The state of Texas is facing growing calls to halt the upcoming execution of Rodney Reed, an African-American man who has spent over 20 years on death row for a rape and murder he says he did not commit. A group of 26 Texas lawmakers — including both Democrats and Republicans — have written a letter this week to Governor Greg Abbott to stop the execution planned for November 20. More than 1.4 million people have signed an online petition to save Reed’s life. Supporters include celebrities Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Meek Mill. Reed was sentenced to die after being convicted of the 1996 murder of a 19-year-old white woman, Stacey Stites, with whom he was having an affair. But since Reed’s trial, substantial evidence has emerged implicating Stites’s then-fiancé, a white police officer named Jimmy Fennell, who was later jailed on kidnapping and rape charges in another case. In a major development, a man who spent time in jail with Fennell signed an affidavit last month asserting that Fennell had admitted in prison that he had killed his fiancée because she was having an affair with a black man.
Police brutality continues to make African American community feel marginalised.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing “brown makeup” to a party, days after the state governor admitting wearing blackface.
The second-in-line to the governor’s seat said in a statement on Wednesday that he wore a costume to a party when he was 19 years old at university.
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is facing calls to resign over a racist photo and admission of blackface usage.
The lieutenant governor is also under scrutiny for sex assault allegations.
What did Attorney General Herring say?
The Democratic attorney general said that in 1980, he and his friends donned costumes after “some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song”.
“It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” he said.
“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behaviour could inflict on others.”
The state’s top three Democratic are now all facing scandals
Mr Herring did not offer to step down and wrote of his “efforts to empower communities of colour” and “to combat the rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence that is plaguing our Commonwealth and our country”.
“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
The scandals metastasise
Virginia Democrats are running out of top officials not beset by scandal.
With Attorney General Mark Herring’s revelation that he, too, once wore blackface, the situation has metastasised from a controversy ensnaring one man – Governor Northam – to an indication of a larger problem.
Cruel, intolerant actions that were once considered acceptable, at least among a certain crowd, are now, decades later, having political consequences.
In her response to the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams – the black woman who narrowly lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor – obliquely addressed the issue.
“We continue to confront racism from our past and in our present, which is why we must hold everyone from the highest offices to our own families accountable for racist words and deeds and call racism what it is, wrong,” she said.
Virginians – and Democrats across the US – are now grappling with racist deeds within their own family.
It has thrown the state’s leadership into turmoil. Accountability, however, could be harder to realise. The cold political reality is that the more top politicians are touched, the less likely it is any of them will go.
What are the other Virginia controversies?
Mr Northam, the state’s governor, still denies he is either of two people – one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan (KKK) robes – pictured in a 1984 medical yearbook photo that surfaced last week.
But in a news conference over the weekend, he admitted to wearing blackface in a separate incident that year while performing as Michael Jackson.
On Saturday, Mr Herring had joined a chorus of fellow Democrats calling on Mr Northam to resign, saying it was “no longer possible” for him to serve as governor.
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Meanwhile, Lt Governor Justin Fairfax, who is next in line to succeed Mr Northam if he leaves office, has stepped up his fight against a claim that he assaulted a woman during the 2004 Democratic political convention.
In Mr Fairfax’s latest statement on Wednesday, he called the allegations “surprising and hurtful”.
“I have nothing to hide,” he added.
He said it was “important” to listen to sex assault accusers, but insisted this allegation was “not true”.
In her first statement issued through lawyers on Wednesday, the accuser, politics professor Vanessa Tyson, recounted the alleged assault in disturbing detail.
She says Mr Fairfax invited her back to his hotel room during the political jamboree in Boston “to retrieve documents”.
While in the suite, she says, they kissed. But, her statement says, “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into an assault”.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” she said of their encounter.
“After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame.”
Mr Fairfax’s office has meanwhile denied an NBC report that he used an expletive-laden outburst in reference to Prof Taylor, during a private meeting on Monday night.
What’s the reaction?
Virginia Senator Mark Warner said he was “shocked and incredibly disappointed” to hear of Mr Herring’s addition to the slew of scandals.
While the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has repeatedly called for Mr Northam’s resignation, they have yet to comment on Mr Herring’s blackface controversy. The caucus said they are monitoring the situation with Mr Fairfax as it develops.
The president’s son Donald Trump Jr weighed in as well, tweeting: “Not at all surprising when you consider the roots of the Democrat Party!”
Mr Trump’s tweet references the foundations of the party in the early 1800s, when Democrats supported pro-slavery states and policies.
However, since the 1960s, when Democrats pushed through civil rights legislation, most white Southerners who were opposed to the changes shifted to the Republican party.
Democratic Attorneys General Association co-chair and Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine said Mr Herring had called him ahead of releasing his statement to apologise.
Mr Racine, who is Haitian, told the Washington Post he accepted the apology as “sincere” and says Mr Herring continues to have his “full support”.
“He took full responsibility for his clear mistake and assured me that his political aspirations would take a backseat to what is in the best interest of Virginians.”
Blackface photos continue to emerge
Meanwhile in Florida, a Republican state lawmaker has also come under fire for a blackface photo from high school.
State representative Anthony Sabatini says the photo was “decontextualised” and was a joke with a black friend where they both dressed up as each other, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The newspaper also noted that the friend in question has since defended Mr Sabatini.
But Florida Democratic chair Terry Rizzo on Tuesday called for Mr Sabatini’s resignation, saying: “In calling out racist behaviour Florida Democrats and Republicans should stand united.”
Last month, Florida’s Republican Secretary of State resigned after photos emerged of him in blackface dressed as a victim of Hurricane Katrina.
Governor Northam: I am not the person in that photo
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has denied he was in a racist photo that appeared in his 1984 student yearbook page after initially apologising for it.
Mr Northam said he recognised that people would find this “hard to believe”.
He also admitted blackening his face to impersonate singer Michael Jackson at an event in the same year.
Top US Democrats have called on him to resign. But he says he will stay on.
The picture showed a man in blackface and another man in Ku Klux Klan robes.
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Former Vice-President Joe Biden said Mr Northam had lost all moral authority. Black politicians in Virginia called it “disgusting” and Republicans also urged him to resign.
What did Northam say?
He said he had initially taken responsibility for the photo, which he described as “clearly racist and offensive”.
But he said that on reflection with his family and friends he had concluded that he was neither of the people in the photo.
“It has taken time to make sure that it’s not me but I’m convinced I’m not on that photo,” he said.
He said that he had however blackened his face at a dance contest in San Antonio. “It is because my memory of that is so vivid that I do not believe I am in the photo in the yearbook,” he said.
Mr Northam said he was not asking for forgiveness for his past actions but for “the opportunity to demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that the person I was then is not the person I am today”.
The statement on Saturday came after he said on Friday that he was “deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now”.
How has this come about?
Mr Northam’s yearbook page, which came from the paediatric neurologist’s time at Eastern Virginia Medical School, was first published by conservative website Big League Politics.
The Virginian-Pilot newspaper tweeted a picture of the page which it said it obtained from the medical school library.
President Barack Obama campaigned for Mr Northam in 2017
What reaction has there been?
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which comprises African Americans elected to the state legislature, described the images as “disgusting, reprehensible and offensive”.
“These pictures rip off the scabs of an excruciatingly painful history and are a piercing reminder of this nation’s sins. Those who would excuse the pictures are just as culpable,” it said in a statement.
In a tweet, Mr Biden said Mr Northam should resign immediately.
Calls for his resignation also came from four Democratic candidates for president – Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and Texan mayor Julian Castro.
The photo also prompted a swift backlash from conservatives, including Jack Wilson, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, who called on Mr Northam to step down.
“Racism has no place in Virginia,” he said in a statement. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is considering a presidential run in 2020, also called for Mr Northam to resign.
The Ku Klux Klan is one of the oldest and most infamous hate groups in the US, and has targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics and immigrants, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
The group has a long history, with KKK membership peaking in the 1920s.
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A manhunt is under way in Houston, Texas, for a gunman who attacked a young family in a drive-by shooting, killing a seven-year-old girl.
Jazmine Barnes, her three sisters and mother, LaPorsha Washington, were driving when an unknown man pulled up alongside them and opened fire.
Jazmine and Ms Washington were shot, and the seven-year-old died in the backseat as a result of her wounds.
Police believe they were targeted at random and have not confirmed a motive.
Authorities say the unidentified gunman is a bearded white male in his 40s, wearing a red sweatshirt, according to Ms Washington’s 15-year-old daughter, who got a glimpse of the man.
Jazmine Barnes was shot and killed on Friday by an unknown gunman
He reportedly pulled up beside the family’s car in a red pickup truck on Sunday morning and began firing with no provocation, Harris County Police said.
“We’re going to leave every motive out there as a possibility,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said during a news conference on Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Ms Washington, 30, was shot in the arm during the attack and her six-year-old daughter was injured by the broken glass.
From her hospital bed, Ms Washington tearfully told KHOU 11 News: “I replayed this moment in my head over a million times to see – did I cut this man off?
A nearby business found security camera footage of the gunman’s vehicle
“Did I make a wrong turn in front of him?”
“Did I do anything wrong to cause this man to fire shots at my car? I didn’t.
“I didn’t do anything. He fired off at us for no reason.”
At Monday’s news conference, the sheriff urged anyone with information to come forward, asking locals to review security camera footage in their homes or businesses to help track down the gunman.
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“Yes, we know we’re in Texas. Yes, we know we have a lot of pickup trucks out there,” Mr Gonzalez said.
“But when you put the pieces together, consider that we’re looking for a bearded man, possibly in his 40s, driving a red pickup truck. This could be your neighbour. This could be your co-worker.”
He also called on the gunman to turn himself in to avoid any further violence.
Jazmine’s father, Christopher Cevilla, told reporters his daughter was a “loving, caring” young girl.
“What if that was your daughter?” he said. “Please step up at this point in time and help me and my family get justice for my baby girl.”
The images of the pickup truck have been widely shared online as the manhunt continues.
Ava DuVernay, director of films Selma and A Wrinkle in Time, was one of the many voices on social media calling for the gunman’s capture, sharing the family’s story in a tweet.
Some social media users are suggesting the attack was a hate crime, although police did not say they are treating race as a factor in the shooting.
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt and activist Shaun King have offered a $50,000 (£39,600) cash reward for anyone who can help capture the suspect.
Maine’s departing Republican governor is doubling down on his discredited claim that out-of-state black and Hispanic drug dealers are responsible for an overwhelming percentage of drug trafficking in the state.
Gov. Paul LePage repeated his claim Thursday afternoon on Maine Public. A caller to the show criticized the governor for blaming out-of-state minorities for fueling the state’s drug crisis, and LePage responded that “it’s true.”
LePage proceeded to say “97 percent” of drug dealers in the state were minorities. He first made a similar claim in summer of 2016, saying it was backed up by news clippings he collected. An Associated Press analysis concluded the statement was wrong.
LePage is moving to Florida after he leaves office. His replacement, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, will be sworn in next month.