2020
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June 04, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

‘I won’t be silenced’: For one teen, protesting doesn't feel optional

Mavis Rudof was in third grade the first time someone told her he didn’t like her because she was black.

“I told my dad I felt bad for [the boy],” says the 14-year-old from her home in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. “I knew he didn’t really mean what he was saying.”

I first knew Mavis as a 3-year-old student in my preschool classroom. We called her a mini teacher, as she loved helping her friends and sharing observations about the world around her. Those frequently concerned her skin color and how different it looked from most of her friends’.

“As a young kid I really wished I was white,” she says. “From a very young age, because I was adopted into a white family, I knew that I was different.”

Today, she is one of just a few black students at her school. Last year, a girl called her the N-word as a guest speaker showed a photo from a lynching.

When confronted with racism, she still plays the educator. But, she says, “It’s exhausting. I don’t want to have to teach and educate white people but I will engage in conversation.”

And now, after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer, conversation no longer feels sufficient.

“It’s an awful feeling of watching someone who looks like me be killed and knowing that if it was a white man they probably wouldn’t have even been suspicious,” she says.

So at her father’s suggestion, she has joined local protests.

At school, she leads the social justice council and dreams of following her father to become a public defender. She vows she will work “to obstruct the injustice that we are living in right now,” she says. “I won’t be silenced.”

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A deeper look

How has US used military in US cities?

There is now debate in the U.S. about whether the active duty military should be used to quell unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd. History may hold some lessons for what happens when Washington sends in the troops.

Noelle
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
With a view of the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument in the background, soldiers stand at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of the expected resumption of protests over the death in police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, June 3, 2020.

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Top U.S. military commanders aren’t eager for active duty troops to be called up for use in quelling unrest in American cities roiled by the protests after the death of George Floyd.

That’s a big reason why Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke out against such use of regular military units this week.

But President Donald Trump has insisted that he’ll order military intervention if states aren’t able to quell disturbances on their own – as he’s largely entitled to do under the Insurrection Act of 1807. There are precedents for such call-ups. Throughout American history the government has resorted to active duty soldiers for domestic duty in times of national crisis.

In 1957, for instance, President Dwight Eisenhower called in the 101st Airborne to ensure that Arkansas followed a federal desegregation order. In 1992, President George W. Bush called on the 7th Infantry Division to restore order in Los Angeles, after the city erupted following the acquittal of officers accused in the beating of Rodney King.

“Restoring order is a very valid use of military – or I should say martial – power,” says retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis. “But it is a very dangerous thing to talk about using active duty military against U.S. civilians voicing their displeasure” peacefully on constitutional grounds.

How has US used military in US cities?

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While the president has the authority to call in active duty forces to quell riots – though not peaceful protests – top United States military officials widely agree that it’s a prospect they don’t relish. 

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired four-star general, explained why this week. Militarizing the U.S. response to demonstrations “sets up a conflict – a false conflict – between the military and civilian society.”

In an effort to avoid this, military leaders tend to cringe at any hint of martial swagger when used with respect to Americans on U.S. soil. “America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy,” retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted. 

On the heels of these censures, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper this week broke with President Donald Trump and acknowledged that his call for troops to “dominate the battlespace” was perhaps a poor choice of words. Active duty forces should not be sent to control unrest in American cities, he said, except as a “last resort” in a “dire situation.”

Some elected officials doubled down on President Trump’s Monday threat to invoke the Insurrection Act and dispatch active duty soldiers to states whose governors could not bring protests under control, whether they liked it or not. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and former Army infantry officer, this week published a controversial opinion piece in The New York Times with the blunt title “Send in the Troops.”

However heated the debate about the role of the military in times of domestic unrest becomes, and whatever course the current protests about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer take, sending in the troops is something with which the nation has experience. For over 200 years, in American cities big and small, the U.S. government has used active duty military elements in times of national crisis.

“I hate to tell you this, but there are three volumes at the [U.S. Army’s] Center for Military History on the ‘Role of the Federal Military in Domestic Disorders,’” says Richard Kohn, former chief historian for the Air Force and professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At 400-plus pages each, they begin in 1789, with the most recent volume detailing interventions in Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore, among other cities, since 1945. 

Little Rock desegregation

One of the more notable cases was the 101st Airborne Division’s deployment to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 during the integration of schools there. This came after Orval Faubus, the Arkansas governor at the time, ordered his state’s National Guard to enforce measures that effectively turned black students away from previously all-white schools.

When black teenagers, each escorted by a clergyman of both races, arrived to register, they faced booing mobs waving Confederate flags. After trying “several times” to pass through a line of guardsmen, none of the children managed to enter the school, according to the Army report.

President Dwight Eisenhower threatened to use “whatever force may be necessary” to carry out federal integration orders. The 101st Airborne Division was put on alert after being ordered to reduce its “colored strength” to take black infantrymen “out of direct contact with the public,” according to the report.

A day later, the mayor of Little Rock phoned the president “to express his conviction” that troops would have to be used if Central High School was to be integrated. White House staffers told him to put it in writing, so he sent a telegram saying precisely this.

“In fact, the request had no legal standing, however useful it might have been from a political standpoint to have a request for troops from a local official,” the Army report notes.

AP/File
Paratroopers stand behind street barricades at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, without bayonets attached to rifles, Sept. 30, 1957. This marks the first day since their arrival that the bayonets have not been fixed on their weapons.

The 101st paratroopers were instructed to carry out the president’s order “with the minimum force necessary.” They came equipped with “an irritant gas dispenser, supplies of tear gas and vomit gas, and gas grenades that could be thrown by hand or launched from M1 rifles,” according to the historical record. “More troops were coming than were needed, so they might ‘exert absolute control of the situation.’”

Commanders hoped the display would reduce the danger of violence, “but if some people have to be hurt, I assure you that it will be as few as possible,” one said.

The report concedes that there was “some bitterness toward the Army among the guardsmen because National Guard officers had not been consulted during the planning.” The 101st troops were in place around Central High School by 5 a.m. on Sept. 25, 1957, with bayonets fixed. “Small arms and chemical ammunition were held in a reserve area.” 

As the black students arrived, the crowd grew increasingly hostile. “Two persons were slightly injured, one with the butt of a rifle and the other by a bayonet,” the Army report adds. “Despite the tension, the crowd began to disperse in the early afternoon, and soon the vicinity was relatively clear. Nothing significant happened during the rest of the day.”

The political fallout, however, continued for months. “There should be no troops from either side patrolling our school campuses,” Sen. Lyndon Johnson said. Another senator wired Eisenhower that his “tactics” in Little Rock “must have been copied from ... Hitler’s storm troops.” This prompted Eisenhower to respond, “Few times in my life have I felt so saddened as when the obligations of my office” required this military operation on U.S. soil.

“Break out the military”

It would not be the last time in the nation’s history. In the wake of the 1992 acquittal of police officers who engaged in the savage beating of Rodney King, the riots in Los Angeles marked the first killing of a civilian by the U.S. military since Kent State University 22 years earlier. It occurred when a man tried to run over National Guardsmen manning a barricade.

“During his third attempt to strike the troops, guardsmen fired 14 rounds at his automobile,” killing him, says the Army report.

Altogether 54 people died during five days of rioting, the highest death toll since the 1863 draft riot in New York. Some 2,328 people were treated for injuries and property damage exceeded $900 million, more than in any U.S. riot to date.

Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney instructed the Army to put 7th Infantry Division soldiers, as well as 1,500 Marines, on standby. Their mission was simple: assist civilian authorities in restoring order.

According to the admittedly self-congratulatory Army report, “As had been the case in past civil disorders, the arrival of regular forces and the federalization of the National Guard produced an immediate, sharp decrease in the levels of violence in Los Angeles, with incidents of lawlessness dropping below 100 for the first time since the beginning of the riot.”

In order for the National Guard to be federalized and placed under the authority of the 7th ID commander, President George H. W. Bush issued an order saying he was sending in troops not to quell an insurrection, but rather to “suppress conditions of domestic violence.” 

This may be because the term “insurrection” is loaded, says retired Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap, a former deputy judge advocate general for the Air Force and executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke University in North Carolina.

“Using the word ‘insurrection’ might inaccurately conjure up overheated notions of a civil war in the public’s mind,” says Mr. Dunlap.

In other words, the president doesn’t necessarily have to invoke the Insurrection Act, he adds.

The legal justifications for sending in U.S. active duty forces during American civil unrest can be riveting or eye-glazing, depending on the depth of your procedural interests, but suffice it to say it can be done. The question is whether it’s advisable.

“Restoring order is a very valid use of military – or I should say martial – power,” says retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, senior fellow at the think tank Defense Priorities. “But it is a very dangerous thing to talk about using active duty military against U.S. civilians voicing their displeasure” peacefully on constitutional grounds.

“This is what we’re so vocal about accusing the Chinese of doing, we talk about how awful it is – and we’re right,” says Mr. Davis.

What’s more, the argument that the National Guard, which is trained for such missions, “cannot handle it,” has not proved to be the case in the George Floyd demonstrations, adds Mr. Davis, a point that Mr. Esper reiterated this week.

“This might be a way of [President Trump] saying, ‘I want more power, more prestige of bringing in the active duty military – the 82nd Airborne – like it sounds cool or something. No. No. The National Guard actually has training for these situations,” says Mr. Davis.

The recent debate surrounding use of force has become emblematic of “how we have become so military-focused in solving problems, so that even when we have a comparatively small national problem – as opposed to 1968 – the first thing people are wanting to do is break out the active duty military,” he adds.

Instead, the president and other national leaders “must do the hard work of understanding what’s going on, calming people,” says Mr. Davis.

While it is true that in the military’s playbook the best way of stopping civil unrest “is to mount overwhelming force in the streets and get everyone to go home, if you don’t do it with other reconciliations and kind words you may stoke more violence and opposition. What you want to do is avoid bloodshed and restore order – property damage can be repaired,” Mr. Kohn says.

If the president insists on, say, sending the 82nd Airborne into the streets of Washington, D.C., a commander could take officers aside and say, “Fix bayonets, don’t give your kids bullets,” he adds. “And also remind commanders all the way down the line that they’re going to be videoed every minute.”

Still, President Trump’s “typical bluff and bluster” puts people like Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in a pretty ugly position,” Mr. Kohn says.

A general being used as “a political prop is not unusual in civil-military relations, but almost every president I can think of has enough sense not to trot people out as Milley was,” says Mr. Kohn.

General Milley accompanied President Trump on his now-famous walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church, where the president held up a Bible.

It did not help that the Joint Chiefs chairman was striding the streets in battle fatigues following a White House meeting, and that the National Guard aggressively broke up largely peaceful protests to clear the area for the photo-op, former military officials pointed out.

The next day, he sent a memo, obtained by CBS News, reminding troops they took an oath to defend the Constitution and serve the American people. It also included an unusual handwritten note: “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America – We will stay true to that oath and the American people,” General Milley wrote to the Joint Forces.

In such extraordinary times, for many senior military leaders, Gen. George Marshall continues to offer counsel, Mr. Kohn argues.

“He said, ‘I didn’t oppose everything I was opposed to.’ In other words, he tried to save himself for the really important things. The really important thing for Milley is to retain the president’s confidence,” Mr. Kohn argues, “So he doesn’t order something stupid. Or counterproductive. Or toxic. Or lethal.” 

Are ‘outside agitators’ exploiting Floyd protests?

Rumors about extremist groups – and even foreign adversaries – co-opting the demonstrations for their own agendas have abounded. So far, evidence suggests their involvement has been relatively minimal, though still worrying.

Noelle

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Many of the mass protests that have swept across the United States, ignited by the death of George Floyd under a policeman’s knee in Minneapolis last week, have been peaceful. But in various locales, they’ve been accompanied by looting and destruction that have raised questions about whether so-called outside agitators are seeking to exploit the demonstrations for their own interests.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey initially said his city’s provocateurs were largely from outside the Twin Cities, but later admitted that was “wishful thinking” after data showed the vast majority of those arrested were from the area.

But figuring out where those causing the destruction come from is just part of the equation. Discerning whether they share the core protesters’ desire for racial justice is more difficult. Given the organic, volatile nature of the unrest, it’s hard to neatly categorize participants. As for extremist actors, they don’t appear to be a main driver of events on the ground, but their sometimes violent rhetoric is worrying.

“When you have something this catalytic, you’re also going to attract thrill-seekers, accelerationists, and thieves who steal things,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

Are ‘outside agitators’ exploiting Floyd protests?

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Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Protesters gather around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in downtown Richmond, Virginia, Wednesday evening, June 3, 2020, to protest racism and police brutality. On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the statue of the Confederate general would be removed.

As thousands of people gathered in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday around a heavily graffitied Robert E. Lee statue to protest racism and police brutality, some in the crowd worried that not everyone was there for the right reasons.

“I heard it’s not all Richmond people here,” says Ikeisha, who asks that her last name not be used because she skipped work to join the demonstrators. Sitting on a blanket with her 8-year-old son, who is shirtless in the hot sun and licking Cheetos crumbs off his fingers, she adds: “People are blowing our stuff up, and then they just go to their home.”

Many of the mass protests that have swept across the country, ignited by the death of George Floyd under a policeman’s knee in Minneapolis last week, have been peaceful. But in various cities and locales, they’ve been accompanied by looting and destruction that has raised questions about whether so-called outside agitators are seeking to exploit the demonstrations for their own interests.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, along with his St. Paul counterpart and the state’s governor, initially said his city’s provocateurs were largely from outside the Twin Cities, but later admitted that was wishful thinking after data showed the vast majority of those arrested were from the area.

But figuring out where those causing the destruction come from is just part of the equation. Discerning whether they share the core protesters’ desire for racial justice is more difficult. Given the organic, volatile nature of the unrest, it’s difficult to neatly categorize participants. As for extremist actors, they are showing up in small numbers and don’t appear to be a main driver of events on the ground, but their online rhetoric about capitalizing on the chaos is worrying.

“When you have something this catalytic, you’re also going to attract thrill-seekers, accelerationists, and thieves who steal things,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino.

Some looters appear to be acting in defiance, driven by anger and frustration over racial injustice and economic woes – including the 40 million unemployed due to COVID-19 shutdowns, which have disproportionately affected minorities. Others, like those in wealthy Santa Monica, California, appear to be purely opportunistic.

President Trump has blamed antifa, the far-left amorphous movement known to use aggressive and sometimes violent tactics in the name of fighting fascism. Right-wing militias and several white supremacist groups have also showed up, including “accelerationists,” who seek to hasten what they believe to be an impending race war.

Boogaloo, an emerging right-wing movement of armed individuals that is virulently anti-government and anti-police and anticipates civil war, appears to be building on their momentum from lockdown protests this spring. The group had 125 Facebook pages as of late April, 60 percent of which were formed between February and April, according to the Tech Transparency Project. The Justice Department announced Wednesday that three men who were members of the Nevada Boogaloo Facebook group have been charged in federal court with “conspiracy to cause destruction” in Las Vegas protests over the weekend, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.

“What these extremists would like to do is screw up these demonstrations and make it seem like it’s just violence and destruction of property … and blame it on minority communities,” says Carolyn Petrosino, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, where she has taught a course on hate crimes for decades. “It helps their agenda.”

Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP
Community members clean up broken glass at McDonald's on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia, Sunday, June 1, 2020. Destruction of property, violence, and theft occurred in Philadelphia after protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The fragmentation of fringe and extremist groups

The extremist landscape has become increasingly fragmented over the past decade, says Professor Levin.

“General extremism is a carnival mirror reflection of debates and conflicts that are going on in the mainstream,” he explains. “But when that becomes a cracked carnival mirror, the fringe does the same thing.”

He attributes the diversification of extremist movements to tectonic shifts in politics, economics, and demographics, as the U.S. approaches the point where whites will no longer be the majority. The stoking of righteous anger across the political spectrum has exacerbated frictions, and the pandemic is an added stressor.

So far, these extremist actors appear to be just a small percentage of the people showing up to protest across the country.

“We have not seen a large-scale effort by domestic extremists to either organize or infiltrate en masse among these protests and try to exploit them,” says Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which published a round-up of such actors’ limited involvement in protests to date.

But online, he says, it’s a different story. White supremacists are gung-ho about the unrest, hoping that this will lead to the race war they’ve been waiting for. Some have suggested shooting cops amid the mayhem of the protests, and then blaming it on the crowd.

“They’re trying to stoke those racial fears, in order to spread their message and garner new recruits,” says Mr. Friedfeld, who formerly served as an intelligence research specialist for the New York City Police Department.

Russia exploiting, but not stoking protests

Then there’s speculation that Russia, which has a long history of exploiting racial injustice in America to undermine its standing on the world stage, may have a hand in the unrest.

In the 2016 election cycle, two-thirds of Russian activity on Facebook and other social media platforms seeking to influence the election was aimed at black Americans, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report. Facebook advertisements paid for by Russia sought to stir emotions after police shootings of black victims, while pages such as “Blacktivist” garnered millions of “likes,” shares, and comments. On YouTube, meanwhile, 96% of content created by a Kremlin-linked troll farm focused on race and police brutality, as the Monitor previously reported

But experts in disinformation, the spread of misleading information with the deliberate intent to deceive, say that while the current unrest gives Moscow and other adversaries great fodder for undermining U.S. credibility, there’s no evidence it’s driving the demonstrations.  

“The Russians, Chinese, and Iranians are using this to basically win a global narrative battle,” says Bret Schafer, media and digital disinformation fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington, D.C. “But there’s zero evidence they’re having any impact whatsoever on the protesters themselves.”

At a time when America has been highly critical of China’s treatment of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Beijing has taken aim at Mr. Trump’s attitude toward demonstrators. After Minneapolis erupted in violence, the president denounced “thugs” for dishonoring George Floyd’s name and vowed to crack down, using a phrase with historical connotations of deadly police force.

“I think people need to be extremely cautious about assigning blame to a foreign adversary because I think it can often be used to delegitimize what is a legitimate movement,” says Mr. Schafer. “It directs attention to their behavior rather than shining a light internally on our own failings.”

Rioting is ‘the language of the unheard’

Back in Richmond, the sweaty crowd erupts in cheers as someone with a megaphone says: “They don’t label us as protesters, they label us as troublemakers. But I don’t mind being a troublemaker.”

Tony Davidson, an African American YMCA youth counselor in attendance, quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying that a riot is “the language of the unheard.”

Even as the civil rights leader advocated for non-violence, he also said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.”

For far too long, racial injustice has been invisible to white people, says Professor Petrosino, who is African American. While looting is terrible, she adds, the greater harm is when people’s ability to feel safe, secure, and wanted in their own country has been “trashed.”

“This is why these kids are marching,” she says, referring to young African Americans, whom she credits with understanding that rioting will be counterproductive. “They know that destroying property is not the way – I think that lesson has been learned.”

More cheers go up from the Richmond crowd as word gets around that the mayor will put forward a new ordinance on Thursday to remove Confederate statues from the city. (Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the Robert E. Lee statue would be taken down as soon as possible.)

Ikeisha, sitting in the back of the crowd with her son, says she opposes the violence that has broken out in some cities. But she is thrilled with the extent to which protests have swept the nation, with greater numbers than have been seen since the 1960s.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she says. “Martin Luther King would be doing jumping jacks in his grave right now. I’m headed to see my grandmother soon. I can’t wait to tell her about everything that’s going on.” 

Patterns

Tracing global connections

How pandemic shifted meaning of a government’s ‘soft power’

Sometimes world events redefine a long-standing concept. In the case of soft power, it’s broadening to include a sense of civic strength – the kind seen in countries that moved quickly to confront COVID-19.

Noelle

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The old definition of soft power is this: the foreign aid, cultural exchange, and communications programs governments have used to project not just raw power, but the power of ideas.

Yet amid COVID, it has come to describe a power resting not with governments, but the people they govern. It draws on mutual trust, a shared sense of responsibility, and civic commitment.

The measure has cast a harsh light on some countries’ efforts. But it has highlighted success elsewhere: Taiwan, New Zealand, and Hong Kong; southern European countries like Greece and Portugal; Washington state in the U.S.

It is not the only explanation for success. Yet there is a compelling “soft power” pattern.

In Taiwan, effective public policy was indispensable. But so was public receptiveness and active participation and support in executing the strategy.

New Zealand’s prime minister has been praised for providing direction, clarity, and empathy. In Greece and Portugal, leaders and public health officials have also shone. But the popular buy-in to measures in all three countries were crucial. And with the immediate threat being seen as having passed, “soft power” connections may prove even more important.

How pandemic shifted meaning of a government’s ‘soft power’

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Chiang Ying-ying/AP
A couple stand in front of the Love sculpture, inspired by the iconic design by American artist Robert Indiana, in Taipei, Taiwan, May 30, 2020.

“Soft power” has long been part of the diplomatic toolbox in international affairs. Yet COVID-19 is giving it a new meaning, which may help explain why some places have succeeded in containing the pandemic while others are badly struggling.

It could also provide an important guide to how different countries, or areas within them, will fare amid economic reopenings now underway, especially if they’re hit by further waves of COVID-19 cases.

The old definition of soft power is this: the kind of foreign aid, cultural exchange, and communications programs governments have used to project not just raw power, but the power of ideas and of example. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Yet in the age of COVID, it has come to describe a power resting not with governments, but the people they govern. It draws on fellow-feeling, mutual trust, a shared sense of responsibility, civic commitment and pride. It’s the connective tissue of community.

Amid the violent confrontations in the United States over recent days, it has been coming under enormous strain.

And it is proving a critical asset in the ongoing challenge of the pandemic, as nations around the world seek popular buy-in for drastic restrictions on economic activity and other aspects of everyday life to help contain the virus.

It’s a measure that has cast a harsh light on some countries’ efforts to limit the numbers of COVID victims. But it has highlighted success elsewhere: Taiwan, for instance, New Zealand, and especially Hong Kong; southern European countries like Greece and Portugal; or particular regions of hard-hit nations, such as Washington state in the U.S.

It is not the only explanation for the success stories. Practical steps have been key, including early response, clear messaging, and testing and tracking. Yet there is a compelling “soft power” pattern in places where, at least so far, the battle is being won – all the more striking because the pandemic came at a time when politics in many countries have become more fractious and volatile.

Taiwan, which sits just 80 miles from China, was on the front line when the coronavirus began spreading from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Though politically at odds with Beijing, which has vowed to “reunify” it with the mainland, the island receives nearly 3 million Chinese visitors annually. More than a million Taiwanese live or work in China. Yet so far, it has had fewer than 500 cases, with only seven lives lost.

Like in other countries that have managed to limit COVID-19’s spread, effective public policy and public health measures were indispensable. But so was the “soft power” component: public receptiveness, as well as active participation and support in making sure the strategy worked.

In Taiwan’s case, a shared identity has been strengthened in opposition to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s public calls for reunification and his declaration last year that Beijing would not renounce the use of force, if necessary, to achieve it. Capturing the sense of cohesion in fighting the pandemic, Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung late last month led hundreds of people who had gathered at a beach resort in chants of “We’re Taiwan!” The crowd responded: “We are proud!”

Elsewhere, the message may have been less explicit. But the cooperative spirit has been no less important. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised for providing direction, clarity, and empathy in locking down the country before COVID began to spread. In Greece and Portugal – both only recently emerging from the effects of the world economic crash of 2008 – individual ministers and public health officials have also shone. But the popular buy-in to measures announced in all three countries were crucially important. Also shared has been a national pride in having so far kept case numbers far lower than in neighboring countries.

While the federal government in the U.S. has left much of the pandemic response to local governments, in states like Washington, where the first significant outbreak occurred, limiting the number of victims also hinged on communal support and participation.

In New York, too – although in New York City the pandemic had taken hold before major restrictions were announced – the effectiveness of the lockdown relied on a shared sense of “New York strong.”

Yet the most dramatic example is Hong Kong. Even more than Taiwan, it might have been expected to suffer hugely from the pandemic – not just because of the volume of traffic with mainland China, but because its 7 million people are nearly as densely packed as in New York City. To date, it has had barely a thousand COVID cases, and only four lives lost.

This is despite a halting response by the city’s government, which had no concerted strategy to deal with shortages of protective gear, for instance, and at one point discouraged people from wearing face masks. The political background was many months of prepandemic public protests against the pro-Beijing government.

But that also powered the response. Whether in providing protective equipment, sourcing and almost universally wearing face masks, tracking cases, even helping the residents of migrant hostels, the lead was taken by the people themselves – acting through the internet and social network connections established during the months of protest.

Elsewhere, governments remain the principal actors. And in most countries that have been fighting back COVID-19, a reopening is now underway. 

For that to sustain itself, however, especially with the immediate threat being seen as having passed, “soft power” connections may prove even more important.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

For sports fans, German soccer is the best – and only – game on TV

Professional sports is one of the industries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. So the recent restart of the Bundesliga, Germany’s top soccer league, is being watched closely by fans and professionals alike.

Noelle
Martin Meissner/Reuters
Union Berlin plays Borussia Mönchengladbach as play in the Bundesliga, Germany's top soccer league, resumes without fans (though with cardboard cutouts) following the coronavirus pandemic on May 31, 2020, in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

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Germany’s top soccer league, the Bundesliga, was the first premier sports league in the world to resume competition, on May 16. It had been a tough decision, made by executives seeking to balance the players’ health and the optics of pursuing sport during a global pandemic, with the millions in television revenues and the viability of some of the weaker clubs on the line.

Three weeks into this grand experiment, the Bundesliga has completed about three dozen games, and television viewership has skyrocketed to historic levels. The first weekend’s games drew nearly four million viewers: three times the normal audience.

Peter Ford, a television sports producer in London, says the Bundesliga got an international boost because it was the first league back. “Many friends are suddenly watching because it’s the only live football on,” says Mr. Ford. “They’re picking favorites. They never would have watched before.”

That has trickled down to individual clubs, with some teams suddenly getting prime time in a market that might have ignored them in normal times. “Hertha Berlin versus Union Berlin,” says Mr. Ford. “No one would normally care about it.” But this time, it got Friday night prime time in Britain.

For sports fans, German soccer is the best – and only – game on TV

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When journalist Kit Holden reported to work for the first weekend of games in Germany’s restarted top-flight soccer league, the Bundesliga, he noticed a new sound: The birds in the trees.

Union Berlin plays in what’s informally dubbed Germany’s loudest stadium, with 22,000 rowdy fans drowning out the surrounding woods. But these are pandemic times. With fans banned during live games, Mr. Holden could hear the birds chirping in the forest, the players talking on the field, the coaches yelling. Other than a few dozen media and club staff, the stadium was empty.

“It’s a completely different event,” says Mr. Holden, who covers Union Berlin for the German daily Tagesspiegel. “Less clutter, less conversation. It’s an emergency situation.”

This is German soccer during a global pandemic.

With the confidence that comes from Germany’s robust health care system and the country’s relatively low infection rates, the Bundesliga was the first premier sports league in the world to resume competition, on May 16. It had been a tough decision, made by executives seeking to balance the players’ health and the optics of pursuing sport during a global pandemic, with the millions in television revenues and the viability of some of the weaker clubs on the line.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Three weeks into this grand experiment, the Bundesliga has completed about three dozen games, and television viewership has skyrocketed to historic levels. But it remains to be seen whether the health and safety precautions will keep players healthy – and keep fans engaged.

“To be viable, football clubs have to play football just like airlines have to fly,” says Christian Arbeit, the media director for Union Berlin. “But football lives from the connection between the players and the people surrounding them. With no fans in the stadium, the whole thing is half as fun, if it’s fun at all.”

A careful relaunch

The 18 football clubs of the Bundesliga started back with a seven-day training camp in early May, after two months off due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

Much was at stake, particularly after the league’s record showing in the 2018-19 season, with a total $4 billion euros in revenues. The largest chunk of that, 40%, came from media and television rights, with less than half as much coming from ticket sales and merchandising. That was a crucial factor in the decision to return. The English Premier League is paid upfront, but the Bundesliga’s television rights payments are parsed out over the course of the season.

“The Bundesliga wouldn’t have gotten the final installment of €300 million unless they played the games,” says Peter Ford, a television sports producer based in London.

Some clubs have healthy reserves, or the backing of corporate sponsors such as Red Bull or Volkswagen, but others would find long shutdowns unsustainable. The league employs 56,000 people, directly and indirectly. Union Berlin, for one, had already preemptively cut the pay of its 35 players and roughly 200 club staff, says the club's Mr. Arbeit.

Hygiene measures for clubs were carefully laid out by league officials, in a protocol that other European sports leagues have asked to see, says Mr. Arbeit. No fans are allowed during games. Sports arenas are to be divided into three zones – playing field, grandstand for media and staff, and outer edges of the stadium – and the hosting club must ensure no more than 100 are in each zone at any given time.

Players must be tested for coronavirus before games and during training – amounting to about twice a week – and the league has contracted with several laboratories for quick turnaround. Some clubs are going above and beyond, by testing twice weekly or requiring players to quarantine outside of training and games.

“Everyone was very focused on it,” says Mr. Arbeit. “The protocol was checked, rechecked many times. I don’t know how we could have done it any quicker.”

“It’s so quiet”

For journalists like Mr. Holden, the rules of covering a match used to be a known quantity: What they have access to, how questions are handled, and even how to interview the players. But all that’s changed. For example, typically after a game, Mr. Holden would stand near the entry to the locker room, and chat up the players. Now that opportunity’s gone.

Into that vacuum has rushed a new phalanx of information; Mr. Holden can now hear players and the coaches speak on the field. “At half time, the Union Berlin coach was shouting at the opposing team’s coaches: ‘Influence! You’re influencing the ref! Influence!’” says Mr. Holden. “Normally you’d only see that he was shouting, and can only guess what he’s saying. Now we hear why he’s annoyed.”

It’s different for the spectators too. A lifelong Freiburg fan, Dmitri Reichenbach fell asleep watching the team’s first game back on television.

“I was surprised, that’s never happened to me before,” says Mr. Reichenbach. “But it’s so quiet, and it’s sad. It’s completely lacking in emotion.” The experience has reminded him of how football became a billion-dollar business. “Because it started with thousands of fans euphorically cheering on their teams, and at some point there got to be so many they had to put games on television so everyone can watch.”

“Football got big because of the fans,” says Mr. Reichenbach, who nevertheless says it’s a net positive the league’s back in play.

Wilhelm Bloch, head of sports medicine at the German Institute of Cardiovascular Research and Sport Medicine, is concerned mainly about how contracting COVID-19 might affect the long-term health of the players. “If a player gets heart or lung damage they can’t play again. This can be fatal to an athlete’s career.”

The best – and only – game in town

Despite some lingering concerns, the Bundesliga’s return has largely been a success. The league has completed about three dozen games with no new infections, and television viewership has skyrocketed, with the first weekend’s games drawing nearly four million viewers, according to news and analysis company Meedia. That’s three times the normal audience.

The television numbers were important, says Mr. Holden, the journalist. “Politically it was huge. If there was no appetite to watch the games on television, it would have felt pretty cheeky to do this at all.”

Mr. Ford, who plays football and also writes about it from London, says the Bundesliga also got an international boost because it was the first league back. “Many friends are suddenly watching because it’s the only live football on,” says Mr. Ford. “They’re picking favorites. They never would have watched before.”

That has trickled down to individual clubs, with some teams suddenly getting prime time in a market that might have ignored them in normal times. “Hertha Berlin versus Union Berlin,” says Mr. Ford. “No one would normally care about it. It wouldn’t even get newspaper inches or BBC coverage.” This time, it got Friday night prime time in Britain.

If players stay healthy, the league will produce a winner by the season’s end in late June. “That’s good news. Who will go onto the Champions League? Nobody wants to let lawyers decide all of this afterward,” says Union Berlin’s Mr. Arbeit. With other European football leagues soon to restart, including the English Premier League on June 16, sporting officials are now sorting out the next step: European club competitions. One proposal is to fly all the teams to one location in France or Turkey, quarantine for two weeks at different hotels, and then play games back to back, says Mr. Ford.

Overall, he says, the league’s reopening was not only a big boost for fans but it also “signaled to the wider public that things are returning toward normal.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

They have a degree, but what about a job? Recent grads get creative.

Job hunts always require resourcefulness and perseverance, but this year’s college graduates need an abundance of both. How is the latest group to enter the workforce adapting to an uncertain environment?

Noelle
Gene J. Puskar/AP
Class of 2020 University of Pittsburgh graduates Shannon Trombley (left) of Philadelphia and Julie Jones of West Chester, Pennsylvania, take turns posing for photos with a statue of Pitt's mascot, the Pitt Panther, April 27, 2020.

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When the pandemic hit, Samuel Greenberg, then a senior at Dartmouth College, did not move back to New York City. Instead, he took a job as an emergency medical technician in a nearby town. He plans to continue working for the same EMT service during the coming year. 

“We get plenty of interesting calls here so I didn’t see any reason to start over somewhere else and we’re perpetually understaffed,” explains Mr. Greenberg, who graduated this year. 

The class of 2020 is joining the workforce at a time of Great Depression-level unemployment rates. Although a once-positive job outlook has turned decidedly adverse, new grads are striving for – and many are finding – internships or job options, or other next steps amid the pandemic.

Experts and graduates themselves say they need to stay proactive despite the hardships. Some are delaying entry into the workforce, opting for grad school instead. For others, like Mr. Greenberg, the situation is helping bring clarity to what to pursue.

“The crisis has not changed my attitude towards going to medical school and becoming an emergency room doctor,” he says. “If anything, it has made me more certain that it will be a challenging and rewarding career path.”

They have a degree, but what about a job? Recent grads get creative.

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As college graduates look for jobs this summer, they may find themselves turning to Wade Fletcher.

Mr. Fletcher, a rising sophomore at Indiana University, started CovIntern, a platform through which companies post remote internship opportunities. The website is now used by more than 100,000 users in over 100 countries, and its creator makes sure that each posting is legitimate and pays fairly.

“There are a lot of opportunities masquerading as internships,” Mr. Fletcher explains. “I’m not going to post any opportunity on here that’s not something I would do myself.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As the interest in this website attests, even internships have become a hot commodity, as the class of 2020 in particular joins the workforce at a time of Great Depression-level unemployment rates. Although a once-positive job outlook has turned decidedly adverse, new grads are striving for – and many are finding – internships or job options, or other next steps amid the pandemic. A key for graduates, experts say, is to remain proactive despite the hardships.

“I would encourage grads to continue to network, take online coursework if possible, and continue to build and augment their resumes so when the market does turn around, they are right there and ready to get that dream opportunity,” says AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

Some members of the class of 2020 have been doing just that, even while joining the fight against the coronavirus. When the pandemic hit, Samuel Greenberg – who graduated this year from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, with a degree in biological sciences – did not move back to New York City. Instead, he took a job as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in Claremont, a nearby town.

During the peak of the pandemic, Mr. Greenberg transported many patients with the coronavirus, often with limited access to protective equipment. As intense as he says that was, he plans to continue working for the same EMT service during the coming year.

“We get plenty of interesting calls here so I didn’t see any reason to start over somewhere else and we’re perpetually understaffed,” he explains.

By most accounts, the class of 2020 was graduating into one of the best and most inclusive economic times in American history. In the United States, the unemployment rate had fallen to a 50-year low, at 3.5%. And minority groups were making some of the biggest economic strides.

That was before COVID-19 shocked the world. Now, graduates face a new reality. “It’s a really tough time to enter the labor market and get that first 9-to-5 opportunity,” says Ms. Konkel from Indeed. 

In March, McKenna Bates, then a senior at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, moved back in with family in southern Virginia to finish college remotely when the coronavirus hit. In the process, she lost her part-time teaching job near her college campus. And though Ms. Bates, who has a degree in government and international politics, has been applying to jobs since moving back home, the search has so far been unsuccessful.  

“I’ve been looking since January and was turned down from one job around February. As for the rest of the jobs I’ve applied to, I’ve either not heard back at all or was told that everything, including hiring, is frozen until normal life resumes,” Ms. Bates said via text message. 

Ms. Bates is now turning to her professional network to gauge which companies are hiring. And if she is not able to find a job, she says she would take a temporary job until the labor market stabilizes. 

For some graduates, the current economy has meant delaying entry into the job market and pursuing grad school. Katie Coscia, a 2020 graduate of Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, who majored in cell biology, had to make what she says was one of the most important decisions of her career – where to pursue a Ph.D. in biology – without a chance to visit campuses and talk to professors and students in person.

“Having to try to figure out what the next 5 to 7 years of my life are going to be like based on incredibly incomplete data has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever experienced,” she says.

In the end, she accepted a place in the Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware. And though much is still unknown for many students like her, she is relieved to know what she will be doing come fall.

“I know that ‘normal’ is going to have a different meaning for a while, but seeing myself registered for some of my first classes as a graduate student reminds me that there is something great waiting for me down the road, even if there’s times where it doesn’t feel like it,” she says.  

Despite the disruptions in post-graduation plans for many, some have not been as severely affected by the pandemic. Josh Richman, who just earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says that although he might have to rethink his plan to return to Cornell this fall to pursue his master’s in engineering, his summer internship at SpaceX is moving forward as planned. He recently began working at the company’s Los Angeles office, which he says has implemented safety measures such as foot handles on bathroom doors and coronavirus testing for employees.

Emotionally, however, Mr. Richman is still experiencing the shock waves many in the class of 2020 are undergoing.

“I have multiple friends whose internships have been cancelled, and people have been posting all over the internet with their stories. It seems to be completely random which companies are cancelling internships, and it varies case by case. Because of this, I feel almost a sort of ‘survivor’s guilt.’ I didn’t do anything better or worse than others, I just got really lucky that my company decided to keep the internship program this summer.”

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, college graduates entering the workforce during recessions are disproportionately affected. They start at smaller companies that pay less, and suffer earnings losses that do not recover for about a decade. Recessions also magnify the disparities within a graduating class, with those who are set to earn less in wages experiencing stronger and longer-term losses in earnings.

Even so, for some, like Mr. Greenberg the EMT, the situation is helping bring clarity to what to pursue.

“The crisis has not changed my attitude towards going to medical school and becoming an emergency room doctor,” he says. “If anything, it has made me more certain that it will be a challenging and rewarding career path.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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With new crises, the world’s change agents embrace change

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Across the globe, COVID-19 is rapidly weaving anew the tapestry of democratic activism. Groups widely known as civil society have been nimbly stepping in to bolster and keep watch over the government responses to the crisis. Some have partnered with state and local agencies to distribute food aid. Others are changing their missions almost overnight to distribute masks, address pandemic-specific human rights concerns, and expose corruption in COVID-related funding.

The pandemic along with the social distancing has forced nonprofits, community activists, and journalists to forge a new unity, especially via social media. The shift may be transformative and permanent, bringing new ideas for reform.

This rethink of private activism now has an additional driver. The global backlash against police brutality in the United States following the death of George Floyd is galvanizing unity among groups. They are advocating reform in law enforcement, addressing racism, and rebuilding minority communities.

Groups are bonding in different ways to support individual growth and prosperous communities – casting new light on people selflessly serving others.

With new crises, the world’s change agents embrace change

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Volunteers sort food for distribution to people in need in Beirut, Lebanon, in May.

Ten days after Tunisia recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March, a bill was introduced in parliament to criminalize whatever officials deemed as disinformation about the pandemic on social media. The bill’s sponsors claimed it would safeguard “national law and order.” But social activists and journalists saw it as yet another attempt to restrict their work in a fragile democracy. Social media platforms exploded. Within hours the bill was withdrawn.

Something similar happened in Brazil. As the pandemic hit, activists banded together to counter President Jair Bolsonaro’s ongoing attempts to downplay the coronavirus. Armed with a hashtag, they are spreading accurate health information through the poorest communities on social media.

Across the globe, COVID-19 is rapidly weaving anew the tapestry of democratic activism. Groups widely known as civil society have been nimbly stepping in to bolster and keep watch over the government responses to the crisis. Some have partnered with state and local agencies to distribute food aid. Others are changing their missions almost overnight to distribute masks, address pandemic-specific human rights concerns, and expose corruption in COVID-related funding.

More than 400 civil society groups around the world have united to promote a comprehensive response from the United Nations, governments, and private donors. One specific request is for more funding to aid women and marginalized people. Other requests include safeguarding free speech and canceling national debts.

The pandemic along with the social distancing has forced nonprofits, community activists, and journalists to forge a new unity, especially via social media. The shift may be transformative and permanent, bringing new ideas for reform. Annie Theriault, chief investment officer of Grand Challenges Canada, a government-funded impact investing organization, told the online development community Devex, “Everyone is noticing that we can do things quite efficiently when we coordinate and support each other.”

This rethink of private activism now has an additional driver. The global backlash against police brutality in the United States following the death of George Floyd is galvanizing unity among groups. They are advocating reform in law enforcement, addressing racism, and rebuilding minority communities.

Civil society is a broad term, ranging from human rights activists to charity groups to civic-minded bloggers. In stable democracies they function as a loyal opposition – sometimes partnering with governments, sometimes holding them to account. Under more authoritarian systems, they are often targets of repression.

Yet their initiatives help bind almost all aspects of society for the common good. In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, a group called the Ferguson Youth Initiative has drawn together the School Board, St. Louis-based companies, and others in a program to prepare disadvantaged youth for the workforce and place them in jobs specifically created for them.

These sorts of coordinated reforms have been made newly urgent by the recent crises. Groups are bonding in different ways to support individual growth and prosperous communities – casting new light on people selflessly serving others.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Prayers for Minneapolis and beyond

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It can too often seem that racism is a problem too big to heal. But nothing is too big for God, infinite Love, and we can each play a part in demonstrating that.

Prayers for Minneapolis and beyond

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Social media has been buzzing since a black man, George Floyd, was killed by police and rioting and looting broke out in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the region where I live. Protests and expressions of support for the protesters have since expanded to other parts of the country and around the world.

As explosive as the anger has been, the demands for change have been just as loud and insistent. One Minneapolis city councilor called racism a disease, which needs to be recognized and healed.

All of us are needed to bring healing to this scourge, to prove the powerlessness of hatred, apathy, and complacency to win the day. I’ve found that an invaluable way to do this is through prayer inspired and informed by God’s love as the only legitimate power. Our prayers can affirm how God, as Love, deconstructs systems of animosity, indifference, and inequality; and how life lived with the understanding of God as invariable Truth and all-inclusive Love reconstructs, establishes, and builds up our love for one another, resulting in improved systems of justice, care for each other, and peace.

As I’ve been praying, I’ve been inspired by this passage in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science: “Human hate has no legitimate mandate and no kingdom. Love is enthroned” (p. 454).

Every unjust scenario highlights the need for change, for the harmony that expresses God’s law of Love to be restored. Progress happens when we make a conscious, deliberate shift in thought toward the equality, peace, and justice God has bestowed on all.

Mrs. Eddy once shared some ideas to encourage her household workers in their prayers, by repeating what they knew to be spiritually true and by defeating the doubt that would tempt them to feel they couldn’t make progress. These ideas also give direction to my prayers, helping them remain persistent and consistent beyond a single event. What Mrs. Eddy said was along the lines of “Never become discouraged, dear ones. This work is not humdrum, it is growth. It is repeating and defeating, repeating and defeating, repeating and defeating” (“We Knew Mary Baker Eddy,” Expanded Edition, Vol. 1, p. 263).

It’s not about a political victory, or defeating some person or party. It’s about a spiritual victory, defeating the notion that there is something more powerful than God, good. At times we may have the discouraging thought that the issue of racism is too big to heal. But it is not too big for God. God, infinite Love, is leading and guiding us. And when we love God and love one another, we will find practical, effective steps to take that help establish true justice and restore hope in our communities.

Viewfinder

Bluebird moon rising

Orlin Wagner/AP
The moon rises behind an Eastern bluebird perched on the branch of a tree in Lawrence, Kansas, June 3, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when Harry Bruinius explores protests where demonstrators and police have found common ground.

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