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Alabama executes man for 1996 killing after Supreme Court clears way

Executed for 1996 killing

Alabama executed an inmate by lethal injection for a 1996 murder on Thursday after a divided U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state and rejected defense claims the man had an intellectual disability that cost him a chance to choose a less “torturous,” yet untried, execution method.

Matthew Reeves, 43, was put to death at Holman Prison after the court lifted a lower court order that had prevented corrections workers from executing the prisoner. He was pronounced dead at 9:24 p.m. CST, state Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.

Reeves was convicted of killing a driver who gave him a ride in 1996. Evidence showed Reeves went to a party afterward and celebrated the killing.

He had no last words. After craning his neck to look around a few times, Reeves grimaced and looked toward his left arm toward an intravenous line. With his eyes closed and mouth slightly agape, Reeves' abdomen moved repeatedly before he grew still.

Gov. Kay Ivey, in a statement, said Reeves' death sentence “is fair, and tonight, justice was rightfully served."

Reeves was convicted of capital murder for the killing of Willie Johnson, who died from a shotgun blast to the neck during a robbery in Selma on Nov. 27, 1996, after picking up Reeves and others on the side of a rural highway.

After the dying man was robbed of $360, Reeves, then 18, went to a party where he danced and mimicked Johnson’s death convulsions, authorities said. A witness said Reeves’ hands were still stained with blood at the celebration, a court ruling said.

While courts have upheld Reeves’ conviction, the last-minute fight by his lawyers seeking to stop the execution involved his intellect, his rights under federal disability law and how the state planned to kill him.

The Supreme Court on Thursday evening tossed out a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled Wednesday that a district judge didn’t abuse his discretion in ruling that the state couldn’t execute Reeves by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia, which has never been used.

In 2018, Alabama death row inmates had a chance to sign a form choosing either lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method after legislators approved the use of nitrogen. But Reeves was among the inmates who didn’t fill out the form stating a preference.

Suing under the American With Disabilities Act, Reeves claimed he had intellectual disabilities that prevented him from understanding the form offering him the chance to choose nitrogen hypoxia — a method never used in the U.S. — over lethal injection, which the inmate’s lawyers called “torturous.”

Reeves also claimed the state failed to help him understand the form. But the state argued he wasn’t so disabled that he couldn’t understand the choice.

It was a divided court that let the execution proceed. Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she would deny the state’s request, while Justice Stephen Breyer, who just announced his retirement, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined with Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent that said the execution shouldn’t occur.

The state had previously asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a lower court injunction and allow the execution, but the panel on Wednesday had refused. Alabama then appealed that decision, sending the case to the nation's highest court.

Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection after 2002, and in 2018 legislators approved the use of another method, nitrogen hypoxia, amid defense challenges to injections and shortages of chemicals needed for the procedure. The new method would cause death by replacing oxygen that the inmate breathes with nitrogen.

A poor reader and intellectually disabled, Reeves asn’t capable of making such a decision without assistance that should have been provided under the American With Disabilities Act, his lawyers argued. A prison worker who gave Reeves a form didn't offer aid to help him understand, they said.

With Reeves contending he would have chosen nitrogen hypoxia over a “torturous” lethal injection had he comprehended the form, the defense filed suit asking a court to halt the lethal injection. U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. blocked execution plans, ruling that Reeves had a good chance of winning the claim under the disabilities law.

A defense expert concluded Reeves had a first grade reading level and the language competency of someone as young as 4, but the state disagreed that Reeves had a disability that would prevent him from understanding his options.

An Alabama inmate who was put to death by lethal injection last year, Willie B. Smith, unsuccessfully raised claims about being intellectually unable to make the choice for nitrogen hypoxia.

Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union ambassador to the U.S., had sent a letter both condemning Johnson’s killing and asking the governor Ivey to block the execution.



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Police: Suspect in custody after wounding 3 Houston officers

Suspect wounds 3 officers

A suspect led Houston police on a chase Thursday that ended with him wounding three officers in a shootout, stealing a car and barricading himself inside a home for hours before surrendering, authorities said.

The incident began about 2:40 p.m. as officers responded to a family disturbance call at a home in northeast Houston, Police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference.

All three injured officers were in stable condition after being taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital. Two officers were transported by another patrol officer’s vehicle while the Houston Fire Department took the third.

One of the officers was shot in the arm, another was shot in the leg and the third was shot in the foot, said Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.

“We are just grateful to God they are all right,” Finner said.

Police had responded to a report of a shooting at the home of the suspect’s girlfriend, according to Griffith. When officers arrived, the suspect, whose name had not been released by authorities, fled in a vehicle and led police on a chase for several miles.

The chase ended when the suspect’s vehicle crashed at an intersection in a residential neighborhood just off Interstate 69 on the southeastern edge of downtown Houston.

“Officers, as they got out of vehicle, the suspect immediately fired upon officers, striking three officers. All the officers returned fire,” Finner said.

It was not known if the officers’ gunfire injured the suspect. Finner said it’s possible the suspect fired more than 50 rounds. Officers described the gun the suspect used as “a fully automatic weapon,” he said.

The suspect fled the scene and carjacked at gunpoint a white Mercedes, Finner said. He then drove to a home located several miles northeast of where the crash occurred.

Officers surrounded the home. The suspect fired multiple times but did not hit any of the officers, who returned fire, Finner said.

The suspect remained barricaded in the home until about 7:45 p.m. Thursday when he emerged with hands up from the unit where police believed he lived, Finner said. The man, whose identity police did not immediately release, was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the neck, the chief said.

The suspect was believed to be the only person in the home. It was not immediately known why he went there, Finner said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he visited the wounded officers and found them talkative and in good spirits.

Turner said Thursday’s shooting highlighted the dangers law enforcement faces each day and the rising violent crime that has affected Houston and other U.S. cities the last couple of years.

Finner said it’s been “a tough week for law enforcement” in Houston. On Sunday, a Houston-area deputy constable was fatally shot during a traffic stop, and a Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy was fatally struck by a vehicle early Monday as he stood by his motorcycle while blocking a Houston highway exit ramp during an off-duty job escorting heavy machinery.

Turner said that he and Finner planned to announce next week “some additional steps” the city will take to address rising crime in Houston.

“It’s going to take all of us working together to have a very safe city,” Turner said.



Human chain formed to help after Pittsburgh bridge collapse

Bridge falls, bus dangles

A two-lane bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, prompting rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet while others formed a human chain to help rescue multiple people from a dangling bus.

The collapse came hours before President Joe Biden was to visit the city to press for his $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes bridge maintenance.

There were minor injuries from the collapse but no fatalities, said authorities, who also said they were flying drones to make sure no one is under any collapsed sections.

Police reported the span, on Forbes Avenue over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park, came down just before 7 a.m.

A photo from the scene showed a commuter bus upright on a section of the collapsed bridge.

City officials said the collapse caused a gas leak but the gas has since been shut off.

Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryl Jones said three or four vehicles were involved in the collapse and there were 10 minor injuries with three brought to the hospital. None of the injuries were life-threatening, Jones said.

At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said “it’s just an awful surreal scene.”

“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments.”

Authorities told motorists to avoid the area.

In a statement, the White House said Biden would proceed with his planned trip to Pittsburgh.

“Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse," the statement said. “The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time."

The steel span, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.

A September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory. A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”

Authorities said Friday the bridge was last inspected in September of 2021 but those reports were not readily available. The report has been requested from PennDOT.



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Coast Guard to suspend search for migrants off Florida

Migrant search to end

The Coast Guard said Thursday that it had found four additional bodies in its search for dozens of migrants lost at sea off Florida but would suspend its rescue operations at sunset if it doesn’t receive any new information.

Homeland Security Investigations officials said they were actively investigating the case as a human smuggling operation.

Authorities have now found a total of five bodies, leaving 34 missing five days after the vessel capsized on the way to Florida from Bimini, a chain of islands in the Bahamas about 55 miles (88 kilometers) east of Miami.

Coast Guard Capt. Jo-Ann F. Burdian said the decision to suspend the search at sunset Thursday, pending any new discoveries, was not an easy one.

“We have saturated the area over and over again,” she told a news conference. “We’ve had good visibility. ... We’ve overflown the vessel a number of times. ... It does mean we don’t think it’s likely that anyone else has survived.”

The Miami office of Homeland Security Investigations has launched an inquiry, saying the migrants' journey was most certainly part of a human smuggling operation. Under federal law, a smuggler convicted of causing a death is eligible for execution.

“The goal of this investigation is to identify, arrest and prosecute any criminal or criminal organization that organized, facilitated or profited from this doomed venture,” said HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury.

Salisbury declined to give any information on the nationalities of the boat passengers but said investigators consider the lone survivor “a victim right now,” not a suspect. Salisbury appealed to the public for tips to help identify who organized the boat crossing.

“Please help us bring criminals who prey on and victimize the vulnerable migrant community to justice," he said. “We don’t want anybody doing this again. ... This is dangerous stuff.”

The lone survivor was found hanging onto the 25-foot (7-meter) vessel about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off Fort Pierce, Florida. He told a good Samaritan and authorities that the boat capsized late Saturday after he and 39 others had set out for Florida from Bimini.

Authorities said the boat was found about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of where it capsized, apparently pushed by the Gulf Stream, a warm, swift current that wraps around the Florida peninsula and flows along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. No one was wearing a life jacket, the rescued man told authorities.

The Gulf Stream can be treacherous even on a calm, sunny day. Throw in an overloaded boat, inexperienced mariners, stormy weather and the dark of night, and they can become deadly.

A small craft advisory had been issued on Saturday and Sunday as a severe cold front with winds up to 23 mph (37 kph) blew through the dangerous passage, creating swells up to 9 feet (3 meters).



Breyer confirms he is retiring from Supreme Court

Breyer confirms he is retiring

Justice Stephen Breyer is making it official, telling President Joe Biden in a letter that he will step down from the court later this year.

The Supreme Court released Breyer's retirement letter Thursday, ahead of the 83-year-old justice's appearance with the president at the White House.

Biden will have the first Supreme Court pick of his presidency, and he has pledged to put the first Black woman on the nation's highest court.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is eyeing at least three judges for an expected vacancy on the Supreme Court as he prepares to quickly deliver on his campaign pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the nation’s highest court, according to aides and allies.

Biden and Justice Stephen Breyer are expected to hold an event at the White House Thursday to formally announce Breyer's plans to retire, according to a person briefed on the planning who was not authorized to publicly discuss it in advance.

Early discussions about a successor are focusing on U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, according to four people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House deliberations. Jackson and Kruger have long been seen as possible nominees.

Since Biden took office in January 2021, he has focused on nominating a diverse group of judges to the federal bench, installing five Black women on federal appeals courts, with three more nominations pending before the Senate. Other possible candidates for the high court could come from among that group, Biden aides and allies said, especially since almost all of the recent Supreme Court nominees have been federal appeals judges.

“He has a strong pool to select a candidate from, in addition to other sources. This is an historic opportunity to appoint someone with a strong record on civil and human rights,” said Derrick Johnson, the NAACP's president.

By the end of his first year, Biden had won confirmation of 40 judges, the most since President Ronald Reagan. Of those, 80% are women and 53% are people of color, according to the White House.

Jackson, 51, was nominated by President Barack Obama to be a district court judge. Biden elevated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Early in her career, she was also a law clerk for Breyer.

Childs, a federal judge in South Carolina, has been nominated but not yet confirmed to serve on the same circuit court. Her name has surfaced partly because she is a favorite among some high-profile lawmakers, including Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Kruger, a graduate of Harvard and Yale’s law school, was previously a Supreme Court clerk and has argued a dozen cases before the justices as a lawyer for the federal government.

Breyer, 83, will retire at the end of the summer, according to two sources who confirmed the news to The Associated Press on Wednesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt Breyer’s formal announcement.

But the Senate can confirm a successor before there is a formal vacancy, so the White House was getting to work and it was expected to take at least a few weeks before a nomination was formalized.

Biden said Wednesday he wasn't going to get ahead of Breyer's announcement.

“Every justice should have an opportunity to decide what he or she is going to do and announce it on their own," Biden said. "Let him make whatever statement he’s going to make and I’ll be happy to talk about it later.”

When Biden was running for the White House, he said that if he had the chance to nominate someone to the court, he would make history by choosing a Black woman. And he's reiterated that pledge since.

“As president, I’d be honored, honored to appoint the first African American woman. Because it should look like the country. It’s long past time,” Biden said in February 2020 shortly before South Carolina’s presidential primary.

Adding a Black woman to the court would mean a series of firsts — four female justices and two Black justices serving at the same time on the nine-member court. Justice Clarence Thomas is the court’s only Black justice and just the second ever, after Thurgood Marshall.

And Biden would have the chance to show Black voters increasingly frustrated with a president they helped to elect that he is serious about their concerns, particularly after he has been unable to push through voting rights legislation.

At the same time, Breyer’s replacement by another liberal justice would not change the ideological makeup of the court. Conservatives outnumber liberals by 6-3, and Donald Trump's three nominees made an already conservative court even more conservative.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Biden’s nominee “will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”

But Republicans in particular remain upset about Justice Brett Kavanaugh's contentious 2018 hearing. Still, Democrats have the 50 votes plus a tiebreaker in Vice President Kamala Harris that they need to confirm a nominee.

Republicans who changed the Senate rules during the Trump-era to allow simple majority confirmation of Supreme Court nominees appeared resigned to the outcome. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, “If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support."

Nonetheless, Democrats have also been unable to get all their members on board for Biden's social and environmental spending agenda or to move forward with a voting rights bill.

As a senator, Biden served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, overseeing six Supreme Court confirmation hearings from 1987 to 1995, including Breyer’s.

And one person who will be central to Biden’s process is chief of staff Ron Klain, a former Supreme Court law clerk and chief counsel to that committee.

Two other Black women whom Biden appointed to federal appeals courts are also seen as contenders: Holly Thomas, a longtime civil rights lawyer he named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, a former public defender he named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Biden could also choose someone from outside the judiciary, though that seems less likely. One contender would be the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, 59. She has headed the fund since 2013 and has announced she is stepping down in the spring.

The Supreme Court has had three women on it for more than a decade, since 2010, when Obama named Justice Elena Kagan to the court to replace the retiring John Paul Stevens. Kagan joined Obama’s other nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina justice, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When Ginsburg died in September 2020, Trump announced his choice of Amy Coney Barrett eight days later.



Stormy Daniels and Avenatti meet again, as adversaries

Stormy, Avenatti meet again

Stormy Daniels took her star turn on the witness stand Thursday at California lawyer Michael Avenatti’s trial, telling a jury Avenatti “stole from me and lied to me.”

Her testimony was a highly anticipated moment at the trial of a man who parlayed his representation of Daniels in her legal battles against then-President Donald Trump in 2018 into a high-profile role as a Trump adversary.

Prosecutors say he cheated Daniels of nearly $300,000 of her $800,000 publisher’s advance on her 2018 autobiography, “Full Disclosure.”

Avenatti has insisted he is innocent. A lawyer for Avenatti said at the trial's start on Monday that Daniels owed him a portion of her book income for his work for her after she had only been charged $100 for his representation.

Daniels, wearing a black dress, maroon sweater and black heels, began her testimony late in the morning after she was summoned to the witness stand, which was enclosed in a see-through plastic box with a special air filter so that she could remove her mask.

“The government calls Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels,” announced Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman before she entered the specially configured courtroom to prevent against the spread of the coronavirus.

The prosecutor asked Daniels to identify Avenatti in the courtroom, prompting Avenatti to stand.

“He's the gentleman standing up in the blue shirt,” she said.

Among Sobelman's first questions was to request if Daniels preferred to use any other name.

“Stormy Daniels,” she said, explaining that was her stage name.

After Sobelman asked her about Avenatti's representation of her in 2018, he asked her why the attorney-client relationship ended and she hired another lawyer.

“I hired a new attorney because he stole from me and lied to me,” she said.

Daniels said she had hired Avenatti in early 2018 to represent her in her claims against Trump. Daniels sought legal representation because she wanted to speak publicly about her claims that she had a sexual tryst with Trump over a decade earlier. She had been paid $130,000 days before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent. Trump has denied the claims.

She said a formal agreement called for her to pay Avenatti $100. She gave it to him in cash at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and he used it to pay for lunch.

She said a crowd-funding website was used to raise $650,000 for Avenatti's representation of her.

Sobelman asked her if she had ever agreed with Avenatti to pay him more than the $100.

“No,” she testified.

Avenatti, 50, has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identify theft. The trial was in its fourth day of testimony.



Oklahoma executes man for 2001 slayings of 2 hotel workers

Executed for 2001 slayings

Oklahoma executed a man Thursday for the brutal slayings of two hotel workers during a robbery in 2001.

Donald Grant, 46, received a lethal injection Thursday morning at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and was declared dead at 10:16 a.m. It was the first execution in the U.S. in 2022 and the third in Oklahoma since the state resumed lethal injections in October following a nearly seven-year hiatus.

Grant had asked a federal judge to temporarily halt his execution, arguing that he should be reinstated as a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection protocol as presenting a risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering. But both a federal judge and a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver previously denied that request. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Grant’s request on Wednesday.

Several Oklahoma death row inmates with pending execution dates have sought to delay their executions after John Grant convulsed on the gurney and vomited after receiving the first dose of midazolam, a sedative, during his October execution.

John Grant's execution was the state's first since problems with the state's lethal injection in 2014 and 2015 led to a de facto moratorium. Richard Glossip was just hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection — and after the state’s prisons chief ordered executioners to stop.

During a clemency hearing in November, Donald Grant admitted killing Brenda McElyea and Felicia Suzette Smith so that there would be no witnesses to his robbery of the Del City hotel. Court records show both women were shot and stabbed, and Smith was also bludgeoned. Prosecutors say both women also begged him to spare their lives before he killed them.

During November's hearing, he expressed “deep, sincere remorse” and apologized for the killings, but the state’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 against recommending clemency.

“I can't change that," he said of the crime while speaking to the board. “If I could, I would, but I can't change that."

Two of Donald Grant's attorneys, Susan Otto and Emma Rolls from the federal public defender's office, argued that he was mentally ill and had suffered brain damage that made him a candidate for mercy. They also discussed Grant’s childhood growing up in a New York City housing project during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, a time when he was frequently beaten and members of his family experienced alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness.

But the board also heard from members of McElyea's family, who tearfully urged them to reject clemency for him.

McElyea’s sister, Shirl Filcher, recalled the pain she experienced when she had to tell their father that McElyea had been killed.

“I had to call my dad and tell him his daughter, his baby girl, was dead,” Filcher said. “I had never seen him cry, but that night I heard him weep and it broke my heart.”



Prince Andrew officially requests trial by jury in sex scandal

Andrew seeks trial by jury

Prince Andrew has requested a trial by jury.

The legal team of the 61-year-old prince has officially requested that he be granted a trial by jury in his upcoming civil case in New York City.

Andrew also denied all of Virginia Giuffre's sex abuse allegations in court documents filed on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Andrew will face a civil case in the US over allegations he sexually assaulted Giuffre when she was 17.

A federal court judge ruled that a lawsuit brought by Giuffre could move forward.

Giuffre - who was formerly known as Virginia Roberts - has accused convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein - who committed suicide in August 2019 - and his one-time girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell of arranging and forcing her into having sex with Andrew in 2001.

Now, Andrew's legal team has filed an 11-page document with the court that sets out his response to the accusations.

The prince has strongly denied the allegation that he sexually abused Giuffre when she was under 18 years of age.

In the document - which has been submitted to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York - Andrew's legal team detail a series of defences "without assuming the burden of proof, and expressly denying any and all wrongdoing."

The document adds: "Prince Andrew hereby demands a trial by jury on all causes of action asserted in the Complaint."

The legal team previously argued to get the lawsuit dismissed, citing a 2009 deal and $500,000 settlement she agreed with Epstein.

However, the judge in New York ruled earlier in January that the case could continue, raising the possibility that Andrew could take the stand to defend himself in court.



Jordanian military kills 27 in shootout with Syria smugglers

27 dead in shootout

The Jordanian military said Thursday that troops have killed 27 suspected smugglers attempting to enter the country from neighboring Syria.

The report on the army's website said that it had thwarted several suspected attempts to smuggle drugs into Jordan from Syria, and that large quantities of narcotics were seized in separate interventions that also left several people wounded.

The military said that it was “continuing to apply the newly established rules of engagement and will strike with an iron fist and deal with force and firmness with any infiltration or smuggling attempts to protect the borders.”

Earlier this month the military said an army officer was killed in a shootout with smugglers along the long porous border it shares with Syria.

Jordan is home to more than 650,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war that has raged there for more than a decade.

In September, Syrian and Jordanian officials discussed border security after Syrian government forces captured rebel-held areas along the Jordanian frontier. A month later, Jordan’s King Abdullah II spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad for the first time in a decade after the two countries reopened a key border crossing.

An illegal drug industry has flourished in Syria after 10 years of civil war. In recent years, the Arab Mediterranean country has emerged as a hot spot for making and selling captagon, an illegal amphetamine. Both Syria and neighboring Lebanon have become gateways for the drug to the Middle East, and particularly the Gulf.

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said in a 2014 report that the amphetamine market is on the rise in the Middle East, with busts mostly in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria accounting for more than 55 percent of amphetamines seized worldwide.



Holocaust survivor to address EU on 77th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz

Auschwitz anniversary

European Union lawmakers will observe a minute's silence Thursday and welcome a centenarian Holocaust survivor as the world remembers Nazi atrocities and commemorates the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Margot Friedlander will address the EU Parliament as part of the commemorations of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2005 establishing the annual commemoration, and chose Jan. 27 – the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations Thursday will be held online this year again. A small ceremony, however, will take place at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Second World War Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site was closed earlier in the pandemic but reopened in June.

In all, about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. Some 1.5 million were children.

The 100-year-old Friedlander was arrested in 1944 while on the run and brought to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. A year before, her mother and brother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were both killed.

Friedlander and her husband immigrated to the U.S. in 1946 and returned to Berlin in 2010. She has since been travelling around Germany to tell the story of her life and promote remembrance.

Charles Michel, the head of the EU Council bringing together leaders of the 27 EU member countries, insisted on the importance of commemorating the Shoah as the number of survivors diminishes every year.

"With each passing year, the Shoah inches towards becoming a historical event,'' Michel said. "More and more distant, more and more abstract. Especially in the eyes of the younger generations of Europeans. This is why, paradoxically, the more the years go by, the more important the commemoration becomes. The more essential.''



Records: KC police used force more often on Black people

More likely to use force

Black people are far more likely to be subjected to use of force by police in Kansas City, Missouri, according to police data obtained by the Kansas City Star.

The Star reported Wednesday that more than 57% of use of force incidents from 2019 to July 2021 were against Black people, who make up just 28% of Kansas City's population.

Records obtained by the Star after lengthy discussions with police contained more than 600 entries reflecting police use of force, and more than 330 of those were against Black people.

Use of force can involve police using bullets, bean bag rounds, police dogs, Tasers, pepper spray and their own bodies. The newspaper reported the numbers are likely higher than reported because some confrontations, including a deadly 2019 police shooting, were unaccounted for.

Police Capt. Leslie Foreman said use of force is “based on the actions of another person, not on the race of that person,” and that Kansas City officers were focused on relationship building in the community.

Nearly 75% of the incidents resulting in use of force occurred during a call for service while about 25% were “self-initiated activity,” said Sgt. Jake Becchina, a spokesman for the department.

“That says to me that officers are overwhelmingly more often called to the situations that lead to resistance by a subject against them and an associated response than they are ‘seeking out’ enforcement situations that lead to a response to resistance,” he said.

Civil rights organizations last year called for a Department of Justice investigation into how Kansas City officers treat communities of color. In November, a white detective was convicted in the shooting death of a Black man. Days after the verdict, it was announced that Chief Rick Smith would leave the department this spring.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said he and other members of the Board of Police Commissioners should examine the disparity in use of force incidents.

“Data like this suggests perhaps that we certainly have more evaluation to do,” Lucas, who is Black, said.

Ken Novak, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said the fact that Black people are over-represented in use of force incidents doesn't necessarily reflect racism.

“What I think we can say is that is indicative of the perhaps more confrontational nature of police-public encounters with people of color," Novak said. "People of color experience policing differently than majorities ... that speaks to maybe an unequal protection.”

The data found 170 encounters requiring hospitalization, though it was not always a direct result of use of force. Of those, 60% of people hospitalized were Black.

Officers cited many reasons for using force. In some cases, the person had a weapon or went for an officer’s gun. Others kicked or punched the officer.

But in several instances, someone who “refused to move” was met with pepper spray, bean bag rounds or stunned with a Taser. In numerous other instances, the reason listed was “non-compliant” or “other.”

The data also cited 41 incidents of police using a maneuver called the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint. Police say it's safer than a chokehold, but critics — including activists who called for banning all neck restraints after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis in 2020 — say it can become as deadly as a chokehold if done incorrectly.



Man, teen charged with murder in death of Chicago girl, 8

2 charged in child's murder

A teenage boy and man were charged Wednesday with murder in last weekend’s death of an 8-year-old Chicago girl who was shot in the head by a gunman targeting someone else on the city's Southwest Side.

Melissa Ortega of Chicago was walking on the street with her mother Saturday afternoon when someone fired shots at a 29-year-old alleged gang member who was leaving a nearby store, Police Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference. The girl was pronounced dead Saturday at a hospital.

The man police believe was the intended target was shot in the back and was hospitalized.

The shooting happened amid a spike in homicides in Chicago. Last year was the city’s deadliest in a quarter century, with roughly 800 homicides.

Melissa was a student at Emiliano Zapata Academy, an elementary school in the city’s heavily-Mexican Little Village neighborhood, according to the Chicago Teachers Union.

The girl and her mother emigrated to Chicago from Mexico last year, according to family members organizing an online effort to pay for funeral services expected to be held in Mexico.



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