Police, communities across US fight back against anti-Asian hate crimes

Police, communities across US fight back against anti-Asian hate crimes
People participate in a protest to demand an end to anti-Asian violence on April 04, 2021 in New York City. (AFP)
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Updated 05 April 2021

Police, communities across US fight back against anti-Asian hate crimes

Police, communities across US fight back against anti-Asian hate crimes
  • Across the United States, law enforcement agencies are scrambling to better protect Asian communities amid a wave of violence targeting them since lockdowns

SAN JOSE: More than a dozen San Jose, California, police officers walked through the white arches of the Grand Century Mall in “Little Saigon” to reassure a Vietnamese-American community fearful over the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States.
The officers walked through the arcade of hair and nail salons, restaurants serving Vietnamese cuisine, and herbal medicine shops on Saturday, talking to business owners and patrons. They then conducted a similar tour of San Jose’s Japantown, where a citizen patrol group was formed following the deadly attacks on Asian spas in the Atlanta area on March 16.
“We know that there is a lot of angst, fear with our Asian community,” said San Jose’s police chief, Anthony Mata, during his visit to Little Saigon. “It’s important for us to have that dialogue, engage with them and see how we can help.”
Across the United States, law enforcement agencies are scrambling to better protect Asian communities amid a wave of violence targeting them since lockdowns to cope with the coronavirus pandemic began about a year ago. A recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, showed that while hate crimes overall in the United States had fallen slightly in 2020, crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) had jumped by 145%.
A vicious assault last week in which a man kicked a 65-year-old immigrant from the Philippines in New York City multiple times was captured on video and went viral, further stoking fears about anti-Asian hate crimes.
New York City has deployed a team of undercover Asian police officers. Other major cities, from San Jose to Chicago, have boosted patrols in Asian neighborhoods and sought to forge closer ties with communities, some of which have sought to fill gaps the police can’t fill.
Leanna Louie, who has organized residents to patrol San Francisco’s Chinatown, said the city’s police force of about 2,000 doesn’t have the resources. “It’s impossible,” she said.
Paul Luu, chief executive officer of the Chinese American Service League, welcomed the “revved up” police presence in Chicago’s Chinatown, which he said built on an already supportive relationship that includes Chinese-speaking officers on the beat. His group is focused on educating the community on hate crimes and encouraging victims, many reluctant due to language barriers or wariness of the police, to come forward.
Luu pointed to a recent attack on a 60-year-old Vietnamese immigrant on the North Side of Chicago who was initially reluctant to file a report. Official data shows Chicago recorded two anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 — the same as 2019 — while such crimes spiked to 28 in New York last year from three in 2019.
“The numbers may be very low in Chicago, but it does not mean that it is not happening,” Luu said.

DRIVEN BY DISINFORMATION
Not everyone believes more policing is the answer.
Grace Pai, director of organizing at the Chicago branch of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said she is against a larger police presence, citing distrust of law enforcement.
Pai said the police response in the Atlanta area shootings, where an officer seemed to minimize the attack by saying the shooter had “a really bad day,” was emblematic of a broader police bias. Six of the eight killed were of Asian descent.
“Asian Americans have been negatively impacted by policing,” she said. “We really don’t see the police playing a role in stopping these crimes from occurring.”
Since the Atlanta shootings, the Los Angeles Police Department has increased patrols and police visibility where many people of Asian heritage live and work, especially in and around Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Tokyo.
Blake Chow, who is the AAPI coordinator for the Los Angeles Police Department, said comments made by then-President Donald Trump blaming the pandemic on China and using remarks such as the “kung flu” have contributed to anti-Asian sentiment.
“We don’t have evidence of any hate group operating in LA that is focusing on the Asian, Pacific Islander community,” said Chow, a deputy police chief. “The rise is seen in individual acts and it seems driven by disinformation on COVID, some of it from the former president.”
Chow said the department is holding forums with the AAPI community to get feedback on what more the police should do, as well as to educate community members on how to report troubling encounters, even if they may not amount to a crime, such as when someone utters a racial slur.
“We want to document hate incidents, as they can be a forerunner to an actual hate crime. If we can document a pattern of conduct and track those, we can bring it to a judge for enhanced sentencing.”
The rise in attacks so alarmed retired San Jose police veteran Rich Saito that he added a patrol unit to a community group keeping watch over Japantown. Deluged by offers to help, Saito said he has trained 40 to 50 volunteers to walk the streets and document and report any suspicious activity.
“I’m very concerned about the safety of this community, especially the seniors,” said Saito, who escorted police chief Mata on a tour of the neighborhood on Saturday. “The police department does the best it can, but they can’t be here all the time, every day.”


Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
Zsolt Balla, State Rabbi of Saxony, stands in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, Monday June 21, 2021, after his induction into the office of Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. (AP)
Updated 7 min 48 sec ago

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
  • The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future

BERLIN: The German military got its first rabbi in over a century Monday, with the inauguration to the post of Hungarian-born Zsolt Balla at a synagogue in Leipzig.
The German government in 2019 approved a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces.
“This was unthinkable for decades and still can’t be taken for granted,” the head of the Central Council, Josef Schuster, said. “That’s why we have all reason to be happy and grateful today.”
During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany and dozens of rabbis are known to have performed pastoral work in the military. After Adolf Hitler’ came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all spheres of public life, later murdering millions in the Holocaust.
Schuster said Balla would ensure Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in line with their religious rules, and also teach non-Jewish soldiers about Judaism’s traditions and holy days, thereby helping reduce prejudice.
The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he felt “incredibly gratitude to be allowed to live in a country that faces its past but has also resolved to go forward and actively make the world better.”
According to German news agency dpa, there are about 300 Jews in Germany’s 180,000-strong Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military belong to a Christian denomination, while 3,000 are Muslim.
The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future.


Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Updated 22 June 2021

Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
  • Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month
  • The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use

LONDON: Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Monday after forcing their way into a factory they claim makes components for the Israeli military.
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement that officers were called to Greenacres Road, Oldham, at about 6:40 a.m. following reports of a protest.

Three men were arrested and remain in custody, police said.
Huda Ammori, co-founder of Palestine Action, told Arab News that it was hoped the men would be released within 24 hours.
She said that the activists wanted to cause further disruption to Elbit Systems.
“Activists have gone inside before, but not caused significant damage to the machinery. This is the first time it has been done on this scale, so it is definitely an escalation in terms of our activism and our campaign against Elbit Systems’ operations here in the UK,” she said.
Ammori claimed that people were growing frustrated with the UK government’s response to Israel’s actions, especially following the 11-day conflict that rocked Gaza in May.
The UK Parliament held a debate to discuss a petition signed by over 385,000 people calling for sanctions on Israel. Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but most MPs who took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month.
“The government has failed to take action, our parliamentarians have failed and protests have been ignored, and when everything else fails, the only tool we have left is to take the power back into our own hands, and expose exactly what Israel’s arms companies are doing and building in UK towns and cities,” Ammori said.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said that four people were treated for minor injuries.


Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
Updated 21 June 2021

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
  • Ghani, Abdullah expected to discuss stalled peace process, bilateral ties with US

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to the US later this week for their first meeting with President Joe Biden since he assumed office, officials said.

“The issues that will be discussed at the meeting will be bilateral ties and the peace process,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News.

The meeting on Friday comes amid a phased withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is scheduled to finish by September 11 in line with Biden’s order to end the “forever war.”

It follows a deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban’s steady victories on the battlefield in various parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Abdullah said that he was “looking for constructive meetings and discussions on US-Afghan relations, and establishing a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Ghani’s office could not confirm what the president expected to achieve from the talks.

However, Fatima Morchal, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Arab News that he “would exchange views on the continuation of bilateral cooperation.”

The visit follows a March proposal by Washington for Ghani and Abdullah to form a new administration that would include the Taliban, amid a warning that the insurgent group would make rapid territorial gains once all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ghani has long expressed his hope that Biden would review the troop withdrawal process, which is based on a controversial deal signed between the former US administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

He also freed thousands of Taliban inmates — under pressure from former president Donald Trump — but vehemently rejected the idea of a new coalition government, vowing to pass the baton to the next administration following elections.

“In recent months, Ghani has pushed for a one-on-one audience with Biden to persuade him to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” an anonymous official told Arab News.

However, the Afghan president’s hopes were dashed on Sunday when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “looks forward to welcoming” the Afghan leaders and reassuring them of US diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support for the turmoil-hit country as the drawdown continues.

“The visit by President Ghani and Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the US and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” she added.

Psaki further emphasized that Washington “continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”

However, analysts have downplayed the importance of the upcoming meeting, warning that Washington is in favor of all-inclusive peace talks and will avoid solely backing Ghani’s government.

“This time, the Americans will make it clear to Ghani that he would lose US support if he pursues anti-peace agendas (failure to hand over power to an interim government based on intra-Afghan talks),” Abdul Satar Saadat, Ghani’s former legal adviser, told Arab News.

“The government is making propaganda about the visit, calling it as the start of a new chapter, but this meeting will be Ghani’s last meeting with Biden,” he added.

Ahmad Samin, a former World Bank adviser, agreed, adding that the president’s meeting with Biden will not “strengthen Ghani’s political image.”

“It is crystal clear that Ghani is not considered an ally of the US,” he told Arab News.

Samin further cited an example of a speech where Biden misspelled Ghani’s name as “Kayani,” a former army chief of Pakistan, to explain how “important” the Afghan president was to his US counterpart.

The Afghan visit comes amid a series of territorial gains by the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan, including in the northern and northeastern areas, where they previously failed to establish a stronghold during their five-year rule, which ended with the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The insurgents have captured dozens of districts in recent weeks, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, even as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s protracted conflict.

The battlefield setbacks prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, including the head of the army, amid criticism that a lack of coordination was the reason for Taliban advances and a spike in casualties among government forces.

Following his appointment on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi called on Afghans to “cooperate with the troops in the war against advancing Taliban forces.”

Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during the civil wars in the 1990s, replaced Asadullah Khalid, who held the position since 2018.


Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
Updated 21 June 2021

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
  • Duterte pushes for Filipino workers to be part of Kingdom’s ‘visionary’ reform program

MANILA: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.

The subject was discussed during a meeting on Sunday between President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Robert Borje, and Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi.

Philippines Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos were also part of the discussions.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary for Global Media Affairs J.V. Arcena told Arab News on Monday that Borje and Al-Rajhi highlighted the two nations’ commitment to “significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

Borje told Al-Rajhi that Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), introduced in March, “as a significant step toward addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the Kingdom.  

He also expressed confidence that the initiative will raise productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes Filipino household workers will be included in the reform initiative,” Borje said.

He emphasized Manila’s commitment to work with the Saudi government in implementing the labor reforms, especially to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers. At the same time, Borje sought the Saudi official’s support for other initiatives to support Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom.

These include a repatriation program for distressed OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah, and to make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

Borje underscored the need to address fundamental issues of all migrant workers in the Kingdom, such as harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

“Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done,” the statement said.

It added that Riyadh and Manila “hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.”

Describing the Saudi government’s reforms on migrants’ rights as “bold and visionary,” Borje aired his optimism that the Philippine-Saudi relations would “continue to grow beyond labor cooperation,” such as in the trade and investment sectors.

The Philippines is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, in line with Duterte’s vision, he said.

Borje’s meeting with Al-Rajhi was part of the Philippine delegation’s five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on the president’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two officials also discussed “issues of common interest,” following which Saudi King Salman received a written letter from Duterte which dealt with relations between Riyadh and Manila, and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2019, with Duterte congratulating King Salman for the Kingdom’s “landmark” LRO, which, among other benefits, abolished the kafala system for migrant workers last year.

In a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May, Duterte renewed the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral and trade ties and intensify efforts to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

He also conveyed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s free COVID-19 vaccinations for Filipinos and the financial assistance extended to the Philippine health sector during outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy’s farewell event in the Malacanang last week.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the largest number of any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate. About half work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing and healthcare sectors.


6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
Updated 21 June 2021

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
  • French military said it sent ‘alert units’ including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops
  • Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to combat extremism, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region

BAMAKO: A suicide car bomber attacked French troops patrolling in central Mali on Monday, according to France’s military, wounding six soldiers and four civilians including a child in the war-torn West African country.

The French soldiers, who were traveling in a vehicle, were on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Gossi to secure the area around a nearby forward operating base.

“Six French soldiers and four Malian civilians were injured by the explosion of the suicide vehicle,” the French military said in a statement.

The army added that none of their lives were in danger.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Malian military officer and a local elected official had earlier said that some soldiers were evacuated to the French army base in northern city Gao by helicopter.

The French military also said that it sent “alert units” including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops.

Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal militant insurgency, which first emerged in the north in 2012 before spreading to the center of the country and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the extremists, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month that he would wind down the Barkhane force.

France plans to refocus its energies on strengthening an international task force of special forces in Mali, known as Takuba.