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Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, died on July 17 after being placed in a chokehold by police. His death sparked numerous protests, including a march scheduled for this Saturday. Here, Garner's sister Ellisha Flagg (center) leads demonstrators on a march towards the 120th Precinct on July 22, following a vigil demanding justice for her brother. (AP)

In New York And Ferguson, Two Deaths, Two Different Responses

Aug 22, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., also led to a series of protests. Many of them, like this protest on August 19, featured people raising their arms and chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot." But interactions between police and protesters were more tense -- and sometimes violent -- than in New York. A memorial to Michael Brown sits next to one honoring Eric Garner outside of filmmaker Spike Lee's offices in Brooklyn. This summer, the deaths of both unarmed black men set off numerous demonstrations in their communities, but the peaceful protests in New York, and prompt press conference held by New York police, stand in contrast to the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo.

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The deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of police have shocked the country this summer: Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by police in Staten Island, New York, and Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot by police in Ferguson, Mo.

Thousands of protesters will march in New York on Saturday to demand justice for Garner, and organizers say Brown's parents will speak at the rally. But while the two cases have some things in common, there are also key differences including the way police in the local communities reacted.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who's leading Saturday's protest in Staten Island, is among those who have noticed the contrast. Sharpton's had a busy month, shuttling between New York and Ferguson.

On Wednesday, Sharpton was at the tony Manhattan residence of Cardinal Timothy Dolan for a meeting between the city mayor, the police commissioner and city religious leaders aimed at easing tensions after Garner's death.

"When I flew back the other day, I thought about how different it was that we're going to sit in the Cardinal's residence than what I saw in the streets of Ferguson," Sharpton says.

In Missouri, days of violence and looting followed the shooting of Brown by a white police officer. New York has seen large but peaceful protests since Garner died after police arrested him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The incident was captured on cell phone video: You can hear Garner repeating the phrase "I can't breathe" after he's placed in a chokehold and held to the ground by police.

The next day, the video went viral. Officials in New York immediately called a press conference to explain how they were responding; the day after that, the officer who used the chokehold was identified and stripped of his gun and badge. Within a week, the police commissioner had announced plans to retrain all 35,000 NYPD officers on how to use force.

That's very different from how local and county police responded to the shooting in Ferguson, according to former police officer David Klinger. He now teaches at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, just a few miles from Ferguson.

"If the local officials had called a press conference early on or gotten ahead of this, I think that would've calmed a lot of the concern, because so much was going on that people just didn't understand," Klinger says.

Instead, information emerged sporadically from Ferguson and St. Louis County police. The details of Brown's shooting are very much in dispute. Still, it took Missouri officials close to a week to release some basic information about the incident — including the number of bullets that struck Brown, and the name of the officer who fired them.

Norm White, a professor of criminology at Saint Louis University, says the way police handled the aftermath of the shooting contributed to further public mistrust in Ferguson.

"They've been tone-deaf from the very beginning," White says. "Communities that are already in a tense relationship with law enforcement need to have a sense that they're being respected, and they have not gotten that sense."

But White says it's not fair to blame the cops for everything that happened in Ferguson. More than 160 demonstrators — including some from outside the community — have been arrested. Police were pelted with bottles and rocks. Molotov cocktails were thrown, and businesses looted. So White says the community also bears some responsibility for the violence.

"There hasn't been what seemed to be adequate leadership in the streets," White says. That's not just the fault of political leaders and community leaders — it's a collective responsibility, White says: "I think it's all of our failure, as people who are committed to the community, that we haven't been able to figure it out."

White says that's another key difference between the two cities. In Ferguson, there's no tradition of dialogue between community organizers and the police. But in New York — for better or worse — police and community organizations have years of experience working together to plan demonstrations during moments of racial tension.

Cynthia Davis is helping to organize tomorrow's march in Staten Island, where she lives. She heads the local chapter of Sharpton's National Action Network.

"My main goal is to make sure I go around in the community and get that message out, that this is going to be a peaceful march — that we are marching for justice," Davis says.

Davis has been protesting for years against what she sees as racially-biased policing in New York — but she describes the chief of police in Staten Island as a friend.

"He's working with us to make sure that this march happen, and happen properly," Davis says. "And that police are going to be as invisible as possible. They're going to be barely seen."

That would also be a sharp contrast with Ferguson — where the conflict has been defined by images of police and National Guard troops in camouflage, with military-style weapons and body armor.

Despite her respect for NYPD leadership, Davis says she has plenty of complaints about the department — including the aggressive policing of minor offenses that critics say led to Eric Garner's death. The protesters are still pushing for criminal charges against the officers involved. But they want that message — not another clash with police — to take center stage.

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Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Ferguson, Mo., residents Angela Whitman (left) and Jill Richards on Wednesday at Drake's Place Restaurant about issues surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. (MCT/Landov)

Obama's Reaction To Ferguson Raises Questions About President's Role

Aug 22, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., also led to a series of protests. Many of them, like this protest on August 19, featured people raising their arms and chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot." But interactions between police and protesters were more tense -- and sometimes violent -- than in New York. A memorial to Michael Brown sits next to one honoring Eric Garner outside of filmmaker Spike Lee's offices in Brooklyn. This summer, the deaths of both unarmed black men set off numerous demonstrations in their communities, but the peaceful protests in New York, and prompt press conference held by New York police, stand in contrast to the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo.

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Ferguson, Mo., has seen nearly two weeks of protests after an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. This week, a black leader stepped to help diffuse tensions. But it wasn't a civil rights spokesman or the first African-American president. It was Attorney General Eric Holder.

Some political observers are asking why Obama can't seem to speak for himself on race. Many observers argue that Holder often talks frankly about race when the president can't or won't.

Speaking at a Thursday press conference, Holder said, "This has engendered a conversation that I think we ought to have, but we can't stop at that conversation."

Earlier in the week, Holder became the highest ranking administration official to visit Ferguson. He met with Michael Brown's parents, community leaders and regular citizens. At a local diner, he explained to residents why he came to their troubled town.

"We want to help as best we can. We also want to listen," Holder said. "That's the main part of this trip. We want to hear about issues you all are dealing with and see if there are ways in which we can help."

Many black political thinkers say President Obama himself needs help connecting on this issue and that his Monday remarks on Ferguson fell flat. They say this is the moment that he needs to be "the black president," not just a president who happens to be black.

Mary C. Curtis is a contributor to The Washington Post's "She The People" column. She wants Obama to speak more personally about how law enforcement treats African-Americans.

"When he talks about black men being profiled, when he talks about a situation of unrest, he is a person who is president of the United States who has also been profiled," Curtis says.

In Ferguson, Holder shared his own stories of being profiled, explaining to young black people at a community college that he understands their uneasy relationship with police. While that event was closed to the press, in the past, an open mic hasn't stopped Holder from speaking boldly on race.

"In things racial we have always been and, I believe we continue to been, essentially, a nation of cowards," Holder said in February of 2009. He offered those remarks at a Justice Department black history month event, just days after he took office.

That kind of blunt talk is what some of the president's black supporters wish Obama would try more often.

But can he?

Comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele built a now famous series of skits around Obama's reserve. The president is played by Peele and Key serves as his official Anger Translator, Luther. At the heart of each piece is Luther's willingness to say what Obama won't.

Some observers suggest that Holder is Obama's real-life Luther. But also that Ferguson presents a unique challenge to the president.

Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University, says that conflicting narratives about Michael Brown's killing — and what happened in the streets afterward — make it tough for Obama to take a stand.

"The facts of the case have come out in a trickle," says Gillespie. "And as the facts have come out, sometimes, they have been met with a very, very tense response in Ferguson. And since the facts of the case have not been 100 percent clear, I think President Obama has been a little reticent to speak out."

Others say that's just an excuse.

"America did not vote for Eric Holder, OK? America voted for Barack Obama," says Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Ohio's Hiram College. He traveled to Ferguson to observe the protests and says having Holder appear there was good, but not enough.

"When it comes to gravitas, power and symbolism, there is no substitute for the president of the United States speaking," says Johnson.

When there were riots after the acquittal of the Los Angeles police who beat Rodney King, Johnson says people wanted to hear from President George H.W. Bush. They wanted to hear not just about the facts, but about his feelings. And they did.

"What you saw, what I saw on the TV videotape was revolting," George H.W. Bush said. "I felt anger, I felt pain. I thought, 'How can I explain this to my grandchildren?' "

Johnson believes Ferguson represents a similar crisis and that some presidential anger is appropriate. And, he insists, that's not a job Obama should delegate to the Attorney General.

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President Obama sits in a golf cart on Aug. 21 while golfing at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard. (AP)

For Obama, August Is The Cruelest Month

Aug 22, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., also led to a series of protests. Many of them, like this protest on August 19, featured people raising their arms and chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot." But interactions between police and protesters were more tense -- and sometimes violent -- than in New York. A memorial to Michael Brown sits next to one honoring Eric Garner outside of filmmaker Spike Lee's offices in Brooklyn. This summer, the deaths of both unarmed black men set off numerous demonstrations in their communities, but the peaceful protests in New York, and prompt press conference held by New York police, stand in contrast to the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo.

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President Obama returns to Washington this weekend after a two-week family vacation.

It wasn't exactly restful. The break was interrupted several times by events in Iraq and in Ferguson, Missouri.

On Wednesday, Obama raised eyebrows by hitting the golf course, minutes after delivering a tough statement on the murder of an American journalist by militants from the Islamic State.

You know it's bad is when even the French are criticizing you for taking too much time off.

French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius was one of many who took President Obama to task this week for playing golf in the wake of journalist Jim Foley's murder. At a press briefing on Martha's Vineyard Friday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said he wouldn't discuss the president's mindset. But Schultz added sports and leisure can be a good way to clear the mind.

"I understand that you're asking about the optics. First and foremost, the president is focused on doing his job. And I don't think anyone in this room who's been covering this or following the president for the past few weeks could deny that the president's been deeply engaged on issues both domestic and abroad."

According to a tally kept by CBS news reporter Mark Knoller, Obama will have spent a total of 140 days on vacation by the time he returns to Washington on Sunday. By comparison, George W. Bush had taken nearly three times as much vacation at the same point in his term.

There's no question it's been an awkward time to be away from the capital, with fighting in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as Iraq and Missouri. But there's never really been a relaxing August since Obama became president.

In 2009, there were angry protests over the health care bill. The next year was supposed to be "Recovery Summer." But as political advisor David Axelrod said in August 2010, unemployment remained stubbornly high.

"There are still 15 million people looking for jobs. There's still a great deal of uncertainty."

And in August 2011, brinksmanship over the budget knocked a hole in the U.S. credit rating.

"It shouldn't take the risk of default, the risk of economic catastrophe to get folks in this town to work together and to do their jobs," said Obama at the time.

Public perception of Obama's job performance has consistently suffered during the summer. Gallup pollster Frank Newport says it typically bottoms out around this time of year.

"August was his worst month through the first five years of his administration. The so-called 'summer slump,'" he said.

That's not altogether surprising. Newport notes the last two presidents, Bush and Clinton, also saw their lowest poll numbers during the summer.

"There is some possibility that since Congress is out of session and presidents go on vacation, maybe they get lower ratings because there's not much going on that would cause Americans to boost their ratings up," he said.

Obama's swoon this summer has actually been less pronounced than in previous years. But not because more people approve of the job he's doing now. It's just that he was in an even deeper slump back in January.

So far this month, the president's approval rating has averaged just 42 percent, his lowest August rating since 2011. If there's any bright side for Obama and his fellow Democrats, this long, hot summer will come to an end. And Newport notes the president's numbers have tended to rebound soon after Labor Day.

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A street market remains empty in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. (AFP/Getty Images)

A Food Crisis Follows Africa's Ebola Crisis

Aug 22, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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The Liberian government delivered bags of rice, beans and cooking oil to residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia. The community has been quarantined due to the Ebola outbreak in the area. A memorial to Michael Brown sits next to one honoring Eric Garner outside of filmmaker Spike Lee's offices in Brooklyn. This summer, the deaths of both unarmed black men set off numerous demonstrations in their communities, but the peaceful protests in New York, and prompt press conference held by New York police, stand in contrast to the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo.

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In the shadows of West Africa's Ebola outbreak, food shortages are starting to develop.

This time of year is traditionally the lean season in West Africa, when last year's harvest of rice or groundnuts is mostly exhausted. Until recently, people were quite hopeful about the approaching harvest this year.

"The rainfall situation was very good," says Shukri Ahmed, a senior economist with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. "We were actually developing an optimistic forecast for crop production this year."

But then came Ebola.

The first food source that disappeared from markets was "bush meat"; meat from forest animals. Some of those animals, like fruit bats, can actually carry Ebola, so governments have banned it.

Other foods have become scarce as a side effect of efforts to keep the virus from spreading.

David Mwesigwa, the FAO's acting representative in Sierra Leone, says that when governments stopped people from moving from country to country, or even from one town to another, it stopped traders from delivering food to the markets. "The primary impact has been on the mobility of most of the traders," he says.

In quarantined areas, some food markets have been shut down completely.

Sierra Leone, and to an even greater extent, Liberia, also import a lot of rice. Those imports are down, too. Ships are reluctant to dock in places affected by the epidemic.

As a result, there's less food for sale, and prices are rising. According to Mwesigwa, people in many parts of Sierra Leone are paying 40 or 50 percent more for rice and other foods. The prices of meat and fish have doubled in some places. The situation in Liberia, he says, is similar, but probably even a bit worse.

While this is already cutting the ability of people to afford adequate food, things may get even worse over the coming year. This year's harvest is also in danger because communal work arrangements have broken down.

"The Ebola came in at a time when farmers were ready to go to the field to work together, in groups," Mwesigwa says.

But people now have been advised to avoid such activities. Coming together in groups could spread the disease. So essential work like weeding the rice is not happening.

Gon Myers, the World Food Program's representative in Sierra Leone says when you take all these factors together "we think there will be a food crisis after the Ebola crisis."

Myers and Mwesigwa say that their organizations will need to start responding even while the Ebola outbreak continues.

Some food aid will be required to nourish people who've been cut off from their normal supplies of food.

But the FAO's Mwesigwa says he wants to keep food aid to a minimum. Sierra Leone, in particular, has the potential to grow a lot of food itself, and it's made great progress toward self-sufficiency since the country's civil war ended a decade ago.

Mwesigwa says international agencies can help the region's farmers get back on their feet. They can provide seeds when those are in short supply, and livestock so that people can produce more of their own meat.

That effort to rebuild food supplies, he says, probably will last at least one or two years.

See more of NPR's ebola coverage on the global health blog Goats and Soda.

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A street market remains empty in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. (AFP/Getty Images)

Suicide Bombing In Iraq Kills Dozens Of Sunni Worshippers

Aug 22, 2014

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The Liberian government delivered bags of rice, beans and cooking oil to residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia. The community has been quarantined due to the Ebola outbreak in the area. A memorial to Michael Brown sits next to one honoring Eric Garner outside of filmmaker Spike Lee's offices in Brooklyn. This summer, the deaths of both unarmed black men set off numerous demonstrations in their communities, but the peaceful protests in New York, and prompt press conference held by New York police, stand in contrast to the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo.

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Dozens of Sunnis attending a mosque for Friday prayers have been killed in a suicide attack in Iraq's eastern Diyala province — the latest sectarian violence to hit the deeply divided country.

The Associated Press says at least 64 people were killed in the suicide bombing, which was followed up by gunmen who attacked the mosque where Sunni tribesmen who had rebuffed cooperation with Islamic State militants were attending Friday prayers.

The BBC says:

"Diyala province has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks between IS and Iraqi troops backed by Shia militiamen.

"Friday's attack took place in a village mosque south of the city of Baquba, about 120km (75 miles) from Baghdad."

The AP says it was not immediately clear who carried out Friday's attack but that Sunni lawmakers are blaming it on Shiite "militias."

Former provincial council member Ismail al-Jibouri tells NOR that there was chaos outside the mosque as gunmen refused to let families take their wounded to hospitals.

NPR's Peter Kenyon, reporting from Irbil, says the bloodshed further complicates efforts to set aside Iraq's factional divisions to face the threat posed by Islamic State fighters who have made significant strides in capturing territory from Iraqi security forces in recent months.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington strongly condemns the attack.

"The United States stands with the people of Iraq against this violence and will continue to support all Iraqi citizens, from all parts of the country, as they work to root out violent extremists from any sector of society and promote a religiously tolerant, diverse, and unified country, as envisioned in the Iraqi Constitution," Harf said.

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