Tag Archives: St. Louis

WashU stops intubation training using cats, ending practice in US

Washington University in St. Louis said that it has stopped using sedated cats to train medical students how to insert breathing tubes down babies’ throats, effectively ending the practice in the U.S.

The university’s School of Medicine said in a statement that after a “significant investment” in its simulation center, it will now provide neonatal intubation training using only mannequins and advanced simulators, effective immediately.

The school said improvements in simulators made the change possible. Cats currently at the university are being adopted by employees of the medical center.

“In the 25-plus years the university has relied on cats in teaching this procedure, none was harmed during training,” the statement read.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical ethics nonprofit, applauded the decision, saying the practice was cruel to animals and unnecessary for students. The group said it was the last of the 198 U.S. pediatrics programs still using cats.

“The best way to teach emergency airway intervention is on human-relevant training methods. I commend Washington University for switching to modern methods,” said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee.

Washington University’s use of cats has drawn criticism in recent years, with critics contending that the animals suffer pain and injuries ranging from cracked teeth to punctured lungs. Protests broke out in 2013 after an undercover video of the university’s training in pediatric advanced life support was released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The video shows a trainee putting tubes down the throat of a sedated cat, sometimes struggling to get it right. However, the medical school continued using sedated cats in other training programs prior to Monday’ announcement.

But university officials have said the lab consistently met federal Animal Welfare Act standards, including passing an inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture soon after the PETA video.

Other teaching labs have used simulators for years, but Washington University previously cited research indicating that pediatric doctors in training only succeed in 20 percent to 35 percent of their initial attempts to intubate infants, justifying the need for animals in training.

The program previously used ferrets, too, but university spokeswoman Judy Martin said ferrets have not been used for many years.

Catholic archbishop seeks to cut ties with Girl Scouts

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson is urging priests to sever ties with the Girl Scouts, saying the organization promotes values “incompatible” with Catholic teachings.

The open letter to priests, scout leaders and other Catholics was posted recently on the archdiocese website. It urges parishes that host Girl Scout meetings to consider alternative programs for girls that are more Catholic- or Christian-based.

“We must stop and ask ourselves — is Girl Scouts concerned with the total well-being of our young women? Does it do a good job forming the spiritual, emotional, and personal well-being of Catholic girls?” Carlson wrote.

The letter stops short of demanding an end to Girl Scout meetings at parishes, a common gathering site in the heavily Catholic St. Louis region. Brian Miller, executive director of the Catholic Youth Apostolate, said Friday that the letter is not meant to pressure priests into pushing out Girl Scouts.

“We’re asking parishes to evaluate and review what they can do to form the faith of young women,” Miller said.

Carlson’s letter said the archdiocese and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have been investigating concerns about the Girl Scouts of the USA and the parent organization, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, for several years.

Carlson worries that contraception and abortion rights are being promoted to Girl Scouts. The letter also said resources and social media “highlight and promote role models in conflict with Catholic values, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.” Steinem, 81, is a feminist, journalist and political activist. Friedan, who died in 2006 at age 85, was a feminist and writer.

“In addition, recent concerns about GSUSA and their position on and inclusion of transgender and homosexual issues are proving problematic,” Carlson wrote.

Girl Scouts of the USA said in a statement that it “looks forward to extending our longstanding relationship with faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church and Catholic communities, throughout the country. As the pre-eminent leadership development organization for girls of every faith and background, we remain committed to building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began investigating the Girl Scouts of the USA in 2012, not long after lawmakers in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the Scouts into question, and after the organization was berated in a series aired by a Catholic broadcast network.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is particularly powerful in the region given that nearly a quarter of the area’s population — about 520,000 people — is Catholic. Its leaders have never been shy about addressing politically and socially sensitive matters. During the 2004 presidential campaign, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke made national news when he said he would deny communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry, citing his stance on abortion.

Carlson asked each pastor at parishes where Girl Scout meetings occur to meet with troop leaders to review concerns “and discuss implementing alternative options for the formation of our girls.” He said several alternative organizations with Catholic or Christian backgrounds can be offered.

His letter also hinted at increased scrutiny of the Boy Scouts of America.

“While the new BSA leadership policy currently offers some protections to religious organizations, I continue to wonder in which direction this once-trusted organization is now headed,” he wrote.

In December, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the nation’s second-largest Lutheran denomination, ended its official relationship with the Boy Scouts over the organization’s decision to allow openly gay Scout leaders.

American Queen offers luxurious Upper Mississippi cruises through October

A trip from the Quad Cities to Burlington seldom is an all-night affair.

But navigating the world’s largest overnight steamboat under bridges —some with mere inches of clearance — and through a series of locks on water crowded with pleasure craft and barges is no rush job, meaning what might take a couple of hours by car is a 12-hour voyage on the Mississippi River.

Not that any of the more than 400 passengers aboard the American Queen seemed to be complaining as it paddled gently south earlier this month. Amid its comfortable appointments, gourmet meals, top-notch entertainment, active nightlife, cozy sleeping accommodations and smooth ride, the transit between ports was fast enough, indeed.

“It’s like a mansion on the river,” veteran river cruiser Nancy Wee of Broomfield, Colorado, said of the Queen.

Compelling though the boat may be, however, the 20-year-old paddle wheeler is not the big draw here, The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/1KAyzk4 ) reported.

That claim is staked by the river itself, and shared by the communities that lie at its banks and welcome passengers to town throughout cruise season, which runs July to October on the Upper Mississippi.

“It’s just being out on the water,” said Carolyn Hezlep of suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was traveling earlier this month with her husband, Morgan, on a seven¡day cruise between St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri.

“The banks of the river are constantly changing,” Morgan Hezlep said. “There are stretches of nothing but nature.”

Of those remote spots between cities and towns, he said, “You kind of get the feeling this is how the pioneers saw it.”

For them and other passengers, who on this cruise hailed from 11 countries and almost every state, it was an experience not to be missed. The same, they said, ought to go for people who live in places like Burlington, where the river, its views, history and commerce are a constant presence — whether any of those things get much day-to-day notice or don’t.

Ohio residents Robert and Linda Schwenke, of Dayton, were on their third American Queen cruise, but their first on the Upper Mississippi.

“There’s always something to see,” Robert Schwenke said, Linda Schwenke explaining that on an ocean cruise, there frequently is nothing but water all around.

“It’s neat on the top decks at night looking at the cities and the locks,” she said.

First-time cruiser Kirby Brown of Manteca, California, said someone who lives near the Mississippi River but doesn’t take the opportunity to experience it truly is missing out.

“One part of the river is not like another,” Brown said. “Each town is different. The scenery is different.”

“When you live someplace, you ignore what’s nearby,” he added, citing the four years he lived in Connecticut but never visited New York City. “To your regret.”

Capt. Brent Willits, who grew up in Clinton and advanced from towboat deckhand to helming or leading construction of gambling boats up and down the Mississippi, has piloted the American Queen for the past two years.

A native of these waters who has seen them from St. Paul to New Orleans, Willits likewise recommends a Mississippi cruise to people who live near it.

“There is so much history close to home,” he said from his seat in the pilothouse as he guided the Queen downriver approaching the Interstate 280 bridge.

The boat and its crew, Willits said, are “ambassadors, and show a lot of folks the importance of the inland waterways.”

For passengers from the American East or West, or overseas, meanwhile, he added: “We get a chance to show them what the heartland of America is all about.”

Only cruise vessel on the Mississippi

The American Queen is operated by Memphis, Tennessee-based American Queen Steamboat Co. and was built in 1995. It replaced the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, and is the company’s only cruise vessel on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. A sister vessel, the American Empress, carries cruise passengers on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon.

On the Upper Mississippi, passengers start and end their cruises in St. Paul or St. Louis.

There is no mid-stream boarding, Chief Purser Chris Caussade said.

“You have to go one way or the other,” he said, noting most passengers will fly into one city and out of the other.

From southeast Iowa, connections through Lambert Airport at St. Louis would be easy enough. Non-stop flights are available to and from Minneapolis. Some passengers, though, avoid the need for airplanes by making it a two-way trip.

“I just find it relaxing,” said 91-year-old retired hardware store owner Cyril Hegerle of Bloomington, Minnesota, whose 76 th river cruise was last week as he headed home from the previous week’s voyage south.

Buses that trail the boat up and down the river carry passengers on their excursions at daily ports-of-call like LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Dubuque or Hannibal, Missouri, and at each stop, local guides come aboard to share stories about local history and color, Brown said.

The boat offers plenty aboard to keep passengers occupied, too.

There are nightly shows in the 250-seat Grand Saloon, movies in the theater, after-dinner entertainment including piano music in the Captain’s Bar and dancing in the Engine Room Bar, a never-ending supply of cookies and ice cream in the Front Porch Cafe, daily games and more.

Beer, wine and spirits are never far away for those who want them. And nobody ever goes hungry on the Queen.

“I think the food is fabulous, and the variety is wonderful,” Robert Schwenke said.

A cordoned off area of the engine room is open to visitors, and they can see large hydraulic arms powered by a 78-year-old steam engine pumping back and forth, turning the paddle wheel. A pair of gas-powered thrusters provide assistance while maneuvering and when paddling against the current on northbound cruises.

Also powered by the steam engine is a 37-whistle calliope, which is played daily as the Queen leaves port.

Topside on the sun deck, passengers who are so inclined can take a dip in a small heated pool, or get a workout in the gym.

Indoor and outdoor seating is plentiful, too, for those who wish to relax with a book or watch the river slide by.

The 222 guest cabins range in size from 500-square-foot luxury suites where guests are catered to by their own butler, to windowless interior cabins ranging between 140- and 80-square-feet. Each room is named for a person or place connected to the steamboat era.

“It’s a little more interesting than saying ‘I’m in 212,’ “ Caussade said. Cabin 212 bears the name of President Zachary Taylor.

For those who can’t quite disconnect completely from the world, there is satellite TV in every cabin and stateroom and Internet access throughout the boat.

“It’s kind of like stepping back in time. Welcome to the 1860s, with WiFi,” Willits said.

Like many on board, the Hezleps were traveling with a contingent from the organization Road Scholars, which coordinates educational travel opportunities for seniors. While the cruise’s theme was musical in nature, their tour was focused on the steamboat industry’s impact on the development of America.

“We don’t just look at things,” Morgan Hezlep said. “We learn what they represent.”

By visiting communities where the cruise made port calls, the Hezleps said, they had an opportunity get a glimpse at what Morgan Hezlep described as “the culture of Middle America.”

Cruise passengers, even those not part of an educational tour, also have the chance each day aboard to deepen their knowledge of the history of America on the Mississippi in the Chart Room, a forward space on the Queen’s observation deck where maps and charts and history are at their fingertips, and where the boat’s historian and storyteller — known aboard as the “riverlorian” — shares river lore several times a day.

That history is further illustrated in a collection of paintings by Iowa artist Michael Blaser, whose works hang in corridors throughout the boat.

‘It’s the story of America’

Though the Hezleps had visited the Mississippi previously, wading across at the headwaters in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, their mid-September cruise was a first for being out on the water.

“I always wanted to be on the Mississippi,” Morgan Hezlep said. “It’s the story of America, practically.”

That was a common refrain among passengers.

“This is America,” said Wee, who was on her 30th river cruise leading a group through her travel agency, Wee Travel. “You get to see America. You get to learn about America in a way you can’t do anyplace else.”

She keeps coming back for more, Wee said, because “it’s always something different,” with a new view around every bend in the river, or changes in scenery as spring blooms or fall colors burst.

Brown and his wife, Iran, chose a river voyage over an ocean cruise “because this was closer, and part of the country we’d never seen before,” he said.

Both said they were enjoying the on-board entertainment, and learned the calliope is a musical instrument best appreciated from a distance, where it isn’t quite as loud. Watching the riverside come and go, and experiencing passage of the locks were favorite activities, too.

Being aboard the Queen is different from other cruises, Kirby Brown said.

“It’s much more leisurely,” he said.

Taking their shore excursions in the morning, Brown said, gave them freedom to “lay around in the afternoon.”

A cruise is as programmed or relaxed as the individual passenger wants to make it. After all, the only place anybody has to be is on board when the Queen leaves the dock.

Willits said the American Queen, which weighs 3,700 tons, measures 420 feet long and 89 feet at the beam and has a 432-passenger capacity, “is a big boat but a small cruise ship.”

A 6,000-passenger ocean-going cruise ship, by comparison, can be “overwhelming for some.

“This is still big enough to be impressive,” he said, noting in a review of 101 luxury cruise vessels by Cruise News and Reviews magazine, the Queen was No. 9, just ahead of the Queen Mary at No. 10.

Luxury comes at a price

A cruise aboard the American Queen — or on the Queen of the Mississippi, a smaller boat operated by American Boat Lines that cruises past the Burlington area without stopping (Viking River Cruises will begin Mississippi River operations in 2017 with a possible stop in Fort Madison) — is an experience that, if not exclusively for the well-heeled, is certainly the domain of the comfortable.

Most who come aboard, Willits explained, can be described as “affluent, intelligent and intellectually curious.”

“Seventy is the new 50, I guess,” he said.

The longer the cruise, the better the accommodations and the closer to peak season, the higher the cost.

Fares aboard the American Queen in 2016 for a St. Paul-to-St. Louis cruise will range from $2,224 per person double occupancy for a 132-square-foot inside cabin in July and August to $7,999 per person for a luxury suite with veranda in September and October.

A cruise of the whole river between St. Paul and New Orleans runs, per person, between $5,949 for a northbound voyage to $20,000 for a southbound one, depending on accommodations.

“It’s may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Morgan Hezlep said, “but you will not regret it.”

At 91, Hegerle’s perspective is a little different, calling cruise travel “cheaper, really, than a nursing home.” Meals, entertainment and shore excursions are included in the cost of every cruise. Special on-shore activities are extra. Those include alcoholic beverages at the Queen’s four bars; a cabaret show in the Bart Howard Room at the Des Moines County Heritage Center in Burlington; bus trips from Bettendorf to experience the Herbert Hoover Museum at West Branch; a John Deere plant tour or the riverside charm of Le Claire and Flexibility to book passage at the last-minute and a willingness to accept whatever berth is available, Hegerle said, is a good strategy for obtaining discounts.

With only a couple of cruises left on the 2015 season, now may be a good time to test that theory.

The Schwenkes were late in booking and wound up with an inside cabin for their cruise. They didn’t say whether they were enjoying a reduced rate, but they weren’t disappointed in their small accommodations.

“We’re never in the room, anyway,” Linda Schwenke said, her husband Robert adding, “There’s always something to do.

This is an AP Member Exchange story shared by The Hawk Eye.


Witness to Michael Brown shooting arrested

The man who was with Michael Brown when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer last summer was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest during a new confrontation with police.

St. Louis city prosecutors charged Dorian Johnson, 23, with resisting arrest or interfering with a lawful stop or detention, on May 7, one day after St. Louis police arrested him with two other people, including his younger brother, Demonte Johnson. The criminal complaint alleges Johnson tried to hinder his brother’s arrest “by using or threatening the use of violence, physical force or physical interference.”

Each brother’s bond was set May 7 at $1,000 cash-only.

Dorian Johnson was a prominent witness of the shooting death in August of Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation in a street. Brown’s death led to at times violent protests in Ferguson and other U.S. cities, spawning a national “Black Lives Matter” movement seeking changes in how police deal with minorities.

A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department declined to charge Wilson, who later resigned. But the Justice Department later released a scathing report that cited racial bias and racial profiling in Ferguson policing and in a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks.

Dorian Johnson’s arrest came exactly a week after he sued Ferguson, Wilson and the city’s former police chief.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, James Williams, declined to comment on the May 7 charge, saying he didn’t yet have any details.

“Dorian has this target on his back,” his grandmother, Brenda Johnson, told KMOV.com.

She said that she thinks police have been on the lookout for Dorian because he spoke out about what happened the day Mike Brown was shot.

Dorian Johnson claims he was just trying to help his brothers during the May 6 skirmish with police.

“I have injuries on my body, Dorian Johnson told KMOV.com. “I have injuries and scars from 9when the officer) slammed my face down on the concrete. (They) hit me on the cruiser, put me in the cruiser, raised up all the windows, and put it on high heat.”

In a probable-cause statement attached to the criminal complaint against Dorian Johnson, a law enforcer, identified only as “E.B.,” wrote police encountered Johnson while fielding a report of a possible disturbance involving a group possibly armed with guns or knives.

E.B. wrote that he noticed a person identified only as “O.M.” with a bulging waistband that he suspected might be a concealed gun and moved in to investigate. The officer wrote that Demonte Johnson then grabbed him by an arm and told him to release the man, saying that the officer “was not going to take O.M. to jail.”

As another officer grabbed Demonte, Johnson to pull him away, Dorian Johnson “ran toward” that officer and demanded that his brother be released, the probable-cause statement read.

“Dorian Johnson further stated that the police could not arrest any of them,” the affidavit continued, adding that Dorian Johnson “then struggled with me and tried to pry himself away from me.”

“I had to physically struggle with Dorian Johnson until I was able take him to the ground and get handcuffs on him,” the affidavit read.

Demonte Johnson, 21, was charged May 7 with resisting arrest and with a misdemeanor account of assault on a law enforcement officer, according to online court records. The records did not say whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

ACLU sues Ferguson school district challenging at-large electoral system

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against Missouri’s Ferguson-Florissant School District, charging the district’s electoral system is locking African-Americans out of the political process.

The case, brought on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, is challenging the district’s at-large system used to elect school board members. The at-large system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength, the complaint charges.

African-Americans constitute a minority of the district’s voting age population, and under the at-large system they are systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice, according to the ACLU. The suit seeks to allow voters to cast a ballot for an individual school board member who resides in their district and better represents the community.

“The current system locks out African-American voters. It dilutes the voting power of the African-American community and severely undermines their voice in the political process,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there is just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 79 percent of the student body.

This systemic lack of representation is why plaintiff Redditt Hudson got involved in this case. He is a former St. Louis police officer who lives in Florissant with his wife and two daughters, both of whom are students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

“We’ve seen African-Americans excluded from making decisions that affect our children,” said Hudson, who works for the NAACP. “We need to be able to advocate for an education that will put our kids first and not political agendas.”

The case, Missouri NAACP v. Ferguson-Florissant School District, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

“It is a core American value that everyone has the right to cast a vote that counts,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This lawsuit is a positive step toward addressing racial inequities in our education system that will affect not only Ferguson, but all of Missouri.”

Museum working to preserve plywood art in Ferguson

The Missouri History Museum and the Regional Art Commission are working to preserve art that has been added to plywood meant to protect storefronts or cover damage from protesting in Ferguson and St. Louis.

The wood has been enhanced with drawings, bright colors and positive sayings, such as “listen with love” and “heal the world,” since a grand jury last month declined to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old.

Hundreds of artists have banded together to highlight the community’s strength and provide a positive outlet that will allow people to move past the images of businesses being looted and burned, said Tom Halaska, owner of the Art Bar on Cherokee Street and an organizer with Paint for Peace STL. The effort has received tremendous support from business owners and residents, he said.

About 100 board-covered businesses have been decorated, and participants plan to continue their artistic mission, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The museum hopes to eventually collect some of the art for research or possibly for an exhibit, according to Chris Gordon, director of library and collections.

But not everyone supports the preservation effort, and opposition has been felt by business owners and protesters alike.

“It’s not the history you’d want to remember,” said Varun Madaksira, owner of the Original Red’s BBQ in Ferguson, which was set on fire after the grand jury announcement.

Tony Rice of Ferguson has been protesting since Brown was killed on Aug. 9. He believes the plywood art masks residents’ sadness.

“It’s an attempt to whitewash the pain the community has suffered,” Rice said.

Supporters of the effort say art can help turn a negative situation into a positive one. Boarded-up buildings can lead people to believe an area is unsafe, said Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District.

“When you put paint on, it really changes the perspective,” she said.

Missouri judge overturns state ban on same-sex marriage

A state judge overturned Missouri’s constitutional ban on gay marriage on Nov. 5 in a ruling that immediately set off a rush among some same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison said in a written ruling that Missouri’s measure recognizing marriage only between a man and woman violates the due process and equal protection rights of the U.S. Constitution. The decision mirrored ones handed down recently in several other states.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster immediately appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, saying the constitutional challenge “must be presented to and resolved” at that level. But he said that his office wouldn’t seek a stay of the order, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant stays after same-sex marriage decisions in Idaho and Alaska.

Koster previously chose not to appeal a ruling requiring Missouri to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

After hearing about the ruling, Kelley Harris, 35, and Kelly Barnard, 36, drove to St. Louis City Hall to apply for a marriage license. They called a photographer to record the event and planned to invite friends to attend an impromptu ceremony at a local park. The couple had held an unofficial wedding ceremony in 2003.

“We’ve already been living as a married couple – we have children, we have family – so it would be nice to have the legal backing,” said Harris, accompanied by her mother and the couple’s suit-clad 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.

By 5 p.m., the city had issued marriage licenses to four lesbian couples, including Harris and Barnard. April Breeden and Crystal Peairs, both 38, held a brief ceremony on the marble steps of the City Hall rotunda after obtaining their license.

“Time is of the essence,” Peairs said. “We wanted to make sure we got it taken care of today.”

The city issued four marriage licenses to same-sex couples in June and then quit doing so, intentionally setting up a legal challenge to the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan argued during a September court hearing that 71 percent of Missourians had voted for the referendum and said that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly allowed states to define marriage.

St. Louis City Counselor Winston Calvert countered in court that the existing law treats same-sex couples as “second-class citizens.” He said an increasing number of states are allowing gay couples to wed, including most of the states surrounding Missouri.

“Obviously this is a long time coming for so many gay and lesbian couples in the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis in particular,” Calvert said Wednesday as he and Mayor Francis Slay joined the four couples at the marriage license office.

Terry Garrett-Yampolsky, an archivist in the St. Louis recorder of deeds office, was part of the initial group of same-sex couples to receive licenses a little more than three months ago. He watched the couples enter the city office Wednesday with a mixture of pride and exhilaration.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s actually happening.”

The decision may lead to same-sex marriage licenses being issued in other Missouri communities. Cheryl Dawson, the recorder of deeds for Greene County in southwest Missouri, said she received one phone inquiry about same-sex marriage licenses after the ruling. She said she told the caller that a state association hadn’t yet told her how to handle such requests.

A federal court case in Kansas City also challenges Missouri’s gay marriage ban. Jackson County officials cited that case in a written statement late Wednesday noting that Burlison’s ruling “is limited to St. Louis city.”

The Missouri lawsuits mirror dozens of others across the country. The suits are based on the same arguments that led the U.S. Supreme Court last year to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples.

Gay marriage is legal in 32 states — including Wisconsin — and the District of Columbia.

Amnesty report documents human rights concerns in Ferguson

Amnesty International has released On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, which documents the human rights concerns witnessed first-hand by observers while in Ferguson Aug. 14-22. The report also outlines a series of recommendations that need to be implemented with regard to the use of force by law enforcement officers and the policing of protests.

Amnesty released the report in advance of its Midwest conference, which is taking place in St. Louis this weekend.

In August, after the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Amnesty dispatched a human rights delegation to monitor protests and the police response.

“What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being — and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force.”

What happened between Michael Brown and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson remains uncertain, due to conflicting reports. Brown was unarmed and as such it calls into question whether the use of lethal force was justified. Amnesty’s report urges the Missouri Legislature to amend the statute that authorizes the use of lethal force to ensure that the use of lethal force by law enforcement would be limited to those instances in which it is necessary to protect life.

The report also details the impact of city, county and state law enforcement and officials’ responses on the rights of individuals in Ferguson to participate in peaceful protest.

Amnesty International documented a number of restrictions placed on protestors, including the imposition of curfews, designated protest areas and a “five-second” keep walking rule. Intimidation of protesters is also included in the report, which details the use of heavy-duty riot gear and military-grade weapons as well as questionable protest dispersal practices, including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and long range acoustic devices.

“This is about accountability,” Hawkins said in a news release. “The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America. That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state and federal levels.”

The mistreatment of journalists and observers is another area of focus highlighted in the report. At least 19 journalists and members of the media were arrested by law enforcement while others were subjected to tear gas and the use of rubber bullets.

In the report, Amnesty renewed its recommendation that the Department of Justice conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the death of Michael Brown, implement a DOJ-led review of police tactics and practices nationwide and release nationwide data on police shootings.

The report calls for Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

United Nations condemns U.S. racism as reverberations over Ferguson continue

Even as Ferguson grows calmer, recent indictments in the St. Louis suburb continue to provoke outrage around the world.

Ferguson and St. Louis County have been sued in federal court for the use of excessive force and the false arrest of innocent bystanders during the civil unrest following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American.

The United Nations has issued a report condemning the United States for widespread violations of the human rights of people of color.

The federal lawsuit, filed Aug. 28, seeks $40 million in damages. Plaintiffs include a clinical social worker who says she and her 17-year-old son were roughed up and arrested after not reacting quickly enough to police orders to evacuate a McDonald’s; a 23-year-old man who says he was shot multiple times with rubber bullets and called racial slurs while walking through the protest zone to his mother’s home and a man who says he was arrested for filming the disturbances.

Attorney Malik Shabazz said the lawsuit could be broadened to include additional plaintiffs. Ferguson and St. Louis officials have declined comment on the suit.

The U.S. Department of Justice is considering a broad investigation into whether a pattern of using excessive force by Ferguson police has routinely violated people’s civil rights. At least five police officers and one former officer in the city’s  53-member department have been named in civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force.

In fact, there have been four federal lawsuits, including one that is on appeal, and more than a half-dozen investigations of the Ferguson police department over the past decade. Charges have included killing a mentally ill man with a Taser, pistol-whipping a child, choking and hog-tying a child and beating a man who was later charged with destroying city property because his blood spilled on officers’ clothes. 

Persistent discrimination

On Aug. 29, the United Nations blasted the United States for the use of excessive force on display in Ferguson during the demonstrations following Brown’s killing. After examining records and hearing testimony from witnesses, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of unacceptable disparities in the United States. The finding was especially embarrassing for the nation coming just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to scuttle the Voting Rights Act of 1965, claiming that institutionalized animus toward blacks is no longer a problem in this country.

A CERD panel of 18 independent experts grilled a U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what the experts called persistent discrimination against AfricanAmericans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system. U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that the nation has made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination,” but he also conceded that much work is yet to be done.

Among those who testified before CERD in Geneva was Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Also attending was Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was shot dead in a car in Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012.

At an Aug. 29 press briefing announcing the committee’s conclusions, CERD vice chairman Noureddine Amir said, “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. (Ferguson) is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”

CERD, which monitors a treaty ratified by 177 countries, including the United States, also concluded that the “Stand Your Ground” laws in 22 states, which indemnify Americans who kill because they fear their lives are in imminent danger, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.”

The Aug. 9 shooting of Brown in the St. Louis suburb, which is 70 percent black and has a police force that’s nearly all white, is just the latest in a long list of police and vigilante killings of unarmed black men in recent years. The protests that rocked Ferguson in the wake of the shooting worsened after local law-enforcement stepped in with military equipment, tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation into what happened to Brown.

Another St. Louis police officer who was assigned to day patrols in Ferguson during the height of the protests was forced into retirement after a 2012 video came to light in which he called himself “a killer” and warned that he would kill anyone who got in his way. In addition, officer Dan Page, a 35-year-veteran of the force, made hateful, racist remarks about President Barack Obama and slurs against LGBT people during the widely viewed rant.

Page, who retired with full benefits, also shoved CNN host Don Lemon on camera during a report from the scene. 

‘Two shootings away’

Since Brown’s slaying, four additional unarmed black men have been killed by police, according to Mother Jones magazine. Marches and rallies demanding justice for Brown and other African-American victims of police brutality have been held repeatedly in cities across America, including here in Wisconsin. 

Citing seemingly intractable conditions of poverty, joblessness, despair and segregation in Milwaukee, Ald. Milele Coggs issued a statement saying that the city is two shootings away from a situation like the one in Ferguson.

“The death of Mike Brown was Ferguson’s spark, and if Milwaukee does not make changes soon, I believe our spark is coming,” she said.

Demonstrators rallied in Milwaukee on Aug. 17 in Brown’s memory. They marched to Milwaukee police headquarters, blocking traffic while officers helped divert drivers.

On Aug. 22, a diverse crowd of about 250 people staged a tearful rally organized by Milwaukee’s African American Engagement Roundtable. The racially mixed crowd included people of all ages and circumstances — students with backpacks and at least one woman with a Coach purse

The event began with rally leaders reading off the names of dozens of unarmed black men who’ve been shot down in the streets of America by police. There was a moment of silence, followed by a chant of “black lives matter.”

The setting was Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park, where 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man suffering from schizophrenia, was shot as many as 15 times by an MPD officer in April. Hamilton’s father presented an impassioned speech, saying that after nearly four months, his family has yet to receive an explanation from police or the district attorney’s office about what happened to his son. The officer who shot Dontre Hamilton has not been charged or named publicly.

Hamilton’s death was the first following the adoption of a new law in Wisconsin that requires outside investigations of cases in which deaths occur while people are in police custody. The state Division of Criminal Investigation has issued a report on Hamilton’s case to the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, but its contents have yet to be released.

Hamilton’s father, who said the wait has been excruciating for him and his family, told the crowd that the white establishment looks at black men as “bugs” that “need to be exterminated.”

“We need to understand that all of our hearts beat the same,” he pleaded to an enthusiastic response.

The father of Corey Stingley also spoke. Sixteen-year-old Stingley was asphyxiated by three adult white men after stealing a bottle of alcohol at a corner store. Stingley referred to the three men as “vigilantes.”

Following the rally at Red Arrow Park, more than 100 people under the watchful eyes of riot police, chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and stopped traffic as they marched down West State Street to the Milwaukee Municipal Court building, which also houses MPD’s administrative offices. There, they staged a sit-in and called on Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn to meet with them.

A third rally was held in Milwaukee on Aug. 19 and more actions are planned.

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Ferguson police stripped of authority as vigils for slain black teen Michael Brown take place from coast to coast

Local police in Ferguson, Missouri, were stripped yesterday of their authority after days of violent clashes during which police used surplus military weapons against crowds protesting the police slaying of an unarmed black teen.

The Missouri Highway Patrol seized control of the St. Louis suburb following a fourth night of angry confrontations Wednesday over the Aug. 9 killing. An unnamed police officer shot Michael Brown, an 18-year-old who was set to start college this week, 10 times in the head and chest.

Brown, who was black, was apparently slain after a verbal altercation with the white cop who shot him. Ferguson is 70-percent black, but nearly the entire police force is white.

On Wednesday night, officers in riot gear used tear-gas on the crowd and arrested peaceful black demonstrators in scenes that dredged up nightmare memories of the 1960s black civil rights era. Commandeering armored vehicles, police were equipped with short-barreled 5.56-mm assault rifles that can hit specific targets as far away as 500 meters, according to published reports.

Assessing the accelerating events of the past several days, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon yesterday ordered the highway patrol, led by Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black, to take control of the situation. Nixon’s decision was announced shortly after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with Brown’s family and President Barack Obama spoke out publicly about the incident for the first time.

The change in law-enforcement will ensure “that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately,” Nixon said, as quoted by The Associated Press.

Ferguson residents have complained about police officers’ response beginning with the immediate aftermath of Brown’s shooting, when they brought out dogs for crowd control. County polic led both the investigation of Brown’s shooting and attempts to keep the peace in the small city.

County Police Chief Jon Belmar said his officers showed “an incredible amount of restraint” after being showered with rocks and bottles and having their vehicles destroyed.

As with last year’s Trayvon Martin shooting, social media brought international attention to the tragedy. Ferguson spawned a proliferation of hashtags and was the dominant subject yesterday on Twitter, Facebook and other sites, according to the AP.

Journalists and protesters offered real-time pictures, videos and text reports — and the world responded with outrage.

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car. The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times.

But Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown when the shooting occurred, had a much different story. He told reporters that the officer ordered them out of the street, then grabbed his friend’s neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal investigators have interviewed eyewitnesses to the shooting. A person familiar with the matter, who spoke with AP on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said federal authorities have interviewed Johnson.

Rallying communities from coast to coast under the Twitter hashtag #NMOS14, activists organized vigils for Brown in over 100 U.S. communities this evening, including at such historic sites as the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Boston Common and New York’s Union Square. The vigils featured a minute of silence at 7:20 p.m. EDT.

“We are not protesting. We are not going to be chanting or anything of that nature,” Chantelle Batiste, an organizer of the vigil at New Orleans’ 225-year-old Lafayette Square, told the local NBC affiliate. “We want to make sure everyone comes like-minded and everyone stays peaceful.”

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