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News brief: Wis. parade tragedy, Ga. murder trial, COVID and Thanksgiving

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's start with what we don't know. We do not know why the driver of a red SUV rolled through the Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

We do know some of the people affected. They included a young girls dance team, a troupe of dancing grannies and Catholic schoolchildren. Police have confirmed at least five people were killed and more than 40 were hurt. Shawn Reilly is the mayor of Waukesha.

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SHAWN REILLY: Today, our community faced horror and tragedy in what should have been a community celebration.

INSKEEP: Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM with us. Chuck, good morning.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Would you just walk us through the facts here? What happened?

QUIRMBACH: Well, the annual Christmas parade with the theme of comfort and joy this year was underway in downtown Waukesha when this vehicle drove through barricades, low barricades, and sped through the parade route at about 4:40 p.m. on Sunday. Police later said they could not confirm the identities of those who died or who was injured, but that during the incident, a police officer tried to stop the driver by firing his gun at the vehicle. No bystanders were injured by the gun said Police Chief Dan Thompson. But the officers said that the vehicle did stop then after the gunfire. Whether the driver was hit or the vehicle was hit or just out of fear, the driver stopped. But that's when the incident ended, it appeared.

INSKEEP: I guess we should be clear here. We know of police firing at the vehicle, which was striking people. We don't know of anybody firing out of the vehicle nor do we have any reason to think the driver was armed with a weapon. Is that correct?

QUIRMBACH: That's correct. We've heard nothing of that sort; no motive stated by the police or the mayor in two brief news conferences last night. They didn't take questions at the second news event.

INSKEEP: And have they said who this person is or anything whatsoever about him?

QUIRMBACH: They really haven't. They've been concentrating on notifying next of kin and bringing some message that the incident was over, that there was no threat to safety at that hour, 8 or 9 last night and since. But as to who did this, they're saying there's no known link to terrorism and that the community is safe today.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking through what it must be like in that community. Here's this Christmas parade. It's an annual tradition. It had been called off because of the pandemic. It was coming back. And then this happened. It must be devastating.

QUIRMBACH: Well, I'm certainly seeing and hearing from people expressions of sadness, disbelief and shock. I mean, if you've been in a parade or had kids or other relatives in one or just simply went to one to watch, it's a time of happiness, pride and joy - the exact opposite here.

INSKEEP: Chuck, thanks very much for the update. We'll continue listening for your reporting as we learn a little bit more and be very careful about what we know and what we don't know; really appreciate it.

QUIRMBACH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM.

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INSKEEP: OK. Lawyers make closing arguments today in the trial of three Georgia men accused of murder.

MARTINEZ: They're the men who chased down Ahmaud Arbery as he was jogging through a residential neighborhood. Nobody denies that one of the men shot and killed him. The suspects who chased him down are claiming self-defense.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Brunswick, Ga., the location of the trial. Debbie, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: OK. You've heard the evidence over the past many days. What was the prosecution's case?

ELLIOTT: You know, they are making the charges that father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan murdered Ahmaud Arbery. They're also charged with aggravated assault and false imprisonment. A key moment in the testimony was when Travis McMichael took the witness stand in his own defense. He drew his shotgun when Arbery fought back. McMichael shot him at close range in the struggle. The whole thing was caught on graphic cellphone video. And during cross-examination, the prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, asked McMichael what prompted him and his father to arm themselves and pursue Arbery after they saw him running down their street.

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LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Didn't brandish any weapons.

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn't pull out any guns.

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn't pull out any knife.

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Never reached for anything, did he?

MCMICHAEL: No.

DUNIKOSKI: He just ran.

MCMICHAEL: Yes. He was just running.

INSKEEP: Well, that's pretty direct. So how do defense lawyers try to justify shooting him if that's all true?

ELLIOTT: They're going to say this was an attempt at a citizen's arrest that turned tragic because Arbery fought back. They'll portray a neighborhood on edge because of some car break-ins and surveillance video that showed people, including Ahmaud Arbery, trespassing at a house under construction. McMichael testified that he fatally shot Arbery but did so in self-defense because Arbery was going for his shotgun. Now, people who've been watching this trial think that's going to be a tough argument given that the men went in armed pursuit of Arbery, and he had no weapon. Armiah Crawford (ph) is a 35-year-old father and welder in Brunswick who's been coming to the courthouse pretty much every day in solidarity with the Arbery family. Here's what he had to say.

ARMIAH CRAWFORD: You can't pull up with a gun and be startled by the way that someone react. I mean, you - what? - two trucks deep, young, Black, two trucks deep, all full of white guys with guns. Like, what exactly was y'all expecting him to do like that?

INSKEEP: So we have to know, Debbie Elliott, this is a case where race is a significant factor. It will go to a jury with just one Black juror. What are people saying about this moment?

ELLIOTT: You know, I've heard a lot of talk about how this is a defining moment for American justice. The case has drawn a lot of scrutiny and attention. There've been demonstrations in Brunswick outside the courthouse on and off throughout this trial. For some local residents, there's a bit of angst about what the jury will do. Like you say, it's one Black man, mostly white women, three white men. Even though evidence of racial animus has not been presented actually at the trial, that's certainly the subtext, says Rebekah Moore (ph).

REBEKAH MOORE: They don't even realize they're racist half the time because they're just so used to saying racist things. And that's not who we are in Brunswick. It's not. Our community is so much more than those men chasing him down and murdering him - so much more than that. And that weighs on me too because I don't want people looking and saying, oh, just another Southern town. We're not just another Southern town.

ELLIOTT: So certainly people here think the stakes are high. Closing arguments will probably take most of the day today. And then the jury gets the case.

INSKEEP: Debbie, always a pleasure hearing from you, even under these circumstances. Thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Brunswick, Ga.

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INSKEEP: OK. What's the best way to keep COVID out if you have holiday guests in?

MARTINEZ: Surveys suggest about half of all Americans plan to come together with 10 or more people in the coming weeks. And some 53 million people are expected to travel this week.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Should people be concerned?

AUBREY: You know, I think people should be aware. Cases have definitely rebounded to more than 90,000 a day. The good news is we clearly have ways to protect ourselves. Seventy-four percent of people 5 and up in the U.S. are vaccinated with at least one dose. And though there are plenty of breakthrough cases, a few states tracking them find nearly a third of cases are among those fully vaccinated. They tend to be milder, but some people do get sick, and breakthrough infections are riskier in older people. I spoke to Dr. Anthony Fauci about the benefits of getting a booster shot.

ANTHONY FAUCI: You boost now, within days, you start to increase the protection. You don't get the peak of protection for two or more weeks. So my recommendation would be as we go into the winter and the holiday season where there's a lot of gathering indoors, I would recommend if you are eligible for a boost, go get boosted right now.

AUBREY: And the CDC has given the green light, Steve, for boosters for everyone 18 and up.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about another precaution that people were taking a lot six months ago or one year ago, and that was going out and getting a test, getting people tested before they travelled, before they got together for the holidays. Now we're in a circumstance where a large majority of people are vaccinated. Should they still be getting tests before that Thanksgiving meal?

AUBREY: You know, a lot of infectious disease doctors say testing is a good idea, especially if you have guests who are not vaccinated. Also if you have a mix, as I do, of grandparents, college kids coming home, people traveling through crowded airports, young kids not fully vaccinated, tests can offer peace of mind. But Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill of Oregon Health and Science University says here's what you need to be aware of with these over-the-counter quick tests such as the BinaxNOW test.

JUDY GUZMAN-COTRILL: The antigen tests are a quick snapshot. So a person could be negative on Monday but then positive a few days later. So I usually recommend if people are going to be using a home antigen test to use it as close to the event that you're gathering with others as possible.

AUBREY: Ideally on the same day, Steve, of the gathering, say, the morning of.

INSKEEP: Really appreciate that reminder, that tests are good but not perfect. They may not catch everything. The vaccine is good but not perfect. It may not stop everything. And then, of course, there's the matter of kids under 12 who might be at this point partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. Should people take extra precautions there?

AUBREY: You know, people should take precautions based on the risks of the people that they're gathering with. If young kids who are only partially vaccinated or unvaccinated are gathering with grandparents who are 70 and spry and healthy, that's less risky. But if your group includes people who have serious medical conditions or older grandparents in their 80s or 90s, Dr. Emily Landon of the University of Chicago told me you probably want to layer on some more precautions.

EMILY LANDON: Additional layers might mean they should maybe wear a mask around Grandma. Maybe you should have as much of the gathering outside as possible. Maybe you choose to not sleep over at Grandma's house but just come to Grandma's house during the day for the big event.

AUBREY: And drive home or sleep in a hotel or at a friend's to limit the risk.

INSKEEP: OK. Millions of people will be traveling this weekend. Millions of people will be seeing each other face to face and some advice here for how to do that safely. Allison, thanks as always on this Monday.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.