Morning News Brief
NOEL KING, HOST:
Today, the prosecution and the defense will make their closing arguments to the jury in Derek Chauvin's murder trial.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For nearly three weeks, jurors heard testimony from police, medical experts and members of George Floyd's family. They watched videos of Floyd dying under Chauvin's knee from every angle. This week, the jury will begin deliberation.
KING: NPR's Leila Fadel is covering the trial in Minneapolis. Good morning, Leila.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What are you expecting over the next few days?
FADEL: So after closing arguments, the prosecution gets a rebuttal, and then the jury will get instructions from the judge and be sequestered as they deliberate on the two murder charges and the manslaughter charge Chauvin is facing. Now, this jury is very aware they're deliberating on a verdict under intense public scrutiny. Some expressed wariness during jury selection about what may happen if they decide to convict on some or all charges or if they decide to acquit. As far as how long it will take to get a verdict, it could be hours or it could be weeks.
KING: We just don't know. The intense public scrutiny that the jury is facing stems in part from the fact that there is more at stake here than what happens to Derek Chauvin, isn't there?
FADEL: Right. A lot of people see this verdict as a referendum on race, policing and accountability. And it's very rare in this country for a police officer to get convicted for the killing of an unarmed person. Here in Minnesota, only one police officer has ever been convicted for killing someone. In that case, it was a Black police officer that shot and killed a white woman. But the Chauvin case has been unusual, most notably because we saw police officers testify against one of their own. From the witness stand, we heard police officers call Chauvin pinning Floyd's neck to the ground for so long totally unnecessary, excessive and a violation of police department policies. Among those who testified was the police chief, Medaria Arradondo, which, as far as we know, is unprecedented. He said that Chauvin continuing to apply that level of force we watched in that video to a man that was handcuffed and on the ground was wrong.
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MEDARIA ARRADONDO: That in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.
KING: And several police officers, as you said, testified to the same. What does Minneapolis look like right now?
FADEL: Well, the courthouse is a fortress. Downtown Minneapolis is a maze of boarded up buildings. There are military-style vehicles on downtown city corners, National Guard walking around with weapons out. And you see the same thing in other parts of the Twin Cities. And a neighborhood security team of National Guard and police came under fire yesterday morning. No one was seriously injured. So the city is tense. And not only is it dealing with what is arguably the most important criminal trial regarding race and policing of this moment, people are reeling after the killing of another Black man last week by police during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. That killing has prompted renewed protests. Law enforcement have detained people, used force to disperse the crowds at night, including reports of hitting and macing journalists. Some people in the crowds have thrown fireworks, bottles and other objects at law enforcement.
KING: And when you talk to people there, how do they say they're feeling?
FADEL: Anxious, scared, nervous. And watching the trial for a lot of people has been too hard. I met Takyra Smith in George Floyd Square, and she was there with her niece, nephew and 4-year-old son to pay respects to Floyd at the site of his killing. She says she hasn't been able to watch much of this trial.
TAKYRA SMITH: To have to have that trial, like, live and on TV, to me, it's hurtful because you know what you did. And to have to sit there and have people think that you didn't do it or you weren't trying to hurt anybody or for you to think that you weren't hurting anybody and you knew you were, like, how could you not think you weren't hurting anybody? So to watch that is killing me.
FADEL: She says she's hoping for guilty on all charges and change that will make her 4-year-old son's future safer.
KING: NPR's Leila Fadel in Minneapolis. Thanks, Leila.
FADEL: Thank you.
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KING: Alexei Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin's most vocal and successful critics, is reportedly dying in a prison in Russia.
MARTIN: Navalny is serving a 2 1/2-year jail sentence for a years-old parole violation. It's a charge he dismisses, calls it just political. He's been on hunger strike for 20 days. He is protesting a lack of medical care while he's been in prison. Navalny's doctors say he is very ill at this point. Yesterday on CNN's "State Of The Union," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House has warned Russia there will be consequences if Navalny dies.
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JAKE SULLIVAN: We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility, and they will be held accountable by the international community.
KING: NPR's Lucian Kim is following this one in Moscow. Good morning, Lucian.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What do you know about Navalny's condition?
KIM: Well, the Russian prison service has just said this morning that it's decided to move Navalny to a hospital, that his condition is, quote, "satisfactory," and that a doctor sees him on a daily basis. But in fact, we still know very little about Navalny's exact condition, and that's why his doctors sounded the alarm bells over the weekend. They published the results of one of his blood tests on social media, which they said showed he should be in intensive care and that he could die at any moment from cardiac arrest. Now, the whole reason Navalny is on hunger strike is because he says he's being denied medical attention for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands. And he says that pain might be linked to a poisoning last summer that he blames on President Putin. A team of doctors tried to visit him over the weekend, but they weren't let into the prison. If things get very bad, there is always a chance that prison authorities will resort to force feeding him.
KING: OK. We had you on recently on a different story, and you mentioned that Vladimir Putin would prefer for the international community to just forget about Navalny. What is the Kremlin saying right now?
KIM: Well, that's right. You know, on the level of words, the Kremlin acts like Navalny barely exists. President Putin and his spokesman don't say his name in public. And the message they're desperately trying to get across is that Navalny is insignificant, that he's a small-time huckster who's trying to insinuate himself into national politics, and he shouldn't be given the time of day. But, you know, on the level of actions, the Kremlin has launched a sweeping crackdown on Navalny's anti-corruption foundation, on his allies and on his supporters and basically anybody who even publicizes the time and place of a Navalny demonstration. So that would seem to indicate the Kremlin does see a potential threat in him. And, of course, they did put him in jail on this old conviction. And there's a great deal of suspicion as who tried to poison him in the first place, considering that a chemical weapon was used.
KING: Yeah. The U.S. recently sanctioned Russia for hacking and interfering in U.S. elections. Let's say that the worst happens and Alexei Navalny dies in prison. Is there anything that the U.S. could do in response to that?
KIM: Well, the U.S. has already imposed sanctions over the poisoning of Navalny and there could be new sanctions. You know, before his poisoning last summer, Navalny was very much a domestic political phenomenon in Russia. But after his dramatic medical evacuation to Germany and then the determination by European experts that a banned chemical weapon had been used against him, he really turned into an international cause celeb. He's now the man who symbolizes the opposition to Putin. His death could lead to an even worse relationship between the West and Russia and isolate the Kremlin even more.
KING: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thanks, Lucian.
KIM: Thank you.
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KING: All right. Starting today, every American over the age of 16 is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
MARTIN: Right. But big question now, is everyone going to want it? We know vaccine hesitancy is still a problem in some communities in the U.S. and there was hesitancy even before the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily taken out of circulation after a small number of women who took it developed blood clots.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us. Good morning, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So everyone over the age of 16 in every state now eligible.
AUBREY: That's right. Teenagers age 16 and 17 have one option. That's the Pfizer vaccine. Adults 18 and up can get either Pfizer or Moderna. For now, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is off the table as the rare blood clots are being evaluated. Now, states weren't expecting much of this vaccine right now anyway, given an ongoing production issue. But this pause could be lifted later this week. In fact, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet on Friday. This group advises the CDC. I spoke to Patricia Stinchfield. She is a non-voting member of this committee.
PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: I think there's no doubt that the pause does make people a little bit nervous. But I feel like it's the right thing to do. And I think in the long run, pauses like this build confidence to say, yeah, you know, we had a pause. We looked at it. We evaluated it. We feel confident going forward.
AUBREY: There are a lot of directions this could go, Noel. One possibility is that there could be some restrictions placed on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, say by age. Remember, the blood clots that have been identified were in women under the age of 50.
KING: OK, yeah, that's interesting. So everyone is now eligible. And yet around the country, there are reports kind of consistently a vaccine appointments going unfilled. There's enough vaccine. People just aren't showing up to get it.
AUBREY: Right. From pharmacies to clinics, there are many sites that have not seen appointments fill up as quickly as the supply has come in. Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers told me this is not limited to one part of the country.
CLAIRE HANNAN: You know, it is certain areas of the country, certain counties. They tend to be white, conservative, evangelical counties, rural areas. You know, this is where we're seeing that demand is not as high as the supply.
AUBREY: So the key here may be more outreach with doctors and other trusted leaders.
KING: Claire Hannan mentioned hesitancy among white conservative evangelicals. What do we know about vaccine hesitancy in Black communities? Because early on in the pandemic, there was a ton of focus on that.
AUBREY: yeah. Well, a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 25% of Black respondents did not plan to get a shot, compared to 28% of white respondents, so not a big difference there at all. Claire Hannan says there's been a lot of successful outreach efforts.
HANNAN: Black doctors, Black ministers, Black nurses - there are so many Black leaders involved and engaged getting vaccinating, being vocal about it. I think it's helping tremendously.
KING: That's good news. But is the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine going to slow that progress down? Because it did scare some people, yeah?
AUBREY: That's right. I mean, it may. I have spoken to people doing outreach in vaccine education, including a doctor in Los Angeles. They tell me among the people who are most resistant, this pause has made some more skeptical, gives them reason to doubt. So I do think the pause could add a layer of complication.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks, Allison.
AUBREY: Thank you, Noel.
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