December 18, 2014

Proposed cuts to Missouri’s blind pension halted

The Nixon administration has backed away from cutting benefits to hundreds of Missouri’s blind pension recipients.

cane dayThe Department of Social Services had sent out notices several weeks ago that the benefits would be cut by $33 a month. The payments go to about 3,900 Missourians whose vision is no better than 5/200.  That’s well beyond “legally” blind, which is defined as 20/200.

A state three-cent property tax raises the money for the program.. But Department Finance Director  Patrick Luebbering told us last week that’s not enough to fund the payments. “We have available funds of 31.3 million. Last year on the blind pension program we spent a little bit over $32 million and again in this year we expect to expend around $32 million, which leaves us with a shortfall,” he says.

The department had estimated the department would save almost three-quarters of a million dollars with the cuts.  He had said the full monthly payment of $718 likely would be restored when the next fiscal year starts, July 1 although that determination would be made later after the department saw how much tax money had come in.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article had questioned the need for the cut hours before the Governor’s office put out a press release saying Nixon had ordered the department to reverse its plan. Nixon says he’ll ask the legislature next year to add enough money to the budget to keep the payments at current levels.

 

NAACP organizes “Journey for Justice” march to Missouri’s capital

The NAACP is planning to launch a 120 mile, 7 day march called the “Journey for Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City.”  The march is in response to the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown Jr.

The march will start Saturday at 7am near the Canfield Green Apartments where Michael Brown Jr. was shot and will end Saturday, December 6th at the Governor’s Mansion.

NAACP President Cornell William Brooks (Photo Courtesy of Twitter @CornellWBrooks)

NAACP President Cornell William Brooks (Photo Courtesy of Twitter @CornellWBrooks)

Marchers are directing the call for new leadership in the Ferguson police department and new reforms of police practice and culture to elected officials in Missouri and across the United States.

Teachings and rallies will be held on the evenings of the march and will be open to the public.

NAACP says the event will be peaceful.

“You cannot honor Michael Brown as the victim of violence, with more violence,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks.

Organizers say they are drawing inspiration from the historic Selma to Montgomery march. In 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Alabama in response to the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson by a state trooper.

“Here we are 50 years later taking on the fight of and the battle against racial profiling and unjust policing in our communities” said Brooks.

The “Journey for Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City” march will take place along this route.

It includes members of the Youth and College division along with senior and youth organizations.

 

AG Holder wants to look at something else in Ferguson

Those whose had been hoping for a grand jury indictment in the Michael Brown case now pin their hopes on the Department of Justice.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s department is running two investigations. One looking into civil rights issues connected to the killing of Michael Brown Junior. The other looks at operations of the Ferguson Police Department. But the violence in the new round of Ferguson riots has him opening a third front.

Holder has asked the Community-Oriented Policing Services office to do an afater-action review that will develop a strategy to identify and isolate criminal elements from peaceful protestors.

He says the assessment is important because Ferguson’s problems are not unique. “There are other communities around the country that have these same issues that have to be dealt with,” he says, “and we at the Justice Department are determined to do all that we can to bridge these divides.”

Holder has given no timetable for completion of the Michael Brown Junior case. He says he and the St. Louis County prosecutor have been sharing information during the grand jury inquiry.

AUDIO: Holder update 6:20

Darren Wilson talks about Michael Brown shooting to ABC

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson has given his first media interview since he fatally shot Michael Brown nearly four months ago.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson

In the exclusive interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Wilson talked about what happened after, he said, he asked Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson to move out of the middle of Canfield Drive, August 9.  The first segment of that interview has aired on ABC’s World News Tonight.

“I had gone to open the door and get out of the car and when I did so, as I opened the door I said, ‘Hey, come here for a minute,'” Wilson said. “That’s when [Brown] turned and said, ‘What the [expletive] are you going to do about it?’ and slammed my door shut on me.”

Wilson says he attempted to push Brown back with the door and Brown pushed it shut again, “and as I looked back at him, all of a sudden, punches start flying.”

Asked by Stephanopoulos to confirm whether he said Brown threw the first punch, Wilson says, “Yes.”

Wilson said Brown punched him on the side of the face, and said after that he was fearful for his survival. He said it was after that he pulled his gun and pointed it at Brown, and told him to get back or Wilson would shoot him.

“His response, immediately, he grabbed the top of my gun, and when he grabbed it he said, ‘You’re too much of a [expletive] to shoot me,’ and while he’s doing that I can feel his hand trying to come over my hand and get inside the trigger guard, and try and shoot me with my own gun. That’s when I pulled the trigger for the first time,” said Wilson.

He said the gun didn’t go off and was being jammed by Brown’s hand on top of it. He said he pulled the trigger a second time, “and again another click, and this time I’m like, ‘This has to work otherwise I’m going to be dead. He’s going to get this gun away from me, something’s going to happen and I’m going to be dead, so I pull a third time and it finally goes off.”

Wilson said after that Brown became angrier, and Wilson raised his gun and fired another shot.

He said he called for help and then gave chase to Brown, who he said stopped running and turned to face Wilson.

“As he does that his right hand immediately does to his waistband and his left hand is a fist at his side, and he starts charging me,” Wilson said, saying that made him question whether Brown had a weapon in his waistband.

Stephanopoulos tells Wilson, “As you know, some of the eyewitnesses have said when, at that moment he turned around, he turned around and put his hands up.”

Michael Brown

Michael Brown

“That would be uncorrect. Incorrect,” Wilson told the reporter.

Wilson said Brown then began to run toward him.

“At that time I gave myself another mental check, ‘Can I shoot this guy? Legally, can I?'” Brown said. “The question I answered myself was, ‘I have to. If I don’t, he will kill me if he gets to me.”

“Even though he’s what, 35, 40 feet away?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Once he’s coming that direction, if he hasn’t stopped yet, when’s he going to stop?” Wilson asked in reply.

The officer continued, “After he’s coming at me and I decided to shoot I fired a series of shots and paused.” Wilson said Brown flinched, and he judged at least one of the rounds had hit him.

“After that I paused and I again yell, ‘Stop, get on the ground,’ giving him the opportunity to stop, and he ignored all the commands and he just kept running, and so after he kept running again I shot another series of shots, and at least one of those hit him because I saw the flinch.”

Wilson said Brown was about 15 feet from him and still coming, so the officer began backpedaling.

“He gets to about eight to ten feet and as he does that he kind of starts to lean forward like he’s going to tackle me, and I look down the barrel of my gun and I fired, and what I saw was his head and that’s where it went.”

“Right in the top of his head,” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yes,” Wilson replied.

Stephanopoulos asked Wilson if he is absolutely convinced that if Michael Brown had been white, that the encounter would have played out the same way.

“Yes,” says Wilson. “No question.”

Wilson told Stephanopoulos he is sorry for the loss of life but would not do anything differently.

“You have a very clean conscience,” Stephanopoulos observed during the interview.

Wilson replied, “The reason I have a clean conscience, ’cause I know I did my job right.”

Wilson is still on paid administrative leave from the Ferguson Police Department.

ABC will air more segments from the hour-and-a-half long interview in future broadcasts.

Attorney: Darren Wilson to comment in “appropriate venue”

Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson remains in seclusion but his lawyers have reacted to the grand jury decision not charge him in the Michael Brown shooting.

Darren Wilson exam photo cropLawyers say the past few days have been “tense” for Wilson. They say any further comment about his future will be made in what is called in an “appropriate venue” and not through the media, a comment perhaps based on reports that have surfaced in the last few days that Wilson has been in secret negotiations with the leading anchors of major network newscasts and cable news channels.

The lawyers say Wilson “followed his training and followed the law” in that August 9th encounter with Michael Brown. They say police officers often have to make “split-second and difficult decisions” of the kind Wilson made.

Lawyer Neil Bruntrager tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch there’s no reason Wilson should be fired from the Ferguson department but it is appropriate for the department to decide if his shooting of Brown was within department policies. The Ferguson police chief is not commenting.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department’s investigation has been independent of the St. Louis County grand jury’s work and is ongoing. He says the department is continuing to investigate allegations of unconstitutional policing patterns or practices by the Ferguson department .

The aftermath of the grand jury decision also brings news that Wilson got married a month ago to a veteran Ferguson policewoman.  She has gone on sick leave because of job stress.