News briefs for April 2

Floyd’s girlfriend recalls their struggles with addiction

MINNEAPOLIS — George Floyd’s girlfriend tearfully told a jury Thursday the story of how they met — at a Salvation Army shelter where he was a security guard with “this great, deep Southern voice, raspy” — and how they both struggled mightily with an addiction to opioids.

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“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” 45-year-old Courteney Ross said on Day Four of former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.

She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”

Prosecutors put Ross on the stand as part of an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also explain his drug use.

The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he knelt on Floyd’s neck last May and that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs, his underlying health conditions and his own adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.

Biden’s ‘Jobs Cabinet’ to sell infrastructure as GOP resists

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden set about convincing America it needs his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan on Thursday, deputizing a five-member “jobs Cabinet” to help in the effort. But the enormity of his task was clear as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vowed to oppose the plan “every step of the way.”

Speaking in Kentucky, McConnell said he personally likes Biden and they’ve been friends a long time. But the president will get no cooperation from the GOP, which objects to the corporate tax increases in the plan and says they would hurt America’s ability to compete in a global economy.

“We have some big philosophical differences, and that’s going to make it more and more difficult for us to reach bipartisan agreements,” the Republican leader said.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said the key to any outreach is that the proposal’s ideas are already popular. Americans want smooth roads, safe bridges, reliable public transit, electric vehicles, drinkable water, new schools and investments in manufacturing, among the plan’s many components, he said.

“We kind of think it’s just right,” Klain said in a televised interview with the news organization Politico. “But we’re happy to have a conversation with people, less about the price tag, more about what are the elements that should be in the plan that people think are missing.”

US hunger crisis persists, especially for kids, older adults

PHOENIX — America is starting to claw its way out of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but food insecurity persists, especially for children and older adults.

Food banks around the U.S. continue giving away far more canned, packaged and fresh provisions than they did before the virus outbreak tossed millions of people out of work, forcing many to seek something to eat for the first time. For those who are now back at work, many are still struggling, paying back rent or trying to rebuild savings.

“We have all been through an unimaginable year,” said Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, the network’s largest. It was distributing as much as 1 million pounds of groceries daily at various points during the pandemic last year.

Data from Feeding America, a national network of most food banks in the U.S., shows that its members dispensed far more in the last three months of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

The food banks that agreed to let Feeding America publicly share their data, 180 out of 200 total, collectively distributed far more food — about 42% — during the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period of 2019. The amount of food allotted in the last quarter slipped just slightly from the previous three months, down around just 1%.

7 Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted as China clamps down

HONG KONG — Seven of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates, including a media tycoon and an 82-year-old veteran of the movement, were convicted Thursday for organizing and participating in a march during massive anti-government protests in 2019 that triggered a crackdown on dissent.

The verdict was the latest blow to the flagging democracy movement as the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing tighten the screws in their efforts to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Hong Kong had enjoyed a vibrant political culture and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China during the decades it was a British colony. Beijing had pledged to allow the city to retain those freedoms for 50 years when it took the territory back in 1997, but recently it has ushered in a series of measures that many fear are a step closer to making Hong Kong no different from cities on the mainland.

Jimmy Lai, the owner of the outspoken Apple Daily tabloid; Martin Lee, the octogenarian founder of the city’s Democratic Party; and five former pro-democracy lawmakers were found guilty in a ruling handed down by a district judge. They face up to five years in prison. Two other former lawmakers charged in the same case had pleaded guilty earlier.

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According to the ruling, six of the seven defendants convicted on Thursday, including Lee and Lai, carried a banner that criticized police and called for reforms as they left Victoria Park on Aug. 18, 2019, and led a procession through the center of the city. The other defendant, Margaret Yee, joined them on the way and helped carry the banner.

Police had given permission for a rally at Victoria Park but had rejected an application from the organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, for the march.