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Protests against Rittenhouse verdict spring up in several US cities

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Small groups of protesters angry over the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict demonstrated on Friday evening in Chicago, New York, Portland, Oregon, and a few other cities

Mr Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was found not guilty of homicide and other charges, in a deeply divisive case that ignited a national debate over vigilantism, gun rights and the definition of self-defence.

After about 26 hours of deliberation, a jury appeared to accept Mr Rittenhouse’s explanation that he had acted reasonably to defend himself in an unruly and turbulent scene in August 2020, days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, during a summer of unrest following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Mr Rittenhouse sobbed and was held by his lawyers after a clerk read the jury’s verdict, acquitting him of all charges. After the shootings, Mr Rittenhouse was transformed from an unknown 17-year-old from rural Illinois into a national symbol. Some Americans were horrified by the images of a teenager toting a powerful semi-automatic rifle on a city street during racial justice demonstrations, a reminder of the extent of open carry laws in the United States.

Kyle Rittenhouse closes his eyes and cries as he is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse. Photograph: Sean Krajacic - Pool/Getty
Kyle Rittenhouse closes his eyes and cries as he is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse. Photograph: Sean Krajacic – Pool/Getty

Others saw a well-meaning young man who had gone to keep the peace and provide medical aid, a response to the sometimes destructive protests that had roiled US cities in the summer of 2020.

In Portland, the police declared a protest a riot, saying that demonstrators had been breaking windows and damaging doors of city facilities in the area around the Multnomah County Justice Center, which houses a jail and Portland’s police headquarters.

Other demonstrations around the country were peaceful. In Chicago, several dozen demonstrators gathered in downtown and marched in opposition to the verdict.

Outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, protesters trickled into the crowds arriving at the arena for the evening’s Nets game. Sean Stefanic of Brooklyn said he was there for the protest, not the game.

“The fact that we are not surprised by this is the reason I am here,” Stefanic, 37, said. “Because it is not surprising anymore, despite the past year, especially after the George Floyd tragedy.”

Saman Waquad, 38, of Woodside, Queens, said she worried the verdict would embolden counterprotesters to carry weapons.

“What does this mean for civil disobedience?” she asked. “Does it mean we cannot safely protest anymore?”

“I didn’t expect there to be full justice, but not guilty on all charges was a slap in the face,” she added. “If this was a black or brown kid, he or she would be dead right now.”

Ari Saffron, 23, of Queens, said the Rittenhouse trial had disillusioned him, exposing “that there is no such thing as an impartial justice system.”

By about 8pm, the crowd had grown to about 200 people when the protesters left the arena and began to march along Flatbush Avenue toward the Manhattan Bridge.

In Columbus, Ohio, about 100 protesters upset by the verdict marched and then gathered outside the statehouse, chanting “the whole damn system is guilty as hell” and “send that killer kid to jail,” according to video posted online by The Lantern, a student newspaper at Ohio State University. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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External investigation into Department ‘champagne party’ needed – Minister

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Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has called for an external investigation into a “champagne party” held by staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs staff in June 2020.

The gathering, which appeared to breach Covid-19 guidance in place at the time, was “inexcusable” and Minister Simon Coveney and his department have further questions to answer, the Fianna Fáil TD told Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One.

“Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency … it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland’s election onto the UN Security Council, and the image was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

Speaking on the same programme, Labour TD Duncan Smith said people were angered at the event because June 2020 was a bleak time for most people in Ireland. He said the public had seen other incidents where politicians and others were accused of breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

“These are the elites of society … what has really hurt people is that it really got to the ‘we are all in this together’ philosophy.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane agreed there needed to be an independent review of the matter, adding that Mr Coveney needed to come before an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil to gave a “frank and full account” of what happened.

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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