News Brief: NYPD Firing, China Social Media Accounts, Red Flag Laws
NOEL KING, HOST:
In New York, the NYPD has fired Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold that led to his death.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah, police commissioner James O'Neill announced this decision yesterday, saying that he feels for both the Garner family and for Pantaleo.
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JAMES O'NEILL: A man with a family lost his life, and that is an irreversible tragedy. And a hardworking police officer with a family, a man who took this job to do good, to make a difference in his home community, has now lost his chosen career. And that is a different kind of tragedy.
GREENE: But the story apparently does not end here. There are reports now that Officer Pantaleo plans to take action to try and get his job back.
KING: Cindy Rodriguez with NPR member station WNYC in New York has been following this story. She's joining us now on Skype. Good morning, Cindy.
CINDY RODRIGUEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So police commissioner James O'Neill said it was his decision to fire Officer Pantaleo. As we heard in that tape, he suggested it was a difficult decision. He didn't take it lightly. What did he say were the reasons?
RODRIGUEZ: That's right, Noel. Commissioner O'Neill was emotional yesterday at a press conference. He said that Mr. Garner was noncompliant and argumentative. And he noted that the patrol guide allows officers to use reasonable force when it's necessary to take someone into custody. But he said what the patrol guide doesn't allow for is for an officer to use a chokehold.
And he went through what happened that day in Staten Island and said that Officer Pantaleo was doing the right thing until this confrontation escalated and he put his forearm around Mr. Garner's neck, and at a certain point, he had a chance to readjust and let go but that he didn't do that.
KING: One of the really notable things in this case is that neither state nor federal charges were ever filed against Officer Pantaleo. Does this open the door to that again, or is the legal case over?
RODRIGUEZ: No, I think most people believe that the legal case is over. A Staten Island grand jury declined to bring charges or to indict Officer Pantaleo. And the Department of Justice said that they couldn't prove intent, and they also passed on bringing criminal charges. And there's a statute of limitations at the federal level, and that has run out.
KING: All right, in the meantime, Eric Garner's family has been tireless in pushing for accountability of some sort. What did they say yesterday after Officer Pantaleo was fired?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, they've been very frustrated by this process. You know, it's taken five years to get to this point. Mr. Garner's daughter Emerald Snipes-Garner yesterday actually thanked the police commissioner for making this decision. But she also said this.
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EMERALD SNIPES-GARNER: Commissioner O'Neill, while we appreciate you making your decision, we are definitely still calling for the Eric Garner law, which will ban the chokehold, which will ban officers being protected by a shield and not held accountable for their actions.
KING: All right, so that's the family's take. Now, Cindy, I know you've reported that Pantaleo plans on suing the NYPD to try and get his job back. What do we know about that lawsuit?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, that's right. So he is planning to sue. The union is standing behind him. They say that this decision was purely political. They have sent out a memo to their members saying to do everything strictly by the book so as not to jeopardize their careers or their personal safety.
KING: Cindy Rodriguez is a reporter with NPR member station WNYC. Cindy, thanks so much.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Noel.
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KING: All right, China is using U.S. social media platforms to spread disinformation about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
GREENE: That's right. This is according to both Twitter and Facebook. The social media companies have confirmed that collectively, they've now taken down almost 1,000 accounts they say were backed by Chinese state actors to spread false information.
KING: NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is on the line. Hi, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.
KING: So tell us about these accounts. What were they saying? How many were there? How widespread was this?
FENG: Again, it was just under 1,000. What happened was Twitter found out that its platform was being used by Chinese government-linked accounts and took more than 900 down. Twitter then went to Facebook and said the same thing is happening on your platform. Facebook now says it took down seven pages, five accounts and three groups.
And keep in mind, both platforms are still under scrutiny here in the U.S. - or sorry, I'm in Beijing - but in the U.S. for spreading Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign. This time when confronted, they preemptively took down at least some of the offending accounts.
KING: Hmm, interesting that Twitter tipped off Facebook. Let me ask you, these Chinese state-backed accounts, what were they posting exactly?
FENG: They're posting entirely pro-Beijing views on the protests - things like comparing the protesters to Islamic State fighters, images that show the protesters allegedly attacking Hong Kong police officers and harassing travelers at the airport when protests shut down the Hong Kong airport, even false information about protesters being paid off by American agents. And all of this stuff is already extremely common in China, but China now wants this to be the global narrative.
And Twitter, as part of its disclosures when it took down these accounts, released information about what these accounts were posting. The data shows that the content was published in at least 10 languages, including Spanish and English. And some of the suspended accounts were really new, but some of them had been registered in 2007 and 8. So they've been around for more than a decade. And some of them had tens of thousands of followers, including one called LibertyLionNews, which self-described itself as a pro-Trump conservative news outlet.
KING: OK, so I guess if they're posting in all of those languages, the idea is we want this message to get out beyond just China and Hong Kong. We want to be able to control what the rest of the world thinks about these protests. Why is China doing this?
FENG: You got it exactly right. They've invested a huge amount of effort to manage perceptions within China, not just on the Hong Kong protests, but historically over any kind of politically sensitive event. But as China becomes more and more of a global power, it's realized it needs to manage what people outside of China also think about its policies and actions.
And over the last decade, we've seen China globalize a lot of the traditional propaganda channels it's maintained, with things like its television station, its media outlets. But the internet has now given them this incredibly powerful tool to amplify efforts. And we've seen them getting more sophisticated, like creating these Twitter and Facebook accounts that mix what look like organic content with state propaganda.
KING: Well, I was noting - I was reading earlier today that Chinese state media, of course, still have accounts on Twitter with a huge following. And of course, they have a spin on what's happening in Hong Kong. So this doesn't really end there, does it?
FENG: No, that narrative will continue going on within China.
GREENE: NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Emily, thanks so much.
FENG: Thank you.
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KING: All right, there are few issues in this country more divisive than gun control.
GREENE: Yeah, but we do have data for you this morning that suggests there is strong support across the country for so-called red flag laws. The discussion around this issue, of course, was heightened after the two recent mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton.
Now red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to try and get guns out of the hands of people they believe to be in crisis. The new numbers this morning come from a survey from the American Public Media Research Lab.
KING: And Leigh Paterson from the Guns & America reporting project has been tracking this data. She's based at member station KUNC in northern Colorado. Hey, Leigh.
LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what does this new survey - what do these new numbers tell us about support for red flag laws?
PATERSON: Yeah, so before I just give you a bunch of numbers, the survey basically says that there is a lot of support for these red flag laws, also called extremist protection order laws. So 77% of Americans support family-initiated extreme risk orders. Seventy percent support these orders when they're initiated by law enforcement.
Polling shows the support is strong among Democrats, Republicans, Independents, though highest among Democrats. And it's also fairly high among gun owners, too. Sixty-seven percent support orders initiated by family. Sixty percent support them when they're initiated by police.
Now the other thing that's important to know is that although we're talking about this survey now in the aftermath of a couple mass shootings, it was actually conducted in July before those events even took place.
KING: Uh huh, before El Paso, before Dayton, interesting.
PATERSON: Exactly, yeah.
KING: Leigh, anything related to gun control is generally very controversial. Do you have a sense of why red flag laws are something that so many people seem to agree on?
PATERSON: I talked with a couple of experts about that. One of them is Cassandra Crifasi. She is the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. And she pointed to this temporary component of these laws, meaning that once the temporary order expires, the subject - that's the person whose guns have been taken away - is then able to ask the judge to return his or her weapons.
CASSANDRA CRIFASI: I think we can reasonably agree someone who's posting online about committing a mass shooting or someone who is sharing with a family member or friend that they're thinking about harming themselves, that's someone that we would want to separate from firearms.
PATERSON: I also talked with Amy Swearer at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation. She talks about extreme risk orders as a kind of intermediate measure that can provide a way to intervene before someone has committed a crime or before they've gotten on the radar of mental health care professionals but who are maybe already starting to show signs of dangerousness, as she put it, making threats, you know, for example.
KING: And people who oppose red flag laws, why do they say?
PATERSON: Well, roughly 1 in 7 respondents strongly oppose these laws according to the survey. Those opposition numbers are higher among gun owners. People living in southern and western states reported the highest levels of opposition.
As for why, some people believe these laws violate the Second Amendment because after all, they limit access to guns. Others have concerns about due process. And here in Colorado, there's actually a whole movement of sheriffs who say we're not going to enforce the Colorado law once it takes effect because the issues I've just outlined, and also because law doesn't have a mental health care component.
KING: OK, so it doesn't necessarily end with a law. Reporter Leigh Paterson of the Guns & America project. Leigh, thanks so much for being with us.
PATERSON: You're welcome.
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