Editorials from around New England:
Police brutality ignites anger in tense times
The Connecticut Post
The images coming from Minneapolis are alarming — a violent response to a brutal killing of a black man by a white police officer. We are blind, though, if we think what is going on in the middle of the country could not happen here.
In Minneapolis, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested by police Monday after a convenience store clerk accused him of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. A video shows a white police officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, pinning Floyd face-down to the ground with his knee pressing the back of Floyd’s neck.
“I cannot breathe,” Floyd is heard saying on the video. “It’ll kill me, I can’t breathe.” He later died.
Even if he were using an illegal counterfeit bill — which is not proven — that should not be a death sentence. No one should be handled with such brutality, for any reason, by officers sworn to protect the public.
But it’s a fact that black people are killed by police in this country in disproportionate numbers. Police killed 1,099 people in 2019; nearly one-quarter were black although they make up only 13 percent of the population, according to the site Mapping Police Violence. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites.
In Minneapolis, the four white officers allegedly involved in Floyd’s death were fired, but not immediately arrested. On Friday, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Coupled with the brutality, people protested and by Wednesday that escalated to fires, including a police station, and looting. Protests have spread to cities in California, Oregon and Ohio.
Racism, shamefully, is embedded in this country. On Feb. 23, in a Georgia suburb, a white father and son were videotaped shooting a defenseless black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging. They weren’t charged until May, and later the man who recorded the murder also was charged.
Police brutality was spotlighted after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., six years ago. Measures were taken, such as putting police cameras in most departments and requiring more training. But shootings keep happening.
Setting fires and looting are not condoned, but are a response to intense frustration.
Police shootings of black people in Connecticut have sparked protests — there is no less outrage here — but religious and community leaders have prevailed in keeping demonstrations within First Amendment expression.
Two years ago, a 15-year-old black youth, Jayson Negron, was shot and killed by a Bridgeport police officer. A state police investigation determined it was justified. Last May during a protest on the anniversary of his death, Bridgeport police, who were arresting people for not dispersing quickly enough, handcuffed and detained a Hearst Connecticut Media reporter who was covering the event. Similarly, three CNN journalists were arrested by Minneapolis police Thursday while doing their jobs.
Tensions are high, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic which strikes black communities in greater numbers. Understanding is needed before change can happen.
Floyd case cries out for Justice probe
The Boston Globe
Among the first acts of President Trump’s Justice Department was to declare, in 2017, “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
Today, even as the president bellows about sending the military into American communities to quell disturbances touched off by the killing of George Floyd, his administration is reaping the fruits of that policy and of its complete abdication of responsibility for probing police bias and misconduct.
There was a time when the Justice Department stood tall, using its considerable weight to bring needed reforms and best practices to local police departments mired in prejudice and misconduct. Now under US Attorney General William Barr —and before him, under Jeff Sessions — that era is clearly over.
And when the nation needs answers about the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor, shot to death by Louisville police officers, the DOJ is silent.
Sure, the US attorney for Minnesota has announced an investigation into Floyd’s death as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, and Barr put out a statement saying, “I am confident that justice will be served.” But all of that assumes the officer, Derek Chauvin, is simply a bad apple. It fails to address what are widely reported to be systemic problems in the department, the kinds of patterns that would be unconstitutional and warrant federal investigation.
That’s where the DOJ would come in, if Barr weren’t more consumed with clearing peaceful protestors away from the streets near the White House and with making sure people can get into church on Sunday. In the latter battle, he’s using the same statute that the Justice Department could be using to fight racism in policing.
That law goes back to 1994 and the aftermath of the brutal beating of a Black motorist, Rodney King, by four Los Angeles police officers, in 1991. The law gave the DOJ sweeping powers to file civil rights lawsuits and investigate any “pattern or practice” of discrimination in policing.
The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations did just that.
Two days after Black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, the FBI launched an investigation. Nearly a year later, the Department of Justice issued a report detailing its findings of racial bias in both the police department and the courts. By April of 2016, the DOJ would get a consent decree (a court-approved agreement) that brought far-reaching changes to the Ferguson Police Department and to the local court system.
“The Justice Department was not perfect, but we understood our mandate: to promote accountability and constitutional policing in order to build community trust,” Vanita Gupta, who headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at the time, wrote in a recent column for The Washington Post.
And she noted that while criminal prosecution in the Floyd case was essential, it was also “insufficient” — that systemic problems need a broad-based solution.
In fact, by the end of the Obama administration, the DOJ had secured 14 consent decrees with police departments, including Ferguson, and out-of-court settlements with four other departments
Enter Jeff Sessions, who declared, on March 31, 2017, that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work of police “in keeping American communities safe.”
Congressional Democrats know this isn’t simply a lone “bad actor” problem, but the culture in too many police departments. In a letter to Barr and the head of his Civil Rights Division, members of the House Judiciary Committee asked for an investigation into recent killings. In the Floyd case, the demand included “whether it was part of a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct by the MPD.”
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and 27 of her Democratic Senate colleagues also asked Barr for an investigation “to evaluate unconstitutional patterns and practices of violent policing targeting communities of color in the Minneapolis Police Department that contributed to Mr. Floyd’s tragic and unjust death.”
That’s precisely what a Justice Department that cared about righting wrongs and about protecting civil rights would do. But this wholly owned franchise of Donald Trump, which has shown time and again it cares little about the Constitution, is more interested in pandering to police unions and the president’s political base than in pursuing justice. And all Americans — Black and white — are paying the price for their negligence.
To President Trump: You should resign now
Portland Press Herald
President Trump: We’re sorry that you decided to come to Maine, but since you are here, could you do us a favor? Resign.
You have never been a good president, but today your shortcomings are unleashing historic levels of suffering on the American people.
Your slow response to the coronavirus pandemic has spun a manageable crisis into the worst public health emergency since 1918.
We are also in the middle of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. There is no national strategy to recover from the shock that is disproportionately affecting people who were already struggling to make it.
And in the face of the worst civic unrest since 1968, with millions of Americans in the streets protesting systemic racism, you fan the flames.
In just the last week you gleefully tweeted about shooting fellow citizens; you goaded governors into escalating violent situations so they don’t “look like jerks;” and you authorized the use of rubber bullets and tear gas to clear peaceful protesters out of a public space so you could pose for a Bible-waving photo-op.
These are just a few examples of why you lack the character, maturity and judgment to lead our country in this perilous time. You should resign.
We have to agree with you on one point: You were right to skip making an address to the nation as other presidents have done in times of national emergency.
You correctly concluded that you have nothing to say that would make the situation better. When what’s called for is compassion, clear vision and a commitment to lead, you are out of ammo.
But bringing the nation together in times of distress is a big part of the job when you are head of state. You can’t do it, so you should resign.
As head of government, you have unmatched power to direct resources to relieve suffering. You can’t or won’t do that, either, so you should resign.
And in your mistreatment of lawful protesters and abuse of religious symbols, you have violated your oath to protect and defend the Constitution, so you should resign.
Your supporters will no doubt say that this is an election year, and it should be left up to the voters to decide whether you deserve to stay in office.
But ask yourself – can this country take five more months like the last five? You are a president supported by a minority of the people, and your only path to victory in November is to further divide the nation. This campaign could do even more lasting damage than you have done already.
We know that you are not much of a student of history, but you recently said that you “learned a lot from Richard Nixon.”
That’s good, because he set the historical precedent for what you should do now.
In a nationally televised address, Nixon said that he knew that he was about to be impeached over Watergate, and he wanted to fight the charges.
But since that would be destructive to the nation he served, he chose instead to resign. Nixon said: “By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”
America needs to heal again. Please resign now, and let us begin.
Compassion should not be flagged
The Nashua Telegraph
President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is cutting U.S. funding for the World Health Organization has been condemned throughout the world. Critics insist that a healthy WHO is essential especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages.
But the question is whether the WHO, a United Nations affiliate, really is doing the job for which it is designed. Clearly, it is not. That was demonstrated earlier this year when WHO officials backstopped the Chinese Communist Party in maintaining that the COVID-19 outbreak had been contained and was not a serious threat to the rest of the world.
WHO has managed to project an image of an essential public health organization. The agency indeed has undertaken numerous initiatives that have saved lives. Unfortunately, it has allowed politics to influence decisions. In some ways, it has become a threat to public health.
Trump’s decision may and should prompt WHO officials to look in the mirror and get back to pursuing the agency’s mission.
Until that happens, however, the president’s critics have a point. Now, as COVID-19 continues to take lives by the tens of thousands, is a time when the United States should be stepping up its efforts to help.
To that end, Trump has pledged the United States will increase is support for public health initiatives, especially in Third World countries.
That simply must be done — and such funding should be publicized. Americans have a reputation for helping our neighbors, and they need to know that compassion has not flagged.
VERMONT Criminalizing Speech Misses The Point
The Caledonian Record
Yesterday Governor Phil Scott signaled interest in criminalizing “hate” speech and bolstering punishments for hate crimes.
Even though race-based invective is horrifying, we challenge hate speech legislation on Constitutional grounds. We get very nervous when the government starts criminalizing things people say.
Hate speech legislation also really misses the mark if the goal is to address the gross inequities in our nation’s racist criminal justice system.
If you are really serious about understanding our nation’s brutal history of racial oppression, then you need to look closely at the way our politicians have already over-criminalized our country.
After the civil war, the South was able to rebuild its economy by incarcerating enormous numbers of black men, on bogus charges, who were then forced into hard labor or “convict leasing” programs.
In more modern times, mandatory minimum sentencing, an insanely stupid war on drugs, and a string of Law & Order candidates (Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Trump) turbo-charged explosive growth for the prison-industrial complex.
Richard Nixon exploited racial tensions and the “silent majority” to boost his “law and order” candidacy. What that meant was the racist south, which suffered big losses under Lyndon Johnson, had a candidate promising to imprison a lot more young black men as riots raged throughout cities. Nixon’s groundwork was fully embraced by his successors who came up brilliant ideas follow-up ideas like stop and frisk and mandatory life sentences for being busted with $20 of crack.
Those policies packed prisons and further devastated black America. From 1920-1970 the United States averaged around 200K inmates per year. By 1990 that number was 6ooK. Today it’s over 2.3 million.
America has approximately five-percent of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s inmates. And while a white American man has a 1-in-20 chance of spending time in prison, a black American man has a 1-in-3 chance. Black American men comprise approximately 6-percent of the nation’s population but over 40% of those who are incarcerated. Minorities in total comprise three-quarters of the nationwide prison population.
It’s not just racist police that caused this problem, though clearly “Qualified Immunity” is a major problem. It’s the totality of the system. Young black men who get stopped for no reason and charged with a misdemeanor will often not make bail. As they languish in prison (which often profits from their attendance), they face prosecutors who offer them plea deals to settle their cases.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, they take a plea rather than risk trumped up charges at trial. Unbeknownst to them, it means a lifetime of anguish related to their conviction. And the resulting disenfranchisement has long been an added benefit for those wanting to prevent black people from exercising their rights at the ballot box.
So what does Phil Scott propose to address these crises of racial injustice and over-criminalization? He wants to criminalize speech. It’s a wholesale Red Herring. More stupid laws, that do nothing to address the system’s terrible failings but weaken the First Amendment, are not a grown-up answer to an intractable centuries-old problem.
We have a “law and order” candidate in the White House who is cracking down on peaceful protests and encouraging police to attack front-line journalists trying to tell the story. Now we have a “law and order” governor who trampled our economy and Constitutional rights for the past two months and now wants to crack down on speech? Not good.