People gathered at a vigil for Mario Woods on December 3, 2015
Dozens of people gathered at a candlelit vigil on Thursday night in San Francisco, at the spot where 26-year-old Mario Woods was killed by police the day before. Woods, who is black, died in a hail of bullets fired by San Francisco Police Department officers on Wednesday afternoon in the city's Bayview district. Police identified him as the suspect in an attack whose victim was apparently stabbed in the shoulder but is expected to survive. Police officials said Woods was wielding a kitchen knife that he refused to relinquish even as officers ordered him to drop it, fired bean bag pellets, and pepper-sprayed him.
The moments leading up to the shooting were captured on several widely circulated videosrecorded on cellphones. In one, Woods can be seen standing with his back against a wall, surrounded by police whose guns are drawn. When Woods begins to walk away, an officer steps in his path, and within seconds a series of shots rings out. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr told reporters that a total of five officers opened fire. (Warning: graphic images)
Woods died at the scene. A resident who lives next to the site of the shooting told Mother Jones that he counted at least 36 shell casings on the sidewalk after the violence was over. Another angle also captured the shooting (graphic).
SF Weeklyreported that Woods had been a gang member in 2009 and had previously served prison and jail time for possession of a firearm by a felon. Woods' mother, Gwendolyn, told ABC7 News that her son had suffered from mental health issues but was getting through them. "He just needed some help," she said. "He fought past them." She told interviewers that her son had "gotten his uniform" for his new job with the United Parcel Servicethat he was slated to begin the day after he died.
The San Francisco police departmenthas had a troubled history of police aggression and racism toward minority communities. In February, four San Francisco police officers were cleared in the shooting death of Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old Hispanic man who was shot 10 to 15 times by police in March 2014. Police officers mistook a Taser for a gun. In March, a series of racist and homophobic text messages sent among a group of officers in 2011 and 2012 emerged as part of a federal case against a former San Francisco police sergeant convicted of corruption charges, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The department tried to fire eight officers and suspend several others involved, but the disciplinary process is ongoing. In August, a video of more than a dozen San Francisco police officers surrounding and tackling a disabled homeless man went viral, spurring outrage.
Neighborhood residents where Woods was shot questioned the level of force used to subdue him.
"They had six officers against this one little guy," area resident Cedric Smith told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They could have used batons. They could have backed off. They didn't need to shoot him." And Chemika Hollis, another resident, wondered why police officers shot him so many times. "How can you feel a threat when you have 10 cops around you?" she said.
Thursday's vigil was set up on the spot where Woods was gunned down, with pictures of him, candles, and a sign posted to the wall reading, "Black Lives Matter." A few blocks away from the vigil, dozens more gathered at a community meeting in the St. Paul of the Shipwreck Catholic church, while others held apeaceful protest outside.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has said the officers were justified in shooting Woods, and he promised a thorough investigation.
"It's a tragic loss anytime somebody dies. We never want to do that," he told reporters after the shooting. "But this is all they could do. I really don't know how much more you can make it plain to a wanted felon that he should drop the knife."
One of the "villas" reportedly rented in Afghanistan by a DoD business development unit
A Department of Defense economic development unit in Afghanistan is coming under fire from government watchdogs, who question what they consider to be excessive costs for housing and accommodations in Afghanistan for contractors who were there to create businesses in the shattered economy. The organization spent nearly $150 million on rented villas and private security for its employees and guests, when the same services and security could have been provided by the US government for a fraction of the cost.
On Thursday, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)—an office tasked with evaluating spending and performance of Afghanistan reconstruction projects—wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, requesting an explanation for the decisions made by the DoD's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO). The TFBSO was created in 2006 to spur economic development and investment in Iraq, and itexpanded its operations to Afghanistan in 2009. The DoD closed the TFBSO in March 2015, "as part of broader Afghanistan draw-down plans," according to Army Lt. Colonel Joe Sowers, a DoD spokesman.
This was not the first time that SIGAR has questioned the allocation of funds by the TFBSO. Last month SIGAR released another report that detailed how the TFBSO had spent $43 million on a "compressed natural gas automobile filling station" in Afghanistan that could have been built for no more than $500,000.
In Thursday's letter, Sopko wrote that TFBSO leadership "rented specially furnished, privately owned 'villas' and hired contractors to provide 24-hour building security, food services, and bodyguards." The contracts also reportedly included specified sizes for televisions (at least 27 inches), DVD players, and food service that, at times, required two entrée choices and three side-order choices.
"If TFBSO employees had instead lived at DOD facilities in Afghanistan, where housing, security, and food service are routinely provided at little or no extra charge to DOD organizations, it appears the taxpayers would have saved tens of millions of dollars," Sopko wrote.
Other spending highlighted by Sopko was $57 million paid to Triple Canopy, a private security company, from 2010 to 2014, for "armed support"; $51 million paid to Defense Group Incorporated between 2009 and 2011 for "extensive security and other services"; and $40 million paid from 2009 to 2014 to Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise, a separate security company that provided "transportation and personal protection…to personnel visiting/traveling to and from project worksites." Some of that included funding for food and housing accommodations.
Most of these spending decisions appear to have been made by Paul A. Brinkley, the former deputy undersecretary of defense who was TFBSO's director from 2006 to 2011. The letter states that Brinkley didn't cooperate with SIGAR investigators when they tried to talk with him about the matter. In a written statement provided to Mother Jones, Brinkley denied having ever been contacted by SIGAR in relation to the allegations brought up in the letter. He also stated that during his tenure, the task force operated under the authority of the Secretary of Defense and the International Security Assistance Force, a NATO-led security and stabilization organization in Afghanistan.
"When I ran the task force, we had one mission: help bring normalcy to Afghanistan by encouraging sustained economic growth and employment for the Afghan people and the creation of an Afghan middle class," Brinkley wrote. "Everything we did focused on that goal, which is critical to Afghanistan's ability to someday finance its own security and development needs without US taxpayer support."
Sopko's letter quotes a portion of Brinkley's 2014 book, War Front to Store Front: Americans Rebuilding Trust and Hope in Nations Under Fire, in which he wrote that "wherever possible, we avoided depending on the military…The goal was to show private companies that they could set up operations in Afghanistan themselves without needing military support." Sopko also cited an October 2013 report by a consulting group working with the TFBSO that noted that the group was "not constrained by chief-of-mission requirements" and had "no excessive red tape internally in securing travel arrangements."
Sopko has asked the DoD to answer several questions, including:
Did the DoD or the TFBSO perform a cost-benefit analysis of using private accommodations over private "villas" and security?
Did the TFBSO have specific authority from the DoD or any other organization to allow staff to live in private residences and hire private security?
How were these "villas" selected and used?
Some TFBSO documentation refers to "leadership villas," compared to other "villas." What was the difference?
Which investors were brought by the TFBSO to Afghanistan? When did they visit?
As part of Sopko's release of a report on the $43 million that the TFBSO had spent on a $500,000 gas station, a letter from Principal Under Secretary of Defense Brian McKeon to Sopko said that the March 2015 closure of the TFBSO "resulted in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) no longer possessing the personnel expertise to address the questions or to assess properly the TFBSO information and documentation retained" by the federal government.
There have long been questions by government investigators and others about the efficacy of the TFBSO. It was unclear if the program produced tangible results or whether business opportunity as a deterrent to insurgency and instability was possible. In Thursday's letter, Sopko pointed out that SIGAR has produced several reports on the office, including an audit that found that it lacked any long-term strategy for its $282 million in investments into the Afghan mineral, oil, and gas industries. In July 2011, the Government Accountability Office said the office lacked "project management guidance" and transparency.
Sowers, the DOD spokesman, told Mother Jones that"we have received the recent letter from SIGAR and will respond."
Would Donald Trump really get Republicans to the polls in November?
Donald Trump and Ben Carson may lead in the GOP primary polls, but if one of them actually became the nominee, some Republicans might not vote at allcome November 2016. Hillary Clinton's candidacy might also be a disincentive for some Democrats to go to the polls. Even though the election is a year away, a Google survey conducted over the weekendexplored the gap between party loyalty and possible nominees and found that some party loyalists might opt out of the 2016 election if faced with a candidate named Trump, Carson, or Clinton.
The survey asked people who planned to vote and self-identified as either Republicans or Democrats (roughly 1,500 identifying with each party) whether they were more or less likely to vote for their party's candidate based on the nominee. For Republicans, the choices were Trump and Carson. For Democrats, they were Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Of the four, Trump seems to be the biggest liability, with more than 53 percent of respondents saying they'd be less likely to vote Republican if he were the nominee. Slightly more than 26 percent said his candidacy would make no difference, and about 20 percent said it would make them more likely to vote Republican:
Carson fared better, with slightly more than 41 percent in the "less likely" camp, and 35 percent saying that Carson as the nominee would make no difference to them:
On the Democratic side, Sanders polled better in terms of inspiring more people to vote for the Democratic ticket. For Clinton, 42.5 percent of Democrats said she would make them less likely to vote, while 41 percent said her candidacy made no difference. About 16 percent said Clinton's name on the ticket would make them more likely to vote:
For Sanders, 41 percent also said that if he were the nominee it would make no difference. But compared with Clinton, fewer respondents said that having Sanders as the nominee would make them less likely to vote (32 percent), and more said he'd make them likelier to vote (26.7 percent, a full 10 percentage points higher than Clinton):
This is only one snapshot a few months before the first primary, but it sheds some light on what might happen next November when the campaigns are over and voters finally cast their ballots.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke turns himself in to authorities on Tuesday, November 24, to hear charges of first-degree murder in the October 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald.
The day before Chicago authorities plan to release a violent video showing the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the Chicago police officer who allegedly shot him 16 times in October 2014 will face first-degree murder charges, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Jason Van Dyke, 37, is the first Chicago police officer to be charged with first-degree murder in nearly 35 years, according to the Tribune. Van Dyke appeared in court Tuesday to hear the charges and is scheduled to have a bond hearing Tuesday afternoon. The city of Chicago said it would release a recording of the shooting from a police car dashboard camera, which showed Van Dyke "jumping out of his squad car and within seconds unloading 16 rounds into 17-year-old McDonald," lawyers for McDonald's family told the Tribune. They added that "after the first few shots knocked McDonald to the ground, Van Dyke fired another volley that struck the teen repeatedly as his body lay in almost a fetal position on the ground."
The police narrative of the events has been at odds with what was recorded on the video. The police have said that after responding to a report of someone trying to break into cars, they found McDonald in the street, puncturing the tires of a car with a knife. When ordered to drop the knife, the police say McDonald turned and walked away. The responding officers didn't have a Taser and called requested backup, but they followed McDonald.A second police car arrived and the two cars tried to box McDonald in. Police say he punctured one of the police cars' tires with a knife and damaged a windshield. When police got out of the car, according to initial police claims, McDonald lunged at them with a knife and Van Dyke shot him.
But the video reportedly shows McDonald walking away when Van Dyke opens fire, and an autopsy showed that several of the bullets hit McDonald in the back. In April, the city of Chicago gave the McDonald family a $5 million settlement before they filed suit, according to the Tribune, but the city prevented the video fromgoing public until the investigation into Van Dyke concluded. In response to a public records lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Brandon Smith, a judgelast week ordered the city to release the video.
The graphic nature of the video has city leaders preparing for protests. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called Van Dyke's actions "hideous," and asked the city's religious and political leaders to urge peaceful protests. But several leaders told the Tribune that Emanuel and the city have handled the situation poorly and that people in the community feel betrayed and angry.
"There is a group that is not listening to him and not listening to us either, but nevertheless we are hoping these protests and demonstrations will be peaceful," the Rev. Ira Acree, a pastor at the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, told the Tribune. "But we know they are coming, because if there was no protest that would mean we've become immune to this madness."
Gowdy, chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, convened Thursday's hearing to discuss the process of vetting refugees who are attempting to enter the United States. During his opening statement, Gowdy attacked President Barack Obama,whose comments, Gowdy said, are designed to "cut off debate rather than discuss foreign policy."Obama has insisted that refugees are put through a rigorous screening process, but Gowdy said there are few reliable sources of information in chaotic regions such as Syria to verify information presented by refugee applicants.
"It's not that we don't have a process—we don't have any information," he said. "You're talking about a country that's a failed state, that doesn't have any infrastructure, all the data sets—the police, the intel services—you normally would go to to seek that information, don't exist. That is not a Republican presidential hopeful. That is the head of the FBI."
"The president says we're scared of widows and orphans. With all due respect to him, what I'm really afraid of is a foreign policy that creates more widows and orphans," Gowdy said, suggesting that the president begin"a foreign policy in the Middle East, including Syria, where people can go back to their homelands. Which is their preference. Maybe he ought to defeat that JV team that you thought you had contained."
Five witnesses discussed various aspects of the application process for refugees to settle in the United States and US policy toward refugees from Syria. Anne C. Richard, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department, told the committee that the United States has been providing billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance since the conflict in Syria began. Through diplomatic channels, the United States has also tried to encourage other countries toaccept more refugees. She noted that in 2015, the United Statestook in 1,700 refugees from the conflict, and that it plans to accept an additional 10,000 in the 2016 fiscal year.
"I know the murderous attacks in Paris last Friday evening have raised many questions about the spillover of not just migrants to Europe, but also the spread of violence from war zones in the Middle East to the streets of a major European capital," Richard said. Refugees admitted to the United States "are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States," she said, including fingerprint and background checks and lengthy in-person interviews by specially trained Department of Homeland Security officers. The screening involves several national law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, as well as the departments of state, homeland security, and defense.
"The vast majority of the 3 million refugees who have been admitted to the United States, including from some of the most troubled regions in the world, have proven to be hardworking and productive residents," Richard said. "They pay taxes, send their children to school, and after five years, many take the test to become citizens."
Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency, told the committee that he was "disheartened" by the response of those who would block Syrian refugees outright.
"I mistakenly thought that signs and attitudes like 'Irish need not apply,' 'no coloreds,' 'no beer sold to Indians,' and 'No Jews or dogs allowed' were ugly relics buried in our past," he said. "Apparently not. A number of governors have unearthed these skeletons of xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia for political gain."
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, advocated the halting of refugee resettlement in the United States, and said that while he supports US resources going to humanitarian and refugee protection, he doesn't think the vetting process is safe. More refugees could be helped by encouraging them to stay in the Middle East, he said.
The hearing came just a few hours before the House voted overwhelmingly to approve a measure that would require the director of the FBI, the secretary of homeland security, and the director of national intelligence to confirm that each refugee applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat. (See Mother Jones' report on that bill here.)The Senate may not take up the bill until after Thanksgiving, and White House officials have said the president will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
"You can't say there's no risk, and I appreciate that nobody's tried to say that," Gowdy said at the conclusion of the hearing. "We all agree that we are dealing with an enemy that affirmatively wants to do whatever bad thing they can do to us. And I just think it's put the American people in a really, really tough position."