CHICAGO — Scott Kramer was a haircut-every-two-weeks guy.But with Illinois under stay-at-home orders and barbershops closed and his hair growing unrulier by the day, Kramer had to take matters into his own hands with a clipper set ordered from Amazon.“I told Pammy I’m either going for Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away,’ or I’m going for Tom Hanks in ‘Forrest Gump,’” he joked.Pammy is Scott’s wife. They live in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood with their daughter Lily, a “Frozen”-loving 3-year-old whose older sister, Maddie, died from a rare, cancerous tumor in her spinal cord.Lily was 2 months old when M...
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McEnany lectures Biden: 'It's the role of the president of the United States to stay back, to not inflame'
Former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday blasted President Joe Biden for speaking out about the Derek Chauvin trial even though her former boss, Donald Trump, often expressed his opinion on similar events.
After the sequestered jury began its deliberations in the Chauvin trial, Biden told reporters that he was praying for the "right verdict."
McEnany, in her role as Fox News host, criticized the current president.
"I'm glad that he at least waited until the jury was sequestered," McEnany ranted. "But I think that the country is such a tinderbox right now, especially Minneapolis. There's so much hurt, so much pain."
"And I think it's the role of the president of the United States to stay back, to not inflame the tensions," she added. "I think he should have just reserved comment and said he's praying for the family as we all are."
As president, Trump often weighed in on legal matters and controversial events.
After Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with homicide for shootings that left two protesters in Wisconsin dead last August, Trump offered a defense of the suspect.
"He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like," Trump opined at the time. "I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed."
Watch the video below from Fox News.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for the "right" verdict in the racially charged trial of an ex-policeman accused of murdering George Floyd and described the case now before a Minneapolis jury as "overwhelming."
Biden's unusually strong comments in the White House came on the tense, second day of jury deliberations.
The president stressed that he would not be speaking out if the jury had not been sequestered, meaning that it is isolated from the public until it reaches a decision.
Derek Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter over Floyd's May 25, 2020 death during an arrest.
The experienced officer, who is white, restrained Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, even as the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man said repeatedly "I can't breathe," then died.
The shocking incident, captured on video by bystanders and repeatedly replayed around the nation, ignited global protests against racial injustice and quickly became seen as a landmark test of US police accountability.
US cities are braced for possible violence, depending on the verdict, and Minneapolis is under an unprecedented security lockdown.
Biden told reporters he had spoken with the Floyd family by telephone and said "I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they're feeling. So I waited till the jury was sequestered and I called."
"They're a good family and they're calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is," Biden said.
"I'm praying the verdict is the right verdict which is -- I think it's overwhelming in my view."
- Closing arguments -
Prosecutors and the defense presented closing arguments on Monday and Judge Peter Cahill sent the case to the seven-woman, five-man jury.
The racially diverse group is being sequestered during deliberations and their identities will not be known until afterward.
In his final instructions to the jury, the judge noted the gravity of the case, which comes amid heightened tensions fueled by other police killings.
"You must not let bias, prejudice, passion, sympathy or public opinion influence your decision," Cahill said. "You must not consider any consequences or penalties that might follow from your verdict."
A unanimous verdict is required for conviction on any of the charges -- second-degree murder, third-degree murder or manslaughter.
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the most serious charge.
Three other former police officers involved in Floyd's deadly arrest -- he had allegedly just tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill in a store -- are to go on trial later this year.
- National Guard deployed -
Amid fears of unrest, National Guard troops have been deployed in Minneapolis and Washington, the nation's capital.
Minneapolis has been the scene of nightly protests since Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot dead in a suburb of the Minnesota city on April 11 by a white policewoman.
Some 400 protesters marched through the city on Monday calling for Chauvin's conviction, chanting: "The world is watching, we are watching, do the right thing."
In Washington, the National Guard said some 250 troops were being deployed "to support local law enforcement" in response to potential demonstrations.
Prosecutors, in closing arguments on Monday, showed excerpts from the harrowing bystander video of Floyd's death that was seen by millions around the world.
"This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video," prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury.
"You can believe your eyes," Schleicher said. "It's exactly what you knew, it's what you felt in your gut, it's what you now know in your heart."
"This wasn't policing, this was murder," Schleicher said. "Nine minutes and 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson told the jury they need to look at Chauvin's actions "from the perspective of a reasonable police officer."
"He did not purposefully use unlawful force," Nelson said.
He said Floyd's heart disease and drug use were factors in his death and "the state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
Much of the three-week trial involved testimony from medical experts about Floyd's cause of death.
The defense called a retired police officer who said Chauvin's use of force against Floyd was "justified."
Police officers testifying for the prosecution -- including the Minneapolis police chief -- said it was excessive and unnecessary.
© 2021 AFP
Shooting of Black man in his own apartment provides a startling glimpse of what police impunity looks like
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.
Whatever the jury ultimately decides about the culpability of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, we already know the case is an anomaly. Officers who kill civilians are rarely prosecuted, let alone convicted — many aren't even disciplined by their departments.
To understand how police impunity works, it's worth looking at another case, that of Kawaski Trawick.
Two years ago, Trawick was alone in his apartment in the Bronx when two New York City Police Department officers arrived in response to 911 calls about Trawick walking through the building with a serrated bread knife and a stick. Trawick, who had a history of mental health and drug issues, had locked himself out of his apartment but had gotten back in after firefighters pried open the door. When the police officers arrived minutes later, they pushed the door ajar and found Trawick, a personal trainer and dancer, standing near his stove, holding the knife and stick.
“Why are you in my home?" Trawick asked. Less than two minutes later, he lay dying on the floor. A few months ago, I examined what happened in those 112 seconds. Video from a body-worn camera shows one of the officers — Black and more experienced — repeatedly trying to stop his white, less experienced partner from using force.
“We ain't gonna tase him," Officer Herbert Davis told Officer Brendan Thompson, as Trawick stood about seven feet from them. Thompson fired his Taser anyway, which (as can happen) enraged Trawick, who ran toward the officers. Davis again tried to stop his partner, this time from shooting his gun. He briefly pushed Thompson's gun down, saying, “No, no — don't, don't, don't, don't, don't."
Thompson fired three times, paused for a moment, and then fired a final shot. Trawick died almost instantly. You can see and hear it all for yourself, in a video we made using surveillance and body-worn camera footage. (Davis and Thompson both declined requests for comment.)
Last Wednesday marked two years since the shooting, so I checked in with the NYPD about it. The department had said late last year that it had finally finished its internal investigation and that the police commissioner — who has complete discretion over discipline, as many chiefs around the country do — would soon be deciding what to do.
Last week, the NYPD told me that Commissioner Dermot Shea had indeed ruled on the case. The officers were completely cleared. “There was no discipline as no wrongdoing was found," the department said.
Here is the NYPD's full statement. It noted that there was also a “tactical review" to determine “what, if anything, could have been done differently."
Experts I spoke with pointed to a litany of poor decisions and tactics by the officers.
The officers could have tried to make a connection with Trawick, as the NYPD trains its officers to do, and at least answered his repeated questions about why they were there. They could have waited for help and “just closed the door," as one former NYPD detective told me, since department policy is to “isolate and contain" people in crisis. They could have decided to not use force, as other officers did when they had encountered Trawick in a similar situation weeks before.
Thompson could have warned Trawick before firing his Taser, as the NYPD encourages officers to do so. After he used his Taser, Thompson could have kept it in his hand, rather than putting it on the ground and leaving himself with only his gun.
Yet as perplexing as the NYPD's conclusion may seem, it is also the logical culmination of a series of decisions that have again and again narrowed the avenues for accountability.
The rare occasions in which officers have faced even the possibility of significant punishment have usually come after the public has seen what happened, for example, after a bystander filmed Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck. Trawick's killing happened out of the public eye. And the NYPD worked to keep it that way.
For a year and a half, it refused to release body-worn camera footage, arguing in response to a public records request and lawsuit that doing so would “interfere" with the department's internal investigation and would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
But the NYPD did offer its perspective about what happened. “It appears to be justified," one of the NYPD's top officials told reporters the day after the shooting.
The police's perspective shaped the early coverage. Citing “law enforcement sources," the New York Post reported that a “musclebound man" who was “nicknamed 'Chaos'" had been shot “when he charged at cops twice with a stick and a knife." (Trawick was about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and his family told me they've never heard that nickname. The video shows he ran at the officers once, after he was hit by a Taser.)
The NYPD eventually decided to release footage, after the Bronx District Attorney's Office published it as part of a report last November that laid out its decision not to pursue criminal charges against the officers. The DA's decision, too, was no surprise: Local prosecutors, who work closely with the police, are particularly hesitant to indict officers.
The DA's report had troubling revelations buried inside it. While the report's highlighted timeline didn't mention it, the report revealed more than two dozen pages in that Davis had tried to stop his partner from shooting Trawick. It also disclosed that other officers had previously decided there was no need to use force when they answered remarkably similar calls involving Trawick. On page 36, the report cited those interactions as “examples of disparate outcomes that deserve mention."
The DA's report did not contain the full, unedited body-worn camera footage, and the NYPD initially continued to fight a lawsuit demanding it.
The day before a December hearing in the case, the NYPD sent the footage to the complainants, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, because, after 20 months, the department's internal review was complete. That footage, which the law firm shared with me, showed that as officers converged on the scene where Trawick lay lifeless, two of them told a sergeant that “nobody" had been hurt. “Just a perp."
Shortly after ProPublica published a story about that, a lawyer working on the case for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest got a phone call from the city agency that investigates police misconduct against civilians. An investigator at the Civilian Complaint Review Board had a favor to ask: Could the lawyer please share the newly released footage with him? The investigator explained that the NYPD wouldn't provide footage to the CCRB.
“I was shocked to get that call," said the lawyer, Benjamin Reed, of Milbank LLP. “It's disturbing that they had to come to us, after we had to fight with the NYPD for a year to get it. It's just backwards. It's obvious that they can't properly oversee the NYPD if they can't get footage."
That is part of a long pattern of the NYPD obstructingthe work of the overmatched agencies that are supposed to oversee it. In shootings and other serious incidents such as the Trawick case, the NYPD routinely refuses to give the CCRB footage and other records until the department's internal investigation is over, which can take a year or more.
The delays can render the civilian board's investigations effectively moot. The CCRB told me that its investigation into Trawick's killing is still open, and that it has now received footage from the NYPD. But the police commissioner, who gets final say on punishment, has already decided there was no wrongdoing.
When I reported on the Trawick case last fall, one of the people I spoke with was Jonathan Smith, who worked on civil rights litigation at the Justice Department during the Obama administration and led the agency's most significant investigations into police abuse. “This case is a lesson in how you don't do one of these encounters," he said, after reviewing the footage. “They should teach it in the academy."
I reached back out to Smith to share the NYPD's conclusion that there was no wrongdoing. “For them to find nothing wrong there," he said, “it's just stunning."
Smith said it reminded him of another young man's death he recently investigated for the city of Aurora, Colorado. Twenty-three-year-old Elijah McClain died after police officers twice put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine. The officers had stopped him after a 911 caller said McClain, who was walking down the street, “looked sketchy."
Like Trawick, McClain wasn't doing anything criminal. As in the Trawick case, local prosecutors decided not to indict the officers. And as in the Trawick case, an internal police investigation cleared the officers. (The independent review that Smith led concluded that the investigation had been “cursory and summary at best.")
It's all part of a pattern, Smith said: “Every department I've seen where there's been a pattern of misconduct, you've also had a broken accountability system."
There was one other call I made after learning of the NYPD's decision. It was to Kawaski Trawick's mother, Ellen Trawick. She had not heard about the department's ruling.
“I just don't understand it," she said. “He hadn't committed a crime. He hadn't harmed anyone. They came into his own home and took his life for no reason. For them not to see that's wrong, that's just heartbreaking."
Trawick and her family have filed a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD and the officers.
But a suit can only do so much. If there's a settlement or a judgment, it's likely the city and its taxpayers, not the officers or the NYPD, that will pay.
In response to the family's action, city lawyers have placed the blame for Kawaski Trawick's death squarely on Kawaski Trawick. As they put it in a filing last fall: “Plaintiff(s)' culpable conduct caused or contributed, in whole or in part, to his/her/their injuries and or damages."
I asked Ellen Trawick what outcome she is hoping for in the suit. “I want the officers held accountable for their actions," she said. “They took Kawaski's life. But from what you're saying there's nothing going to be done about it."
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