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NEW YORK: Philadelphia's police chief publicly apologised on Thursday (Apr 19) after the arrest of two black men in a Starbucks store triggered uproar in the United States, admitting he "failed miserably" with his initial response.
After the coffee chain moved to repair the damage to its image in the wake of a series of protests at Starbucks outlets, the city's police commissioner Richard Ross told reporters his force also needed to do better.
"It starts at the top and that starts with me," Ross, who is himself African-American, told a press conference in the East Coast city.
"Messaging is important and I failed miserably in this regard. It is obvious the issue of race is indicative of a larger problem in our society and I should not at all be the person that is a party to making anything worse relative to race relations."
Ross was widely criticised after he initially said his "officers did absolutely nothing wrong" during the arrests which followed a 911 call from a Starbucks worker who said the men were trespassing, after refusing to buy anything.
Police said officers had "politely" asked Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson to leave before finally arresting them. They reportedly asked first to use the bathroom, but were told it was only for paying customers.
A video, which went viral after being posted on social media by a customer, showed several uniformed police officers questioning and then handcuffing the pair despite offering no resistance.
Ross said he himself had "to do better" and that his force now had new policy guidelines over how to deal with a similar situation in the future.
"Previously we did not have such a policy ... but we have a policy now," he said. "I'm not going into it at this point in time but we will be pushing that out at a later date."
Speaking for the first time about the arrest, Nelson told reporters on Thursday that he and Robinson had never been given a chance to explain themselves when the police arrived in the downtown store last Thursday.
"As soon as the officers approached us, they said we have to leave. There was no question of 'was there a problem here between you and the manager (or) what happened?'"
The two men's lawyer Lauren Wimmer has told a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia that they had been waiting for a third man to arrive for a business meeting.
The chain's CEO Kevin Johnson has already apologised and has ordered that all Starbucks stores and corporate offices across the United States close for an afternoon next month to conduct "racial-bias education."
WASHINGTON, DC: Alabama on Thursday (Apr 19) executed an 83-year-old man convicted of a deadly 1989 serial bombing spree, making him the oldest known person put to death in the modern era of US capital punishment.
Walter Moody was put to death by lethal injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore and gave no final statement, prison officials said. It was the eighth execution this year in the United States.
Moody replaced John Nixon, who was 77 when put to death in December 2005 in Mississippi, as the oldest person executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment.
Moody was convicted of mailing a bomb in 1989 that killed U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance, 58, and another that killed Georgia civil rights attorney Robert Robinson.
Prosecutors have said Moody sent the bomb to the judge in anger over a 1972 bomb conviction that Moody felt derailed his career and sent another to the civil rights lawyer to confuse investigators.
Prosecutors have said Moody sent the bomb to the judge in anger over a 1972 bomb conviction that Moody felt derailed his career and sent another to the civil rights lawyer to confuse investigators.
Moody, who has spent more than 20 years on death row, has maintained his innocence and the execution was delayed as the U.S. Supreme Court considered last-minute appeals to spare his life, which the court rejected.
Age and poor health were major factors in a botched execution in Alabama earlier this year when the state tried to put to death Doyle Hamm, 61, who had terminal cancer and severely compromised veins.
The execution was called off while Hamm was on a death chamber gurney and medical staff could not place a line for the lethal injection.
Lawyers for Hamm called on the state not to try to execute him again and reached a settlement with Alabama in March that legal sources said would keep him out of the death chamber.
Moody's execution highlighted ageing U.S. death row populations that have led states to put to death 10 inmates age 70 or older since 2006, including Moody. Prior to that, there had been none in the modern era of U.S. executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
More than 40 percent of U.S. death row inmates are 50 years of age or older, according to the centre.
TAMPA: Mass shootings at US schools are rising rapidly, killing more people in the last 18 years than in the entire 20th century, said a study on Thursday (Apr 19).
The report in the Journal of Child and Family Studies tallied mass shootings - events when at least one shooter intentionally killed or injured at least four others - and death tolls at US schools for children and teens aged five to 18, going back to 1940.
The study excluded gang shootings and any shootings that occurred at universities.
"The United States had no mass school shootings that fit our criteria until 1940, when a junior high school principal killed the superintendent, the high school principal, the district business manager, and two teachers, before attempting suicide, because he thought he was going to be fired at the end of the school year," said the report.
Researchers found no mass school shootings in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by "a steady increase beginning with a school shooting in 1979 orchestrated by a 16-year-old female with mental health issues who began shooting at an elementary school, killing two adults and injuring eight students and one adult", it said.
Since then, the 1990s were a peak period when 36 people were killed in 13 gun rampages, said the report.
From 2000 to 2018, researchers counted 66 deaths across 22 mass shootings at schools.
That's higher than the death toll of 55 in 22 mass school shootings spanning the six decades from 1940 to 1999, it said.
"In less than 18 years, we have already seen more deaths related to school shootings than in the whole 20th century," said lead author Antonis Katsiyannis of Clemson University.
"One alarming trend is that the overwhelming majority of 21st-century shooters were adolescents, suggesting that it is now easier for them to access guns, and that they more frequently suffer from mental health issues or limited conflict resolution skills."
Sixty per cent of mass school shootings in the United States in the 20th century were perpetrated by adolescents, aged 11 to 18.
So far this century, 77 per cent of the mass school shootings have been carried out by adolescents.
The study cautioned that the death tolls and number of shootings offered no clear link to "more adolescent problems or high-powered weapons as a causality", but said "the trends must be noted".
US gun violence is an "epidemic that must be addressed", concluded the study, urging expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and expanded support for addressing mental health issues.
School shootings comprise just a fraction of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths annually in the United States.
SAO PAULO: The most likely political heir to jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insists the leftist leader is still the Workers Party's candidate for the October elections, but he is preparing to step into the role.
Fernando Haddad told reporters on Tuesday that he was talking with other left-wing parties about forging a united leftist front for the elections if Lula is barred from running by a corruption conviction.
"We are seeing that both the left and the right are divided, with many candidates. With the exception of Lula, no one has more than 20 percent of voter support," Haddad said in his first interview since Lula was imprisoned on April 7.
Haddad, 55, the former mayor of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, is the Workers Party's "Plan B" in the likely case that Lula cannot run.
Sources in the party said Lula has privately discussed the need for Haddad to start preparing to run, even while the party plans to stick to their founder's candidacy.
Lula has given his blessing to Haddad to be his emissary in talks with other leftist leaders. He said he had met with former Ceará state Governor Ciro Gomes and the head of the Brazilian Socialist Party, which may nominate Joaquim Barbosa, a former Supreme Court justice.
Both Gomes and Barbosa garnered 9 percent voter support in a Datafolha poll published on Sunday. Haddad polled 2 percent.
The Workers Party's popularity has been damaged by corruption scandals and the impeachment of Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, for breaking budget rules, ending its 14-year run in power.
Haddad thinks the party can still win 20 percent of the votes on Election Day. But with Lula excluded, the party might have to back a candidate from another party for the first time, especially in the likely scenario the top two finishers in a first-round vote head into a second-round ballot.
"There is no guarantee that the left will have a single candidate. But in the run-off, I'm sure we will unite behind one leftist candidate," he said.
Haddad called for a centre-left alliance to confront the equally fragmented centre-right parties that have their own difficulties in a wide open field.
The challenge of the right is to field a candidate who can continue economic reforms while distancing himself from the unpopular incumbent President Michel Temer.
"Our challenge is simpler," Haddad said. "We all oppose that agenda."
LOS ANGELES: Starbucks Corp turned to long-time leader Howard Schultz on Wednesday (Apr 18) to make the case that the US coffee chain accused of racial profiling is committed to offering a "safe space" to customers despite the arrest of two black men in one of its Philadelphia cafes.
Closing 8,000 company-owned cafes on the afternoon of May 29 "to do significant training with our people is just the beginning of what we will do to transform the way we do business and educate our people on unconscious bias," Schultz, Starbucks' co-founder and executive chairman, told reporters.
He joined CEO Kevin Johnson and other executives for a meeting with Philadelphia clergy and community leaders later in the day.
Schultz's appearance on Wednesday marked his return to the limelight after stepping down as CEO last year. Daily management has been left to Johnson, who lacks his predecessor's experience with social issues and damage control.
"Howard always comes back when they're in trouble," said Robert Passikoff, president of consultancy Brand Keys, referring to Schultz's 2008 return as CEO during the financial crisis.
Starbucks, which prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness, is at the center of a social media storm prompted by a Philadelphia cafe manager's decision to call police on the two men, who had not made a purchase and were waiting on a friend. They were released without charges.
Video of the Philadelphia arrests spawned protests and calls for boycotts at the chain whose U.S. traffic has flattened in recent years because of intense competition.
"Race is a very difficult subject to discuss. We learned that three years ago," said Schultz. He was referring to the backlash from Starbucks' 2015 "Race Together" campaign, which aimed to start a conversation on race relations in the wake of high-profile police shootings of several unarmed black men.
Hugh Taft-Morales, president of the national leaders council of the non-profit American Ethical Union, called on the company to help create a "new wave of justice" during the meeting with Schultz and other executives.
Wedbush analyst Nick Setyan said closing 8,000 stores for training on May 29 could result in US$5 million to US$7 million in lost sales.
Starbucks has directed cafe employees to welcome customers, protesters and people who are "visiting for any reason," according to a Monday memo viewed by reporters, which in particular directed employees to let anyone use restrooms.
The first reaction of Southwest Airlines passenger Marty Martinez when an engine exploded on the plane on Tuesday was to live-stream what he feared might be his last minutes of life.
It was possibly the first time someone who thought he was going to die in a plane crash live-streamed the experience.
Martinez lived. One passenger, bank executive Jennifer Riordan, was killed when she was partially pulled through a shattered plane window.
But while Martinez, who runs a Dallas marketing agency, said on Wednesday he wanted to communicate with loved ones, many social media users attacked him in expletive-laced postings, with one saying Martinez himself should have been the one who died.
"Trying to contact loved ones is one thing, but to morbidly video and take pictures to post publicly is completely disgusting. Evidently the wrong person was taken from that flight," Dennis Miller said on Facebook in a posting that included colourful language to describe Martinez.
Many social media users defended Martinez's use of Facebook Live, but some said he violated passengers' privacy and sought cheap fame. Others said he was selfish to focus on messaging instead of on the critically injured passenger a few rows away.
"You represent the worst of social media," Tom Burke said on Facebook.
The event illustrates thorny issues facing platforms such as Google's YouTube, Twitter's Periscope and Facebook, already under pressure over privacy and news curating, over hosting live-streaming material.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on Martinez's posts.
Earlier this month, Facebook vice president Fidji Simo talked about the power of live-streaming.
"Live can be a powerful tool in connecting and supporting communities during moments of crisis,” Simo said in a post.
Since 2016, the average number of daily Facebook Live broadcasts has doubled year over year, with 3.5 billion live broadcasts since then.
"THIS IS NOT ONLINE TELEVISION"
Martinez explained on Wednesday why he opened his laptop and fumbled for his credit card to pay US$8 for Wi-Fi while other passengers were grabbing oxygen masks.
"All I could think of in that moment was, I need to communicate with my loved ones," he said on ABC television. "I thought, 'These are my last few moments on Earth and I want people to know what happened.'”
Some social media users questioned his motives.
"I didn't see you say anything to the people you love," said Lakeya Collins on Facebook. "This social media world today is sickening Everyone wants to go viral ugggh."
Other users said he provided important images.
"God forbid the outcome had been different, surely friends and family of those you captured would have at least had closure knowing the exact truth," said Klaudia Olszowka.
Social media watchers said Martinez's actions might be morally offensive to some but did not appear to violate Facebook's "community standards," which include bans on certain graphic or violent content, or that which is deemed disrespectful.
Heidi Julien, a professor of information studies at University at Buffalo, New York, said it was inevitable people would use technology to show such events. Some of the negative responses to Martinez's videos - with dozens of users picking fault with how he wore his oxygen mask - showed a desensitization to what people saw live.
"This is not online television, this is people's real lives," Julien said.
MIAMI: A young survivor of the Feb 14 school massacre in Florida who was repeatedly shot while protecting fellow students filed the first civil lawsuit on Tuesday (Apr 17) against the shooter.
Anthony Borges, 15, is suing gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, for the attack at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Seventeen people were killed in Cruz's rampage, and 17 others wounded.
Borges, praised in the media as a "hero" and nicknamed "Iron Man" by his fellow students, was shot in both legs and the back by Cruz. Despite the injuries, he managed to shut a door, preventing the shooter from entering the room where around 20 students were hiding. In doing so, he was shot twice more.
Borges was released from the hospital on Apr 4 and still recovering after nine surgeries and seven weeks in hospital. He is still not well enough to speak.
The lawsuit names James and Kimberly Snead - the couple that housed Cruz when the shooter's adoptive mother Lynda died in November 2017 - as well as the estate of Lynda Cruz and three Florida mental health institutions that treated Cruz at different times.
The lawsuit, filed in Broward County Circuit Court, charges Cruz with assault and battery, and is seeking damages, medical expenses and compensation for the loss of past and future wages.
The health institutions are being sued for negligence, since they "knew or should have known" that Cruz "suffered from mental illness and was a threat to others," the lawsuit reads.
Borges family attorney Alex Arreaza earlier said that the family will sue the Broward County school board and the county sheriff's office for failing to protect the students from Cruz, an ex-student who had shown mental instability as well as violent tendencies.
In Florida, state institutions are entitled to six months notice before lawsuits are filed.
Borges was rolled in on a wheelchair at a press conference two days after he was released from the hospital. Still weak, he remained silent while attorney Arreaza read a statement.
"I don't know why I survived," the statement read, "but I will tell you that my family and I will dedicate the rest of our lives to seeing that something like this never happens again."
The Borges family left Venezuela more than 15 years ago over political instability and fears over rampant crime. Anthony Borges was born in the United States.
WASHINGTON: Former US first lady Barbara Bush has died at the age of 92, a statement from the office of her now widower George H W Bush on Tuesday (Apr 17) confirmed.
"A former First Lady of the United States of America and relentless proponent of family literacy, Barbara Pierce Bush passed away Tuesday, Apr 17, 2018 at the age of 92," said the statement.
Mrs Bush was in "failing health" after a series of hospitalizations and had decided "not to seek additional medical treatment," her husband's office said in a statement Sunday.
It said that Mrs Bush, after consulting with relatives and doctors, had decided to "focus on comfort care" at the family home in Houston.
"She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving," said the brief statement from the office of former president Bush.
The statement provided no details on her condition, but Mrs Bush had been hospitalized for bronchitis treatment in January 2017. She had heart surgery in 2009, and was operated on for an ulcer the year before. She had been treated in the past for the thyroid ailment known as Graves' disease.
"The President's and First Lady's prayers are with all of the Bush Family during this time," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Barbara Bush has long been considered the rock at the center of one of America's most prominent political families, as the wife of a president, the mother of another, George W Bush, and the mother also of a former Florida governor and onetime presidential aspirant, Jeb Bush.
She was married to George H W Bush for 73 years. She first met her husband-to-be at the age of 16; she was a schoolgirl and he was a student at an elite preparatory school in Massachusetts. They married in 1945 while he was on leave from wartime service as a naval officer. The couple had six children.
As first lady, from 1989 to 1993, she embraced the cause of universal literacy, and founded a foundation for family literacy.
PHILADELPHIA: An engine on a Southwest Airlines flight with 149 people aboard exploded in mid-air on Tuesday, killing one passenger and nearly sucking another out of a window that was shattered by shrapnel, according to airline and federal authorities and witness and media accounts.
The plane, a Boeing 737 which was bound to Dallas from New York, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.
The death of 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan on Flight 1380 was the first in a US commercial aviation accident since 2009, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics.
Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a Wells Fargo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as she was unsure whether all of Riordan's family had been notified of her death.
Riordan was on the way back from a New York business trip, where she had sent a tweet on Monday showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan with the caption: "Great business stay." Her Facebook page shows she was married with two children.
Flight 1380 took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport at around 10.27am (10.27pm, Singapore time) and was diverted to Philadelphia just under an hour later, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the flight landed at Philadelphia International at around 11.20am.
The engine on the plane's left side threw off shrapnel when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurisation that nearly pulled out a female passenger, according to witness accounts and local news media reports.
"We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit," the plane's captain, Tammy Jo Shults told air traffic controllers in audio from the cockpit released on NBC News.
Asked by a controller if the jet was on fire, Shults said it was not, but added, "They said there is a hole and someone went out."
"A woman was partially, was drawn out of the plane and pulled back in by other passengers," Todd Bauer, whose daughter was on the flight, told the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia.
NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt told a news briefing in Washington that one person had been killed, but did not describe the circumstances.
The plane, which was bound for Dallas Love Field, had been inspected as recently as Sunday, according to Southwest's Kelly, who confirmed that Tuesday's fatality was the first of its kind in the carrier's 51-year history.
At 11.18am, passenger Marty Martinez posted on Facebook a live video of himself on the plane, wearing a breathing mask, as the plane descended. More than an hour later, at 12.27pm, Martinez posted pictures of a blown-out window and the badly damaged engine.
"The entire Southwest Airlines Family is devastated and extends its deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the customers, employees, family members and loved ones affected by this tragic event," Southwest said in a statement.
There were 144 passengers and five crew members aboard the flight, Sumwalt said.
One passenger was taken to a hospital in critical condition and seven people were treated for minor injuries at the scene, Philadelphia Fire Department spokeswoman Kathy Matheson said. Matheson could not confirm how the passenger in critical condition sustained her injuries.
Sumwalt said the NTSB believes parts came off the engine, but it has not determined if it was an "uncontained engine failure."
"There are protection rings around the engine to keep shrapnel from coming out. Even though we believe that there were parts coming out of this engine, it may not have been in that section of the engine that technically would qualify this as an uncontained engine failure,” he said.
"We don't think there was a fire at all," he told the media briefing before departing for Philadelphia.
He said the NTSB sees about three or four uncontained engine failures a year, including non-U.S. carriers.
"EVERYBODY WAS GOING CRAZY"
Flight 1380 was diverted to Philadelphia for an emergency landing after crew members reported damage to an engine, the fuselage and at least one window, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
"Everybody was going crazy, and yelling and screaming," passenger Marty Martinez told reporters.
Martinez said objects flew out of the hole where the window had exploded, and "passengers right next to her were holding onto (the woman being pulled out). And, meanwhile, there was blood all over this man's hands. He was tending to her."
Television images showed that most of the outer casing around the left engine of the Boeing Co 737-700 ripped away and a window near the engine on the plane's left side was missing.
"All of a sudden, we heard this loud bang, rattling, it felt like one of the engines went out. The oxygen masks dropped," passenger Kristopher Johnson told reporters. "It just shredded the left-side engine completely. ... It was scary."
Southwest shares fell more than 3 per cent after the NTSB reported the fatality, before closing down 1.1 per cent at US$54.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The plane's engines are made by CFM International, a French-U.S. venture co-owned by Safran and General Electric, which was not immediately available for comment.
MOST RELIABLE ENGINES
Boeing in a statement extended its condolences to the family of the woman killed, and said it is "providing assistance at the request and under the direction" of the NTSB.
The Boeing 737 is the world's most-sold aircraft and its engines are the most widely used in the aircraft industry and are reported to be among the most reliable.
Any design issues with the long-established CFM56 engine could have repercussions for fleets worldwide. But given that thousands of the engines are already in use globally, industry experts say the focus of the investigation is more likely to fall on one-off production or maintenance issues, though it is too early to say what caused the explosion.
The accident comes as CFM wrestles with production delays for a new engine model, designed for the latest generation of Boeing and Airbus narrowbody jets.
PATTAYA, Thailand: A Belarusian model detained in Thailand who claims to have revelations about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was due in court on Tuesday (Apr 17), in a case that grabbed widespread attention after her cryptic offers.
Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen name Nastya Rybka, was arrested with nine other foreigners in February when Thai police raided their sex training course in the seaside city of Pattaya.
She and six others were initially charged with lacking a work permit but are now facing additional charges of soliciting prostitution and criminal association, according to Apichai Krobpetch, Pattaya's police chief.
Vashukevich, who is embroiled in a political scandal in Russia, made international headlines after she offered to reveal secrets to American journalists in a video posted on Instagram shortly after her arrest in Pattaya.
"They are trying to put us behind bars ... That is why I am ready to tell you about all those missing puzzle pieces that you lacked ... regarding a link between our esteemed lawmakers and (Paul) Manafort, Trump and all this brouhaha, the US elections," she said in the video.
The model, who has written a book about seducing oligarchs, has not substantiated her claims but does have links to Russia's elite.
She is facing a lawsuit in Russia over footage she filmed purporting to show an influential deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko, enjoying lavish hospitality on a yacht owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
The video went viral after it was published by top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in February.
Deripaska, one of several Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US this month, denied any wrongdoing and later sued Vashukevich and Alexander Kirillov, a "sex guru" who was also detained in Thailand, for invasion of privacy.
Deripaska, an aluminium tycoon, was once an associate of US President Donald Trump's ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Manafort has been indicted on money laundering and tax-related charges as part of the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
A participant in the sex training session who was not among those arrested told AFP that Vashukevich fears being deported back to Russia.
Three other participants have either been deported or are awaiting deportation, an immigration official told reporters.
The US Embassy in Bangkok has declined to comment on the case.