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Editorial Roundup: US

June 03, 2020 - 2:29 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


June 3

The Charlotte Observer on President Donald Trump moving the Republican National Convention because North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper won’t commit to relaxing strict social distancing regulations:

For those who’ve long wanted Charlotte to rid itself of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Donald Trump’s tweets on it Tuesday were a strong reminder why.

The president packed a lot of wrong into a handful of words. He said N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper refused to guarantee Republicans “use of the Spectrum Arena,” which was untrue. He said the governor was “still in Shelter-In-Place Mode,” which isn’t accurate. He said, finally, that he was forced to seek another home for his convention “because of @NC_Governor.”

That’s wrong.

Charlotte losing the convention — or at least the big events associated with it — is not about a Republican president vs. a “Democrat governor,” as Trump has called Cooper more than once. It isn’t about any of the ideological things the president and his supporters might like it to be about.

It’s about public health. That’s it. Roy Cooper wanted to protect the health of North Carolinians. Donald Trump was thinking about himself.

After a week of trying to get the other to say “no,” the governor and the president landed in a place that seemed inevitable all along. The president made the governor an offer he couldn’t accept — guarantee a full convention, a packed Spectrum arena with no requirements to wear masks or practice distancing. In other words, pretend that COVID-19 wasn’t too big of a deal, just as the president has so often tried to do.

To guarantee Trump his triumphant final-night convention moment three months before it happens, while COVID-19 metrics are still rising in our state and with little sense of the landscape in August, would have been a dereliction of duty for Cooper.

It’s true, as this editorial board has said, that the president and his party were in a pinch. They understandably didn’t like the thought of making plans and investing millions only to have the governor lock the doors because COVID-19 was spiking in August. We wish the RNC and Trump chose the responsible wait-and-see approach Democrats are taking with their August convention in Milwaukee, but if the president is insistent on his convention-goers partying like it’s 2019, he needs to find a city and state where leaders care as little as he does about the risks.

It’s also true that even if some RNC meetings stay here, the loss of the full convention will sting for Charlotte. While the coronavirus might have dampened the $100-200 million estimated economic impact of RNC 2020, big money was coming here. Businesses big and small‚ along with their employees - would have seen a much-needed boost to the bottom line. Even if you believe that public health is more important than potential revenue, it’s hard to see those dollars go away.

It might, however, be a bit of a relief. The convention presented an additional safety issue with this spring of discontent possibly bleeding into summer. Given the president’s growing combativeness with protests, it’s not hard to imagine a heavily militarized police force clashing with angry demonstrators in August. The president is spoiling for a fight. Charlotte could have been the battleground.

Instead, it appears that another city will reap the revenue and take on the risks of Donald Trump’s big week. RNC 2020 is among the more unpredictable conventions — other than the nominee, of course — in history. But of all the uncertainties surrounding August, one mattered most — the health of Charlotte and the people who were coming to North Carolina. Roy Cooper cared about that more than Donald Trump.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/


June 2

The Miami Herald on the killing of George Floyd, subsequent protests and racism in the United States:

If you have awakened from a comfortable sleep wondering how we as a nation got here, it is clearly time for deeper reflection. With the video documenting George Floyd’s death after more than eight minutes beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee, the veil has at least for now been lifted from the plague of police violence that too many Americans still deny.

While Floyd’s tragic, needless death was only the latest of many fatal attacks on black men and women, America, like a sick patient, is now feeling something, where earlier it was seemingly numb to news of yet another extrajudicial death.

We’ve been here before: injustice, protests, riots.

Yet nothing changes.

The question is what are we personally willing to do?

If you think it’s black people’s job to fix racism — and no one else’s — you’ve got work to do.

If you fled an autocratic regime for our freedoms, but are OK with a democratically elected American president unleashing the U.S. military on his own citizens — who are exercising their freedom of expression, by the way — you’re a hypocrite.

If black looters are the biggest problem you see, watch video of the white ones, so you’re fully informed.

If you are more outraged over lost property than lost lives, check your heart.

If even peaceful black demonstrations rattle you, then you should really be frightened by the left-wing anarchists and white supremacists — including those in police uniforms — who have hijacked legitimate protests against police violence.

If you’re cool with former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but outraged that Colin Kaepernick knelt on a football field, you’re delusional — and want to be.

If you’re bothered by the violence in the streets, but shrug off police violence, you’re complicit.

If you are appalled by police violence, then organize — but not in the streets this time — and demand meetings with police chiefs to discover their anti-racist policies, that is, if they have any. And take along video of their officers acting badly.

If you’re not black and feel compelled to call the police on a black person for simply breathing the same air as you, back off. Who the hell are you?

If you’re waving the Confederate flag or spray-painting swastikas, you’re no patriot, you’re a menace to society.

If you haven’t ever really talked to black friends or colleagues about their challenges and fears, then you’re a coward. Ask them, and listen. Remember, it’s not about you. And don’t — do not — tell them to “get over it.”

If your kid calls a classmate the n-word, don’t shrug it off. You’re raising a little racist. Not good.

If you’re shocked that police officers, and even police chiefs, have breached the code, stepped out of the thin blue line and decried how Floyd was killed, kneeling in support of protesters — as happened in Coral Gables over the weekend — well, so are we. But it’s an opportunity for reform. Use it, people.

If you are asking, “What’s next?” demand the county revisit creating a community oversight board; hold electeds accountable and ask why they are so beholden to police unions; collaborate with social-justice groups that are actually accomplishing something you believe in.

We all must be willing to start looking inward to determine if — just maybe — we are perpetuating attitudes and environments that give cover, breath and life to the Derek Chauvins of the world.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/


June 2

The Wall Street Journal on coronavirus lockdown's increasing anger and social dislocation in Americans:

Those who doubted the wisdom of severe coronavirus lockdown measures were often accused of valuing economics more than public health. That charge was always a caricature, and the riots and lawlessness engulfing America’s cities ought to discredit it. The consequences of the lockdown also include social dislocation.

The majority of those gathering to protest are peaceful and legitimately outraged by the brutality against George Floyd in Minneapolis. Yet the wave of police protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement after 2014 never devolved into the wanton looting and property destruction now taking place nationwide. It doesn’t take a sociology Ph.D. to suspect that the unprecedented conditions the nation has been living under for more than two months have contributed to the anger apparent in the riots and violence.

More than 40 million Americans, especially in low-wage occupations, have filed for unemployment. We don’t believe in the economic determinist school of social pathology. But there’s no doubt that millions of people have been idle and cooped up for months. Closures of pools, basketball courts and parks have made recreation more difficult and exacerbated isolation. Some rioters may be acting out of boredom and a sense of impunity that can be exploited by ideological provocateurs or Antifa agitators.

The lockdowns also mean that the streets are emptier. The broken-windows theory of policing argued, among other things, that crime flourishes in places law-abiding citizens avoid. With commercial districts in places like New York frequented less by those trying to honour social distancing, it is easier for criminals to congregate.

Add to that the jail releases, pressed early on in the crisis by criminal-justice reformers. About 1,500 New York City inmates were released. In Hennepin County, Minnesota—the site of Floyd’s killing and early protests—the jail population fell by more than 350 from March to April. Philadelphia implemented a delayed-arrest policy. It’s a good bet that at least some of those burning down buildings had previous run-ins with the law.

Virus-fighting measures were necessary to stem the loss of life, and the human toll of coronavirus—which hit African-Americans hardest—has no doubt contributed to the unrest. But as Americans continue to debate the wisdom of the lockdown experiment, more than economic damage ought to go in the cost ledger. There has also been damage to the social fabric and the rule of law.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/


June 2

The Los Angles Times on journalist being targeted attacked during protests:

Journalists know that when they cover chaotic and dangerous events, a press credential is a thin shield against the bullets flying and batons swinging around them. But as protests have spread around the nation in recent days, journalists have become the targets themselves because they are journalists.

That is troubling on a number of levels. Whatever you think about the fourth estate, news reporters serve as the public’s eyes and ears on the events shaping the world. And in too many cities, local law enforcement has been trying to stop them from showing the public the turmoil caused by the death of George Floyd — and the government’s response to it.

The media’s job is complicated by a president who routinely refers to the media as the the “enemy of the people,” a freighted designation that historically has come with official crackdowns and persecutions. President Trump resorts to inflammatory rhetoric with disconcerting regularity, but words have meaning, and consequences.

Two Los Angeles Times journalists covering the protests in Minneapolis recently — writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole — were targeted, along with colleagues from other outlets, by Minneapolis state police who fired at them with rubber bullets and tear gas, then pursued them as they sought shelter. That was not a one-off incident.

The Nieman Lab, which covers trends in journalism, reported Monday that journalists had been attacked by police officers more than 110 times since May 28, when the street protests over Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis spread nationwide. Some of those incidents were incidental, as journalists got caught between factions. But many were intentional.

Nick Waters, who reports for the online investigative news site Bellingcat, has been keeping a running compilation of reports on Twitter of journalists attacked as they cover protests around the nation. A photographer jabbed in the stomach with a police baton in Los Angeles. A photographer in Indianapolis threatened by a police officer brandishing a rifle that fires “less than lethal” ammunition. A TV crew targeted with rubber bullets while broadcasting live in Louisville. Adding an international dimension, the Australian government has launched an investigation into the police tear gas assault on an Australian TV crew airing live from outside the White House.

In the highest-profile incident, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his camera and sound crew were arrested, also live on air, in Minneapolis, as was a local TV crew — two among a series of such abuses in that city. African American journalists have reported being singled out, including a reporter for the Detroit Free Press approached by a police officer as he stood amid a small group of white journalists.

And it’s not just police lashing out at journalists. Protesters themselves have targeted the media. A throng vandalized CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Protesters battered a Fox TV crew outside the White House. A mob assaulted a photographer in Fayetteville, N.C., as he took video of them looting a store.

And on it goes. Although no journalists have been killed so far, some have been severely injured, including freelance photographer Linda Tirado, who reported on Twitter that she had permanently lost the use of her left eye after being struck in the face by a rubber bullet in Minneapolis. The photographer attacked by the looters in Fayetteville reported he suffered a concussion. The Times’ Hennessy-Fiske and Cole suffered injuries, too.

As dispiriting as it is for journalists to be attacked by members of the public, it is even more problematic — and dangerous for democracy — when the attackers are sanctioned by the government. A police officer in paramilitary garb and armed to the teeth sends a specific message when targeting those who, exercising their 1st Amendment rights, are trying to serve as witnesses to governmental actions amid social unrest. It’s not paranoid to think that attacks in those circumstances — and scores of them nationwide — are acts of governmental intimidation intended to dissuade those who would bear witness.

It’s always hard to tell how intense a storm is when you stand in the middle of it, so it’s unclear whether the current outpouring of grief and anger around the nation will bend the long arc toward justice for African Americans and other people of colour. We hope the past week reflects a broad chorus of American voices from across the spectrum of race and class rising to tell police — and the governments that employ them — that they must reform how they enforce laws and deal with communities they have historically mistreated.

But in the meantime, police and government officials need to recognize how important it is for journalists to bear witness to these events, as well as their right to do so without fear of being targeted by agents of the state.



May 29

The New York Times on holding authorities responsible in excessive force cases:

A Minneapolis police officer, who was filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until the life left his body, has been fired, arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. That is a step toward justice. Those who take a life should face a jury of their peers. But the rarity of the arrest, the fact that police officers who brutalize or even kill other people while wearing a badge so seldom end up facing any consequences is an ugly reminder of how unjust America’s legal system can be.

There is a common refrain from street protesters in the wake of death after death after death after death of men of colour at the hands of the police: “No justice, no peace.” In the absence of justice, there has been no peace.

Demonstrations in nearly a dozen cities, some of which turned violent, erupted in response to the killing of Mr. Floyd. At least seven people were shot in Louisville. Windows were broken in the state capitol of Ohio. And a police station was set ablaze in Minneapolis, where National Guard troops will again patrol the streets on Friday. The president tweeted early Friday that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which frames the problem backward. It is not a defence of torching a Target to note that police abuse of civilians often leads to protests that can spiral out of control, particularly when met with force.

Police officers don’t face justice more often for a variety of reasons — from powerful police unions to the blue wall of silence to cowardly prosecutors to reluctant juries. But it is the Supreme Court that has enabled a culture of violence and abuse by eviscerating a vital civil rights law to provide police officers what, in practice, is nearly limitless immunity from prosecution for actions taken while on the job. The badge has become a get-out-of-jail-free card in far too many instances.

In 1967, the same year the police chief of Miami coined the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to threaten civil rights demonstrators, the Supreme Court first articulated a notion of “qualified immunity.” In the case of police violence against a group of civil rights demonstrators in Mississippi, the court decided that police officers should not face legal liability for enforcing the law “in good faith and with probable cause.”

That’s a high standard to meet. But what makes these cases nearly impossible for plaintiffs to win is the court’s requirement that any violation of rights be “clearly established” — that is, another court must have previously encountered a case with the same context and facts, and found there that the officer was not immune. This is a judge-made rule; the civil rights law itself says nothing about a “clearly established” requirement. Yet in practice it has meant that police officers prevail virtually every time, because it’s very hard to find cases that are the same in all respects. It also creates a Catch-22 for plaintiffs, who are required to hunt down precedents in courts that have stopped generating those precedents, because the plaintiffs always lose. As one conservative judge put it in a U.S. district court in Texas, “Heads defendants win, tails plaintiffs lose.”

In the five decades since the doctrine’s invention, qualified immunity has expanded in practice to excuse all manner of police misconduct, from assault to homicide. As the legal bar for victims to challenge police misconduct has been raised higher and higher by the Supreme Court, the lower courts have followed. A major investigation by Reuters earlier this year found that “since 2005, the courts have shown an increasing tendency to grant immunity in excessive force cases — rulings that the district courts below them must follow. The trend has accelerated in recent years.” What was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits against agents of the government, the investigation concluded, “has become a highly effective shield in thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold cops accountable when they are accused of using excessive force.”

The vast majority of police officers are decent, honest men and women who do some of society’s most dangerous work. They should be forgiven good-faith mistakes or errors in judgment. But in case after case, well documented now by body cameras and bystanders, too many bad cops go unpunished for policing their fellow citizens in ways that often leave them abused or dead. No official tally of deaths at the hands of police officers is maintained in the United States, a reality that defies common sense in our hypercataloged society, but estimates from journalists and advocacy groups put the number of Americans killed by the police north of 1,000 per year. Black Americans are killed by the police at a much higher rate than white Americans.

When citizens dare to protest police violence, say by kneeling at a sporting event, they are branded “anti-police” and un-American. With a shrinking recourse in the courts and a fierce headwind of social resistance to reforming the way the nation is policed, is it any wonder that many enraged Americans take to the streets — in the midst of a global pandemic, no less — to demand that their country change?

As the militarization of police tactics and technology has accelerated in the past two decades, pleas from liberals and conservatives to narrow the doctrine of qualified immunity, and to make it easier to hold police and other officials accountable for obvious civil rights violations, have grown to a crescendo. The Supreme Court is considering more than a dozen cases to hear next term that could do just that. One case involves a police officer in Georgia who, while pursuing a suspect, held a group of young children at gunpoint, fired two bullets at the family dog, missed and hit a 10-year-old boy in the arm. Another involves officers who used tear gas grenades to enter a home when they’d been given a key to the front door.

There are few things that Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Clarence Thomas agree on, at least when it comes to the letter of the law. Both have expressed deep concern over the court’s drift toward greater and greater qualified immunity for police officers. (“By sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing, the Court renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow,” Justice Sotomayor once wrote.) With the next George Floyd just a bad cop away, one hopes the other justices will be moved to ratchet back qualified immunity to circumstances in which it is truly warranted. When bad cops escape justice and trust between the police and the community shatters, it isn’t just civilians who suffer the consequences, it’s the good cops, too.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/


May 29

The Toronto Star on China’s “national security" plan against protesters in Hong Kong:

The lights are going out in Hong Kong. As the world remains focused on fighting COVID-19, China’s rulers are steadily pursuing their own agenda, and a key part of that is bringing the restive city-state to heel.

They took another big step this week when China’s tame national legislature adopted a “national security” plan that will give it sweeping powers to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong under the pretext of tackling subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

No one should be fooled by this. The people of Hong Kong have demonstrated in the streets and at the ballot box over the past year that they oppose Beijing’s efforts to stamp out their basic political and legal rights, and they deserve the world’s support as China further undermines its promises to respect their autonomy.

Those promises are essential to the principle of “one country, two systems” contained in the treaty that transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in China back in 1997.

It guaranteed political freedoms, a basically democratic governing system, and a robust legal system in Hong Kong until 2047, rights that Hong Kong’s people have exercised fully over the years — much to the chagrin of Beijing’s increasingly touchy rulers. China has chipping away at the concept for years, and the new security law may well be the fatal blow.

Canada, along with Britain, Australia and the United States, is rightly concerned. The four countries warned this week that the new policy will “drastically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.” It raises the prospect, they say, that people in Hong Kong will face prosecution and long jail sentences for so-called political crimes — i.e. criticizing policies favoured by the Chinese Communist Party.

Canada has a special interest here, since some 300,000 Canadian citizens live in Hong Kong. They may soon be as vulnerable to arrest and prosecution for opposing Beijing’s policies as someone living in any other Chinese city. There, the government routinely uses national security laws to punish anyone who steps out of line.

Business people with no special interest in political activism will be vulnerable, too. Hong Kong has flourished in large part because they know they can count on the rule of law. Once Beijing compromises its legal system, they won’t be able to rely on that any more.

The implications are frightening. In China itself, we’ve seen how the authorities blatantly manipulate the law for political or diplomatic ends; the fate of the “two Michaels” jailed on trumped-up charges in blatant retaliation for the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver is proof of that. Why would anyone risk a similar fate in Hong Kong if they have a choice?

So Hong Kong is bound to suffer if Beijing goes ahead with its plans. Protest and democratic activism will become far more dangerous. Simply doing business will come with a higher risk as well.

In the past Beijing has backed down when faced with local protest and international push-back. But the government of President Xi Jinping is clearly no longer in a mood to be dissuaded. On the contrary, under cover of the pandemic it has become more aggressive about pursuing its interests right across the board.

It’s been bullying its neighbours in the South China Sea. It’s been talking tough with Taiwan, dropping the word “peaceful” in its latest call for reunification with the island. And it’s been pushing back against any and all criticism from outside, fully aware that the rest of world has its hands full dealing with COVID-19.

It’s not at all clear what the world can usefully do, faced with this newly emboldened Chinese government.

The United States, traditionally the pace-setter in dealing with Beijing, has gone its own way under Donald Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Hong Kong no longer has significant autonomy, indicating that the U.S. may be preparing to end special trade and economic relations with the territory.

In the past, that might well have given Beijing pause, but the Trump administration is so inconsistent that such a threat may not have the desired effect.

As for Canada and other smaller countries, they are effectively held hostage to China’s economic might. As much as they disapprove of its actions, they need access to its market and supplies of crucial goods (including PPE to fight the pandemic), at least in the medium term.

It would be emotionally satisfying to hit back at China with sanctions or boycotts, but that would only hurt us more than them. On the other hand, Canada should certainly not get in deeper with China — for example by allowing Huawei to be part of building the new 5G telecom network. On national security grounds alone Ottawa has no choice but to say no to Huawei.

At the same time, Canada and others must continue to call China out when it violates the very guarantees it made to the people of Hong Kong. At the very least, it may persuade Beijing to tread lightly about exercising the new powers it is grabbing.

Online: https://www.thestar.com/

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
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