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News brief: Akron police shooting, Ukraine's Luhansk region, air travel woes

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The killing of a Black man by police a week ago during an attempted traffic stop in Akron, Ohio, has led to renewed protests over the weekend.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

They're in response to body camera footage released by police.

MARTINEZ: Matt Richmond with Ideastream Public Media is covering the story for us. He's in Cleveland. Now, before we begin, we should warn you footage is disturbing, and we're going to be discussing details of it. Matt, this shooting happened one week ago today. Walk us through what happened.

MATT RICHMOND, BYLINE: So first, 60 is the number of gunshot wounds that were found on the body of Jayland Walker. That's according to the initial count from the medical examiner. He was killed by police after he fled in his car when officers were trying to make a stop for unspecified equipment violations and maybe a traffic violation. Eventually, Walker slowed down his vehicle and jumped out and ran. And after a couple of the eight officers - who eventually opened fire - tried to use stun guns on him, they started shooting when they said, or they reportedly said that they saw him make some action that was threatening. And it's not clear how many shots were fired, but officials say that the number that's out there right now, about 90, is not far off.

MARTINEZ: Now, the body cam footage was released yesterday. What does it show?

RICHMOND: So the first thing that it showed is that as Jayland Walker drove his car onto the freeway, there's what appears to be a muzzle flash from his car. Officer says that that was a gunshot, and that changed the nature of the pursuit. And then you also saw the officers as he - as Walker tried to run, tried to use the stun guns, and then there was just a crescendo of gunfire. And it's important to note that Walker was unarmed at the time that he was shot. Officers found a unloaded gun inside of his car.

MARTINEZ: Now, you've been reporting from Akron how people have been responding to the shooting.

RICHMOND: So family and community members have been calling for accountability and then also for peaceful protests. The lead attorney in the case said yesterday that the most troubling facts are that, you know, he was unarmed when he was shot. And it's not clear from the video what sort of threatening action he made and then that officers never attempted to de-escalate. And another member of the legal team, Paige White, had this to say right after the footage was released.

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PAIGE WHITE: Jayland was shot more times than I can count. And that is beyond troubling. We are done dying like this. And change is coming.

RICHMOND: And she also called for peaceful protests. And so far, that's what Akron has seen.

MARTINEZ: OK. Matt, what happens now?

RICHMOND: The eight officers who fired the shots are placed on paid administrative leave. Akron's police chief, Stephen Mylett, had this to say about what's expected, what sort of answers are now needed from the officers themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHEN MYLETT: When they make that most critical decision to point their firearm at another human being and pull the trigger, they've got to be ready to explain why they did what they did. They need to be able to articulate what specific threats they were facing. And that goes for every round that goes down the barrel of their gun.

RICHMOND: So this will be the first test for some reforms that have been passed in Akron recently.

MARTINEZ: Matt Richmond with Ideastream Public Media. Matt, thanks a lot.

RICHMOND: Thank you.

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MARTINEZ: Russian forces have scored a significant victory in the bitterly contested eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk.

FADEL: Ukrainian officials confirmed their forces withdrew from the city of Lysychansk after months of shelling and, more recently, street fighting. The victory means Russia can now turn its attention firmly to the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in neighboring Donetsk province.

MARTINEZ: Joining us now from Kremenchuk is NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, can't say everyone's surprised by this, but how important is this as a victory strategically?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, little by little, Russia's been making some steady advances in the east in recent days. You know, the latest place to fall, as you mentioned, is Lysychansk. And this follows the Ukrainian retreat last week from Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy characterized both of those as tactical retreats. But it really is clear that Russia is pushing that front line to the west and grabbing more of the Donbas and at a significant cost. Both sides have sustained heavy losses. Zelenskyy last night said the pullback from Lysychansk in his words, quote, "was to preserve the lives of our soldiers." And he added defiantly, however, that Ukraine eventually will reclaim our land. But there's no doubt that this is a major victory for the Russians at the moment, and the momentum is sort of moving the Kremlin's way, at least in this part of the Donbass.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. We know Russia has a big advantage when it comes to artillery and long-range weapons. The U.S., though, has provided some of the longer-range weapons to Ukraine. Are they making a difference?

BEAUBIEN: Yes, some of these weapons are making a difference. And some have reached the front lines, but they're arriving slowly. It's important to note that much of Ukraine's artillery before this war was Soviet-era equipment, which they simply can't get ammunition or spare parts for now. So getting a hold of these Western weapons, Ukrainian officials say, is going to be crucial for them as this war drags on.

MARTINEZ: Now, in the past week or so, we've also seen an increase in the number of Russian missile attacks all over Ukraine. And attacks have come striking civilian targets...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

MARTINEZ: ...And many people have died. Tell us more about those.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, well, I'm here in Kremenchuk, where a cruise missile slammed into a shopping mall last week, killing 21 people, injuring dozens more. Another series of strikes on Friday hit an apartment building in a recreation center near Odesa. That left another 20 people - 21 people dead. I was talking to Oleksandra Matviichuk. She's the head of the Center for Civil Liberties here in Ukraine. And she says these attacks on civilians are not accidents. She says this is part of how Russia conducts war.

OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK: They really think that they can do whatever was they wanted, and they can say whatever they wanted. And they have never been punished for these war crimes for decades.

BEAUBIEN: You know, Russian officials here claim that these were both precision strikes on military targets. They say the mall that they hit - and it was in the middle of the afternoon at rush hour - was nonfunctioning, that it was shut down. A second missile here, however, did strike the edge of a manufacturing plant that was adjacent to the mall. And that's probably what they were aiming for. You know, but despite these claims from the Kremlin that civilian casualties are fake, we've been interviewing people who are still hospitalized with burns and wounds from the flying debris at the mall. One man we met - he lost his wife and he had his right arm amputated when the mall - because the mall blew up around him. Matviichuk says she expects we're going to see more of these attacks on civilians in the coming weeks in an effort to wear down the Ukrainian public and push Zelenskyy to the bargaining table for peace talks.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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MARTINEZ: It's been a chaotic summer for air travel.

FADEL: Airlines have delayed and canceled tens of thousands of flights in recent weeks, even during this July 4 weekend.

MARTINEZ: NPR's transportation correspondent, David Schaper, joins us now. David, so first of all, tell us how busy the skies are right now. I mean, is air travel demand back to where it was before the pandemic?

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, not quite, but it is getting pretty close. The skies have been very busy this summer. And over the last week or so, the number of people flying has been getting to near 95% of prepandemic levels. Joe Schwieterman is an airline industry expert at Chicago's DePaul University. He's been tracking the number of people flying relative to the number of available seats. And he says the big problem right now is that airlines have far fewer flights than they did before the pandemic. So nearly every flight right now is completely full.

JOE SCHWIETERMAN: When you just take a large plane of 250 people and you cancel that flight and have to find, you know, standby seats or empty seats for those people on a weekend that doesn't really have a low point, it puts the airlines in a really tough spot.

SCHAPER: Because the airlines will have a tough time rebooking passengers because they have so few seats available.

MARTINEZ: So why are the airlines canceling so many flights? I mean, were they unprepared for this? How would they not know that after two years that we wouldn't want to go out in the world again and fly? I mean, we've heard about staffing shortages, especially among pilots, and weather. I mean, is that it?

SCHAPER: Yeah. You know, the airlines were preparing for a big surge in people flying again, but they were overly ambitious and added more flights to their summer schedules than they could staff because of a shortage of pilots and really every other kind of employee, from mechanics to flight attendants, too. And they've since cut a lot of flights from their schedules, but they're still stretched very thin. Pilots say they're working record amounts of overtime, but industry experts say the airlines still have very little wiggle room to stay on track when things go wrong, like bad weather. Bill McGee is an aviation consumer advocate who used to work in airline operations.

BILL MCGEE: I'm not speaking hyperbolically, but I can tell you, David, that this is the worst I've ever seen in the 37 years I've been around this industry.

SCHAPER: McGee says the airlines know that they're not going to be able to operate all the flights that they've scheduled, but they're often not canceling until the very last minute. And one measure of just how awful it is - passenger complaints about airlines to the DOT so far this year are up a whopping 300% over 2019.

MARTINEZ: That sounds like a lot. Now, you said staffing shortages are only part of the problem leading to those huge number of flight delays and cancellations. What else is going wrong?

MCGEE: Well, you know, the airlines are also short on planes. They haven't returned to service all of those that they parked during the pandemic. But the airlines point to something else. They blame many of the cancellations and delays on air traffic control problems. They say one key air traffic control center in Jacksonville, Fla., was understaffed recently for 27 of 30 days. And other centers have been short staffed, too. The FAA acknowledges some staffing shortfalls and say they're being addressed. But the agency fired back at the airlines, criticizing them for misusing government aid that was intended to prevent short staffing at the airlines. A spokesman says, quote, "People expect when they buy an airline ticket that they're going to get where they need to go. After receiving $54 billion in pandemic relief to help save the airlines from mass layoffs and bankruptcy, the American people deserve to have their expectations met."

MARTINEZ: Soon, we're just going to have to catapult to vacation locations. NPR's transportation correspondent, David Schaper, thanks a lot.

SCHAPER: My pleasure, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.