Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on violent policing
No decent citizen could fail to be appalled by the video, released Friday, showing Memphis police officers beating a 29-year-old Black man, Tyre Nichols, so badly on Jan. 7 that he died three days later. No feeling citizen could fail to be moved by the anguish of his mother, RowVaughn Wells, as she eloquently described her grief at losing a young man, himself the father of a 4-year-old, who cried out for “mom” as he absorbed the assault. And no concerned citizen can fail to be impressed by, and appreciative of, the way in which those who justifiably protested Mr. Nichols’s death heeded — with sporadic exceptions — Ms. Wells’s call for nonviolence.
Yet no thinking citizen can fail to be frustrated that something like this could have happened less than three years after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, triggering a national movement for police reform and social justice — or, for that matter, nearly 32 years after Los Angeles police officers delivered an eerily similar, though nonfatal, beating to Rodney King. How many more times will Americans, and their leaders in government and law enforcement, vow “never again” about such an incident, only to find ourselves ruefully saying, “Once again.”
Legal accountability for alleged police perpetrators is indeed necessary, to punish, to deter and to reinforce the principle that those who wear the badge are not above the law. The sobering reality, though, is that such retrospective justice is no panacea. If it were, guilty verdicts in Floyd’s case would have prevented what happened in Memphis. So would the convictions, in 1993, on federal civil rights charges, of two officers who beat Rodney King — albeit after a jury acquitted them the previous year, sparking six days of violent protest in L.A.
Further reforms are needed to reduce police impunity, including federal legislation to modify the “qualified immunity” doctrine, largely created by the Supreme Court, that often blocks lawsuits for unconstitutional abuses. Still, even many oft-proposed reforms — including some included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — would not have prevented what happened to Mr. Nichols. The measure bans potentially deadly chokeholds, for example, but that appears to be one of the few forms of physical force the officers in Memphis did not visit upon Mr. Nichols’s body.
Indeed, Memphis, similar to other cities, had instituted reforms. One was the use of police body cameras to record encounters with citizens, which seemingly did not give the officers who beat Mr. Nichols much pause. Another was the recruitment of a force that reflects the city’s large Black majority. All five officers who assaulted Mr. Nichols were Black — as is the chief, Cerelyn Davis. Memphis hired her in 2021 after a career in Durham, N.C., during which she had embraced the protests over Floyd’s murder and decried “systemic racism” in U.S. policing.
The change Memphis and many other departments need is the kind that cannot come from laws and policies alone: cultural. Police officers — regardless of their race — too often regard young Black men as inherently suspect or dangerous. The savagery with which the police beat Mr. Nichols was unfathomable. But so was the f-bomb-laced disrespect with which they immediately approached him, based on what appears to have been at most a traffic violation, and then suddenly snatched him out of his car.
It bears repeating, even at a moment such as this: Most police officers do a difficult and necessary job with decency and professionalism; the country needs more like them. This is especially true in Memphis, where the level of violent crime is unacceptable: the city of 630,000 saw 302 homicides in 2022, or about 48 per 100,000 — about seven times the 2021 national homicide rate. The vast majority of victims in Memphis were Black.
As it happens, the city’s high 2022 rate reflected a 13 percent improvement over 2021, which the police department had attributed in part to work by the special unit to which the five officers who beat Mr. Nichols belonged — and which Memphis has now disbanded. But as the Editorial Board argued in the wake of Floyd’s death, an overreliance on police has prevented communities from imagining and investing in other public safety tools, starting with revitalizing neighborhoods that experience the most crime.
In the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death, the Memphis police have nothing to celebrate and much to improve. The same goes for the United States as a whole.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden providing safe haven status to Hong Kong citizens in the U.S.
Bravo to the Biden Administration, which on Thursday extended temporary safe haven status for another two years to Hong Kong citizens currently in the U.S. The decision will protect thousands of residents of the once autonomous city where dissent and support for democracy have been criminalized.
The U.S. first offered safety to Hong Kongers in August 2021, with some 5,600 who were already here eligible. President Biden said on Thursday that Beijing “has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press.”
He said “at least 150 opposition politicians, activists, and protesters” have been arrested under the national-security law that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and more than 10,000 others have been arrested “in connection with anti-government protests.”
Huen Lam, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, is among those at risk. “I have participated in a lot of political work here in the U.S., all of which are considered as breaking the National Security Law,” she told us in an email, so “if I were to go back to Hong Kong now, I would be arrested and jailed.”
Without an extension of the safe-haven order, Hong Kong citizens would have had to seek another form of immigration protection to remain in the U.S. But it would have been difficult for many former pro-democracy protesters to gather sufficient evidence to bolster an asylum claim.
Participants in the 2019 democracy protests often covered their faces to hide from the Communist Party’s facial-recognition technology, but that now makes it hard to establish their role in the demonstrations. After Beijing imposed the national-security law, many Hong Kong residents deleted social-media posts and other evidence of pro-democracy activism.
Congress can help by providing a permanent refuge for Hong Kong citizens who are already in the U.S. America is enriched by those who know what it’s like to risk everything for freedom and the rule of law.
China Daily on Biden administration's safe haven decision for Hong Kong citizens
In a strongly worded response to the White House decision to extend and expand Deferred Enforced Departure for certain Hong Kong residents in the United States, the Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong on Friday urged Washington to “forsake the pipe dream of containing China with Hong Kong,” and “immediately stop the execrable show of interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”
While the applicability of the national security legislation in Hong Kong in no way compromises the “one country, two systems” framework, the U.S. has accused Beijing of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. Those suspected of criminal wrongdoings, from street violence to collusion with foreign forces, and who fled the SAR (Special Administrative Regions) after the introduction of the national security law, are being provided safe haven as “freedom fighters” worth protection.
What is a natural assertion of Chinese sovereign rights over the SAR is being utilized against Beijing as evidence of it curtailing the SAR’s autonomy. Likewise, what in the mainland authorities’ eyes is a means of maintaining stability and order is being distorted as a tool of suppression.
However, as the Foreign Ministry office in Hong Kong stated, “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s domestic affairs.” The corresponding Memorandum on DED extension and expansion, it argued, defames the rule of law and human rights conditions in Hong Kong, maliciously attacks the national security law for Hong Kong, interferes in Hong Kong and China’s domestic affairs, and openly tramples on the basic principles of international law and international relations.
Hong Kong is “moving forward steadily on the correct track of ‘one country, two systems.'” The true purpose of the U.S. memorandum is to provide “those who oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong and fled overseas” with safe havens by manipulating visa policies, which “fully exposes the malicious U.S. intention” to destabilize the SAR.
The U.S. is hyping up the “consequences” of the national security law in Hong Kong to denigrate the legislation. The truth is around 230 people have been arrested by the SAR police authorities on suspicion of endangering national security. Among these, a little more than 30 have been tried and found guilty in court.
This is in clear contrast with Washington’s allegation of “continued and repeated attacks on the protected rights and freedoms cherished by people in Hong Kong.”
The enactment of the national security law has played a decisive role in realizing Hong Kong’s transition from chaos to governance and continued prosperity, by effectively countering the efforts of outside elements to instigate chaos in the SAR using local proxies. Due to its implementation Hong Kong is once again stable, united and thriving.
The Los Angeles Times on the debt ceiling
After he was elected speaker on the 15th ballot, Kevin McCarthy promised that the U.S. House under Republican leadership would protect the national economy, saying that the party was committed to “stop wasteful Washington spending, to lower the price of groceries, gas, cars, housing, and stop the rising national debt.”
But there is more to sound economic stewardship than controlling future spending. The government must also pay the bills Congress has run up in the past, even if that means further borrowing. McCarthy and his fellow Republicans need to recognize that reality and stop politicizing the issue.
Last week the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. had hit a congressionally mandated limit on how much the federal government could borrow to satisfy its financial obligations — the so-called debt ceiling. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen is taking “extraordinary measures” that are likely to forestall a crisis until June. But Congress needs quickly to raise the debt ceiling to make it clear that payments — including to Social Security recipients — will be made.
Unfortunately, House Republicans are essentially threatening to hold an increase in the debt limit hostage to concessions on future spending from the Biden administration and congressional Democrats. Never mind that Republicans don’t seem to agree on what sort of cuts they want to make, with some eyeing potentially politically perilous changes in Social Security and Medicare.
President Biden has insisted on a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling from the current $31.381 trillion, but he muddied his message by agreeing to meet McCarthy to discuss the debt ceiling among other subjects. McCarthy pointedly told Biden: “I accept your invitation to sit down and discuss a responsible debt ceiling increase to address irresponsible government spending” — seeming to assume that the two issues would be linked. (White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement saying that Biden continues to believe that “raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos.”)
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sometimes the Republican adult in the room, seems reluctant to play an active role in resolving the impasse. This week McConnell unhelpfully said that any solution to the debt ceiling crisis “will have to come out of the House” and that it was “entirely reasonable for the new speaker and his team to put spending reduction on the table.”
As a matter of raw politics, Republicans may think that they can use action on the debt ceiling to force the administration into a corner. There is some precedent for such a strategy. In 2011, the Obama administration agreed to a deal in which the ceiling was raised in connection with the adoption of legislation that placed some limits on spending.
But that doesn’t justify brinkmanship in 2023, when policymakers are striving to head off a recession. Nor is it clear that McCarthy, whose speakership depends on the support of extremists in his conference, is in a position to credibly negotiate with the administration on any arrangement that would link an increase in the debt ceiling to future spending cuts.
Republicans in the House are free to advocate policies designed to address what they consider wasteful spending. But politicizing the raising of the debt ceiling is dangerous. Ideally, the ceiling would be abolished. As we have said before, raising the federal debt limit should be a routine, obligatory act by Congress to discharge the government’s basic duty to pay its bills. But at a minimum Congress must raise the limit periodically to ensure that the government can borrow what it needs to meet its obligations.
If McCarthy and other House leaders aren’t willing to endorse an increase, Biden must appeal to responsible Republicans in the House — and there are some — to put nation above party.
The Guardian on the threat to journalists and environmental defenders in Latin America
The murders of the British journalist Dom Phillips and the Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were not only a shocking and incalculable loss for their families and all those who loved them and admired their work. They were also a chilling reminder of the perils faced both by journalists and environmental defenders – particularly Indigenous peoples and those working with them – in Latin America.
Seven months have passed since the men were killed in the Javari valley region of the Amazon. On Monday, Brazilian police announced that they had arrested the alleged mastermind. Rubens Villar Coelho, nicknamed Colombia, was first detained on separate charges last July, when he denied any involvement in the crime. He has been accused of running an illegal fishing operation. Three other men are in custody over the deaths.
Real justice for Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira would mean accountability not only for those who pulled the trigger, but for all those who have made the Amazon a dangerous place – police officers, businessmen or politicians who have turned a blind eye to depredations, or benefited from them.
Journalists are at risk in many places, especially when they challenge powerful interests. This week, the Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo was found dead, after his abduction by unknown assailants. But they are in greatest danger in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 30, including Mr. Phillips, were killed last year, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists – the highest figure ever, and double the number killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. As the CPJ’s program director, Carlos Martínez de la Serna, noted: “The cost of attacking or killing a journalist is extremely low. … There is never justice.”
Latin America is also the most dangerous region in the world for environmental protectors. A report by Global Witness last autumn found that of the 1,733 land and environmental defenders known to have been killed in the last decade, more than two-thirds died in Latin America, and almost two-fifths were Indigenous. The only thing they did wrong was getting in the way of those exploiting and destroying the natural world.
Under Brazil’s last president, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, agribusiness and extractive industries had free rein. The reduced state presence in the Amazon created not only opportunities for criminals, but also a sense that they were immune to consequences. Thankfully, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pledged to undo the damage wreaked by his predecessor and work towards zero deforestation of the rainforest. On his first day in office he signed seven executive orders to protect the environment. He has appointed the country’s first minister for Indigenous peoples, Sônia Guajajara, and last week he met the Yanomami people in the Amazon state of Roraima, who have been enduring a humanitarian and health catastrophe after the invasion of their land by thousands of illegal miners.
Marina Silva, the environment minister, has said that the “enraged mob” who launched the insurrection in Brasília earlier this month included pro-Bolsonaro militants with links to illegal deforestation, mining, land-grabbing and fishing, angry that their era of “guaranteed impunity” was over. There is suspicion that more powerful forces behind the riot share a similar agenda. The threat is not over, and taking on such ruthless opponents is risky. It is also, unquestionably, necessary.