Nearly two weeks after Democrats grilled Attorney General William P. Barr over the Justice Department’s crackdowns on racial justice protests, Barr on Sunday lashed out at the Democratic Party and the Black Lives Matter movement, saying in an interview on Fox News that liberals are intent on “tearing down the system” and calling protesters’ tactics “fascistic.”

Here are some significant developments:
  • Barr’s comments in an hour-long interview on “Life, Liberty & Levin” represented some of his harshest critiques yet of the protest movement. He slammed Black Lives Matter: “They are a revolutionary group that is interested in some form of socialism, communism.”
  • Hundreds of people smashed business windows along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on Sunday night and into Monday morning, and police chased suspects toting bags full of goods, tackling some to the ground and blocking off streets. The unrest followed a tense day between police and Black residents after police shot and wounded a man on the city’s South Side.
  • As protests continue in Louisville following the fatal police shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, the local police department now says it is limiting marches in the streets and vehicle caravans due to “ongoing safety concerns.”
  • A Black Desert Storm veteran who received a life sentence in Louisiana for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will be released from prison. His release is part of a criminal justice reform movement across the country to pardon and release African Americans who are disproportionately jailed for long sentences for small amounts of marijuana sales and drug use.
August 11, 2020 at 7:35 AM EDT

Seattle police chief retires after vote to trim up to 100 officers, $3 million from the force

Hours after the Seattle City Council voted to strip about $3 million from the police department and reduce its size by up to 100 officers as part of a push to fundamentally change policing in the city, Police Chief Carmen Best announced her retirement.

Best, the city’s first Black police chief, leaves after months of turmoil that made Seattle a focal point for national protests on police brutality and racial injustice. In a letter to Seattle police officers, the 55-year-old called the decision “difficult” but said “when it’s time, it’s time.”

“I am confident the department will make it through these difficult times,” she wrote in the letter, which the Seattle Times republished. “I look forward to seeing how this department moves forward through the process of re-envisioning public safety.”

By Tim Elfrink
August 10, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT

Seattle City Council approves cuts to police positions, budget

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council approved proposals Monday that would reduce the police department by as many as 100 officers through layoffs and attrition — an action supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody but strongly opposed by the mayor and police chief.

Measures that would cut less than $4 million of the department’s $400 million annual budget this year passed out of committee unanimously last week. On Monday, only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the budget package, saying it does not do enough to defund the police.

Seattle has about 1,400 police officers, and the reductions fell far short of the 50 percent cut to the department that many Black Lives Matter protesters are seeking. Several council members on Monday said the changes were a starting point in a long process to reimagine policing and public safety.

The City Council also cut Police Chief Carmen Best’s roughly $285,000 annual salary and the pay of other top police leaders, although the final cuts to Best’s salary were significantly more modest than those approved last week. The council plan also takes officers off a team that removes homeless camps.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Best had urged the council to slow down its discussions about police budgets, saying the issue could be taken up in earnest when the 2021 city budget is considered. They also said any layoffs would disproportionately target newer officers, often hired from Black and Brown communities, and would inevitably lead to lawsuits.

By Associated Press
August 10, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT

Counterprotesters, some with guns, outnumber BLM demonstrators in Nevada town

MINDEN, Nev. — Several dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators at a weekend protest in rural Nevada were greeted by a far larger group of counterdemonstrators, including some bearing military-style weapons and tactical gear, but a sheriff who had made controversial remarks earlier about the racial justice movement reported no arrests or serious incidents.

The clash of rallies Saturday came days after Douglas County Sheriff Dan Coverley attracted national attention for telling the local library not to bother calling 911 for help after board members publicly considered a statement opposing “all forms of racism, hatred, inequality and injustice” and the line “We support #Black Lives Matter.”

The library abandoned plans to issue the diversity statement, and the sheriff backed off, saying deputies would continue to respond to all 911 calls.

Plans that spread on social media to organize a demonstration against racial injustice spawned competing campaigns supporting Coverley and inviting supporters to back the sheriff’s deputies.

Coverley did not immediately respond Monday to messages about the events that a statement from the county and sheriff’s office characterized as “a handful of small arguments … between BLM protesters and counter protesters.”

“No active police reports have been filed at this time in regards to any altercations occurring during the protest,” the statement said.

Social media posts cast some confrontations as competitively loud, sometimes tense and briefly violent before demonstrators on both sides urged nonviolence.

Coverley told reporters Saturday that he felt unfairly drawn into a national debate about policing and racial bias after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“I think law enforcement is under a ton of unfair scrutiny based on the events … thousands of miles away from here that my office had nothing to do with,” he said. “We strive every day to do the best job that we can.”

Nevada Highway Patrol troopers directed traffic, and sheriff’s deputies from neighboring Carson City remained mostly on the sidelines with Douglas County deputies as protesters marched from the sheriff’s office to a park and the historic Douglas County Courthouse.

The Nevada Appeal reported that people with weapons kept them holstered or slung over their shoulders.

By Associated Press
August 10, 2020 at 5:28 PM EDT

After Mississippi retired flag with Confederate emblem, new banner’s design won’t include Elvis or crawfish

JACKSON, Miss. — The new Mississippi state flag will not include beer cans, crawfish, a caramel cake, Elvis or Kermit the Frog.

Mississippi recently retired its state banner with a Confederate battle emblem that’s been widely condemned as racist. A nine-member commission will recommend a replacement that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the phrase “In God We Trust.”

The public submitted nearly 3,000 designs and the commission narrowed those to 147 proposals that were posted Monday to the website for the state’s Department of Archives and History. Lost in the first round were designs with food items and celebrities.

Many of the remaining designs have magnolias and stars. Some have wavy lines that could represent the waters of the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. The oddball among the survivors has a giant mosquito surrounded by a circle of stars.

On Friday, the nine commissioners will meet and choose the final five. By early September, they will agree on a design to put on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot.

By Associated Press
August 10, 2020 at 3:35 PM EDT

Report: Agency in Alabama city segregated public housing

DECATUR, Ala. — A federal review found that a public housing authority in Alabama let White people live in riverfront towers with scenic views and other amenities while segregating Black people in another apartment development without the frills, the Decatur Daily newspaper reported.

A Housing and Urban Development study determined that 94 percent of the Decatur Housing Authority’s units in two towers with views of the Tennessee River are occupied by White people, while all the units in a housing project farther from the river are occupied by Black people, the Decatur Daily reported.

The developments provide subsidized homes for low-income elderly people. Minorities on the waiting list to get into the towers were passed over as units there were filled with White people, the report said.

Authority workers repeatedly explained the lack of Black residents in the waterfront buildings by saying elderly Black tenants don’t like high-rise buildings and prefer living in “garden-style units so they can sit on their porch and come and go as they please,’“ according to a letter from HUD.

The housing authority settled claims of discrimination for $200,000, which HUD is distributing to victims of the alleged bias, and a commitment to upgrade Black-occupied Westgate Gardens at an estimated cost of $1 million.

The HUD investigation began with the Justice Department finding patterns of housing discrimination in Alabama and Mississippi.

“Decatur Housing Authority was the most egregious,” agency spokesman Joseph Phillips said.

Two managers who oversee the authority did not return messages, the newspaper reported. The chairman of the board that oversees the agency, James Ridgeway, said neither had been disciplined.

“We don’t have nothing against them. They’ve done a good job,” Ridgeway said.

By Associated Press
August 10, 2020 at 1:11 PM EDT

Police say misinformation about police-involved shooting led to Chicago looting

CHICAGO — Hundreds of young people looted stores, broke into indoor shopping malls and battled with police overnight Sunday into Monday in the city’s central downtown business district.

The reason for the unrest, according to several looters who spoke to The Washington Post on Monday, were reports alleging a police-involved killing of a Black man on the city’s South Side late Sunday afternoon. But police said those accounts were misinformation spread across social media that appeared to encourage people to head downtown to create violence.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said Monday that officers responded to a call about a man with a gun in Englewood; once they spotted the man, they pursued him on foot. After the man shot at them, police said, the officers returned fire. The man, 20, is now recovering at the University of Chicago Hospital and is expected to survive, police said.

“This was not an organized protest. This was an act of pure criminality,” Brown said. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot added: “This was brazen and criminal looting and destruction … this is not anywhere near acceptable.”

During the unrest, officers shot at least one person and chased suspects toting bags full of goods, tackling some to the ground and blocking off streets as they sought to restore order to the area. The looting came after a tense day between police and Black residents after the exchange of gunfire in the city’s South Side, sparking a violent standoff between dozens of officers and angry neighbors.

By Mark Guarino, Tim Elfrink and Teo Armus
August 10, 2020 at 12:55 PM EDT

Black, Hispanic, immigrant households more likely to lack Internet access than White homes, report says

Low-income households, as well as Black, Hispanic and immigrant households, disproportionately lack access to high-speed Internet, a new report says.

A “staggering 44% of low-income households” lacked access to high-speed Internet, more than double that of the rest of the population, says the report by New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan immigration research and advocacy organization.

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing many jobs, businesses, health sessions and schools to virtual platforms, Black and Hispanic households that disproportionately lack access are at risk of falling behind. They are likely to find inequalities exacerbated, including work and school attendance as well as other important services such as mental health care, the report found.

More than 5.2 million immigrant households lack access to high-speed Internet. Immigrants are also on the front line as educators, the report reads.

Past NAE research found “that there were almost 900,000 immigrants who worked in K-12 education as well as more than 750,000 immigrants who worked in higher education, where internet access has proven to be key during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Several states and local governments have attempted to fill the gap by partnering with private companies to expand broadband access to all households, regardless of immigration status.

In San Jose, the city council voted to provide free Internet services to every student through partnerships with AT&T, Verizon and Mobilitie. In New York City, the mayor announced plans to expand Internet access to more than 600,000 low-income residents over the next 18 months.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 10, 2020 at 10:52 AM EDT

Louisville police to limit protesters to sidewalks, citing ‘increasingly unsafe behavior’

As protests continue in Louisville, following the fatal police shooting of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, the local police department now says it is limiting marches in the streets and vehicle caravans due to “ongoing safety concerns.”

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Taylor was asleep in her apartment on March 13 when Louisville Metro Police Department officers with a no-knock warrant allegedly doing a drug investigation burst in and fired multiple times, killing the EMT worker. No drugs were found, according to several media reports, and her case did not receive widespread national attention until the Memorial Day police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Amid at least 75 days of both peaceful demonstrations and unrest that has roiled Louisville, demonstrations have included nightly vehicle caravans and foot marches. In a statement posted on Twitter, Louisville police said the events have escalated in recent days: “We have seen increasingly unsafe behavior, including an escalation in aggressive behavior over the past week or so.”

The department cited people impeding traffic and emergency vehicles, driving on sidewalks, hanging out of cars, throwing items from vehicles, and, in some cases, pointing weapons.

“All pedestrians must stay out of the streets — staying on sidewalks and following all laws for pedestrian traffic,” police have ordered. “Cars and pedestrians will not be allowed to block intersections for any length of time.”

The department called the decision a move to “balance the First Amendment right to protest with the public safety needs of the entire community.”

Some community leaders, including Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said the police department’s move is distressing.

“We are sorry to see our city in pain and pray that the protests can be peaceful, because we don’t need more death,” Reynolds said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Still, we will not allow the narrative to be written by the group whose members are directly responsible for the need to protest in the first place.”

Reynolds said the first “acts of aggression” during the first night of protests in Louisville came from the police department, not protesters. “They shot pepper bullets and used tear gas before any protester became violent or any opportunist showed up to loot.”

Louisville police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

By Donna Owens
August 10, 2020 at 10:34 AM EDT

‘He’s not a drug kingpin,’ judge says about Black veteran serving life sentence for selling less than $30 of marijuana. Now he will be released from prison.

A Black military veteran serving a life sentence for selling less than $30 worth of marijuana will soon be released from prison, his attorney said.

His release comes amid a movement to overturn the nation’s rate of disproportionate and long sentences for Black Americans imprisoned for possessing small amounts of pot. Some of those sentences date to the stringent drug laws of 1980s and ’90s.

Derek Harris was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana for selling an officer 0.69 grams of marijuana. He had served nine years behind bars, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

He was resentenced in 2012 to life in prison under the Habitual Offender Law, which allows judges to impose stricter sentences on people who have been charged before.

But the district attorney’s office agreed that Harris had a substance abuse problem that started when he returned from the Persian Gulf War, which began in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, CNN reported.

“His prior offenses were nonviolent and related to his untreated dependency on drugs,” Louisiana Supreme Court Justice John Weimer wrote in his opinion, adding that Harris returned from his honorable military service in the Persian Gulf.

Harris was “not a drug kingpin” and didn’t fit what they thought of “as a drug dealer, so far as I can tell,” Weimer wrote.

Harris was represented in his challenge to Louisiana’s sentencing system by the Promise of Justice Initiative.

“Louisiana leads the nation in incarceration, and sentences more people to life without parole per capita than any other state,” the organization said.

Cormac Boyle, a lawyer who works with the initiative, said in a statement: “It is the ability to recognize our mistakes, and learn from them, that makes our system stronger and more just for all."

Today, the sentences seem especially discriminatory when other states are legalizing marijuana for medical and personal use, prison reform advocates say.

Nevada, for instance, where smoking a joint is now, legal, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) is offering pardons to more than 15,000 people who were convicted of low-level marijuana possession.

“Today is an historic day for those who were convicted of what has long been considered a trivial crime, and is now legal under Nevada law,” the governor said in a news release. “Since the passage of [adult-use legalization] in 2016 and the decriminalization of possession for small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans have had these minor offenses remain on their records, in some cases as a felony. This resolution aims to correct that and fully restore any rights lost as a result of these convictions.”

More than 15,000 people who were convicted of low-level marijuana possession in Nevada have been automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Nevada voters approved a marijuana legalization ballot measure in 2016.

Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that will allow that state’s governor to unilaterally pardon people with past convictions for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana.

The governors of Illinois and Washington have issued pardons for cannabis offenses since their states legalized the plant. And the governors of California and Virginia and other top state officials have recently said that marijuana reform is a civil rights issue that must be addressed.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation in May that decriminalizes marijuana possession.

Virginia became the 27th state to decriminalize recreational amounts of marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a cannabis legalization organization.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
August 10, 2020 at 9:54 AM EDT

55 years after riots, Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles still bears scars

LOS ANGELES — There were no fires this time in Watts. There was no looting, no shooting and no National Guard troops patrolling.

Protesters filled the streets around the country in late May and June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, demanding an end to police brutality. There was violence and looting in some places, including Los Angeles, but not in the city’s neighborhood of Watts, forever linked to an uprising that broke out in the segregated community 55 years ago and became known as the Watts riots.

Demonstrators made a point not to go into Watts or other poor neighborhoods this time.

Watts has never fully recovered from fires that leveled hundreds of buildings or the violence that killed 34 people — two-thirds of whom were shot by police or National Guard troops. Those who lived through those frightening days and those who grew up in its aftermath are keenly aware of that past and the lessons it taught.

“People have learned from the history to say we’re not going to burn our community,” said state Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D), who was born in Watts a year after the turmoil. “We realize our community is not going to be built again.”

Read more here.

By Brian Melley, Associated Press
August 10, 2020 at 9:40 AM EDT

No strings, no bureaucracy, but suddenly $1.4 million to help a Black community

Local activist Cameron Whitten had joined the thousands of protesters crowding downtown streets in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. He’d seen racism hurt his own community and knew systemic change was needed. But he also knew many Black Portlanders needed something more immediate, especially in the midst of the pandemic: direct cash assistance.

His idea, launched just over two months ago, has taken off in a stunning way. As national headlines continue focusing on the city’s protests, the Black Resilience Fund that Whitten started has already raised $1.42 million. Its appeal seems tied to its unique grass-roots approach, which hands out checks — no strings attached, no bureaucracy and very few questions asked.

“We see this not only as an emergency fund, but as a community effort that’s allowing healing,” he said.

The effort began, like many things do these days, with a social media post:

“For my Black siblings reading this — do you need a warm meal delivered? Groceries? A bill you need to get paid? Direct message me and we’ll get you some resources immediately.

For my non-Black siblings, if you can contribute some help — message me and we’ll make it happen.”

Whitten, 29, figured that he might raise several thousand dollars, which he’d disburse through his own bank account and connections. His inbox quickly was flooded, however. He spent a marathon day getting donations to people who needed assistance. “I really felt like I was on the Stock Exchange, except I was helping people,” he said.

By Maureen O'Hagan
August 10, 2020 at 7:36 AM EDT

Barr slams Black Lives Matter, accuses the left of ‘tearing down the system’

Nearly two weeks after Democrats grilled Attorney General William P. Barr over the Justice Department’s crackdowns on racial justice protests, Barr on Sunday evening lashed out at the opposition party and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Speaking to Fox News host Mark Levin, Barr said liberals are intent on “tearing down the system” and called protesters’ tactics “fascistic.”

“They are a revolutionary group that is interested in some form of socialism, communism,” Barr said of Black Lives Matter. “They’re essentially Bolsheviks.”

Barr’s comments in the hour-long interview on “Life, Liberty & Levin” represent some of his harshest critiques yet of the protest movement, which he equated with antifa and compared to guerrilla warfare, and of the Democratic politicians who have accused the attorney general of subverting the Justice Department to do President Trump’s bidding.

Trump has also regularly expressed his disapproval of Black Lives Matter, accusing one of its members of “treason” and called the Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower in New York “a symbol of hate.” Barr has also previously criticized the protests, which have been ongoing throughout the country since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May, and personally ordered law enforcement to use force to clear a largely peaceful crowd outside the White House on June 1.

By Jaclyn Peiser
August 10, 2020 at 7:36 AM EDT

Looters smash business windows along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile

Hundreds of people smashed windows and looted stores in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the city’s downtown shopping district, on Sunday night and early Monday morning, according to videos and reports from the scene. Police chased suspects toting bags full of goods, tackling some to the ground and blocking off streets as they sought to restore order to the area.

It’s not clear what sparked the unrest. But it followed a tense day between police and Black residents after police shot and wounded a man in the city’s South Side, sparking a violent standoff between dozens of officers and angry neighbors.

A Chicago police spokesman said that as of early Monday morning, police had no details on how many arrests had been made or how widespread the damage was to businesses downtown.

“Right now, it’s still an ongoing situation. It’s still an ongoing scene,” Officer Hector Alfaro told The Washington Post.

Read more here.

By Tim Elfrink and Teo Armus