Welcome to Thursday, where Libya’s prime minister survives an assassination attempt, Belarus and Russia start joint military drills and a Republican congresswoman spills her gazpacho. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re also looking at the world of private jet travel, a means of transportation that soared during the pandemic.
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• Russia military drills with Belarus: Belarus and Russia started ten days of joint military drills on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the Kremlin’s buildup of forces along Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has said the aim of the exercises is to “practice suppressing and repelling external aggression.” Around 3,000 Russian troops are believed to be in Belarus, which according to NATO marks the biggest Russian deployment to the ex-Soviet territory since the Cold War. On a visit to NATO’s headquarters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the Ukraine crisis has entered its “most dangerous moment” as the threat of a war looms.
• COVID update: The U.S. plans to begin the distribution of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5, as early as Feb. 21, according to the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. Paris banned a French “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions from entering the capital city. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Jonhson outlined plans to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England within weeks, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.
• Libyan Prime Minister survives assassination attempt: Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt in Tripoli, after gunmen fired on his car as we was returning home early Thursday. The attack came amid intense rival factions over control of the government.
• Church sex abuse panel in Portugal reports first 200+ cases: A lay committee investigating historic child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced it had received allegations from 214 people throughout its first month of work.
• Olympics drug controversy: The 15-year-old Russian superstar figure skater Kamila Valieva has turned up for training as usual Thursday morning at the Winter Olympics, despite having tested positive for a banned substance. The International Olympic Committee had announced that the medal ceremony for the figure skating event had been suspended. Meanwhile, Austrian Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team to winning the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined event on Thursday, following in his father’s footsteps.
• Space storm destroys 40 of Space X’s Starlink satellites: Elon Musk's company SpaceX confirmed that a solar storm had destroyed most of the Starlink satellites it launched last Friday, with 40 of its 49 satellites expected to fall back to earth.
• Pro Trump representative confuses the Gestapo with gazpacho soup: Controversial Republican U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday as she accused Democratic leaders of “gazpacho” tactics on Capitol Hill. She apparently confused Hitler’s secret police with the popular Spanish cold tomato soup …
Canadian daily Ottawa Citizen devotes its front page to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Ottawa’s city center for more than a week. What started as demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The leader is demanding an end to the protests, which have forced some factories to shut down due to the blockade of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge on the border.
The South Korean curling team known as the “Garlic Girls” (마늘 소녀들, maneul sonyeodeul), a nod to the iconic produce of their region, starts competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics today in a round-robin match against Canada. The team had gained fame with its first Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, before prompting debates about the mistreatment of athletes in South Korea, when its members denounced their coaches’ harsh training and abuse nine months later.
How the pandemic spread private jet travel beyond the super-rich and powerful
Once the reserve of the super-rich and famous, private jet travel soared during the pandemic. Amid border closures and travel restrictions, private charter flights are sometimes the only option to get people — and their pets!? — home.
✈️ During the pandemic, a surprisingly wide demographic have turned to private jets not because it was a luxury they could afford, but out of desperation, trying to reach a destination in the face of border closures and widespread flight cancellations. Last year, private jet hours were close to 50% higher than in 2020, according to the Global Business Aviation Outlook. While some of the increase can be attributed to more travel in 2021 because of COVID-19 vaccination, it still amounts to 5% more hours than before the pandemic.
🐶 More than just saving time through skipping security lines and long waits at airports, flying private jets also lets the super wealthy, and those desperate enough to break the bank, sidestep other regulations. As part of its zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has severely limited flights. High cargo rates for animals and flight cancellations are making it very hard for pet owners to leave the island taking their furry friends along. Those desperate enough are spending upwards of $25,665 to privately charter themselves and their pets. Many are pooling their resources to share in the cost.
🧳 In Morocco, private jets were the only way for many to enter the North African kingdom after it suspended all air travel from Nov. 29 until Feb. 7 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 6,000 Moroccans were stuck abroad. In this case, many weren’t looking for a luxurious travel experience but were just desperate to return to their home country. Traveling in groups was one way to decrease the expense, to as low as $1,400 per passenger for a flight from Europe, but for some this still means relying on family support or finding other ways to raise money.
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“I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't hurt anyone. Not even a scratch.”
— Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the ISIS cell that targeted Paris in the 2015 attacks, has denied killing or hurting anybody during the trial of the attacks that left 130 people dead. Adbeslam said he supported the Islamic State of Iraq but chose at the last minute not to detonate his explosives, though prosecutors believe his suicide belt malfunctioned. The French-Moroccan is the only defendant, among 20, to be directly accused of murder and hostage taking.
The Enigma, a 555.55 carat black gem believed to be the world's largest cut diamond, has sold for $4.3 million in an online auction. The gem, known as a “carbonado,” is an extremely rare billion-year-old black diamond which contain osbonite, a mineral found only in meteors — meaning it could originate from space.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
Garlic curling and gazpacho on the menu? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
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The officers charged in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols were not your everyday uniformed patrol officers.
Rather, they were part of an elite squad: Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION team. A rather tortured acronym for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods,” SCORPION is a crime suppression unit – that is, officers detailed specifically to prevent, detect and interrupt violent crime by proactively using stops, frisks, searches and arrests. Such specialized units are common in forces across the U.S. and tend to rely on aggressive policing tactics.
As academics who study policing, and as former officers ourselves, we have long been aware of potential problems with such specialized units. Treating aggressive crime fighting as the highest priority in policing can cultivate a corrosive culture in which bad behavior is often tolerated, even encouraged – to the detriment of community relations. Changing that pattern requires wrestling with complexities of policing in modern society.
From prohibition to the war on drugs
Crime suppression units, sometimes called “violence reduction units” or “street crimes units,” have a long and often sordid history in the United States.
Such specialized units are usually set up to address specific issues, such as drug trafficking or gang crime. An early precedent to modern crime suppression units can be seen in the squads set up by the federal Bureau of Prohibition and their local counterparts during the 1920s. These squads were charged with enforcing newly passed alcohol laws but often lacked the training or numbers to support their mission. The predictable result was the unlawful killing of civilians and corruption. Indeed, the Wickersham Commission report, released in the early 1930s, shows how the power that goes with being part of a specialized unit can be corrosive. It noted that the “unfortunate public expressions [by police] approving killings and promiscuous shootings and lawless raids and seizures” can lead to the alienation of “thoughtful citizens, believers in law and order.”
In more recent times, police agencies have used specialized units to respond to violent crime, often because of a surge in public demand for the police to “do something.” Investing in a more robust public safety infrastructure is expensive, politically fraught and, even if successful, could take decades to reap rewards. So instead of addressing social problems, such as poverty and lack of economic opportunity, elected officials turn to police leaders, who often reach for a familiar tool: aggressive enforcement tactics. Such an approach is intended to prevent, detect and interrupt crime, and to identify, apprehend and punish criminal offenders.
When cops "own" the city
That was exactly the pattern in Memphis, violent crime in 2020 and 2021 experienced a significant increase, with a per capita murder rate that put it among the most dangerous cities in the nation. These historic rises in homicides were in contrast to dramatically lower rates just a few years before.
In 2021, the city hired Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who bluntly described her vision: “being tough on tough people.”
As homicides soared, Memphis established the SCORPION team, assigning 40 officers to clean up the most crime-ridden parts of the city. Both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Chief Davis celebrated the number of arrests that the SCORPION team’s officers made, along with the guns, cash and vehicles they seized.
Positions in specialized units come with prestige, flexibility and the lure of future promotions. In better times, membership is restricted to officers with more experience and training. But as the Memphis Police Department lost around 23% of its sworn personnel between 2013 and 2018, the department lowered overall minimum standards for officers, and inexperienced officers were appointed to SCORPION – including those now charged with murdering Tyre Nichols.
A still from a released video recording of Tyre Nichols's altercation with Police officers before he died.
Memphis police department / Wikipedia
Agents of crime
Memphis is far from alone. In 2007, the Baltimore Police Department set up the Gun Trace Task Force to address illegal guns and violent crime. And before that, in the 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department established the Rampart CRASH, or Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, unit, which focused on gangs and violent crime. In New Orleans, the city’s police department viewed its task force officers, known as “jump out boys,” as “enforcers and agents of crime control.”
Stepping over the line from aggressive enforcement to misconduct, abuse or even outright criminality.
Scandal connects these units. In each case – and in many more – officers stepped over the line from aggressive enforcement to misconduct, abuse or even outright criminality. Members of the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force were eventually convicted on charges including robbery, racketeering and extortion. Rampart CRASH unit officers robbed banks, stole narcotics and engaged in extrajudicial beatings of suspects.
The New Orleans Police Department was eventually placed under the oversight of a federal consent decree after the jump out boys developed a reputation as “dirty cops, the ones who are going to be brutal,” in the words of one sergeant.
These result were, for many, entirely foreseeable.
As eminent criminologist Herman Goldstein wrote in 1977, problems arise when “the police […] place a higher priority on maintaining order than on operating legally.” Recent scholars refer to “noble cause corruption,” but readers are probably more familiar with a synonymous phrase: “the ends justify the means.”
Even when well-intentioned, prioritizing aggressive police enforcement can be deeply destructive. Research has found that aggressive police units have significantly more use-of-force incidents and public complaints, while also having fewer complaints against them upheld. This suggests a culture in which some violations are tacitly approved so long as the unit is productive – that is, it makes arrests.
To a significant extent, this comes down to agency culture. A permissive culture, as researchers have long recognized, can both protect and corrupt the nature of policing. Every police department has a culture, but those best able to balance the missions of addressing violent crime and maintaining community support set about shaping and reinforcing their culture instead of leaving it to grow wild.
A source of violence
When aggressive police culture overwhelms the professional norms of constitutional policing, the public safety mission of policing breaks down. Chiefs are put into a difficult position – they must ensure that officers who use coercive authority in response to public demands for crime control also respect the legal limits of their authority.
They must prioritize legal and rightful policing above aggressive crime fighting.
The legitimacy of policing, we believe, depends on recognizing that while hyperaggressive tactics by young, often inexperienced officers in crime suppression units may contribute to short-term deterrence of some violent crime, those same tactics are very likely to leave a wake of public disgust and distrust behind. That can seriously undermine public safety efforts, including the investigation of violent crimes that rely heavily on community cooperation.
If the history of crime suppression units teaches us anything, it is that they must prioritize legal and rightful policing above aggressive crime fighting. To do otherwise is to risk becoming just another source of violence in already victimized communities.
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