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News Brief: Minneapolis Turmoil, J&J Shot, U.S.' Afghan Exit Plan

NOEL KING, HOST:

Two families in Minnesota are dealing with the same pain.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The families of Daunte Wright and George Floyd - those two families are calling for justice and accountability, and they're doing it together. They stood together outside in what appeared to be snow flurries. It is April, but it's Minneapolis. And they joined civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.

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BENJAMIN CRUMP: Ever there was a time when nobody in America should be killed by police, it was during this pinnacle trial of Derek Chauvin.

INSKEEP: The defense for Chauvin, the former officer accused of murdering George Floyd, continues its case today in a city that is still in turmoil.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel is covering both of these stories from Minneapolis. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Let's start with the trial, where the defense presented its argument yesterday. Talk to us about what happened in that courtroom.

FADEL: So one of the key witnesses called by Chauvin's defense attorney Eric Nelson yesterday was Barry Brodd. And he was a longtime police instructor turned private consultant and use-of-force expert.

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BARRY BRODD: I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd.

FADEL: The defense expert went on to say that that prone position with Floyd pinned down to the ground was not a use of force. This, of course, contradicts the testimony of several Minneapolis police officers, including the police chief, that took the stand last week.

KING: And where does the defense argument go today?

FADEL: So defense attorney Nelson will continue to try to raise doubts around the accusation that it was his client that killed George Floyd after jurors watched that video from every angle of Floyd's final moments under Chauvin's knee. So yesterday, Nelson called witnesses that spoke about the possible impact of drug use and high blood pressure on Floyd's health. Nelson introduced body camera footage from an arrest in 2019 where Floyd is pulled from the passenger seat of a car by a police officer with his gun drawn and handcuffed. Floyd tells that officer not to shoot him. And the defense attorney also called the fifth officer on scene that day that Floyd was killed, Park Police Officer Peter Chang, who testified that those bystanders yelling at the police to get off of Floyd were, quote, "very aggressive toward the officers." And the big question ahead now is whether Chauvin will take the stand.

KING: Is the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright affecting the trial at all? Is it present in this courtroom in any way?

FADEL: Right. So inside the courtroom, the jury is not hearing about that killing by a police officer in Brooklyn Center during a routine traffic stop. They've been instructed not to watch the media. But in the greater Twin Cities, there have been protests every day since his killing, nights of unrest. And as you mentioned, the Floyd family and Wright family showed their grief together outside the Hennepin County courthouse yesterday. Daunte Wright's 2-year-old son was there - Daunte's mother, his father. This is Naisha Wright, Daunte's aunt.

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NAISHA WRIGHT: Did y'all not see my little great-nephew? Did y'all not see that beautiful baby? He is fatherless not over a mistake - over murder. That's murder.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Murder.

WRIGHT: Say his name.

FADEL: So yesterday there were more protests over Wright's killing, demands to state officials for an independent investigation and charges for that officer.

KING: And what is happening with that officer now?

FADEL: So Kim Potter has resigned from her position. So has the police chief, Tim Gannon. He described Wright's killing as an accident by an officer who thought she was reaching for a Taser and pulled a gun. And there are reports that Potter may be facing charges soon.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel in Minneapolis. Thanks, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you.

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KING: President Biden is expected to make a formal announcement today that will end this country's longest war.

INSKEEP: There are currently around 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By September 11, according to the administration, they're expected to be gone. Twenty years ago, U.S. troops overthrew the Taliban government because it refused to turn over Osama bin Laden.

KING: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has traveled to Afghanistan many times over the past 20 years. He's often embedded with U.S. troops. And he's with us now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What do you know about the withdrawal plan?

BOWMAN: Well, a senior administration official told reporters that the president would make a formal announcement about the withdrawal today. The official said troops would begin leaving before May 1, which, of course, is the deadline for all foreign troops to leave under the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed last year by the Trump administration.

Now, U.S. military leaders had recommended that those several thousand U.S. troops remain with no timetable, and they wanted the Taliban to agree to conditions from that agreement - reduce violence, break with al-Qaida - which has not happened. The administration official said such a so-called conditions-based approach has been going on for two decades and is, quote, "a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever." The official said the estimated 7,000 additional NATO troops would draw down along the same timeline.

KING: Tom, was this decision a surprise decision?

BOWMAN: You know, it was something of a surprise, even though Biden has hinted that he couldn't imagine U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year. And, you know, he was never supportive of sending more troops when he was vice president. And military officials were unaware of this decision, as was the Afghan government, which now fears a civil war. A few members of Congress were told about it, and Republicans - many of them denounced it. Here's Mitch McConnell.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: A reckless pullback like this would abandon our Afghan regional and our NATO partners in a shared fight against terrorists that we've not yet won. It will also specifically abandon the women of Afghanistan, whose individual freedoms and human rights will be imperiled.

BOWMAN: Democrats generally supported this move to remove all troops, but Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey also said that he's worried that the Taliban could backslide on the rights of women, human rights. And he said if that happens, no money will be flowing, no American assistance if that happens. And that's something Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, that the Taliban must not continue the military campaign. And if it does, it will not get international recognition.

KING: So there are things the U.S. could withhold. Critics will also ask what's to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven again to terrorist groups like al-Qaida?

BOWMAN: Well, U.S. officials say al-Qaida's presence has grown in Afghanistan, but the administration official said the U.S. will, he said, reposition the counterterrorism forces, presumably in a neighboring country, and continue to keep watch over Afghanistan. This official also said, listen; such terror threats are now more dispersed to include countries such as Yemen, Syria, Somalia and other parts of Africa.

KING: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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KING: Every U.S. state has complied with a federal request to temporarily pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

INSKEEP: FDA director Dr. Peter Marks and other top health officials made that recommendation after a handful of people who got the J&J shot developed a rare but potentially dangerous kind of blood clot.

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PETER MARKS: It's not a mandate. It's out of an abundance of caution.

INSKEEP: And then today, an advisory committee to the CDC will evaluate these cases.

KING: NPR science correspondent Joe Palca's following this one. Good morning, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: So it's a specific type of blood clot. What do we know about these?

PALCA: Well, not a lot because there's only been six cases among the 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine that have been distributed. The cases were in women younger than 48 and all between six and 13 days after getting the vaccine. They're very similar - they seem to be - to the blood clots that have been reported from AstraZeneca vaccine. And the big concern here is that these particular clots resemble a kind of clot that can be made worse by giving the most common blood thinner, which is called heparin. So typically, you give a blood thinner to dissolve clots or prevent them. And this one can make things worse. Now, there are other blood thinners that could be used. And there's also some evidence that treating patients with something called intravenous immunoglobulin, which helps boost the immune system, could be helpful.

KING: Does anyone understand why women seem to be more likely to get them than men?

PALCA: No, that seems to be one of the questions that's outstanding. And the other thing that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out is there's no way of knowing which women are more likely to get these. There doesn't seem to be any connection to any particular type of behavior or attitude or anything. And they do, however, recommend that if you're pregnant or just had a baby, if you want to get vaccinated, you should go with Pfizer or Moderna.

KING: And so for people who already got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are worried, what should they do?

PALCA: Well, I think the No. 1 thing to do is don't panic. These clots are extremely rare. If you have gotten the J&J vaccine and you're six days or maybe even a couple of weeks out from having gotten the vaccine and you start getting really bad headaches or shortness of breath or unusual leg pain, you probably want to go see a doctor. And if you don't have a doctor, go to an emergency room and tell them you had the J&J vaccine because that will trigger a bunch of questions that they'll want to have answered. But still, don't panic. This is extremely rare, and there's probably a simpler explanation for the symptoms that you might be experiencing.

KING: All right. Don't panic. Federal health officials say they think this pause is going to last days, not weeks or months. But do you think this might increase hesitancy, which has been a problem, you know, all the way through?

PALCA: Well, that's something that everybody is worried about. You know, the FDA and the CDC are in a difficult position in the sense that these are very rare. And it seems almost certain that the likelihood of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 is greater than the likelihood of getting sick and dying from one of these clots. So it's probably a question of good messaging and making sure you don't scare people unnecessarily.

KING: NPR science correspondent Joe Palca. Thank you, Joe.

PALCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.