Potential Jurors Report for Jury Selection in Trial of Dylann Roof

Hundreds of potential jurors showed up to the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., on Monday as jury selection began in the trial of a white man charged in the deaths of nine black churchgoers.

Dylann Storm Roof, 22, is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion, in the June 2015 shooting massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Roof is said to have sat in on a prayer meeting for an hour at the church before opening fire on the unsuspecting worshippers.

The Washington Post reports that 3,000 potential jurors received summonses in a pool that was about 73 percent and 32 percent black. That group will be whittled down to 700 potential jurors, who will be individually questioned by the judge in November.

The jurors are being brought in for initial screening in panels of 80; 320 potential jurors reported Monday to fill out questionnaires related to the shooting massacre. The initial screening will continue over the next few days until the pool of 700 is reached.

Roof, who was in court for the proceedings, wore a gray-and-white-striped prison jumpsuit and avoided eye contact with jurors.

Trial testimony is likely to begin in late November or early December, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel told the Post.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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#DebateNight: Clinton’s Chance to ‘Speak Directly to White People’

Keith Lamont Scott’s tragic shooting by police and the subsequent rage in Charlotte, N.C., could not have happened at a worse time—or in a worse place politically. Intersecting unrest is the larger backdrop of what is, arguably, the nation’s most extreme top-to-bottom-ballot battleground state this election cycle.

Many on the ground protesting (and those watching in spirit) might not realize that. It’s the ignored big story of the Charlotte uprising, and it potentially disrupts everything, from who goes to the White House to who controls the U.S. Senate to who does (or does not) stay in the governor’s mansion. In each of these races, all taking place in North Carolina on the same Election Day, the polling margins are so tight, it’s wasted breath to call them early.

And it’s here where African Americans, 22 percent of the state’s registered voters, will be the deciding factor in whether North Carolina stays red or swings blue.

“Remember the Jesse Helms hand commercial?” North Carolina Black Caucus Chairman and state Rep. Garland Pierce (D-District 48) poses to The Root. That was 1990, when the neo-segregationist Republican senator thwarted a challenge from black, Democratic Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt by using an infamous television ad stoking white fears over quotas. “That was a deciding factor. All you need is that one thing.”

As Pierce and others point out, those outcomes tip scales on a number of key policy issues left either unresolved or on shaky foundation. The last several years have found the Tar Heel State an epicenter for bruising and downright nasty, racially charged fights over the GOP’s nationwide fetish for voter-suppression laws. While the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals shut down Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s draconian 2013 anti-voting law, the flap over the infamous H.B. 2 law (pdf)—widely (and incompletely) viewed as the “transgender bathroom” issue—is unresolved and just as bad.

“The H.B. 2 bill is not about the bathroom,” Rosa Garvin, director of National Action Network North Carolina, tells The Root. “The real meat of that particular bill is that you cannot sue the state for racial discrimination. They’re making it seem like it’s just because of someone being transgender. That’s a smokescreen because no one wants to talk race.”

With that, North Carolina makes its way into the electoral spotlight. Over the past few election cycles, it has evolved from a once-reliable Republican stronghold to a now-competitive political toss-up for Democrats eager for renewed life in Southern states. With racial demographics and urbanism altering the state’s complexion, President Barack Obama gave GOP presidential nominees a tough run in 2008 and 2012, winning it by just over a quarter percentage point against John McCain in ’08 and narrowly losing it to Mitt Romney in ’12 by 2 points.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton finds herself faced with similar odds in 2016. North Carolina is that critical in her razor-thin matchup against Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump. The latest RealClearPolitics average of the last six North Carolina polls has Trump up by 1.2 points. Averages at 270ToWin show Clinton ahead by just 1 point.

She desperately needs North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes as a decent firewall against any Trump gains elsewhere, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida. Say Trump picks up Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, along with Georgia (16) and Ohio (18). North Carolina keeps Clinton ahead if she’s got Pennsylvania (20) and Virginia (13).

Elsewhere, Democrats have pitted formidable challenges against less black-friendly Republican incumbents for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat—which will help decide if the Senate flips back to Democratic control—and the governor’s mansion. For the Senate, Democrat Deborah Ross is within just a point of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), according to RealClearPolitics, in a race that finds 70 percent black support for her in a just-released North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling survey (pdf), but 20 percent “undecided.” In the race against voter-suppression-law godfather Gov. McCrory, Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democrat, gets 72 percent black support, but 18 percent undecided.

As with most closely watched battleground states, turnout by North Carolina’s black residents—at 22 percent of the state’s overall population—will be the difference. Clinton’s favorability among North Carolina black voters in the PPP poll is a lackluster 71 percent; but in a two-way against Trump, she’s at a much more desirable 84 percent.

North Carolina Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Douglas Wilson expresses some caution. “From a political standpoint, it brings more light to an issue that not only Clinton will address, but also Trump,” Wilson admits to The Root. “But on the Dem side, this should galvanize more of the Obama coalition to come out … and more of Trump’s base to come out.”

Still, Wilson adds: “What I’m hearing is, ‘Why should I vote? What is this going to change?’”

With fire rising in Charlotte over the killing of Scott, many black advocates, elected officials, strategists and observers fear dampened black voter turnout in the face of nonstop tragedy and socioeconomic challenge. Not only does that resonate in Charlotte and North Carolina overall, but it could also have an impact on voters nationally, particularly any leftover undecideds and independents.

“It could inflame emotions on both sides,” Emory University’s Andra Gillespie explains to The Root. “Blacks feeling hopeless, and not voting, can turn into the Democrats’ worst nightmare. On the GOP side, depending on how Trump handles this situation, he could invoke stereotypes of lawless black people, and rally voters around a law-and-order platform.”

While many would prefer that protesters, those violent and nonviolent, channeled Charlotte energy into an electoral juggernaut on Nov. 8, most understand where the frustrations are coming from.

“It is very easy to say ‘Focus your energy,’” says Marcus Ferrell, a political strategist who led Sen. Bernie Sanders’ black outreach operation during the 2016 Democratic primary. “But those people are in pain.” Ferrell looks back to 2013, when his cousin, Florida AM football player Jonathan Ferrell, was killed by Charlotte Police Officer Randall Kerrick. “Those brothers don’t care about elections. This is a stage of grief, the side effects of PTSD.”

Between that level of emotion and postrecession economic blows, the political situation is grim even as the stakes have never been so high in recent years.

“This was a long time coming,” state Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) points out in a conversation with The Root that highlighted a direct link between the city’s massive poverty and flaring tensions. “Charlotte ranks dead last among major cities in terms of social mobility. The odds of moving up in Charlotte are only 4.4 percent.”

Ford sees the situation as an opportunity for action through the ballot box, which should bring about policy change. But he, along with others, admits that there’s quite a bit of apathy: “I’m disappointed in the lack of agenda on upward mobility, policing, the issues that are relevant to us.  At the end of the day, many of these folks, especially the young folks, are asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

“They’re voicing their disdain,” says Garvin. “But they have to vote. The key is education. The only way change will happen is through policy, through governance. We have to take time to explain that.”

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Gunman Opens Fire at Shopping Center In Houston, Injures 9

Police in Houston responded early Monday morning to reports of a man shooting randomly near a corner shopping center, KPRC 2 reports.

The gunman, now identified as 46-year-old attorney Nathan DeSai of Houston, reportedly injured nine people in the shooting. He was quickly located by police who reported to the scene, and he immediately began firing at officers.

Interim Houston Police Chief Martha Montalvo said that the gunman was found dead shortly after. No officers were injured in the shooting.

Police said that the suspect was armed with two weapons, a .45 semi-automatic handgun and a .45 semi-automatic Thompson Carbine, both legally purchased. A search of DeSai’s car, found near the scene, yielded at least one additional weapon and around 2,500 rounds of live ammunition.

Investigators also searched DeSai’s home, where they found what appeared to be Nazi paraphernalia and several other weapons inside. DeSai, an Indian American, was reportedly wearing an antique German uniform with swastikas on it.

Montalvo said that the motive for the shooting is not yet known. When asked if the shooting was related to terrorism, she said that she is not ready to say that yet.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is currently leading a trade mission to Cuba but said that he is carefully monitoring the situation. He does not plan to cut his trip short.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement shortly after the shooting:

As victims of the Houston shooting fight for their lives this morning, Cecilia and I ask that all Texans join us in keeping them in your thoughts and prayers. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families and we wish them all a full and speedy recovery. We would also like to thank the Houston Police Department and all first responders for their decisive actions in putting a quick end to this horrific act.

Read more at KPCR 2.

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Identical Twin Confesses to 2003 Murder for which Brother was Convicted 

Karl Smith took the witness stand at Leighton Criminal Court Building last Thursday and made a confession that stunned those present.

Smith admitted to committing the 2003 murder for which his identical twin brother, Kevin Dugar, was put behind bars.

“I’m here to confess to a crime I committed that he was wrongly accused of,” Smith testified according to the Chicago Tribune.

Despite the confession, prosecutors are skeptical, given that Smith is currently serving a 99-year prison sentence for his participation in a 2008 home invasion and armed robbery in which a 6-year-old boy was shot in the head. Smith, the Tribune notes, only came forward with his admission after an appeals court upheld his conviction for attempted murder.

“He’s got nothing to lose,” Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala said, telling Judge Vincent Gaughan that Smith’s confession didn’t “fit the independent eyewitness accounts of what happened.”

According to the Tribune, the two brothers were so alike that even on Thursday they were distinguished only by their prison clothes.The brothers have different last names because Smith adopted their mother’s maiden name.

Growing up they dressed alike until eighth grade, and regularly impersonated each other for years afterward. According to the brothers’ mother and Smith, they were so close growing up, they were “one person” who shared socks, shoes and sandwiches.

As they got older, Smith admitted that he and his brother were gang members who dealt drugs.

“We was acting as one,” Smith testified. “Where I was, he was, acting like each other. He pretended to be me, and I pretended to be him.”

In the 2003 murder that Smith is now taking the blame for, a gunman dressed in black shot into a group of three people, killing Antwan Carter.

Dugar was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 and sentenced to 54 years in prison. Smith first confessed to the murder in a letter he wrote to his brother three years ago.

“I have to get it off my chest before it kills me,” Smith reportedly wrote. “So I’ll just come clean and pray you can forgive me. … I’m the one who and shot and killed those two Black Stones on Sheridan that night.”

When Dugar didn’t answer, Smith wrote again a few weeks later, confessing again and pleading with his brother for forgiveness.

“The reason I didn’t say (expletive) at the time was because I didn’t and couldn’t find the strength to do so at the time,” Smith wrote.

Dugar wrote back and asked Smith to contact his lawyers. Smith signed a sworn statement confessing to the homicide in 2014.

If a judge believes Smith’s story, his brother would face a new trial for the 13-year-old murder.

At least one person believes the brothers.

“I hope Kevin will get out. I hope he change his whole life around,” the brothers’ mother, Judy Dugar told the Tribune. “He got to.”

“[Karl] wouldn’t lie about that,” she added.

Read more at the Chicago Tribune

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University of North Dakota Investigating Yet Another Racist Photo Incident

Things are looking bad at the University of North Dakota.

The school is investigating its second racially-charged photo in just about as many days, Valley News Live reports.

The photo in question, which was posted to social media, shows four white people wearing black facial masks with the caption “Black Lives Matter,” the site notes.

According to the report, a Facebook user posted the picture to her page, tagging the university and saying that “the problem is growing worse here at UND.”

A university spokesperson said that police and administration were notified about the picture last week and it was being investigated. The spokesperson confirmed to KFYRTV that the individuals in the photo attend the university.

The photo comes just 24-hours after another social media photo raised eyebrows. That photo, taken from Snapchat, showed three white students grinning and was captioned “locked the black bitch out,” apparently after locking a black student out of her dorm.

University President Mark Kennedy released a statement last Thursday saying that he is “appalled” at the two racially-charged photos that have circulated within 48-hours of each other.

“It is abundantly clear that we have much work to do at the University of North Dakota in educating our students, and the entire University community on issues related to diversity, inclusion, and respect for others,” Kennedy said in his statement. “The UND Police Department and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities are going through their processes in investigating these two incidences. We are moving as fast as we can.”

“I have been disappointed to learn that we have people in our university community who don’t know that the kind of behavior and messaging demonstrated in these two photos is not ok, and that, in fact, it is inexcusable,” the president added. “As I have said before, we value diversity and inclusion and take seriously respect for others as well as the exchange of different thoughts and ideas. To achieve the vision of One UND, we must take steps to demonstrate these values across our university community.”

Read more at Valley News Live.

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