a.m.: The QuikTrip convenience store and gas station that was destroyed the night after Michael Brown was killed was attacked because a rumor spread that its employees had called 911 to report Brown for a robbery, the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery reports. Brown was in fact suspected of robbing a different store—the Ferguson Market—nearby, and police have said that officer Darren Wilson was not aware of the robbery when he shot Brown. The Post report notes that the QuikTrip became a major meeting point for protestors, but has now been fenced off by crews conducting repairs.

Original post, 10:23 a.m.: The relatively peaceful atmosphere described in Ferguson Tuesday night appears to have held through to the morning, reports indicate. From NPR:

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of security in Ferguson, announced that 47 arrests had been made, and that three loaded handguns were confiscated.
"Tonight we saw a different dynamic," Johnson said, according to St. Louis Public Radio. "Protest crowds were a bit smaller and they were out earlier. We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before. There were no Molotov cocktails tonight."

BuzzFeed's Jim Dalrymple II was on the scene and writes that a police strategy of gradually closing off public areas—doing so firmly but without the use of tear gas or smoke bombs—helped wind down protests without provoking violence:*

As the protesters marched through the evening and the night wore on, the police began preparing to move the protesters into smaller and smaller areas. The first major push, just after 11 p.m. CT, was to clear a parking lot. People weren’t happy as they retreated, but for the most part they didn’t resist.

One thing Dalrymple's report does not note is any insistence by police that protesters leave the streets completely and return to their homes, a demand that has been made on previous nights; at one point, he writes, police told protesters in a parking lot that they could stay as long as they wanted.

*Correction, Aug. 20, 2014: This post originally misspelled BuzzFeed reporter Jim Dalrymple II's last name.

Aug. 20 2014 7:38 PM

U.S. Forces Tried To Rescue James Foley

In the wake of news of James Wright Foley's execution, senior administration officials have revealed that the U.S. military tried to rescue Foley and other Americans held by ISIS in a secret operation earlier this summer. 

From ABC News:

U.S. special operations forces early this summer launched a secret, major rescue operation in Syria to save James Foley and a number of Americans held by the extremist group ISIS, but the mission failed because the hostages weren’t there, senior administration officials told ABC News [on Wednesday].
President Obama authorized the “substantial and complex” rescue operation after the officials said a “broad collection of intelligence” led the U.S. to believe the hostages were being held in a specific location in the embattled Middle Eastern nation.
When “several dozen” U.S. special operation members landed in Syria, however, they were met with gunfire and “while on site, it became apparent the hostages were not there,” one of the officials said. The special operators engaged in a firefight in which ISIS suffered “a good number” casualties, the official said, while the American forces suffered only a single minor injury.

In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby stressed, “As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”

Aug. 20 2014 6:15 PM

Liberian Ebola Quarantine Results in Violent Clashes

What began as an attempt to quarantine West Point, an Ebola-infected area of the Liberian city of Monrovia, soon became a violent clash between security forces and community members on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Angry residents stormed barbed-wire barricades and threw stones at the troops, who fired shots in the air to drive them back, news reports said. Photographs from the scene showed a youth on the ground with blood pouring from his legs.
Fear and confusion have been spreading in the West African nation, where at least 576 people have died, more than in any other country affected by the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record. 

In the battle to beat Ebola, this is but the latest struggle between those trying to stop the spread of the virus and those who are themselves at risk, who feel not enough is being done to help them. Last Saturday, Ebola patients fled during an attack on their health care facility by an angry mob. As Liberian National Police spokesman Sam Collins told CNN: “It was an attack from people afraid of Ebola. ... Everybody is afraid.”

Aug. 20 2014 2:07 PM

Ferguson Officer Pointing Gun at Man With Camera: "I Will Kill You"

While Ferguson was relatively peaceful last night, a video posted on YouTube early this morning captures an officer aiming his gun at a man with a camera and threatening to kill him:

While the men shouting at the officer in the video come across less as protestors in fear for their lives and more like brat kids tattling on their little sister, the officer's reaction still seems well out of proportion to the circumstances, and it's far from the first time in recent days that police have aimed weapons at unarmed protestors.

Update, 4:30 p.m.: The ACLU, responding to BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner on Twitter, says that the officer involved in the incident described above has been removed from duty following a public ACLU complaint.

Aug. 20 2014 1:57 PM

Ferguson Highway Patrol Captain Flashes Frat Greeting, Gets Called a Gang Member

A CNN iReport mistakenly iDentified Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson as flashing a gang sign. In reality, Johnson is a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi, which is not a gang, but rather a historically black fraternity.

From the Washington Post:

Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
This particular piece of misinformation, asserting Johnson was aligning himself with the Bloods, appears to have originated in a post on CNN’s iReport site — since removed — and then circulated on Twitter by user @DixielandDiva, an account that no longer exists.

Twitter users responded to @DixelandDiva's tweet, which featured the photo and a declaration that "BLACK Capt. Ron Johnson and his gang signs need to resign," in equal parts incredulity and disgust.

In place of the removed iReport is a producer note, which reads, "This iReport, which was not verified by CNN, has been pulled as it is in violation of our site's community guidelines." 

CNN iReport is a "compilation of news items submitted by citizen journalism." Those considering contribution to the compilation in the future should note the distinction between gang signs and frat greetings before theyReport.

Update August 21, 2014, 10:25 a.m.: CNN responded to our request for comment, clarifying, "iReport is a social network for news. A small number of user submissions are approved for use on air and online. The iReport in question had not been vetted, was labeled as 'NOT VERIFIED BY CNN,' and was removed shortly after being flagged by the community."

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