5 important stories you might have overlooked
“There are two sides to a story.”
President Donald Trump ended a news conference with this line Tuesday, where he appeared frustrated with how the media covered his response to the violence at a weekend “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Saturday, he blamed “two sides” for the violence, drawing criticism for not more forcefully calling out the hate groups who helped organize the rally. On Monday, he put out another statement, this time condemning neo-Nazi and white nationalists groups by name. The next day, he was back to blaming “both sides” for the violence again, in a briefing on infrastructure that turned into a combative back-and-forth between the president and the media.
As fallout from Saturday’s rally continues, here are five important stories you may have overlooked.
1. Modern slavery in UK is more widespread than previously thought, officials said
When the UK’s National Crime Agency dedicated their resources to assess the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking several months ago, their initial estimate of victims hovered around 10,000 to 13,000 people.
But last week, the agency said that figure was actually the “tip of the iceberg” — the number is closer to the tens of thousands, said Will Kerr, vulnerabilities director of the NCA.
“The more we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable,” he said in a news conference. “The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought,” he added.
The agency said it has broadened its investigations to more than 300 live policing operations. Kerr said these cases affect “every large town and city in the country.”
The NCA announced a campaign to draw more awareness of the crime to the public, encouraging people to report tips of suspicious activity to a modern slavery hotline.
Why it’s important
The issue of modern slavery is often referred to as a “hidden” crime. Victims face sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, and are forced to work against their will. It’s a crime that affects people of all ages and genders, but minorities and other marginalized groups are particularly affected.
Kerr said the most common modern slaves have come from Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Nigeria, adding that they often work at brothels, farms and nail salons, among other places where they come into everyday contact with the average UK citizen.
“As you go about your normal daily life, there is a growing and a good chance that you will come across a victim who has been exploited and that’s why we are asking the public to recognize their concerns and report them,” Kerr said.
Kevin Hyland, the anti-slavery commissioner , told the Evening Standard that before this investigation, the NCA failed to act on the information it already had on its own databases. The information “sat dormant,” Hyland said, because modern slavery wasn’t treated seriously enough as a crime. The agency, in response, said there was a “sea change” across its operations.
“The question remains whether this extraordinary modern crime has grown because too little has been done since then,” BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani writes.
2. The family of a 30-year-old pregnant woman fatally shot by Seattle police is filing a wrongful death lawsuit
On June 18, two Seattle police officers responding to a report of an attempted burglary shot the woman who had called them for help.
In audio released by the department, 30-year-old Charleena Lyles can be heard talking about items missing from her apartment. But suddenly, the situation escalates. Officers warned Lyles, who had apparently started to move toward them with knives, to get back before opening fire.
The police department drew widespread criticism for using deadly force against the African-American mother of four, who was also several months pregnant and had a history of mental illness.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her?” Lyles’s sister, Monika Williams, told the Seattle Times.
Last week, her family said it was bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, claiming police were “negligent and violated her civil rights.”
Why it’s important
Three years ago last week, Michael Brown was killed in an officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Across the country, questions remain about when police should use deadly force — and what happens to officers and families of victims after the shooting.
Three cases of police misconduct had new developments last week — all of them involving body cameras, NewsHour reported. In two of those cases, officers were cleared of responsibility in fatal shootings.
Seattle, where Lyles was shot, has been under a consent decree, a Department of Justice mandate to reform policing practices, since 2012. In April, the department’s consent monitor found use of force by Seattle police had improved. It’s unclear how Lyles’ case will affect that finding.
Meanwhile, other cities under consent decrees are having their own issues. Baltimore, who will select a monitor for its own consent decree this month, is grappling with several new cases of police misconduct uncovered by the public defender’s office, which discovered body camera footage that showed officers mishandling or planting evidence.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of the DOJ’s consent decrees in April, which some advocates feared could mean a reduction in the program, or its elimination altogether. Sessions has yet to release a report, which means it’s unclear how any changes will affect cities, like Seattle and Baltimore, already under review.
We’re also still without a good sense of how much consent decrees actually help improve policing on the ground. A study from a group of Texas criminologists in May found the “consent decree process may contribute to a modest reduction” in civil rights suits, the Washington Post reported — “but that lawsuits start to trend back up once the decree lifts.”
3. Hundreds of California schools have low vaccination rates, putting them at risk of disease outbreak
In 2015, after a measles outbreak traced to a visitor to Disneyland infected nearly 150 people across more than a dozen states (along with Mexico and Canada), California lawmakers passed a new law cracking down on parents who declined to vaccinate their children.
Two years later, while the vaccination rate among kindergartners has gone up, “hundreds of schools across California still have so many children lacking full immunization that they pose an increased risk of disease outbreaks,” according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.
Statewide, about 95.6 percent of all kindergarten students in California are fully vaccinated, according to the LA Times. But the number of students who claimed exceptions to the law has also grown:
At 58 schools, 10 percent or more kindergartners had medical exemptions last fall. The rate topped 20 percent at seven schools.
Why it’s important
In most places, by the time children enter kindergarten, they are vaccinated for measles (along with things like chickenpox, polio and whooping cough).
Doctors say to achieve “herd immunity” — a rate of immunity that protects disease from spreading, even among those who cannot be vaccinated — at least 95 percent of the population must be fully vaccinated.
Doctors who spoke to the Times said it was reasonable to expect about 3 percent of the kindergarten population to have valid reasons for avoiding vaccination — “such as a gelatin allergy or because they’re undergoing chemotherapy.”
But a rate as high as 20 percent is “nonsense,” Dr. James Cherry told the Times.
The data indicates that parents may be asking doctors to write notes that would give their children medical reasons to avoid vaccinations or delay them, experts told the Times.
“It’s not just about policy but about compliance,” one researcher suggested.
The increase in overall exemptions was a positive sign, many experts said, and a better sense of how the law is working could come even farther down the road. West Virginia and Mississippi were among the first states in the country to ban exemptions from vaccines beyond those for medical reasons. “Mississippi hasn’t had a case of measles since 1992,” Ed Source reports, and the last case of measles in West Virginia was in 2009. Last year, only 17 children across the state had exemptions to Mississippi’s vaccination law, Columbia says.
4. More LGBTQ people have died from “hate violence” this year than in all of 2016, new data shows
The number of LGBTQ people who have been killed in “hate violence” homicides so far this year has surpassed the number of deaths from 2016, according to new data released by one organization last week.
So far in 2017, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has recorded 33 hate-violence-related homicides of LGBTQ individuals, Buzzfeed News reported. In 2016, 28 LGBTQ people were killed (not including the 49 lives lost in the June shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida). Of those killed in 2017, 15 were transgender women of color.
Why it’s important
NCAVP, which compiles this data every year, said in June that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for the LGBTQ community. The advocacy group explained in its 2016 report that the common perception of hate violence as a random act or one carried out by strangers isn’t quite correct. Perpetrators of hate violence can also be in trusted spaces, like homes, schools and workplaces. And the group’s data includes cases that may not have been classified, by legal standards, as a hate crime.
As to the reasoning behind the uptick this year, NCAVP thinks it could be multiple factors, including increased media coverage, an actual increase in violence or more accurate police work.
Either way, “it should be a wake-up call for us across our communities that hate violence is not going away, it’s certainly not decreasing, and it’s symptomatic of larger and deeper problems in our society that we still haven’t addressed,” Beverly Tillery, executive director at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told BuzzFeed News.
5. The USDA could lift restrictions on genetically-engineered trees
The United States’ first genetically engineered tree, a free-tolerant eucalyptus, could become a reality.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering lifting restrictions on commercially produced trees, The Washington Post reported.
While a draft environmental impact statement says “the trees pose few environmental risks,” environmentalists and scientists argue there are in fact many, including increased risk of wildfire and a new invasive species, among other concerns.
Part of the scientists’ arguments, the Post writes:
Fast-growing trees like eucalyptus can grow and be harvested in less than a decade — but even then, it could take years to make up for the carbon released by clearing out the slower-growing, carbon-rich tree plantations they would be replacing.
Why it’s important
ArborGen, the biotechnology firm that developed the eucalyptus,says the trees could help ease global demand for biomass in the midst of increasing concerns over climate change. The company first approached the USDA about their trees six years ago, the Post reports.
The USDA estimates that about one million acres of pine plantations could be replaced with the eucalyptus trees, if they’re approved.
Brazil already approved the commercial use of enhanced eucalyptus (developed by a different biotech firm, FutureGene) in 2015.
Groups such as the Global Justice Ecology Project and Campaign to Stop GE Trees started to push back against the trees, developed by biotechnology firm ArborGen, in July, according to The Genetic Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to science discussion. Only three of the hundreds of thousands of comments collected were in favor of the trees.
For now, details on the trees’ production remain unclear. The USDA is still considering public comments, and plans to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how the trees’ production could make an impact on wildlife.
If the trees are approved, ArborGen “would no longer have to obtain a permit or notification to grow the plant within the U.S. or ship it across the country,” the Hill reported.