COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nine black men arrested for integrating a whites-only South Carolina lunch counter 54 years ago may be heroes in the historic record, but in the record of the law they are still convicted trespassers.
That criminal record will soon be erased.
On Wednesday, a prosecutor is expected to ask a judge to vacate the arrests and convictions of the men known as the Friendship Nine.
The men say that brings both relief and a hope for the future.
The eight students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College — Willie McCleod, Robert McCullough, W.T. "Dub" Massey, Clarence Graham, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., John Gaines and Mack Workman — were led by Thomas Gaither, who came to town as an activist with the Congress of Racial Equality.
About a year had passed since the sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, helped galvanize the nation's civil rights movement, but change was slow to come to Rock Hill. They decided to act together, getting arrested in February 1961 for ordering lunch from a whites-only counter at McCrory's variety store.
Convicted of trespassing and breach of peace, the men opted for a month's hard labor in a chain gang rather than allow bail money to be posted for them by civil rights groups. They did not want to contribute to the coffers of segregationists.
That decision drew national headlines, garnering the group the name the "Friendship Nine" and setting the standard for a "jail, no bail" policy emulated by other protesters around the South.
Author Kim Johnson took an interest in the men's story, studying their case and publishing a book entitled "No Fear For Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9" last year. After doing some research, Johnson went to Kevin Brackett, the solicitor for York and Union counties, to see what could be done to give the men a clean slate.
"This is an opportunity for us to bring the community together," Johnson told The Associated Press. "To have the records vacated essentially says that it should have never happened in the first place."
On Wednesday, Brackett will argue a motion to vacate those convictions before a Rock Hill judge who is expected to do just that.
It comes too late for McCullough, who died in 2006. But some of the others returned to town ahead of the hearing to reflect on their experience, telling the AP they hope their actions can still have an impact.
"It's been a long wait," Graham said. "We are sure now that we made the right decision for the right reason. Being nonviolent was the best thing that we could have done."
The men's names are engraved on the stools at the counter of the restaurant on Main Street, now called the Old Town Bistro. A plaque outside marks the spot where they were arrested. And official and personal apologies have been offered to the men over the years.
In 2009, a white man named Elwin Wilson who tried to pull one of the protesters from a stool nearly 50 years earlier returned to the same counter, meeting with some of the men. They forgave him.
Massey said he has no regrets.
"Everything that happened, happened for a reason," he said. "We have to continue what we're doing. If we're backing off from what we've done, then there's a problem here."
And although their records will soon be clean, the men hope their commitment to nonviolence can remain an example for people protesting various issues today.
"Maybe it might change some of their minds about some of their actions," Graham said. "Until the hearts change, there won't be any changes. We still insist that nonviolence is the way to go."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's anti-terror chief called Tuesday for countries to rehabilitate rather than punish returning jihadis with no blood on their hands, saying that some prisons have become "incubators of radicalization."
EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said in an interview with The Associated Press that "if we can avoid prison, let's avoid prison."
At a time when EU nations are still shocked by the attacks in France early this month, many are pushing for swift, repressive measures for anyone who has gone off to fight holy war in Syria or Iraq.
And even if true criminals among the returnees need to be punished with jail time, "I don't advise to bring them all to court because it would be a mistake," De Kerchove said.
Since the Jan. 7-9 Paris attacks that killed 20 people, including the three gunmen, dozens of people have been charged in France with defending terrorism. Several were almost immediately convicted under special measures for immediate sentencing. Inciting terrorism can bring a five-year prison term — or up to seven years for inciting terrorism online.
"We know how much jails are major incubators of radicalization. Much better, provided they accept to do that, they undertake major rehabilitation," De Kerchove said.
France recently expanded prison terms for terrorism-related offenses, but the country was still caught off-guard when a member of a jihadi network worked in tandem with his brother and a former jailhouse acquaintance during three days of attacks in the Paris region.
"These people got radicalized in prison," De Kerchove said.
And for those who are convicted, he suggests jails be designed "in a way that they are not in contact with petty criminals" and instead can meet with moderate imams. Belgium is already working on such plans.
A major challenge facing the authorities is to collect evidence against foreign fighters traveling to conflict-torn Syria that would stand up in European courts.
In many cases it's virtually impossible to prove whether suspects have joined the Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad or joined the ranks of the Islamic State group.
De Kerchove looked positively on a program for returnees in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, which former political extremists and foreign fighters can voluntarily join.
On Tuesday, Denmark earmarked 60.9 million kroner ($9.2 million) over the next three years for programs to de-radicalize Islamic extremists, including those who have fought with jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq.
Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen said about 7 million kroner ($1 million) will be spent on exit programs for former foreign fighters.
Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp stressed the program "is in no way a reward, a second chance on a silver plate. It is about protecting society, and avoid having people running around with a knife or an ax."
"Many countries rely on repression but punitive methods are a recipe to create resentment toward the society," Ranstorp said.
Whatever program returnees enter, it would remain a challenge to be sure when and if they are fully de-radicalized, but De Kerchove said it was "probably something achievable."
Meanwhile, anti-terror raids in France and Belgium netted five more suspects on Tuesday as Paris urged its EU partners to step up the fight against terror financing with new measures to make transactions more transparent.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that raids in southern France detained five people and broke up "one more network" in a small town that has seen several youths leave to fight in Syria and Iraq.
In western Belgium, authorities detained three men in an operation linked to a terror threat but they were later released and not charged, said prosecutor spokeswoman Karlien Ververken.
A raid in the eastern town of Verviers earlier this month left two suspects dead and later put seven more behind bars. Belgian authorities said that raid had averted an imminent major terrorist attack against police and their offices.
At EU headquarters, European finance ministers endorsed an anti-money laundering deal and threw their weight behind French proposals to boost intelligence-sharing on terror financing, tighten controls on virtual currencies like bitcoins and crack down on anonymous money transfers.
"We have to stop this anonymity. It is really dangerous for our citizens," French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told reporters.
The new money-laundering plan aims to ensure that the real owners of companies and trusts are listed in public registers in Europe, and to force banks, auditors, lawyers and others to be more vigilant about suspicious transactions. The measures will be debated by EU leaders on February 12.
Lorne Cook in Brussels, Lori Hinnant in Paris and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this article
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon church leaders are making a national appeal for a "balanced approach" in the clash between gay rights and religious freedom.
The church is promising to support some housing and job protections for gays and lesbians in exchange for legal protections for believers who object to the behavior of others.
It's not clear how much common ground the Mormons will find with this new campaign. The church insists it is making no changes in doctrine, and still believes it's against the law of God to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman.
But church leaders who held a rare news conference Tuesday said "we must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values."
The language of the new campaign mirrors a website the church launched in 2012 instructing Latter-day Saints to be more accepting and compassionate toward gays. The church made clear then and now that it still opposes gay marriage and insists on its right to apply its own rules within church-affiliated charities, schools, businesses and properties, even those that provide services to non-Mormons.
The church announced the campaign in a rare news conference including three elders from a high-level Mormon governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Church leaders condemned discrimination against gays in stark terms, speaking of centuries of "persecution and even violence against homosexuals." bc
"Ultimately, most of society recognized that such treatment was simply wrong, and that such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person's sexual orientation," Neill Marriott, a member of the church's Public Affairs Committee, said in a prepared text ahead of the news conference.
Mormon leaders still want to hire and fire workers based not only on religious beliefs, but also on behavior standards known as honor codes that require gays and lesbians to remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. The church also wants legal protections for religious objectors who work in government and health care, such as a physician who refuses to perform an abortion, or provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.
"Accommodating the rights of all people — including their religious rights — requires wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness," said Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the apostles. "Politically, it certainly requires dedication to the highest level of statesmanship. Nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring or accusations of bigotry."
Accommodations for religious objectors have factored into every state legislative debate over gay rights. But political pressure on rights groups to make concessions to religious conservatives is plummeting as support for same-sex marriage grows around the country. In some states, such as Arizona, business leaders now side with gay advocates, saying extensive religious exemptions hurt a state's image.
When the U.S. Supreme Court set a broad expansion of gay marriage in motion last year, religious conservatives said they would press states to allow some groups, companies and people to refuse some benefits or service for gay spouses. And gay rights groups seeking job and housing protections have faced an uphill battle in the more politically and religiously conservative states. Under these circumstances, advocates for broader religious exceptions believe they can win some concessions.
The Mormon church operates an extensive network of charities, schools and for-profit businesses around the country, with total operating budgets in the billions of dollars, but the new LDS approach is likely to be especially significant in the Mormon strongholds of Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, where the church and its members play a large civic role.
After coming under intense criticism for leading the fight for California's Proposition 8, church leaders have been trying to heal tensions by telling Latter-day Saints to be more loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.
U.S. stocks are closing lower after disappointing outlooks from Caterpillar and Microsoft raised worries about future profit growth at companies.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 291 points, or 1.7 percent, to close at 17,387 Tuesday. The blue-chip average dropped as much as 390 points earlier. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slid 27 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,029. The Nasdaq composite tumbled 90 points, or 1.9 percent, to 4,681.
Microsoft shares slid 9 percent, the biggest fall among S&P 500 stocks. The company noted in its quarterly results that licensing revenue for Windows fell, and it warned that a strong dollar will dent revenue.
Caterpillar's stock fell 7 percent after the heavy equipment maker was hurt in the fourth quarter by restructuring costs, and issued a weak outlook.