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Two men killed while pointing guns at the ground. Should police have waited?

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Two men killed while pointing guns at the ground. Should police have waited?

U.S. Airman Roger Fortson answers the door of his apartment on May 3, 2024, as captured by the body camera of the Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy responding to a report of a domestic disturbance. A split second later, the deputy fired at Fortson, killing him.

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The shootings of two men on opposite ends of the country this month have refocused attention on deadly force standards for police — and how officers should respond to the sight of a gun. In both cases, the men were fatally shot within moments, even as they held their weapons pointed down.

On May 3, “fourth-person” reports of a domestic disturbance at an apartment complex in Okaloosa County, Florida, brought a sheriff’s deputy to the front door of 23-year-old U.S. Airman Roger Fortson, who was alone in his apartment. The deputy’s body camera video shows him pausing to listen at Fortson’s closed door, then knocking, waiting, knocking and again and calling out, “Sheriff’s office, open the door!”

The door opens and Fortson comes into view: a slender African-American man dressed in jeans and standing barefoot on the tiles of his entryway. His left hand is coming up in an open-palm gesture; his right hand is holding a pistol. It’s held loosely, pointed at the floor. In the second it takes him to open the door, the deputy says, “Step back,” unholsters and draws his gun, and fatally shoots Fortson.

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“It wasn’t a good exchange, he never fired a weapon or anything,” says Benjamin Crump, an attorney. who represents Fortson’s family and appeared at the funeral. “He respected authority,” he says of Fortson.

The Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office initially called the shooting “self-defense,” but the case is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Ten days later, another man holding a gun pointed down was shot and killed by police during a domestic disturbance call, this time in Anchorage, Alaska. The morning after the shooting, Police Chief Bianca Cross said the man, Kristopher Handy, had “raised the long gun towards officers,” but a video released later by one of Handy’s neighbors appears to contradict that. It shows Handy outside the apartment building, walking toward officers with an apparent long gun held roughly parallel with his legs. Like Fortson, Handy was shot within moments of facing the police.

The Anchorage Police Department is investigating; Handy’s family is calling for the release of body camera videos of the incident.

Still image from YouTube video of the shooting of Kristopher Handy by Anchorage police on May 13, 2024

Kristopher Handy faces police during a domestic distburbance call in Anchorage, Alaska, moments before being shot. This image comes from a video recorded by a neighbor, who says Handy never pointed the long gun he was holding

Virginia Miller/YouTube

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The recent deaths have renewed questions about whether police are allowed to shoot someone who’s armed, but not pointing the weapon.

“There is no hard and fast rule as it relates to that,” says Rodney Bryant, a 34-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department, former chief, and now president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

“Sometimes you may have a person that’s not pointing that still may pose a significant threat to law enforcement officers,” Bryant says. “But… you can have a very similar situation and it’s clear the person is not a threat.”

No Hard And Fast Rule

What complicates matters for police is the science of human reaction times. At Washington State University, Stephen James runs a lab that studies this by running subjects — including police officers — through simulations. Those studies have demonstrated a two-to-three-second disadvantage for officers who wait to have a weapon pointed at them.

“There’s no way a human can see the weapon coming up, make a decision about whether or not it’s a threat, then decide to press the trigger and then the electrical signal has to go from the brain down the nervous system into the finger,” James says. “If you have to wait for all of that, the other person will get a shot off first.”

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Because of this lag, James says officers across the nation are trained that “action will beat reaction.”

But he says that’s not an excuse to preemptively shoot anyone holding a gun.

James also takes part in state-mandated reviews of police shootings, and he says police have to keep the law in mind, especially the1989 U.S. Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor, requiring an officer’s decision to shoot to be judged by a “reasonableness” standard.

“When we look at the totality of the circumstances, is the individual acting in a threatening manner? Are they being compliant or are they being defiant?” Even the location of the person could end up determining whether a shooting is justified.

“[In] the case in Florida, it was within the threshold of his own home. And that is absolutely protected by the Second Amendment as long as he could legally hold the firearm,” James says. “It’s very different when you’re out in public … and we don’t allow open carry of guns in schools, for example.”

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“It’s hard to train for this,” says Chief Bryant. He says he’s seen some departments that emphasize the research showing the time disadvantage for officers who wait; others emphasize the need to back up and de-escalate a potential confrontation, if there’s time.

What he has seen over three decades in policing, he says, is that officers are facing this situation more often, especially as states have legalized open carry. And it can take time for an officer to understand what’s happening.

“I’m arriving on the scene, and the person that’s taking the gun from one person — from the volatile person — is there intervening, and I pull up and they have the gun,” Bryant says. “I don’t know who’s who, but I challenge that person as well [to drop the gun],” he says.

“When you have the proliferation of weaponry that we’ve seen, you just encounter it more,” he says. “Seeing the gun will be very common, and we have to be prepared for that on both sides.”

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

Over the past nine months, Vietnam has hosted Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, balancing geopolitical rivalries with an élan that has eluded other countries.

The string of visits shows how a country adept at attracting manufacturing investment from companies eager to diversify their supply chains is adroitly managing its foreign policy.

By hosting Putin this week for his first visit since 2017, Vietnam, which has a long-standing independent and diversified foreign policy, joins the ranks of North Korea, Iran and China in opening its doors to a leader shunned globally after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s visit, which follows his trip to North Korea and comes less than a year after Washington and Hanoi upgraded their ties, has irked the US but is unlikely to disrupt relations. “Vietnam has played this game quite well,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Vietnam has been “actively neutral” unlike other countries that have been more passive, he said. “Hanoi knows it must actively balance different powers . . . because that’s the way for Vietnam to gain benefits from all three powers. Otherwise it would be drawn into political games without any ability to change the direction of the game.”

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Communist party-ruled Vietnam’s independent foreign policy dates back to the end of the cold war, when Hanoi decided to be a friend to all countries. Long-standing party chief Nguyen Phu Truong, the most senior political figure in Vietnam, calls this “bamboo diplomacy”, citing the plant’s “strong roots, stout trunk and flexible branches”.

Workers in Hanoi manufacturing Russian flags ahead of this week’s visit by Vladimir Putin © Thinh Nguyen/Reuters

Under his leadership, Vietnam has upgraded relations with the US and allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea to “comprehensive strategic partnerships”, the highest level of diplomatic ties afforded by Hanoi.

When Biden visited Hanoi last September, the US president hailed the move to upgrade the partnership as part of the 50-year “arc of progress” between the two former foes.

In recent years Vietnam has become a favoured destination for companies such as Apple as they look to diversify their supply chains away from China. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit $36.6bn last year.

Yet Vietnam has managed to achieve this without disrupting its ties with China, its largest trading partner, and Russia, its biggest arms supplier. The two have been strategic partners with Vietnam since 2008 and 2012, respectively.

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Three months after the Biden visit, Xi followed in his footsteps and the two communist neighbours agreed to build a “shared future” to strengthen their ties — despite disagreements and regular stand-offs between their ships in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and Beijing have overlapping claims.

Vietnam has been astute in navigating the relationship with China by striking the right balance “between defiance and deference”, said Susannah Patton, the Lowy Institute’s director of south-east Asia programme.

Vietnam has used its relationships with the US and Russia as a balance against China, she said. “Vietnam has benefited from its omnidirectional foreign policy stance and has made itself relevant to many partners.”

Vladimir Putin being greeted at Noi Bai International Airport
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is greeted at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday © Nhac Nguyen/AFP

Vietnam’s foreign policy direction has withstood recent domestic political upheaval — a result of a long-running corruption crackdown — and is unlikely to change even as geopolitical tensions rise.

Analysts said the Communist party was pragmatic about its foreign policy and understood the importance of having western allies, especially as it looked to cement its place as a crucial manufacturing hub.

At the same time, hosting Putin is a “matter of principle” for Vietnam to show the balance and diversity in its foreign policy, said Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and co-ordinator of the Vietnam studies programme at Iseas.

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The US has expressed disappointment at the visit but said its relationship with Vietnam would continue to strengthen.

“We reiterate that no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities. We cannot return to business as usual or turn a blind eye to the clear violations of international law Russia has committed in Ukraine,” a US state department spokesperson told the Financial Times.

Russia, the biggest supplier of military equipment including submarines to Hanoi, has been a close partner of Vietnam since the cold war. The two countries have run joint exploration projects for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese media has reported that Hanoi is seeking closer co-operation with Russia in natural resources, artificial intelligence, life sciences and energy. Putin is expected to meet Nguyen and other senior officials, with talks focusing on trade, economic and technological prospects, along with international and regional issues. It is unclear if any deals will be announced.

This week’s visit may ultimately prove more beneficial for Putin than for Vietnam, said Iseas’ Le, as it shows that doors still open for him. Vietnam might be cautious in announcing any major deals with Russia as it seeks to remain on good terms with the US and its allies.

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“Vietnam will be wise enough to make sure that the visit will not harm its relation with US and western partners,” said Le. “It has been able to maintain good ties with all the major powers, and that plays an important role in helping Vietnam attract investment from different partners.”

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday. Above, workers repaint a Ten Commandments billboard off of Interstate 71 near Chenoweth, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, the latest move from a GOP-dominated Legislature pushing a conservative agenda under a new governor.

The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

Opponents questioned the law’s constitutionality and vowed to challenge it in court. Proponents said the the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. In the language of the law, the Ten Commandments are “foundational documents of our state and national government.”

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The posters, which will be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing how the Ten Commandments “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries,” must be in place in classrooms by the start of 2025.

Under the law, state funds will not be used to implement the mandate. The posters would be paid for through donations.

The law also “authorizes” but does not require the display of other items in K-12 public schools, including: The Mayflower Compact, which was signed by religious pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and is often referred to as America’s “First Constitution”; the Declaration of Independence; and the Northwest Ordinance, which established a government in the Northwest Territory — in the present day Midwest — and created a pathway for admitting new states to the Union.

Not long after the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday, civil rights groups and organizations that want to keep religion out of government promised to file a lawsuit challenging it.

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The law prevents students from getting an equal education and will keep children who have different beliefs from feeling safe at school, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate,” the groups said.

The controversial law, in a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who replaced two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The GOP holds a supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push through a conservative agenda.

Similar bills requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms have been proposed in other states including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. However, with threats of legal battles over the constitutionality of such measures, no state besides Louisiana has succeeded in making the bills law.

Legal battles over the display of the Ten Commandments in classrooms are not new.

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In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional and violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The high court found that the law had no secular purpose but rather served a plainly religious purpose.

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Police investigating bets on the timing of the UK’s general election have arrested an officer from the team guarding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the claims.

London’s Metropolitan Police said an officer from its Royalty and Specialist Protection command had been held over “alleged bets”, without identifying whom the officer had been guarding.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed he had been part of Sunak’s protection detail.

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It is the first reported arrest since the Gambling Commission opened a probe into betting on the timing of the surprise election.

The investigation was launched after Craig Williams, a Conservative MP and aide to Sunak, admitted he had placed a wager on a July election shortly before the poll was announced.

The Met said on Wednesday that the Gambling Commission contacted it on Friday saying it was investigating “alleged bets” by a constable from the specialist unit “related to the timing of the general election”.

The force added: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties. The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office.”

The Met said the arrested officer had been taken into custody and bailed “pending further inquiries”. The matter had also been referred to the force watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, it added.

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The Met did not name the officer, in line with normal practice before anyone is charged.

Sunak aide Williams insisted when admitting laying his bet that the Gambling Commission’s investigation of the matter amounted to “some routine inquiries” with which he would “fully co-operate”. He remains the Conservative general election candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr in Wales.

The Guardian reported he had bet £100 on May 19 at odds of 5-1 that the election would be in July, at a time when it was not expected before the autumn. Sunak made his surprise announcement of a July 4 election on May 22.

The police officer is the only person known to have been arrested.

The Gambling Commission said it was investigating the “possibility” of offences concerning the date of the election.

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“This is an ongoing investigation, and the Commission cannot provide any further details at this time,” it said.

Additional reporting by Eri Sugiura

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