Top Stories for Monday, November 24, 2014

Grand Jury Declines to Indict Officer Wilson in Ferguson Case

From CBS St. Louis, “Protesters Throwing Objects At Police, Reports Of Looting Following Grand Jury Decision”: “Ferguson Police are responding to protesters with smoke and pepper spray. Video shows protesters setting fires and breaking store windows. Protesters were also throwing bottles and rocks at officers.”

From National Journal, “Obama Speaks on the Ferguson Decision”: “At the culmination of a tumultuous day, President Obama spoke from the White House on the decision made in Ferguson not to prosecute the police officer who shot and killed an 18-year-old African American man this past August.

“We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said Monday night. “There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply upset, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”…

The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates,” Obama said, highlighting the need for criminal justice reform. “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.””

From AP, “Grand Jury Won’t Indict Ferguson Cop in Shooting”: “A grand jury has decided not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting by a white officer sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests and exposed deep racial tension between many African-Americans and police.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch announced the decision Monday evening. A grand jury of nine whites and three blacks had been meeting weekly since Aug. 20 to consider evidence. The panel met for 70 hours and heard from 60 witnesses.

McCulloch stressed that the grand jurors were “the only people who heard every witness … and every piece of evidence.” He said many witnesses presented conflicting statements that ultimately were inconsistent with the physical evidence.

“These grand jurors poured their hearts and soul into this process,” he said…

Some black leaders and Brown’s parents questioned McCulloch’s ability to be impartial. The prosecutor’s father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect in 1964. McCulloch was 12 at the time, and the killing became a hallmark of his initial campaign for elected prosecutor.

Nixon declined to seek the removal of McCulloch in the Brown case, but he also called for McCulloch to vigorously prosecute Wilson, who had been on the Ferguson force for less than three years. Prior to that job, Wilson was an officer for nearly two years in Jennings, another St. Louis suburb.

McCulloch, a Democrat, has been in office since 1991 and was re-elected to another term earlier this month.

From The Washington Post, “Grand jury reaches decision in case of Ferguson officer”“A grand jury has reached a decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Mo. police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked days of turbulent protests, sources close to the process said.

Sources said that press conferences are being prepared by the county prosecutors’ office and the Missouri governor. Those press conferences will likely come later today.”

The announcement gave no indication of whether Wilson, 28, will face state charges in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, which triggered a frank conversation about race and police interaction with African-Americans.”

Chuck Hagel resigns as Secretary of Defense

From NBC News, “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Step Down”: “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down amid criticism of the president’s national security team on a series of global issues, including the threat posed by the militant group known as ISIS.

Senior defense officials confirmed to NBC News Monday that Hagel was forced to resign.

The officials say the White House has lost confidence in Hagel to carry out his role at the Pentagon. According to one senior official, “He wasn’t up to the job.”

Another senior administration official said that Hagel has been discussing a departure from the White House “for several weeks.”

“Over the past two years, Secretary Hagel helped manage an intense period of transition for the United States Armed Forces, including the drawdown in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions, and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready,” the official said. “Over nearly two years, Secretary Hagel has been a steady hand, guiding our military through this transition, and helping us respond to challenges from ISIL to Ebola. In October, Secretary Hagel began speaking with the President about departing the Administration given the natural post-midterms transition time.”

Multiple sources also said that Hagel was originally brought to the job to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, as the fight against the Islamic State ramped up, he was not as well matched for the post.”

From The New York Times, “Hagel Submits Resignation as Defense Chief Under Pressure”: “Mr. Hagel, a respected former senator who struck a friendship with Mr. Obama when they were both critics of the Iraq war from positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has nonetheless had trouble penetrating the tight team of former campaign aides and advisers who form Mr. Obama’s closely knit set of loyalists. Senior administration officials have characterized him as quiet during cabinet meetings; Mr. Hagel’s defenders said that he waited until he was alone with the president before sharing his views, the better to avoid leaks.

Whatever the case, Mr. Hagel struggled to fit in with Mr. Obama’s close circle and was viewed as never gaining traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight among his old Senate colleagues, during which he was criticized for seeming tentative in his responses to sharp questions.

He never really shed that pall after arriving at the Pentagon, and in the past few months he has largely ceded the stage to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who officials said initially won the confidence of Mr. Obama with his recommendation of military action against the Islamic State.

Iran Nuclear Talks Extended Seven Months

From Reuters, “Iran nuclear talks extended seven months after failing to meet deadline”Iran and six powers failed for a second time this year on Monday to resolve their 12-year dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and gave themselves seven more months to overcome the deadlock that has prevented them from clinching an historic deal.

Western officials said they were aiming to secure an agreement on the substance of a final accord by March but that more time would be needed to reach a consensus on the all-important technical details.

“We have had to conclude it is not possible to get to an agreement by the deadline that was set for today and therefore we will extend the JPOA to June 30, 2015,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of the talks.

He was referring to the so-called Joint Plan of Action, an interim deal agreed between the six and Iran a year ago in Geneva, under which Tehran halted higher level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad…

The main sticking points in the talks are the scope of Iran’s enrichment program, the pace of lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and the duration of any deal.

So far, Western officials said Tehran has refused to budge on its demand to continue to operate most of its enrichment centrifuges currently in operation. Tehran blames the West for making excessive demands on the Islamic Republic.

Several Western officials have questioned the value of extending the talks again, saying there is little reason to expect the Iranians will show the flexibility needed to end the impasse in the weeks and months ahead. They have also questioned the Iranian leadership’s desire to compromise.”

New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. Makes An All-Time Great Catch:
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct Continue Against Bill Cosby

From Deadline, “Ex-NBC ‘Fixer’ Says He Funneled Money, More To Cosby Women: Report”: “Was NBC’s 1980s regime aware of any inappropriate off-stage behavior by their biggest comedy star Bill Cosby? A 90-year-old former NBC employee, Frank Scotti, says he arranged meetings, cash payments, apartments and more with a string of models and other women on behalf of Cosby during The Cosby Show run on the network between 1984 to 1992. This is the first time NBC has been implicated in the ongoing controversy that has included a number of women coming forward, accusing Cosby of sexual molestation 20-30 years ago…

Scotti said he came forward now because he “felt sorry for the women.” At least 15 women have now alleged that Cosby drugged and raped them years ago. As the controversy has worsened, both NBC and Netflix have pulled new projects with Cosby, and TV Land has stopped running episodes of The Cosby Show.

Amendment to Israel’s Basic Law Sparks Controversy

From The Atlantic, “A Change in Wording Sparks Huge Controversy in Israel”: “Is Israel a “Jewish and democratic” state? Or is it “the national homeland of the Jewish people?” This academic-sounding question sparked a huge controversy on Sunday, when the Israeli cabinet voted to amend the country’s Basic Law to refer to the state as “the national homeland of the Jewish people.” Since Israel’s founding in 1948, the Basic Law has always referred to the state as “Jewish and democratic.”

The proposed change comes out of three pieces of legislation drafted by members of the Israeli cabinet and approved by lawmakers 15 to 7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a supporter of the initiative, said the shift would not undermine the country’s long-held democratic traditions.

“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic,” he said. “Both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree.”

But critics of the proposed bill allege that it codifies discrimination against Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20 percent of the country’s population. A version of the bill would delist Arabic as one of Israel’s national languages, instead relegating it as one with a “special status,” and would also reaffirm the sole right of Israel’s Jewish citizens to national self-determination.”

From AP, “Israel Minister: new law could break up government”: “

Israel’s justice minister said Monday that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on bringing a contentious nationality law to a parliamentary vote, it could mean the end of his government and the holding of early elections.

Tzipi Livni’s warning came amid strong indications that the sponsor of the bill has decided to delay a vote on it, originally planned for Wednesday, by at least a week…

Speaking to the Ynet website Monday, Livni said that she and her Ha Tnuah party would not let the law pass if it comes to a vote. Ha Tnuah and coalition partner Yesh Atid are strong opponents of the bill.

Livni also said that if Netanyahu wanted to punish her for refusing to back the law, it could lead to the fall of his government.

“The prime minister will have to decide whether he wants to fire ministers from his government and break up his coalition because those ministers decided that Israel should be both Jewish and democratic,” she said. “If he wants to go to elections over that issue, I have no trouble with that at all.”

Netanyahu says the proposed law is needed because of the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, insisting it would put Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters on equal footing. Opponents charge that it discriminates against Israel’s Arab minority and paves the way for Jewish religious law to supplant democratic practices.”

12-year-old Cleveland Boy Waving Pellet Gun Shot By Police

From Reuters, “Cleveland boy with pellet gun dies after police shoot him”: “A 12-year-old boy who was shot by police after he brandished a pellet gun at a Cleveland recreation center died on Sunday from his injuries, officials said.

The boy was identified as Tamir E. Rice, 12, of Cleveland by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.

Rice was shot in the abdomen by a city officer at a playground on the city’s west side on Saturday, said Timothy Kucharski, an attorney for the boy’s family.

According to the recording of a 911 call, a witness at the Cudell Recreation Center park told the police dispatcher that he saw somebody with a pistol and he was pointing it at people.

The caller told the dispatcher that the gun was “probably fake.” But he said that it was scaring people.

Officers responded and advised the boy to raise his hands, according to a police statement.

“The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso,” the statement said.

After a preliminary investigation, authorities said the gun Rice had was an airsoft-type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol.

Airsoft weapons are realistic-looking guns used in play combat, and they usually shoot plastic pellets. Most are made with bright orange tips so that they aren’t confused with real guns. Police said the orange safety indicator was removed from the replica gun Rice was holding.”

From CNN, “Camera captured Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old, department says”: “Cleveland authorities have surveillance video showing the weekend shooting by police of a 12-year-old boy who was brandishing an ultrarealistic air gun, a department spokesman said Monday…

The video is not currently being released to the public, Sgt. Ali Pillow told CNN.

It’s likely to come up, however, at a Monday morning press conference called by police to discuss the investigation into Tamir’s death…

“As they approached the male, they are screaming at him, ‘Put your hands up, put your hands up’ — they don’t want his hands to go anywhere down by the waistband,” Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Jeff Follmer told CNN affiliate WJW.

“I can tell you the officer that fired had no clue that he was 12, he just thought it was an older male. There was more concentration on his hands because we are taught in the academy that hands will kill you,” Follmer told the station.

Residents reacted angrily.

“It wasn’t a dog. It was a child. You didn’t give him a chance. You just killed him,” one man told CNN affiliate WEWS.

Someone claiming to represent the online activist group Anonymous claimed in a YouTube video to have taken down the city’s website, blaming the shooting on what the speaker said was “an overzealous rookie officer” who resorted too quickly to lethal force.

“Officers are equipped with many nonlethal options such as Taser guns,” the speaker said. “Why did he not use a Taser on this child? Shooting him in cold blood was not necessary with these nonlethal options available.””