Justice Department Steps Up Hate Crime Prosecutions

With hate crimes on the rise, U.S. federal prosecutors have charged more than 40 people with bias-motivated crimes since January 2021, obtaining over 35 convictions, the Justice Department said Friday.   

Among those convicted were three white men found guilty by a jury in February in connection with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a young man who was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, in 2020.  

The department released the figures as officials marked the first anniversary of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and announced new measures to combat hate crimes. The law required the Justice Department to speed up a review of hate crime cases.    

The announcement comes less than a week after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people and injured three others at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. The Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.  

“No one in this country should have to fear the threat of hate-fueled violence,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a ceremony at the Justice Department. “The Justice Department will continue to use every resource at its disposal to confront unlawful acts of hate, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.”  

The number of reported hate crime prosecutions is up compared to recent years. A 2021 Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that federal prosecutors had charged an average of about 21 defendants and obtained an average of 19 hate crime convictions per year over a 15-year period. 

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department faced criticism for deprioritizing civil rights enforcement. Trump administration officials rebutted the charge, with the Justice Department’s top civil rights official stating in January 2021 that his division had brought the highest number of hate crime charges during Trump’s final year in office.

He did not provide a number. A Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to a VOA request for figures on hate crime prosecutions during the Trump administration.  

Federal law makes it a crime to target a victim because of their race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Criminal offenses prosecuted as hate crimes range from acts of violence to damage to a religious property.    

Most hate crimes are prosecuted at the state and local level, and federal prosecutors bring charges in exceptional circumstances. In fact, the vast majority of hate crime cases referred to the Justice Department do not get prosecuted.

A hate crime conviction carries harsh penalties. But hate crimes are difficult to prosecute. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove that the defendant was motivated by bias and not simply that the victim belonged to a protected class.   

Last year, hate crimes in 37 major U.S. cities increased by nearly 39%, with attacks on Asian and Jewish Americans accounting for the bulk of the increase, according to police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

In response to the surge in incidents, the Justice Department last year appointed an anti-hate crimes coordinator, tasked a top prosecutor to expedite a review of hate crime cases, and designated a civil rights coordinator in every U.S. attorney’s office in the country.   

In addition, Garland said the department is making use of its non-criminal tools to combat hate crimes. Along with the Department of Health and Human services, the Justice Department is issuing new guidance aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes and hate incidents; releasing $10 million in grant solicitations for new programs to create state-run hotlines and support community groups; and hiring the department’s first ever language access coordinator.  

“We know that language access is a key barrier to the reporting of hate crimes and hate incidents … and (the new official) will help improve knowledge, use, and expansion of the Department of Justice’s language resources,” Garland said.

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Chinese-Language Newspaper: Gunman Mailed Documents Before Attack

The man charged in a California church shooting, allegedly motivated by his political hatred for Taiwan, had mailed several documents to a Chinese-language newspaper before the incident, the newspaper reported.

On Wednesday, World Journal, the largest Chinese-language newspaper in the United States, reported that before Sunday’s shooting, David Chou, 68, mailed seven photocopied volumes of handwritten Chinese text and a flash drive to its Los Angeles branch. The documents, which were titled Diary of an Angel Destroying Independence, were received by the news outlet Monday.

World Journal said it did not report on the contents of the mailed materials, instead turning them over to Orange County police for its investigation. The Public Affairs Office of the Orange County Police Department told VOA Mandarin by phone on Wednesday that “we are aware and investigating” the materials.

Chou has been charged with one count of first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of possession of an explosive device, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said on Tuesday. Policy said Chou drove to Orange County in Southern California on Saturday, and on Sunday attended a lunch held by senior parishioners of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church before he opened fire, killing one and injuring five.

Chou, who lived in Las Vegas, was a U.S. citizen whom authorities said grew up in Taiwan. On Monday, Orange County police said Chou was motivated by anti-Taiwan hatred.

China considers self-ruled Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to reunify the two sides.

The FBI said it has opened a federal hate crime investigation into the case.

The Orange County Register reported that an April 3, 2019, article in the Las Vegas Chinese News Network showed Chou had attended the inaugural meeting of the Las Vegas Chinese for Peaceful Unification. The organization aims to promote the peaceful unification of mainland China and Taiwan. “Asking for peace from Beijing, and asking for unification from Taiwan,” its slogan says.

Gu Yawen, the president of Las Vegas Chinese Peaceful Unification, denied to VOA that Chou has any relationship with her organization.

“We don’t have any ties with him,” she told VOA via phone Tuesday. “He did come to our inauguration and came on the stage to promote his book in support of then-presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu, but that’s about it.”

Han was the presidential candidate for the pro-unification Kuomintang (KMT) party in the 2020 Taiwan election.

Gu said that because Chou made a brief remark on that day, some reporters thought he was one of the group’s members. “But he’s not. I’ve talked with him before. His thoughts were too extreme to be involved in our mission,” she told VOA.

However, in a separate interview Tuesday with China Review News, Gu said that “Chou hadn’t participated in any of our activities since the latter half of 2019, and since then he was no longer a member.”

Gu also stressed that her organization has no relationship with the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, a semi-official organization of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, with the mission of promoting unification between mainland China and Taiwan.  

Gu told VOA that Chou’s extreme thoughts came from his anti-Taiwan political stance. She also suggested he has had troubles in his personal life.

“His opposition to Taiwan independence is true. His political stance, coupled with the fact that (he) had been relatively unhappy in his personal life, might have led to his extreme thinking,” she said.

The local Las Vegas Chinese News Network reported that Chou was attacked in 2012. According to the report, Chou was the owner of 12 condominiums in Las Vegas and was attacked in April 2012 by a man and woman when he was collecting rent. The attack left him deaf in his right ear.

Balmore Orellana, Chou’s neighbor in Las Vegas, told local media that Chou was “a sweet old man whose life started to fall apart over the last year or so.”

He said Chou was in fact the owner of their apartment building, but last year it sold for less than he hoped. Judi Rock, his realtor, told local media that at the same time as the sale took place, Chou’s wife was dying of cancer.

The authorities said that while Chou was motivated by political hatred for Taiwan, he chose the church California at random and didn’t know anyone there.

Gu, from the Las Vegas branch of National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification, questioned that statement. “If he’s just anti-Taiwan, we have a Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas as well. Why would he drive all the way” to Laguna Woods, California, she asked. “I think there might be someone at the church that he had a feud with.”

Wei Bizhou, deputy editor in chief at the World Journal North America, told VOA Mandarin that the choice fits perfectly with Chou’s hatred toward Taiwan independence.

“This is because the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church has deep roots with Tainan Theological College and Seminary, which has been promoting Taiwan independence,” he said. “So I don’t think the police can conclude he chose the church at random.”

The Presbyterian Church is the most prominent of the Christian dominations in Taiwan.

Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Fairbanks Center for China Studies, told local media that the Presbyterian church in Taiwan is known for supporting the pro-independence movement.

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Rosmarie Trapp, Whose Family Inspired ‘Sound of Music,’ Dies

Rosmarie Trapp, whose Austrian family the von Trapps was made famous in the musical and beloved movie “The Sound of Music,” has died.

She died Friday at the age of 93 at a nursing home in Morrisville, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge announced. Her brother Johannes is president of the Stowe resort.

Rosmarie was the first daughter of Austrian naval Capt. Georg von Trapp and Maria von Trapp, and a younger half-sibling to the older von Trapp children portrayed on stage and in the movie. The family escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 and performed singing tours throughout Europe and America. They settled in Vermont in the early 1940s and opened a ski lodge in Stowe.

“She traveled and performed with the Trapp Family Singers for many years, and worked at the Trapp Family Lodge in its infancy when the family first began hosting guests in their home,” Trapp Family Lodge said in a statement.

“Her kindness, generosity, and colorful spirit were legendary, and she had a positive impact on countless lives,” the statement said. 

“The Sound of Music,” was based loosely on a 1949 book by Maria von Trapp. Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp, had seven children. After his first wife died, Georg married Maria, who taught the children music.

Georg and Maria von Trapp had three more children, Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes, who were not portrayed in the movie. Eleonore “Lorli” von Trapp Campbell died in October in Northfield, Vermont.

When she became a U.S. citizen in 1951, she signed her name as Rosmarie Trapp, leaving out von, according to the lodge.

Rosmarie worked for five years as a missionary and teacher in Papua New Guinea with her sister Maria, her relatives said. In Stowe, she was known for walking everywhere, frequently pulling her purchases home in a wagon or cart. She also wrote frequent letters to the local newspaper, where she was given her own space, “Rosmarie’s Corner,” for her stories, they said. She led sing-alongs, knitting circles, spun wool, owned multiple thrift shops and loved to teach people to sing, they said.

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Southern California Lures Tiny Fish for Moonlit Sex in the Sand

When the moon is bright, and the tide is right, schools of small fish eager to spawn are propelled ashore by the surf to turn southern California’s beaches into a breeding ground during the spring and early summer. Titi Tran has the story for VOA

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Interview: Pastor Billy Chang Describes California Church Shooting

A gunman, allegedly motivated by a political hatred of Taiwan, opened fire on Taiwanese members of a Presbyterian church in Southern California Sunday, killing one person and injuring five others. 

Former Pastor Billy Chang was at the service in Laguna Hills, California. He spoke with VOA’s Mandarin service and described the attack Sunday, which started as members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church were having lunch. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chang pastored Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian for 21 years and left in 2020 to lead a church in Taiwan. Chang, who had recently returned from Taiwan, was the guest of honor at Sunday’s lunch, according to local media.

Authorities have charged the suspect, David Chou, of Las Vegas, with 10 counts in the attack, including one count of first-degree homicide. 

Police said Chou drove to Orange County in Southern California on Saturday, and on Sunday attended a lunch held by senior parishioners of Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian before he opened fire. 

John Cheng, a church member, charged Chou, allowing other church members to act. Chang said he picked up a chair and threw it at Chou, who fell on the floor. Chang said he and several other church members rushed Chou, holding him down and tying him up until authorities arrived. 

Cheng was shot and killed during the attack.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

VOA: Can you tell us your story with the church and what happened on the day of the shooting? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: I flew back to the U.S. from Taiwan on May 9. Because I have been friends with the brothers and sisters in the church for over 20 years, they were very happy and hoped to see me. Their current pastor also kindly invited me to do a sermon on Sunday, May 15. I was happy to see a lot of people on that day. Then we had a worship service at 11 a.m. and a Sunday school at 11:30 a.m. This time, I shared my good experiences in Taiwan over the past two years. I was away for so long and I had many feelings to share. Then, we went to have lunch. 

Before that Sunday, the church would always provide a box lunch. After they finished Sunday school, people would go to the social hall to get a box lunch and eat at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This time, because I recently returned and the pandemic seemed to be slowing down in the U.S., the church announced it would have a special welcome party, and if people were willing to stay, we could set up a dozen round tables in the social hall and have extra food. About 100 people chose to stay and we ate together around 12:30 p.m. 

After lunch, some people asked to take pictures with me, so we moved to a stage at the front of the social hall. The stage in the hall is quite modern and not very high off the ground. People stood there, one after another, to take photos with me in groups of four to 10. 

It was around 1 p.m. when I heard gunshots. I can’t remember the exact time. I had no idea what was happening outside. When I turned my head and looked to my right, about 10 steps away, there was a man I didn’t recognize. He was dressed like a security guard. It was later confirmed that he was a licensed security officer, so he had equipment. He was wearing tactical gear like someone escorting an armored car. He started shooting and the sound was very loud as the social hall is an enclosed space that echoes. Everyone, including myself, was startled. Maybe at first, I did not realize the danger we were in. I thought it was a joke, a prank, someone playing with a toy gun to scare people. 

But after he fired three or four shots, I was shocked. Because he was shooting fast and kept shooting, I just stood there and felt that something was wrong. I turned my head to see that all my brothers and sisters were on the ground, hiding under the tables, and some of them were trying to escape. 

It seemed like he shot where there was something moving. I felt this was not right and needed to be stopped. We have a majority of older people in the church. I am not that young, but I felt I had to act. When I saw that his gun was not aimed at me, I felt like he was going to change bullets. I am not very familiar with guns, but he already had shot the gun nine or 10 times. 

So, I ran over. I grabbed a chair and threw it at him. He probably didn’t expect anyone to attack him. He was shocked, falling to the floor, and he dropped the gun. I quickly pinned him down. I was afraid he would pick up the gun again because the gun was on his left-hand side and still within his reach. I pinned down his hands and head. I said, “Hurry up, come and help me hold him.” Three parishioners helped me to pin his neck. 

Only then I saw that there was someone lying just in front of us, Dr. [John] Cheng. I could see that he was very badly wounded because he wasn’t moving at all, and it was very clear to see the blood on his back. My wife, Yu Ling, came over and quickly removed the gun, but I did not know if he had another gun. Later, they [the police] said he also had a gun strapped to his leg … that he had two guns. I don’t know if he had an accomplice, so my wife hid the gun in the refrigerator in the kitchen. We couldn’t find any ropes, so we used an orange electrical cord to tie up his legs and then we called 911. The police arrived in 10 minutes, and they took control of the situation. 

It was Dr. Cheng’s first time to come to the church. He was accompanying his mother, and I didn’t recognize him at first. He was lying on the floor, face down, and so I didn’t immediately realize that he was his mother’s son. She was taking pictures with me on stage. After the scene was under control, she couldn’t find her son, and then when she turned around, she cried, “That’s my son, that’s my son.”

Later, we found out that the murderer was preparing for a massacre. When he was locking the door, some of our parishioners saw him and thought that he was security who had come to lock the door, because we had rented this place and we had to leave by 1 or 2 p.m. There were two entrances that he had managed to lock, but there was also one in the kitchen that he probably didn’t know about. Some people escaped from that door and called 911. On one of the main entrances, he used chains to lock the door and he nailed the other door to the parking lot shut. I later heard that the keyholes were also sealed with super glue. 

VOA: Did the shooter say anything while he was there?  

Former Pastor Billy Chang: He didn’t speak a word or shout, that’s why I thought it was a joke and it was a toy gun, and other people thought the sound was a balloon popping. After he was subdued by us, he only spoke one sentence, that’s how I realized he was Chinese. At first some people thought he was from the Middle East. I knew he was Chinese when he said, “I can’t breathe” in Chinese, probably because someone was holding his neck, and then they loosened up a bit so the gunman could breathe. 

VOA: When the shooter arrived at the church on that day, did any parishioners see him or have any interaction with him? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: I heard that he had come in during our worship. Our receptionist asked him to leave his name so that we could welcome him to our service, but he said he had been to the service before, and so he didn’t leave his name. Some of the church’s parishioners are very enthusiastic and every week they bring last week’s newspaper to give away for free. I heard the shooter took a Chinese newspaper and read it during the service. He didn’t seem to be serious about the worship service, and then he left. When he showed up again, that is when the shooting happened. 

VOA: Do we know anything about why the shooter drove from Las Vegas to Irvine, California, specifically to target this church? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: Now that I think about it, he didn’t just do it randomly, he had a plan. I don’t know if he had relatives or friends in Irvine or around Orange County, but he probably knew that our church was one of the more crowded Taiwanese-speaking churches. I don’t think he only started to prepare on the day of the shooting. He brought chains and explosives, so he had already planned the attack. He had observed us, maybe he had even been here before. He may have picked us because he wanted to slaughter the most people possible. If I had not subdued him, I think there would be a dozen, or even a hundred people wounded or dead. 

These days there are many people who wonder if our church is preaching about Taiwanese independence or Taiwan politics. I welcome everyone to read about us on our church website. Whether it is Pastor [Albany] Lee or me, we all are preaching the gospel of God. We spread love, peace, charity, compassion and inclusion. 

VOA: Now we know the motive for this crime is politically related. Are you surprised? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: In fact, this reflects the horrible situation Taiwan faces right now geopolitically, the threat of Chinese military. … [China considers self-ruled Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to reunify the two sides.] We very much hope that the international community can pay attention to it, from the security of individuals to Taiwan as a whole. At least we need to be able to defend ourselves, like we did with the chair, and not to be treated in such a ferocious way. 

VOA: We know that there is not much interaction between Taiwan’s pro-independence community and Taiwan’s pro-unification community in the U.S. What do you think will happen between the two communities after the shooting? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: Honestly, I worry that confrontation between Taiwan’s pro-independence groups and Taiwan’s pro-unification groups will become more severe, and it is unfortunate that this incident happened. I hope that in Taiwan’s society we can have different political positions and be tolerant of each other. We really are one island, one life. If there is an external force to invade us, no one will be spared from such a tragic end, so we hope to learn from this incident to respect each other and to not use this incident to instigate confrontation. 

VOA: The suspect is facing 10 counts in the attack, including one count of first-degree murder. If you had the chance to see the gunman again, what would you say to him? 

Former Pastor Billy Chang: The victim has already sacrificed his life, no matter what, using the murderer’s life to pay for his life would not be able to heal the grief in our hearts. Of course, justice needs to be done, and I hope that justice will be used to let everyone know that this kind of act is unacceptable to the whole of society. As for the murderer, I really can’t understand what kind of message he wants to send, because he can hate some innocent elders and kill such a peaceful group for his political philosophy. He wanted to exterminate all of us. If I take a step back and think about it, if I advocate that Taiwan should become independent, is this a capital crime? Is this an unforgivable sin that must lead to the death of the other party? If I think that if I want to love someone, I must pay the price of life. What is the reasoning behind this? I don’t understand his logic and I have no words to say to him.

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Наша зброя для України інколи надходить менш ніж за добу – посольство США

США «ще ніколи в історії не перекидали обладнання так швидко і у таких масштабах до будь-якої іншої країни»

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Єврокомісія надала Україні 600 млн євро і запропонувала додатковий кредит

Єврокомісія запропонувала Україні додатковий кредит розміром 9 млрд євро, каже Урсула фон дер Ляєн

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US Senate Approves $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Package

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine as the country combats Russia’s invasion. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the package last week.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure promptly.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday that the Senate passage of the aid package was “a manifestation of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom.”

In another development Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration is authorizing $100 million more in military aid to Ukraine. The package of aid includes 18 more howitzers and 18 vehicles to move them, and three more anti-artillery radars, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday hundreds more Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, bringing the total this week to 1,730.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement Thursday it was registering fighters who left Azovstal, an operation that began Tuesday.

“The ICRC is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” the organization said.

“The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative. This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families,” it said.

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian account of the number of Ukrainian fighters who have surrendered at the last holdout in Mariupol. Ukraine has expressed hopes that the soldiers can be part of a prisoner swap with Russia, while Russia’s main investigative body said it intends to interrogate them and determine if any were involved in crimes against civilians.

The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine.

With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troop withdrawal.”

“Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday there have been no major gains by either Russia or Ukraine in the previous day, although Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” north and northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city.

The official did not dispute a British intelligence assessment that top Russian military commanders have been fired.

“We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” the U.S. official said, adding that the U.S. had nothing to share about “senior, senior levels” of the Russian command.

Russian logistical and troop morale issues are continuing, the official said.

The Pentagon announced that the top U.S. military officer, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone Thursday with Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the first conversation between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

“The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” a Milley spokesperson said. “In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private.”

Russia’s RIA news agency said the two military leaders discussed issues of “mutual interest,” including Ukraine.

Also Thursday, Ukraine welcomed the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador. The U.S. Senate gave its approval to Bridget Brink, a veteran foreign service officer who had been the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia.

The ambassadorial post in Ukraine had been vacant since 2019 when then-President Donald Trump forced out Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Brink’s confirmation came as the United States also resumed operations at its embassy in Kyiv, joining other nations that have returned since Russian forces withdrew from the area around the Ukrainian capital.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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ISW: Росія намагається відновити контроль над деякими населеними пунктами на Харківщині

За даними Харківської ОВА, війська РФ основні зусилля зосередили на утриманні зайнятих рубежів. Також намагаються проводити контратаки, але безуспішно.

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‘How Dare You!’: Grief, Anger From Buffalo Victims’ Kin

Relatives of the 10 Black people massacred in a Buffalo supermarket pleaded with the nation Thursday to confront and stop racist violence, their agony pouring out in the tears of a 12-year-old child, hours after the white man accused in the killings silently faced a murder indictment in court.

Jaques “Jake” Patterson, who lost his father, covered his face with his hands as his mother spoke at a news conference. Once she finished, Jake collapsed into the arms of the Rev. Al Sharpton, the veteran civil rights activist, and cried silently, using his T-shirt to wipe his tears.

“His heart is broken,” said his mother, Tirzah Patterson, adding that her son was having trouble sleeping and eating.

“As a mother, what am I supposed to do to help him get through this?” she said.

Her ex-husband, Heyward Patterson, a 67-year-old church deacon, was gunned down Saturday at Tops Friendly Market. So was Robin Harris’s 86-year-old mother and best friend, Ruth Whitfield, on a day when they were supposed to go see the touring Broadway show Ain’t Too Proud.

“That racist young man took my mother away,” Harris said, trembling and stomping her feet as she spoke.

“How dare you!” Harris shouted.

“I need this violence to stop,” she added. “We need to fix this, and we need to fix it now.”

Earlier in the day in another part of town, Payton Gendron, 18, appeared briefly in court to hear that he was indicted in the killings.

“Payton, you’re a coward!” someone shouted the courtroom gallery as he was led away.

Gendron, whose lawyer entered a not guilty plea for him at an earlier court appearance, didn’t speak. His attorneys later declined to comment. He is being held without bail and is due back in court June 9.

Authorities are investigating the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges against Gendron, who apparently detailed his plans for the assault and his racist motivation in hundreds of pages of writings he posted online shortly before the shooting. It was livestreamed from a helmet-mounted camera.

“We need to hold all that have aided and abetted the hate in this country accountable,” Sharpton said at the news conference outside Buffalo’s Antioch Baptist Church. The civil rights activist’s group, the National Action Network, plans to cover funeral expenses for those killed.

The carnage at the Tops supermarket was unsettling even in a nation that has become almost numb to mass shootings. Thirteen people were shot in total, all but two of them Black. Gendron’s online writings said he planned the assault after becoming infatuated with white supremacist ideology he encountered online.

“I constantly think about what could have been done,” Mark Talley said at the families’ news conference, holding a photo of his slain mother, Geraldine Talley, 62. Her fiancé, who survived the shooting, saw her get shot to death, her son said.

Inaction on the threat of white supremacist violence, Talley said, led to last weekend’s bloodshed.

“It’s like Groundhog Day. We’ve seen this over and over again,” he said.

Stephen Belongia, the FBI’s lead agent in Buffalo, said at a news briefing that agents were still working to piece together Gendron’s motives and how he came to his extremist views. Investigators have been examining the online documents, which included a private diary on the chat platform Discord.

The diary said Gendron planned his attack in secret, with no outside help. A half-hour before opening fire, he invited a small group of people to see his writings, Discord said.

Fifteen Discord users accepted, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

It wasn’t clear how quickly those people saw what he’d written or whether any tried to alert law enforcement.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has authorized the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate whether social media companies that Gendron used were liable for “providing a platform to plan and promote violence.”

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Thursday that social media users can also play a role by speaking up when they see people posting violent or threatening content.

“You need to out these people,” he said at a briefing. “Expose those that are putting out those types of extreme views, and let us root them out.”

At the families’ news conference, Tirzah Patterson had another request.

“I need the village to help me raise and be here for my son,” she said, asking people to pray “that God gives us strength to go through this.”

“We are the village,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump chanted, encouraging the other victims’ family members to join in. 

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Війська РФ вчора зазнали найбільших втрат на Бахмутському напрямку – Генштаб ЗСУ

У війні проти України Росія втратила 28700 своїх військових, зокрема 200 за останню добу.

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Biden to Highlight US Chip Production in South Korea

President Joe Biden opens his trip to Asia with a focus on the U.S. tech sector, touring a Samsung computer chip plant Friday that will serve as model for a $17 billion semiconductor factory that the Korean electronics company is building outside Austin, Texas.

The visit is also a nod to one of Biden’s key domestic priorities of increasing the supply of computer chips. A semiconductor shortage last year hurt the availability of autos, kitchen appliances and other goods. This supply crunch caused higher inflation that has crippled Biden’s public approval and caused his administration to focus on increasing domestic manufacturing.

Biden will grapple with a multitude of foreign policy issues during his six-day visit to South Korea and Japan, but he also crafted an itinerary clearly meant to tend to the concerns of his home audience as well.

Previewing the trip aboard Air Force One, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Samsung’s investment in Texas will mean “good-paying jobs for Americans and, very importantly, it will mean more supply chain resilience.”

Greeting Biden at the plant in South Korea will be the country’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. Yoon is a political newcomer who became president, his first elected office, slightly more than a week ago. He campaigned on taking a tougher stance against North Korea and strengthening the 70-year alliance with the U.S.

Part of the computer chip shortage is the result of strong demand as much of the world emerged from the coronavirus pandemic. But coronavirus outbreaks and other challenges also caused the closure of semiconductor plants. U.S. government officials have estimated that chip production will not be at the levels they would like until early 2023.

Global computer chip sales totaled $151.7 billion during the first three months of this year, a 23% jump from the same period in 2021, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

More than 75% of global chip production comes from Asia. That’s a possible vulnerability the U.S. hopes to protect against through more domestic production and government investment in the sector through a bill being negotiated in Congress.

The risk of Chinese aggression against Taiwan could possibly cut off the flow of high-end computer chips that are needed in the U.S. for military gear as well as consumer goods. Similarly, the hermetic North Korea has been test-firing ballistic missiles amid a coronavirus outbreak, a possible risk to South Korea’s manufacturing sector should the brinksmanship escalate.

In terms of chip production, China leads the global pack with a 24% share, followed by Taiwan (21%), South Korea (19%) and Japan (13%). Only 10% of chips are made in the U.S., according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Samsung announced the Texas-based plant in November of last year. It hopes to begin operations in the second half of 2024. The South Korean electronics giant chose the site based on a number of factors, including government incentives and the “readiness and stability” of local infrastructure.

In addition to Samsung, Biden has also been highlighting in his recent speeches an announcement by the U.S. firm Intel to build a semiconductor plant near Columbus, Ohio.

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US Congress Passes $40B in Military, Humanitarian Aid for Ukraine

The US Senate passed a $40 billion bill Thursday that provides humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. After a week of delay, the vote means President Joe Biden will be able to sign the bill into law just as billions in aid passed earlier this year runs out. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more.
Producer: Katherine Gypson

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У Росії заявляють про обстріл Курської області та водночас обладнують там вогневі позиції

За даними Генштабу ЗСУ, російські війська обладнують додаткові вогневі позиції і захисні споруди у прикордонних районах Брянської та Курської областей.

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Biden Supports Sweden, Finland’s Bids to Join NATO

President Joe Biden on Thursday enthusiastically welcomed bids by Finland and Sweden to join NATO – expanding the security alliance to include two of Europe’s most modern militaries right on Russia’s northwest border. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from the White House.

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Ballot Fiasco Delays Results in Oregon, Vote-by-Mail Pioneer 

Thousands of ballots with blurry barcodes that can’t be read by vote-counting machines will delay results by weeks in a key U.S. House race in Oregon’s primary election, a shocking development that is giving a black eye to a vote-by-mail pioneer state with a national reputation as a leader on voter access and equity. 

The fiasco affects up to 60,000 ballots, or two-thirds of the roughly 90,000 returned so far in Oregon’s third-largest county. Hundreds of ballots were still coming in under a new law that allows them to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, and 200 Clackamas County employees were getting a crash course Thursday in vote-counting after being redeployed to address the crisis. 

Elections workers must pull the faulty ballots from batches of 125, transfer the voter’s intent to a fresh ballot, then double-check their entries — a painstaking process that could draw the election out until June 13, when Oregon certifies its vote. The workers operate in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican, in two shifts of 11 hours a day. 

Voters from both political parties milled about in a narrow room with windows that allowed views of workers opening ballots, transferring votes, reviewing flagged ballots and using the vote-counting machines. They expressed shock at the error and anger at the slow reaction by Elections Clerk Sherry Hall, who has held the elected post for nearly 20 years. By Wednesday night, workers had counted 15,649. 

“It blows my mind,” said Ron Smith, a Clackamas County voter. “It’s a little bit questionable. That’s why I’m here. … With all that’s going on, we don’t need extra suspicion. It seems like something like that would have been tested correctly at the beginning of this whole entire process.” 

The debacle has stunned Oregon, where all ballots have been cast only by mail for 23 years and lawmakers have consistently pushed to expand voter access through automatic voter registration, expanded deadlines and other measures. It’s also thrown into question a key U.S. House race in a redrawn district that includes a large portion of Clackamas County, which stretches nearly 5,180 square kilometers, from Portland’s liberal southern suburbs to rural conservative communities on the flanks of Mount Hood. 

Key race

In the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, seven-term Representative Kurt Schrader, a moderate, was trailing in the vote behind progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The outcome could have an outsized impact in November, with the possibility that voters could flip the seat for the GOP. 

Hall said the problem came to light May 3, when workers put the first ballots returned through the vote-counting machine. About 70 or 80 ballots from each batch of 125 were spat out as unreadable because their barcodes were more faint and slightly blurred. It was too late to print and mail new ballots, she said. 

Hall said that as Election Day approached and ballots stacked up, she allowed elections workers to take the weekend off because just three people signed up to work Saturday or Sunday.  

“We have people mostly between the ages of 70 and 85” and they need rest, she said.

The secretary of state’s office said Hall declined help, saying Clackamas County could handle the situation. Hall told The Associated Press several county workers were assigned to the ballot problem May 11, a week after it surfaced. 

Kathy Selvaggio, who lives in the county’s more urban and affluent suburbs, peered through the windows Thursday to watch the vote tally. 

“Mail-in voting works, it works well here, but it does undermine my faith in [Hall],” said Selvaggio, who was there as a volunteer for the McLeod-Skinner campaign. 

Hall said her department has discussed running test ballots from the printer before they were mailed out, but that her office had used the printer in question for 10 years with no issues. 

“There’s lots of other tasks to do,” Hall, who is up for reelection in November, told AP. “I hate the fact that this happened with our ballots. It’s horrible. We need to be building trust with voters and this is not a trustworthy piece, but we are doing what we can.” 

It’s not the first time Hall has come under fire in her elections role. In 2012, a temporary election worker was sentenced to 90 days in jail after admitting she tampered with two ballots. In 2014, Hall was criticized for using the phrase “Democrat Party” — a pejorative used by Republicans to demean Democrats — on a primary ballot instead of Democratic Party. 

‘Unacceptable’

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said she was “deeply concerned” by the most recent situation and her office issued a statement Tuesday calling the delay “unacceptable.” But state elections officials said Thursday that they had little authority over local county elections officials. 

State law does not require county elections officials to run proof ballots through their machines before mailing them. Christopher Stout, an associate professor of political science at Oregon State University, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see legislation to change that. 

“I think all of these problems, of course, are bad in the short term,” he said. “But in the long term, they’ll lead to improvements, because people will see that those things are problems and they’ll find ways to make it better.”

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Memorial Celebrating WWII Alliances Resonates as Ukraine War Simmers 

More than 70 years ago the United States launched a massive reconstruction effort to help rebuild Europe following the end of the Second World War. This week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin said Ukraine will need similar assistance, as the U.S. Congress prepares to approve $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Kyiv.

“Eventually, Ukraine will need massive support and private investment for reconstruction and recovery, akin to the task of rebuilding in Europe after 1945,” Yellin told an audience in Brussels Tuesday.

The Marshall Plan, officially known as the European Recovery Plan, was put in place in 1948 by the U.S. government. It is credited with generating a resurgence of postwar European industrialization and investment. 

  

“Europe was devastated economically, and the economic aid that [the U.S.] provided helped us to build up our society again, to invest in education, in roads, in creating jobs again for the people, so the economy started to grow again, thanks to the Marshall Plan,” Andre Haspels, Dutch ambassador to the United States, told VOA.

Haspels spoke on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Netherlands this month rededicating a memorial in Washington that celebrates the alliance, which won the war and then helped rebuild Europe.

Located less than 500 feet from the iconic U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima memorial, a tall steel bell tower with a bronze finish known as the Netherlands Carillon was a gift from the Dutch government in the 1950s. Newly unveiled after an extensive three-year renovation in Europe, the bell tower thanks Americans for helping to liberate the country from Nazi occupation and for providing reconstruction assistance.

Haspels said the May 5 ceremony, which corresponds with Liberation Day in the Netherlands, was as much a presentation of a fully restored carillon as a reinforcement of the ideas and ideals behind it.  

“The carillon, it’s also a symbol,” Haspels pointed out, adding that his country wanted to ensure that not only the instrument is tuned, the structure is solid, but younger generations are aware of “how important the transatlantic relationship is.”

“We have added three new bells to the existing carillon, so it went up from 50 bells to 53,” making it officially a grand carillon, Haspel said.

The three new bells were named after George Marshall, the architect of the U.S. recovery plan, Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt.

While King and Roosevelt symbolize commitment to civil liberty for all in the United States, the name George Marshall serves as a reminder of what is needed to build up a postwar nation in the Netherlands and all around the globe.

“The carillon is important—it shows the commitment to freedom and to liberty,” Haspels said.

That commitment is what Ukraine values now more than ever, said Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., who was invited to address the unveiling ceremony.

“Ukrainians, like Dutch people, like to grow things,” she said, describing her countrymen as “peaceful bread growers” forced to “put aside peaceful tools and fight for our freedom.”

Freedom, which Markarova called an essential feature of life with dignity, is closely tied to democracy: “something we all need in order to be who we are, in order to live peacefully in our own countries, in order to decide who we want to be, what we want to be, what government we want to elect, and change regularly.”

Echoing the Netherlands’ message of gratitude for the help it received in times of need, both to be freed from oppressors and reconstructed, Markarova said her country is grateful “towards all friends, partners and allies.”

“Because you cannot win wars today, like you couldn’t win wars in the previous century, without those who share your values and principles,” she said, calling for additional help from the United States, the Netherlands and other countries.

The reason is quite simple, she said. “Because we need to win.” 

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Oklahoma Passes US’s Most Restrictive Abortion Ban

Oklahoma’s Legislature gave final approval Thursday to another Texas-style anti-abortion bill that providers say will be the most restrictive in the nation once the governor signs it.

The bill is part of an aggressive push in Republican-governed states across the country to scale back abortion rights. It comes on the heels of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that suggests justices are considering weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago.

The bill by Republican Rep. Wendi Stearman would prohibit all abortions, except to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement.

“Is our goal to defend the right to life or isn’t it?” Stearman asked her colleagues before the bill passed on a 73-16 vote mostly along party lines.

The bill is one of at least three anti-abortion bills sent this year to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has indicated he’ll sign it. Another Texas-style abortion bill that prohibits the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo, which experts say is about six weeks, has taken effect and has dramatically curtailed the practice in Oklahoma. Another bill set to take effect this summer would make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest.

“At this point, we are preparing for the most restrictive environment politicians can create: a complete ban on abortion with likely no exceptions,” said Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which stopped providing abortions at two of its Oklahoma clinics after the six-week ban took effect earlier this month.

Like the Texas law, the Oklahoma bill would allow private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.

There are legal challenges pending in Oklahoma to both the bill to criminalize abortion and the six-week Texas ban, but the courts have so far failed to stop either measure.

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