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News Brief: Trump Disparities Plan, Police Overhaul, COVID-19 Vaccine


President Trump doesn't really have a choice. The country is opening its eyes to racial injustice in a new way. Both parties in Congress say it's time to do something about unjust policing. So President Trump needs to say and do something of his own.


At an event in Dallas yesterday, he said it's only a few police officers who are causing the problems. And he proposed not defunding police departments but investing more in them.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're working to finalize an executive order that will encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards of force. And that means force, but force with compassion. But if you're going to have to really do a job, if somebody is really bad, you're going to have to do it with real strength, real power.

KING: OK. So what does that mean in terms of actual policy?

MARTIN: We're going to ask White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's with us now. Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: Tell us more about the president's plans.

KEITH: So there's not a lot of detail here. It's mostly broad-brush goals like reducing racial disparities in health care and offering school choice. On policing, we know the Republicans in Congress are still working out their policy response to what House Democrats have proposed. And it's not clear yet whether President Trump will endorse what the Republicans come up with.

But he has made it clear that he does not think that there is a problem with systemic racism in police departments. And on racial problems more broadly in America, he said you can't heal the country by calling millions of people racist. He worked to draw a distinction between his support for police and activists' calls for major overhauls of police departments. And he said that he's finalizing an executive order to encourage professional standards. But until we see it, it's not really clear what that's calling for.

MARTIN: So here he was in Dallas in this church. I mean, there had been talk of him doing a big speech to try to unify the country on race. Was this that?

KEITH: No. It was sort of a combination of a rally and a panel discussion. He spent a lot of time talking about Seattle and the ongoing protests there, condemning the mayor and the governor. He talked about how the National Guard contained protests last week. He said it was like a knife cutting butter even if some tear gas was required, he said. And he said that the Seattle protests would be so easy to solve.

MARTIN: So I mean, this is him back on the campaign trail, right? I mean, this is - he's getting ready to start ramping things up. He's going to have his first big rally a week from today in Tulsa, the first big rally since the pandemic. The Tulsa location and date are significant. Can you explain?

KEITH: There are a few reasons. First of all, it lands on Juneteenth, which is a holiday that marks the anniversary of the day the last slaves in America were finally told they were free. In African American communities, it's a big day of celebration and food and music. But in Tulsa this year, organizers had to cancel their Juneteenth celebration because of coronavirus concerns. The organizer of that celebration told me President Trump's decision to hold a rally that day is untimely and disrespectful.

There's another reason that people are raising concerns. The rally will be held just blocks away from the site of a 1921 massacre of black Tulsa residents by white mobs. And then, there's the coronavirus. The rally is set to be held in a big, indoor arena that holds thousands of people. And there are still concerns about large crowds during this coronavirus pandemic. In fact, there is a disclaimer for people when they go to get tickets for the rally saying that they won't hold the campaign or the venue responsible for any coronavirus exposure at the rally.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith reporting this morning. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So that is the president's response to what's been happening. Locally, some cities and states are already taking concrete action.

KING: Yeah. That's right. Today, Minnesota's governor and state lawmakers there will talk about proposals to change policing. Now, this, of course, is the state where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

MARTIN: NPR's Cheryl Corley has been looking at current and past efforts to transform policing. And she is with us now. Hi, Cheryl.


MARTIN: So some states have been really quick to pass legislation or some kind of reforms. Yesterday, Minnesota's governor pushed for some changes as well. What can you tell us?

CORLEY: Well, Minnesota state lawmakers weigh in today, as mentioned, on the package of reforms that the governor want. And one would put investigations of any officer involved in death in the hands of the state's attorney general. You know, people are extremely motivated now to see a different way of policing. New York's governor says he'll quickly sign bills banning chokeholds and allowing an officer's disciplinary records to be released. It's the same in Colorado, where the governor is also expected to sign a bill banning chokeholds.

And in Louisville, Ky., the city banned the use of controversial no-knock warrants and named that new ordinance after Breonna Taylor. She's a 26-year-old who was fatally shot after officers burst into her home in March. You know, what's a constant in all of these discussions about policing is revamping use-of-force policies. I talked to Maria Haberfeld. She's a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. And she says a problem with the use-of-force policies is that they are defined so differently across police departments. And even if an officer follows his or her training, most people just feel that any use of force is excessive.

MARIA HABERFELD: It is ugly. When it's used to achieve compliance, it will always look ugly.

CORLEY: And Haberfeld says, what should be more of a transformational change is changing who is recruited to become a police officer and at what age.

MARTIN: So as we talk about reimagining police departments - and you've done a lot of research and reporting on this - is there a particular reform that has proven to be less controversial and actually effective?

CORLEY: Well, in some cities, police have stopped arresting people for low-level crimes and issuing citations instead. It's like getting a traffic ticket, where you either pay a fine or show up in court at a later date. And that's designed, in part, to reduce some of the violent interactions between people and the police like we saw in the George Floyd case.

And it's also an effort to keep people out of jail to cut down on crowded conditions to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. But this idea to hand out citations has been on the rise even before the pandemic. Much of it began in 2014 in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by then-police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo.

MARTIN: So another idea that's kind of been batted around for many years is that of civilian oversight. Where is that conversation right now? Is there movement on that?

CORLEY: Yeah. And I think that happens anytime there's a high-profile case and an uproar over police-involved fatality. There is a push to start a civilian review process. And that's what we're seeing now around the country. It boils down to the question, who's policing the police? The bigger issue remains, though. With about 18,000 police departments in the United States, it's just really difficult to have systemic change. And that's why some are also calling for national standards for policing.

MARTIN: NPR's Cheryl Corley for us this morning. Cheryl, thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. Did you know there are more than a hundred experimental vaccine for the coronavirus around the world?

KING: And the U.S. government is working to speed up the development of some of them. Operation Warp Speed aims to get a vaccine on the market much sooner than it would usually take. But there are going to be tradeoffs to getting a vaccine so quickly.

MARTIN: We're going to talk to NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin right now. Hi, Sydney.


MARTIN: As we all know, the key to getting an effective vaccine is to come up with a really great name. Thus, Operation Warp Speed - (laughter) I mean, OK. But can you explain what this actually means?

LUPKIN: Sure. The goal of Operation Warp Speed Here is to have a coronavirus vaccine ready by January, which is really fast. It usually takes years to research and develop a safe and effective vaccine. So they started with 14 candidates. And eventually, they'll have to pare that down to, really, just a few finalists that are going to get the most government support. The winnowing process is already underway. And we've learned that there are seven that have made the cut so far.

MARTIN: All right. So how are they choosing which vaccine candidates to weed out and which to keep?

LUPKIN: The short answer is we don't know. There's a lot we don't know about this program. It's not really clear who is making the final decisions at Warp Speed or how they're deciding which vaccines to ultimately back. They haven't made their vaccine list public. The challenge is that vaccine-makers need to gear up manufacturing right away if they're going to produce enough supply to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans next year. So they'll need to start before we know whether these vaccines really work. And that's expensive and risky, which is why the U.S. government is helping to foot the bill. And it's also why it needs to whittle down that list.

MARTIN: So we don't know how they're doing that. Is that normal?

LUPKIN: I mean, there isn't really a precedent for this. So it's hard to say what's normal. But former HHS officials tell me that a lack of transparency could cause problems when it's time to ask healthy Americans to roll up their sleeves and get this vaccine. Here's Dr. Peter Lurie, former associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis at the Food and Drug Administration.

PETER LURIE: Let's remember that this is a product line that is mired in all kinds of controversy created by people who question the science of vaccines. And so in this case in particular, it's important to have full public trust in the process.

MARTIN: So what do we know?

LUPKIN: Well, we know that five companies have gotten HHS contracts for development of vaccines starting with Johnson and Johnson. And that was months before Operation Warp Speed was announced. In all, these contracts total more than $2 billion. The companies are mostly big names in pharmaceuticals. Moderna is really the only kind of relative unknown that got one of these contracts.

And it kind of got a head start because the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, is working with that company. That said, there are other contracts out there beyond the HHS ones. The Department of Defense, for example, has awarded one to Novavax to make its vaccine for the military. So when it comes to Operation Warp Speed, we're kind of reading tea leaves until they tell us more about what's going on.

MARTIN: Is that likely to happen?

LUPKIN: It seems like it's getting more likely to happen. So we've learned that there is sort of an internal debate about how transparent or secretive to be. And it seems like transparency is getting traction. A senior administration official tells me that Operation Warp Speed is working on a process to keep Congress and the public informed about its progress. So hopefully, we'll find out more soon.

MARTIN: I mean, probably. It is named Operation Warp Speed, right? Everything's happening fast - or so they hope, they aspire. NPR pharmaceutical correspondent Sydney Lupkin. Thanks, Sydney.

LUPKIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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