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George Floyd death anniversary: Reckoning with police violence in limbo

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George Floyd death anniversary: Reckoning with police violence in limbo

 The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the fervent protests that erupted around the world in response, looked to many observers like the catalyst needed for a nationwide reckoning on racism in policing.

For more than nine minutes, a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of Floyd, a Black man, who gasped, “I can’t breathe,” echoing Eric Garner’s last words in 2014. Video footage of Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder was so agonizing to watch that demands for change came from across the country.

But in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and a divisive US presidential election, 2020 ended without the kind of major police reforms that many hoped, and others feared, would come. Then, 2021 and 2022 also failed to yield much progress.

Now, three years to the day since Floyd’s murder, proponents of federal actions — such as banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, as well as changing the so-called qualified immunity protections for law enforcement — still await signs of change.

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“When people casually, and I think too frequently, say that there is some sort of racial reckoning that we’re in the midst of, I see no evidence of that,” Democratic US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts, said during a recent press conference convened by a Black Lives Matter collective.

To be clear, racial justice activists and their champions in elected office haven’t slowed down. But the beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers in early January underscored yet again just how long it’s taking to achieve meaningful change.

“I don’t play with words like ‘reckoning,’” Pressley said. “That needs to be something of epic proportion. And we certainly have not seen a response to the lynching, the choking, the brutality, (and) the murder of Black lives.”

Soon after Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis adopted a number of changes, including bans on chokeholds and neck restraints, and requirements that police try to stop fellow officers from using improper force. Minnesota lawmakers approved statewide police accountability packages in 2020 and in 2021, as well as tight restrictions on no-knock warrants just this month.

The city is still awaiting the results of a federal investigation into whether its police have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. A similar investigation by the state Department of Human Rights led to what it called a “court-enforceable settlement agreement” in March to revamp policing in the city.

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The federal investigation could lead to a similar but separate agreement with the city called a consent decree. Police in several other cities already operate under such oversight for civil rights violations.

Activists say that Minneapolis has started to make critical changes, but that the work necessary to transform policing must continue.

Activists plan to mark the anniversary in Minneapolis with a candlelight vigil Thursday night at George Floyd Square, the corner where Floyd died. A festival at the square Saturday will celebrate change in Minneapolis.

Derek Chauvin, the white officer who killed Floyd, and the three other officers who failed to stop Chauvin at the scene, are all in prison. Chauvin was sentenced in state court to 22 1/2 years for second-degree murder. Two of the three other officers pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter and received shorter terms, while the third officer was convicted of that count by a judge and awaits sentencing.

Chauvin also pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge, admitting that keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck resulted in his death. In that case, he received a concurrent sentence of 21 years. The three others were also convicted of violating Floyd’s rights and got much shorter sentences.

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Around the world, protests against racial violence and police brutality erupted after Floyd’s murder, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement. Videos circulated on social media of U.S. police using tear gas and less-lethal munitions like rubber bullets, which fueled calls for accountability. That accountability so far has largely come in the form of settlements in lawsuits.

New York City found 146 officers had committed misconduct at protests including excessive force and violence like one officer who drove a car into protesters. Independent reviews in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles also found those departments had mishandled their responses.

In some cities, a handful of officers were fired. Some have even faced criminal charges: In Austin, Texas, 19 officers were charged in a grand jury indictment. But few have been convicted.

Minneapolis has agreed to millions of dollars in settlements with people who alleged they were victims of excessive police force during unrest that followed Floyd’s killing, which included the burning of a police station. But few officers faced disciplinary action over their conduct.

There were immediate cries to defund the police — and instead fund public housing, infrastructure and mental health services. But Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure that had its roots in the movement to defund the police. It failed even in some heavily Black neighborhoods.

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An AP review of police funding found that some municipalities made modest cuts that fell far short of activists’ calls.

In 2020, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, a piece of federal legislation, showed some signs of promise. It would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, like the one that enabled Louisville police to kill Breonna Taylor. It would also create a database listing officers who were disciplined for gross misconduct, among other measures.

The following year, the House passed it but the Senate failed to reach a consensus. However, in the most recent State of the Union address, attended by Nichols’ parents, President Joe Biden renewed his call on Congress to pass the bill.

Pressley, the Massachusetts congresswoman, joined a press conference last Friday with Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a national collective of chapters and local activists, to promote the Ending Qualified Immunity Act. Every year since 2020, Pressley has reintroduced the measure.

Over the last three years, George Floyd’s family members have appeared at rallies and spoken out against police violence. Within days of his brother’s death, Philonise Floyd testified at a congressional hearing about police reform.

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While relatives and reform advocates urged for legislation changes, George Floyd’s youngest daughter, Gianna Floyd, met Biden at the White House in 2021. A photo of a Marine holding the door for the 7-year-old went viral.

New York City-based Terrence Floyd, who became an activist after his brother’s murder, planned to hold the third-annual memorial event at a Harlem church on Thursday evening. He has supported get-out-the-vote efforts and promoted music paying tribute to his brother.

“You have to have the faith that it will happen, because it didn’t happen overnight for Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. It didn’t happen overnight for Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson,” he said about meaningful social change. “You can’t expect it to happen overnight for us, but it will happen.”

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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