Barack Obama is speaking now. The 44th president founded My Brother’s Keeper, the host for this virtual town hall, in 2014 after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a teenager in Florida.
He begins by saying the US has recently seen “epic changes and events as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime”. Obama was born in 1961, so he was seven or so when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, and the last civil unrest on a comparable scale was seen.
He begins by paying tribute to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the African Americans most recently violently killed in events which are fueling the current protests nationwide, and across the world.
Obama also notes the disporportionate effects on communities of colour of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 105,000 people in the US.
Such problems are the result of the “original sin of our society”, meaning racial injustice, Obama says, but says recent events offer an opportunity for America to work together for change.
Pentagon reverses decision to move troops away from Washington
The Obama event is about to begin but here’s a snap from the Associated Press: defense secretary Mark Esper has reversed the decision to send active duty troops back to their bases after they were moved towards Washington, as the president threatened to deploy them against protesters.
Earlier, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany pointedly did not say Esper’s job was safe, after he told reporters he disagreed with Trump over the possible need to deploy troops.
In an abrupt reversal, Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday overturned an earlier Pentagon decision to send a couple hundred active-duty soldiers home from the Washington DC region, amid growing tensions with the White House over the military response to the protests.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Associated Press that the reversal came after Esper attended a meeting at the White House, and after other internal Pentagon discussions. It is unclear if Esper met with President Donald Trump. McCarthy said he believes the change was based on ensuring there is enough military support in the region to respond to any protest problems if needed.
McCarthy said he received notice of the Pentagon order to send about 200 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne’s immediate response force home just after 10am Wednesday. Hours later, the Pentagon notified him that Esper had reversed the decision.
While we wait for Barack Obama to speak on police reform at an Obama Foundation online event, here’s our sports editor on the controversy enveloping a great NFL quarterback…
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees did not back down from comments on Wednesday that he will “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States”, when asked about the prospect of NFL players kneeling for the national anthem during the upcoming season.
Brees reiterated his opposition to the non-violent protest of police violence launched by Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 season in an interview with Yahoo Finance published on Wednesday, his first remarks since last week’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” the future Hall of Famer said.
“Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States.
“I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during world war two, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place. So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about.”
Brees’s comments drew immediate criticism from one of his highest-profile teammates, Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas, who tweeted: “He don’t know no better.”
You can read the full story here:
Today so far
That’s it from me today. My colleagues, Martin Pengelly and Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.
Here’s where the day stands so far:
- Additional charges were filed against the former police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd. Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison said that the murder charge against Derek Chauvin had been elevated to second-degree murder, and three other officers had been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
- Kayleigh McEnany signaled defense secretary Mark Esper’s job may be in trouble. Asked during her White House briefing about whether the president still has faith in Esper, the press secretary said, “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper.” The comment came after Esper said he would not support sending active-duty troops to states that have seen protests, as Trump has suggested.
- McEnany was criticized for comparing Trump’s controversial photo op at St John’s Church to Winston Churchill visiting bombing sites during World War II. McEnany said Trump’s visit was a “powerful” symbol that sent “a message of resilience and determination,” like Churchill inspecting bombing sites or George W Bush throwing out the first baseball pitch after the September 11 attacks. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the White House was “delusional” for making the comparison.
- A prominent US police chief called for a nationwide ban on chokeholds in response to Floyd’s death. Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, the police chief of Durham, North Carolina, said on “Good Morning America,” “The emotions and feelings that we see expressed out on the streets of cities all across the country going way back are substantiated. There have been years and years of systemic racism in law enforcement.”a
- Trump has moved to block Chinese airlines from flying to the US, as tensions intensify between the two countries over the coronavirus pandemic and trade. The announcement comes after Beijing said it would not allow United Airlines and Delta Air Lines to resume flights this week to China.
Martin and Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Julia Carrie Wong
Citing a commitment not to “amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice,” Snap said Wednesday that it will no longer promote Donald Trump’s posts to users who do not already follow him.
“We are not currently promoting the President’s content on Snapchat’s Discover platform,” a spokesperson for Snap said in a statement, referring to a section of the social media app where users can see content from news outlets, professional publishers, and public figures.
“We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover. Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality, and justice in America.”
Trump’s account will be allowed to remain on the platform, and users who choose to follow it will still see its posts. Trump tripled his following on the youth-focused platform to 1.5m followers over the past eight months amid a push to reach young voters, Bloomberg reported last month.
Snap joins Twitter in taking previously unimaginable action to limit the reach of the president’s social media posts out of concern that his racist rhetoric will incite violence. The move is less of a stretch for Snap than it was for the company that once boasted of being “the free speech wing of the free speech party”; Snapchat was launched as a more private and ephemeral alternative to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and has never made claims to being an open forum for political debate.
Still, Snap’s decision will likely increase pressure on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has come under intense criticism from civil rights leaders and Facebook employees over his decision to allow Trump’s threat that “when the looting starts the shooting starts” remain on the platform. Facebook employees have continued to speak out publicly against their boss on Twitter in the wake of an all-staff meeting Tuesday where the billionaire CEO defended his reasoning.
“Honestly why is this guy in charge,” one Facebook employee, product designer Nick Inzucchi, wrote on Twitter in response to an article about Zuckerberg. “Tech CEOs should not be making one-off content policy decisions, least of all for those who might regulate them … Mark is just not doing a very good job. He needs to sit down, be humble, and empower someone who gets it.”
Hallie Golden reports for the Guardian from Seattle:
Washington State Patrol has apologized after an officer was recorded on video during protests in Seattle Tuesday night telling his team members: “Don’t kill them, but hit them hard”.
On Wednesday morning, WSP spokesman Chris Loftis apologized for the “poor choice of words,” saying they “recognize the hurt and confusion it has caused.”
The instructions by the team leader were given in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in preparation for a push maneuver, which involves pushing protesters who are acting aggressive or not complying with orders away from a certain area. The officer who gave the instructions has not been identified.
The viral video of the officer, which was posted on Twitter, has received a mix of responses, with some saying his instructions were needed, while many others called it “disgusting” or “unacceptable.”
Loftis said in a statement sent to the Guardian that the troopers have been working in difficult and dangerous situations, and “they are doing so with courage, commitment and compassion, but not always with perfection.”
The video was captured on the fifth consecutive night of George Floyd protests in Seattle, which have remained primarily peaceful. On Tuesday evening, protesters in Capitol Hill had been on the streets at least two hours past the city’s 9 p.m. curfew, when water bottles were reportedly thrown at law enforcement.
The police fired pepper spray and used flash bangs on the crowd.
The state patrol has deployed about 200 troopers each day since Friday to Seattle and other cities across Washington to help with crowd control.
Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison has just concluded his press conference announcing additional charges in connection to the killing of George Floyd.
Ellison acknowledged there was a level of public distrust around prosecutors carrying out police brutality cases because “our country has underprosecuted these matters.”
“We can’t control the past,” Ellison said. “All we can do is take the case that we have in front of us right now and do our good faith best to bring justice to this situation, and we will.”
Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison said that, in order to charge Derek Chauvin with first-degree murder, prosecutors would need to find evidence of “premeditation and deliberation” in the killing of George Floyd.
Many critics have called on Chauvin to be charged with first-degree murder, but Ellison only elevated the charge to second-degree murder today.
Asked whether he expected the cases against the officers to go to trial or if they would take plea deals, Ellison said it was too early to make a prediction.
Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison asked for “continued patience” from the public as officials continue to investigate the killing of George Floyd.
Ellison warned that his office would likely not be able to say very much publicly about the investigation in the days to come.
Ellison said the road ahead would be difficult, but he expressed confidence in Hennepin county attorney Mike Freeman, noting Freeman has previously successfully prosecuted a murder case against a police officer.
“We’re confident in what we’re doing,” Ellison said. “But history does show that there are challenges here.”
Ellison emphasized that “George Floyd mattered” and recongized that these additional charges cannot solely rectify “the hurt and loss that so many people feel.”
Ellison confirms additional charges over Floyd killing
Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison has confirmed the murder charge against Derek Chauvin has been elevated and the three other police officers fired over the killing of George Floyd have been charged.
Chauvin will now be charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — will be charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The attorney general thanked the American people for their “patience” in recent days as his office sorted through the additional charges.