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The United States homicide rate continues to soar in 2021. Why? | Crime News

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Thirteen people were shot and killed in the United States during the Halloween weekend as an unrelenting spate of gun violence and deaths continues sweeping the United States.

Two people were killed and 12 injured in a suburb of Chicago when men with guns opened fire on a late-night costume party, according to local news. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, police were investigating a shooting incident that left two dead and four injured.

The death toll is typical. Last week in Boise, Idaho, a lone gunman killed two at a shopping mall and injured several others before dying in an exchange of gunfire with police.

Homicides in the US are surging in 2021 after jumping to 19,400 in 2020, on a wave of gun violence, sending criminologists searching for answers and local leaders and US policymakers scrambling for solutions.

It really surged immediately after the murder of George Floyd, said Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, a non-partisan organisation that advocates for reforms. Its sort of a perfect storm.

Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed while being arrested by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. Video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin choking Floyd by kneeling on his neck went viral and US cities erupted in anti-police protests.

The numbers from major US cities are grim. Chicago, the USs third-largest city, is on pace to have its worst murder rate in 25 years, with 649 people killed as of mid-October.

In Houston, the USs fourth-largest city, police have tracked 339 homicides so far this year, an increase over last years rate of killings. The nations capital, Washington, DC, with 183 killed so far this year, will surpass last years murder toll if killings continue at the same pace.

Law enforcement officers collect evidence near the scene of a shooting that killed three including the gunman at the Boise Towne Square shopping mall in Boise, Idaho, US, on October 25 [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

The rising trend in homicides in 2021 holds in smaller cities, as well. The increases this year come on top of a 30 percent rise in murders across the US in 2020, officially reported by the FBI last month.

Fallout from the Floyd protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with easy access to illegal guns, are most often blamed for the rising homicide rate, but there are risks to drawing conclusions from short-term crime statistics and the underlying sociological forces at work are complex, experts said.

Black and brown communities

One of the troubling aspects of the spike in murders is that is disproportionately hitting poor and minority communities.

This has been an ongoing issue for years where Black and brown communities have continued to feel the devastation of gun violence, said Ciera Bates-Chamberlain, executive director of Live Free Illinois, a group that works to foster safety in Chicago and other Illinois cities.

The more important piece is to get at the real cause of homicides, and the root cause of gun violence in communities, which is racism and poverty, Bates-Chamberlain told Al Jazeera.

Widespread Violence

Suffering a particularly violent year, Philadelphia has seen homicides surpass 450, putting the city on track to match last years count of 499 killings.

Theres going to be no single cause for the drastic and significant increase in homicide. But increasingly, its clear that there are two or three main factors, said Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Charron Powell stands with a photo of her son, LeGend Taliferro, at her home in Raytown, Missouri, on October 3. LeGend was 4 years old when he was fatally shot while he was sleeping in 2020 [Charlie Riedel/AP Photo]

COVID-19 pandemic

Even before Floyd was killed, the coronavirus pandemic had taken hold in the US, forcing police across the country to reduce contact with the public.

COVID-19 has presented a continuing life-threatening risk for police across the US. More than 240 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19 this year, nearly five times the number 50 killed by gunfire, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Philadelphia was among a number of jurisdictions in 2020 that placed a moratorium on police making arrests for mid- to low-level crimes to reduce contact between police and the public and avoid transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

There is there a significant body of research evidence that suggests that proactive policing is effective at reducing crime, Ratcliffe said.

Police Backed Off

Add to COVID-19, the reality that police in major US cities backed away from making arrests following the George Floyd protests.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, police abruptly adopted a hands-off approach after the protests, according to a study of arrest data by the Reuters news service. At the same time, killings in the city surged to 82 homicides in 2020 and are on pace this year to break that number with 78 as of October.

Police are receiving signals explicitly through managerial choices, or implicitly through from social media and the community, Ratcliffe said.

In Portland, Oregon, more than 200 officers have quit in the past year and a half, many citing poor morale and lack of support from superiors. Portland recorded 63 homicides so far this year, surpassing last years toll of 57.

Protesters in Portland, Oregon, rallied in2020 against the death of George Floydin Minneapolis police custody [Terray Sylvester/Reuters]

Its a trend seen elsewhere. Dozens of police have resigned from the force in Albuquerque, New Mexico, following protests. And the city has experienced an alarming record of 89 homicides this year, amid a level of violence not seen since the 1980s.

Statistics lie

To be sure, while it is tempting draw a connection between de-policing and rising homicides, concluding one is caused the other would be wrong, said Scott Hechinger, a civil rights lawyer and former public defender in Brooklyn, New York.

The idea that the protests following George Floyd are responsible for the rise in homicides is based on a range of lies, deceptions and misconceptions, Hechinger told Al Jazeera.

Homicides have increased across the US, not just in places where there were protests or where police morale has been poor, Hechinger said.

Beyond the fact that short-run data is notoriously volatile, what the data actually shows us is, theres no way to draw that kind of causation because it happened everywhere.

Legitimacy Crisis

Still, some criminologists identify a larger pattern of a legitimacy crisis surrounding the police, courts and the prison system. People who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where crime is already high, do not view the police as legitimate.

Former New York City Police Chief Terence Monahan, who retired in February, took a knee with George Floyd protesters in New York in 2020. He warned police reforms would embolden criminals [Craig Ruttle/AP Photo]

Indeed, police abuse and neglect had already been a concern in African American communities for years. But Floyds killing proved to be the straw that broke the camels back said Scott Wolfe, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State.

People who are already likely to commit violent crimes see the police as gatekeepers of the justice system that cant even follow the law themselves and conclude why should I obey the law? Wolfe said.

Wolfe and two colleagues conducted a study of the city of Denvers devastating 50 percent rise in homicides in 2020 and concluded the evidence points to a crisis of distrust caused by unjust treatment within the criminal justice system.

Denver was racked by protests in 2019 after Elijah McClain, an unarmed, 23-year-old Black man, died in a Denver suburb after he was put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine by police.

These kinds of events create an environment in which victims do not trust the police, and do not call for help, said David Pyrooz, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder who studied Denvers experience with Wolfe.

Theres been this shock to the system, Pyrooz told Al Jazeera. That shock sets off this chain of events that changes police behaviour, changes citizen behaviour in a way that is more conducive to crime.

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Decoration behind US-backed Venezuelan leader falls apart RT World News

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Juan Guaido, the opposition politician recognized by the US as interim president of Venezuela, was in the midst of a passionate speech when the coat of arms mounted on the stage behind him collapsed on the floor.

The round wooden sign displaying Venezuela’s insignia seems to have been nudged by someone passing behind the stage and clattered to the ground behind Guaido as he was answering a question. The moment was caught on camera and quickly made rounds on social media on Monday. One Twitter user captioned it, “when the theater drops.”

Guaido had broadcast the event live on his Twitter account, and the moment of the seal’s collapse can be seen about 58 minutes in.

The opposition politician declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela in January 2019, denouncing the incumbent President Nicolas Maduro as an illegitimate “dictator.”



Newly released documents expose how US intelligence meddled in Venezuelan elections via social media

Newly released documents expose how US intelligence meddled in Venezuelan elections via social media

Guaido has made multiple attempts to take power in Caracas, with the backing of the Trump administration and later the Biden administration in Washington. The EU withdrew its support in January 2021.

Monday’s speech followed the weekend’s regional elections in which the ruling Socialist party won 20 governorships while the opposition managed only three. Guaido said now was the time for “reflection, unity and work” among the opposition leaders, who need to set their egos aside and work together to “remove the dictator.” 

The US has condemned the election results as “skewed” in favor of Maduro’s party, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowing to continue supporting Guaido, including with sanctions against Caracas. EU election observers are expected to comment on their experience in Venezuela on Tuesday.

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Change is possible: Honduras prepares for critical election | Elections News

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Tegucigalpa, Honduras Amid widespread fear of fraud and ensuing social unrest, Hondurans are preparing to vote in a tense presidential election that could end 12 years of rule for the conservative National Party, which has governed since a 2009 coup.

The National Partys time in office has been marked by corruption, alleged involvement in drug trafficking, and increased militarisation, spurring mass migration to the United States. The coronavirus pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes in November 2020 sunk the country deeper into a sociopolitical crisis.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who could face extradition to the US on drug trafficking charges after he was named as a co-conspirator in a case against his brother, may have the most at stake, although he is not up for re-election.

His partys candidate, current Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Tito Asfura, is trailing by 17 percent behind former first lady Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Libre Party, according to an October poll by the Honduran Center of Studies for Democracy (CESPAD).

The elections on Sunday during which voters will also elect congress members, mayors, and members of the Central American Parliament mark a turning point for Honduras as two opposing political visions battle for dominance, said Joaquin Mejia, a researcher with the Honduran Team for Research, Investigation and Communication (ERIC-SJ).

The first represented by Asfura is the continuity of the regime, Mejia told Al Jazeera, while the second would mark a first step towards national dialogue to begin to reconstruct the country.

Nasry Asfura, the presidential candidate of the National Party, is trailing Xiomara Castro by 17 percent, according to an October poll [Fredy Rodriguez/Reuters]

New election, old faces

Castro is making her third presidential run as candidate for the Libre Party, founded by her husband Manuel Mel Zelaya, who was removed from office in the 2009 coup.

Polling at 38 percent according to the CESPAD poll, she pulled ahead in the race after making an alliance in October with opposition candidate and former TV host Salvador Nasralla. Prior to that pact, polls showed Asfura with a slight lead.

What Honduras needs right now is symbols, said Mejia. The fact that theyve managed to form this alliance has sent a symbolic message to the population in the sense that they feel a change is possible.

Castro has promised to bring back social programmes, decriminalise abortion in three cases, and ban special economic zones. Many voters see her candidacy as a continuation of her husbands presidency, although she also has a respectable political trajectory of her own, leading a massive protest movement.

Things are going to improve with Xiomara because we saw it with the presidency of Mel Zelaya, said 58-year-old subsistence farmer Blanca Rodriguez at a rally November 19 for Castro in rural Intibuca. She cited social programmes that helped rural Hondurans as her reason for voting for Castro.

Others believe she will end government corruption and impunity, and restore democratic institutions that have been debilitated during 12 years of National Party rule. With Xiomara, were going to rescue the rule of law, said 67-year old retiree Isidro Luna, another rally participant.

But Castros record is also tainted. An allegation that Zelaya accepted a bribe from a drug trafficker also surfaced in the US case against Hernandezs brother.

Xiomara Castro is presidential candidate for the left-wing Libre Party [File: Yoseph Amaya/Reuters]

With the people

About 21 percent of voters surveyed by CESPAD in October said they would vote for National Party candidate Asfura, whose campaign has tried to portray him as a reliable leader by playing on his nickname Papi a la Orden Papi at your service.

His ads emphasise that he is different and with the people.

Hes the only one who convinces me because, with the others, everything is just promises, said 59-year-old Julio Figueroa, an unemployed voter from Tegucigalpa, who cited public works projects in the capital as proof that Asfura is qualified. Hes a hardworking person, Figueroa added.

Asfura faces an investigation by the countrys special anti-corruption prosecution unit into alleged embezzlement of $1m in government funds in 2017 and 2018 as Tegucigalpa mayor. Yet this may not influence Honduran voters, many of whom are deciding to vote based on which candidate they hate less, according to Julio Raudales, vice-rector for international relations at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

More than 60 percent of Hondurans surveyed by CESPAD said they disapproved of Hernandezs presidency and a rejection of the current government is driving some voters towards Castro, explained Raudales. At the same time, some voters reject Castro over concerns her left-wing policies are too communist and will turn the country into Cuba or Venezuela a fear that her opponents have used to attack her.

A third candidate, Yani Rosenthal from the Liberal Party, who previously served three years in US prison for laundering drug money, is trailing behind both Castro and Asfura with just 3 percent.

Its not wanting to vote for Tito [Asfura] that makes someone vote for him, but rather that someone hates Mel Zelaya, said Raudales. For others, theyre going to vote for Xiomara [Castro] so Juan Orlando [Hernandez] doesnt get away with anything.

Fears of fraud

Despite a wide lead for Castro, Honduran voters and analysts fear the election results will be manipulated. About 70 percent of Honduran voters said they believed the elections would be fraudulent to some degree, according to the CESPAD poll.

Everything seems to indicate that she will win, Raudales said. But the National Party has the power and it has the possibility of committing fraud, which would be terrible for the country.

This fear of fraud and distrust in the political system could lead to low voter turnout. Despite compulsory voting in Honduras, only 60 percent of Hondurans said they planned to cast a ballot in the October CESPAD poll.

Twenty-year-old street vendor Evelyn Vasquez said days before the election that she did not plan on voting. I dont trust any of them [the candidates] because they are all thieves, Vasquez said.

Fraud allegations marred the 2017 presidential elections, leading to mass protests. The Organization of American States (OAS) ordered new elections, but Hernandez ultimately was declared the winner. International observers, including the OAS and European Union, will be monitoring the elections again this year.

In a statement on November 23 denouncing irregularities in the electoral process, the National Party said it was committed to transparent and peaceful elections and accused the Libre Party of engaging in a hate campaign to generate fear.

In 2018, the countrys three main parties the National Party, Libre, and the Liberal Party had agreed to a set of electoral reforms meant to increase fairness and transparency in the process. The changes included modifications to the electoral body, a new voting registry to prevent fraud, and measures to ensure independent vote observation tables.

But analysts have said the odds are still stacked in favour of the National Party. Using state resources to campaign, bussing voters from remote, rural areas to the polls, and stacking vote observation tables with loyalists are just some ways the National Party can manipulate the results, said Mejia.

Its a bit naive to think that the same people who carried out the coup, who committed grave human rights abuses and electoral fraud and violated the constitution to stay in power, today have converted into democrats and are going to easily accept losing power with all the implications that it carries, said Mejia.

Meanwhile, voters, such as Rodriguez from Intibuca, say they will be on alert on election day. Theyve committed fraud, she said. But weve woken up, and if they do it again the people are going to rise up.

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Europe’s First Case Of New Covid Variant Detected In Belgium

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Europe's First Case Of New Covid Variant Detected In Belgium

The infected person tested positive on November 22 (Representational)

Highlights

  • New variant detected in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad
  • “As precaution” Europe is stopping flights from southern Africa: Minister
  • “So, total precaution but don’t panic,” health minister said

Brussels:

Belgium said Friday it has detected the first announced case in Europe of the new Covid-19 variant, in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.

“We have a case that is now confirmed of this variant,” B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa, Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told a media conference.

The infected person tested positive on November 22 and had not had Covid-19 before, he added, without giving further details.

A leading Belgian virologist, Marc Van Ranst, tweeted that the person had returned from Egypt on November 11.

Vandebroucke said: “It must be repeated that this is a suspect variant — we don’t know if it is a very dangerous variant.”

He noted, however, that “as a precaution” Europe was stopping flights from southern Africa.

“So, total precaution but don’t panic,” he said, adding that Belgium’s Covid-19 risk assessment group was analysing the situation.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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