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Endorse This: Happy Birthday, Al Green!

Today is soul singer Al Green’s 70th birthday.

And what better way to appreciate him than by having one of his own fans perform a (slight) homage?

President Obama did just that in 2012, on an apparent dare, after Green performed at a fundraising event that Obama attended. To raucous applause, the president sang a line from one of Green’s most well-known songs, “I’m Still in Love With You,” from 1972.

“Don’t worry, Rev., I cannot sing like you, but I just wanted to show my appreciation,” he said.

Obama has sung in front of crowds before – his rendition of “Amazing Grace,” in June last year after the Emanuel AME church shooting in Charleston became a symbol for the resilience of the victims in the wake of a horrific attack.

President Obama isn’t afraid to sing when he’s moved. Screengrab from the Associated Press/YouTube

Videos Of Police Shootings Don’t Always Tell The Full Story, Experts Warn

By James Queally and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The video, shot from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser, shows a black teenager walking down the middle of a Southwest Chicago street. Two police officers approach the 17-year-old from his left, guns drawn.

The teen stumbles and falls as he is hit by gunfire. But, Cook County prosecutors say, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke continues shooting even after Laquan McDonald has crumpled to the asphalt.

Van Dyke fired 16 shots in total, investigators said. McDonald died a short time later.

The recording — a key piece of evidence released Tuesday as a first-degree murder charge was filed against Van Dyke — is the latest in a catalog of videos that has put police use-of-force under intense scrutiny across the U.S. In the past 18 months, surveillance feeds and cellphone recordings have led to protests and criminal charges after officers used force against civilians in New York City, Los Angeles, Cleveland and South Carolina, among other places. Many of the protests have focused on the role of race in police use of force, particularly against black men.

The videos are often visceral in nature, showing what many activists consider to be clear-cut misuse of force by police officers. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said she “moved up” her decision to charge Van Dyke after a judge ruled last week that the video should be released to the public.

But, even as demonstrators took to Chicago’s streets Tuesday night to protest the shooting of McDonald by a white police officer, law enforcement experts around the nation warned that recordings like the one that captured the teen’s death can paint an incomplete picture.

“Knowing what happens on video after it happens is totally different than knowing what the cop was thinking and what he will say he was thinking,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former assistant district attorney in New York City. “The video obviously could be damning in terms of a criminal case, but the ultimate question is, is there malice towards the kid? Is it totally unwarranted under any view of the evidence? The video does not speak for itself.”

Recordings of clashes between police and civilians have been especially resonant in Los Angeles in recent months, where video filmed by a bystander of several officers opening fire on a homeless man on skid row earlier this year generated national outrage.

Deciding whether to make official recordings public has also proved a thorny issue for city leaders.

The spread of similar videos has sparked large-scale protests in some cities. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration tried to keep the recording of McDonald’s death from becoming public. In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department generally does not publicly release recordings from cameras mounted in its patrol cars or on officers’ uniforms.

Van Dyke was one of several officers responding to reports that McDonald had been spotted breaking into vehicles and stealing radios on Oct. 20, 2014, according to details of the case released in court Tuesday. The first officers at the scene reported that the teenager was armed with a knife and walking away from the area. Cook County prosecutors said, at one point, McDonald waved the knife as he walked past a squad car.

The teenager did not speak to any of the officers or respond to commands to drop the knife. An autopsy showed McDonald had PCP in his system.

Van Dyke was about 10 feet away from McDonald when he started firing and continued shooting for 13 seconds while the teen lay on the ground, prosecutors said. Van Dyke’s partner told investigators he had to stop the officer from reloading.

Law enforcement experts who reviewed the recording said that, on first glance, the shooting seemed excessive. Ed Obayashi, an Inyo County Sheriff’s deputy who also works as an attorney on use-of-force cases, said the fact that Van Dyke’s partner did not fire his weapon could prove critical at trial.

“The testimony of that officer is going to be very, very compelling about why he did not perceive a deadly threat,” Obayashi said.

Other experts who reviewed the video could not understand how Van Dyke could perceive the teenager as a threat.

“I don’t see a justification for deadly force. He is walking away from the officer,” said Geoff Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police force.

Sid Heal, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s commander and force expert, questioned Van Dyke’s decision to fire and the prosecutor’s move to charge him with murder.

“It’s going to be tough to make a case that he arrived at a scene and decided in only 30 seconds to premeditatedly kill the suspect,” Heal said. “If the defense can make any valid case for self-defense, manslaughter seems more appropriate.”

The video highlights the way surveillance footage can influence prosecutors. Earlier this year, a cellphone recording showed North Charleston, S.C., police Officer Michael Thomas Slager firing several shots into the back of an unarmed black man, 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was running away from the officer.

Murder charges were filed against Slager on April 7, less than an hour after the city’s mayor and police chief received the video, officials said at that time.

While recordings of deadly clashes between police and civilians have gained increased media attention in recent years, the videos are not always enough to gain criminal convictions.

Former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Ivory John Webb Jr. became the target of national outrage in 2006 after a video showed him towering over an off-duty Air Force police officer and shooting him several times. Despite indications that the man he shot appeared to be surrendering, Webb was acquitted of attempted voluntary manslaughter at trial.

A recording of a New York City police officer placing Eric Garner in an apparent chokehold during a fatal 2014 clash also sparked nationwide protests, but a grand jury declined to indict the officer on a manslaughter charge.

The law gives police officers wide latitude in using force when they believe that their lives — or the lives of others — are in danger.

O’Donnell said prosecutors will have to prove that Van Dyke did not believe McDonald posed an immediate threat to his life when he opened fire.

“Why would he choose to just coldblooded kill someone? Why would he do that?” O’Donnell asked. “You’re going to have to answer that question.”
___
(Chicago Tribune staff writers Jason Meisner, Jeremy Gordner and Steve Schmadeke contributed to this report.)

Photo: Protestors engage with Chicago Police after the release of the 2014 video of Laquan McDonald being shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke, near Michigan Avenue on Tuesday, Nov. 24 2015, in Chicago. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

‘Temporary’ Not Guilty Plea Entered For Charleston Suspect

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – A federal magistrate on Friday entered a “temporary” not guilty plea for Dylann Roof on hate crime charges in the slaying of nine African-Americans at a South Carolina church, even as his lawyer said his client wanted to plead guilty.

The lead defense attorney, David Bruck, said he could not advise Roof, 21, to declare his guilt in the massacre until after prosecutors said whether they would seek capital punishment.

“Roof has told us he wishes to plead guilty,” Bruck told the court. “Until we know whether the government will seek the death penalty, we cannot advise Mr. Roof.”

The “not guilty” plea entered into the court record by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant on Roof’s behalf can be changed later. Final motions are due on August 20.

“We believe he understands the tremendous crime that he committed and the heinousness of it,” Eduardo Curry, an attorney representing the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of last month’s massacre, said outside the courtroom.

More than two dozen survivors and relatives of the victims of last month’s killings attended the hearing, where Roof was arraigned on 33 federal hate crime and firearms charges.

The counts add to the raft of state murder and attempted murder counts he already faces. Roof has not yet entered a plea on the state charges.

Some of the relatives and survivors came to the front of the courtroom to make statements, many of them in tears.

“For the rest of his life I want him to hear my thoughts,” said Tyrone Sanders, referring to the defendant.

“I am hurting inside for what he is accused of doing,” said Sanders, father of victim Tywanza Sanders, 26, and husband of Felicia Sanders, who survived. “I want him to think about what I’m thinking and continue to think about it.”

At an earlier appearance in state court, family members riveted the country by expressing heartfelt forgiveness to Roof, saying their Christian faith compelled them to rise above their grief.

Their statements, coming just two days after the slayings, helped spark intense soul-searching in the United States over race relations and led to the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds.

Neither federal nor state prosecutors have decided whether they will seek the death penalty if Roof is convicted.

The federal charges are based on evidence that the suspect targeted the victims “because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of religion,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last week in announcing the indictment.

Roof planned the murders for months with the “goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African-Americans had committed against white people,” Lynch said.

He singled out the nearly 200-year-old church known as “Mother Emanuel” because of its historical significance in the African-American community, Lynch said.

Roof signaled his criminal intent in a racist manuscript posted on his website, she said.

(Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, June 19, 2015 in a still image from video. REUTERS/POOL

Alleged Charleston Shooter Faces Federal Hate Crime Charges: Lynch

(Reuters) – Alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof faces federal hate crimes and firearms charges that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday.

A federal grand jury in South Carolina returned a 33-count indictment against Roof, accused of killing nine people attending Bible study at a historically black church last month, Lynch said.

The federal government has not decided if it will seek the death penalty if Roof is convicted, according to Lynch.

South Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute, and so the hate crime charges that Roof targeted the victims “because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of religion,” are part of the federal indictment, Lynch said.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Dylann Roof (R), the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, listens to the proceedings with assistant defense attorney William Maguire during a hearing at the Judicial Center in Charleston, South Carolina July 16, 2015. (REUTERS/Randall Hill)