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How US cities’ police reform attempts led to pay bumps for officers | US news

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In response to a wave of protests against police killings of Black people in 2014, the newly elected New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced an array of policing reforms focused on increasing community trust.

He reorganized the NYPD around “neighborhood policing”, assigning officers a neighborhood-level beat, increasing the number of police community meetings and appointing some cops as community liaisons. The mayor and city council also added 1,300 new officers. In 2017, the NYPD also rolled out a pilot of its body-camera program, one of the first department-wide programs in the country.

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Overpoliced, underprotected is a series focused on police violence in the US following one of the largest-scale uprisings in history. 

A year on from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there are demands both inside the government and from grassroots movements to end the systemic racism and lethal force that has been embedded in police culture for centuries. 

But with stark differences in approaches to reform and revolution, and the continued power of police unions, achieving sweeping change faces more obstacles than ever.

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The reforms were a boon for the NYPD rank and file: the body cameras led to a 1% salary hike negotiated with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the city’s largest police union, in 2016. And a 2017 contract between NYC and the union added another 2.25% pay increase for all NYPD police officers, called a “neighborhood policing differential”, whether or not they participated in the program. Overall, it meant a near 12% raise over five years.

After last year’s protests following the death of George Floyd, there has been increasing scrutiny across the country about widely promoted policing reforms that come with salary hikes for officers, largely thanks to police unions suggesting that reforms are onerous and that criticism has made their jobs dangerous. These reforms are advertised as ways to increase community trust, but the raises can be costly to cities – and their taxpayers – and there’s little evidence they are related to additional community work.

Advocates, who increasingly support redirecting police funds to other agencies, said it also demonstrates how reform, in the form of increased training and equipment, can be counterproductive. These critics propose instead redirecting law enforcement funds to community efforts outside the police force.

“It’s an example of the ways in which promises of reform or oversight just end up with the public spending more on policing,” said Michael Sisitzky, a senior policy counsel with NYCLU, told the Guardian.

New York City’s department of labor, which handles negotiations with police unions, said at the time of negotiations that the “neighborhood policing” pay bump was paid for by reducing pay for new hires. While it’s not clear that the raise had anything to do with neighborhood policing, it was separate from a 9.3% raise in the same contract, and the mayor insisted it would support his new approach to policing.

The union probably didn’t have much leverage to hold back neighborhood policing, which had been in place for years prior to the contract raise. But they could have potentially protested against body cameras by tying the city up with lawsuits, experts said. In fact, a 2015 PBA complaint filed with the Office of Collective Bargaining and obtained by the Guardian alleged that in rolling out its pilot body camera program the city violated collective bargaining laws. According to the complaint, the program “fundamentally alters the terms and conditions of employment of police officers by substantially modifying, among other things, their privacy, safety, duties, evaluation procedures, hours, wages and workload.” The complaint was dropped as part of negotiations over the 2017 contract.

The union has leverage in contract negotiations with the city for several reasons. It had been working with a lapsed contract for five years when they negotiated the 2017 contract. In New York state, under the Taylor law, if negotiators can’t come to terms on a new contract, the old contract is still in effect, including any provisions the city might want to change. “The union has time on its side because they can hold out and not sign on the contract,” said Daniel DiSalvo, a political science professor at City College of New York who studies labor unions.

And while it may seem intuitive that unions have their backs against the wall during periods of heightened protest, the opposite can be true. “The police are kind of in an advantage,” DiSalvo said. “Paradoxically, the hostility of the national environment can be leveraged by labor.”

The PBA, and police unions across the country, can use the heightened criticism of police to portray their jobs as thankless and increasingly dangerous, despite the fact that NYPD line-of-duty deaths have been trending down for decades. The PBA keeps a running toll on its website of attacks on police officers, including vehicle damage and online threats. In recent weeks, the PBA head, Pat Lynch, has blamed anti-police rhetoric for the death of a police officer in a hit-and-run as well as a spike in retirements.

“We see that any time there is a call for reform this urge to recast themselves as the underdog, people who face insurmountable challenges,” Sisitzky said.

Officials, meanwhile, argue the pay raises are mutually beneficial to the police and public. “The parties reached a successful agreement that provided for modest increased compensation in exchange for management’s right to use body cameras throughout the NYPD,” Robert Linn, the city’s chief labor negotiator at the time, told the Guardian. “I think there should be a model as to how to provide 21st-century policing.”

Pay bumps for reforms are not isolated to NYC, and other examples have raised criticism: in Las Vegas, the police union negotiated a 1% salary increase for officers wearing body-worn cameras. The police department charges $280 an hour for members of the public to view the footage.

In Nassau county, Long Island, the local branch of the PBA is in negotiations after union members rejected a $3,000-a-year salary increase for officers who wear body-worn cameras. A final contract may include an even higher pay bump, despite opposition from activists. According to an analysis by Newsday, the $3,000 salary increase would add $5.7m to the county’s budget. The same analysis found purchasing the cameras would cost only $1.3m, and storing data would cost between $342,000 to $5.2m depending on the plan.

Frederick Brewington, a Long Island civil rights attorney who recently served on the county’s police reform taskforce, said: “Asking officers to be more accountable and to be better members of the society that they’re intending to service, that doesn’t mean you get paid more for doing the thing you swore you were going to do when you took the oath.”

Emily Kaufman, a social worker and organizer with the racial justice collective of Long Island United, said: “Police shouldn’t get paid to wear part of their uniform, this isn’t additional training, this isn’t a specialization, they don’t get trained to wear their badge.” Kaufman says she’s less angry at the union – whose job it is to fight for pay increases for their members – than county officials who go along with it with little protest.

In New York City, the future of the police budget depends on decisions being made in the next few months. Amid a 77% increase in shootings over the previous year – consistent with an uptick in violence across the country during the pandemic – De Blasio has signaled the budget will increase. The mayor also rolled out a policing plan that could be adopted by the next mayor, to be elected this fall. And all five of the city’s police union contracts have expired, so the cost of those reforms will also be the responsibility of the next mayor.

The Guardian contacted Andrew Yang and Eric Adams, the two leading candidates as of recent polling, for comment. Yang did not respond, but a spokesperson for Adams sent a statement saying that he would be pursuing his own reform plan as mayor with a focus on transparency and diversity. The statement did not include comment on officer raises or union negotiations and both Yang and Adams do not support defunding the police.

In a heated recent city council hearing the New York City police commissioner, Dermot Shea, argued that any cuts to the NYPD budget would lead to more crime. “Our neighborhood policing model of proven crime-fighting policing works when we have the necessary tools and resources,” Shea said. “When tools are taken away there are real-world consequences.”

But with no data provided by the mayor that neighborhood policing has helped the city, advocates are still wary.

“Any attempt to get more transparency around police practices has the potential to funnel more money and resources into these police agencies,” Sisitzky said. “Maybe the answer is not to focus on that type of reform, but rethink the scope and function of police departments and police officers.”

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Russian Intranasal Vaccine Effective Against All Coronavirus Strains – Developers

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The new Russian nasal vaccine against COVID-19 has demonstrated effectiveness against all variants of the coronavirus, Alexander Gintsburg, the director of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed the vaccine, told Sputnik.

“We’ve observed that the currently available and already registered intranasal vaccine is demonstrating high efficiency in protecting against all strains [of the coronavirus], forming mucosal immunity to the pathogen,” Gintsburg said.

The Russian Health Ministry registered the world’s first intranasal vaccine against COVID-19 in April.

Gintsburg told Sputnik in March that the new vaccine was effective against the Omicron variant. He said that the new vaccine was going to be used as a booster, in addition to the Sputnik V shots, until there was enough evidence that this new intranasal method gives the same level of protection as an injection.

In November of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to become a volunteer in the testing of the new vaccine and said that he felt no side effects after getting the procedure.

Russia became the first country in the world to register a vaccine against COVID-19, dubbed Sputnik V, in August 2020. The Russian Health Ministry has also registered a new, Sputnik M, vaccine for adolescents aged 12-17. Clinical trials of Sputnik shots for children aged 6-11 are currently underway in Moscow, according to Gintsburg.



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Nancy Pelosi: Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan revives the debate on international recognition of the island | International

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Nancy Pelosi’s brief and controversial visit to Taiwan could not have incited more contrasting reactions from the governments on either side of the Formosa Strait. President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration received the speaker of the United States House of Representatives with everything but a fireworks show, projecting flamboyant welcome messages on the island’s tallest building. Beijing, on the other hand, responded to what it considered a “blatant provocation” with a week of unprecedented military exercises. The superpower has also cut ties with Washington on key topics and recently published the first official report on Taiwan in two decades. Its aggressive reaction has brought to the forefront the debate about international recognition of the island, which functions as a state but is recognized by only 14 countries.

“My friends and I were very excited for a figure like this to come. It’s good to attract attention,” says Sun Hui’an by phone. “We are used to threats from China. We can’t let it dictate our lives,” adds the 29-year-old nurse.

Formosa was the place to which nationalist leaders and around a million people fled after the victory of the Communist Army in 1949 in the civil war. While in mainland China Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic, Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang (the formation that had presided over the country between 1927 and 1949), established a government in exile in Taiwan. Not until the 1970s did the United Nations and most Western countries began to recognize Beijing as the legitimate government of China, to the detriment of Taipei.

Taiwan is not a special administrative region of China like Hong Kong and Macau. It has a democratic government, a constitution and an army of 300,000 soldiers. It ranks as the 21st largest economy in the world, and it is the leading producer in the semiconductor industry. In 2019, it became the first place in Asia to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.

For the Chinese government, the island is a headache. The Asian giant considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory, whose “reunification” is, in the words of President Xi Jinping, “a historic mission of the Communist Party.” In recent years, especially since Tsai Ing-wen assumed the presidency in 2016, Chinese authorities have spoken with increasing assertiveness about a future unification, for which they have not ruled out the use of force. The rapport between the Tsai Administration and the United States, as evidenced by the recent visit of the American politician, has infuriated Beijing. On Wednesday, China published the first white paper on Taiwan in 22 years, drawing far more red lines than previous publications from 1993 and 2000.

Beijing’s discourse has never quite caught on across the strait. The two main Taiwanese parliamentary groups hold two radically opposed ideas about nationalism. While the Blue Coalition, led by the Kuomintang (KMT), aspires to an eventual unification with the People’s Republic, the Green Coalition, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), prefers to distance the island from Beijing.

Xulio Ríos, director of the Chinese Policy Observatory, points out that, however, that “the nuances are important”: “In the KMT there is everything from an intense blue –which defends unification and the idea of China – to a sky-blue, which understands that there are two different realities on both sides of the strait. The PDP advocated for independence, but today it does not defend it so aggressively and is committed to maintaining the status quo.”

Although historically opposed, the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have sometimes found ways to collaborate and prevent secession. KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia is currently on a 17-day trip to the mainland to boost cross-border communication. “The cooperation between the KMT and the CCP really picked up momentum in 2008, with the victory of Ma Ying-jeou [KMT] in the elections. This made possible a rapprochement between the business and political elites of the mainland and Taiwan,” says Ríos.

Maintaining the status quo

That approach was cut short in 2014, when a group of protesters occupied parliament to denounce the approval, without bipartisan debate, of a controversial trade agreement with China. “The Sunflower Movement put the brakes on a whole process of rapprochement, which had generated the expectation of a possibility of peaceful unification through dialogue,” says Ríos. “After PDP’s victory with an absolute majority in 2016 is completely the opposite, a completely opposite path opened,” he adds.

Despite the two trends, the surveys carried out biannually by the Center for Electoral Studies of National Chengchi University (Taipei) since 1994 show that the vast majority of the 23 million Taiwanese are committed to maintaining the status quo. In its latest poll, from July, those in favor of unification are few (1.3%) and falling, while those in favor of declaring independence (5.1%) have also lost steam.

“My parents and I share the same opinion: we don’t care who rules Taiwan, but we don’t want to lose our freedoms. My grandparents and my parents had hopes for the principle of one country, two systems, but after what happened in Hong Kong we know that it is not viable,” says Wu, 32, who prefers to identify himself with a pseudonym.

Deng Xiaoping devised the one country, two systems model in the late 1980s. The goal was to ensure conformity to the idea that there is but one China, while ensuring that those areas that had developed their own economic systems could keep them under Chinese rule. The idea, originally conceived for Taiwan, has never been accepted by the island’s political parties.

Taiwanese fear that the idea’s acceptance will bring an erosion of democracy. China had agreed with the United Kingdom to guarantee Hong Kong’s system of freedoms until 2047. But after the 2019 protests, Beijing has become intransigent, with the approval of the draconian National Security Law and with an electoral reform that ended up placing Beijing-backed candidate John Lee as head of government in May.

“Once you visit the Chinese mainland, if you are green, you turn dark green. If you are blue, you go green,” Wu says, summarizing the Taiwanese’s misgivings. But given the obvious difference in opinion that has persisted in high political circles, the most intelligent response seems to be the one reflected by the polls. When asked what he would choose between preserving the status quo or moving towards complete autonomy from Beijing, Wu does not hesitate: “Independence does not deserve a war.”

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‘The Taliban no longer wanted to kill me. Now they wanted to marry me’ | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The day the Taliban entered my city last August, I started to receive renewed threats from Taliban commanders who wanted to punish me for my work as a news journalist. I was forced to leave my home that day, amid the loud explosions of an ongoing battle, hiding under a burqa, and praying to survive the journey.

What I did not know then was that this journey would continue for the next year.

Every few weeks, I moved from province to province, sometimes living in the heart of cities, other times hiding out in remote villages. In the first few days, I stayed at my uncle’s house in Sari Pul province, but once the local Taliban learned he was harbouring a fugitive, we had to leave in the middle of the night.

I went to Mazar-i-Sharif city in Balkh, and then took the road to Kabul, passing through Samangan, Baghlan and Parwan provinces. We were stopped at checkpoints in every province, and every time my heart would pound inside my chest. Luckily, I was under a chadari [the full Afghan burqa] and passed through checkpoints undetected.

In Kabul, the very air had shifted; there was fear and dread, alongside celebrations, as Taliban fighters from all over the country gathered in the capital. With the help of some friends, I was moved to a safe house, where I spent the next three months attempting to find ways to leave the country, but seldom even leaving the compound I was hiding in. The Taliban would launch random raids in the neighbourhood, looking for fugitives like me.

Somehow, our compound evaded suspicion, but when the number of raids increased, I knew I would have to leave Kabul soon.

In December 2021, I heard the news that my cousin had been killed by the Taliban. He was a policeman and often clashed with the Taliban during the years of conflict. Like me, he had been hiding for months, looking for a way to leave the country, but was caught and killed. I broke down, not just in grief over his loss, but also in incredible pain over what my life had turned into.

I decided to go back to my province, but did not go home because I didn’t want to risk my family’s lives. I hid at the home of another relative, but being so close to my family again made me homesick. I yearned for my mother’s embrace; I hadn’t seen her in months.

One day, I met my mother in a crowded marketplace. We hugged each other tight, and I cried, but she gave me strength. I knew I couldn’t give up now.

Over the next few months, I started weaving carpets to help support myself and my family. Since the Taliban takeover, we had not only lost income but my life in exile was costing my parents, who had already sacrificed so much to raise me and now had to support me. It was hard labour, and I developed rashes and sores on my hands, but it helped my family and took my mind off the threats I was still receiving.

Then the threats from the Taliban changed. They no longer wanted to kill me. They wanted me to marry one of their commanders. They reached out to my parents and community elders, pressuring them to give me away in marriage.

I couldn’t believe it was now happening to me. In the past, I covered stories of the Taliban imposing forced marriages on young girls. Now I was one of the women I had reported about last year.

When I refused, they sent me photos of AK-47s and pistols, threatening to kidnap me, and kill my parents. I blocked their numbers and deleted WhatsApp but they still found ways to send me threats. Eventually, I took out my sim card and broke it into pieces. I was terrified of what they would do to me, or worse, to my family.

So in July, with the help of friends, I made one more attempt to leave the country. First, with the help of my father, I moved to Mazar-i-Sharif, and then we took the road to Kabul again. I carried medical certificates, and every time we were stopped, we would say I was going to Kabul for treatment. I was nervous throughout the journey because the Taliban were more brutal than before.

Eventually we made it to Kabul, where I met with other women like myself. Together, under the pretext of seeking medical help, we were able to get on a flight leaving for a neighbouring country.

I am somewhat safer now, but not out of danger. I barely sleep because I fear for my family, who are still in Afghanistan. They are already being shamed because I ran away. A young unmarried daughter leaving by herself is considered very dishonourable in Afghan culture.

But I am fortunate in the support I have received from my parents, at great personal risk. They always prioritised my passion, my happiness, and now my security and future. Contrary to popular belief, many Afghan fathers would, like mine, rather face societal dishonour and threats than deny their daughters opportunities for a better future.

I appeal to our international allies to empower such Afghan families, particularly the women. We worked so hard to attain values of equality and freedom and have lost the most in the last year. But we are still resisting, and we are seeking allies to support us and amplify our voices.

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