TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Australian PM Scott Morrison apologizes for the slavery comment.
— Richmond temporarily removes a vandalized statue honoring police.
— Statues boarded up in London ahead of anti-racism and far-right protests.
— Columbus statue in Camden, New Jersey, latest took down.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister apologized Friday to those who accused him of denying the country’s history of slavery.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a rare apology after critics pointed out tens of thousands of South Pacific islanders had been forced to labor on Australian sugar cane plantations in the 19th century and Australian indigenous people had been forced to work unpaid.
Morrison had defended the legacy of British explorer James Cook, who in 1770 charted the site of the first British penal colony in Australia, which became present-day Sydney. He told Sydney Radio 2BC, “While slave ships continued to travel around the world when Australia was established … it was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia.”
Morrison says his comments were “not intended to cause offense and if I did, I deeply regret that and apologize for that.” He added slavery was not lawful in the original Sydney colony.
Meanwhile, a Western Australia state government announced it will rename the King Leopold Ranges. State Lands Minister Ben Wyatt, an indigenous Australian, described Belgium’s King Leopold II as an “evil tyrant.”
The announcement came after a statue of the monarch, who forced many people into slavery in the Congo, was defaced and removed from the Belgium city of Antwerp.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida has rescinded an admission offer to a prospective student who posted a racial comment on social media.
Florida’s flagship university tweeted this week that the prospective student “will not be joining the University of Florida community this fall.” The tweet didn’t offer details.
The Gainesville Sun reports that the University of Florida officials have been looking into allegations of prospective and enrolled students posting racist messages on social media. Their concerns come as protests have been held across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
Last week, the University of Florida tweeted that it was looking into racist or threatening posts made by students.
RICHMOND, Va. — A statue honoring police officers killed in the line of duty was removed from a park in Virginia’s capital city on Thursday after it was covered in red paint.
Video obtained by news outlets showed a truck hauling the Richmond Police Memorial away from Byrd Park, the same place where a statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down, set on fire, and thrown into a lake on Wednesday.
The bronze memorial arrived in 2016 and lists the names of 39 fallen Richmond police officers.
The police memorial will be restored and “returned to public display,” according to WRIC-TV, which quoted a spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney.
MINNEAPOLIS — A man who said George Floyd had previously “bumped heads” with the police officer charged in his death has recanted his story. CBS News reports David Pinney says he was mistaken.
Pinney told the network earlier this week that Floyd and officer Derek Chauvin had known each other at the nightclub where they both worked security and they had a tense relationship. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison subsequently said investigators were looking into the report.
Pinney told CBS News he had confused Floyd with someone else.
The nightclub’s owner last month told The Associated Press that Floyd and Chauvin had both worked security at her club, but she wasn’t sure whether they knew each other.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has weighed in on a debate over whether to remove the word ‘race’ from Germany’s constitution after some lawmakers and activists said using the term supports the discredited notion of separate human races.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert says “the chancellor is open to such a debate” and the views from both sides were “thought-provoking.”
Article 3 of the German constitution states that “no person shall be favored or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.”
Seibert says the authors of Germany’s post-war constitution had sought to “send a very clear signal in 1949” by explicitly forbidding discrimination based on race because of the experiences of the Nazi period.
The Nazis’ systematic persecution and murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Poles, and others from 1933-45 was rooted in an ideology of supposed Aryan racial superiority.
Seibert added, “removing or not removing a term might not solve the problem” of racism.
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Dutch activists have spray-painted the words “killer” and “thief” and daubed red paint on a statue of a man from the 17th-century Golden Era of Dutch trade and colonial expansion.
A municipal worker was removing the paint from the statue of Piet Hein in Rotterdam on Friday, amid a wave of vandalism on statues of historical figures in the United States and Europe.
Hein is best known for leading a Dutch naval action in 1628 that captured a Spanish treasure fleet near Cuba. A group calling itself “Heroes of Never” in Dutch claimed responsibility, saying in a statement Hein was “a key figure in clearing the way for trans-Atlantic human trade in enslaved West Africans.”
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has sparked a re-examination of the actions of historical men, who often were exalted in the form of statues and other memorials.
SYDNEY — Hundreds of police have disrupted plans for a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Sydney, but protest organizers have vowed that other rallies will continue around Australia over the weekend despite warnings of the coronavirus risk.
Police ringed the Sydney Town Hall hours before around 3,000 people were expected to attend a rally on Friday following the death in Minnesota of George Floyd.
Police vans were parked in side streets in preparation for mass arrests for breaching a 10-person limit on public gatherings. Protesters instead split, and 100 dispersed around the hall while another few hundred converged on a nearby park.
The protesters all appeared to obey police directions to leave. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged police to charge protesters with breaching pandemic restrictions this weekend.
Police largely didn’t enforce social distancing rules during peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies attended by thousands in Australian cities last weekend that focused on the high incarceration rate of indigenous Australians.
Rallies are planned in various cities this weekend about the Minnesota death of George Floyd and the coronavirus risk posed to asylum-seekers held in crowded Australian immigration detention centers.
LONDON — Authorities in London have boarded up a war memorial and a statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill ahead of expected rival demonstrations by anti-racism and far-right protesters.
Monuments have become major focuses of contention in demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was dumped in the harbor by protesters in the English port city of Bristol on Sunday.
Several other statues have been defaced around the country. Police are concerned far-right groups plan to seek confrontation under the guise of protecting statues.
With more demonstrations expected on the weekend, a protective plywood screen was erected around Churchill’s statue outside Parliament. Authorities also fenced off the nearby Cenotaph, a memorial to Britain’s war dead.
A Black Lives Matter group in London said it was calling off a planned protest on Saturday because the presence of far-right activists would make it unsafe. Another anti-racism protest Friday is set to go ahead.
BERLIN — Police in eastern Germany has suspended two officers who filmed themselves harassing a homeless man.
A 90-second video on social media of Sunday’s incident in Bad Belzig, southwest of Berlin, showed one of the officers shoving the inebriated man and trying to kick him.
Police in Brandenburg state says the two officers have been suspended and face a criminal investigation and disciplinary proceedings.
CAMDEN, N.J. — A statue of Christopher Columbus in this southern New Jersey city has been taken down, joining others across the country.
The city of Camden released a statement calling the Farnham Park statue a “controversial symbol” that has “long pained residents of the community.”
Protesters mobilized by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police have called for the removal of statues of Columbus around the country, saying the Italian explorer is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.
Video from local news outlets showed the statue coming down Thursday night. The city’s statement says “a plan to reexamine these outdated symbols of racial division and injustices” is overdue. The majority of Camden residents are people of color.
Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in cities such as Miami; Richmond, Virginia; St. Paul, Minnesota, and Boston, where one was decapitated.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The use of controversial “no-knock” warrants has been banned in Louisville. The new ordinance is named for Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot after officers burst into her home.
The city’s Metro Council unanimously voted Thursday night to ban the controversial warrants after days of protests and calls for reform.
Taylor, who was studying to become a nurse, was shot eight times by officers conducting a narcotics investigation on March 13. No drugs were found at her home.
“I’m just going to say, Breonna, that’s all she wanted to do was save lives, so with this law, she will continue to get to do that,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, said after the law was passed. “She would be so happy.”
The law bans the use of the warrants by Louisville Metro officers. Police typically use them in drug cases over concern that evidence could be destroyed if they announce their arrival. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also introduced federal legislation Thursday that would ban the use of no-knock warrants nationwide.
ATLANTA — Charges have been upgraded against a 42-year-old man accused of deliberately running his ATV into an Atlanta police officer during a protest of police brutality and the death of George Floyd.
In a statement Thursday, Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said Avery Goggans, of Stone Mountain, faces new charges of aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Campos said the new charges were filed because Goggans had tried to hit two other officers at different intersections before he rammed into Officer Maximilian Brewer in downtown Atlanta on the night of May 30. Brewer suffered significant injuries to his legs.
Goggans was initially charged with DUI, reckless driving, possession of marijuana, and other traffic offenses including serious injury by vehicle, Campos said.
The Associated Press