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  • Could Missouri’s ‘stand your ground’ law apply to the Super Bowl celebration shooters?
    on February 27, 2024 at 6:18 am

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The man accused of firing the first shots at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally told authorities he felt threatened, while a second man said he pulled the trigger because someone was shooting at him, according to court documents. Experts say that even though the shooting left one bystander dead and roughly two dozen people injured, 23-year-old Lyndell Mays and 18-year-old Dominic Miller might have good cases for self-defense through the state’s “stand your ground” law. Missouri is among more than 30 states that have adopted some version of stand your ground laws over the past two decades, said Robert Spitzer, a professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York, Cortland, whose research focuses on gun policy and politics. While earlier laws allowed people to use force to protect themselves in their homes, stand your ground provides even broader self-defense rights regardless of the location. Now, the mass shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl celebration could be a new test of those expanded protections, and comes as self-defense already is at the center of another high-profile Kansas City shooting that left Ralph Yarl wounded. “This illustrates in a dramatic way the fundamental problem, especially when it’s a public gathering where there are thousands and thousands of people, and even a highly trained police officer often cannot avoid injuring others in a gunfire exchange in a public place,” said Spitzer, who wrote the book “Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights.” Trial attorney Daniel Ross described the stand your ground law as a “formidable defense” that he and many other Kansas City defense attorneys anticipate will be used in Mays’ and Miller’s cases. He said the law puts the onus on the prosecution to disprove claims that a shooting is lawful self-defense. “Collateral damage under Missouri law is excused if you’re actually engaged in lawful self-defense and there’s other folks injured,” he said. There are limits to the defense, however, said Eric Ruben, a law professor at the S.M.U. Dedman School of Law in Dallas who has written on stand your ground and self-defense immunity. “Even though Missouri has robust stand-your-ground laws, that doesn’t mean you can spray bullets into a crowd in the name of defending yourself or others,” Ruben said. The barrage of gunfire Feb. 14 outside Kansas City’s historic Union Station happened as the celebration that drew an estimated 1 million fans was concluding. A woman died while watching the rally with her family, and nearly two dozen others — more than half of them children — were injured and survived. Kansas City already was grappling with the shooting of Yarl, a Black teenager, who survived a bullet wound to the head when he went to the wrong house in April 2023 to pick up his brothers. Andrew Lester, an 85-year-old white man, is planning to claim self-defense when he goes to trial in October. His attorney said the retiree was terrified by the stranger on his doorstep. While the Super Bowl celebration shooting was a far different scenario, it raises anew questions about how far people can go to protect themselves and what happens when the innocent become victims. Mays and Miller are each charged with second-degree murder and other counts. Probable cause statements suggest that both men felt threatened. Mays said he picked out one person in a group at random and started shooting because they said, “I’m going to get you,” and he took that to mean, “I’m going to kill you,” the statement said. Miller said under questioning that he fired four or five times because someone was shooting at him. His friend, Marques Harris, told WDAF-TV that Miller was only trying to protect him after he was shot in the neck. Miller’s attorney didn’t return phone and email messages seeking comment. No attorney was listed for Mays in online court records. Two juveniles also face gun-related and resisting arrest charges. Missouri has few firearm regulations, and two of its cities — Kansas City and St. Louis — annually have among the nation’s highest homicide rates. Missouri’s current Republican lawmakers have largely defended the state’s gun laws, instead blaming prosecutors and other local elected officials in the two cities. And Republican Gov. Mike Parson, speaking to reporters last week, cited societal problems — not guns — as the reason for the violence. “I believe it’s much more than a gun,” he said. When Republican lawmakers in 2016 expanded the state’s already-extensive self-defense protections by enacting the current stand your ground law, Black Missouri lawmakers raised concerns. The law also allowed most adults to carry concealed guns without a permit. Racial disparities are rife among those who invoke the defense, with an Urban Institute study showing white shooters are more likely to benefit than Black defendants. The issue was raised when Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teen, was acquitted of killing two people and wounding a third during a 2020 protest against racism and police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after testifying he acted in self-defense. Rittenhouse’s actions became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice in the U.S. The 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a Black 17-year-old, by George Zimmerman also spurred a landmark case involving Florida’s stand your ground law. Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought Martin looked suspicious, was acquitted. In Georgia, which also has a stand your ground law, three white men accused of fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 claimed self-defense. Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan claimed they chased Arbery, who was Black, because they thought he was a burglar. All three were convicted of murder. In 2022, Wichita, Kansas, area district attorney Marc Bennett was critical of the state’s stand your ground law when he announced that he wouldn’t file charges over the death of Cedric Lofton, a Black 17-year-old who was restrained facedown for more than 30 minutes at a juvenile detention center. Bennett said the law prevented him from bringing charges because staff members were protecting themselves. With the Chiefs parade case unfolding, it is time to look anew at these laws, said Melba Pearson, a former homicide prosecutor who is now the director of prosecution projects at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University. “What are truly the limits in terms of stand your ground and what really falls into the category of self-defense?” she asked. “Do we need to revisit what stand your ground looks like?” ___ Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Phones are distracting students in class. More states are pressing schools to ban them
    on February 27, 2024 at 6:18 am

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In California, a high school teacher complains that students watch Netflix on their phones during class. In Maryland, a chemistry teacher says students use gambling apps to place bets during the school day. Around the country, educators say students routinely send Snapchat messages in class, listen to music and shop online, among countless other examples of how smartphones distract from teaching and learning. The hold that phones have on adolescents in America today is well-documented, but teachers say parents are often not aware to what extent students use them inside the classroom. And increasingly, educators and experts are speaking with one voice on the question of how to handle it: Ban phones during classes. “Students used to have an understanding that you aren’t supposed to be on your phone in class. Those days are gone,” said James Granger, who requires students in his science classes at a Los Angeles-area high school to place their phones in “a cellphone cubby” with numbered slots. “The only solution that works is to physically remove the cellphone from the student.” Most schools already have rules regulating student phone use, but they are enforced sporadically. A growing number of leaders at the state and federal levels have begun endorsing school cellphone bans and suggesting new ways to curb access to the devices. The latest state intervention came in Utah, where Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, last month urged all school districts and the state Board of Education to remove cellphones from classrooms. He cited studies that show learning improves, distractions are decreased and students are more likely to talk to each other if phones are taken away. “We just need a space for six or seven hours a day where kids are not tethered to these devices,” Cox told reporters this month. He said his initiative, which is not binding, is part of a legislative push to protect kids in Utah from the harms of social media. Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school. A law that took effect in July requires all Florida public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Some districts, including Orange County Public Schools, went further and banned phones the entire school day. Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas have also recently introduced what is becoming known as “phone-free schools” legislation. And two U.S. senators — Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat — introduced legislation in December that would require a federal study on the effects of cellphone use in schools on students’ mental health and academic performance. Theirs is one of several bipartisan alliances calling for stiffer rules for social media companies and greater online safety for kids. Nationally, 77% of U.S. schools say they prohibit cellphones at school for non-academic use, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But that number is misleading. It does not mean students are following those bans or all those schools are enforcing them. Just ask teachers. “Cellphone use is out of control. By that, I mean that I cannot control it, even in my own classroom,” said Patrick Truman, who teaches at a Maryland high school that forbids student use of cellphones during class. It is up to each teacher to enforce the policy, so Truman bought a 36-slot caddy for storing student phones. Still, every day, students hide phones in their laps or under books as they play video games and check social media. Tired of being the phone police, he has come to a reluctant conclusion: “Students who are on their phones are at least quiet. They are not a behavior issue.” A study last year from Common Sense Media found that 97% of kids use their phones during school hours, and that kids say school cellphone policies vary — often from one classroom to another — and aren’t always enforced. For a school cellphone ban to work, educators and experts say the school administration must be the one to enforce it and not leave that task to teachers. The Phone-Free Schools Movement, an advocacy group formed last year by concerned mothers, says policies that allow students to keep phones in their backpacks, as many schools do, are ineffective. “If the bookbag is on the floor next to them, it’s buzzing and distracting, and they have the temptation to want to check it,” said Kim Whitman, a co-founder of the group, which advises schools to require phones be turned off and locked away all day. Some students say such policies take away their autonomy and cut off their main mode of communication with family and friends. Pushback also has come from parents who fear being cut off from their kids if there is a school emergency. Whitman advises schools to make exceptions for students with special educational and medical needs, and to inform parents on expert guidance that phones can be a dangerous distraction for students during an emergency. Jaden Willoughey, 14, shares the concern about being out of contact with his parents if there’s a crisis. But he also sees the upsides of turning in his phone at school. At Delta High School in rural Utah, where Jaden is a freshman, students are required to check their phones at the door when entering every class. Each of the school’s 30 or so classrooms has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots. “It helps you focus on your work, and it’s easier to pay attention in class,” Jaden said. A classmate, Mackenzie Stanworth, 14, said it would be hard to ignore her phone if it was within reach. It’s a relief, she said, to “take a break from the screen and the social life on your phone and actually talk to people in person.” It took a few years to tweak the cellphone policy and find a system that worked, said Jared Christensen, the school’s vice principal. “At first it was a battle. But it has been so worth it,” he said. “Students are more attentive and engaged during class time. Teachers are able to teach without competing with cellphones. And student learning has increased,” he said, citing test scores that are at or above state averages for the first time in years. “I can’t definitively say it’s because of this policy. But I know it’s helping.” The next battle will be against earbuds and smartwatches, he said. Even with phones stashed in pouches, students get caught listening to music on air pods hidden under their hair or hoodies. “We haven’t included earbuds in our policy yet. But we’re almost there.” ___ AP Reporter Hannah Schoenbaum in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report. ___ The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Biden will urge Congress’ top leaders to keep the government open and send aid to Ukraine and Israel
    on February 27, 2024 at 5:18 am

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden was meeting Tuesday with the top four leaders of Congress to press them to act quickly to avoid a looming government shutdown early next month and to pass emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel. Biden was hosting House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Vice President Kamala Harris also was attending. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden invited the leaders to the Oval Office meeting because he wants to make sure U.S. national security interests are “put first.” She said those interests include continuing to fund the government. “Look, what the president wants to see is we want to make sure that the national security interests of the American people gets put first, right?” she said Monday as Biden flew to New York. “It is not used as a political football, right? We want to make sure that gets done. “And we also want to see that, you know, that the government does not get shut down,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that keeping the government open and functioning is a “basic, basic priority” of Congress. The Senate’s top two leaders also urged that the government be kept open. Parts of the government could start to scale back operations as early as Friday unless a deal is reached on spending and legislation is sent to Biden for his signature. “We want to avoid a government shutdown,” Schumer said Monday on the Senate floor. “We want to work with all our House counterparts to spare the American people the pain that a shutdown would bring.” McConnell likewise urged the political parties to work together to avert an “entirely avoidable” shutdown. “Shutting down the government is harmful to the country,” he said Monday in a separate floor speech. “And it never produces positive outcomes on policy or politics.” The House, under Johnson’s leadership, is under pressure to pass the $95 billion national security package that bolsters aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. That measure cleared the Senate on a bipartisan 70-29 vote this month, but Johnson has resisted scheduling it for a vote in the House. Apart from the national security package, government funding for agriculture, transportation, military construction and some veterans’ services expires Friday. Funding for the rest of the government, including the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, expires a week later, on March 8. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • San Francisco is ready to apologize to Black residents. Reparations advocates want more
    on February 27, 2024 at 5:18 am

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco’s supervisors plan to offer a formal apology to Black residents for decades of racist laws and policies perpetrated by the city, a long-awaited first step as it considers providing reparations. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the resolution apologizing to African Americans and their descendants. All 11 members have signed on as sponsors, guaranteeing its passage. It would be one of the first major U.S. cities to do so. The resolution calls on San Francisco to not repeat the harmful policies and practices, and to commit “to making substantial ongoing, systemic, and programmatic investments” in Black communities. There are about 46,000 Black residents in San Francisco. “An apology from this city is very concrete and is not just symbolic, as admitting fault is a major step in making amends,” Supervisor Shamann Walton, the only Black member of the board and chief proponent of reparations, said at a committee hearing on the resolution earlier this month. Others say the apology is insufficient on its own for true atonement. “An apology is just cotton candy rhetoric,” said the Rev. Amos C. Brown, a member of the San Francisco reparations advisory committee that proposed the apology among other recommendations. “What we need is concrete actions.” An apology would be the first reparations recommendation to be realized of more than 100 proposals the city committee has made. The African American Reparations Advisory Committee also proposed that every eligible Black adult receive a $5 million lump-sum cash payment and a guaranteed income of nearly $100,000 a year to remedy San Francisco’s deep racial wealth gap. But there has been no action on those and other proposals. Mayor London Breed, who is Black, has stated she believes reparations should be handled at the national level. Facing a budget crunch, her administration eliminated $4 million for a proposed reparations office in cuts this year. Reparations advocates at the previous hearing expressed frustration with the slow pace of government action, saying that Black residents continue to lag in metrics related to health, education and income. Black people, for example, make up 38% of San Francisco’s homeless population despite being less than 6% of the general population, according to a 2022 federal count. In 2020, California became the first state in the nation to create a task force on reparations. The state committee, which dissolved in 2023, also offered numerous policy recommendations, including methodologies to calculate cash payments to descendants of enslaved people. But reparations bills introduced by the California Legislative Black Caucus this year also leave out financial redress, although the package includes proposals to compensate people whose land the government seized through eminent domain, create a state reparations agency, ban forced prison labor and issue an apology. Cheryl Thornton, a San Francisco city employee who is Black, said in an interview after the committee hearing that an apology alone does little to address current problems, such as shorter lifespans for Black people. “That’s why reparations is important in health care,” she said. “And it’s just because of the lack of healthy food, the lack of access to medical care and the lack of access to quality education.” Other states have apologized for their history of discrimination and violence and role in the enslavement of African Americans, according to the resolution. In 2022, Boston became the first major city in the U.S. to issue an apology. That same year, the Boston City Council voted to form a reparations task force. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Biden and Trump will face tests in Michigan’s primaries that could inform a November rematch
    on February 27, 2024 at 5:18 am

    WASHINGTON (AP) — While Joe Biden and Donald Trump are marching toward their respective presidential nominations, Michigan’s primary on Tuesday could reveal significant political perils for both of them. Trump, despite his undoubted dominance of the Republican contests this year, is facing a bloc of stubbornly persistent GOP voters who favor his lone remaining rival, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and who are skeptical at best about the former president’s prospects in a rematch against Biden. As for the incumbent president, Biden is confronting perhaps his most potent electoral obstacle yet: an energized movement of disillusioned voters upset with his handling of the war in Gaza and a relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that critics say has been too supportive. Those dynamics will be put to the test in Michigan, the last major primary state before Super Tuesday and a critical swing state in November’s general election. Even if they post dominant victories as expected on Tuesday, both campaigns will be looking at the margins for signs of weakness in a state that went for Biden by just 3 percentage points last time. Biden said in a local Michigan radio interview Monday that it would be “one of the five states” that would determine the winner in November. Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, and more than 310,000 residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. Nearly half of Dearborn’s roughly 110,000 residents claim Arab ancestry. It has become the epicenter of Democratic discontent with the White House’s actions in the Israel-Hamas war, now nearly five months old, following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack and kidnapping of more than 200 hostages. Israel has bombarded much of Gaza in response, killing nearly 30,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian figures. Democrats angry that Biden has supported Israel’s offensive and resisted calls for a ceasefire are rallying voters on Tuesday to instead select “uncommitted.” The “uncommitted” effort, which began in earnest just a few weeks ago, has been backed by officials such as Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, and former Rep. Andy Levin, who lost a Democratic primary two years ago after pro-Israel groups spent more than $4 million to defeat him. Abbas Alawieh, spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan campaign that has been rallying for the “uncommitted” campaign, said the effort is a “way for us to vote for a ceasefire, a way for us to vote for peace and a way for us to vote against war.” Trump won the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lost the state four years later by nearly 154,000 votes to Biden. Alawieh said the “uncommitted” effort wants to show that they have at least the number of votes that were Trump’s margin of victory in 2016, to demonstrate how influential that bloc can be. “The situation in Gaza is top of mind for a lot of people here,” Alawieh said. “President Biden is failing to provide voters for whom the war crimes that are being inflicted by our U.S. taxpayer dollars – he’s failing to provide them with something to vote for.” Our Revolution, the organizing group once tied to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has also urged progressive voters to choose “uncommitted” on Tuesday, saying it would send a message to Biden to “change course NOW on Gaza or else risk losing Michigan to Trump in November.” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a Biden backer who held several meetings and listening sessions in Michigan late last week, said he told community members that, despite his disagreements over the war, he would nonetheless support Biden because he represents a much better chance of peace in the Middle East than Trump. “I also said that I admire those who are using their ballot in a quintessentially American way to bring about a change in policy,” Khanna said Monday, adding that Biden supporters need to proactively engage with the uncommitted voters to try and “earn back their trust.” “The worst thing we can do is try to shame them or try to downplay their efforts,” he said. Trump has drawn enthusiastic crowds at most of his rallies, including a Feb. 17 rally outside Detroit drawing more than 2,000 people who packed into a frigid airplane hangar. But data from AP VoteCast, a series of surveys of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, reveals that his core voters so far are overwhelmingly white, mostly older than 50 and generally without a college degree. He will likely have to appeal to a far more diverse group of voters in November. And he has underperformed his statewide results in suburban areas that are critical in states like Michigan. Several of Trump’s favored picks in Michigan’s 2022 midterm contests lost their campaigns, further underscoring his loss of political influence in the state. Meanwhile, the state GOP has been riven with divisions among various pro-Trump factions, potentially weakening its power at a time when Michigan Republicans are trying to lay the groundwork to defeat Biden this fall. Both Biden and Trump have so far dominated their respective primary bids. Biden has sailed to wins in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, with the latter victory coming in through a write-in campaign. Trump has swept all the early state contests and his team is hoping to lock up the delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination by mid-March. Nonetheless, an undeterred Haley has promised to continue her longshot presidential primary campaign through at least Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states and one territory hold their nominating contests. As Haley stumped across Michigan on Sunday and Monday, voters showing up to her events expressed enthusiasm for her in Tuesday’s primary — even though, given her losses in the year’s first four states, it seemed increasingly likely she wouldn’t win the nomination. “She seems honorable,” said Rita Lazdins, a retired microbiologist from Grand Haven, Michigan, who in an interview Monday refused to say Trump’s name. “Honorable is not what that other person is. I hate to say that, but it’s so true.” ___ Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com