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Rural areas, tribal lands hit hardest by census interruption

Tori Holland

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In this April 30, 2020, photo, a sign marks Navajo Drive as Sentinel Mesa, homes and other structures in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah on the Navajo Reservation, stand in the distance. Even before the pandemic, people living in rural communities and on reservations were among the toughest groups to count in the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even though they’re neighbors, two New Mexico counties couldn’t be further apart in the rate of people answering the 2020 census.

Los Alamos County, where the atomic bomb was born and many people are highly educated, has one of the nation’s highest response rates at 79%. Rio Arriba County, where a language other than English is spoken in over half of homes, is at the bottom at 9%.

The reason for the difference? Households in Rio Arriba and other rural counties across the U.S. rely on census workers to drop off their questionnaires, which was on hold for a month and a half because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the U.S. Census Bureau is restarting that work, leaders in rural America worry it will be difficult to catch up in communities that are already among the toughest to count. Ultimately, it could cost them congressional seats and federal funding for highways, schools and health care that the once-a-decade count divvies up.

“We have historically been underrepresented in the past, and there’s an unfortunate precedent to show we will be underrepresented again. This pandemic makes it all the more challenging,” said Javier Sanchez, mayor of Espanola, a city of 10,000 in Rio Arriba County. “I think we are struggling like every other rural community and doing the best we can amid these problems when so much is at stake in the next 10 years.”

A rolling census count shows that states with large rural populations are lagging behind the rest of the nation in answering the 2020 questionnaire. They have the largest concentration of households dependent on receiving forms from census workers in the spring.

Around 5% of U.S. households fall into that category, but it accounts for anywhere from about 17% to almost 30% of homes in Alaska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Wyoming, Maine, Vermont and Montana.

These are places where homes are spread apart and often hidden from main roads. Internet access is poor, and this is the first census that most people are encouraged to respond online.

Many people lack traditional city-style addresses, get their mail by P.O. box or live in areas with high concentrations of vacant, seasonal housing. While they wait for hard copies from census workers, the rest of the U.S. mostly is contacted by mail — either with invitations to respond online or with a paper form.

Two months after most U.S. residents could start answering the 2020 census, response rates in states that have many households without city-style addresses ranged from 40% to 50%. The national rate is 59% as of mid-May.

Households without traditional addresses are especially common on tribal lands, which have a history of being undercounted.

In Rio Arriba County, more than 16% of residents are Native American, compared with just over 1% in neighboring Los Alamos County. The latter is home to Los Alamos National Laboratory and almost half its residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 15% in more rural Rio Arriba County.

“It’s like criticizing someone for not voting when you never handed them a ballot,” said Jose Viramontes, a spokesman for I Count NM, which is leading census outreach efforts in New Mexico.

For Mayor James Schell of East Helena, Montana, an inaccurate count could jeopardize the potential for another U.S. representative pushing for federal funding to upgrade roads and wastewater infrastructure.

“By having that extra representation, more monies could be introduced for roads, water, sewers,” Schell said.

The Census Bureau will “absolutely” be able to catch up with the rural count, said Tim Olson, associate director of field operations. When work was suspended in March, only about 10% of households without city-style addresses had received questionnaires. Now, it’s at 30% two weeks into restarting door-to-door work in some places, he said.

“It’s going very well,” Olson said.

But in some tribal areas, response rates were below 15% as of mid-May.

“It’s looking like there’s a real possibility of an undercount, given the obstacles we are facing,” Ta’jin Perez, program manager at Western Native Voice, an advocacy group in Montana.

During the last census in 2010, American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations were undercounted by 4.9%, according to the Census Bureau, by far the highest undercount of any group.

Olson acknowledged that some tribal lands have closed themselves off to stop the spread of the virus, and census workers won’t be able to drop off questionnaires until they reopen.

“There may be some pockets that are further delayed,” he said.

The pandemic has forced the Census Bureau to push back its deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October.

The agency says it’s restarting operations this week in Puerto Rico, where census forms are required to be dropped off at homes because of the devastation from Hurricane Maria in 2017. The island has a very low response rate as of mid-May — over 8%.

In West Virginia, almost 30% of households don’t have traditional addresses, and the state’s response rate is 47%.

While the state is getting back to pushing rural residents to fill out the census, halting work on the ground in March was like playing a ballgame “with three players off the field,” said Andy Malinoski, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

___

Follow Mike Schneider at http://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP.

After being a professional journalist for 5 years and understanding the ups and downs of health care sector all over the world, Tori shifted her focus to the digital world. Today, she works as a contributor for News Brig with a knack for covering general and health news in the best possible format.

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Australia, Asia protests embrace ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement

Evan Lewis

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Australia, Asia protests embrace 'Black Lives Matter' movement

MELBOURNE/TOKYO (Reuters) – Thousands took to the streets across Australia on Saturday, as did hundreds in Tokyo and Seoul to support U.S. protests against police brutality, while demonstrations were expected around Europe in the coming hours.

People kneel down as they march on the street in solidarity with protests against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Seoul, South Korea June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran

The rolling, global protests reflect rising anger over police treatment of ethnic minorities, sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer detaining him knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as fellow officers stood by.

Asia-Pacific demonstrations, however, were limited by social-distancing curbs aiming at stopping the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In the United States on Friday, prominent Democratic politicians adopted the slogans of the protests and announced reforms, as tensions remained high in major cities after days of largely peaceful protests that saw sporadic violence.

In Brisbane, police estimated 10,000 people joined a peaceful protest, wearing masks and holding “Black Lives Matter” placards. Many wrapped themselves in indigenous flags, calling for an end to police mistreatment of indigenous Australians.

In Sydney, a last-minute court decision overruled a coronavirus ban as several thousand people marched, amid a heavy police presence, chanting: “Whose lives matter? Black Lives matter.”

Rallies were also held in Melbourne, Adelaide and other Australian cities.

In Tokyo, marchers protested against what they said was police treatment of a Kurdish man who says he was stopped while driving and shoved to the ground, leaving him with bruises.

Organisers invoked the U.S. protests, saying they were also marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I want to show that there’s racism in Japan now,” said 17-year-old high school student Wakaba, who declined to give her family name.

She and her friend, Moe, marching in their school uniforms, held a sign saying: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”.

“No justice, no peace, no racist police,” the crowd chanted.

In Seoul, dozens of South Korean activists and foreign residents gathered, some wearing black masks with “can’t breathe” in Korea, echoing George Floyd’s final words as he lay on the pavement. Others participated in an online “viral photo protest.”

“South Korea is becoming a multicultural society,” organiser Shim Ji-hoon told Reuters. “So I proposed this march to have awareness of racial discrimination and make a world of living together.”

With pandemic restrictions in Bangkok, activists were going online, asking for video and photos of people wearing black, raising their fists and holding signs, and explaining why they “stand united behind Black Lives Matter”.

The Thai protesters plan to gather on the video-meeting platform Zoom on Sunday and observe 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence – the period that George Floyd was filmed pinned under the officer’s knee.

Around Europe, which has seen an unprecedented wave of anti-racism rallies drawing tens of thousands onto the streets, weekend protests were planned in Germany, Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary.

Slideshow (15 Images)

As in Seoul, Paris authorities banned demonstrations in front of the local U.S. Embassy, citing the coronavirus.

Some European demonstrators have been wearing masks and maintaining social distance, but in some places – notably Germany on Friday – large numbers marched closely together.

Banners and slogans have focused not just on George Floyd but on a string of other controversies in specific countries and mistreatment of minorities in general.

Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Daewoung Kim and Chaeyoun Won in Seoul, Mari Saito and Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Orathai Sriring in Bangkok and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by William Mallard

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U.S. officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

Evan Lewis

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U.S. officials block police 'extreme tactics' as protests enter 12th day

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Officials across the United States are moving to rein in police following accusations of excessive force being used against demonstrators, with protests over the killing of a black man in custody set to enter their 12th day on Saturday.

George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of Floyd, who was originally from the state’s Fayetteville city.

On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.

A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police. [nL1N2DJ02U]

“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.

In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke-holds, where pressure is applied to the neck, while California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would end state police training of carotid restraints similar to the technique used on Floyd. [nL1N2DI1SM]

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available as well as banning choke-holds.

“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “People are saying enough is enough, we must change.”

Several men stand at the locked gates of Jackson Square, where a statue of Andrew Jackson resides, and had brief heated words with demonstra tors who had gathered around the square during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., June 5, 2020. Picture taken June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn

NFL: WE WERE WRONG

Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.

In another sign of how attitudes have changed, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the United States. [nL1N2DI2IC]

The NFL has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem.

Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground. [nL1N2DI06H]

But the decision was met with pushback from the officers’ colleagues, with all 57 members of the police tactical unit quitting in protest at their treatment. [nL1N2DI2IQ]

The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.

Slideshow (32 Images)

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with U.S. President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.

After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Alexandra Alper, Andy Sullivan, Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart, Nathan Layne, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Matt Spetalnick, Raphael Satter, Keith Coffman,Rich McKay; Writing by Dan Whitcomb, Matt Spetalnick and Robert Birsel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Pravin Char

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France tells China it still backs ‘one country, two systems’ for Hong Kong

Evan Lewis

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France tells China it still backs 'one country, two systems' for Hong Kong

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping after a joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron has told Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping he is following events in Hong Kong closely and continues to back the “one country, two systems” principle for Beijing’s rule over the city, an Elysee official said.

“The President said he was monitoring the (Hong Kong) situation closely and reiterated France’s support for the principle of ‘one country, two systems’,” the official told Reuters on Saturday.

China has approved security legislation for Hong Kong that democracy activists, diplomats and some in business fear will jeopardise its semi-autonomous status and its role as a global financial hub.

The legislation has reignited tensions between Washington and Beijing, and led the European Union to express “grave concern” last week.

Hong Kong was discussed during an hour and a half phone call on Friday between Macron and Xi, the official said.

The Elysee had reported the call in a statement late on Friday without mentioning Hong Kong.

The statement also referred to cooperation in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, saying Macron stressed the essential role of the World Health Organization, blamed by Washington for mishandling the crisis.

Reporting by Michel Rose, writing by Gus Trompiz, editing by Mark Potter

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