From Google News
Weaker Al Qaeda still plots payback for US raid
WASHINGTON – A year after the U.S. raid that killed Usama bin Laden, Al Qaeda is hobbled and hunted, too busy surviving for the moment to carry out another Sept. 11-style attack on U.S. soil.
But the terrorist network dreams still of payback, and U.S. counterterrorist officials warn that, in time, its offshoots may deliver.
A decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that has cost the U.S. about $1.28 trillion and 6,300 U.S. troops lives has forced Al Qaeda's affiliates to regroup, from Yemen to Iraq. Bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, is thought to be hiding, out of U.S. reach, in Pakistan's mountains, just as bin Laden was for so many years.
"It's wishful thinking to say Al Qaeda is on the brink of defeat," says Seth Jones, a Rand analyst and adviser to U.S. special operations forces. "They have increased global presence, the number of attacks by affiliates has risen, and in some places like Yemen, they've expanded control of territory."
It's a complicated, somewhat murky picture for Americans to grasp.
U.S. officials say bin Laden's old team is all but dismantled. But they say new branches are hitting Western targets and U.S. allies overseas, and still aspire to match their parent organization's milestone of Sept. 11, 2001.
The deadliest is the affiliate in Yemen.
There's no sign of an active revenge plot against U.S. targets, but U.S. citizens in Pakistan and beyond are being warned to be vigilant ahead of the May 2 anniversary of the night raid that killed bin Laden.
U.S. counterterrorist forces have killed roughly half of Al Qaeda's top 20 leaders since taking out bin Laden. That includes U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a drone in Yemen last September, less than six months after bin Laden's death.
Only a few of the original Al Qaeda team remain, and most of the new names on the U.S. target lists are relative unknowns, officials say.
Fate of Brooklyn mom is on ICE as Feds move to close 16,000 immigration cases
Sara Martinez and U.S. born-daughter, 6, among many in depotation limbo
by Erica Pearson
As the Feds move to close more than 16,000 deportation cases nationwide, experts say not everyone who deserves a reprieve is getting one.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last week that it has reviewed nearly 220,000 cases at the request of President Obama, who wants to focus on deporting people with criminal records.
ICE is offering to close 7.5% of the cases using prosecutorial discretion, giving a break to those who came here as kids, served in the military or have citizen relatives.
But some local law-abiding immigrants haven't benefited from the top-level review.
Sunset Park mom Sara Martinez, whose 6-year-old daughter was born here, has asked ICE officials assigned to her case in Buffalo to use their discretion and let her stay — to no avail.
Immigration lawyer and Baruch College professor Allan Wernick, who writes an advice column for the Daily News, said Martinez's plight shows that ICE prosecutors unevenly apply the policy.
“Maybe they didn't get the message,” he said.
“Those of us who work in the area know it takes a while to filter down to everybody. . . . Not everybody likes the policy, but it is the policy.”
“It's been a very heartbreaking experience to watch Sara go through what she's been experiencing,” said Jackie Esposito of the New York Immigration Coalition.
“It was clear that Sara's case fell under the low priority for ICE. I looked through her file and saw that there was no explanation for why they would deny it.”
Just 2,722 of the cases flagged for review across the country have been canceled so far. In New York City, the number is at least 207, according to a Syracuse University analysis.
Martinez — who came here from Ecuador on a six-month visa in 2005, ICE says — was excited when she first heard about the review.
Her lawyer said her deportation, triggered when border agents detained her on a bus from Rochester to the city, had a good chance of being called off.
The 47-year-old house cleaner had no criminal record or immigration run-in — but she was rejected.
“Although sympathetic to the health issues Ms. Martinez has experienced as well as the fact that she has sole custody of her U.S. citizen child, it is our position that this case should go forward to completion,” ICE wrote in November.
“But why?” Martinez said. “I was desperate.”
Her lawyer called Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who asked the agency to take a second look. In February, she was denied again.
She reached out to the New York Immigration Coalition, and Esposito made another request, to ICE's public advocate. A third denial came with terrible news from Ecuador: Martinez's mother had died.
ICE said that the review is ongoing and “designed to allow the agency to make the best use of its limited resources.”
Martinez is scheduled to appear before a judge May 9, and fears she will be ordered deported or asked to sign a voluntary departure agreement.
“I have this little girl,” Martinez said in a shaky voice. “She was born here. I know here she will have a lot of chances. Sometimes I tell her, maybe we'll be forced to go back to Ecuador. And she says, ‘Where is Ecuador?'”
'Can we all get along?' 20 years after the LA riots, leaders say yes
by RICK ORLOV
As Los Angeles burned 20 years ago, the man whose savage beating by LAPD officers sparked the flames of civil unrest responded not with bitterness or even the satisfaction of seeing revenge carried out in his name.
Instead, a shaken Rodney King offered a simple plea: "Can we all get along?"
King made the remark at a news conference as local, state and national officials tried to quell the lawlessness, looting and violence that tore apart the city after a Simi Valley jury on April 29, 1992 acquitted four police officers accused in King's beating.
By the time the violence ended, more than 50 people had died, 2,400 were injured, more than 12,000 had been arrested and an estimated $1 billion in property was destroyed.
The six days of rioting did more than scar the city's surface. They brought long-simmering racial tensions to the forefront of L.A.'s consciousness - and the nation's.
It was a quarter-century after the national civil rights movement, and while minorities had won equal protection under the law, many still felt like a distinctly oppressed underclass.
In Los Angeles, blacks had complained bitterly for years about brutality and racism under a Los Angeles Police Department headed by Chief Daryl Gates since 1978. The videotaped beating of King not only fueled those complaints, but seemingly justified them to the world.
Tensions were also high between African-Americans and the many Korean-Americans who maintained small businesses in South Los Angeles. When the riots came, much of the looting was directed toward Korean businesses.
But two decades later, community leaders say the explosion of violence helped lead to reforms and a healing process.
Race relations in Los Angeles have improved substantially since that time, according to many experts. And while the LAPD still faces criticism, it has also undergone substantial reforms and developed a more positive public image than it had then.
"I think the lesson we learned is that we have to talk with one another," said Connie Rice, a prominent Los Angeles civil rights attorney who has worked on reforms to the LAPD.
"We are doing a lot better today than we were then. The question Rodney King asked, `Can we all get along?' - the answer is yes. We can get along and people are trying to get along."
The day the verdict was announced is seared into the memory of those who lived in Los Angeles at the time.
"I remember it as well as I remember where I was on 9/11," said City Council President Herb Wesson, who was working on Yvonne Burke's campaign for county supervisor campaign at the time.
"We had an idea, which turned out to be a bad idea, to have all officials meet at First AME Church when the verdicts came out. It was the only time in my life that I saw (Mayor) Tom Bradley booed and saw people kicking at his car."
Much of the blame for the anger as well as the lack of a quick response to the violence was put on the LAPD and Gates, known for supporting an aggressive approach to policing.
Gates also was blamed for leading an agency that was rife with racist officers and tolerated the use of excessive force.
After the King beating, Bradley convened a special commission chaired by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher which released a report with dozens of reform recommendations, including the removal of Gates.
There was a great deal of personal animosity between Gates and Bradley - who had served on the LAPD - and the two had stopped communicating for more than a year prior to the riots.
The chief announced his retirement a few months after the King beating, but didn't leave office until June 1992, two months after the riots.
Following Gates, city officials appointed two successive African-American chiefs, Willie L. Williams and Bernard Parks, who each served single five-year terms.
But it was Chief Bill Bratton, who served from 2002 to 2009, who is credited with enacting the community-policing reforms that helped mend racial relations.
Bratton reached out to leaders in minority communities to help improve the department's image and pushed for a more racially diverse police force that he said would reflect the city's population and would minimize racial bias.
He also carried out the reforms forced on the department by a federal consent decree following the Rampart division corruption scandal of the late 1990s - when officers in that division were caught framing suspects, stealing evidence and committing crimes.
Bratton was helped by a dramatic increase in the size of the department, adding nearly 3,000 more officers to the chronically understaffed department.
"Today, you have people who know the name of their senior lead officers and they call them," Wesson said. "That's one of the big differences."
Current police chief Charlie Beck, who has been on the force since 1977, has seen substantial improvements over the years.
"It was a dark moment in the history of our department and our city," Beck wrote in his most-recent monthly message to the department.
"Through that darkness however, we emerged a stronger and much more capable department. We are now much better prepared to deal with situations, like civil unrest, through specific training which wasn't available back then."
"Perhaps most importantly, our relationship with the community is much better and stronger than it was back in 1992."
The riots erupted hours after the verdicts were announced, but came after months of tensions between African-Americans and the Korean merchants who owned and operated many of the liquor stores and markets in South Los Angeles.
Only two weeks after the King beating, a Korean shopkeeper shot an unarmed 15-year-old black girl whom she thought was stealing from her store.
In November 1991 a jury recommended a 16-year sentence of manslaughter for the shopkeeper, but the judge reduced that to five years of probation, community service and a fine, outraging the black community.
One of the lasting images from the days of the riots was of merchants firing handguns at looters.
David D. Kim, an attorney and producer of a new documentary about the riots called "Clash of Colors," said there are still strong sentiments in the Korean-American community.
"A lot of people lost their businesses and were never compensated for them," Kim said, adding that many in the Korean-American community also believe their side of the story has never been told.
"We were able to bring together 100,000 Korean-Americans to reclaim Koreatown from the looters when the police and law enforcement could not."
Kim said the community believed it had to take action because officers were unable to control the situation on the streets.
Joe Hicks, who was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's L.A. chapter at the time, also believes the city is in far better shape when it comes to race relations.
"Most of the stores in South Los Angeles are still owned and operated by Korean merchants," Hicks said. "But you see a difference in attitude. The Korean Grocers Association realized they needed to do something and they have done a good job in retraining merchants on how to be part of the community.
"There were a lot of lessons learned on both sides," Hicks said. "The merchants learned they needed to be part of the community. And the residents found out that if you burn down your own community, you need to drive further to get milk for your family."
One example of the Korean-American and African-American communities working together is seen in current plans for the two to unite on a lawsuit challenging the city's latest redrawing of its City Council district boundaries. City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry plan to work with Koreatown residents to overturn district lines which they feel disenfranchise their respective communities.
Kim said young Korean-Americans are looking to become more involved in local politics.
"A lot of young people were involved in the redistricting process and, even though they lost, the fact they came out and participated shows they are a force," Kim said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the lesson learned from the riots was that the city had to recognize the difficulties of all its communities.
"One of the things I learned is that you cannot leave whole communities behind," Villaraigosa said. "We have to provide a safety net for communities.
Among the things he is stressing is the need to improve schools and find more jobs and job opportunities.
"When we look at ourselves, we realized we were a city divided on class, race and ethnicity and hopelessness," Villaraigosa said.
"I think 20 years later we have a better city. We built 1,000 new classrooms and have 30 new schools. The Los Angeles Police Department is different. There are vast differences from back then. Community policing is now the mantra of the LAPD."
Villaraigosa said the city also has helped with summer youth jobs creation and economic development.
"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," Villaraigosa said. "We can't lose our focus or our resolve to address the issues of social justice and giving people opportunity."
The 20th anniversary of the riots has brought together leaders of various organizations to issue a joint proclamation commemorating what occurred and what has changed.
The statement, signed by Beck, Amanda Susskind of the Anti-Defamation League, Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Grace Yoo of the Korean American Coalition and Blair Taylor of the Los Angeles Urban League, pledges to unite "against hatred and express our commitment to work together to create a harmonious community"
But while the answer to King's question may be that we are indeed getting along better now, it is far from resolved.
"I'd like to think yes, things are better," said Fred MacFarlane, a political consultant who was working for Mayor Tom Bradley at the time on the campaign to approve changes in the Los Angeles Police Department urged by the Christopher Commission.
"But, I recognize we are always one flash point away from getting back to where we were. Look at the Trayvon Martin case. If that were to happen here, who knows what would happen?"
Times have changed since violence engulfed Long Beach during the 1992 L.A. riots
by Tracy Manzer
LONG BEACH - It's been 20 years since the Los Angeles riots erupted, then spread south to the cities of Long Beach and Compton, leaving a wake of burned-out buildings, battered businesses and families devastated by violence and financial ruin.
Today, portions of Lemon, Pacific and Atlantic avenues, Long Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway that were hardest hit by mob violence, fires and looting look far different, thanks in large part to more than $1 billion invested in the past 15 years as part of redevelopment efforts.
But the nagging question remains - Could it happen again?
Though city leaders assure Long Beach is a much different place than it was in 1992, they also acknowledge anything is possible.
"You have in this city, like any other urban area, people who are struggling day to day. You have issues where emotions run high and people tend to focus on issues, particularly those given attention by the media, that are emotionally charged from an ethnic or racial standpoint," Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell concedes.
"But the political environment in 1992 and today's political environment are much different. ... I think we're in a much better place today than we were in 1992."
Times have changed
Crime statistics were certainly very different.
In 1992, the city suffered 104 murders, 223 rapes, 3,676 robberies and 3,100 assaults. Part I crimes totaled more than 36,000, said Deputy Police Chief Robert Luna.
"Compare that with 2011," the deputy chief said, in which the city logged "25 murders, 112 rapes, 1,319 robberies, 14 aggravated assaults and the total for Part I was 15,807. That shows there's a huge difference between 1992 and 2011."
One of the factors that helped after the riots was the advancement of redevelopment projects, the chief said.
Police, city prosecutors and the Redevelopment Agency also have worked together to battle nuisance abatement issues in areas that generate some of the highest calls for service. The city has purchased more than 50 properties that were violent crime hot spots and demolished the sites. That includes 15 liquor stores, 17 motels and 12 apartment buildings.
"That's in the last six years alone," the chief said. "Those sites are now available for more desirable and sustainable environments."
However, with the elimination of redevelopment agencies statewide by the Legislature this year, Long Beach no longer has that tool for improving communities.
The city is also struggling these days to maintain its police staffing levels.
In 1992, the Long Beach Police Department had 712 budgeted positions. Ten years after the riots, the force had added some 200 officers to its ranks. Now, the LBPD is almost back to its 1992 staffing levels thanks to crushing budget deficits.
"We're going in a direction closer and closer to those 1992 numbers," McDonnell said. "And nothing has been approved or budgeted to address the officers we're losing through attrition."
"As we lose more officers through attrition it has a direct impact" on the department's ability to respond to crimes and major events, McDonnell said.
Close to 'hell'
McDonnell knows, because he was with the Los Angeles Police Department at the time of the 1992 riots that occurred April 29 to May 1. He was also appointed to a team of officers called upon after the dust settled to determine why the flashpoint that erupted at Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles spread into chaos across the county.
It was a perfect combination of factors, he said. As images of truck driver Reginald Denny being beaten were broadcast across the Southland, the LAPD helicopter that had been overhead had to land because of technical issues, causing police to lose their "eye in the sky."
As the crowds grew, the incident commander ordered a retreat of his officers. It seemed the best thing at the time, though images broadcast of officers leaving the area "sent a message," the chief said.
"That told people that the police are not responding to the unrest, and some people took advantage of that," McDonnell said. "That was not the intent of the organization. The organization wanted very much to respond, to do what they could do, but other factors weighed in, including political factors."
Luna was in Long Beach working as an officer at the time, and recalls it being the closest thing "to hell" he ever experienced.
"I remember being at Atlantic and 52nd. Three buildings were being burned while I'm being shot at by people inside the Carmelitos Housing Project," Luna recalled. "It's such a scary feeling to think you might lose control. We never lost control, but it was as close as I ever felt we got to that in my entire career."
Many in the city blamed much of the damage in Long Beach on the 18-hour gap that lagged between the time the city declared a state of emergency and National Guard troops arrived. Then-Assemblyman Dave Elder, D-Long Beach, said the delay was due to a snafu when vital body armor and ammunition were sent to the California Highway Patrol instead of the Guard.
The National Guard and Marines arrived at 3 p.m. on May 1 and set up at a command center in the parking lot of what was then the downtown Long Beach Plaza.
The 160 troops joined city police and sheriff's deputies as well as Long Beach firefighters and firefighters from throughout Southern California. Dressed in combat fatigues and carrying M-16s, the troops were cheered by residents. They joined 300 police officers and deputies in riot gear and headed out to arrest curfew violators, packs of violent youths and looters.
By 8 p.m. on April 30, calls for help were jamming fire lines at the rate of one per minute. Back-to-back reports of fires, shootings and beatings rolled in. Firefighters couldn't use the baskets on ladder trucks because they were taking gunfire from people on the ground. Officers would arrive at furniture stores and other retail businesses to find looters taunting them with names and throwing rocks or bricks and shooting off guns.
Long Beach Arson Detective Pat Wills recalled battling fires on Long Beach's first night of heavy destruction, the second night of the riots for Los Angeles, and hearing then-Fire Chief Chris Hunter come onto the radio asking if any units were available because they had 30 fire calls waiting.
"Everyone was on a call," Wills said. "It was wild."
Many of the structures lost to fire, such as Danica's Furniture on Long Beach Boulevard and the Lucky supermarket on Pacific Avenue, burned more than once. The DMV was also lost.
"Under normal conditions the DMV building was salvageable, it would have been a second-alarm or third-alarm fire" said Mike Sarjeant, who is now Long Beach's interim fire chief. "We just didn't have the resources."
The hardest part, police and firefighters agreed, was watching the destruction of businesses and services that people relied upon, he said.
"It was disheartening. You knew the majority of the people in the neighborhood weren't doing the damage and they were the people who really relied on the resources that were being destroyed," Sarjeant said.
By the end of the riots, the toll was staggering. More than 300 structure fires were reported by the morning of May 2; 207 of them were listed as fully-involved fires. A total of 334 people were injured and 21 were in critical condition. Long Beach police reported 506 arrests, 363 of them men. Long Beach Superior Court's lockup was filled with 135 prisoners awaiting arraignments and two judges came in on the weekend to handle the heavy workload.
One life was lost in Long Beach as a direct result of the riots - Matt Haines. The 32-year-old was killed after he and his nephew were pulled off their motorcycle, beaten, kicked and shot by a mob of about 15 men and youths. They were at the corner of Lemon and PCH. His nephew, 25-year-old Scott Coleman, was shot in the arm and survived. Four suspects were eventually acquitted of murder charges and convicted of lesser assault charges.
Though Haines is listed as the one fatality in the city, other deaths were later linked to the riots. Some people were unable to get to hospitals or get help in time while suffering medical episodes that occurred as a result of the stress from, or just happened to coincide with, the epic event.
Learning from the past
The riots triggered sweeping reform in police agencies throughout the West Coast and helped law enforcement agencies develop new response systems, tactics and training that served the departments and citizens to this day, McDonnell and Luna said.
The same can be said for the fire service, said interim chief Sarjeant.
Though California fire agencies have always depended on mutual aid thanks to the area's predisposition to natural disasters, the riots drove home the lesson of having to staff a fire department and respond over an extended period of time, Sarjeant explained.
The Fire Department developed a system to combine its normal three-platoon system into a two-platoon system that saw firefighters working 24 hours on, then 24 hours off, in the face of full-scale disaster. It ensures that firefighters and paramedics will be rested and able to respond to events as they unfold over days, rather than minutes or hours.
When firefighters found themselves responding to the roughly 218 fires logged in the first full day of rioting in Long Beach, including 141 heavily-involved structure fires, they quickly worked out a shared response system with the LBPD and various other law enforcement agencies that came to the city's aid.
Fire Department task force teams responded with at least one police unit, equipped with at least two armed officers, to every call. They stopped using baskets and ladders. And to this day firefighters arrive on calls in full turn-out gear to show that they are firefighters.
The Long Beach and Los Angeles police departments decided they needed other reforms as well after the riots.
"We looked at what we could do better and ... that was community policing," Luna said. "We needed positive relationships, and we were lacking that. The other issue was diversity training. ... Because of that training we became more diverse ourselves."
The same themes were identified and addressed at the LAPD, McDonnell said.
Long Beach, the chief added, seems to have adapted particularly well post-riots.
"We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best, that's kind of the nature of our business," McDonnell said. "That doesn't come without a lot of work, and that work is community relations - getting to know the community and being out there in the community.
"(But) we have a city that works well together, the various city agencies work well as partners, and that's something you don't see in every city."