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Nov. 24 2015 6:49 PM

The Graphic Footage of Laquan McDonald Being Killed by a Police Officer Is Horrifying

Laquan McDonald died at age 17 on Oct. 24, 2014, when Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times on a street on the city’s Southwest Side. Investigators with the state’s attorney’s office looking into McDonald's death first reviewed video footage of the incident, which was captured on a squad car dashboard camera, a little less than two weeks later. But the video that showed what happened was not made public. And until last week, the city of Chicago was fighting to keep it that way, on the grounds that releasing the video would taint the ongoing investigation. 

It was only after a Cook County judge ruled Nov. 19 that the video had to be made public under Illinois’ open-records law that Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to stop trying to block its release. Tonight, just a few hours after the police officer who fired those 16 shots was charged with first-degree murder, the video was finally released.

The video footage, which is extremely disturbing and is widely expected to provoke intense demonstrations in Chicago, can be viewed below. McDonald's final moments can be seen starting around the 4:30 mark. 

At a press conference that preceded the release of the video, Emanuel asked Chicago residents to “rise to the moment this incident demands” and to be peaceful and calm in their demonstrations. Emanuel added that the officer in the video had “violated the standards of professionalism” and “basic moral standards” and noted that he was no longer being paid by the city of Chicago.  

Per an account of McDonald's death provided by a lawyer for the city, Van Dyke was responding to a call about a man with a knife who was allegedly trying to break into vehicles in a trucking yard and had been following McDonald for about half a mile when the boy stabbed the tire of a squad car with his knife and damaged its windshield. McDonald had ignored orders from the police officers and had refused to drop his knife. According to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who gave a press conference on Van Dyke's arrest earlier today, McDonald was walking down the middle of the street when Van Dyke and his partner jumped out of their squad car, guns drawn, and Van Dyke opened fire at McDonald. In the video, you can see that McDonald is clearly moving away from Van Dyke when Van Dyke shoots him. 

The Chicago Tribune reports that the police department has “ordered most of its force into uniform and warned them of potentially longer hours and canceled days off” in anticipation of the video’s release. And according to the Sun-Times, Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson has sent a letter to parents saying administrators had developed a “special toolkit” for students who are upset by the video. “This footage is sure to raise many emotions among our children, and we want you to know that CPS will do everything possible to meet their needs,” Jackson wrote in the email.

This post has been updated to include the full video.

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Nov. 24 2015 3:54 PM

The Tuesday Slatest Newsletter

Two suspects—a 23-year-old white man and a 32-year-old Hispanic man—have been arrested in Minneapolis after five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot and injured last night during a protest related to the police-involved death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark on Nov. 15. In other news:

Have a good day out there.

Nov. 24 2015 2:39 PM

Kentucky Restores Voting Rights to 140,000 Nonviolent Felons

Outgoing Democratic Kentucky governor Steve Beshear has restored voting rights to an estimated 140,000 nonviolent felons who have served their sentences, joining a number of states that have eliminated convict voting restrictions in recent years. (The move is expected to effect another 30,000 individuals over time.)  Beshear's move was accomplished via executive order—the Kentucky governor has always had the authority to restore ex-convicts' rights with pardons—but he has also encouraged the state legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to make the reforms permanent.

"The House has repeatedly advanced measures that would automatically restore rights to some felons after their sentence is complete," the Louisville Courier-Journal writes of the issue. "But the proposal has faced opposition in the Senate, where critics have pushed for a waiting period and want to reduce the types of felons who would be eligible."

Incoming Republican governor Matt Bevin has not commented on the merits of Beshear's order but has said in the past that he supports the restoration of some voting rights for former convicts. (The issue, like a number of other criminal justice reforms, is one on which many U.S. politicians of varying partisan and ideological perspectives have found common ground.)

Nov. 24 2015 1:40 PM

What Do We Really Mean by “World War III”?

Shortly after a Russian jet was shot down by Turkey under disputed circumstances on the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday, the hashtags #worldwarIII and #worldwar3 quickly spiked on Twitter. The news also unleashed a flood of commentators and experts reassuring readers that World War III is not likely to break out. They’re right, but it’s worth considering what we mean by “world war” and what that question leaves out.

Many of the people using the hashtag likely fear a World War III that would resemble the previous two—direct conflict between multiple industrialized nations with large militaries—only much scarier given that more than one side now has access to nuclear weapons. This is unlikely to happen because of Tuesday’s incident or the Syrian conflict generally.

Russia clearly miscalculated, assuming that Turkey would tolerate Russian jets buzzing its airspace the way that Turkey’s NATO allies have. It didn’t. Russia isn’t going to just let this slide. It may support covert action against Turkey, perhaps backing militant Kurdish groups or redoubling its efforts to contain Turkish political influence in the Middle East. Russia is also Turkey’s main natural gas supplier and could raise prices or cut off the supply entirely.

Still, Russia’s unlikely to risk a shooting war with NATO, which it would lose, and certainly not over Syria. Russians were willing to accept economic hardship and international isolation over the war in Ukraine, fought for territory that the country’s people have long considered rightfully theirs. As Max Fisher noted in Vox, the conflict in Syria is less of a priority and less popular among Russians.

The Kremlin’s early reluctance to acknowledge that a terrorist bomb likely brought down a passenger jet in Egypt in October may have been a sign that Russia’s leaders aren’t so sure of how high a price Russians are willing to pay for Putin’s intervention on behalf of Bashar al-Assad. Vladimir Putin’s MO for military action has long been deniable, quickly reversible “hybrid warfare” in situations where he knows he’s likely to face limited retribution. If he wasn’t willing to start World War III over Ukraine, he won’t start it over Syria.

That being said, there’s a separate conversation over whether the Syrian conflict already is, in fact, a world war. Jordan’s King Abdullah has suggested as much recently, as has Pope Francis.* After all, the war in Syria has drawn in direct and proxy intervention from more than a dozen countries. It has spawned multiple fronts and overlapping alliances. It has spread into Iraq and challenged long-standing national borders. It has involved wanton brutality against civilians including genocide. It has sparked ancillary violence in neighboring countries and as far away as Paris. It has directly led to the worst refugee crisis the world has faced since World War II, not to mention the deaths of between 200,000 and 310,000 people, depending on the estimate.

But this also hasn’t been the first war of this type, or scale, in the post-World War II era. The Korean War was a proxy battle between rival superpowers involving U.S. ground troops that left more than 2 million dead. The second Congo war in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which may have killed as many as 3 million people and which involved intervention by half a dozen countries, is sometimes called “Africa’s World War.”

Wars today are more likely to be fought within individual countries between governments and insurgents, rather than between separate national armies over territory. While these wars can involve multiple countries, these countries are participating more often by proxy than through direct confrontation. Devastating and destabilizing as these wars can be—and Syria is about the worst-case scenario for one—they’re still less deadly than the world wars of the 20th century. That’s at least one reason why its plausible to say that the world is getting more peaceful despite the daily atrocities we witness around the globe.

This trend won’t necessarily last forever, of course, and what people are really asking when they wonder about the possibility of “World War III” is if we’ll see a return to the even more devastating form of warfare seen in the 20th century. We’re not there yet, though the unfolding catastrophe in Syria is pretty terrifying for what it is on its own.

*Correction, Nov. 24, 2015: Due to an editing error, this post originally misidentified Jordan’s King Abdullah as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who is deceased. 

Nov. 24 2015 1:26 PM

Obama: The Statue of Liberty Lays Out Some Pretty Clear Guidelines on the Whole Refugees Thing

President Obama met French president François Hollande at the White House today to discuss the fight against ISIS, after which the two held a joint press conference. Obama, in his prepared remarks, addressed the ongoing controversy over whether his administration should follow through on its commitment to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by mentioning the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France to the United States:

A transcript:

For those who want to harm us, our actions have shown that we have too much resolve and too much character. Americans will not be terrorized. I say all of this because another part of being vigilant, another part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and the freedoms that define our two great republics. That includes freedom of religion. That includes equality before the law. There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals, and it has been to our lasting regret. We must uphold our ideals now—each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background.
Related to this, I want to note that under president Hollande, France plans to welcome an additional 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. Here in the United States, refugees coming to America go through up to two years of intense security checks and biometric screening. Nobody who comes to America goes through more screening than refugees. And we're prepared to share these tools with France and our European partners. As François said, our humanitarian duty to help desperate refugees, and our duty to our security—those duties go hand in hand.
On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are the words we know so well. "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." That's the spirit that makes us America. That's the spirit that binds to us France. That's the spirit that we need today.

The lesser-known first verse of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus," in fact, refers to the Statue of Liberty as the Mother of Exiles. "From her beacon-hand," the poem says, "Glows world-wide welcome."

Nov. 24 2015 12:08 PM

Solemn Paul Krugman Times Column About Terrorism Illustrated With Slate Cat Picture

The Internet was abuzz Tuesday morning about a Paul Krugman New York Times blog post illustrated with an image, into which a white, fluffy cat has been inserted, of President Obama and other high-level officials in the White House Situation Room during the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.


Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker



(The Slate post was itself a riff on a popular Foreign Policy slideshow—of real pictures—called "War Dog.")

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said in an email that the use of the cat photo was intentional—Krugman is a known cat guy—and since being posted it's been updated with a link to Slate.

Update, 12:15 p.m.: Krugman has added a note to his post. "Yes, I know there’s a cat in the picture; I took it from Slate, 'The Cats of War,' " he writes. "I’ve used that image before, to lighten things up slightly. Apparently I didn’t succeed."

Nov. 24 2015 10:34 AM

Turkey Downing That Russian Fighter Jet Is Terrible News for the War on ISIS

Whatever post-Paris unity there might have been in the fractious coalition of nations fighting ISIS in Syria crashed and burned on the Syria-Turkey border on Tuesday as Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter.

Turkey, which has previously protested Russian violations of its airspace and shot down an unmanned Russian drone in October, says the Russian fighter had entered its territory, which Russia denies.

Further raising the stakes, a group of Turkmen rebels in northern Syria, who have recently been supported by Turkish airpower, claim to have killed the two Russian pilots. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a “stab in the back,” accusing NATO, of which Turkey and the United States are members, of being accomplices of ISIS. He promised “significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations.”

Putin’s tough rhetoric aside, this is unlikely to lead to direct military confrontation between Russia and NATO-member Turkey. As veteran Russia-watcher Mark Galeotti lays out, the risks to both sides are just too great for this to dissolve into even an overly aggressive diplomatic confrontation. In this situation, that’s what counts as good news.

But the implications for the Syrian civil war, and the separate but related international campaign against ISIS, could be significant. The incident comes just as French President François Hollande arrives in Washington on the first stop of a trip aimed at a building a coalition to take more significant military action against ISIS. His next stop is Moscow. While the U.S. has viewed the Russian intervention in Syria with suspicion because of Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attacks on non-ISIS rebels, France has been more open to the idea of working with the Russians. France, tellingly, did not invoke NATO’s mutual defense clause after the Paris attacks—as the U.S. did after 9/11—possibly as a form of outreach to NATO-wary Moscow.

And recent days had actually given some rare cause for hope that the international coalition could get on the same page. In the wake of the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai—for which ISIS claimed responsibility—Russia finally began serious airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria after weeks of focusing its fire on anti-Assad rebels. More significantly, it alerted the United States to those strikes. On the diplomatic front, outside powers including Russia, Iran, the United States, France, and Turkey made more progress than was expected on developing a plan for a cease-fire between Assad and the rebels during a meeting in Vienna one day after the Paris attacks.

After Tuesday, Russia is unlikely to build on cooperation with NATO forces in Syria. Not surprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called off a planned trip to Turkey. Putin may also redouble the country’s campaign against Turkish-backed rebel groups in Syria and its support for the Assad regime. Turkey and the Gulf states had been pushing at Vienna to expand the number of rebel groups viewed as “legitimate” opposition, which Russia, Iran, and their Syrian proxies are now more likely to reject.

Under the best circumstances, Turkey and Russia would both be highly problematic partners in any project aimed at destroying ISIS. Russia is more interested in defending a Syrian regime that has abetted the Islamic State’s rise. Turkey has only belatedly joined U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS, but has also continued to bomb the Kurdish fighters that have been the most effective force in fighting ISIS on the ground. Still, given their deep involvement in the conflict, it’s hard to imagine any meaningful political settlement in Syria without Turkey’s cooperation.

All in all, this was a good day for the Assad regime and for ISIS.

Nov. 24 2015 9:13 AM

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Fighter Jet in Disputed Incident Near Syrian Border

Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian SU-24 figher jet Tuesday after the plane allegedly flew into Turkish airspace near the Syrian border—but Russia says its aircraft never left Syria, while President Vladimir Putin has called the attack a "stab in the back" that will have "serious consequences." An emergency meeting of NATO has been called in Brussels, which, as it happens, is still in a state of lockdown because of fears of a potential ISIS attack. (Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952.) From the Guardian:

The Turkish military said it shot down the plane after it penetrated Turkish airspace in the province of Hatay at 9.20am warning it to leave 10 times in five minutes before it was shot down. Turkey published radar images claiming to show the plane briefly flying over its southern territory.
Russia said its SU-24 plane never left Syrian airspace. Putin said it came down 4km from the border with Turkey and did not pose a threat to Turkey.

A still from footage of the plane crashing:



It does not appear to be in dispute that the Russian jet actually came down in Syria. There are unconfirmed reports that both of the plane's pilots, who appeared to have ejected from their aircraft, are dead in Syrian territory, though it's not clear how they died. (Turkmen rebel forces in Syria say that they shot the pilots while they were parachuting to the ground.) Russia supports the government of Bashar al-Assad and has been attacking rebel targets in Syria since September; Turkey had reportedly complained to Russia as recently as last Friday about operations taking place too close to its border.

This post has been updated with new information.

Nov. 23 2015 11:14 PM

Washington Defensive End Says NFL Refs Aren’t Giving Them Calls Because Team's Name

Following the Carolina Panthers 44-16 demolition of the Washington NFL Team on Sunday, the losers were, understandably, searching for answers as it dropped to 4-6 on the year. Four wins in ten games actually isn’t all that bad for Dan Snyder’s personal piggybank of a franchise, but that’s besides the point. The locker room was down and Washington defensive end Jason Hatcher came up with a novel rationale for why several calls, and ultimately the game, had gone against the team—the team’s slur of a name.

“Don't single us out. At the end of the day, it's the name. Don't worry about the name -- we're players and we work our butts off, too. I'm just frustrated with it. We shouldn’t have to be punished for that.”

It’s an interesting—mutinous—theory that the refs are sandbagging the team because of their displeasure over the offensive reference to Native Americans in the team's name. There were certainly a couple of big calls that did not break Washington's way, but, for the record, ESPN’s stats show that Washington has, in fact, been flagged 81 times—13th fewest in the league—while their opponents have been called for penalties 87 times. “I don’t want us to be perceived as a team that is looking for excuses to why we lost,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said Monday. “The referees are not an excuse for us as to why we lost the game. The missed tackles, the five sacks, the five turnovers, we can point directly to that.”

Nov. 23 2015 9:57 PM

Texas “Clock Kid” Ahmed Mohamed Demands $15 Million and an Apology for “Hoax Bomb” Arrest

Lawyers for the family of Texas teenager Ahmed Mohamed—better known as the “clock kid”—demanded $15 million from the city of Irving and its school district for the reaction to the homemade clock Mohamed brought to school in September. The story made global headlines as the 14-year-old Muslim high school student, an aspiring engineer, was arrested and suspended from school after a teacher mistook his clock for a bomb.

In separate letters to the city of Irving and the Irving Independent School District on Monday, Mohamed’s lawyers laid out a series of accusations including that he was wrongfully arrested and illegally detained. Here’s more from the Dallas Morning News on the letter to the city:

- It says police illegally questioned Ahmed without his parents present, even after the 14-year-old asked for them.
- It says that during the questioning, Ahmed’s principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t admit that his clock was a hoax bomb—though he had never claimed it was anything but a clock.
- After police dropped the charges and news of the arrest went viral, city and school officials devised a plan to “trash Ahmed” to the media, according to the letter.
- School officials insinuated that Ahmed wasn’t telling reporters the truth about his arrest, and publicly pressured his parents to let them release his private student records.
- Officials falsely claimed that Ahmed violated school policy and “zero tolerance” laws, none of which apply to his homemade clock.

“In ways that are virtually impossible to comprehend, this thing turned the Mohamed family’s lives upside down," the letter to the city reads. "All semblance of what they knew before has vanished.” The letters also single out Mayor Beth Van Duyne and her interview with Glenn Beck in the immediate aftermath where she painted Mohamed—without evidence—as a jihadist who planned to get arrested to further “civilization jihad.” Mohamed’s family is seeking $10 million from the city of Irving and $5 million from the local school district, as well as written apologies from the Irving Mayor Van Duyne and the city police chief. The letters threaten a civil suit if the demands aren’t met. The Mohamed family has since relocated to Doha, Qatar where Ahmed accepted a scholarship to study.