Baltimore set for 'victory rally' as officers charged

Thousands expected to attend march, celebrating charges against six police officers over custodial death of a black man.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

by Al Jazeera

A march planned by activists to protest the death of a black man in police custody is now being dubbed as a “victory rally” after criminal charges were slapped against the officers involved.

The march on Saturday follows a decision by Baltimore’s top prosecutor to file criminal charges against the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death.

The officers turned themselves in at the city jail on Friday afternoon. All were later released on bonds of between $250,000 and $350,000.

Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said on Friday that Gray’s arrest was illegal and unjustified, and that his neck was broken because he was handcuffed, shackled and placed head-first into a police van.

Mosby’s announcement triggered celebrations across the same Baltimore streets that were hit with unrest just four days earlier, when Gray’s funeral led to riots and looting.

People danced in the streets, chanting “Freddie” to celebrate the charges. Some were later arrested by police, however, for refusing to disperse after a curfew went into effect at 10pm for the fourth night.

The thousands of protesters who are expected to attend over the weekend will now do so to celebrate the decision by Mosby to charge the officers with felonies ranging from assault to murder.

Gray’s death from spinal injuries a week after his April 12 arrest became a rallying cry against brutality and social inequality in the city.

Swift decision

The swift decision by Mosby, who has been in the position only since January, to charge the six officers caught many by surprise in a city hit on Monday night by its worst civil unrest in decades.

The police had no reason to stop or chase after Gray, Mosby said. “They falsely accused him of having an illegal switchblade when in fact it was a legal pocketknife.”

The officer who drove the police vehicle in which Gray was taken after his arrest was charged with second-degree murder, which could put him in prison for 30 years if convicted.

Mosby, who rejected the police union’s call for a special prosecutor, earned praise from protesters and Gray’s family.

“We are satisfied with today’s charges,” Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, told a news conference. “These charges are an important step in getting justice for Freddie.”

But a lawyer hired by the union insisted the officers did nothing wrong. Attorney Michael Davey said that Mosby has committed “an egregious rush to judgment”.

“We have grave concerns about the fairness and integrity of the prosecution of our officers,” Davey said.

Why Baltimore Rebelled

The most salient thing in Baltimore isn’t the damage caused by protestors, but the grinding poverty and neglect wrought by capital.

A protester on a bicycle in front of a burning CVS drug store, during clashes in Baltimore yesterday. Jim Bourg / Reuters

A protester on a bicycle in front of a burning CVS drug store, during clashes in Baltimore yesterday. Jim Bourg / Reuters

by Shawn Gude, Jacobin

Days before social unrest in Baltimore reached levels unseen in decades, Dan Rodricks, the Baltimore Sun‘s resident liberal columnist, painted a picture of Saturday afternoon’s march against police violence. Peaceful. Family friendly. An expression of justifiable anger.

But he concluded somberly: “And as I write those words, the Freddie Gray march turned violent . . .”

“The dream of the Next Baltimore is cracked.”

What was the cause of Rodricks’s lamentations? The destruction of a handful of police cars, it seems, and the smashed windows of some businesses in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

And the “Next Baltimore” occupying his imagination? A vision built not on pouring investment into long-neglected communities, but attracting young professionals and tourists. It’s a vision that left intact racial and class inequality — even as it trumpeted inclusiveness and opportunities to come.

Baltimore, then, is like so many other cities with their own Freddie Grays: a place in which private capital has left enormous sections of the city to rot, where a chasm separates the life chances of black and white residents — and where cops brutally patrol a “disposable” population.

Yesterday’s uprising occurred the same day Gray, the twenty-five-year-old whose spine was almost completely severed while in police custody, was laid to rest. Protests haven’t ceased since his April 19 death.

The rebellion began when police amassed at a West Baltimore mall, citing calls by students on social media for a “purge” and after issuing histrionic reports of a “gang partnership” to injure police. In the acute (if imbalanced) melee that ensued, police sprayed tear gas and shot rubber bullets; the young crowd threw bricks and water bottles. (Some police responded by chucking the objects back.)

Spilling into adjoining neighborhoods, the demonstration escalated through the late afternoon and early evening. When I arrived around 5:30 at Pennsylvania and North, about a mile south of the mall, a pall of smoke obscured the road. I passed a couple burned-out police vehicles.

The source of the smoke was a looted CVS at the intersection. Some protesters screamed at the line of police arrayed across the road, but the crowd had thinned substantially. The occasional demonstrator bolted back after getting pepper sprayed. An assortment of packaged snacks, presumably from the pharmacy, were strewn across the ground.

Intent on dispersing the remaining demonstrators and spectators, riot police fired flaming smoke bombs. They advanced in unison, wooden batons clacking against their plastic shields, chanting an unnerving cry: “Move back, move back, move back.”

Further down, at the next intersection, it was a picture of catharsis and unadulterated joy: two young men dancing to Michael Jackson — one in the middle of the street, the other on top of a yellow truck — the music mixing with the sounds of fire engines.

But of the entire scene, the most salient thing wasn’t the destruction wrought by protestors — the cop car demolished, the payday loan store smashed up — but by capital: the decrepit, boarded-up row houses, hovels, and vacants in a city full of them.

These are the streets in which Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has now declareda state of emergency, the same streets that would suffer from his austerity. They are the streets that have endured astronomic unemployment rates for decades, even as Democrats have run the city unrivaled. And they are the streets where police folded up Freddie Gray’s body “like origami,” then restrained him with leg irons in the back of a police van and delayed calling for an ambulance.

After Saturday’s protests, Baltimore officials blamed property destruction on “outside agitators” (a charge that reeked of both red-baiting and hackneyed desperation). On Monday night, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake embraced a new term of abuse — “thugs” — and imposed a weeklong curfew. And still the results of the Gray investigation have yet to be released.

Through it all, the local governing elite has danced the liberal two-step: denounce the extremists, then placate with reassurances that reform is on the way — that grievances are justified, but only orderly marches are legitimate acts of protest. Anything else would be a “disservice” to the memory of Freddie Gray.

Yet the unrest in Baltimore is a response to the unmitigated failure of this approach. The snails-pace of police reform at the Maryland Legislature didn’t spark an uprising. When Tyrone West died at the hands of police, and when Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts insisted that they were “changing and adapting the organization” after the cops got off scot-free, Baltimoreans didn’t revolt. And when police faced no charges in the death of Anthony Anderson, Charm City residents showed remarkable restraint.

But police immunity and dehumanizing poverty can only coexist for so long. If the future is uncertain, one thing is clear: it is only through resistance and struggle that a new, more just Baltimore will be born.

US cop arrested for murder after video shows him shoot unarmed black man in back

Video of the incident shows 50-year-old victim running away from South Carolina officer when he was shot.

Screenshot from the by-stander's video footage which shows Officer Michael Slager in the process of shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in the back.

Screenshot from the by-stander’s video footage which shows Officer Michael Slager in the process of shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in the back.

by Al Jazeera

A white police officer from the US state of South Carolina has been charged with murder after a video showed him shooting eight times at the back of a 50-year-old black man who was running away.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said on Tuesday that state investigators decided to charge officer Michael Slager, 33, with the murder of Walter Scott after they viewed the video of the incident, which followed a traffic stop on Saturday morning.

The FBI and US Justice Department have begun a separate investigation.

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey told reporters. “If you make a bad decision, I don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

The incident began after Scott was pulled over for a broken brake light, police said.

A video of the encounter published by the New York Times appears to show a brief scuffle between Slager and Scott before the latter begins running away.

Eight shots fired

The video, apparently recorded by a bystander, shows the officer firing eight shots at Scott as he runs away. Scott then slumps face down onto the grass.

A police incident report says that Slager, who joined the department in 2009, told other officers Scott had taken his stun gun. In the video, Scott does not appear to be armed while fleeing from Slager.

With the victim lying face down on the ground, Slager approaches him and puts him in handcuffs, the video shows. The officer then walks several paces back to where he opened fire, before returning to Scott and appearing to drop an object next to him on the ground, it shows.

Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott’s family, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension over the deadly use of force by US police, particularly by white police officers against black men – including 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a white police officer last year in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking nationwide protests.

Giriraj's comments in 'very bad taste', may file complaint: Nigerian High Commissioner

O B Okongor

New Delhi: The Nigerian High Commission took strong objection on Wednesday to the racist remarks by Union minister Giriraj Singh in which he refereed to a Nigerian woman and demanded an apology for the “unacceptable” comments.

Acting High Commissioner of Nigeria O B Okongor said a complaint may be filed with the External Affairs Ministry as Singh’s comments were in “very bad taste”.

“We expect the minister to withdraw the comments and apologise to the Nigerian people. We will notify our government about the issue,” he said.

Singh kicked up a major row with his remarks as he wondered whether Congress would have accepted Sonia Gandhi’s leadership if she was not white-skinned.

“Had Rajiv Gandhi married a Nigerian woman and if she was not a white-skinned woman, would the Congress have then accepted her leadership?” the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises told journalists in Bihar’s Hajipur on Tuesday.

His comments drew condemnation from political parties and various women leaders.

The Nigerian envoy said the High Commission would “notify” the Nigerian government about the minister’s comments.

Asked whether the High Commission would file a formal complaint with the Ministry of External Affairs, he said, “We need to file a complaint.”


Sonia Gandhi's skin colour made her President of Congress: Giriraj Singh


New Delhi: Union Minister Giriraj Singh said  that colour of Sonia Gandhi’s skin made her the Congress President.

On Wednesday, April 1, media reports quoted him as saying, “If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian and if she wasn’t of white skin, would Congress have accepted her as a leader?” said Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha MP from Bihar’s Nawada constituency.

The comment received a flak from the Congress party which immediately demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat criticised his comments and called it derogatory. “This is racist and I strongly condemn it. How dare he make such racist statements? The entire statement shows the low level of public discourse,” Karat said.

Young Sikh boy racially abused in US, video goes viral


New York: In a shocking case of racism, a young Sikh boy in the US state of Georgia has been called a “terrorist” by a group of school children, with the video of the abuse now going viral on the internet.

In the video posted on Inquisitr, the bespectacled Sikh boy is seen sitting in what appears to be a school bus and is surrounded by students.

He whispers to the camera: “The kids are being racist to me.”

A young girl sitting behind him then shouts “terrorist! terrorist!” and points her finger at the boy, who remains calm and even shouts “who cares” when the kids hurl abuses at him.

Inquisitr reported that the video was uploaded by a user named ‘Nagra Nagra’ and identified the Sikh boy as Harsukh Singh.

Singh apparently uploaded the video initially which has so far got 130,000 views, with the description,”Kids being racist to me and calling me an Afghan terrorist. Please don’t act like this towards people like me. If you don’t know, I’m not Muslim I’m Sikh.”

An online user described the video “disgusting” in which the young Sikh boy is “being bullied with racist chants on a school bus. “The Sikh bravely states that he doesn’t care what they think of him.”

The Inquisitr reported that Singh is a student at the Chattahoochee Elementary School in Duluth, Georgia.

The incident comes weeks after a Hindu temple was vandalized in Seattle. A Nazi swastika and the phrase “get out” was found spray-painted in red on the exterior of the temple and cultural centre in Washington state in February.

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, FBI hatecrimes statistics shows that anti-Muslim hatecrimes are still at about five times more common than they were before the 9/11 attacks.

Last year, 29-year-old Sikh man Sandeep Singh was brutally injured after a Long Island man slammed his pick-up truck into him after calling him ‘Osama’ and that he should “go back to your country.”

Joseph Caleca was indicted by a grand jury on a nine-count indictment charging him with attempted murder as a hate crime, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and leaving the scene without reporting after hitting Singh.


French police question 8-year-old on suspicion of “defending terrorism”

France is in a state of “collective hysteria,” says Sefen Guez Guez, the lawyer for a second grader questioned by police in France.

France is in a state of “collective hysteria,” says Sefen Guez Guez, the lawyer for a second grader questioned by police in France.

by Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada

Just when it seemed that the crackdown on free speech in France could not get worse, French police today questioned a second grader on suspicion of “defending terrorism.”

BFMTV says that administrators at a primary school in Nice reported the child to police on 21 January after the boy allegedly said that he “felt he was on the side of the terrorists.”

“A police station is absolutely no place for an eight-year-old child,” the boy’s lawyer Sefen Guez Guez told BFMTV. He said that the incident showed that France was going through a state of “collective hysteria.”

Guez Guez said that on 8 January, the day after two French gunmen attacked the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the boy, whose name has been reported as Ahmed, was in class when he was asked if he was “Charlie.”

“He answered, ‘I am on the side of the terrorists, because I am against the caricatures of the prophet,’” the lawyer said.

Since the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and the lethal attack by a third French gunman on a Jewish supermarket, French government officials and media have adopted the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” – I am Charlie – to indicate social conformity and support for official policies, all under the guise of supporting free speech.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which has taken up Ahmed’s case, provided these additional details: “On 8 January, Ahmed, a second grader, was called on by his teacher who asked him if he was Charlie. Being of Muslim religion and aged only eight, he opposed Charlie Hebdo because of the caricatures of the prophet, and responded naively that he was on the side of the terrorists. Angered, the teacher sent him to the principal, who was in the class next door, and who asked him three times in front of the whole class, ‘Are you Charlie?’”

The child’s parents were called in and “played an educational role, explaining to him what terrorism really was and why one should be on the side of the Charlie Hebdo victims,” Guez Guez said.

Principal calls police

Instead of leaving the matter there, on 21 January, the school principal lodged two complaints with police, one against the child for “defending terrorism,” and another against the child’s father for trespassing.

According to the lawyer, the child had been deeply upset and isolated after what happened, so his father accompanied him to the school playground on three occasions after 8 January, before being told he was not allowed to do so.

Fabienne Lewandowski, a spokesperson for the Alpes-Maritimes regional police, confirmed to BFMTV that they received the complaints. Lewandowski revealed that the school principal claimed that the child had said “French people should be killed,” “I am on the side of the terrorists” and “the journalists deserved to die.” The child then allegedly refused to take part in a government-decreed minute of silence.

“During our interview, the child indicated that he had said some of these words, but did not really understand what they meant,” the police spokesperson said. “The purpose of this interview was to understand exactly what had happened, and what could have led him to say this.”

“We can regret that this took the form of an official police interview,” Lewandowski said, “but under the circumstances, we could have gone even further.”

According to the police spokesperson, the father “showed regret for his son’s words.”

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France said that his interview by police “was an additional trauma that illustrates the collective hysteria that has ensued since the beginning of January.”

Prosecutors in Nice have yet to decide how to proceed in the case.

Victim of bullying?

Ahmed has said that he was a victim of bullying by the school principal, according to his lawyer, BFMTV reported. On one occasion, the child was playing in a sandbox. According to the child’s account relayed by the lawyer, the principal told the boy, “stop digging in the sand, you won’t find a machine-gun in there.”

On another occasion, Ahmed, who is diabetic, alleges the principal deprived him of his insulin, saying, “Since you want us all to die, you will taste death.” The principal has denied the accusation.

Guez Guez said that Ahmed’s parents planned to lodge a complaint about the school’s behavior.

According to Le Figaro, the French education ministry confirmed that the school principal had also made a report about Ahmed to child protective services.

Government crackdown

While Ahmed’s case may seem extreme, the complaint against him is enabled by an atmosphere of intolerance and authoritarianism fostered by the French government.

Since the attacks in Paris, the government has launched an unprecedented crackdown, condemned by Amnesty International as well as French civil rights groups, in which it has jailed dozens of people for things they have said, under the vague charge of “defending terrorism.”

Previously, as The Electronic Intifada reported, one of those arrested was a sixteen-year-old high schooler, for allegedly posting a caricature mocking Charlie Hebdo.

Yesterday, French President François Hollande used an International Holocaust Memorial Day speech to confirm that his government plans to tighten its control over what people are allowed to say online and stiffen penalties for illegal speech.