News Brief: El Paso Victims, Boy Scouts Sex Abuse Allegations, Hong Kong

Aug 7, 2019
Originally published on August 7, 2019 1:35 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is part of a president's job to console after tragedy; today President Trump will try to do that. He is visiting two communities recovering from mass shootings. First, he's going to Dayton, Ohio; that's where nine people were shot dead by a gunman early Sunday. Then he goes to El Paso Texas, where 22 people were killed when a shooter opened fire in a Walmart.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I got to say, Rachel, his presence here in El Paso is controversial. There are some in the city who just don't think Trump should come, and that includes Democratic Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who represents this area. She was speaking to MSNBC.

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VERONICA ESCOBAR: Words have consequences, and the president has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated.

GREENE: And we should say, Rachel, this visit is happening as many of the survivors in El Paso are still in the hospital and victims' families, as you can imagine, are still in shock.

MARTIN: Right. And so you got a really close, intimate look at the pain that these families are experiencing, right?

GREENE: Yeah, we paid a visit - yesterday we were at this auto body shop a couple of miles from here in downtown. We were meeting Tito Anchondo. He lost two family members at that Walmart, both his brother Andre and Andre's wife Jordan. Their 2-month-old baby was with him at the Walmart. He survived. When I met Tito yesterday, he was actually working on cars at the shop. It's only been three days, but he said the family just can't afford to close the business.

TITO ANCHONDO: I mean, we'd like to stop. We'd like a moment. But for somebody who's, you know, self-employed like myself and my dad, it's - there's no possibility.

MARTIN: I wonder if it's also about just, you know, staying busy, distracting yourself from the grief.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, I wondered the same thing. I mean, this family's totally broken. Tito, you know, is trying to stay strong and hold it together. But one thing he told me is that he can't even spend time with his mother right now because he's so worried that it might upset her.

ANCHONDO: I don't even want to go and see her because everybody keeps telling me that I look like - just like my brother. And I don't want her to even look at me 'cause I don't want her to remember my brother's face when - it's tough, guys. It's really, really tough.

GREENE: And Rachel, you understand this. I went into this conversation thinking I wasn't going to bring up politics with this family at all. It just felt insensitive. But then Tito, pretty early on, told me that he's really happy that President Trump is coming here.

MARTIN: How come?

GREENE: Well, I mean, he said his late brother supported the president. He said he supports the president, but that he's really grappled a lot with some of the racist things that President Trump has said. And he's hoping to get some face time with the president to challenge him on some of that.

MARTIN: So, I mean, what are we expecting from Trump's visit there? Any idea what he's going to say, who he's going to meet?

GREENE: I mean, you think about some of the things that the president has said in the past - I think when he meets with city officials, if he meets with victims, we'll have to see if those things come up. He's tweeted things about the city of El Paso. He also mischaracterized the crime rate in the city, back in the State of the Union address when he suggested it had been one of America's most dangerous cities. He's called migrants from Mexico, some of them, rapists.

And yet I remember from my days covering the White House, there's still always something about the institution of the presidency. I mean, people who have gone through crisis, who are grieving, many of them just crave some sort of soothing from a president, and President Trump has struggled to fulfill that role in the past, and he certainly has an immense test, I think, today.

MARTIN: Right. David, thanks to you and your team for all the reporting from El Paso this week. We appreciate it.

GREENE: Yeah, of course.

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STEWART EISENBERG: There is a crisis in the Boy Scouts, and there has been for many years, many decades.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Stewart Eisenberg. He's the lead attorney in a new lawsuit that was filed in Pennsylvania this week, and it alleges that the Boy Scouts of America continues to cover up a, quote, "pedophilia epidemic within the organization." The lawyers say they've identified 350 previously unknown scoutmasters who they allege preyed on boys.

Nick Pugliese is covering the story for NPR's member station WHYY and joins us now. Nick, so the lawsuit focuses on a plaintiff identified only by the initials S.D. What stands out in terms of the allegation that he's brought forward?

NICK PUGLIESE, BYLINE: You know, the first thing that stands out to me is the activities that make the Boy Scouts enjoyable for so many kids, like the overnight trips in the woods away from parents, is also what made the boy in this case so susceptible to abuse. And some of the allegations in this lawsuit are just horrific, and at the same time they have a lot in common with so many other cases that have come out of the Scouts or out of the Catholic Church, for that matter - like the grooming by the scout leader, the fact that the boy apparently grew up without a father and looked to the Boy Scouts for that guidance.

So I've covered more of these cases than I would have liked to at this point, and it's still difficult to fathom how a lot of this abuse followed similar patterns, and yet it was apparently able to go on for so long and on such a broad scale.

MARTIN: Right. But we've heard of these kinds of allegations within the Scouts for a long time. What makes this lawsuit unique?

PUGLIESE: So the attorney representing the Pennsylvania boy and some other lawyers have been running an outreach campaign on TV. They now say they've signed up almost 800 new clients, which, as you said, includes allegations against 350 scout leaders who weren't previously named in internal Boy Scout records. So it seems like the...

MARTIN: (Inaudible) ...The scope.

PUGLIESE: The scope of it, I don't think they've quite wrapped their heads around it yet. And the second thing is something that Marci Hamilton mentioned to me this week. She's the head of an advocacy group called Child USA.

MARCI HAMILTON: We're finally shifting the power over to victims so the victims are able to go to court, to get discovery and to show the world the truth.

PUGLIESE: What she's talking about there is there's states like New York and New Jersey that recently passed laws that will make it easier for victims to bring sex abuse lawsuits, and other states are now considering similar steps. So the legal landscape is shifting in some places, and it could expose the Boy Scouts and other groups to more lawsuits than ever before.

MARTIN: Are the Boy Scouts responding to this latest suit? I mean is there a sense that they're going to take these allegations any more seriously than they've done in the past?

PUGLIESE: I reached out to the Boy Scouts, of course, and the first thing they said is, yet again, they apologize to anyone who was hurt, and they admitted they didn't always do enough in the past to protect their Scouts. They talked about the protections they have in place now, like criminal background checks for leaders. And they also said the group of attorneys I mentioned before actually shared some of the new allegations with them, and based on that, they've made 120 referrals to law enforcement agencies. So they do seem to have investigated some of the new names that they got pretty quickly.

I just want to briefly mention one other dynamic in play here, and that's the reports that surfaced last year that the Boy Scouts are considering filing for bankruptcy. If that happens, it could make it even harder for victims to file lawsuits and eventually win damages.

MARTIN: WHYY reporter Nick Pugliese. Thank you so much.

PUGLIESE: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right, we're going to turn next to China because mainland China, the government there, has issued this very ominous warning to protesters in Hong Kong. The message from a government spokesperson in Beijing yesterday was, quote, "those who play with fire will perish by it." That warning followed even more demonstrations in Hong Kong on Monday. Protesters there barricaded roads. They took over police stations. And there was a general strike that basically brought the city to a standstill.

NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is with us to talk about all of these developments. Hey, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So tell us more about this warning issued by Beijing.

FENG: It's very strong. Beijing's top office for Hong Kong affairs said Beijing has tremendous power to counter protests, and they put part of the blame on meddling from foreign external forces, by which they mean the United States. Then again, they had another press office (ph) today in the southern city of Shenzhen, which is this mainland city that borders Hong Kong, and they said that if the situation deteriorates beyond control, quote, "China's central government will not sit idly by." So these are very stark warnings.

But also, keep in mind these comments are being broadcast widely in mainland China in addition to Hong Kong, so the audience is not just the protesters in Hong Kong; it's people in China, and it's to reassure them that Beijing is still in control and make sure that they have the State narrative about what's happening.

MARTIN: But it's so interesting because that's what the Hong Kong protesters are out on the streets against, is China's influence. And here's China just overtly making clear that they do have the power to crack down. I mean, is this moving towards the possibility of military intervention?

FENG: That's still unlikely right now, and that's unlikely because Hong Kong is valued as an international financial hub, and if there is a likely bloody military crackdown that's led by China, that means that that status would be destroyed - all these multinational companies would move away, financial institutions would leave. But at the same time, Beijing's facing this deadline, October 1, and that's when the People's Republic of China celebrates its 70th birthday, and it would be really embarrassing if there are still protests against Beijing's rule happening in Hong Kong.

MARTIN: Right.

FENG: So Beijing is probably going to turn to other methods that are optically - sorry - optically a little bit better. They said yesterday at the press conference that they were going to call on loyal Beijingers - sorry - loyal Hongkongers to stand up and firmly protect their homeland. And what that means is we could probably reasonably expect to see more pro-Beijing counterprotesters in Hong Kong doing things like raising the Chinese flag, singing the national anthem and maybe even more of those mysterious, white-shirted, masked thugs that are beating protesters up at rallies.

MARTIN: Right. We saw that happen on a subway platform. I mean, that doesn't sound good for Hong Kong. I mean, despite these warnings, is there any suggestion that the protesters in Hong Kong are going to start to stay home?

FENG: No. If anything, they're more inflamed by these warnings, and there are protests planned for this weekend. They're demanding universal suffrage for their - a new leader, an independent investigation into police brutality, an end to an extradition bill. And these warnings talk right past those demands.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Emily, thanks we appreciate it.

FENG: My pleasure.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly said President Trump had in the past tweeted inaccurately about El Paso, Texas.]

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIGETO'S "SO SO LOVELY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.