Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for The Two-Way, NPR's breaking news blog. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Merrit joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ouster of two presidents, eight rounds of elections and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

The U.S. Department of Justice is throwing its support behind an anti-affirmative action group that is suing Harvard University over alleged racial discrimination in its admissions policies.

In a document filed in federal court on Thursday, the Justice Department said it is siding with Students for Fair Admissions in its request for a trial, currently scheduled to begin in mid-October.

After a scaffolding collapsed early Wednesday, two construction workers fell to their deaths at a site near the Disney World resort in central Florida.

A third person had a near-miss. The worker "almost fell but he was able to hold onto something and several workers were able to assist him and he was not injured," Orange County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Ingrid Tejada-Monforte told reporters.

Floodwaters are washing over residential areas in Myanmar's Bago region, driving thousands of people from their homes after a dam failed.

According to Reuters, officials say more than 50,000 people have had to flee.

Authorities fear that thousands of people may still be trapped in their homes, Agence France-Presse reported. Rescuers are working "into the night to try to ferry residents out."

Police have taken a man into custody over the violent assault of 22-year-old Marie Laguerre on the streets of Paris.

The CEO of game-maker Electronic Arts has announced the cancellation of three upcoming video game tournaments following a deadly shooting on Sunday at a Madden gaming event in Jacksonville, Fla.

Researchers investigating the effects of air pollution conducted math and verbal tests over the course of multiple years on more than 25,000 people in 162 Chinese counties. They matched those results with pollution conditions at the time of each test, and found sobering results.

Updated at 5:56 p.m. ET Sunday

Memorial and remembrance plans are taking shape for Arizona Sen. John McCain, a day after he died following a battle with brain cancer. He will lie in state at both the U.S and Arizona Capitols.

McCain will then be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md., according to his office. The senator graduated from the Naval Academy and has said multiple times that he wanted to be laid to rest there.

Updated at 9:19 p.m. ET Sunday

A 24-year-old male opened fire during a video game tournament at a mall in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday afternoon, killing three people, including himself, according to the local sheriff.

Sheriff Mike Williams says the suspect has been identified as David Katz from Baltimore. The gunman used at least one handgun and was a participant in the tournament, according to the sheriff. Authorities planned to release more information about the suspect later on Sunday.

There's a light in the night sky over Canada that's puzzling scientists. It looks like a white-purple ribbon. It's very hot, and doesn't last long. And it's named STEVE.

One of the largest supermarket companies in the U.S. has announced it is phasing out single-use plastic bags in an effort to reduce plastic waste.

The Kroger Co. says it plans to stop distributing single-use bags completely by 2025 across its chains.

Five months after Uber reached a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit filed by women and people of color who worked there as engineers, new details are emerging about the terms of the deal. The plaintiffs, both current and former employees, say they were subjected to harassment and discrimination at Uber.

Lions and tigers and bears are now roaming free — on the box for Barnum's Animals crackers.

For more than a century, the animal cracker packaging has shown the mighty beasts locked behind bars in a circus boxcar.

A spokeswoman for Mondelez International, Nabisco's parent company, said it was time for a change.

"To continue to make the brand relevant for years to come, we felt this was the right time for the next evolution in our design, now showing the animals in a natural habitat," said Mondelez's Kimberly Fontes.

Updated at 11:35 p.m. ET

Inmates at prisons across the U.S. are expected to stage a weeks-long strike beginning Tuesday to demand better living conditions and prison reform.

Organizers say the demonstrations — including hunger strikes and a refusal to work — are in response to a riot in April at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution in which seven inmates died.

On the High Plains in West Texas, hot winds blast through cotton fields as far as the eye can see.

In the middle of it all is a tiny vineyard.

Andis Applewhite is the owner. She's an artist whose family has worked this land for a century. They once planted crops more typical of the neighborhood, like cotton and wheat. Applewhite decided to try something different: She put in a couple of acres of cabernet franc grapes.

The entirety of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, is suffering from a crippling drought that is the most severe in recent memory.

The tough conditions are drying up huge swathes of land, leaving farmers struggling to feed their livestock and water their crops. It's also exacerbating bushfires in the state.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET

PepsiCo has announced plans to buy Israel-based fizzy drink-maker SodaStream in a deal valued at $3.2 billion.

It's the latest foray into more-healthful offerings for the food and beverage giant, which has shifted from soft drinks toward products such as juices, hummus and oatmeal.

A top Buddhist monk in China has resigned from his post after accusations of sexual misconduct by multiple nuns.

Xuecheng was the president of the Buddhist Association of China. A statement on the organization's website posted Wednesday said that Xuecheng's resignation had been accepted at a council meeting.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has temporarily lost some Twitter privileges over breaking the site's rules against abusive behavior. Last week, the company was a notable exception after a wave of other major tech companies banned Jones and his main channels.

The penalties to Alex Jones' personal account, @RealAlexJones, are for one week. The Twitter page for his website Infowars posted screenshots of the notice that Twitter apparently sent Jones.

A former Baltimore City police officer has been indicted by a grand jury on criminal charges including first-degree assault after a video surfaced on social media that showed him repeatedly punching a man in the face.

The incident in the video happened on Saturday. Hours later, the Baltimore Police Department suspended the officer, now identified as Arthur Williams. Late Sunday, the department accepted his resignation.

In Paris, authorities are taking an unusual approach to combat the scourge of public urination: Make urination even more public.

The city is experimenting with completely exposed, eco-friendly urinals.

The devices are called "Uritrottoir," which combines the words for urinal and pavement. They're not at all subtle. They're bright red and in heavily trafficked areas — for example, directly next to the Seine near the Notre Dame Cathedral.

And if there's any confusion, a large white and red sign with a red arrow and a cartoon of a man peeing probably clears it up.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET

Nebraska has executed its first prisoner since 1997, after a federal three-judge panel denied a drug company's request to halt the lethal injection over concerns about whether the drugs were obtained improperly by the state.

Tuesday morning's execution of Carey Dean Moore is also the first time the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl had been used in a lethal injection in the U.S.

The Baltimore Police Department has accepted the resignation of an officer after a video surfaced in which he repeatedly punches a man in the face.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Baltimore Police Department has accepted the resignation of a police officer after a video went viral. The clip shows the officer repeatedly punching a man in the face. NPR's Merrit Kennedy has the story.

Updated at 10:05 p.m. ET

A small group of about 25 white supremacist demonstrators rallied next to the White House on Sunday, one year after the "Unite the Right" demonstration by the same organizer turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va.

The demonstrators have since left D.C. via Metro, and WAMU's Elly Yu reports that counterprotesters have headed home, too.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is "seriously considering" a request to testify in person before the U.S. Senate intelligence committee about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to a statement from his lawyer.

Assange has been holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012, in part over fears that he could be extradited to the U.S. and potentially face trial over leaking massive troves of documents.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has explained in a series of tweets why his platform has not suspended conspiracy theorist Alex Jones or his website Infowars. Earlier this week, tech companies YouTube, Apple, Facebook and Spotify banned main content outlets in what Jones described as a "purge."

"He hasn't violated our rules. We'll enforce if he does," Dorsey tweeted. In an apparent reference to other tech companies, he added that Twitter would not "succumb and simply react to outside pressure."

It was just a normal Monday afternoon at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs when suddenly, the sky started pelting down chucks of ice the size of baseballs.

There were more than 3,000 people visiting the zoo at the time of the severe storm who had to seek shelter.

A German woman and her partner have been convicted and sentenced to years in prison for repeatedly raping the woman's young son, then selling him for sex on the darknet.

The horrific crimes have shocked the small town of Staufen in southern Germany. The perpetrators – identified only as 48-year-old Berrin T. and 39-year-old Christian L. — have admitted to the crimes, including to selling the boy for sex acts to multiple men over the course of two years.

Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo has announced that she is stepping aside as CEO after some 12 years at the helm.

Nooyi plans to stay on as chairman until early 2019. The company's board announced Monday that it elected Ramon Laguarta, president of the company since 2017, to succeed her as CEO. PepsiCo prides itself on tapping its leadership from within — every other chief executive has come from its own ranks.

For fans who have dreamed about the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard to Star Trek, actor Patrick Stewart might as well borrow his character's classic catchphrase and say, "Make it so."

It's a role that he hasn't stepped into since 2002, and fans are elated.

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