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

New York Legislature’s very mixed bag of policing reforms

New York Post

In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop, New York state legislative leaders rushed to pass a host of police-reform measures, with no rhyme or reason.

One bill is awful: It creates a right to sue if you think you’ve been racially profiled — a huge gift to ambulance-chasing lawyers.

A couple are fine: Criminalizing the use of chokeholds may be unnecessary — the NYPD already bans them, after all. But it sends the right signal if New York law enforcement is to have the support and cooperation of all the communities it serves.

And at long last there’s the repeal of the 50-a law, which treats individual officers’ discipline records as top secret. For far too long, this has made it near-impossible for the public and press to identify bad cops.

But the rest of the package is, at best, smoke and mirrors.

The Police Statistics and Transparency Act, for one, mandates statewide collection and reporting of policing data “to promote transparency and evaluate the effectiveness of existing criminal-justice policies.” More paperwork won’t solve any problems of police misconduct — nor remotely placate the nightly marchers.

Another bill requires police departments to “promptly report the discharge of a firearm.” Don’t they anyway?

The State Police were already moving to require body cameras for all troopers, so a law requiring it was unnecessary. And formally banning cops from interfering with citizens recording videos creates no new rights.

The silliest may be the “Amy Cooper law,” criminalizing the false reporting and biased misuse of 911 for “complaints fueled by racial or ethnically motivated fear”: 911 abuse was already illegal; this is just pandering to social-media hysteria.

Lawmakers need to avoid rolling over to cop unions with laws like 50-a, but beyond that it’s a matter for the mayors and other electeds who actually control police departments.

The fact of the matter is that truly improving policing is an executive mission, not a legislative one: It’s about training, management and changing the culture — and nothing can make it happen overnight.



Our nation deserves better


June 9

George Floyd and his family were owed a memorial to his full but tragically shortened life. Tuesday was a day of preaching and singing, praising and remembering.

He was always more than a man who was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police, even before his death reignited a national movement. He was a college athlete and father, a tall and gentle man who’d had interactions with the law but tried to move beyond them, a man who embraced his church and whose beloved mother’s name was reportedly tattooed on his body. These were the kinds of memories being celebrated on Tuesday in Houston and around the country.

But President Donald Trump’s mind was apparently elsewhere.

Tuesday morning he tweeted a wild conspiracy theory about the 75-year-old Buffalo protester who was shoved by an elite police unit last week and had his head cracked open.

Martin Gugino, who spent a lifetime protesting injustice and demanding peace, had gone out to protest Floyd’s death. Two men, one black and one white, connected by brutal policing. Gugino spent days in the hospital because of his injury — he told a reporter Tuesday he was “Just out of the ICU” — which officers noticed but ignored as he lay motionless on his back, blood pooling around his head. Two officers involved were charged with assault. The same kind of sickening video led Tuesday to a New York City police officer being charged after he viciously knocked a young woman to the ground at a Brooklyn protest.

But Trump told his 82 million Twitter followers Tuesday morning that Gugino “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.”

He speculated that the senior citizen was “appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment,” a zany charge that appeared on a blog called “The Conservative Tree House” that suggests without real evidence that Gugino “was attempting to capture the radio communications signature of Buffalo police officers.” Trump cited in his message One America News Network, which spread the conspiracy.

Pick which part of Trump’s tweet is most infuriating.

The fact that the leader of the free world whose intelligence community consists of 17 agencies gets his information from a baloney blog and bad TV outlet?

Or the way that Trump says he reacted upon seeing the bloody video of Gugino — “I watched, he fell harder than was pushed” — a desperate attempt to clear the police he relies on for his law-and-order politics?

Or the reality that this ugly nonsense is what occupied the president’s mind on the day George Floyd was buried?

Floyd deserves better. He deserves a president who would try to heal the nation, not fan the flames of conspiracy. He deserves decades more to live, not a spot next to his deceased mother in an early Texas grave. He deserved better than he got, from life during his hard years on earth and from the president after death. America does, too.



OCC’s clumsy attempt at secrecy should be a warning to all public servants

Syracuse Post-Standard

June 7

Onondaga Community College last week had to reveal something they didn’t want you to know: The college paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit by former men’s basketball coach Dave Pasiak.

It marked the end of a sad episode of pig-headed government secrecy, failed leadership and judicial pokiness that should bother you as much as it bothers us.

A recap: Pasiak contended he was fired in 2015 because he wouldn’t go along with the OCC administration’s demand for a 30-percent quota for minorities on the team. In one meeting before he was canned, the top administrators asked about one minority player who was cut in 2013 and 2014, Pasiak alleged.

The coach sued in federal court; the sides settled in September 2017.

OCC locked up Pasiak with an agreement to keep silent. At the college’s request, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks supplied a court order keeping the settlement private.

So, when those with oversight of OCC hid from their responsibility, and The Post-Standard took the college to court.

We argued that under law two parties cannot agree to disregard the state Freedom of Information Law and arrange to have a judge sanction it. We’re grateful for our subscribers, who make it possible to defend the public’s rights.

Almost 32 months after the settlement, Dancks agreed with our argument and ordered the college to release to the public the financial settlement.

OCC President Kathleen “Casey” Crabill comes off badly in the fiasco. It should have been a self-evident matter of law and propriety to her and her advisers: The public’s business should be public.

In the classrooms outside her office, professors prepare lawyers and journalists, and they teach civics. She ignored the principles of those disciplines and fought the disclosure. It wasted years, taxpayer resources and, we might add, a pretty good chunk of our money. It was frustrating to be paying for both our lawyers and theirs.

Still, this isn’t some media grievance. The right to know belongs to you.

This kind of judicially backed secrecy is a growing problem. Here in Syracuse last year, State Supreme Court Justice Greg Gilbert sealed from the public the records on an Onondaga County jail death blamed on jailers and their medical staff.

We commend to you a Reuters project that details how judges were complicit with pharmaceutical companies to hide from the public — and future litigants — the dangers of opioids.

When you go to court, you invite a reasonable public disclosure. It’s not private mediation. One case provides a foundation for the next, and over time the truth emerges. When the tobacco companies could no longer conceal documents filed in lawsuits over decades, it helped to finally hold cigarette makers accountable.

The problem requires action by the state legislature, the New York Bar Association, and the state and federal judicial leadership. Judges should be prohibited generally from sealing information involving public resources and public issues, and the continuing education of judges should reinforce this mindset.

But it can start now with judges who understand that, at its highest aspiration, their job isn’t to move the calendar. When deals are cut, as they must be, in private conference rooms, there must be someone there looking out for all of us. It’s the person paid by taxpayers and sometimes elected by them.

The public servants, such as Crabill, must learn this lesson, too. If you want to keep things private, go to work for a private company.

But if you’re working in a public office, your bosses are the people. They would like you to please let them know what you’re up to.



Progress is real, work remains for racial justice in Cayuga County

The Auburn Citizen

June 7

If you watched nightly cable news shows over the past 10 days, it would be easy to believe the issues involved in protests erupting throughout the country are far from Auburn and Cayuga County.

The scenes of police in large cities clashing with protestors, sometimes with frightening violence, contrasted with what we witnessed in Auburn. In this city — the one racial justice pioneer Harriet Tubman made her home for much of her adult life — two protests held in the past week brought together hundreds of people of all races and ages with the support of local law enforcement.

People gave impassioned speeches about the state of institutional racism and police brutality, they marched through the streets chanting “black lives matter” and held signs with poignant messages. For a community that has had its share of racial problems throughout its long history, these were moments that made many Auburn and Cayuga County leaders and residents proud.

State Assemblyman Gary Finch expressed things well with his statement, one of several that local law enforcement, education, nonprofit and elected leaders put out in the past week. “I’m proud to live in a community with principled, active advocates and dynamic leaders in law enforcement who are showing that it’s possible to come together if you’re willing to do the work,” Finch said. “The work is called citizenship.”

The key word in Finch’s observation is “work.” And make no mistake that the spirit of understanding, support and unity on display at Auburn’s rallies did not just magically appear. Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler and Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck have been working diligently with people of color in this community to address longstanding concerns. A series of community forums called “Connecting Bridges” last fall brought people together for respectful but honest conversations. That program was an offshoot of a collaboration between local public safety agencies and the Harriet Tubman Center for Justice & Peace to look at how to recruit and hire more people of color in local police and firefighting positions. Community night out programs and “Coffee with a Cop” have been held multiple times in recent years.

So work has been happening, for sure. And that’s part of why Auburn’s rallies were so peaceful and so collaborative.

But having said all of that, Auburn and Cayuga County must not rest. All one had to do was hear some of the stories that people of color shared at the events about troubling experiences they’ve had in their hometowns.

We agree wholeheartedly with those who have said that the Auburn/Cayuga County area has been a model for how communities can use their First Amendment rights to protest and demand systemic change. Let’s continue to be that model in the days, weeks and months ahead.



Send a strong message Saturday

Plattsburgh Press-Republican

June 4

Remember in 2005 when thousands of area residents turned up for the “Stop Hate” rally in Plattsburgh?

Let’s do it again on Saturday.

That’s when a “No Justice, No Peace, Walk for Change” rally is planned for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Trinity Park in Plattsburgh.

It will have to be a little different this time, coming, as it does, in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic. But the message is so crucially important that we encourage people to show up and hope the city will close nearby streets so everyone can spread out and social distance as much as possible.

No one should attend Saturday without a mask. Health officials in other areas that have held rallies encourage more signs, noisemakers, clapping and speeches and less chanting and shouting.

This rally will look different from the one that drew thousands of people to downtown Plattsburgh to oppose what turned out to be a small protest by the vitriolic Westboro Baptist Church. But the message is the same: Hate is wrong. Love - of everyone - is the only true path forward.

Back then, the North Country demonstrated its opposition to the homophobic message promoted by the Westboro publicity-seekers, who were reacting to Plattsburgh having elected an openly gay mayor, Daniel Stewart.

It was a landmark moment in North Country history because the turnout was so overwhelming and the anti-hate message was displayed so prominently.

Area churches and synagogues got involved then, and we urge them to do so again this Saturday. It is a perfect time, as faith services are limited, to devote effort toward organizing a response to racism, which is a type of hate.

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form,” Pope Francis tweeted Wednesday. “At the same time, we have to recognize that violence is self-destructive and self-defeating.”

We are confident that Plattsburgh won’t see the vandalism, violence and looting that urban cities have experienced and that Plattsburgh City Police and New York State Police, if they are also involved, will exercise patience, restraint and even solidarity as they oversee the public’s right to express opinions.

Peaceful rallies, with hundreds in attendance, have already been held in Saranac Lake, Potsdam and Watertown. Let’s make the one in Plattsburgh an event that children can attend and witness the example set by adults.

(As an aside, we want to address the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” Some people see an invisible, unintended “Only” in front of that. Those people are misinterpreting the meaning, and they sometimes instead push for “All Lives Matter.” Instead, mentally add the word “too” after “Black Lives Matter.” And proudly carry those #BLM signs.)

Everyone knows that racism exists in the North Country. We have heard racist comments and seen those few who insist on brandishing confederate flags even though it is widely known that they represent racism.

It isn’t enough be silently enraged by those people, the systemic racial inequality in America and the horrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Let’s decry racism publicly and push for change that will bring equality and justice.

Saturday’s rally is the perfect place to get started - to show, once again, that in the North Country, we reject hate.