Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

In America, Protest Is Patriotic

The New York Times

June 2

When George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the scourge of police violence, festering for generations, became a rallying point for Americans yearning for the fulfillment of this country’s founding aspiration to promote life, liberty and happiness.

Yet as they turned out to exercise their most basic rights as citizens, these Americans have often encountered only more contempt for those rights from the people who are supposed to protect them.

Some protesters crossed the line into violence. Some people took advantage of the chaos to loot. But all too often, facing peaceful demonstrations against police violence, the police responded with more violence — against protesters, journalists and bystanders.

In a handful of cities, local leaders recognized what was at stake, and their response can point the way forward for the country. In Houston, the police chief, Art Acevedo, told protesters: “We will march as a department with everybody in this community. I will march until I can’t stand no more. But I will not allow anyone to tear down this city.”

He had the sense to recognize that a vast majority of demonstrators wanted what he wanted, a better city. And he clearly saw that the responsibility of the police was not to abridge but to safeguard the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, assembly, the press and religion.

In many places, the country is experiencing a communal breakdown so complete that mayors have thrown up their hands and ordered curfews or called in the National Guard. Unable to maintain urban life, they have tried to suspend it, just as they had done in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

Healing the wounds ripped open in recent days and months will not be easy. The pandemic has made Americans fearful of their neighbors, cut them off from their communities of faith, shut their outlets for exercise and recreation and culture and learning. Worst of all, it has separated Americans from their own livelihoods.

Fear of the police has further separated communities from those sworn to protect their rights.

President Trump, who tends to see only political opportunity in public fear and anger, is in his customary manner contributing heat rather than light to the confrontations between protesters and authority. In the absence of national leadership, it is all the more vital that mayors and governors affirm the rules that ought to govern American society. The nation is founded on the freedom of speech — and particularly the right to gather in protest against the government. Politicians must hold the police accountable for protecting the rights of everyone they are sworn to protect and serve.

In the same vein, city and state leaders should pursue the reopening of houses of worship in consultation with public health authorities. Particularly in this agonizing time, many Americans want to turn to their communities of faith for support. And religious leaders have often been at the forefront of nonviolent social change.

The chaos unleashed by the death of Mr. Floyd defies simple prescriptions; it is a result of too many underlying conditions. Authorities are facing a stern test: It can be all but impossible to police the boundaries of legitimate protest, particularly on the ground. And it must be painful for many police officers who put their lives on the line to hear themselves criticized by their fellow citizens.

Yet the testimony of local journalism, eyewitnesses and videos posted online make clear that too many police officers have little interest in protecting legitimate protest. While some officers have joined protests or knelt in solidarity, others, often in the same cities, have acted savagely, inciting or exacerbating violence.

Just a few weeks ago, the police demonstrated remarkable forbearance as heavily armed groups turned out in several state capitals to oppose coronavirus-related public heath measures. Now the police are demonstrating an equally remarkable intolerance to protests against their own behavior.

The police have imposed arbitrary limits on protests, creating excuses for confrontation. They have fired countless rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets into unarmed crowds, sometimes without warning. They have attacked with fists, truncheons, shields — and cars.

They have behaved as if determined to prevent peaceful protest by introducing violence.

In some of the most troubling attacks, police officers have singled out those who spoke up, wading into crowds of protesters and silencing the loudest voices.

In Charleston, S.C., a black man dropped to one knee and told the police, “All of you are my family.” The police arrested him.

In Kansas City, Mo., a black man shouted from a crowd of protesters, “If you ain’t got the balls to protect the streets and protect and serve like you were paid to do, turn in your damned badge.” The police arrested him.

In scores of incidents across the country, police officers also have deliberately attacked journalists reporting on the protests. Minneapolis police arrested a CNN crew on live television. Video captured Louisville police firing pepper bullets at a local TV crew. The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating the alleged assault of a Wall Street Journal reporter by the police. Protesters, for their part, have also targeted reporters, including a Fox News crew outside the White House.

In a brazen display of this administration’s disregard for the First Amendment, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General William Barr, ordered federal officers to clear a peaceful protest in front of the White House. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields to drive away protesters, journalists and priests standing on the private porch of St. John’s Church, all so Mr. Trump could pose for photos. The photo op managed to take aim at the freedom of assembly, speech and religion all at the same time.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration sent more troops into the streets of Washington. Armored vehicles patrolled downtown. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Soldiers trained for war in foreign countries stood on the corners of American streets, hands on guns.

Americans aren’t holding their breath for the president to change his incendiary behavior. But city leaders and governors have plenty of room to act in the meantime.

There are signs some leaders recognize the damage that has been done. In Richmond, Va., where the police gassed peaceful demonstrators on Monday evening, the mayor, Levar Stoney, apologized Tuesday and promised to join a march. The chief of police, William Smith, took a knee in a show of contrition and solidarity.

The governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, apologized to the CNN reporters arrested in Minneapolis, and then took a moment to dilate on the importance of a free press.

“The protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority, not because it is a nice thing to do, because it is a key component of how we fix this,” Mr. Walz said. “Sunshine, disinfectant and seeing what’s happening has to be done.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Walz ordered a civil rights investigation into the “systemic racism” of the Minneapolis Police Department. It is not enough, right now, for officials to focus on protecting private property. It is not enough even for them to think only of protecting life, though that is critical. They need to also protect the freedoms of assembly and expression, and then, like Mr. Walz, to hear what’s being said. That’s where the healing may begin.



Let rage turn into lasting change


June 1

As the nation reeled in the wake of George Floyd’s killing last week, we hoped this might be a moment of change.

But such change requires leadership. And hopes for that were dashed by President Donald Trump’s overtly provocative and political Rose Garden speech Monday evening, which he delivered even as he used military force to quell protests happening just outside the White House, apparently to clear the way for a meaningless photo-op with a Bible in front of a local church. Trump’s suggestion that he can deploy the military to states where governors aren’t doing what he wants was dangerous and ugly, and won’t serve to calm anyone who is scared, sad, or angry.

Nor are protests a form of “domestic terrorism,” as Trump labeled them. And pushing back on protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets is not the answer.

The violence from those seeking to exploit Floyd’s death for their own gains, drowning out the voices of legitimate protest we must hear, cannot continue. After unacceptable incidents in New York City, there was little choice but to enact a curfew to stop the criminal behavior. But neither can the behavior that killed Floyd be allowed to go on.

Even as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground for nearly nine minutes, our nation already was reeling. We’ve been worried for our health, our financial well-being, and our future. More than 104,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 42 million have lost their jobs — all of it amid a growing political and cultural divide that has torn the nation apart.

Then came Floyd’s death. Over and over, we watched Chauvin’s knee push down on Floyd’s neck, as three other officers did nothing to stop the fatal choking. It was only the latest case of police assaulting an unarmed black man but it lit on fire the systemic racism that has plagued this country for generations.

We must listen to Floyd’s brother, Terrence, who came to Minneapolis Monday to plead for peace and justice. His message, vastly different from Trump’s, must resonate, not only among protesters and all hoping for change, but also among elected officials and law enforcement leaders.

There are building blocks from the last several days. Instances of violence were far outnumbered by examples of peaceful demonstration and unity. Watching an NYPD SUV roll through a crowd of protesters was horrifying; uniformed officers taking a knee with demonstrators was inspiring. Condemnations of Chauvin from police chiefs around the country were welcome. Now protest leaders must set out a specific agenda for the changes they demand, and engage their fellow citizens in a sustained campaign to enact laws holding police accountable for acts of excessive force.



Will colleges cut education or leaders’ pay?

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

May 30

Many colleges, especially private ones that aren’t among the nation’s richest, have been in trouble in recent years, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is rocking their worlds.

Many schools partially refunded dormitory fees when they sent students home. A few have been sued because they didn’t partially refund tuition as well. The suits are based on the premise that online instruction is worth less than in-person teaching on campus.

That premise isn’t wrong. We have heard from a lot of professors and students about this, and while we can’t say how much online classes are worth compared to in-person ones — 60%, 70%, 80%? — it’s not the same.

Granted, there are some caveats: Online education is often more effective at the college level than for lower grades — elementary probably being the most difficult — because the students are more independent, mature and capable. The right instructor in the right type of college class can come pretty close to in-person quality. And yes, some students blossom in a remote setting.

But many students, professors and subjects lose even more than usual online — forestry, for instance, or nursing, or science classes that require lab work.

Bottom line: No one we know thinks colleges are going to be able to charge as much for online classes, long-term.

Add that to the fiscal hell many colleges are looking at. Many schools expect to reduce the number of students in dormitories, diminishing one of their sources of revenue. Also many incoming freshmen are considering taking gap years or semesters instead of missing out on many of the in-person experiences and classes they had looked forward to.

And with the economy in rough shape, more students will be looking to get more education value for their money. We suspect more people will be scrutinizing how colleges spend students’ tuition money.

As colleges cut spending — as they must — how they do that will separate the sheep from the goats. Every time they cut professors or programs, they are taking away reasons why students should go there. They reduce their own value. Instead, they could cut from luxuries they have accumulated in recent years, such as pay, staff and facilities for administration, as well as for sports.

It will be instructive to see how the lawsuits play out. One could make a strong argument against the students seeking tuition refunds if the college is truly short on funds, but what if the school has plenty of money and is just withholding it from the students who pay its bills?

Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy is one of the colleges being sued. Its president, Shirley Ann Jackson, gets paid some $5 million a year, according to the Times Union of Albany. She and other administrators agreed to a 5% pay cut, but that’s not very much in her case. Sure, that $250,000 could pay several professors’ salaries, but why not leave that amount for her and give the other 95% back to pay the school’s bills? Can’t she, with the millions she must have saved over the years, live for one lean year on $250,000 in order to save her school?

Instead, RPI opted not to renew the contracts of 200 employees, including nearly 60 full-time, non-tenured faculty members, according to the TU. That decision will give students less education for their money.

Also, the newspaper reports, RPI received $4.8 million in federal aid — at least half of which is required to go directly to students. Is it a worthy candidate for federal bailout?

We are sure RPI is an excellent school, but we are also sure the reason it is excellent lies in its academic faculty and programs, not in the fact that it pays its president so much.

The same can be said for other college employees who make massive sums — such as sports coaches. Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney makes $10 million a year, and University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes $8.8 million a year. Unlike a college president, they and their supporters can claim that their championship records bring more than their salary amounts back to their schools, in TV, clothing licensing and ticket sales. Also, if those schools don’t pay them that amount, some other school might.

But that doesn’t mean they need that much money. They could help their state colleges in this time of need by giving back most of their pay, easing the inevitable burden on taxpayers and students. If they do, they would be praised as good people as well as good coaches.

What they decide will say a lot about their character. And do people of poor character make good coaches?

We don’t know exactly how the college landscape will change as a result of this pandemic, but it seems logical that the changes will be dramatic. We hope the changes will have some justice — that they will lead to colleges using students’ money more for students benefit and not charging higher tuition than they need to meet those needs. But justice won’t happen if students, parents, lawmakers and employers just let things play out without paying attention.

We don’t see SUNY schools, such as North Country Community College, or small private colleges without much money, such as Paul Smith’s, as being part of the problem. We think schools like them that prioritize teaching so highly will be more desirable in the future as students assess value. If they make it through the first wave of the COVID-19 shakeup — and we certainly hope they do — they deserve to come out stronger on the other end.



Better Balance Needed Between Safety And Ability To Earn Living

The Post Journal

June 3

We hope the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to hear oral arguments in a case involving two Warren County businesses’ fight against Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closure order.

The businesses ask a question regarding gubernatorial power that deserves a national answer.

To quickly recap, the case was brought by five entities, including the Blueberry Hill Golf Club and the Caledonia Land Company of Clarendon, after Wolf ordered the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state Supreme Court sided in favor of the state and the business closures.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has denied an application for a stay of the order, it has yet to act on a Writ of Certiorari, or cert petition, the businesses also filed asking the nation’s highest court to hear the case. Four Pennsylvania counties have now filed an amicus curie, or friends of the court, brief supporting the Warren County businesses.

The counties argue that the actions of Wolf and Pensnylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine have “substantially restricted the rights of its citizens,” citing four specific amendments — the first, fourth, fifth and 14th.

“The governor decided by fiat what was life-sustaining and what was not life-sustaining,” the counties assert. “The governor offered no guidance relative to the proclamation, and did not see fit to submit such classification to the General Assembly for guidance and approval. What is more, the classifications imposed by the Governor are shocking when one considers the similarity of the business activity between some life-sustaining business activity and some non-life-sustaining business activity.”

The counties make an argument that sounds eerily familiar to those of pro-business groups across the country, including New York state. What are the limits of gubernatorial power when it comes to depriving business owners and their employees of their ability to earn a living? Should there be a better balance between safety and the ability to earn a living? Should legislative action be required rather than simply creating executive orders?

These questions should be answered nationally.



Our resilience can help us win the day

Utica Observer-Dispatch

June 2

The COVID-19 pandemic that had gripped the nation has certainly brought a lot of disappointment, misery and tragedy into our lives.

We struggle to find bright spots.

But enduring creatures that we are, we have managed to shine a little light through the dark clouds that surround us. Perseverance will help us win the day.

We’ve become more creative. Thanks to technology, many events have been presented that years ago would have had to have been canceled. There have been virtual graduations, worship services, college open houses and commencements, real estate showings, concerts, government meetings and much more.

Among the most creative accomplishments: Maintaining an education for our children. Teachers, administrators, parents and, of course, students were thrust into an unimaginable situation in mid-March when schools shut down. Teaching a classroom filled with rambunctious kids is tough enough in person, but one cannot imagine conducting class via computer. Where do you even begin?

They found a way. While there’s nothing like being there, teachers and their students – ideally, with parents as partners – brought the classroom into homes. While it’s true that many of us are doing our jobs from home, it’s not likely to compare to preparing lessons for a virtual classroom of kids scattered about in myriad situations.

If you see a teacher, thank them. Cheers, too, to the parents who helped weather this storm.

Another creative bright spot is our efforts to maintain celebrations. Birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and other special events might have fallen by the wayside were it not for ambitious family and friends who found a way to get it done.

Birthday parades have become fashionable. Residents of Little Falls, for instance, drove past the home of Stella Gamberdella on Hancock Street on May 17 to wish her a happy 100th birthday, which she celebrated on May 20. More than 100 cars passed by.

Such parades have become routine during the pandemic, and do a great deal to lift the spirits of both celebrant and celebrators.

Meanwhile, more than 80 members of Utican John Guba’s family gathered early last month for a videoconference to mark his 95th birthday. Guba, a World War II Marine Corps veteran who received two Purple Hearts, attended his party with his wife Gladys, 94, at his side. The couple has been married 75 years. They were joined by family spread across 35 different screens on a Zoom meeting.

And through it all, we’ve maintained a keen sense of humor.

In Yorkville, Cupcake and Chucky — the two Holsteins who help advertise Holland Farms Bakery & Deli on Oriskany Boulevard — did their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus by strapping on giant facemasks. Former co-owner Marolyn Wilson came up with the idea after seeing a similar idea online. The masking was done by Bridgeport resident Tomm Moll, who formerly lived in Utica but still does signage for Holland Farms as well as many Utica-area businesses.

Meanwhile, the statue of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer in Herkimer’s Myers Park sported a makeshift mask – perhaps a reminder that there should be no exceptions when it comes to protecting yourself in these trying times.

Through it all, we need to try to keep smiling. Even if nobody can see it through the mask.