The United States continues to grapple with the reckoning spurred by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, as the Department of Homeland Security says it is swapping out the military-style camouflage uniforms that U.S. border agents wore on the streets of Portland, Ore., last month.

Here are some significant developments:
  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) said the city is working to pair new police officers with “the right individuals” for training, while Aurora, Colo., which has faced scrutiny after the death of Elijah McClain last year, has chosen Vanessa Wilson as its new police chief, the first woman to permanently lead the agency.
  • Tulsa officials temporarily suspended an order to remove a Black Lives Matter display after protesters placed symbolic tombstones bearing the names of Black people shot by police or killed in the city’s 1921 race massacre.
  • The House Intelligence Committee is opening an investigation into the activities of the Intelligence and Analysis Office at DHS, which compiled “intelligence reports” on journalists.
  • The second-ranking official at DHS, Ken Cuccinelli, told lawmakers Tuesday that the department will change its uniforms after complaints about their “militarylike appearance” at protests.
August 4, 2020 at 8:37 PM EDT

D.C. delegate seeks answers on Secret Service encounter with moms on Mall

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter Tuesday to Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf and Secret Service Director James Murray, demanding information regarding the detainment of two D.C. residents on the Mall.

Two D.C. mothers, India Johnson, 26, and Yasmeen Winston, 25, were planning to spend Thursday afternoon wading in the World War II Memorial fountains with their infant sons — as they had just months before.

But they never got the chance. Their parked car was struck by a Secret Service vehicle, and the two mothers said uniformed federal officers held them at gunpoint and detained them without explanation.

“Both women were then handcuffed and separated from their babies, neither were read their Miranda rights, and the officers refused to let one of them breastfeed her son, even though the baby continued to cry out,” reads the letter.

The mothers, who are both Black, said they were told the vehicle had been reported stolen, but Johnson provided proof she was the owner.

“Such an incident must not be tolerated anywhere — but it will not be tolerated in our nation’s capital,” Norton said in a statement. “I am demanding answers to several specific questions, including why these mothers were arrested at all when it was apparent that their license plate did not match the one on the stolen car and why they were never read their Miranda rights.”

Holmes Norton said the officers conducted a search of the car despite not having a warrant, permission, or probable cause. Norton is demanding answers within five business days.

By Jessica Wolfrom
August 4, 2020 at 8:04 PM EDT

N.C. sheriff apologizes to family of Black man who died in custody, day before video release

One day before releasing video of a Black man who died after having his limbs bound in what’s known as a “hog tie,” a North Carolina sheriff said he was sorry about the fatal incident.

Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough told a news conference that he “cried” while watching the video showing jail officers tying up John Neville, the Associated Press reported.

Hogtying means Neville’s arms, legs, hands and feet were bound together so he could not move, a technique used on pigs and other animals. It typically pushes a person’s face into the floor, making it hard to breathe.

The practice has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and has been found to be used disproportionately on African Americans, in addition to people with mental illness.

Kimbrough also said the sheriff’s office has made changes following Neville’s death.

“Your father has changed the way health care will be dispensed at the Forsyth County Detention Center as well as how it will be dispensed throughout this region,” the sheriff said, according to the Associated Press.

Two parts of the video are set to be released Wednesday morning, the AP reported.

Five former detention officers and a nurse have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death, the AP reported.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 4, 2020 at 7:07 PM EDT

Couple accused of defacing Black Lives Matter slogan pleads not guilty

The couple accused of painting over a Black Lives Matter street slogan and charged with hate crime and vandalism in Martinez, Calif., entered a not-guilty plea Tuesday morning.

An attorney for the couple, Nicole Anderson and her partner David Nelson, called the misdemeanor charges politically motivated and “outrageous.”

“That a highly politicized DA … would categorize anyone who disagrees with the radical Black Lives Matter organization as hateful or racist and charge them … is outrageous,” attorney Bill Essayli told reporters, according to the Mercury News.

The video, showing a White woman splattering black paint over a Black Lives Matter mural with a man in downtown Martinez in July, was widely circulated across social media following the eruption of protests prompted by George Floyd’s death.

In the video, the man can be heard calling the Black Lives Matter movement a “leftist lie.”

The couple’s lawyer defended their right to free speech.

“Just as peaceful protesters have the right to march and display their political views in a myriad of different ways, they have the same right to express their dissatisfaction and their disagreement with their tax dollars being used to sponsor a radical organization, Black Lives Matter,” Essayli said.

The couple plans to take their case to trial, the Mercury News reports.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil rights cause that deserves all of our attention,” Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said in a July statement. “We must continue to elevate discussions and actually listen to one another in an effort to heal our community and country.”

By Jessica Wolfrom
August 4, 2020 at 5:56 PM EDT

DHS to swap out military-style camouflage uniforms that agents wore during Portland protests

The Department of Homeland Security is swapping out the military-style camouflage uniforms that U.S. border agents wore on the streets of Portland, Ore., last month, the department’s second-ranking official, Ken Cuccinelli, told lawmakers Tuesday.

Cuccinelli, whose title at DHS is senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary, testified along with several other panelists in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the federal government’s response to street protests in Portland.

“To address concerns about military-like appearance of some of Customs [and] Border Protection’s (CBP) officers’ uniforms, which are the normal uniforms used by some CBP teams in the course of regular duty, we are moving rapidly to replace those uniforms for those personnel,” Cuccinelli wrote in prepared testimony.

The sight of federal agents dressed in camouflage fatigues and tactical gear drew criticism from military veterans, lawmakers and others who said their appearance was inappropriate for domestic law enforcement and raised a risk that DHS agents could be confused for soldiers.

Some of the agents who deployed to Portland belong to an elite Border Patrol unit with standard uniforms that are in camouflage, adapted to the desert environments where they operate. Cuccinelli told lawmakers that the federal forces in Portland all wore insignia identifying them as police, but DHS would seek to provide agents sent to urban environments with more standard-issue green uniforms.

By Nick Miroff
August 4, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT

Minneapolis mayor calls for ‘the right role models’ for new police cadets after death of George Floyd

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) said the city is working to pair new police officers with “the right individuals” for training following George Floyd’s death after a higher-level officer dismissed a younger colleague’s question about how Floyd was being restrained.

Frey said the city has to be sure training for new officers is not forgotten once they head into the field.

“We need to make sure that those who are in a supervisory role, those that are riding with new officers with new cadets, are the right individuals to be role models,” Frey said in an interview with the Associated Press as part of its AP Newsmakers series. “You learn from who your role models are, and that can be a good thing and that can also be a bad thing.”

Across the country, police departments are grappling with regaining trust and talking openly about police brutality following the death of Floyd in police custody Minneapolis.

Democratic-led House legislation would ban chokeholds and establish a national database to track police misconduct, along with several provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court.

But the vote was largely along party lines. The Trump administration also threatened a veto. Most House Republicans came out against the Democratic proposal.

Meanwhile, police departments are dealing with long-brewing police brutality issues on the local level.

In Aurora, there is also been renewed scrutiny over the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, who was stopped on the street by three white officers responding to a call about a person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms as he walked down a street.

Paramedics gave him 500 milligrams of ketamine to calm him down, but he suffered cardiac arrest. He was later declared brain dead and taken off life support several days later.

On Monday evening, the interim chief of the suburban Denver police department has become the first woman to permanently lead the agency, which says its looking to regain public trust, the Associated Press reported.

The city council chose Vanessa Wilson in a 10-1 vote. It was hours after she apologized for the latest instance of alleged brutality in the Aurora, Colo., police department. Officers investigating a stolen vehicle this weekend handcuffed at least two Black girls, who were seen crying in bystander video as they lay face down on the ground only to later discover they had the wrong vehicle, the news agency reported.

Wilson, who is White, beat out three other nationwide finalists, all of them Black men.

“We will be a transparent partner dedicated to making Aurora a safer city for all, with respect for our diversity, an embrace of unity, and continual conversation about how we can do better,” Wilson said in a statement.

McClain family lawyer Mari Newman said she is not sure. But has to be hopeful, she told the Associated Press.

“My hope is that she will prove that she has not just the moral compass but also the fortitude to do the right thing and to overhaul a broken department,” Newman said.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 4, 2020 at 4:55 PM EDT

Massachusetts schools see divergent trends in racial diversity, report finds

Schools in Massachusetts are seeing a sharp decline in predominantly White schools, but also an increase in the number of starkly segregated schools, a new report finds.

The contradictory results reveal how Supreme Court cases such as Milliken v. Bradley, which allowed racial segregation in schools if it was not an explicit policy, played out in the state.

Massachusetts schools, composed of small, mostly White school districts surrounded by urban districts with predominantly non-White populations have become “cause for both hope and concern,” said the report’s authors.

“The most racially diverse districts are home to the largest number of intensely segregated non-white schools,” the report said. Students of color are more likely to attend schools where more than 90 percent of students are Black or Latino.

And because standardized test scores and real estate listings are inextricably linked to the purported success of a school district, changing demographics could steer White parents and affluent families farther away from non-White schools, creating deeper racial isolation versus integration, the report says.

Despite this, the report’s findings show that parents overwhelmingly support integrated schools. A separate report this year found that over 80 percent of parents favor racially diverse schools.

But at a moment when many White Americans are confronted with how to bridge long-standing social divides, the report calls for a reexamination of school districts, many of which were historically drawn along racial lines.

By Jessica Wolfrom
August 4, 2020 at 4:55 PM EDT

Second Nashville protester of police brutality now faces federal charges of arson

A 22-year-old Nashville woman faces federal arson charges in connection with a Nashville Historic Courthouse fire set during a May 30 protest, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Shelby Ligons, 22, is charged with “malicious destruction of property using fire or explosives,” according to U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

Protesters gathered in the downtown area of Nashville following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, according to the unsealed complaint.

Later in the evening, a group gathered in front of Nashville’s city hall, also known as the Metro Courthouse. The peaceful “I Will Breathe” rally to protest police brutality shifted, and by 8:15 p.m. flames were seen from a first-floor window of the historic courthouse and city hall. Multiple arrests were made in connection with rioting.

“Using various tools, including crowbars and other objects, they began smashing the windows of the premises and spraying graffiti on the Courthouse facade. One or more fires were also set inside of the Courthouse at this time,” the complaint alleges.

If convicted, Ligons faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison.

The complaint says, “Ligons is depicted in video clips and photographs from that afternoon and evening wearing blue jeans, a black-colored shirt, a medical mask, and a white-colored bandana on her head. In those video clips and photographs, Ligons is depicted holding a white-colored poster board” with protest slogans on it.

“In several video clips, Ligons is depicted setting fire to the poster and placing it inside a window located on the exterior structure of City Hall,” the complaint says.

She is the second person to be charged. Wesley Somers, 25, of Hendersonville was also charged on June 3 in connection with the fire, and his case is pending in U.S. District Court.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 4, 2020 at 3:39 PM EDT

Calif. lawmaker wants to remove racist covenants from housing documents

Illegal racist housing agreements state that California homes can only be rented or sold to people with blood from “entirely of the Caucasian race. No Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Hindu or any persons of the Ethiopian, Indian, or Mongolian races shall be deemed to be Caucasian.”

The covenants have been against the law since 1948. But they remain in legal documents, signed by new homeowners, who often aren’t even aware the language is there.

Sacramento Democratic Assembly member Kevin McCarty told the KCRA news channel that he and a team of lawmakers were working to have them removed. They plan to formally introduce a bill this year.

“I’m from a biracial family, and you know, my kids are triracial — African American, Mexican American and Caucasian. That means a lot that we have words in the deed of the house that says you can’t live here,” he told the station.

“And some might say that doesn’t really matter,” he said. “But I just think they are hurtful reminders, so why do they exist?”

The legislation comes amid the racial reckoning sweeping the country, confronting racist images in American culture — from blackface found and removed in “The Office,” “Community,” “30 Rock” and “Scrubs” to Confederate memorials across the country coming down.

Housing is at the center of the country’s systemic and structural racism, Bryan Greene, fair housing policy director for the National Association of Realtors, told The Washington Post.

“It’s hard to close the race gap in homeownership when everything is stacked against Blacks,” Greene told Michele Lerner, who wrote about housing discrimination. “It’s myopic to look at immediate qualifications standards and ignore that people are trying to overcome a century-old legacy of official disadvantage in housing and, on top of that, social dynamics and a lack of political will to fix this. ”

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 4, 2020 at 2:44 PM EDT

The second-highest court in Massachusetts said it’s doing away with using the term ‘grandfathering’ because of its racist origins

The second-highest court in Massachusetts said Monday that it’s doing away with using the term “grandfathering” because of its racist origins.

The court’s decision came as a footnote in a local zoning dispute case at a time when the nation is reckoning with racism that has long permeated its businesses, universities, sports teams — even its judicial system.

Grandfathering, or grandfathered rights, are frequently used to exempt businesses or homeowners from new restrictions when those businesses or homes no longer conform to the bylaws of the area. These “grandfathered rights” are usually put in place to avoid penalizing parties retroactively. But the term “grandfathering” has racist origins, noted Associate Justice James R. Milkey in the court’s decision.

“The phrase ‘grandfather clause’ originally referred to provisions adopted by some States after the Civil War in an effort to disenfranchise African-American voters by requiring voters to pass literacy tests or meet other significant qualifications, while exempting from such requirements those who were descendants of men who were eligible to vote prior to 1867,” Milkey wrote.

But while the terminology will change, protections for preexisting properties will remain intact. The law will provide “a certain level of protection to all structures that predate applicable zoning restrictions,” court documents said.

By Jessica Wolfrom
August 4, 2020 at 2:39 PM EDT

Charges filed against the spouse of L.A. County district attorney for allegedly pulling gun on BLM protesters

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed charges Monday against the husband of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, accusing him of pulling a gun on Black Lives Matter protesters in March at the couple’s home.

David Lacey was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with three misdemeanor counts of assault with a firearm regarding the March 2 incident, according to documents filed by Becerra’s office.

The charges, reported by Politico, come amid national protests over racial justice and police brutality. Jackie Lacey, the county’s first Black district attorney, is in a reelection fight with George Gascón, a Latino who previously served as district attorney in San Francisco.

Lacey has been criticized by criminal justice activists who have cited her refusal to prosecute police officers who kill civilians.

Lacey’s campaign said in a statement Tuesday that her husband “acted in fear for my safety after we were subjected to months of harassment,” according to the Associated Press. A lawyer for David Lacey said he disagreed with the charges, AP reported.

The incident involving David Lacey came into public view with a video tweeted by Melina Abdullah, a Pan-African studies professor at California State University at Los Angeles who helped found the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter.

The professor said she and other Black Lives Matter activists knocked at the front door of the Laceys’ home to speak to the district attorney. But David Lacey answered the door and “pulled a gun and pointed it at my chest,” Abdullah tweeted.

Appearing to have his finger on the trigger, he is shown in her video saying, “Get off of my porch. … I’ll shoot you. … I don’t care who you are."

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 4, 2020 at 12:56 PM EDT

TCU football coach apologizes for using racial slur ‘that is, in any context, unacceptable’

The head coach of the Texas Christian University football team, Gary Patterson, apologized Tuesday for using a racial slur in an attempt to get a player to stop using that word. Patterson called his use of the slur “unacceptable” in any context.

Several TCU players on Monday boycotted practice and met with Patterson over the incident, which occurred Sunday.

In a now-deleted tweet, former defensive back Niko Small first accused the coach of using the word in front of the team, according to the Associated Press, and several teammates tweeted that Small had not included context. They tweeted their own explanations, and several skipped practice.

Freshman linebacker Dylan Jordan tweeted Monday afternoon about an exchange with Patterson at practice Sunday, an exchange in which he said Patterson told him to stop using the n-word in team meetings. As he did so, Patterson repeated the slur.

By Cindy Boren
August 4, 2020 at 12:25 PM EDT

Colorado police apologize over viral video of cops handcuffing Black girls in a mistaken stop

Sunday morning was meant to be a girls outing for the Gilliams, as cousins, sisters, aunts and nieces piled into an SUV to go get their nails done together in suburban Denver.

But before they could find an open salon, the family’s four children were ordered at gunpoint to lay facedown on the parking lot, and two were handcuffed. The Black girls, who range from 6 to 17 years old, broke down in tears and screams as a group of White police officers hovered over them.

“I want my mother,” one of them can be heard wailing on a video of the incident, gasping for air between sobs. “Can’t I have my sister next to me?”

Aurora’s police chief apologized Monday night and launched an internal investigation after video of the incident quickly went viral. Police blamed a misunderstanding.

By Teo Armus
August 4, 2020 at 11:52 AM EDT

Seattle lawsuit argues police create ‘de facto protest tax’ because demonstrators need protective gear

A new federal lawsuit is arguing that the Seattle police response to demonstrations has created “a de facto protest tax” because demonstrators are forced to purchase gear such as gas masks so they can gather.

This lawsuit says that because police officers wield pepper spray and fire projectiles, people need “an exceptional amount of protective gear” to protest, even when they are doing so peacefully.

The lawsuit was brought by five people who say they participated in a July 25 protest that was turned “into a war zone” by police using blast balls, projectile weapons and chemical sprays, according to the complaint. The Seattle police declared a riot that day when a crowd of about 2,000 people were marching in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, part of a wave of revived protests that followed heated clashes between federal agents and demonstrators in Portland, Ore.

After that day, the plaintiffs argue in their complaint, they could not protest without acquiring more protective equipment. One of them wrote that she had asthma and had to leave the July 25 protest and could not demonstrate until she was able to buy a gas mask for more than $79.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, asks for a court order blocking the city from using these crowd-control measures. It lists the city of Seattle as a defendant. A spokesman for the Seattle city attorney’s office told the Seattle Times it would look into the claims and “defend the City in this matter.”

This lawsuit is the latest legal volley related to how police in Seattle have responded to protests. After the Seattle City Council blocked police from using methods such as tear gas, a federal judge stopped that order from taking effect. Carmen Best, the Seattle police chief, argued that officers could not protect property without crowd-control measures including pepper spray and rubber bullets.

By Mark Berman
August 4, 2020 at 11:12 AM EDT

Amnesty report details alleged law enforcement abuses against protesters, journalists

As protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue nationwide, Amnesty International USA released a new report Tuesday that documents what the organization alleged are widespread, egregious human rights violations by law enforcement against protesters, journalists, legal observers and others.

The report — “The World is Watching: Mass Violations by U.S. police of Black Lives Matter Protesters’ Rights” — draws on 50 interviews Amnesty conducted in June, as Black Lives Matter demonstrations reignited by the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis surged around the world. The report notes 125 separate incidents of alleged police violence in 40 states and Washington D.C. The document accuses law enforcement of repeatedly using physical force with batons; chemical irritants such as tear gas and pepper spray; rubber bullets and other projectiles against largely peaceful protesters.

Ernest Coverson, Amnesty’s End Gun Violence Campaign manager, said in a statement that innocent protesters were targeted for unwarranted abuse.

“The research shows that people who were simply exercising their human right to peacefully protest were met with such violence that they lost eyesight, survived brutal beatings, and suffered seizures and severe wounds,” Coverson said.

The report charges that the Trump administration’s military-style crackdowns, the use of federal troops in Portland, Ore., and threats to deploy more agents to other cities represent a slippery slope toward authoritarianism. It offers recommendations for local, state and federal law enforcement as well as government officials.

Amnesty is also urging Congress to pass the Protect our Protesters Act of 2020 (HR 7315) introduced in the House by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). In a June statement she said: “We must ensure that the constitutional right to protest is duly protected … we can no longer stand by and watch the constitutional rights of Americans get trampled and individuals harmed. Congress must act to ensure the First Amendment is protected.”

By Donna Owens