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Cuba prevents protest over police killing of Black man

HAVANA (Reuters) – A raft of Cuban dissidents, artists and journalists said on Tuesday that state security agents had staked out their homes to prevent them from attending planned protests over the killing by police of a young Black man.

At least 40 dissident activists were also detained by police, according to exiled rights group Cubalex, with some later released.

Those included performance artist Tania Bruguera in Havana and the leader of Cuba’s most active opposition group, Jose Daniel Ferrer, who had been under house arrest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba does not usually comment on the detention of dissidents, which would give them more publicity. The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

No would-be protesters appeared able to make it to the site of what was supposed to be the main demonstration in Havana which was full of security forces. Some said state telecoms monopoly ETECSA had cut their mobile internet service overnight.

Protests against the state are rare in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled and Communist authorities are quick to crack down on dissent.

The calls for protests on Tuesday were triggered by news last week that police had shot and killed a 27-year-old unarmed Black man, Hansel Hernandez.

A woman who identified herself as his aunt denounced the killing on social media and called for justice, grabbing attention amid protests against police violence and racism in the United States.

For three days, authorities did not comment. But on Saturday, Cuba’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police had been chasing Hernandez, who had done jail time previously for other crimes.

Hernandez, who had committed an act of vandalism, started throwing stones at police as they chased him and hit one officer in the shoulder, throwing him to the ground, the statement said.

The officer shot Hernandez after firing off two warning shots, the statement said, adding that he acted in self defense and without the intent of killing him.

The Interior Ministry said it lamented his death.

Critics have denounced the government for not holding police to account by launching an investigation, especially given how quick officials have been to condemn U.S. police brutality, with extensive coverage in state media of the Black Lives Matter protests.

They also accuse the government more broadly of allowing police brutality and failing to adequately address racism in Cuba.

Cuba’s government prides itself on having improved the lives of Black Cubans by officially eliminating racial segregation after its 1959 revolution and providing universal access to education and healthcare.

But anti-racism activists say that by acting as if the issue of racism were resolved and suppressing debate over it, the government has prevented the steps needed to fully eradicate it.

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Growing calls for reparations as US reckons with racial injustice

The US has never made much headway on whether or how to compensate Black Americans for more than 200 years of slavery.

When California state assemblywoman Shirley Weber introduced a bill last year to study reparations for Black Americans, she was worried people would not accept that racial inequality and injustice were still alive and well.

Instead, the bill came up for a vote two weeks after the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer spurred a nationwide reckoning on that very topic. It passed the assembly on June 11 with a 56-5 vote.

“Maybe we’ll be a model for what can happen at the federal level,” Weber told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The bill goes next to the California Senate, where she expects it to pass and then be signed into law by the governor.

The idea of reparation is nothing new and has been used around the world to compensate victims of war, rape, terror and a host of other historical injustices.

Yet the United States has never made much headway in its discussions of whether or how to compensate African Americans for more than 200 years of slavery inflicted on their ancestors by white people. In the subsequent decades, racial inequality in wealth, housing, healthcare and education has persisted.

‘Locally first’

Some Democrats want a commission to look into reparations, but the bill that would do this – HR-40 – has been on the table for decades and never garnered broad support.

Now that Floyd’s death has shed light on racial inequality, advocates say support for reparations is up. Like Weber,┬ámany do not plan to wait for the federal government to make a move.

“There are a lot of things happening locally,” said Justin Hansford, a law professor and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University.

“Reparations are going to happen locally first, and then later on, there’s likely to be a national response as well.”

In partnership with Columbia University, Howard University last week launched a project to identify and support local efforts to provide redress to Black Americans – both for slavery and for racially motivated crimes.

Called the US African American Redress Network, it details more than 100 efforts to make good, ranging from public apologies to compensation in the form of scholarships or cash.

Blueprint cases

There are several cases of reparations being paid to African Americans which advocates say could serve as a blueprint.

In the earliest example, the state of Florida in 1994 awarded payment and free college tuition to descendants of the victims of a massacre 71 years earlier, when a white mob burned their town to the ground.

Georgetown University and Virginia Theological Seminary are among schools pledging to offer funds for descendants of the slaves that built them or were sold to finance them.

And last year, the city of Evanston, in Illinois, created a reparations fund to bridge the racial wealth gap among its residents, funded by taxes on cannabis.

There are many different ways to pay reparations, but what matters is the intent, said Weber, the assemblywoman.

“That’s normally what people do who believe that others have been wronged. You try to figure out how you can level the playing field,” she said.

Even private industries donating to racial justice funds can be seen as a form of reparations, said Hansford.

“To me,┬áthat is acknowledgement that there needs to be an investment in order to get healing,” he said.

Big companies from Bank of America to PepsiCo have pledged millions on addressing racial inequality since Floyd’s death.

In the United Kingdom, insurer Lloyd’s of London and the pub chain Greene King have apologised for their role in the slave trade and also said they will invest in Black communities and talent.

Political roadblock

The issue gained national attention last year when several Democratic primary candidates endorsed reparations. Presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he supports a study.

The national bill has more backing than ever, but not among Republicans, whose vote it would need to pass the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says reparations are a bad idea because “none of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

Lawmakers in at least five states have introduced their own legislation to explore the issue.

“Some of the political actors do believe that they have a better chance of passing these bills in the midst of the current wave of protests,” said William Darity, a professor at Duke University who co-authored a book on reparations.

Small-scale initiatives are admirable, but anything less than a national effort will be insufficient to close the racial wealth gap, said Darity.

The average Black household has a net wealth $800,000 lower than the average white household, he estimates.

“The states and the localities, they just don’t have the capacity to meet that task,” said Darity, who suggests giving each of the roughly 40 million Black Americans descended from slaves up to $250,000 in a trust.

Global precedents

“It’s the federal government that should be the culpable party because [it] created the legal and the authority framework that permitted all of these atrocities to take place,” he added.

Globally, there are precedents.

Germany paid millions to Holocaust survivors and South Africa compensated apartheid victims. Family members of disappeared Colombians, rape survivors, and those displaced in the country’s armed conflict have been compensated since 2011.

In response to protests against racial inequality, the top United Nations official for human rights called on countries to make amends for racist violence through reparations.

“There’s no amount of money that can be paid, really, to fully repair,” said Arif Ali, a lawyer who was part of a UN team on compensation for victims of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Ali said that under international law, the US was obliged to pay – it is now just a matter of working out how.

“The experience of other countries is a reference point,” he said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

According to Reuters/Ipsos polls this month, only one in five respondents agreed the US should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States”.

The poll showed clear divisions along partisan and racial lines, with only one in 10 white respondents supporting the idea and half of the Black respondents endorsing it.

Republicans were heavily opposed, at nearly 80 percent, while about one in three Democrats supported it. The poll did not ask respondents why they answered the way they did. Other critics have said too much time has passed since slavery was outlawed, and expressed confusion about how it would work.

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George Floyd: Mapping US National Guard deployments

Nearly 62,000 American reserve soldiers activated in two dozen states to potentially confront violent protests.

Tensions spiked outside the White House on Sunday, the scene of days of demonstrations amid unrest across the United States against police killings of black people.

The entire Washington, DC National Guard – roughly 1,700 soldiers – was called in to help control the protests. The city of Boston also deployed troops on its streets.

More:

  • George Floyd: Protests over deadly arrest rock US’s Minneapolis

  • George Floyd death: Pressure mounts for US officers to be charged

  • George Floyd: Black man dies after US police pin him to ground

Tens of thousands of reserve soldiers have been put at the ready across the United States.

“As of Sunday, National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were activated in 24 states and the District of Columbia in response to civil disturbances, bringing the total number of Guard members on duty in support of their governors to nearly 62,000,” the guard announced in a statement.

“State and local law enforcement agencies remain responsible for security. The National Guard personnel assigned to these missions are trained, equipped and prepared to assist law enforcement authorities with protecting lives and property of citizens in their state.”

Shattered storefronts

With cities wounded by days of violent unrest, the United States headed into a new week with neighbourhoods in shambles, urban streets on lockdown and shaken confidence about when leaders would find the answers to control the mayhem amid unrelenting raw emotion over police killings of black people.

Sunday capped a tumultuous weekend and month that saw city and state officials deploy thousands of National Guard soldiers, enact strict curfews and shut down mass transit systems. Even with those efforts, many demonstrations erupted into violence as protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police in Philadelphia, set a fire near the White House and were hit with tear gas and pepper spray in Austin and several other cities. Seven Boston police officers were hospitalised.

In some cities, thieves smashed their way into stores and ran off with as much as they could carry, leaving shop owners – many of them just ramping up their business again after coronavirus pandemic lockdowns – to clean up their shattered storefronts.

In others, police tried to calm tensions by kneeling in solidarity with demonstrators, while still maintaining a strong presence for security.

At least 4,400 people have been arrested over days of protests, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press. Arrests ranged from stealing and blocking highways to breaking curfew.

‘Say his name’

The demonstrations were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as an officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Floyd’s death in Minneapolis came after tensions had already flared after two white men were arrested in May for the February shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and the Louisville police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her home in March, which also attracted national attention in May.

“They keep killing our people. I’m so sick and tired of it,said Mahira Louis, 15, who was at a Boston protest with her mother on Sunday, leading chants of George Floyd, say his name“.

Tensions rose on Sunday outside the White House, the scene of three days of demonstrations, where police fired tear gas and stun grenades into a crowd of more than 1,000 chanting protesters across the street in Lafayette Park.

The crowd ran, piling up road signs and plastic barriers to light a raging fire in a nearby street. Some pulled an American flag from a building and threw it into the blaze.

A building in the park with toilets and a maintenance office went up in flames. As demonstrations persisted past curfew, Washington police said they were responding to multiple fires lit around the capital.


Inside Story

How can racism, police brutality in the US be brought to an end?

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