Persons of Interest?


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FILE - In this May 14, 2018 file photo, Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series "Empire," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - In this May 14, 2018 file photo, Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series "Empire," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)


This image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)


FILE - In this March 6, 2018 file photo, actor-singer Jussie Smollett, from the Fox series, "Empire," poses for a portrait in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)


Police release photos of “persons of interest” in attack

By DON BABWIN

Associated Press

Thursday, January 31

CHICAGO (AP) — Detectives reviewed surveillance footage of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walking to his downtown Chicago apartment, but so far none of the video shows him being attacked by two masked men, although investigators have obtained images of people they would like to question, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted photos of the “persons of interest” Wednesday evening.

Investigators “for the most part” can confirm the route Smollett took early Tuesday when he says he was attacked along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood after visiting a sandwich shop, Guglielmi said. However, there are gaps, and none of the footage shows an attack, he said, although the review is ongoing.

Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox television show, said the men beat him, subjected him to racist and homophobic insults, threw an “unknown chemical substance” on him and put a thin rope around his neck before fleeing.

Guglielmi said detectives, who are investigating the allegations as a possible hate crime, have looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video from businesses and hotels in the heavily monitored area. But he said they still need to collect and view more. He said they are expanding the search to include footage from public buses and buildings beyond the scene’s immediate vicinity in the hopes of spotting the men who match Smollett’s description of the suspects.

“We haven’t seen anybody, at this point, matching the description he gave. Nobody looks menacing, and we didn’t find a container anywhere,” Guglielmi said, referring to a container for the liquid that the actor said was thrown at him.

Smollett has not spoken publicly about the attack, but his representative told The Associated Press Wednesday night that the actor “is at home and recovering.”

Now in its fifth season, the hour-long drama follows an African-American family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry. Smollett’s character is the middle son of Empire Entertainment founder Lucious Lyon and Cookie Lyon, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively.

After the attack, Smollett returned to his apartment, and his manager called police from there about 40 minutes later, Guglielmi said. When officers arrived, the actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and the rope around his neck that he said had been put there by his assailant. According to Guglielmi, the 36-year-old later went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital after police advised him to do so.

The FBI is investigating a threatening letter targeting Smollett that was sent last week to the Fox studio in Chicago where “Empire” is filmed, Guglielmi said. The FBI did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Bobby Rush, a Democratic congressman from Chicago, issued a statement calling on the agency to conduct “an immediate and sweeping civil rights investigation into the racist and homophobic attack.”

In addition to his acting career, Smollett has a music career and is a noted activist, particularly on LBGTQ issues. Smollett’s representative said his concert scheduled for Saturday in Los Angeles will go on as planned.

The report of the attack drew a flood of outrage and support for Smollett on social media. Among the many celebrities and politicians who weighed in was California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful who knows Smollett. She called the attack “outrageous” and “awful.”

Some of the outrage stems from Smollett’s account to detectives that his attackers yelled that he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Chicago has one of the nation’s most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses and in train tunnels.

Police say the cameras have helped them make thousands of arrests. In one of the best-known examples of the department’s use of the cameras, investigators in 2009 were able to recreate a school board president’s 20-minute drive through the city, singling out his car on a succession of surveillance cameras to help them determine that he committed suicide and had not been followed and killed by someone else, as his friends speculated.

Texas inmate executed for Houston officer’s death

By JUAN A. LOZANO and MICHAEL GRACZYK

Associated Press

Thursday, January 31

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A 61-year-old Texas inmate was executed Wednesday evening for killing a Houston police officer more than three decades ago.

Robert Jennings received lethal injection for the July 1988 fatal shooting of Officer Elston Howard during a robbery at an adult bookstore that authorities said was part of a crime spree.

As witnesses filed into the death chamber, Jennings asked a chaplain standing next to him if he knew the name of the slain officer. The chaplain didn’t appear to respond, and a prison official then told the warden to proceed with the punishment.

“To my friends and family, it was a nice journey,” Jennings said in his final statement. “To the family of the police officer, I hope y’all find peace. Be well and be safe and try to enjoy life’s moments, because we never get those back.”

Outside the prison, more than 100 officers stood vigil. And a motorcycle club that supports police revved their engines, with the roar from the bikes audible in the chamber.

Jennings was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m., 18 minutes after the drug started. He became the first inmate put to death this year both in the U.S. and in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.

“Justice has been rendered and my family can finally have the closure we deserve,” Michael Agee, Howard’s nephew and a current Houston officer, said after watching Jennings die.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, asked about the 30-plus years between the crime and the punishment, said he thought “justice delayed is, to an extent, an injustice continued.”

“But when the state takes a life, there has to be a process,” Acevedo said. “In this case, the day of reckoning is here. It’s a solemn occasion. For us it’s a celebration of a life well-lived by Officer Howard. We’re a family. That’s why we’re here.”

His attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution, arguing Jennings’ trial attorneys failed to ask jurors to fully consider evidence — including details of his remorse for the officer’s shooting and possible brain damage — that might have spared him a death sentence.

Jennings had received an execution stay in 2016. But the high court and lower appeals courts rejected his request to delay Wednesday’s execution and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down Jennings’ request to commute his sentence.

A twice convicted robber, Jennings had been on parole for about two months when prosecutors say he entered Mr. Peeper’s Bookstore with the intention of robbing the business. Since being paroled, Jennings had gone on a crime spree, committing about 10 robberies, including having already robbed the same adult bookstore 12 days before Howard’s slaying.

Officer Howard, 24, was in the middle of arresting the store clerk for operating a pornographic video arcade without a permit when Jennings shot the officer twice in the head.

Howard, who had been wearing a jacket with the words “Houston Police” on it, staggered for a few feet before falling to the ground, where he was shot twice more by Jennings. The clerk later testified the shooting was so quick, Howard never had a chance to unholster his gun.

Jennings was arrested hours later when he went to a Houston hospital after being shot in the hand by his accomplice, who got angry at Jennings for shooting the officer.

Joe Gamaldi, the president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said Jennings has spent more time on death row than Howard was alive.

Howard “was an honorable man full of integrity who did his job. He was absolutely one of the best and he was just taken entirely too soon by this animal who murdered him in cold blood,” Gamaldi said.

After his arrest, Jennings confessed to killing Howard, telling police in a tape-recorded statement he was remorseful about what happened and would “face whatever punishment (he had) coming.”

Edward Mallett, one of Jennings’ current appellate attorneys, said the inmate’s trial attorneys failed to present sufficient evidence of his remorse as well as his history of brain damage, being abused as a child and drug addiction. He said the trial attorneys also failed to provide an instruction to jurors that would have allowed them to give sufficient weight to these aspects of Jennings’ life when they deliberated.

Mallett said a prior appellate attorney also failed to argue these issues in earlier appeals.

“There has not been an adequate presentation of his circumstances including mental illness and mental limitations,” Mallett said.

Jennings’ trial in 1989 took place just as the Supreme Court issued a ruling that faulted Texas’ capital sentencing statute for not allowing jurors to consider evidence supporting a sentence less than death.

The Texas Legislature changed the statute to address the high court’s concerns but that took place after Jennings was convicted.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office called Jennings’ claim he had ineffective lawyers at his trial and during earlier appeals “specious,” and said appeals courts have previously rejected allegations his personal history was not adequately investigated and presented at his trial.

“My hope is that on Wednesday (Howard’s family gets) the closure that they’ve been searching for 30 years,” Gamaldi said.

Lozano reported from Houston.

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

The Conversation

How Howard Thurman met Gandhi and brought nonviolence to the civil rights movement

January 31, 2019

Author: Walter E. Fluker, Professor of Ethical Leadership, Boston University

Disclosure statement: Walter E. Fluker consulted with Journey Films in the production of the film documentary, “Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story”.

Partners: Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

Director Martin Doblmeier’s new documentary, “Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story,” is scheduled for release on public television in February. Thurman played an important role in the civil rights struggle as a key mentor to many leaders of the movement, including Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

I have been a scholar of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. for over 30 years and I serve as the editor of Thurman’s papers. Thurman’s influence on King Jr. was critical in shaping the civil rights struggle as a nonviolent movement. Thurman was deeply influenced by how Gandhi used nonviolence in India’s struggle for independence from British rule.

Visit to India

Born in 1899, Howard Washington Thurman was raised by his formerly enslaved grandmother. He grew up to be an ordained Baptist minister and a leading religious figure of 20th-century America.

In 1936 Thurman led a four-member delegation to India, Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), known as the “pilgrimage of friendship.” It was during this visit that he would meet Mahatma Gandhi, who at the time was leading a nonviolent struggle of independence from British rule.

The delegation had been sponsored by the Student Christian Movement in India who wanted to explore the political connections between the oppression of blacks in the United States and the freedom struggles of the people of India.

The general secretary of the Indian Student Christian Movement, A. Ralla Ram, had argued for inviting a “Negro” delegation. He said that “since Christianity in India is the ‘oppressor’s’ religion, there would be a unique value in having representatives of another oppressed group speak on the validity and contribution of Christianity.”

Between October 1935 to April 1936, Thurman gave at least 135 lectures in over 50 cities, to a variety of audiences and important Indian leaders, including the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, who also played a key role in India’s independence movement.

Throughout the journey, the issue of segregation within the Christian church and its inability to address color consciousness, a social and political system based upon discrimination against blacks and other nonwhite people, was raised by many of the people he met.

Thurman and Gandhi

The delegation met with Gandhi towards the end of their tour in Bardoli, a small town in India’s western state of Gujarat.

Gandhi, an admirer of Booker T. Washington, the prominent African-American educator, was no stranger to the struggles of African-Americans. He had been in correspondence with prominent black leaders before the meeting with the delegation.

As early as May 1, 1929, Gandhi had written a “Message to the American Negro” addressed to W.E.B. DuBois to be published in “The Crisis.” Founded in 1910 by DuBois, “The Crisis” was the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Gandhi’s message stated,

“Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves. There is no dishonour in being slaves. There is dishonour in being slave-owners. But let us not think of honour or dishonour in connection with the past. Let us realise that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure and loving.”

Understanding the idea of nonviolence

In a conversation lasting about three hours, published in The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman, Gandhi engaged his guests with questions about racial segregation, lynching, African-American history, and religion. Gandhi was puzzled as to why African-Americans adopted the religion of their masters, Christianity.

He reasoned that at least in religions like Islam, all were considered equal. Gandhi declared, “For the moment a slave accepts Islam he obtains equality with his master, and there are several instances of this in history.” But he did not think that was true for Christianity. Thurman asked what was the greatest obstacle to Christianity in India. Gandhi replied that Christianity as practiced and identified with Western culture and colonialism was the greatest enemy to Jesus Christ in India.

The delegation used the limited time that was left to interrogate Gandhi on matters of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence, and his perspective on the struggle of African-Americans in the United States.

According to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s personal secretary, Thurman was fascinated with the discussion on the redemptive power of ahimsa in a life committed to the practice of nonviolent resistance.

Gandhi explained that though ahimsa is technically defined as “non-injury” or “nonviolence,” it is not a negative force, rather it is a force “more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether.”

In its most practical terms, it is love that is “self-acting,” but even more – and when embodied by a single individual, it bears a force more powerful than hate and violence and can transform the world.

Towards the end of the meeting, Gandhi proclaimed, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”

Search for an American Gandhi

Indeed, Gandhi’s views would leave a deep impression on Thurman’s own interpretation of nonviolence. They would later be influential in developing Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. It would go on to shape the thinking of a generation of civil rights activists.

In his book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” Thurman addresses the negative forces of fear, deception and hatred as forms of violence that ensnare and entrap the oppressed. But he also counsels that through love and the willingness to nonviolently engage the adversary, the committed individual creates the possibility of community.

As he explains, the act of love as redemptive suffering is not contingent on the other’s response. Love, rather, is unsolicited and self-giving. It transcends merit and demerit. It simply loves.

A growing number of African-American leaders closely followed Gandhi’s campaigns of “satyagraha,” or what he termed as nonresistance to evil against British colonialism. Black newspapers and magazines announced the need for an “American Gandhi.”

Upon his return, some African-American leaders thought that Howard Thurman would fulfill that role. In 1942, for example, Peter Dana of the Pittsburgh Courier, wrote that Thurman “was one of the few black men in the country around whom a great, conscious movement of Negroes could be built, not unlike the great Indian independence movement.”

King, love and nonviolence

Thurman, however, chose a less direct path as an interpreter of nonviolence and a resource for activists who were on the front lines of the struggle. As he wrote,

“It was my conviction and determination that the church would be a resource for activists – a mission fundamentally perceived. To me it was important that the individual who was in the thick of the struggle for social change would be able to find renewal and fresh courage in the spiritual resources of the church. There must be provided a place, a moment, when a person could declare, I choose.”

Indeed, leaders like Martin Luther King did choose to live out the gospel of peace, justice and love that Thurman so eloquently proclaimed in writing and the spoken word, even though it came with an exacting price.

In his last letter to Martin Luther King, dated May 13, 1966, Thurman expressed his regret for the time that had elapsed since he and King last spoke. He ended the short note with a rather foreboding quote from the American naturalist and essayist Loren Eiseley,

“Those as hunts treasure must go alone, at night, and when they find it they have to leave a little of their blood behind them.”

King, like Gandhi 70 years ago, fell to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.

Dem reps announce bill to support Ohio families during prolonged federal government shutdowns

Further Washington dysfunction could lead to hunger crisis at home

COLUMBUS—State Reps. Adam Miller (D-Columbus) and Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald) today announced legislation that would ensure low-income families do not go hungry if future federal government shutdowns halt or delay funding for essential food assistance programs. The most recent month-long federal shutdown nearly threatened food security for more than 1.5 million Ohioans, including hundreds of thousands of children, as federal funds for food assistance programs began to dry up.

“Our federal workforce took the brunt of the most recent shutdown in Washington. Ohio’s hungry, those who rely on help just to feed their children, will be at risk of losing food aid should the government shutdown again,” said Rep. Miller, “Ohio has to take the lead in feeding those who don’t know where they may find their next meal. We have a moral obligation to step up and ensure that no child goes hungry regardless of the federal government’s ability to provide timely appropriations.”

Congress and the White House recently agreed on a short-term deal to reopen the government for at least the next three weeks, but a failure to come to a long-term agreement would trigger another federal shutdown, something Reps. Miller and Holmes agree could be costly for many Ohio families.

“Assisting men and women to provide for their families when they cannot through no fault of their own is the right thing to do,” Holmes said, “The temporary assistance we have the means to provide will not only comfort those in need, but also curtail the economic impact a federal shutdown can have on our communities.”

Miller and Holmes’s bill would use a small amount of Ohio’s Rainy Day Fund to cover the cost of critical food and nutrition programs should the federal government fail to provide its share of funding for these programs.

The three food assistance programs covered under the legislation include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program.

SNAP increases the food purchasing power of eligible low-income households to help them buy a nutritionally adequate low-cost diet. In 2017, more than 1.5 million Ohio residents (13 percent of the population) received SNAP benefits. Almost 70 percent of Ohio SNAP recipients are families with children.

TANF is a program that provides cash assistance and supportive services to assist families with children under age 18. More than 85,000 Ohioans rely on the TANF program. Almost all were children.

WIC is a program that provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. More than 235,000 women and children rely on WIC in Ohio.

The Ohio Rainy Day Fund currently has more than $2.6 billion in surplus.

FILE – In this May 14, 2018 file photo, Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series "Empire," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122233866-cc6d84cbe01d48f28d5ee48328f77a09.jpgFILE – In this May 14, 2018 file photo, Jussie Smollett, a cast member in the TV series "Empire," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

This image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122233866-4795038db83e439184eb314acc47e945.jpgThis image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)

FILE – In this March 6, 2018 file photo, actor-singer Jussie Smollett, from the Fox series, "Empire," poses for a portrait in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122233866-6c380e2fe33d4b05a414cc985118432d.jpgFILE – In this March 6, 2018 file photo, actor-singer Jussie Smollett, from the Fox series, "Empire," poses for a portrait in New York. Chicago police have opened a hate crime investigation after a man the department identified as a 36-year-old cast member of the television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Police wouldn’t release the actor’s name, but a statement from the Fox studio and network on which “Empire” airs identified him Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, as Jussie Smollett. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)
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