These days, headlines out of the White House and Capitol Hill can overwhelm our news feeds. The PBS NewsHour takes a moment every week to bring you important stories happening beyond the Beltway. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. How California’s police privacy laws make investigating police misconduct complaints difficult
The Los Angeles Times has been publishing a series of stories about how California’s privacy laws for law enforcement keep police misconduct records hidden from the public, especially for officers who testify in court.
In one case the Times highlights, a deputy took the stand more than 30 times in criminal court before prosecutors became aware of his own history of misconduct. As a result, charges in some of the criminal cases in which he testified were dropped.
The newspaper said “California has the strictest laws in the country protecting the confidentiality of police misconduct records. The rules not only prohibit the public from seeing them, but also deny prosecutors direct access.”
The state’s current police privacy laws date back to the 1970s, when Los Angeles police officers shredded more than four tons of personnel records, angered by the number of complaints against them. In response, the Times reported, lawmakers passed a law that sought to ardently protect police confidentiality. [The Los Angeles Times]
Why it matters: There have been repeated attempts to increase the transparency of police misconduct records nationwide, but all have failed, including one that was spiked following the heightened public attention around police use of force following the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Times reported.
Historically, attempts to change the privacy laws have also met fierce — and successful — opposition from police unions.
But recently, there’s been a renewed effort to relax the privacy laws a bit. California’s Senate Bill 1421 would allow greater access to law enforcement records, although the Times noted that even if it passed, the bill “would still fall short of 21 other states that provide public access to records of all types of misconduct resulting in suspensions and other significant discipline.”
The bill must pass both houses of the state legislature by the end of the month and be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The newspaper points out that Brown approved the original police privacy law back in 1978 during his first time in office.
2. The fallout from family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border is far from over
The U.S. government provided its most detailed numbers yet on family separations at the border.
After repeated calls for more information on the effort to reunify thousands of families affected by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, U.S. immigration officials attached a long table with categorical breakdowns of who remains separated and under U.S. agencies’ care. There were some noteworthy numbers from the court filing:
- Of the total 2,654 separated migrant children in government custody, age 0 to 17, 2,089 have been “discharged.” This means the children were reunified with their parents or were placed with sponsors within the U.S.
- The total number of children that remain in government custody: 565. Of those, 24 children are under age 5.
- Six of those affected 24 children under 5 have parents who may no longer be in the U.S.
For a closer look at other numbers, the PBS NewsHour wrote about the update here.
Both the U.S. government and the American Civil Liberties Union, who initially sued over family separations, have been working together to reunify the families. Both parties are expected back in court in San Diego this week to file additional updates on the reunifications. [The PBS NewsHour]
Why it matters: Late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw told both parties that this effort to reunify separated migrant families, which has been happening for weeks now, “will not be a perfect process.”
The judge also said both parties’ latest plan to reunify the remaining hundreds of children looked “excellent.”
The plan said U.S. officials will work with the countries of origin to find the migrant parents who are no longer in the U.S. and to determine how they wish to proceed with the process to reunify with their children. They will ask these countries to post contact information for U.S. officials on ads and billboards. It remains to be seen how effective this would be in reaching the removed parents.
The ACLU’s Lee Gelernt told the judge that only fewer than 50 people were reached by then. Gelernt said the phone numbers could be “inoperative or some people may be in hiding.”
If anything, this latest plan and the weekly updates point to how slow and difficult the process has been.
3. U.S. sanctions Myanmar military commanders and divisions for Rohingya massacres
Last week, the Treasury Department announced it had imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar security forces “for their involvement in ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and “widespread human rights abuses” of other ethnic minorities. The sanctions target four military and border guard commanders and two military units.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is ruled by the majority ethnic Bamar — made up of mostly Buddhists — and has 135 ethnic groups recognized by the government. Since the Rohingya are not recognized as an indigenous ethnic group by the Myanmar government, they are not granted citizenship and are considered one of the largest stateless groups in the world.
“Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns against ethnic minority communities across Burma, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings, and other serious human rights abuses,” Sigal Mandelker, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official, said in a statement.
The Treasury Department announcement traced the start of the atrocities to October 2016, when Myanmar’s military “committed widespread, systematic, and brutal acts of violence against Rohingya villagers” in three townships in northern Rakhine State. After border attacks in August 2017, the violence by the military escalated to a sweeping campaign, prompting the Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. [The New York Times]
Why it matters: Myanmar, once a country under military rule that transitioned toward democracy, has taken an anti-democratic nosedive in recent years.
The 2018 Global Slavery Index said that the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar represented the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.” The United Nations estimates that more than 900,000 refugees live in Cox’s Bazar, a fishing city in Bangladesh where the Rohingya have fled and built makeshift camps.
Myanmar officials have claimed that the Rohingya burned their own villages and are terrorists. The government also jailed two Reuters reporters who were reporting on the Rohingya massacres. They are accused of breaking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
The recent enhanced sanctions, targeting not only military commanders, but whole infantry divisions, is the strongest response yet from the U.S. government for the wave of violence plaguing Myanmar. The announcement said that the action “should serve as a warning that the security forces must cease such behavior immediately and respect and protect the human rights of all ethnic and religious groups in Burma.”
Aside from the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas, the Treasury Department also cited lesser-known abuses in Myanmar’s Kachin and Shan states where the military “committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and torture against civilians” from other minority communities.
4. Measles cases hit record high in Europe
Measles cases in Europe have hit a record high this year, according to the World Health Organization. More than 41,000 people have been infected in the first six months of 2018, causing 37 deaths. The WHO recorded 23,927 cases last year (the previous record high), which dwarfs the 5,273 infections from the year before.
The WHO called on European countries to act and stressed the need for vaccinations — pointing out that some communities were far more immunized than others. “This partial setback demonstrates that every person who is not immune remains vulnerable no matter where they live, and every country must keep pushing to increase coverage and close immunity gaps, even after achieving interrupted or eliminated status,” said Dr. Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
Some 23,000 cases were recorded in Ukraine, while Serbia has seen 14 deaths from the disease, more than in any of the other countries. [The BBC]
Why it’s important: Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. It can live in the air for up to two hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The disease typically begins with a cough, runny nose and high fever, followed by skin rashes. Most people recover completely, but serious cases can include complications like pneumonia and brain swelling that could prove fatal, according to the CDC.
In Europe, the rate of immunization for measles inched up from 88 percent in the region in 2016 to 90 percent in 2017. But when it comes to immunization in individual countries, rates vary widely. Some communities reported immunization rates of more than 95 percent while others were below 70 percent, according to WHO.
Discredited research has linked the measles vaccine with autism, causing some to be weary about immunizing their children. The WHO stressed the key role vaccines play in the fight against measles. “We can stop this deadly disease,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe. “But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations – and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”
5. Georgia high school football players boycotted practice to protest hazardous workouts
Football players from a top-ranked high school team in Loganville, Georgia, walked out on practice last week to protest grueling training conditions that had students concerned for their health, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.
Both parents and players at Grayson High School expressed concerns, dating back to last season, about training sessions that involved full-contact drills in shorts, and workouts that led to body cramps, broken bones in players’ hands and ambulance trips for heat-related issues.
After nearly all the team’s players boycotted practice on Wednesday, head coach Christian Hunnicutt arranged a meeting with them to apologize and promise less intense training ahead of their season open. [Gwinnett Daily Post]
Why it matters: The walkout in Georgia comes amid renewed scrutiny over what some players and coaches describe as a culture of fear, intimidation and abuse in football.
Last week, at the University of Maryland, the school’s Board of Regents announced it would take over investigations into the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died in June of complications from a heatstroke suffered during a workout session. The team’s head coach, DJ Durkin, and other athletic staff members have since been placed on administrative leave.
In reporting the incident, ESPN revealed a culture of abuse that existed within the football program, in which players were allegedly verbally abused, continually degraded and encouraged to practice unhealthy eating habits in order to gain weight.
Allegations of abuse, fostered by an environment of fear and intimidation, are not new in the world of football. But John Feinstein, a Washington Post sports columnist and author, said the treatment in McNair’s case was “clearly excessive,” and it represents an abusive culture meant to push athletes to a peak performance.
“Football is a very macho sport. Players are pushed. They’re challenged,” he told the PBS NewsHour. “It appears based on what we know, that there were coaches at Maryland who didn’t see that line and went over it.”