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Protest updates: Fired Atlanta police officer charged with felony murder in Rayshard Brooks shooting

As Quaker Oats plans to rename and remove all images of a Black woman from the Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup company Wednesday, Senate Republicans introduced a sweeping police reform package.

The bill calls for an increase in transparency in registering use-of-force incidents and encourages a ban on police chokeholds. House Democrats are pushing through with their own bill that calls for mandatory dashboard and body cameras for police officers, an end to chokeholds, and the creation of a national registry to track officers with a record of misconduct.

Wednesday afternoon, Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr., announced charges in the death of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man who was shot by police outside a Wendy’s in Atlanta. Former police officer Garrett Rolfe was charged with felony murder and faces life in prison or the death penalty.

A closer look at some recent developments: 

  • Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix and syrup will receive a new name and image, after acknowledging that the brand’s “origins are based on a racial stereotype.” Meanwhile, Mars Inc., the company behind Uncle Ben’s rice, said Wednesday it would remove the image of a Black man from its logo.
  • President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday directing police departments to adopt new standards for the use of force. Some experts, however, say it may not be enough because it fails to address questions of systemic racism and sweeping policy changes.
  • Late Tuesday, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas removed its “Hey Reb!” statue from campus.
  • Officials in Columbia, South Carolina, announced plans to remove a statue of slavery advocate John C. Calhoun, defying state law.
  • Protesters in Richmond tore down another Confederate statue, marking the third Confederate statue and fourth monument toppled in Virginia since the protests following George Floyd’s death spread across the U.S. Meanwhile, a statue of tennis icon and activist Arthur Ashe was defaced with spray paint.
  • Also in Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney announced the resignation of Police Chief William Smith, three days after a police SUV drove into several protesters and two weeks after police used tear gas against a crowd of peaceful protesters before curfew.
  • During a Senate Judiciary hearing about police violence Tuesday, Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz dismissed the idea that systemic racism exists in U.S. institutions, including police departments.
  • Atlanta police officer Devin Brosnan, who was also at the scene and who is facing three charges related to the killing of Brooks, will be cooperating as a state witness.

Our live blog will be updated throughout the day. For first-in-the-morning updates, sign up for The Daily Briefing.

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Fired Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe charged with felony murder in shooting death of Rayshard Brooks

Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe was charged Wednesday with felony murder in the killing of Rayshard Brooks, the latest in a string of Black people dying after altercations with police. He ischarged with 10 other counts, including multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

If convicted, Rolfe is facing the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty. 

Arrest warrants have been issued for Rolfe and fellow officer Devin Brosnan, who was also at the scene and who is facing three charges.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said that Brosnan is cooperating as a state witness and acknowledged standing on Brooks’ body after the shooting, for which the officer has been charged. The District Attorney’s office is recommending a $50,000 bond for Brosnan, and no bond for Rolfe.

Protests against racial inequality and police brutality, which were already ongoing across the nation following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, regained momentum in Georgia’s capital city after Brooks’ death Friday. The Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks, 27, was shot and killed was burned down late Saturday night and set ablaze again Sunday.

— Jorge L. Ortiz

Statue of Arthur Ashe in Richmond defaced with ‘White Lives Matter’ spray paint

A statue of tennis legend Arthur Ashe was spray painted with the words “White Lives Matter” and “WLM” on Wednesday in Richmond, Virginia. 

Ashe is the only Black man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens. Throughout his career and afterward, Ashe fought for racial equality and civil rights, notably the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. He died in 1993.

The statue of Ashe was one of six on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The other five monuments commemorated the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart and Matthew Fontaine Maury. Protesters toppled the Davis statue last week.

After days of protests over racial inequality and police brutality, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the Lee statue removed “as soon as possible” on June 3. Mayor Levar Stoney later said he will propose the removal of the other Confederate statues. 

– Chris Bumbaca

Fulton County DA to announce decision in Rayshard Brooks shooting

Paul L. Howard Jr., the District Attorney of Fulton County, will announce his decision on potential charges against former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe and officer Devin Brosnan in the Rayshard Brooks case at 3 p.m. ET.

Brooks, 27, was shot outside of a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta after police responded to a call late Friday night that a car was not moving in the drive-thru line, forcing other customers to drive around it. When police arrived, they found Brooks sleeping in the car. They questioned him and administered a field sobriety test.

After he failed, they attempted to handcuff Brooks, he resisted and wrestled a taser away from an officer. As he fled, Rolfe fired his gun and hit Brooks twice. He was taken to the hospital, where he died after surgery. 

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Brooks’ death a homicide Sunday night.

Bystander video shows Georgia officer holding Black teenagers at gunpoint

A police department in Jonesboro, Georgia, has released bodycam footage, surveillance video and 911 audio calls after a bystander video posted on social media showed a police officer holding five Black teenagers at gunpoint as several passers-by stop and plead with the officer not to shoot.

Two 911 calls alleged that the teens were fighting outside a convenience store and had a gun. According to the bodycam footage, as soon as the officer spots the teenagers, who were walking down a road, he gets out of his car, immediately draws his gun and shouts at them: “Stop, all of y’all stop! Get your hands up!” and asks the teens to walk toward him.

“Due to the allegation that the juveniles were in possession of a gun, the officer approached them with his duty weapon drawn and pointed at the juveniles,” the Clayton County Police Department said in a statement, according to CNN.

The bystanders plead with the officer, saying things like: “They’re kids” and “They’re babies.” 

According to the bodycam footage, the officer has his gun drawn for more than four minutes until backup arrives and they search the teenagers. The officer then questions the teenagers, who told him that they were “play fighting.” 

The surveillance footage shows a few of the teenagers shadow boxing in a parking lot and tossing about what appears to be a handgun. The teens told the officer it was a BB gun and the footage shows the officers trying to retrieve it after one of the teens said he threw it in bushes near the store.

CNN reported that no arrests were made and no charges were filed.

Legal scholars break down key moments in Rayshard Brooks video

Video footage released by the Atlanta Police Department captures the timeline leading up to Brooks’ death. Through a combination of the officer’s body camera, dash camera and Wendy’s surveillance, the footage reveals key decisions by the officers involved, and important context that may be presented in potential criminal or civil trials

Officer Devin Brosnan is the first to arrive on scene. After he wakes Brooks and directs him to pull his car away from the drive-thru line and into a parking space, Brosnan asks if Brooks is in possession of a weapon and if he can conduct a search. 

The search is critical for two reasons, according to experts. 

“It does show he is cooperative,” said Kenneth B. Nunn, professor of law at University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. “And the other thing that’s very important about the search is they patted him down, he’s out of the car, never gets back in the car so officers know he does not have a weapon.” 

– Cara Kelly

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and wife Patty Quillin donate $120 million to HBCUs

In what became the largest-ever individual contribution to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120 million to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College.

Each institution will receive $40 million. The contribution will provide annual tuition and room and board to 20 first-year students.

“HBCUs have a tremendous record, yet are disadvantaged when it comes to giving,” Hastings and Quillin said in a statement. “Generally, White capital flows to predominantly White institutions, perpetuating capital isolation. We hope this additional $120 million donation will help more Black students follow their dreams and also encourage more people to support these institutions – helping to reverse generations of inequity in our country.”

Quaker Oats to rebrand Aunt Jemima to remove ‘racial stereotype’; Uncle Ben’s rice brand will ‘evolve’

Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that the Aunt Jemima brand, which features a Black woman in its logo, will get a new name and logo.

The Quaker Oats-owned company said Wednesday that the iconic Aunt Jemima figure on its packaging is “based on a racial stereotype” and acknowledged that its prior work to update the character was “not enough.” 

“We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, in a statement sent to USA TODAY. The move was first reported by NBC News and AdWeek.

Quaker Oats said the new packaging will hit shelves in the fall, with a new name for the brand to be announced at a later date.

Hours later, Mars Inc. announced that the Uncle Ben’s rice brand would “evolve” to remove the image of a Black man as its logo.

“As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” Mars said in a statement. “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”

Mars said it didn’t know what the exact change would be or the timing of it, but that it is “evaluating all possibilities.”

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Car driven into protesters in Portland, strikes three in hit-and-run

Protests raged on in downtown Portland, Oregon, again late Tuesday night. A little after 1 a.m., police say a car hit a group of demonstrators and three people were taken to the hospital.

“The vehicle struck several demonstrators and left at a high rate of speed, driving the wrong way on streets,” police said in a statement. “It appeared to be followed by several other vehicles that were associated with the protesters.”

All injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Air support officers tracked the driver’s location and eventually arrested Anthony Eaglehorse-Lassandro, 27, who was charged with three counts of felony hit and run, reckless driving and possession of a controlled substance.

Senate GOP to introduce police reform bill

Senate Republicans on Wednesday introduced a sweeping police reform package, the GOP’s legislative response to George Floyd’s death and nationwide protests over police brutality and racism. 

The bill, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — the chamber’s lone Black Republican — included measures aimed at increasing transparency at police agencies and use-of-force incidents while also encouraging departments to ban chokeholds and utilize body cameras through federal grants. 

While the legislation is expected to have broad support from Republicans, House Democrats on Wednesday are moving forward on their own bill that goes further and would end some police practices that have been factors in recent high-profile deaths of Black people and take away protections that shield officers from lawsuits after misconduct. 

The House on Wednesday will be examining the Democratic proposal in the House Judiciary Committee and considering any changes before the chamber votes on it likely next week. The Senate, similarly, could vote on its bill next week. 

– Christal Hayes

More on protests

Confederate-themed ‘Hey Reb!’ statue removed from Las Vegas campus

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and nationwide protests against racial injustice, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas removed its “Rebel” mascot from campus Tuesday. The “Hey Reb!” statue was donated to the university in 2007.

UNLV President Marta Meana notified students about the removal and suggested the mascot’s future is uncertain. 

“In recent conversations with the donor, we mutually agreed it was best to remove the statue and return it,” Meana said in an email Tuesday. “Over the past few months, I have had discussions with multiple individuals and stakeholder groups from campus and the community on how best the university can move forward given recent events throughout our nation. That includes the future of our mascot.”

On the night the statue was removed, a change.org petition calling for a new UNLV mascot had almost 4,000 signatures. “Having a mascot that is inextricably connected to a failed regime whose single aim was to preserve the institution of slavery is an embarrassment to our campus and to our community,” the petition said.

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Texas Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn dismiss idea of systemic racism in police, society

Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz on Tuesday rejected the notion of systemic racism within policing, and beyond, in the United States. 

Speaking during a Senate Judiciary hearing about police violence, both senators dismissed the idea of systemic racism to witnesses, including S. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing George Floyd’s family.

“I would like the witnesses to tell us if they believe that the police department and the police in America are systemically racist,” Cornyn asked the panel. “Would anybody like to raise their hand agreeing with that statement?”

A few of the witnesses testifying appeared to raise their hands. Cornyn responded, “And that means all 18,000 police departments, all 800,000 law enforcement officers? Is that true?”

– Savannah Behrmann

Man arrested on charges of starting fire at Minneapolis police station

Federal agents have arrested a Minnesota man they accuse of starting a fire inside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct station during the protests and subsequent rioting over the death of George Floyd.

Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, 23, was arrested in Colorado on Sunday after federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents asked for the public’s help in identifying several people they say were recorded on video in the area of the police station when the fires started on the night of May 28. In a court filing, ATF agent Nathan Boyer said a tipster identified Robinson as a schoolmate of her son.

ATF agents previously arrested another man, Branden Michael Wolfe, 23, for setting a fire inside the police station. Agents said Wolfe confessed after he was caught with a stolen police radio, pistol, body armor and baton.

– Trevor Hughes

Florida mourners want justice for  Oluwatoyin Salau: ‘I am outraged’

Dozens gathered at a vigil Tuesday for Oluwatoyin Salau, demanding answers and “justice for” the activist.

Her body was found on southeast Tallahassee’s Monday Road on Saturday night. She was reported missing on June 6. The body of Victoria Sims, 75, also was discovered in the same area.

“We don’t know what happened to her,” Danaya Hemphill said, her voice heavy with grief, tears streaming down her face. “What was she doing out here? I am hurt! I am outraged by this!”

Salau was affiliated with Movement 850, which describes itself as “student leaders and community residents working together to demand justice and policy change” for police reform in Tallahassee. She spoke at recent protests and spent her final days carrying signs in the protests for Black lives.

Aaron Glee Jr., 49, was arrested after police found the bodies of Salau and Sims on his property, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He is being charged with felony murder and kidnapping, according to court documents.

Sims was a retired state worker, grandmother and volunteer who was well-known for her work in local Democratic politics.

– Elinor Aspegren

Richmond, Virginia, chief resigns after police vehicle strikes protesters

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced city Police Chief William Smith’s resignation at a news conference Tuesday.

“Richmond is ready for a new approach to public safety,” Stoney said. “There is work to be done, and we’re ready to do it.”

The announcement comes days after a police SUV struck several Richmond protesters blocking its path near the Robert E. Lee statue Saturday night and two weeks after police dispensed tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters more than 20 minutes before curfew. 

The mayor also outlined a series of police reforms he hopes to implement, including the establishment of an independent civilian review board to investigate complaints about police misconduct and an alert system so that behavioral health specialists will be the first to respond – rather than police – when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis.

– Elinor Aspegren

Contributing: The Associated Press

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