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Anger and Sadness at Tense Crown Heights Police-Community Meeting

Emotions ran high at a community meeting between Crown Heights residents and local police officers Thursday evening, in the fallout of the police shooting of a mentally ill man earlier this month. Frustrated residents wanted to know why officers had opened fire so quickly and why none of the 71st Precinct officers recognized Saheed Vassell, 34, a fixture of the neighborhood, before shooting him nine times on April 4. Police said they mistakenly thought Vassell had a gun, which he had pointed at several passersby before he was shot by officers, according to video footage released by the NYPD. It turned out to be a metal pipe. "We are looking for an answer which will let us know that tomorrow something is going to be different here," resident Karen Flemming demanded. Deputy Inspector Frank Giordano tried to quell the frustrated crowd. "Our job is to protect human life. We regret the loss of human life under any circumstance," he said. "However our job requires split second decisions at times and this situation required us to make a split second decision based upon the 911 calls and the fact that we believed him to be armed." WNYC's Jami Floyd and Cindy Rodriguez discussed the meeting on All Things Considered.

Former Mayor Giuliani Joins Trump's Personal Legal Team

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump since the early days of his campaign, is joining the team of lawyers representing the president in the special counsel's Russia investigation. With the addition of Giuliani, Trump gains a former U.S. attorney, a past presidential candidate and a TV-savvy defender at a time when the White House is looking for ways to bring the president's involvement with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to a close. The president has been weighing whether to sit for questioning by Mueller's team, and his legal team has repeatedly met with investigators to define the scope of the questions he would face. Giuliani will enter those negotiations, filling the void left by attorney John Dowd, who resigned last month. It's a precarious time for Trump. His legal team has been told by Mueller that the president is not a target of the investigation, suggesting he's not in imminent criminal jeopardy. But he is currently a subject of the probe - a designation that could change at any time. Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow told The Associated Press that Giuliani will be focusing on the Mueller investigation - not the legal matters raised by the ongoing investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen. That probe is being led by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, an office that Giuliani headed in the mid- to late 1980s. Cohen's office, home and hotel room were raided last week by the FBI, who are investigating the lawyer's business dealings, including suspected bank fraud. They also sought records related to payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had sexual encounters with Trump several years ago. The White House has denied the claims. The raids enraged Trump, prompting him to publicly weigh whether to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also intensified his public attacks on the Mueller investigation, calling it "an attack on our country." In a statement announcing Giuliani's hire, Trump expressed his wish that the investigation wrap up soon and praised Giuliani, a fellow New Yorker, confidant and Mar-a-Lago regular. "Rudy is great," Trump said. "He has been my friend for a long time and wants to get this matter quickly resolved for the good of the country." Giuliani will be joining Sekulow on Trump's personal legal team but will be working closely with White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who has also been handling the administration's cooperation with the Mueller investigation. "It is an honor to be a part of such an important legal team, and I look forward to not only working with the President but with Jay, Ty and their colleagues," Giuliani said in a statement. In addition to Giuliani, two other former federal prosecutors - Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin - will be joining Trump's legal team. The two, who are married and run a law firm together, are based in Florida but handle cases across the United States. Both have extensive experience prosecuting organized crime and representing defendants in complex white-collar and fraud investigations. Giuliani, who was New York mayor during the Sept. 11 attacks, has known Trump for decades and his aggressive, hard-charging rhetorical style can at times mirror that of the president. He had widely been expected to join Trump's administration. But Giuliani rejected the idea of becoming attorney general, lobbying Trump to name him secretary of state. Trump picked Rex Tillerson and Giuliani was left without a Cabinet post. The two men share similar policy ideals, publicly supporting law enforcement in ways that have alienated minorities, and taking bullish stances on immigration enforcement. In 2016, for instance, Giuliani fiercely criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, saying it encouraged violence against police. More recently, he has said he was consulted by Trump on how to implement the travel ban put in place last year against Muslim-majority nations. Giuliani has been working at the influential law firm Greenberg Traurig, where he has been a senior adviser and head of the firm's cybersecurity, privacy and crisis management practice. On Thursday, the firm's executive chairman Richard A. Rosenbaum released a statement saying Giuliani would be taking a leave of absence "for an unspecified period of time to handle matters unrelated to the law firm or its clients." Giuliani's addition to the Trump legal team puts a renewed spotlight on his past legal and consulting work. His flirtation with becoming Trump's secretary of state was thwarted, in part, because of growing concerns about his overseas business ties. After leaving office as mayor, Giuliani advised foreign political figures and worked for lobbying and security firms whose clients have had complicated relationships with the U.S. government. While not personally involved in lobbying, Giuliani spent years at firms that represented foreign governments and multinational companies, some of which had interests that diverged from those of the United States. That included a trip Giuliani took to Belgrade to meet with leaders of a Serbian political party once allied with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. His consulting firm also did work in the Persian Gulf monarchy of Qatar and received money for supporting the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the Iranian dissident group, even as it was a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. More recently, Giuliani's work for Greenberg Traurig, who is a registered foreign agent for the government of Turkey, has drawn attention for his involvement in a high-profile case with foreign policy implications for the U.S-Turkey relationship. Last year, Giuliani joined former Bush administration attorney general Michael Mukasey in working to resolve the case of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who was accused of participating in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. The case also focused on allegations of corruption against Turkish officials, including Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan's government had pressured the U.S. government to drop the case, and in early 2017, Giuliani met with Erdogan to discuss whether the case could be resolved outside of court. Despite Giuliani's intervention, Zarrab later pleaded guilty and testified for U.S. prosecutors against a former Turkish bank official who was himself later convicted. Zarrab later said the failure of Giuliani's effort led him to cooperate with prosecutors.

New Jersey Bans Offshore Drilling

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday banning oil and gas drilling in state waters. The ban, supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the state, is a direct response to the Trump Administration's plan to open and lease most of the nation's offshore waters drilling and exploration (Florida is exempt from the policy). Murphy said New Jersey is not willing to risk an oil spill or rig explosion and urged other coastal states to take similar action. "We know that an oil spill off the Jersey shore would have impacts hundreds of miles away. Just as a spill off [the] coast of Maryland, Virginia or Florida would foul our beaches," he said at a bill signing ceremony in Point Pleasant Beach. States only have jurisdiction over waters up to three miles of the coast. But the bill bans pipelines, or any equipment, used to transport oil drilled in federal waters though New Jersey. It also gives more power to the state's environmental agency to review federal drilling proposals. The governor of Maine is the only leader of an Atlantic coastal state who's come out in favor of the Trump Administration's plan.

Saheed Vassell Remembered as Kind, Generous Neighbor at Funeral

A few dozen mourners gathered at St. Anthony Baptist Church in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the funeral of Saheed Vassell, the mentally ill man shot and killed by police in early April. The service was modest: bouquets of flowers and childhood photos of Vassell surrounded his gleaming white casket. During the service, friends remembered him as a kind, generous person who looked out for his neighbors. Speakers, including City Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel and a representative of Al Sharpton's National Action Network, urged the congregation to support Vassell's family while calling for legal justice. Towards the end of the funeral, his sister, Telah Vassell, broke down in tears while reading aloud from his obituary. Mourners at Saheed Vassell's funeral in St. Anthony Baptist Church (Danny Lewis) Afterwards, mourners gathered outside the church as the funeral procession started off for Cypress Hills Cemetery. Ionie Forrest, 48, a friend of Vassell's father, said Saheed was always a nice boy. She said the incident has made her fear for her 20-year-old son's safety if he ever has to interact with the police. "You're black, when the police come and come to you, you just have to calm yourself down because if not, you never know what's gonna take place," Forrest said. Police officers shot Vassell nine times after they responded to a series of 911 calls describing a man pointing a gun at people on the street. Officers fired within seconds before discovering he was holding a piece of metal piping. Vassell's parents are calling for the names and records of the responding officers to be made public.

Mourners Gather in Remembrance of Saheed Vassell, Killed By Police in Crown Heights

Hundreds of family members and friends of Saheed Vassell, the mentally ill man killed by police in Crown Heights earlier this month, gathered in a neighborhood church to pay their respects on Thursday. Some wore custom tee-shirts with a photo of Vassell, 34, emblazoned with the words, "Rest in Power." Vassell was shot nine times by NYPD officers on April 4, after he brandished what turned out to be a metal piece of pipe at passersby as if it were a gun. Police say Vassel pointed the object at them right before the responding officers opened fire. Mourners were angry about Vassell's death. Many of them recalled fond memories of him and his family. They described him as being kind and caring. Some were frustrated that officers who knew Vassell from the 71st Precinct didn't recognize him before opening fire. Others felt people on the street should have intervened. "I truly think it's a community problem," said a mourner who identified himself only as Muzart. "That's the reason why he's this way, because nobody came and pulled him to the side and say 'Yo what are you doing, that's wrong. Yo what's going on? Stop that.' No one." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating the fatal shooting. Vassell's funeral and burial will take place Friday.

Mourners Gather in Remembrance of Saheed Vassell, Killed By Police in Crown Heights

Chair of Landmarks Commission to Step Down in June

The head of the influential Landmarks Preservation Commission is leaving her post after four years, she told WNYC News on Thursday. Meenakshi Srinivasan said she will step down from the LPC on June 1. In a conversation with WNYC's Richard Hake, she spoke about her time at the commission, which included clearing a severe backlog of landmark applications that included Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City, as well as approving several high-profile landmark designations in the area of East Midtown undergoing a rezoning. Srinivasan also spoke about a recent controversy over proposed changes to LPC's rules and an uproar about the possibility that the Coney Island Boardwalk's iconic wooden slats could be replaced by concrete or plastic. A city planner and self-described "zoning wonk," Srinivasan said she plans to move into the private sector, developing curricula for the Center for New York City Law at the New York Law School. Srinivasan was appointed to the landmarks commission by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014.

How Thousands of Security Cameras Forced Change at New York's Notorious Attica State Prison

In 1971, New York's Attica prison was the site of one of the most brutal and deadly prison uprisings in US history. After that, the facility gained a reputation for the iron grip its Correction Officers exercised over inmates, and the brutal beatings they imposed. But following a 2015 trial of three officers for nearly beating an inmate to death, things began to change at Attica. The change came about largely because of 2,000 cameras installed throughout the prison, according to a new report from The Marshall Project and Vice. John J. Lennon is a prisoner-turned-journalist who documented this change through the use of data, and from his own experiences gleaned in the nine years he spent at Attica. Soon after his arrival at the prison in 2007, he could tell that Attica was different from other maximum security facilities. Guards walked around with their batons out, and the beatings of inmates happened nearly every day, he said. "You would hear screams, you would hear yells," Lennon said. "After a while you became numb to it." "What it does have that other prisons don' this horrible history," he said. According to Lennon, correctional officers had relatives and friends who'd been around at the time of the deadly uprising and were taught, "'you cant take your foot off the neck of these guys because if you do there will be problems.'" But come 2016 the state was installing some 2,000 cameras across the facility and right away, Lennon noticed a change. Guards started to show restraint, while prisoners were emboldened. Lennon's observation was backed up by data he obtained from the State Department of Corrections. In the year when cameras went up, the number of assaults on staff plummeted from 64 to 13 a year, the lowest number of assaults on record. "There's never been 13 assaults on staff, in fact there's never been below 30 assault on staff," he said. "What the cameras do it's this sort of equalizer now." Around 2,000 cameras have gone up across Attica, according to a spokesman for the state's Department of Corrections. They plan to install cameras in all maximum security, and some medium security, prisons across New York, the spokesman said.

How Thousands of Security Cameras Forced Change at New York's Notorious Attica State Prison

More Bad Blood Between Cuomo and Progressives

More evidence is emerging that actor Cynthia Nixon's gubernatorial challenge is rattling incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Last week, as it was looking like the Working Families Party would endorse Nixon instead of the incumbent in the Democratic primary, reports emerged that Cuomo had told union leaders that if they funded any group supporting his rival, they could "lose his number." The party, which was formed 20 years ago by labor unions and grassroots organizations to pull Democrats to the left, ended up endorsing Nixon, but not before two of its largest and financially important members, the Communication Workers of America and SEIU 32BJ, dropped out — perhaps so they could hang onto Cuomo's number. On Thursday, the governor denied he ever threatened the unions. "The Working Families people are delusional if they think anyone is going to tell the unions who to support and not support," he said at an unrelated press conference. "It's totally up to the unions." That was cold comfort for progressive activists rallying in downtown Manhattan later in the day. Community organizations that remained in the Working Families Party blasted Cuomo's alleged comments. And the party's state director, Bill Lipton, said he was in the room when Cuomo urged labor leaders to back out. "If he's saying that he has nothing to do with it, he's lying," Lipton said. At the press conference, Cuomo was also asked if he would promise not to punish liberal community groups backing Nixon by withdrawing state funding. He responded: "Punishment is for God."

City Convenes Task Force on Police Response to Mentally Ill in Crises

On Friday, the de Blasio Administration is expected to announce the creation of a city task force aimed at improving how police respond to 911 calls involving the mentally ill. The announcement comes two weeks after Saheed Vassell was shot and killed by NYPD officers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Vassell had a history of mental illness. Police thought he was threatening people with a gun, but the object in his hand turned out to be a steel pipe. "I've charged this Task Force with developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent these situations from escalating and enhance the city's crisis response system. These recommendations will keep our neighborhoods and our most vulnerable New Yorkers safe," said the Mayor in a press release. Advocates said Vassell was the tenth mentally ill person to be killed by the NYPD since June of 2015. They've been pressuring the city to study why the deaths are happening and to come up with solutions. In a letter last Wednesday, the city council's progressive caucus also called on City Hall to prioritize strategies that would divert 911 calls to mental health professionals instead of police. A spokesperson said the task force would look at how 911 calls involving mentally ill individuals are dispatched. They'll also look to increase the use of co-response teams that consist of two police officers and a mental health professional. Since March of 2016 the teams have intervened in cases involving 2500 individuals. Last year the NYPD responded to more than 160,000 calls involving someone considered to be in emotional distress. Advocates say another alternative to the 911 system are mobile crisis teams that are made up of nurses, psychiatrists, and social workers. The city said it would look at how to enhance these teams so that they can respond more rapidly. In addition to improving police interactions, the city is examining how to increase support for people with mental illness, including helping them get housing and public benefits. A city hall spokesperson said the city would also look at ways to connect people to long term treatment once they get discharged from hospitals and emergency rooms. The task force is expected to come up with recommendations in six months and will be led by the NYPD and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

City Convenes Task Force on Police Response to Mentally Ill in Crises

Schools Chancellor Implores City Students Not to Walk Out on Friday

In March, when students walked out of class to honor victims of the Parkland school shooting, city officials and school administrators stood alongside them. But Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the walkout planned for Friday, to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, is different. At a townhall with students at Brooklyn Tech on Monday, Carranza asked high schoolers not to leave class to take part in the planned afternoon demonstration in Washington Square Park. "Columbine happened 19 years ago," Carranza told student leaders from across the borough. "I get it. But you don't have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You've already made your voices known. So I'm going to ask you: stay in school." Asha Lawrence is a freshman at Brooklyn Tech who said she and many of her classmates would not heed the Chancellor's appeal. Lawrence grew up in the the United Kingdom, and said after educating herself about the deadly school shooting at Columbine, she thinks students need to take a stand and have their voices heard. "This is not a new issue," she said, "and so it's really important for us to just stick with it." Some school administrators have asked parents to provide written consent to allow their children to leave school and take part in the rally. Others, like Mather High School dean Brian Pew, said they don't think many students will be participating. Pew said he's talked to students at his Midtown Manhattan school who participated in the March walkout and the "March for our Lives." But, he said, he hasn't gotten any official word of a Friday walkout from students.

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