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Morning News Brief


The first week of the trial against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin featured some very emotional witness testimony.


Yesterday, George Floyd's girlfriend, Courteney Ross, was in tears when she took the stand. She cried as she talked about her relationship with Floyd and the moment they met.


COURTENEY ROSS: This kind person just to come up to me and say, can I pray with you, when I felt alone, it was so sweet.

MARTIN: Chauvin's former supervisor also testified. He said officers on the scene should have ended their restraint of Floyd sooner. The judge says today will be a half-day court session.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley has been following this trial from Minneapolis. Good morning, Cheryl.


KING: A retired Minneapolis police sergeant by the name of David Ploeger (ph) was on the witness stand yesterday. Why was he there?

CORLEY: Well, he was there because this was a discussion about how and when police should use force. And David Ploeger was Derek Chauvin's supervisor. And he testified that, according to police policy, officers are supposed to put restrained subjects on their side to help with breathing. He said that it might be reasonable to put a knee on someone's neck briefly or to use force to restrain someone. And the prosecutor, Steve Schleicher, asked him for more of an explanation.


STEVE SCHLEICHER: Once the person - once the subject is handcuffed and no longer resisting, at that point, the restraint should stop.


CORLEY: And Ploeger said he had a phone conversation with Derek Chauvin after George Floyd was taken to the hospital, that Chauvin didn't mention that he had put his knee on Floyd's neck or for how long. And a lot of the conversation was just about the police department's use of force police manual, when to report use of force, who reviews cases and what type of training is provided.

KING: OK, so some bigger context. You also heard from the paramedics who were on the scene. What did they say?

CORLEY: Well, two paramedics testified, and they talked about seeing no signs that George Floyd was breathing or moving. And it appeared when they got there that he was in cardiac arrest. And one of the paramedics, Derek Smith, said that he checked for a pulse. He couldn't find one, and essentially he thought Floyd was dead. Even so, they transported him to a hospital, continue to work on him. Smith said they were trying to give him a second chance at life.

KING: And then, of course, George Floyd's girlfriend, Courteney Ross, was on the stand.

CORLEY: Yeah. And I think that was really an attempt to humanize George Floyd in what's called a spark of life testimony. That's where the prosecution can have people detail how a person lived or who he or she was. And Ross began talking about how she met George Floyd at a shelter. He was a security guard in 2017, and that was actually one of her favorite stories, she said.


ROSS: I like to say his voice dropped, like, two levels, even though it was deep already. And he asked me if he can get my number, and we had our first kiss in the lobby, and that's when our relationship started.

CORLEY: And they were involved for nearly three years. She talked about how he loved sports and loved kids. But prosecutors also had her talk about how she and Floyd struggled with opioid drug addiction, which she called a classic story.


ROSS: We both suffer from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back. We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.

CORLEY: And prosecutors essentially tried to get the jump on any talk about Floyd's drug use, which the defense has argued is what really caused his death.

KING: NPR's Cheryl Corley covering the trial of Derek Chauvin. Cheryl, thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome.


KING: All right. We are seeing horrific scenes in Taiwan this morning after a train derailed inside of a tunnel with hundreds of people on board.

MARTIN: Yeah. At least 48 people have been killed in this crash, dozens more were injured and trapped in the wreckage. The crash is the island's worst rail disaster in decades.

KING: Ben Blanchard is with us now. He's the Taiwan bureau chief for Reuters. Hi, Ben.

BEN BLANCHARD: Hi. Good morning.

KING: What is happening right now? Where do things stand?

BLANCHARD: So at the moment, as you say, the death toll has reached 48. There's about 60 people who have been taken to hospital. So far, they have also managed to rescue all of the people who were trapped in the train. So there is currently nobody awaiting rescue any more inside the train.

KING: Who was on this train?

BLANCHARD: So the crash happened right at the start of a long weekend for the traditional tomb sweeping festival. So it's a mixture of people going home to tend to their family tombs. But also there would have been a lot of tourists on board because Taiwan's east coast is mountainous. It's very pretty. There's a national park there. So there would have been a mixture of both tourists and families just going back to see relatives and, as I say, to tend to their tombs.

KING: Does anyone have a sense yet of what exactly happened?

BLANCHARD: So our understanding and what's been reported here is that there was a construction site that was next to the railway line and that a truck that was there - apparently they did not pull the handbrake and it basically slid down an embankment onto the railway line. And the train as it was coming, I think, into the tunnel hit that truck. And that seems to be what caused the accident. Certainly, if you look at images of the accident site, you can see the wreckage of the truck and you can see where it slid down the hill from the sloping road on the construction site next to the railway line.

KING: Do you have a sense of who the authorities might look to for accountability here?

BLANCHARD: It's not clear at the moment. And the transport minister was talking to reporters earlier and he says, look, we still need to do an investigation here. I mean, it's important to remember that Taiwan's railway system is state owned, OK, so it's run by the Ministry of Transport. Generally, it's pretty efficient. It's pretty quick. It's pretty cheap. The trains are very comfortable. They have had a patchy safety record over the last few decades. Taiwan had two train crashes that both killed 30 people, one in 1981 and another one in 1991. There was also a still quite severe, although fewer people died, train crash in 2018 in which 18 people died. So this is definitely the worst train crash in the last several decades.

KING: Reuters Taiwan bureau chief Ben Blanchard on a train derailment, a deadly train derailment earlier today in Taiwan. Thank you for being with us.

BLANCHARD: Thank you.


KING: There are fewer college students on campus and even in virtual classrooms than there were just a year ago.

MARTIN: Right. The National Student Clearinghouse, which looks at student data across the country, has found that college enrollment is way down, actually, and community colleges appear to have taken the biggest hit.

KING: NPR's Elissa Nadworny covers education, has spent much of the past year on the road visiting various campuses. Good morning, Elissa.


KING: So what do the data tell us?

NADWORNY: Well, it's pretty bleak. So fall was really bad. The numbers were really bad. More than half a million students didn't show up for college. A lot of folks were hoping that this spring we'd start to see some students come back. But spring enrollment was actually worse than fall. Community colleges are again down 10% from a year ago. Here's Doug Shapiro, who leads the research team at the National Student Clearinghouse, where the data comes from.

DOUG SHAPIRO: There's no quick turnaround here. There's no snap back for public colleges. It's really staggering. There's never been anything that dramatic for any any sector.

KING: Never been anything that dramatic. So what is the implication of this?

NADWORNY: Well, it's going to have a long legacy for higher ed and ultimately the economy. I mean, you think about it, you've got fewer freshmen. That's fewer sophomores tomorrow, fewer transfer students getting a bachelor's degree, fewer graduates. And community colleges, they tend to serve more low-income students, more student parents, more students of color. They're the places that really open up access to a lot of folks who are traditionally left out of college.

KING: OK, so some doors might be closing unless colleges figure out how to get enrollment up. Have any done so?

NADWORNY: Well, we visited Valencia College. That's a community college that serves about 50,000 students in Orlando, Fla. Heading into last fall, they were looking at a 20% deficit. That's, like, eight to nine thousand students. And they made all of it up.

KING: How? What did they do?

NADWORNY: Well, they changed a few things. For existing students, instead of offering a withdrawal option, they allowed students to retake the classes they were having trouble in and do it for free. That was a big deal for Jay Ledezma (ph). He's a student who got laid off from his full-time job last spring.

JAY LEDEZMA: The stress was always there. The stress always lingered. But it gave me the opportunity to kind of, like, sharpen my focus towards working.

NADWORNY: For new students, they waived the application fees. They extended deadlines. They also made tens of thousands of phone calls to nudge students to enroll. Jehan Teelucksingh (ph) was a recent high school grad. She was on the receiving end of that.

JEHAN TEELUCKSINGH: I didn't even want to go to college, like, to be honest. I didn't think it was for me. Yeah, I was really close to just, you know, finding a good job.

NADWORNY: She said Valencia College made her feel welcome. She's finishing up her freshman year right now. But Jehan did tell me that many of her friends, fellow members of the class of 2020, they decided to work instead of going to college this year.

KING: And it's that group of high school seniors, those are the ones that we need to kind of be really concerned about - right? - and what their futures will look like.

NADWORNY: That's right. They're by far the biggest group missing from higher ed right now. For those students, researchers actually found the decline to be twice as worse for low-income students than wealthier students in that class. And time is ticking to get these students in the classroom because research shows it can be really hard to go back to college after a year.

KING: NPR's Elissa Nadworny, thanks to your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

NADWORNY: Yeah, you bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.