Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Democrat & Chronicle on no charges in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after an encounter with police:
We entrust law enforcement officers to protect the innocent and the vulnerable.
We expect they will use their training and their judgment and their humanity to reach the best possible outcomes when called to respond to situations ranging from violent crimes to personal crises.
By those measures, Daniel Prude should still be alive.
A grand jury called by (New York) state Attorney General Letitia James decided that the Rochester police officers whose actions contributed to Prude’s death last year should not be charged with a crime.
This decision, however, cannot be the end of the story. The Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board calls on the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether the officers involved in Prude’s death should be charged with violating his civil rights.
There is plenty of precedent for such an investigation.
Case in point: The New York Times reported a federal grand jury has been empaneled to consider whether a Minneapolis police officer should be charged for violating the late George Floyd’s civil rights last Memorial Day. The officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while Floyd struggled to breathe.
Floyd’s killing spawned months of racial justice protests across America. His death, Prude’s and those of so many other Black men who posed no real threat to police officers are a national tragedy and embarrassment.
The racial bias involved in these deaths is inescapable.
Black lives don’t matter sufficiently to our nation’s law-enforcement agencies.
Officers don’t hesitate to use life-threatening measures against Black men who clearly pose no real threat.
White persons, even when they pose a real threat to police officers’ lives and safety as at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, are far less likely to be subjected to such measures.
Rochester police, in particular, have a sorry history of encounters with Black individuals that end poorly. The pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl this winter speaks to real failures in how Rochester officers engage with Black citizens.
As James said Tuesday: “The criminal justice system has frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans. What binds these cases is a tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could have been avoided.”
The attorney general proposed several common-sense measures to minimize the chances of another Daniel Prude-type incident, among them de-escalation training, a whole new approach to mental-health responses and data analysis of police “defensive measures” in order to end use of those that pose real risk to citizens.
The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo should ensure these items are passed into law and incorporated into policy and practice before mid-year.
As protesters once again take to Rochester’s streets, it’s time for the police department to recognize how it must live up to the trust and expectations the public has in its work and to begin the difficult but necessary work of treating all Rochesterians with dignity and respect.
And it’s no time for any of us to let Prude’s tragic death fade into memory. We’re not going to stop talking about the need for police to change. Neither should you.
The Washington Post on vaccine hesitancy:
Vaccine makers reassured Congress on Tuesday they will boost production and provide an additional 140 million doses in the next five weeks, overcoming the production bottlenecks that have crimped the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The next hurdle is vaccine hesitancy. Opinion surveys show the United States is drawing closer to the goal of broad public acceptance, but there is a ways to go. Every effort must be made to administer the vaccines as widely as possible.
A pair of polls by Gallup and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research show that from a low point last autumn, more Americans intend to get vaccinated or already have been. The AP-NORC poll showed 67 percent of those asked responded they are willing or already inoculated, while Gallup found 71 percent are willing, the highest on record and up from only 50 percent last September. The goal of a high level of vaccination is to reach immunity for enough people that the virus cannot spread. That “herd immunity” might require as much as 80 percent of the population to get vaccinated.
The bad news is the still-troubling and stubborn cohort who are reluctant to get vaccinated. According to Gallup, among those unwilling, 25 percent say they have concerns about the rushed timeline, but the percentage giving this response has dropped by 12 points since the question was last asked in the fall. Twenty-two percent say they want to wait and confirm it is safe, 16 percent do not trust vaccines in general, and 9 percent want to see how effective it is. Another 28 percent give other reasons, such as they think the risks of the virus are overblown, believe they already have antibodies, are concerned about adverse reactions to the vaccine or harbor a general distrust of the government.
The AP-NORC poll found that younger Americans are more hesitant than the elderly; four in 10 of those under 45 say they will probably or definitely not get a vaccine, compared with a quarter of those older. Among Black Americans, 57 percent said they would get or have been vaccinated, compared with 68 percent among White Americans and 65 percent of Hispanics. Hesitancy is also stronger among people without a college degree.
The vaccine rollout has not been smooth, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the hesitancy. But the announcement that large supplies are on the way should alleviate these concerns, if the shots materialize as promised. Moreover, a third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson appears to be on the cusp of emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The government and all others who hope to end the pandemic should devote more effort to overcoming vaccine hesitancy, including launching a nationwide vaccine awareness campaign. The shots appear to be highly effective. They are a lifesaver to those vulnerable to this disease, which is still spreading and infecting people every day. There is no good reason not to get jabbed.
The Hindu on fallout from the coup in Myanmar:
Three weeks after they took control of Myanmar by toppling its democratically elected government, the country’s Generals are struggling to retain their grip on power in the face of growing pro-democracy mass protests.
The military, which had shared power with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) for five years, orchestrated the coup on February 1, hours before the country’s newly elected Parliament, in which the NLD had a huge majority, was set to convene. The military, which controlled Myanmar through direct rule for almost 50 years since independence from Britain in 1948, has now deployed the familiar repressive tactics to quell opposition to the latest coup: It has detained Ms. Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and several of the NLD’s other top leaders, suspended the Internet, blocked social networks and warned the public of repercussions if they joined protests.
But protests have only grown by the day. On Saturday, two unarmed protesters were killed by security forces in Mandalay. Even police violence and the deployment of security personnel, including snipers, across the main cities did not stop millions from joining a general strike on Monday. They demand the Generals free the detained elected leaders and restore democracy.
Myanmar’s military has been one of the most consistent enemies of democracy. In the past, challenges to its powers were met with brutal crackdowns. Still, the junta has continued to face popular resistance. The crackdown on the protests of August 8, 1988 did not prevent the ‘saffron revolution’ of 2007 — protests led by Buddhist monks. Than Shwe, the then leader of the country, suppressed them but had to offer a new Constitution in 2008 as a compromise. This Constitution was the basis of the partial transition to democracy in 2015 when the NLD came to power. But even that experiment would not last more than five years, thanks to the power-hungry generals of Tatmadaw. But they were wrong to expect the Myanmarese people, who experienced at least limited liberties and democracy for five years after decades of the repressive dictatorship, to allow them to consolidate power easily.
The protesters have called for civil disobedience, stoppage of work, sit-ins and mass demonstrations. The strike has already paralysed the banking system at a time when the economy, hit hard by COVID-19, is struggling to stand on its feet. The military is also facing international sanctions and condemnation. There is no easy way out for Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief and the coup’s main architect, from the crisis he has put himself in. The Generals should realise that years of repression have not killed Myanmar’s aspirations for democracy. They should not repeat 1988 or 2007. They should stand down, respect the election results, release the leaders and hand power back to the elected government.
The San Francisco Chronicle on President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general:
In his upcoming Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general, Merrick Garland is almost certain to be asked about his thoughts on cases with distinct political aims, from the pending investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes to a potential investigation into the handling by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration of nursing home deaths to whether former President Donald Trump should be held criminally accountable for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Garland, a former Justice Department prosecutor who has been a federal appellate judge for the past two decades, should respond with a clear signal: The days of the nation’s top law enforcement kowtowing to political pressure is over.
President Biden said he selected Garland as a straight shooter who would restore the Justice Department’s independence at the top levels — and Garland’s prepared opening statement, released last weekend, suggested that is exactly what he would do. He said his confirmation would be “the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected.”
Garland’s record is of a consensus-building centrist who has earned the respect of law enforcement and civil rights groups alike. But he also has been around Washington enough to know that stellar credentials and commitment to fairness don’t always play in this polarized era. His 2016 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama was squelched in the Senate when then-Majority-Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow it to advance for eight months on the argument that voters should have a say in the lifetime appointment to succeed the late Antonin Scalia. McConnell then conveniently scrapped that principle last fall in rushing through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
If confirmed, Garland would be taking the helm as the department pursues the prosecution of hundreds of rioters who stormed the Capitol as the House and Senate were in the process of certifying the Electoral College vote. The violent assault was a grim reminder of the ever-present threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S.
… Subservience to a president’s whims and grudges … characterized former Attorney General Bill Barr’s sorry tenure under Trump. Barr at times acted as Trump’s appointed henchman, from buffering the impact of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with a highly misleading “summary” of its findings to meddling in the Michael Flynn case to echoing Trump’s conspiracy theories about the prospect of widespread fraud from mail-in voting.
Department morale plummeted during Barr’s reign, which ended with his abrupt resignation just before Trump left office. Barr had pledged during his confirmation hearing to make the Justice Department a place where “the rule of law, not politics, holds sway.” He failed.
Garland now has a chance to uphold that vital principle to not only restore department morale, but the confidence of the American people in the integrity of the system.
The Denver Post on the arrest and death of Elijah McClain:
Aurora police were in the wrong from the first moment they contacted 23-year-old Elijah McClain until the man’s limp body was loaded onto a gurney and taken to the hospital where he died days later after doctors declared him brain dead and removed him from life support.
A report detailing the truth took 18 months to be released, and investigators found Aurora police officers and other first responders made horrible, inexcusable mistakes that led to McClain’s tragic death. Significant changes must be made in Aurora in response to the report, but police, fire and paramedic departments across the state must change too.
Make no mistake, other reports have been released, but those accounts of McClain’s final moments did not reflect the tragedy of what occurred and importantly didn’t call for changes to police training or operations that could prevent it from happening to someone else. Both Aurora Police and Fire departments investigated and concluded no policy was breached. The Aurora Police Department’s Force Review Board wrote that the force applied complied with departmental policy and training.
Yet, anyone who has watched the police body-camera footage from Aug. 24, 2019, knows instinctively that police were in the wrong. And now an independent review panel commissioned by the Aurora City Council has published their findings that police and first responders erred terribly.
In a report released Monday, the panel found:
Aurora police were not justified in initiating an initial “investigatory stop,” nor were they justified in their decision to pat down or frisk McClain.
Officers did not have probable cause that a crime had been committed when they began to detain or arrest McClain. McClain’s “tensing up” to the fact that officers were holding his arms was not evidence a crime had been committed nor was McClain’s desire to keep walking.
The audio recording of the encounter, one officer then says McClain tried to grab one of their guns, which then gave the officers the ability to apply the first carotid control hold if they reasonably feared for their lives or safety.
Once McClain was taken to the ground, by the three officers, the further use of pain compliance techniques and another carotid control hold were not in compliance with police policy, and “the record therefore does not provide evidence of the officers’ perception of a threat that would justify Officer (Nathan) Woodyard’s carotid hold, which caused Mr. McClain to either partially or fully lose consciousness.
Aurora first responders did not exercise appropriate care to McClain nor did they do their due diligence in deciding to administer ketamine to McClain, including deciding how much of the powerful sedative to give.
Every Coloradan should read this report because it goes well beyond assessing what went wrong that night, into assessing how for a year and a half those responsible for investigating the events were able to protect the police and first responders involved from discipline or even public criticism. And it goes to a harsher reality that events like this have been occurring for years, but police departments have a well-oiled machine developed to process the flaws of their work and give it the sheen of legitimacy to the public.
While the district attorney in the 17th Judicial District at the time declined to press charges against the officers, another investigation by Colorado’s Attorney General’s Office, by the U.S. Department of Justice and a civil lawsuit filed by McClain’s family will continue to shed light on who should be held responsible for the death of an innocent man at the hands of police and first responders who clearly violated several department policies, laws dictating police conduct and also common sense.
The Orange County Register on President Joe Biden’s pledge to pursue gun reform:
On February 14, President Biden marked the third anniversary of the deadly shooting incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an announcement that he is calling on Congress to enact “commonsense gun law reforms.”
As always, the details matter. The president defined “commonsense” as a requirement for background checks on all gun sales, a ban on “assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” and an end to “immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets.”
The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2008, in the District of Columbia v. Heller decision, that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” is an individual right that is not contingent on service in “a well-regulated militia.” That means the U.S. Constitution limits the federal government’s power to pass laws restricting that right.
Exactly where are the limits? That’s always a matter of interpretation. The Heller opinion, written by the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, held that the District’s law prohibiting the possession of handguns was over the line, as was its law requiring residents to keep their lawfully owned, registered long guns “unloaded and dissembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device” unless the guns were located in a place of business or in use for lawful recreational activities.
Scalia wrote that the handgun ban “amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of ‘arms’ that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society” for the “lawful purpose” of “the inherent right of self-defense.” Under any standard that the court has used, he wrote, “banning from the home ‘the most preferred firearm in the nation to keep and use for protection of one’s home and family,’ would fail constitutional muster.”
So if the president’s definition of “assault weapon” and “weapons of war” includes commonly owned firearms and magazines, it’s likely that new laws banning these or seeking to create new legal liability for their manufacturers will be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, should these laws be challenged.
And there’s no doubt that such laws would be challenged. After Biden’s statement was released, the Firearms Policy Coalition responded, denouncing what it called “unconstitutional and immoral policies including bans on common semi-automatic firearms and ammunition magazines.” A number of lawsuits over various state laws related to firearms ownership are already working their way toward the high court.
The Heller decision was 5-4, with Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer in the minority.
Former President Donald Trump campaigned as a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights, and it would not be surprising, to say the least, if the three justices he appointed to the high court share that view to some extent. Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett likely have created a solid majority to strike down broad bans on semiautomatic weapons and laws that flatly prohibit law-abiding citizens from exercising the right to carry a gun. In Scalia’s words, “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.”
That won’t stop the Democratic majorities in Congress, together with the president, from enacting doomed laws, or from sending fundraising letters attacking their opponents. It’s always about the next election. It remains a fact that constitutional rights cannot be overridden by a majority vote, except on the Supreme Court.
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