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Chicago cops acquitted of alleged coverup in black teen’s killing

Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting. The…

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Chicago cops acquitted of alleged coverup in black teen’s killing

Activists and relatives of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager in the United States who was killed by a white police officer more than four years ago, have decried a court ruling that acquitted three current and former Chicago officers of conspiring to protect a white colleague by lying about the circumstances around the fatal shooting.

The October 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald, which was captured on police video, triggered months of protests and became emblematic of longstanding police abuse in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.

On Thursday, Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney and detective David March of trying to cover up the shooting, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of McDonald’s killing that also led to a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.

White Chicago cop convicted of murder in shooting of black teen

In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, the judge seemed to accept many of the same defence arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.

The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.

“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.

THE LISTENING POST: Cops, lies and videotape: the death of Laquan McDonald (9:05)

‘Sad day for America’

McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions.

His great uncle, the Reverend Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal”, adding that it proved the city’s legal system was “corrupt”.

“This is not justice,” he said. “To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty,” Hunter added, describing the verdict was a step backward for the black community’s struggles for justice.

“It is a sad day for America.”

The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered—on video—by one of its officers and no one in the chain-in-command lifted a finger to do anything about it.
— ACLU of Illinois (@ACLUofIL) January 17, 2019

Karen Sheley, of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement: “The court’s decision does nothing to exonerate a police department so rotten that a teenager can be murdered – on video – by one of its officers.”

The case has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.

Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League, a police accountability advocacy group from Chicago’s West Side, said he and other leaders expected hundreds to protest the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.

“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” Russell said.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.

Videos of US police killings fail to bring justice (2:11)

The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.

Walsh, Gaffney and March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.

After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half”.

In her ruling , the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.

“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.

The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.

The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.

The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different.” That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.

FAULT LINES: Confidential: Surveilling Black Lives Matter

Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the teenager while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.

Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.

McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tire on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.

Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defence used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.

It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw”, March’s attorney, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”

City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.

The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.

The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.

US: Chicago police accused of racist use of ‘bait trucks’ tactic (2:16)

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 995 people have been killed by the police in the US in 2018. The Post found that more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.

The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings in 2017

Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.

According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.

These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.

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Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city. The charred bodies were…

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Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city.
The charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district, which has been a target for looters and protesters. A security guard told AFP news agency he found the bodies in two rooms late on Friday.
Police said forensic teams had launched an investigation and were still on the scene but that the cause of the deaths was unclear.
The streets of the capital remained relatively quiet on Saturday morning as residents began to assess the damage left by days of rioting.
A curfew had been imposed on the restive capital overnight after a third day of violence that saw the prime minister’s home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins.
Australian police officers and local police monitoring a crowd in Honiara on Friday after days of rioting [Jay Liofasi/AFP]Australian police officers, who arrived in the country late on Thursday following a request from the government, also joined their Solomon Islands’ counterparts on the streets to help restore order and protect critical infrastructure.
The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment — a situation made worse by the pandemic.
Experts say the crisis has also been fuelled by long-standing animosity between residents of Malaita, the most populous island, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.
The archipelago nation of about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.
Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and divisions have intensified since Sogavare suddenly switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.
Songavare on Friday blamed foreign powers for stoking the unrest, but did not name them.

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‘Incomparable’ Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported. Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut,…

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‘Incomparable’ Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported.
Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with friends.
“There are no words. He had them all. And the music. He was incomparable,” the UK-based Stephen Sondheim Society, which is dedicated to promoting and studying his work, tweeted along with three heart emojis, one of them broken.
“He was God to many of us. We loved his work. And god he was good.”
Born on March 22, 1930, to an affluent family in New York City, Sondheim was involved in musical theatre from an early age.
He started playing piano at age seven and, after his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Pennsylvania, learned to write musicals with neighbour Oscar Hammerstein II, who with partner Richard Rodgers wrote hugely popular shows including The Sound of Music.
Sondheim’s got his first big breakthrough on Broadway in 1957 with West Side Story, which transplanted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to working-class Manhattan.

‘We are all blessed to have been alive at the same time as this theatre legend… & to have received from him a gift as precious as his art’
Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91. The @SondheimSociety’s @craigglenday offers a few initial thoughts…https://t.co/UVcbLvWCHy pic.twitter.com/P5mzITxPPV
— MusicalTheatreReview (@MusicalTheatreR) November 27, 2021

He left us with so many words, but none enough for this post. Goodbye, old pal. Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for so much brilliance in the theatre and sharing your music with us all. pic.twitter.com/Qe55GcDQeS
— The Tony Awards (@TheTonyAwards) November 27, 2021
Later successes included Sweeney Todd, about a murderous barber in London whose victims are served as meat pies, which opened in 1979, and Into the Woods, which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used children’s fairy tales to untangle adult obsessions.
“I love the theatre as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is paramount to me,” Sondheim said in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio.
‘Singing your songs forever’
Sondheim won numerous awards during his career including eight Grammy awards, and eight Tony awards, including the special honour of Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He also picked up one Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for many more Grammys and Tonys, as well as two Golden Globes.
In 2015, then-US president Barack Obama presented Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for his life’s work.
Several of Sondheim’s musicals have been turned into films including West Side Story in 1961, which won an Oscar, and Into the Woods, starring Meryl Streep, in 2007. A new version of West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg, is due to be released next month.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created the smash-hit rap musical Hamilton and was mentored by Sondheim, has called him musical theatre’s greatest lyricist.
Sondheim, who was gay, reportedly lived alone until his 60s, keeping his sexuality under wraps. In 2017, he married his partner Jeffrey Romley, who survives him.
“Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics!” tweeted singer Barbra Streisand.
Actress and singer Lea Salonga, who was the first Asian woman to win a Tony for originating the lead role of the musical Miss Saigon, thanked Sondheim for his “vast contributions to musical theatre”.
“We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts,” she wrote on Twitter.

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From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource. The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime…

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From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource.

The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime borders are among the many disputes.

The discovery and exploitation of new resources in the MENA region, like the regional crises, intensifies the tug-of-war surrounding gas. We see a complex interaction between energy and geopolitics, which are usually connected.

The Middle East’s gas reserves have been seeing the fastest growth in the world since 2009. These “proven” gas reserves (the quantity of hydrocarbon resources that can be extracted from a field with a reasonable level of certainty, NDLR) have soared to 40.4 percent in 2020, compared to 31.4 percent in 2000.

In conjunction with the development of natural gas in the region, we are witnessing an increase in the battles and showdowns taking place. This energy resource, which is far from appearing as an element that promotes cooperation, has indeed become a factor causing tensions.

The consequences of the decommissioning of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline

Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat last August, Algeria continued to retaliate against its neighbor, putting an end to 25 years of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline service — the operations contract ended on Oct. 31, 2021.

However, this decision affecting Morocco is also contributing to disrupting an already unstable regional context (from Libya to Mali, passing through Tunisia). It might also affect Spain, which, like a good portion of Europe, is threatened by a gas crisis attributed to Moscow, especially as this pipeline represents the main source of the country’s natural gas supply.

At first glance, it was a severe blow for Spain because Algeria is its main natural gas provider, supplying half of its yearly natural gas consumption: Madrid would have experienced a significant increase in the prices of gas as well as electricity. To avoid such a scenario, Algiers proposed to “continue to ensure, in a better way, the delivery of gas through Medgaz, according to a well-defined schedule.” The submarine natural gas pipeline Medgaz, which was inaugurated in 2004, directly connects the two countries.

However, some people doubt that this alternative will be sufficient to cover Spain’s needs. The capacity of the Medgaz pipeline is lower than that of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline: It delivers about 8 billion cubic meters a year, while the capacity of the decommissioned gas pipeline was 10 billion cubic meters a year. Algiers is therefore relying on “the recent project to extend the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline.”

Ultimately, Algeria’s decision will greatly affect the economy of Morocco, as the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline supplied the production of electricity in Morocco before reaching its final destination in Spain. Some statistics show that Morocco used to produce almost 17 percent of its electricity through this channel. Morocco will also lose the transit-related taxes (between €50 and 150 million a year).

In addition, it will not be easy for Morocco to find an alternative to supply itself with gas. The options are currently limited and uncertain.

On the other side of the Arab world, the situation seems less tense.

The gas issue in Syria, Turkey’s greed and the commissioning of the Arab gas pipeline

For several weeks now, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This phase is taking place with the initial approval of the US (to make an exception regarding the Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on Damascus) in conjunction with the arrival of Iranian diesel to Lebanon based on Hezbollah’s initiative. It is also considered an entry point for a partial normalization of ties with the Syrian regime.

Since the multifaceted Syrian conflict started, natural gas has been perceived as an indirect cause of the Russian intervention. After that, there has always been a certain connection between the continuity of the military presence of the US and eastern Syria, which is rich in energy resources.

Consequently, gas will undoubtedly have an impact on the shape of the future map of Syria as well as the maps of the new Middle East.

In a wider context, the contemporary theories of strategic security highlight the importance of energy not only from an economic perspective, but also as a trigger of conflicts and a power elements indicator of the countries of origin, the countries through which the pipelines pass and the downstream countries. In any new process of delineation or demarcation of borders, it is highly probable that the energy resources of gas, oil and water will be taken into account.

Within the wide geographical range of the map of gas fields, markets and passage routes of pipelines, Syria occupies a significant position because it is located at the heart of the Levant, while its seas and coasts, like the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, are rich in energy resources.

In addition, gas could become an important pillar of the economies of numerous Arab and Mediterranean countries, which could provide Israel with the opportunity to integrate economically into the regional economy. This evolution would naturally become a source of worry for Iran and Qatar when it comes to their role as pioneers of the gas market. It would also have the ability to unsettle Turkey, which could lose its status as a crossroads to ensure exportation; this country is the point of arrival of pipelines and gas pipelines.

In a broader context, we should point to the emergence of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2020, which comprises seven countries: Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and Italy (with the US, the EU and France as observers). This was the culmination of efforts exerted by the forum, which was established in 2015 under the same name. Egypt became a new leader in gas; this was enough for Ankara to see it as an attempt to intimidate it due to the disputes that are either territorial or based on the region’s wealth. This was the case particularly after the signing of several bilateral agreements aimed at delineating the maritime borders, such as the agreements signed between Egypt and Greece or between Greece and Italy.

During this period, litigation and disputes related to the exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean basin intensified. These developments were preceded by a Turkish advance in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, which defined the maritime borders with Libya, or through the disputed fields over which it is at odds with Cyprus and Greece.

Last year also saw the resumption of negotiations aimed at delineating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. Several gas fields are involved, particularly block 9, which is at the center of a dispute between the two countries.

We can conclude that relaunching the idea of the Arab gas pipeline after two decades would be beneficial for the concerned parties, especially for a country such as Lebanon. However, it cannot take place without a tentative agreement or mutual consent between the major regional actors and a certain American-Russian agreement.

• This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais

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