Rio De Janeiro, Aug 10 (AP/UNB) — An 18-year-old student was killed Friday in Rio de Janeiro, hit by a stray bullet on his way to school, the latest victim of the city's violence.
The stray bullet reportedly came from a shooting in the nearby Morro do Borel slug, in the north of the city. The bullet hit Alvares in the torso while he was waiting for the bus that would take him to school.
The military police said in a statement that members of a local police unit were shot at by criminals but the officers did not shoot back. Some residents, however, told The Associated Press there was an exchange of gunfire between criminals and the police.
Dozens of angry residents of Morro do Borel blocked the road where Alves died.
"This has to stop!" shouted Jaiane Cristina, a cousin of Alves' mother who was standing a few meters (yards) from where he was shot. Some held signs saying "Another innocent death."
Alves is one of 110 people hit by stray bullets in the Rio metropolitan area so far this year, according to data from Fogo Cruzado, a group that monitors shootings in the area. Thirty-one of those people have died, it said.
In the first six months of the year, Fogo Cruzado recorded 4,169 shootings, or about 23 a day.
"I imagine going to work and receiving a phone call telling me my son was found dead on the street. I don't want this for my son, I don't want this for anyone," Cristina yelled.
Tensions eventually rose between the protesters and police officers, who used tear gas to disperse the small crowd.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, was elected last year on a promise to tackle epidemic violence in Brazil and to crack down on criminals.
New York, Aug 10 (AP/UNB) — Companies like Guard Dog Security, TuffyPacks and Bullet Blocker are peddling bullet-resistant backpacks for children in time for the back-to-school shopping season. But critics argue they are using tragedy as a marketing opportunity and exploiting parents' worst fears.
Safety is high on the minds of many parents, especially after two back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio that left 31 people dead.
"Times have changed," said Yasir Sheikh, founder and president of Skyline USA, which makes Guard Dog Security products like pepper spray and stun guns and started offering bullet-resistant backpacks called ProShield Scout for children last year. "Our product is in response to that. It's a sad reality."
Sheikh said the bullet-resistant backpacks are very popular and sold out several times after the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 people dead.
Steve Naremore founded Houston-based TuffyPacks in late 2015 after his daughter, a fourth-grade teacher, told him about the frequency of active shooting drills for her students. His company produces some bullet-resistant backpacks but the bulk of his business is in removable ballistic shields that are inserted in backpacks.
Naremore says his backpacks could be the difference between suffering "lethal versus non lethal" injuries.
"It acts as a defensive shield, "said Naremore, noting sales of the shields tripled in the days after the mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso last week that killed at least 22 people.
But some parents question the motives behind such companies.
"The only people enjoying it are the people selling the backpacks," says Ponnell Scroggins of Milwaukee, a father of six children, ages 3 to 14. "They're making plenty of money right now. And they're doing it off of something that was very unfortunate."
TuffyPacks markets its products on its website with mass shootings in mind: "Are you and your family protected in the event of a school or workplace shooting? Be prepared for the worst situation with the industry's best ballistic shields!"
And its backpacks don't come cheap. TuffyPacks' shields range in price from $129 to $149. Skyline's ProShield Scout backpacks are priced at $119, although it's less than the adult version that tops at $199.
Some also cast doubt on the backpacks' safety and how much they can really protect children.
Both Guard Dog Security and TuffyPacks claim their products are tested in independent labs in line with the standards for the National Institute of Justice and meet the requirements for a Level IIIA rating. That means the shields can thwart a 9-millimeter handgun and a .44 magnum. Naremour says it's like wearing a police vest.
But the National Institute of Justice — the research, development and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice that comes up with the rating — has itself never conducted tests on these products or certified them and therefore cannot vouch for them.
"Marketing that claims NIJ testing or certification for such products is false," said Mollie Timmons, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
The backpacks also don't protect against military-style weapons, which were used in several mass shootings including Parkland as well as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six educators in 2012. Sandy Hook remains the deadliest mass shooting at either a high school or grade school in U.S. history.
Greg Shaffer, a former FBI agent and an expert in domestic terrorism, notes that the majority of active shooters use handguns. Nonetheless, bullet-resistant backpacks may not be effective because children often have to leave their backpacks in cubbies in homeroom so they wouldn't have them with them if there were an active shooter. Not many children are shot and killed going and coming to school, he added.
"I just don't think that for the money and the extra weight that it is much more effective in protecting kids," he said.
For the most part, major retailers like Walmart and Target seem to be staying away from the backpacks. Both discounters said they don't sell them but declined to comment further.
An Amazon spokeswoman said it doesn't sell bullet-resistant backpacks either and pointed to its policy that bans selling body armor and any product that includes bulletproof or ballistic helmets and clothing.
Meanwhile, Office Depot, Inc. carries Guard Dog Security products in select Office Depot and OfficeMax retail stores across the U.S. as well as online while Homedepot.com carries ProShield backpacks. The bulk of the selling, however, seems to be from small independent online retailers like Bulletproofzone.com.
"Big chains are hesitant to carry them because of the liability issue," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm. "I don't see it as a mainstream type of product."
Earlier this week, Walt Disney Co. demanded TuffyPacks to stop selling bullet-resistant inserts featuring Disney princesses, Harry Potter and Avengers characters from its line.
"None of these products were authorized by Disney, and we are demanding that those behind this stop using our characters or our other intellectual property to promote sales of their merchandise," said a Disney spokesperson in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
Naremore says he has pulled all of the Disney-themed products.
Educational experts say bullet-resistant backpacks are not the solution.
"Schools should be safe sanctuaries where kids can feel secure, not hardened war zones where they're dressed like soldiers preparing for battle," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teacher's labor union, in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. "If retailers are going to sell these products, they must also step up to demand real, effective solutions to gun violence, including regulating tougher regulations on gun sales and buyback programs to help get illegal guns off the streets."
Still, the makers of bullet-resistant backpacks have tapped into a fear that is real. And for parents feeling helpless and looking for an answer, the backpacks provide them with one.
Marisol Rodriguez of Milwaukee said she is considering buying one for her 13-year-old son.
"It shouldn't have to come to the selling bulletproof backpacks," she said. "That just goes to show what type of society we live in today."
San Juan, Aug 8 (AP/UNB)— Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez became Puerto Rico's new governor Wednesday, just the second woman to hold the office, after weeks of political turmoil and hours after the island's Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi's swearing-in a week ago unconstitutional.
Accompanied by her husband, Judge Jorge Díaz, and her daughter, Vázquez took the oath of office in the early evening at the Supreme Court before leaving without making any public comment.
"I will continue to focus on helping our people regain their way in an orderly and peaceful fashion," she said in a statement in which she promised to assume the position with "humility and commitment."
The high court's unanimous decision, which could not be appealed, settled the dispute over who will lead the U.S. territory after its political establishment was knocked off balance by big street protests spawned by anger over corruption, mismanagement of funds and a leaked obscenity-laced chat that forced the previous governor and several top aides to resign.
But it was also expected to unleash a new wave of demonstrations because many Puerto Ricans have said they don't want Vázquez as governor.
"It is concluded that the swearing in as governor by Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia, named secretary of state in recess, is unconstitutional," the court said in a brief statement.
Pierluisi said that he had stepped forward to help islanders "in the best good faith and desire to contribute to the future of our homeland," but that he would respect the court's ruling.
"I must step aside and support the Justice Secretary of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Wanda Vázquez Garced," he said in a statement before she was sworn in.
People began cheering in some parts of San Juan after the ruling was announced.
But late in the day, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the governor's mansion and called for the removal of Vázquez.
"There'll be no peace as long as there's impunity," yelled the crowd, which remained calm as curious onlookers including tourists took pictures and video.
Carmen Santiago, a homemaker from San Juan who joined the protest, said Puerto Ricans still have energy to organize more protests.
"Especially the young people," she said. "It should be the people who choose the governor, not the party."
But many Puerto Ricans are physically and emotionally exhausted and want an end to the political turmoil, said Xiomary Morales, a waitress and student who works a block away.
She praised the court's decision, saying that those in power "are used to doing what they want."
"They should just hold fresh elections, hit restart like a PlayStation game," Morales said.
Tita Caraballo, a retired nurse from the inland eastern city of Gurabo, disagreed with the court.
"I think they are playing with the people and, I don't know, maybe they have someone they want and that is why they are doing this," Caraballo said.
Pierluisi was appointed secretary of state by then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló while legislators were in recess, and only the House approved his nomination. Pierluisi was then sworn in as governor Friday after Rosselló formally resigned in response to the protests.
Puerto Rico's Senate sued to challenge Pierluisi's legitimacy as governor, arguing that its approval was also necessary, and the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Senate.
The Senate had also asked the court to declare unconstitutional a portion of a 2005 law saying a secretary of state need not be approved by both House and Senate if they have to step in as governor. Puerto Rico's constitution says a secretary of state has to be approved by both chambers.
The court agreed that the law's clause was unconstitutional.
"Today this Tribunal speaks with a single voice, loud and clear," Justice Roberto Feliberti Cintrón said in his written opinion. "The constitutional norms do not allow for absurdities and legal technicalities to contravene our Democratic System of Government."
In a separate opinion, Justice Erick Kolthoff Caraballo said Puerto Rico has suffered upheaval "like never in its modern history" and "the People need calm and security that things will soon return to order."
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz praised the court ruling in a triumphant statement.
"With absolute LEGITIMACY, we will seek TRUE PEACE and STABILITY," he said.
Six of the court's nine judges were appointed by governors from the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, to which both Pierluisi and Rivera Schatz belong.
Vázquez, a 59-year-old former prosecutor, is to serve out the remainder of Rosselló's term, with the next election scheduled for 2020.
Vázquez became justice secretary in January 2017. She previously worked as a district attorney for two decades at Puerto Rico's justice department, handling domestic and sexual abuse cases, and in 2010 was appointed director of the Office for Women's Rights.
Some critics say that as justice secretary that she was not aggressive enough in pursuing corruption investigations involving members of her New Progressive Party and that she did not prioritize gender violence cases.
William Gónzalez Roman, a retiree also from Gurabo, wasn't bullish on the idea of Vázquez as governor.
"We will see. You have to give everyone a chance, right?" González said. "Let's see what decisions (she makes), but I tell you that job is big with a lot of responsibility."
Rosselló's resignation followed nearly two weeks of protests after the public emergence of the chat in which he and 11 other men including government officials mocked women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria, among others. More than two dozen officials resigned in the wake of the leak, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín.
"NOW is when that detestable group from the chat that lied, mocked, machinated, conspired, violated the law and betrayed Puerto Rico is truly ended and will leave government," Rivera Schatz, the Senate president, said Wednesday.
El Paso, Aug 8 (AP/UNB)— Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits Wednesday to cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. But his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks soon followed.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso late in the day after visiting the Dayton, Ohio, hospital where many of the victims of Sunday's attack in that city were treated. For most of the day, the president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but the White House said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was "with them," said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. "Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him." Trump said the same about his reception in the few moments he spoke with the media at a 911 call center in El Paso.
But outside Dayton's Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Trump's incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
In El Paso, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke spoke to several hundred people at a separate gathering. O'Rourke, a potential Democratic 2020 presidential rival, has blistered Trump as a racist instigator, but he also told those in his audience the open way the people of his hometown treat each other could be "the example to the United States of America."
Emotions are still raw in both cities in the aftermath of the weekend shootings. Critics contend Trump's own words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and other violence.
The vitriol continued Wednesday.
Trump's motorcade passed El Paso protesters holding "Racist Go Home" signs. And Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, O'Rourke and the press. It was a remarkable split-screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.
Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea that he bears some responsibility for the nation's divisions. And he continued to do so Wednesday.
"My critics are political people," Trump said as he left the White House, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he "brings people together."
Some 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling. And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted "Ban those guns" and "Do something!" during Trump's visit.
Holding a sign that said "Not Welcome Here," Lynnell Graham said she thinks Trump's response to the shootings has been insincere.
"To me he comes off as fake," she said.
Dorothee Bouquet, stood in the bright sun with her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, tucked in a stroller. She told them they were going to a protest "to tell grownups to make better rules."
But in El Paso, where more protests awaited, Raul Melendez, whose father-in-law, David Johnson, was killed in Saturday's shooting, said the most appropriate thing Trump could do was to meet with relatives of the victims.
"It shows that he actually cares, if he talks to individual families," said Melendez, who credits Johnson with helping his 9-year-old daughter survive the attack by pushing her under a counter. Melendez, an Army veteran and the son of Mexican immigrants, said he holds only the shooter responsible for the attack.
"That person had the intent to hurt people, he already had it," he said. "No one's words would have triggered that."
Local Democratic lawmakers who'd expressed concern about the visit said Trump had nonetheless hit the right notes Wednesday.
"He was comforting. He did the right things and Melania did the right things. It's his job to comfort people," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, who nonetheless said he was "very concerned about a president that divides in his rhetoric and plays to race in his rhetoric."
"I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton," added Mayor Nan Whaley, who said she was glad Trump had not stopped at the site of the shooting.
"A lot of the time his talk can be very divisive, and that's the last thing we need in Dayton," she said.
Grisham, responding on Twitter from aboard Air Force One, said it was "genuinely sad" to see the lawmakers "immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics."
Despite protests in both cities, the White House insisted Trump had received positive receptions. One aide tweeted that Trump was a "rock star" at the Dayton hospital.
The White House did not allow reporters and photographers to watch as he talked with wounded victims, medical staff and law enforcement officers there, but then quickly published its own photos on social media and released a video of his visit.
There was discord in El Paso, too. Rep. Veronica Escobar, the Democratic congresswoman who represents the city, declined to meet with Trump. "I refuse to be a prop," she said in an interview on CNN.
Visits to the sites of mass shootings have become a regular pilgrimage for recent presidents, but Trump, who has sometimes struggled to project empathy during moments of national tragedy, has stirred unusual backlash.
Though he has been able to summon soothing words and connect one-on-one with victims, he often quickly lapses into divisive tweets and statements — just recently painting immigrants as "invaders," suggesting four Democratic congresswoman of color should "go back" to their home countries even though they're U.S. citizens and deriding majority-black Baltimore as a rat-infested hell-hole.
As the presidential motorcade rolled up to a 911 center in El Paso, it passed a sign aimed at Trump that said "Racist go home."
Elsewhere in the city, O'Rourke told several hundred people that his hometown "bore the brunt" of hatred from the shooting but could also hold an answer to the strife.
On the eve of his trip, Trump lashed out at O'Rourke, saying he "should respect the victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!"
On his flight between one scene of tragedy and the second, Trump said he tuned in as another 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, excoriated him in a speech that slammed him as incapable of offering the moral leadership that has defined the presidency for generations and "fueling a literal carnage" in America.
Trump declared the speech "Sooo Boring!" and warned that "The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks" if Biden wins.
Trump seemed focused on politics through the day. He mentioned the crowd at his earlier rally in El Paso. When a reporter asked what he saw during the day, he answered with claims about how he was received respectfully in both cities. Then on the flight home he unleashed another political tweet:
"The Dems new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM! They are truly disgusting!"
Bogota, Aug 8 (AP/UNB) — Venezuela's government late Wednesday halted negotiations with the opposition in protest of the Trump administration's freezing of its U.S. assets, thrusting into crisis the country's best chance of peacefully resolving a political standoff that has kept the nation on the edge for more than six months.
The decision surprised representatives of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who were already on the Caribbean island of Barbados awaiting what was to be the start Thursday of the sixth round of talks that began in May under the auspices of Norway.
"We Venezuelans have watched with profound indignation how the chief of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, celebrates, promotes and supports these harmful actions against our nation's sovereignty and our peoples' most basic human rights," the government said in a statement Wednesday night.
The government stopped short of abandoning the talks altogether, saying only that it would "review the mechanisms of this process to ensure its continuation is truly effective and harmonious with the interests of the people."
For weeks, representatives of Maduro and his would-be successor have been shuttling back and forth to Barbados trying to agree on a common path out of the country's prolonged political standoff. The meetings have been slow-going and shrouded in mystery, with neither side disclosing details.
But Maduro's supporters have accused the U.S. of trying to blow up the fragile process with sweeping new sanctions announced this week that freeze all of the government's assets in the U.S. and even threaten to punish companies from third countries that keep doing business with his socialist administration.
"They're trying to dynamite the dialogue," Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Tuesday at a news conference to denounce comments by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton defending the asset freeze. "But nobody, not even 1,000 Trumps or 500 Boltons ... will make us abandon the negotiating table."
Maduro said Wednesday night that while he favors dialogue, he will not stand by idly as his opponents cheer on punitive measures by the U.S. that he believes will worsen hardships in a country already suffering from six-digit hyperinflation, medicine shortages and a recession now deeper than the U.S. Great Depression.
"Under these conditions, no," he said in a telephone call to a program on state TV hosted by socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello.
Maduro promised to lead a "counteroffensive" from the constitutional assembly — a rubber-stamp body set up to undermine Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress — to "bring justice to the sellouts and traitors."
Opposition leaders reacted to Maduro's withdrawal from the talks with a mix of disbelief and told-you-so admonishments.
"They've been saying for days they believe in peace and the Oslo mechanism, but at the first sign of change they fear the possibility of a real political change in the country," lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez, the head of Guaidó's negotiating team in Barbados, said on social media.
Speculation has swirled in political and diplomatic circles that Maduro's envoys have expressed a willingness to call an early presidential election under a revamped electoral board and foreign observation. The U.S. has insisted Maduro must give up power before any elections can be deemed credible.
Three people involved in the talks from different sides had described the environment as serious and cordial, with each delegation dining and traveling back and forth to the island from Caracas separately. All three insisted progress has been made, even if the thorny topic of elections is being left for last and an all-encompassing deal based on a six-point agenda is some way off. The people agreed to speak to The Associated Press only on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to divulge details of the talks.
Such insider accounts differ sharply from the assessment of Bolton and other hardliners inside the Trump administration who have accused Maduro of using the talks to buy time.
"We will not fall for these old tricks of a tired dictator," Bolton declared Tuesday at a meeting in Peru of more than 50 governments aligned against Maduro. "No more time for tap, tap, tapping. Now is the time for action."
To be sure, nobody in the Trump administration has disavowed the talks, and some analysts believe Bolton's "bad cop" persona and his threats of more punitive actions to come may even provide a boost to the mediation effort.
Guaidó, who heads the opposition-controlled congress, has shown no willingness to ditch the talks despite pressure to do so from hawks inside his coalition who accuse him of turning a blind eye to Maduro's alleged torturing of opponents.
Maduro, although severely weakened by the U.S. sanctions and increasingly isolated internationally, still enjoys the support of powerful allies like Russia and China. He also has the backing of the military, the traditional arbiter of disputes in Venezuela. Neither the military nor the U.S. has been a party to the talks, even though Maduro's main goal is the removal of U.S. sanctions.
Meanwhile, Guaidó's momentum has stalled since he declared himself interim president in January over what the U.S. and some 50 other nations saw as Maduro's fraudulent re-election last year. Demonstrations that at the start of the year filled the streets of Caracas have thinned to a trickle and a military uprising called for by Guaidó in April ended with several opposition lawmakers on the run or in exile.
"As long as each side pursues a winner-take-all approach, they are less willing to make concessions and a deal will remain elusive," said Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.