News Brief: George H.W. Bush, Ala. Shooting Probe, Ethiopia's Rapid Changes
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It was all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect for the moment. Eight military pallbearers walked the casket of George H.W. Bush up the stairs of the Capitol. The body of the 41st president lay in state in the round room known as the rotunda.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The four main entrances to that room were draped in black. Mitch McConnell was a lawmaker in George H.W. Bush's time as president and is now the Republican Senate leader.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: A steady hand staying the course - that's what George Bush gave us for decades.
INSKEEP: President Trump skipped the ceremony in the Capitol, but he and the first lady visited later to pay their respects. This is the first presidential funeral in 12 years.
MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow has been covering the funeral and joins us in the studio.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So tomorrow is the big state funeral in the National Cathedral. But we got a preview yesterday with this formal ceremony in the rotunda. You were there. What stood out to you?
DETROW: A couple things - first, just the formality of the moment. I was standing outside the east front of the Capitol, watching soldiers and sailors at attention and a band playing and guns firing as President Bush was carried into the Capitol. And that's just a somber, symbolic scene. You don't see that much in the U.S. The second thing is this first wave of eulogies, the themes we've been hearing about this week that Bush led a life of serious service, from World War II through all the posts he held to his presidency. Between that and the fact that everyone keeps circling back to the fact that he was just a kind person, it is very hard not to draw parallels and implicit criticism of the current political scene.
MARTIN: All right. And speaking of which, President Trump, as Steve noted, was not at that formal ceremony. He and Melania Trump did appear to pay their respects. But can you just talk a little bit about how all the parties here are trying to navigate this tension?
DETROW: Right. And it is worth pointing out that this is one of those very rare moments where President Trump seems to be sticking to the presidential script. He's praised President Bush. He hasn't said too much publicly. He did go to the Capitol, but I think it's notable that he waited until the Capitol had cleared out of the ceremony. The Bush family was gone before Trump went. He was very absent from that first ceremony.
MARTIN: You think that was by design.
DETROW: I think so. I think the Bushes and the Trump White House are trying to follow protocol but also acknowledging that President Trump is not about to go console George W. Bush, given their relationship - though Vice President Pence did speak. And he had a very touching speech, talking about a letter that that President George H.W. Bush wrote to his son, a Marine pilot, speaking aviator to aviator. It was a nice scene.
MARTIN: So the business of Washington has slowed but not altogether. Today the CIA director, Gina Haspel, is going to go to Capitol Hill to brief senators on the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This is a big deal because they had wanted her to come before, and the White House reportedly put the kibosh on that. Lindsey Graham was, in fact, so miffed about it he said he would hold up other votes. Let's listen to this.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm talking about any key vote. Anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain't doing it until we hear from the CIA.
MARTIN: What does he think he's going to hear from Gina Haspel?
DETROW: Well, she's in a really tough spot. NPR and a lot of other outlets reporting that the CIA has assessed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing. President Trump has questioned that, tried to undermine it. And that was the line from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at last week's briefing. And you can hear how upset lawmakers were. And in fact, that briefing going so poorly really led to the momentum for a Senate resolution that's going to try to force the U.S. out of the conflict in Yemen.
INSKEEP: I guess we should mention that, based on The Wall Street Journal reporting of what the CIA has found, there's a bit less conflict in the statements than it seems. That phrase from Mike Pompeo about no direct reporting about Mohammed bin Salman ordering the killing seems to be the case. But there is just this mass of evidence pointing in that direction, and that's what the administration is brushing aside.
MARTIN: We'll see what senators - what kind of questions they pose to Gina Haspel today.
Scott Detrow, thanks. We appreciate it.
DETROW: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right, we have some independent information now on that fatal police shooting of a man in an Alabama mall that happened on Thanksgiving.
INSKEEP: It's a private autopsy of a Emantic EJ Bradford Jr. He was at a crowded shopping mall in a Birmingham suburb when a fight broke out and someone started shooting. Police saw Bradford fleeing with a gun, so they shot and killed him. First, they said Bradford was a suspect in the shooting. Then, they said they got it wrong. The autopsy affirms he was shot in the back.
MARTIN: We are joined now by Andrew Yeager of member station WBHM in Birmingham. Andrew, thanks for being here.
ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
MARTIN: How did this independent autopsy come about? Who asked for it?
YEAGER: Well, this is an autopsy from the family - requested by the family. And they presented the results of it yesterday. And basically, what it says is, as you alluded to, that he was struck from the back. They said he was shot three times in the head, neck and back. And they say that this shows evidence that Bradford was not facing police during this incident, that he did not pose a threat. And therefore, they say, police didn't have any justification to shoot. When they presented this yesterday at a press conference, Bradford's father, Emantic Bradford Sr., was there. He spoke. He was angry, frustrated, and he did not mince words about what he thought of the police officer involved.
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EMANTIC BRADFORD SR: My son was murdered by this officer, and that was cowardice. You shot a 21-year-old person running away from gunfire - never would pose you a threat, never had nothing in his hand. Why did you shoot him? You can't explain that to me 'cause that ain't training. That's cowardice. You a coward.
YEAGER: Now, the city of Hoover, where this took place, they did not respond directly to the autopsy. But they did release a statement asking for the family to turn over the results to investigators so it could be part of the official investigation.
MARTIN: I mean, clearly, people are clamoring for more transparency about this. How much have police or local officials released about what happened that night?
YEAGER: Very little. The city has acknowledged that they wrongly identified Bradford as the shooter, and they have apologized to the family for that. They've said the police officer who was involved is on paid leave while the state conducts the investigation. The state has taken over. The big point of contention is body camera footage or surveillance tapes that might show what happens. Protesters and the family have asked for this to be released. The Reverend Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy at Bradford's funeral. He is still in Birmingham, and he's joined those calls.
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JESSE JACKSON: Make transparent the tapes - the quicker, the better.
YEAGER: And so there's a lot of pressure on public officials to do this. But so far, they have not released anything, certainly no tapes. And they said that's so they don't compromise the investigation that's still underway.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, though, police have arrested someone else in the shooting, Erron Brown, a 20-year-old. How's the community reacting there?
YEAGER: Well, it's divided. Protesters have been conducting protests most nights since the shooting at the mall or other locations around the city of Hoover - blocked a highway at one point. Certainly, there are some that are in support of it, that say this is an issue of justice for the Bradford family. But there are plenty of others that say, no, we want to wait for this investigation. And that's not necessarily along racial lines, either.
MARTIN: Andrew Yeager, a reporter with member station WBHM in Birmingham. Thanks, Andrew.
YEAGER: Thank you.
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MARTIN: In this era, when some nations are clamping down on dissent, Ethiopia has tried opening up.
INSKEEP: The East African nation is known for its powerful security services. For many years, it has counted among the most authoritarian regimes in the world. We can't say everything has changed, but Ethiopians are celebrating new freedoms of speech, which came after protesters demanded change for three years. Aside from the spread of freedom, the country matters as a significant U.S. ally fighting terrorism.
MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta has been traveling through Ethiopia sharing, and he is going to share his reporting with us now.
Eyder, thanks for being here.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: You've been to Ethiopia several times before. What struck you as different this time?
PERALTA: I mean, it was remarkable how quickly and how much has changed. You know, a little tiny example - in January, I was there, and I went to the Holy Trinity Church (ph), which is one of the holiest sites there. And there was this woman. She was crying, praying that the country wouldn't go into civil war. And I really wanted to talk to her, but there were military men everywhere. They were armed. And anyone I would talk to would get in trouble. They could get imprisoned. And this time around, I went to that same church with my microphone in hand. And this old woman, Adanech Woldermariam, started pouring her heart out. Let's listen.
ADANECH WOLDERMARIAM: (Speaking Amharic).
PERALTA: She wanted to talk about how unfair the war against Eritrea was. And this, she said, was the first time she could say this loud and in public, and she was just so thankful for that.
MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of the scope of the change? I mean, what was Ethiopia like before? What were the protesters up against?
PERALTA: Well, I mean, as you guys said in the intro, this was one of the most repressive governments in the world. And there were mass protests for about three years, and it was mostly young people who - they felt marginalized, and they were calling for democracy. And I was finally able to talk to these guys 'cause it was really hard to get to where they were. And one of them was 18 years old, Kwetasuma Kimal (ph). And he says the military used to come into schools. They used to come into classrooms, round them up. And they would take them to re-education camps. And listen to what he says happened there.
KWETASUMA KIMAL: (Through interpreter) And they told us to lie down. Then they were beating us with their sticks, and they were running over us with their big shoes.
PERALTA: And when all was said and done, more than a thousand protesters were killed, and tens of thousands of them were arrested. But they won. You know, this government has changed dramatically.
MARTIN: It's still, though - I imagine, anyway, that even though someone says, you now have the freedom to speak up; you can voice your dissent, the people would still be anxious about what the repercussions could be.
PERALTA: They are. I mean, those interviews - a lot of them, I did them in cars because they were still scared. And we don't know where this is going. There's a lot of hope, but there's already been assassination attempts against the new, reformist prime minister. And special forces marched into the prime minister's palace in an attempted coup. So I think a lot of people believe that Ethiopia's still in a delicate place. There's lots of hope, but there's also fears that, you know, maybe this is not sustainable.
MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks so much for sharing your reporting, Eyder. We appreciate it.
PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.