The Latest: Expert warns about police spreading virus

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Expert warns tear gas could lead to spread of coronavirus.

— South African president calls for “turning point” in addressing racism.

— Tacoma, Washington, mayor orders firing of four officers for restraint death.

— Minneapolis to ban chokeholds by police, require officers to report illegal restraint.

___

ATLANTA — An Emory University infectious disease specialist says he has serious concerns that police could be spreading the coronavirus by spraying tear gas on demonstrators.

Mass arrests and confining people in small spaces dramatically increases the risk of infecting others with the coronavirus, Dr. Jay Varkey said Friday.

Tear gas and other chemical agents causes people to rub their eyes, putting demonstrators at risk of being infected, Varkey said.

“When I see the wide use of things like tear gas or pepper bombs that by its nature cause people to immediately rub their eyes, that causes me tremendous consternation in terms of the risk of what that could cause in terms of infection transmission during a pandemic,” Varkey said.

“From a public health standpoint, I don’t know whether law enforcement is actively looking at agents other than tear gas or pepper bombs,” he said. “As a physician, do I think they should? Yes, absolutely.”

___

ATLANTA — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has donated $500,000 to launch a fundraiser he says is designed “to help improve the community for people of color in the city of Atlanta.”

Ryan opened the GoFundMe page because, he says, “I see my city hurting.” In an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter protests in Atlanta and across the country, he said in a statement he was motivated to take action after he committed last week to “listening and learning.”

“For far too long I have reacted to social injustice with empathy and silent support but failed to follow through with active support,” Ryan said. “I feel the time has come to RESPOND. For ALL of us to respond.”

Ryan said said over the next weeks and months he will be “really listening to the needs of the community and working with black business leaders, sports figures, activists and local grassroots organizations to get guidance on how these donations can be most impactful.”

Borrowing from the Falcons’ slogan, Ryan challenged others in Atlanta to “rise up as a community” and donate to the fund. The goal is to raise $2 million.

___

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president is noting the “naked racism in the United States” and says he firmly believes “this is a moment we should regard as a turning point with regard to tackling racism around the world.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke as the ruling African National Congress launched a Black Friday event in response to the “heinous murder” of George Floyd and “institutionalized racism” in the U.S., at home and “wherever it rears its ugly head.”

Ramaphosa said human dignity is a universal aspiration and respect for it is “the only guarantee of any nation’s prosperity.” He pointed out South Africa’s enduring racial inequality a quarter-century after the end of the racist system of apartheid, and he expressed his “deepest regret” at the death of nearly a dozen South Africans allegedly at the hands of security forces during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown.

While he said the deaths “do not have the obvious racial dimensions of the murder of George Floyd, they do rely on a similar contempt for the intrinsic human worth of the victim” and must be condemned “just as vehemently.” The cases are under investigation.

___

SEATTLE — The Seattle area’s largest labor group says it will expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild later this month unless the union admits that racism is a problem in law enforcement and agrees to address that problem in negotiating its next contract with the city.

The Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council passed a resolution Thursday as protests continue in Seattle and nationally over the killing of George Floyd. The resolution attributes policing problems to systemic racism.

It called on the Seattle police union to acknowledge that or be thrown out of the umbrella group of more than 150 unions and 100,000 workers that wields tremendous power in greater Seattle politics. SPOG President Mike Solan declined to comment to The Seattle Times.

In tweets Thursday, the police union thanked people for increasingly peaceful protests and said officers and protesters are part of the same community “and there are people with loved ones, frustrations and hope for the future on both sides of the line.”

The labor council’s resolution specifically mentioned contracts between police and the city. It said the police union must participate in an effort “dedicated to promoting safety within our community and within law enforcement by addressing racism within SPOG … and ensuring that contracts do not evade legitimate accountability.”

___

NICOSIA, Cyprus — About 250 people demonstrated peacefully outside the U.S. embassy in the Cypriot capital Nicosia to denounce what they said were the “social and racial inequalities” at the root of protests triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

Demonstrators wore masks and kept several feet apart in line with social distancing rules. They held placards reading, “We say no to racism, solidarity is our weapon,” and chanted slogans including “Power to the people, united we breathe.”

Police observed Friday’s hour-long protest from a distance as demonstrators knelt and held out clenched fists in a show of solidarity with protesters in the U.S.

The protest was organized by EDON, the youth wing of Cyprus’ communist-rooted party AKEL. EDON Central Committee member Christoforos Pittara decried what he called the endemic racial inequality that still plagues the U.S. and criticized President Donald Trump for resorting to racist rhetoric.

Pittara said justice for George Floyd isn’t enough and must be served for a “chain of murders” whose victims were not only African Americans, but the poor and dispossessed irrespective of race, creed or color.

___

TACOMA, Wash. — The mayor of Tacoma, Washington, has told the city manager to fire four police officers following the death of a black man after police restrained him in March.

Mayor Victoria Woodards on Thursday night directed City Manager Elizabeth Pauli to fire the officers involved in the restraint of 33-year-old Manuel Ellis.

Her order comes as the country has been roiled by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Four Minneapolis officers have been criminally charged. Woodards said the Tacoma officers should also be prosecuted in the death of Ellis.

“The officers who committed this crime should be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Woodards said in a statement aired live on Tacoma TV and Facebook. “I am demanding tonight that the Pierce County Sheriff review and confirm every action taken by each officer.”

The News Tribune reports the Pierce County medical examiner’s office ruled Ellis’ March 3 death a homicide caused by a lack of oxygen due to physical restraint. The newspaper reports methamphetamine intoxication and a heart disease were contributing factors.

Authorities have said Ellis appeared to be suffering from some sort of breakdown when they approached him. They said he attacked officers who were trying to calm him down.

___

MINNEAPOLIS — Negotiators for the city of Minneapolis have agreed with the state to ban the use of chokeholds by police, and to require police to report and intervene any time they see an unauthorized use of force by another officer.

The moves are part of a stipulation between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which launched a civil rights investigation this week in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody. The City Council is expected to approve the agreement Friday.

The agreement, which will be enforceable in court, would require any officer, regardless of tenure or rank, to immediately report the use of any neck restraint or chokehold from the scene to their commander or their commander’s superiors.

Similarly, any officer who sees another officer commit any unauthorized use of force, including any chokehold or neck restraint, must try to intervene verbally and even physically. If they don’t, they’d be subject to discipline as severe as if they themselves had used the prohibited force.

The agreement also requires authorization from the police chief or a designated deputy chief to use crowd control weapons, including chemical agents, rubber bullets, flash-bangs, batons, and marking rounds. And it requires more timely decisions on disciplining officers.

___

INDIANAPOLIS — Four Indianapolis police officers who were caught on video using batons and pepper balls to subdue two women at a protest over the death of George Floyd have been assigned to support duties pending the outcome of an investigation.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Aliya Wishner said the officers “have been reassigned to a support position while the investigation proceeds.” She said that reassignment does not involve them being placed on administrative leave.

Police Chief Randal Taylor and Mayor Joe Hogsett were expected to address that investigation and other issues stemming from last weekend’s unrest in Indiana’s capital during a news conference later Friday.

___

ROME — The highest-ranking American cardinal at the Vatican says the killing of George Floyd has laid bare that the Christian principles of the U.S. Constitution aren’t being applied to blacks, and is evidence that divisive, demonizing language can kill.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who heads the Vatican’s laity office, told The Associated Press on Friday that the brutality of Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer was so unreal as to seem like it was a movie.

“We would never think that that could possibly happen,” Farrell said. “They are trained individuals who knew that in that position, that person was not going to survive.

“Now, what brings a person to that point?” he added. “We all have to ask ourselves: What has brought us to that point?”

Farrrell on Friday was presiding over a prayer service organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based Catholic charity that is close to Pope Francis.

___

PARIS — France’s top security official ordered an investigation Friday into racist, sexist and anti-LGBT messages allegedly posted by police in a private Facebook group.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner asked the Paris prosecutor’s office to look into the messages and the group, according to an Interior Ministry official.

Castaner promised earlier this week to be “unforgiving” toward racist comments among police forces, at a time when George Floyd’s death in the U.S. has ignited protests around France and worldwide about police violence and racial injustice.

The website Streetpress published a string of messages Thursday that it said were posted in a private Facebook group for French police officers. The site acknowledged it is unclear whether the authors were actual police officers or those pretending to be.

Some of the reported comments mocked young men of color who have died fleeing police, or a singer who has denounced police violence.

Separately, six police officers in the Normandy city of Rouen are under internal investigation over racist comments in a private WhatsApp group. Both incidents have prompted public concern about extreme views among French police.

___

PORTLAND, Ore. — Thousands of protesters marched for the seventh consecutive night in Portland to decry the death of George Floyd.

Damian Lillard of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers walked at the front of the crowd arm-in-arm with young demonstrators as they crossed a bridge over the Willamette River and made their way to a large riverside park for a rally and speeches.

Hours later, several hundred people splintered off and set fires, engaged in street racing, threw projectiles and pointed lasers at officers’ eyes.

Police used a sound device that emits loud, high frequencies to deter those people. Twelve people were arrested.

___

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump invoked George Floyd’s name as he delivered remarks trumpeting the latest unemployment numbers, which showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly adding 2.5 million jobs last month.

Trump mentioned equal justice under the law means everyone needs to receive fair treatment. He referenced Floyd, whose death in police custody has sparked protests across the world.

Trump says, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” adding: “This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody.”

Trump is also calling an improving economy “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations” and the African American community.

___

MINNEAPOLIS — A man with George Floyd says his friend didn’t resist arrest and tried to defuse the situation when officers began screaming at Floyd.

Maurice Lester Hall, a longtime friend, was a passenger in Floyd’s car when police approached him on May 25 while responding to a call about a possible use of counterfeit money. Hall told the New York Times that Floyd was trying in his “humblest form to show he was not resisting arrest in no form or way.”

Hall, 42, was arrested Monday in Houston on outstanding warrants.

He has been interviewed by Minnesota authorities and is a key witness in the state’s investigation into the four officers who apprehended Floyd. All four officers were fired and charged, including Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.

Hall told ABC’s “Good Morning America” the situation escalated and police grabbed Floyd, put him in a squad car, dragged him back out and then “jumped on the back of the neck.”

Hall says Floyd was crying out for help because he was dying. He says he’ll always remember seeing the fear in his friend’s face.

Hall didn’t know Floyd had died until the next day, when he saw the bystander video.

___

Follow more AP stories on the George Floyd protests and reaction at https://apnews.com/GeorgeFloyd

Categories: National & International News