In Brief: August 1, 2020

Despite virus threat, Black voters wary of voting by mail

DETROIT — Despite fears that the coronavirus pandemic will worsen, Victor Gibson said he’s not planning to take advantage of Michigan’s expanded vote-by-mail system when he casts his ballot in November.

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The retired teacher from Detroit just isn’t sure he can trust it. Many Black Americans share similar concerns and are planning to vote in person on Election Day, even as mail-in voting expands to more states as a safety precaution during the pandemic.

For many, historical skepticism of a system that tried to keep Black people from the polls and worries that a mailed ballot won’t get counted outweigh the prospect of long lines and health dangers from a virus that’s disproportionately affected communities of color. Ironically, suspicion of mail-in voting aligns with the views of President Donald Trump, whom many Black voters want out of office.

Trump took it a step further Tuesday, suggesting a “delay” to the Nov. 3 presidential election — which would take an act of Congress — as he made unsubstantiated allegations in a tweet that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

“I would never change my mind” about voting in person in November, said Gibson, who is Black and hopes Trump loses. “I always feel better sliding my ballot in. We’ve heard so many controversies about missing absentee ballots.”

Students return to campus amid virus growth in some states

RALEIGH, N.C. — The first wave of college students returning to their dorms aren’t finding the typical mobs of students and parents. What they found Friday were strict safety protocols and some heightened anxiety amid a global pandemic where virus infections are growing in dozens of states.

North Carolina State University staggered the return of its students over 10 days and welcomed the first 900 students to campus, where they were greeted Friday by socially distant volunteers donning masks and face shields.

The rite of passage was a well-organized, but low-key affair, as boxes were unloaded, luggage was wheeled and beds were hauled.

“It’s just odd not seeing anybody. You expect it to be hustle and bustle and all that around, but there was nothing. It was pretty empty,” said Dominick DePaola, an incoming freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Across the country, students are jumping through additional hoops by getting tests, navigating travel quarantines, and abiding by strict rules.

Marine vehicle deep under sea, complicating rescue search

SAN DIEGO — A military seafaring assault vehicle that sank off the coast of Southern California is under hundreds of feet of water, putting it beyond the reach of divers and complicating rescue efforts for eight missing troops, officials said Friday.

Still the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, said the search was continuing while he was suspending waterborne operations of all of its more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined. He said the move was out of “an abundance of caution.”

Berger said the focus now should be on the troops and their families. One of the eight Marines who were rescued died at a San Diego hospital. Two Marines remained hospitalized with injuries but were stable and out of the intensive care unit.

A total of 16 troops — 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman — were on board when the amphibious assault vehicle started taking in water Thursday evening as it was about a half mile (more than 1,000 meters) from the shores of San Clemente Island.

They had just completed a routine training exercise and were heading back to the Navy ship with a dozen other amphibious assault vehicles, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, the commanding general of the Marine Expeditionary Force.

Court overturns Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence

A federal appeals court Friday threw out Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, saying the judge who oversaw the case did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new penalty-phase trial on whether the 27-year-old Tsarnaev should be executed for the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

“But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote in the ruling, more than six months after arguments were heard in the case.

An attorney for Tsarnaev said they are grateful for the court’s “straightforward and fair decision: if the government wishes to put someone to death, it must make its case to a fairly selected jury that is provided all relevant information.”

From wire sources

“It is now up to the government to determine whether to put the victims and Boston through a second trial, or to allow closure to this terrible tragedy by permitting a sentence of life without the possibility of release,” David Patton said in an email.

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Joe Biden’s search for a running mate enters final stretch

WASHINGTON — As Joe Biden nears the announcement of his vice presidential choice, the top contenders and their advocates are making final appeals.

The campaign hasn’t finalized a date for naming a running mate, but three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans said a public announcement likely wouldn’t happen before the week of Aug. 10. That’s one week before Democrats will hold their convention to officially nominate Biden as their presidential nominee.

Biden said in May that he hoped to name his pick around Aug. 1 and told reporters this week that he would “have a choice in the first week of August.” He notably stopped short of saying when he would announce that choice.

Running mates are often announced on the eve of a convention. As he prepares to make his choice, a committee established to vet possible running mates has provided Biden with briefing materials. Biden will likely soon begin one-on-one conversations with those under consideration, which could be the most consequential part of the process for a presidential candidate who values personal connections.

The leading contenders include California Sen. Kamala Harris, California Rep. Karen Bass and Obama national security adviser Susan Rice. The deliberations remain fluid, however, and the campaign has reviewed nearly a dozen possible running mates.

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Change laws that shield police, Missouri prosecutor says

CLAYTON, Mo. — After a third review failed to uncover enough evidence to charge the officer who fatally shot Black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, some prosecutors and civil rights leaders agree it’s time to focus on changing the laws that shield police.

In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said legislators need to take a hard look at laws that offer protection against prosecution for police officers that regular citizens aren’t afforded, pushing a message that has gained strong momentum in the two months since George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police launched a national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.

“We see those types of laws throughout the country, and it is something that handcuffs prosecutors in numerous ways when you are going about prosecuting officers who have committed unlawful use of force or police shootings,” Bell said.

Bell, St. Louis County’s first Black prosecuting attorney, was elected in 2018 as a reformist, and he has implemented sweeping changes that have reduced the jail population, ended prosecution of low-level marijuana crimes and sought to help offenders rehabilitate themselves.

He also established an independent unit to investigate officer-involved shootings, a division that spent five months looking at the 2014 death of Brown, who was shot by white Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. The shooting spurred months of unrest and helped solidify the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.

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3 charged in massive Twitter hack, Bitcoin scam

MIAMI — A British man, a Florida man and a Florida teen were identified by authorities Friday as the hackers who earlier this month took over Twitter accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls to scam people around the globe out of more than $100,000 in Bitcoin.

Graham Ivan Clark, 17, was arrested Friday in Tampa, where the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will prosecute him as adult. He faces 30 felony charges, according to a news release. Mason Sheppard, 19, of Bognor Regis, U.K., and Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando, were charged in California federal court.

In one of the most high-profile security breaches in recent years, hackers sent out bogus tweets on July 15 from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Celebrities Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, were also hacked.

The tweets offered to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.

“There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California said in a news release. “Today’s charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived.”

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US astronauts pack up for rare splashdown in SpaceX capsule

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two U.S. astronauts about to make the first splashdown return in 45 years said Friday they’ll have seasick bags ready to use if needed.

SpaceX and NASA plan to bring Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken back Sunday afternoon in the company’s Dragon capsule, aiming for the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle. Flight controllers are keeping close watch on Hurricane Isaias, expected to stick to Florida’s east coast.

Hurley said if he and Behnken get sick while bobbing in the waves awaiting recovery, it won’t be the first time for a crew. Astronauts returning in the early 1970s from Skylab, NASA’s first space station, did not feel well following splashdown, Hurley noted.

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Feeling sick “is the way it is with a water landing,” he said during the crew’s final news conference from the International Space Station.

This will be SpaceX’s first splashdown with astronauts on board, ending a two-month test flight that began May 30 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — the first launch of a crew from the U.S. in nearly a decade. The capsule has been docked at the space station since May 31, allowing Hurley and Behnken to chip in with spacewalks and experiments.

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