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Morning news brief

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We know more today about a brawl over the weekend in Montgomery, Ala., that's been viewed online by millions of people.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For those who have not seen it, this started at a dockside. Police describe a dispute over which boat should dock where. The videos showed men from a pontoon boat attacking the co-captain of a riverboat. Police have made three arrests. Because the men in the pontoon boat were white and the riverboat captain was Black and there's video, this triggered a lot of conversation.

MCCAMMON: Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott joins us now from Montgomery. Good morning, Kyle.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So a lot of people have seen these videos online, but just tell us about what happened. What do we know about what led up to these moments?

GASSIOTT: Well, the police chief said at a press conference yesterday that the men in the pontoon boat had refused to move their vessel after the captain repeatedly asked them over loudspeaker to move. At that point, the co-captain, who is Black, came to the dock in a smaller boat to ask them to move. And that's when a man from the pontoon boat lunged and hit him, Sarah. And people on the riverboat and nearby started to tape the event and it sounded like this.

(CROSSTALK)

GASSIOTT: Other people from the pontoon boat joined in, overwhelming and beating the co-captain. And that prompted onlookers to jump in and start fighting with each other. So in short order, Sarah, not only were fists being thrown, but people began to hit each other with folding chairs and even to fall in the water. And it mostly broke down along racial lines, but not entirely.

MCCAMMON: And, Kyle, you said the fight fell largely along racial lines. Is there any indication that the white men seen beating the Black boat captain could face hate crime charges?

GASSIOTT: Well, police say they're facing charges of misdemeanor assault. They consulted with the FBI and the district attorney about charges such as inciting a riot, but the evidence just wasn't there to charge them for that or a hate crime. Race was just not a determining factor in the charges, according to the police chief. Now, I will say, so far, it's only been white men that have been charged. These individuals are 48-year-old Richard Roberts, 23-year-old Allen Todd and 25-year-old Zachary Shipman. One of them has turned himself in. And as of last night, it wasn't clear about the others. Police say more charges, though, Sarah, could be coming against other individuals.

MCCAMMON: Now, Montgomery, of course, has a very long history, both in the slave trade and the civil rights movement. How is this fight being talked about there in that context?

GASSIOTT: Well, OK, so here are two perspectives. Right after the incident, Steven Reed, who is the city's first Black mayor, called the events intolerable, but he doesn't believe that it's going to have lasting negative effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN REED: You know, no one incident, you know, defines it, the city, or not, in particular, when it's an isolated one like this was. From our standpoint, we believe that if we're going to be a different city, we have to put that in practice. We have to put that in policy.

GASSIOTT: Now, I did hear a different reaction from Michelle Browder, who is also Black and gives tours of civil rights landmarks, including the same riverfront dock where enslaved people were brought in the 19th century. She says this incident speaks to a larger issue she sees in Montgomery and elsewhere, where Black people are tired of being attacked.

MICHELLE BROWDER: Folks I know in the Black community, sometimes we just want to see somebody win. You know, we are living in an age now where you can't mistakenly knock on a door for the fear of being shot through the door. We're normalizing violence against Black bodies once again.

GASSIOTT: But having said that, she also knows from history that Montgomery has been a place of healing, and she hopes that it can be again going forward.

MCCAMMON: Kyle Gassiott with Troy Public Radio in Alabama. Thanks, Kyle.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, Sarah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCAMMON: The Pakistani prime minister is expected to announce the dissolution of the National Assembly.

INSKEEP: In theory, this is a normal move. Parliamentary democracies dissolve Parliament in preparation for new elections, which is supposed to come this fall. But as we're about to hear, nothing is normal about politics in Pakistan right now.

MCCAMMON: On the line with us is NPR's Diaa Hadid. She covers Pakistan. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCCAMMON: So in theory, elections are usually good news, right?

HADID: Right. On the face of it, a country that's been ruled by army generals for nearly half of its existence has now seen multiple governments transfer power to each other through the ballot box. But Pakistan is a fragile democracy, and critics say the military still holds sway behind the scenes. And they point to the fate of the man who was arguably Pakistan's most popular leader, the former prime minister, Imran Khan. On Sunday, he was imprisoned on corruption charges, and yesterday he was disqualified from running for office. And that's a culmination of tensions that have long brewed between Khan and the army, the same army that's accused of helping him get elected in the first place, but soured on him when he started challenging their authority.

MCCAMMON: So given all of that, how much concern is there, Diaa, that these upcoming elections will not be free and fair?

HADID: Well, certainly that's something that analysts and opposition figures are telling us, like a spokesman for Imran Khan, who called his imprisonment and disqualification pre-poll rigging. Still, that spokesman, Zulfi Bukhari, says the party will contest elections. He says they've got a strong chance.

ZULFI BUKHARI: You can leave Imran in prison. You can disqualify him, as long as he can get it out to the people that my party is standing in elections, these are the people you have to give the vote to. And him sitting in jail is probably our best election campaign.

HADID: Our best election campaign. On the other hand, there's been meek protests against Khan's detention, and there's been droves of defections since a crackdown sharpened against Khan's party in recent months. So we're not quite sure how much support they'll command. It's worth adding, though, that the government says Khan's imprisonment is simply because he broke the law. And elections may well be delayed until March or April. And two ministers say that's to adjust electorates based on new census figures.

MCCAMMON: You know, Diaa, it seems that Pakistan is so often in the throes of a political crisis. Is this one different from the others that the country has experienced?

HADID: Well, this does feel familiar to many. Local newspapers even reported this week that eight former Pakistani prime ministers and two former presidents had a similar fate as Khan after they fell out with the army. Still, Seema Mohsin (ph), a political analyst I spoke to, says this time feels different because the army is asserting control in increasingly blatant ways. It's cracked down more harshly on perceived opponents. And she says legislation favorable to the army was rushed through Parliament before it was dissolved.

SAMEEN MOHSIN: Those kinds of things which have been legislated for, are extremely, extremely, extremely dangerous and will have far-reaching consequences. And the military is entrenched to a level that I think we haven't seen in a long time outside of martial law.

HADID: And right now, Pakistan, which, let's remember, is a nuclear-armed country, is grappling with multiple crises - hunger, devastating floods last year, militants wreaking havoc. And analysts say it's unlikely these tough issues can be tackled if elections bring in a government that's seen as having come to power unfairly.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Diaa Hadid, thank you for your reporting.

HADID: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCAMMON: More and more Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 are voting.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the last couple of midterm elections broke records for youth turnout. And now a 23-year-old activist is starting a political action committee focused on getting more young people into elected office - gun control advocate David Hogg.

DAVID HOGG: For every year of Trump's presidency, I think there was a new chapter of a social movement that was born, whether it was the Women's March, March for Our Lives, the environmental movement or the Movement for Black Lives.

INSKEEP: And Hogg was part of that because he survived the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and became an activist. His new PAC is called Leaders We Deserve.

MCCAMMON: Our colleague Elena Moore covers youth politics for NPR and joins us now. Good morning, Elena.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Good morning, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: So this group isn't about getting more young people to vote per se. It's about getting them elected, right?

MOORE: Right. So the goal here, Hogg says, is to turn more young organizers into politicians. And when we sat down for a recent interview, it was clear that Hogg's background as a gun control activist really continues to shape his outlook. He used the term with me run, hide, fight, which is a tactic that students are taught in active shooter drills. He reframed it as sort of a rallying cry.

HOGG: We need to run for office. We need to stop hiding from the responsibility that previous generations often did to protect young people and the future of this country and the future of this planet. And we need to fight for a better future where that never happens in a better system.

MOORE: And, you know, Sarah, I've spoken to a lot of Gen Z voters in the last few months, and gun violence in their communities remains a top-of-mind issue. So it was really no surprise to hear it's still a driving force.

MCCAMMON: This is a generation that grew up afraid of school shootings - right, Elena? I mean, how influential could this group of voters be, especially in 2024?

MOORE: Right. They're kind of a bit of a political wild card. Voters under 30 really don't conform to a party, despite the voting bloc overwhelmingly voting for Democrats in recent major elections. Plus, you know, Gen Z and millennial voters make up a really big portion of the electorate already - nearly half according to Brookings. And they're not even done growing. So both parties are kind of keeping tabs on these voters.

MCCAMMON: And what exactly will Hogg's new group, Leaders We Deserve, be doing?

MOORE: So the group is planning on supporting about two dozen-ish candidates under the age of 35. And a big part of their work will actually be on the state level where, you know, right now, Republicans hold majorities in a lot of places and have more influence over issues liberals care a lot about, like guns, access to abortion, LGBTQ rights. So the group's goal is to stack the deck for young Democrats to hold a majority by focusing on open, safe Democratic seats, not flipping Republican-held legislatures. That just isn't the priority right now for them. And the group wants to mobilize young people early, even though, you know, some are skeptical of the difference they can make.

HOGG: I fear that those young people may lose faith in democracy. That's why this project matters, because it's showing young people that, yes, our system is broken, but it's not unfixable. The work that we're doing will compound over time by showing young people that when you're involved in politics, when you're involved in these movements, you don't just have to work on the outside. We need good people on the inside 'cause I've seen the difference that that can make.

MCCAMMON: And, Sarah, you know, as for Hogg himself, he's 23, which is too young to run for Congress. But, you know, he says he hasn't ruled out running for office one day. But he told me that is a last resort.

MCCAMMON: A last resort. We'll see in a few years.

MOORE: Exactly.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Elena Moore. Thank you so much for your time.

MOORE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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