Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Weakening FISA

Toledo Blade

June 8

It is often said that perfect is the enemy of the good. So while President Trump’s decision to strong-arm the House of Representatives into abandoning a bill to reauthorize key provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was motivated by his own political feuds, the whole country should be glad to see Congress move on from FISA.

FISA, originally enacted in 1978, has been routinely reauthorized and expanded by Congress, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Originally meant to surveil potential terrorists and criminals, the law has been used to justify expansive warrantless government surveillance programs, as well as an FBI investigation into then-candidate Mr. Trump’s campaign that he contends was unjust.

But, since three authorities of FISA expired in March, Congress has been unable to agree on how to re-up the law. The original move to reauthorize the bill was approved by the House in March, with a bipartisan group of 278 representatives voting in favor. The Senate also approved the reauthorization but an amendment from Sens. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Pat Leahy (D., Vt.), which added legal protections and review to the FISA court process, sent the bill back to the House.

It was at this point that Mr. Trump threatened that if the legislation were passed, he would use his veto power. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) called on the Democrats to pull the reauthorization bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did so, an acknowledgement that the bill did not have the votes necessary to pass, sending it back to committee.

Mr. Trump’s opposition to the FISA reauthorization is plainly self-centered. He feels wronged by how the law was used to surveil his campaign, and he now wants to defang the law so that it cannot happen again. But, in doing so, warrantless surveillance programs supported by FISA would be ended. This would be a sorely needed win for liberty and privacy, two values that laws like FISA have worked to erode over the past several decades.

Cynics are sure to take issue with Mr. Trump’s motivation for stamping out the FISA reauthorizations, but the country will ultimately be better for weakening this disastrous and dangerous law.



After 400 years, it is time to close the racial divide in America

Cleveland Plain Dealer

June 7

George Floyd, in his eight minutes and 46 seconds of agony as the knee of a Minneapolis police officer pressed the life from his body, crystallized for the rest of us the urgency of solving a seemingly unsolvable problem in America: How to close a racial divide that spans centuries and generations.

It’s a divide that most of us never think about, never speak about and even fail to understand in its full dimensions, but it is killing and otherwise grievously impacting people of color every eight minutes, 46 seconds -- and probably oftener.

Floyd’s death illustrates why we can no longer wait to act. As long as the system -- of justice in America, of health care in America, of opportunity in America -- appears rigged against any group of citizens based on the color of their skin, the poverty of their parents, the block where they live, we will continue to fail as a society.

Our police will continue to be an object of scorn and mistrust, even, as in Cleveland, when they are trying to change and slowly reforming. Our criminal justice system will continue to swallow up young black men at ever-younger ages. Our prisons will overflow.

Too many of the black moms among us will continue to feel the terrible stress, stress they probably imbibed from their mothers, about bringing a child of color into the world, worrying about the fate that might await him or her outside their doors. And do these moms even receive the same health care attention when they seek medical assistance? The evidence of stubbornly high black infant mortality rates is that they don’t.

And what does that possible implicit bias mean more broadly?

Is it the reason so many of the black dads among us have underlying medical problems, from diabetes to obesity to heart disease? Is it part of the reason why, all over America, black men and women are contracting COVID-19, and dying of it, at higher rates than white Americans?

And how can we have an honest conversation about race in America when we don’t even all start from a common basis of understanding about what that history is? It’s a history, shamefully, still not taught with honesty and comprehensiveness in our schools.

It’s not just the nearly 250 years of slavery in America, although it starts there. It’s the weight of discrimination and violence that followed “emancipation” and passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 - the lynchings, the Jim Crow laws, the segregation in northern cities like Cleveland, the generational poverty that’s “A Greater Cleveland” series exposed as so very, very tough to overcome.

And it’s also something more basic -- that black people are a minority in America. How do you speak your different perceptions and the terrible realities of your personal history to a society that glides along at a level of entitlement and privilege so far removed from your family’s experience?

Those are the challenges. These are the solutions, or at least the way to begin to work our way toward a solution:

(asterisk) Racism is a public health crisis. COVID-19 has made that more evident than ever -- as acknowledged last week by Cleveland City Council and recently by the Franklin County commissioners. As our editorial board wrote Friday, that recognition needs to cascade into urgent corrective action.

(asterisk) “Systemic racism” holds us back - as acknowledged last week by Lorain County commissioners, who called for more efforts to highlight a divide that can result in a range of racial insensitivities.

(asterisk) Police reform is critical but slow, as Cleveland’s experience shows via its long-term but far-reaching efforts to change under a 2015 federal consent decree on police use of force. Altering how the police interact with the public, emphasizing community engagement, making police accountable at all levels will gradually change the internal culture. But transparency and continuing oversight remain critical.

(asterisk) Major efforts to reduce inequities must happen in parallel with police reform. There is no substitute for improved access to quality education and college and to safe, affordable housing. The arrival of “Say Yes” college scholarships in Cleveland, following years of education reform, must be nurtured, but much more is required, especially in these pandemic-strained times.

(asterisk) And no progress is possible without major reforms to our criminal justice system, to end the warehousing of young black men in prison. In Ohio, that needs to start with broad bail reform, and passage of Senate Bill 3, making most minor drug crimes misdemeanors that don’t burden addicts with a prison record.

Is any of this easy? No way. It’s all hard. And it’s all linked. That’s why it will take a major leap of faith, imagination and dedication to make it happen. But it must happen. And we must start today.



There’s no turning back on police reforms

Akron Beacon Journal

June 6

It could have been a defining moment for Akron. One poorly timed but well-aimed projectile could produce chaos. The right message from a speaker holding a bullhorn amid a massive protest could soothe rightly angry souls.

The speaker, Akron Police Chief Kenneth Ball, stood before a large throng cordoned away from the Stubbs Justice Center on May 30, while flanked by officers in riot gear. More officers guarded the police headquarters behind him.

The crowd had swelled as a long and peaceful march across the city drew more and more people demanding change in how police officers treat minorities. The death of George Floyd, an African-American man, with a Minneapolis officer’s knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes had unleashed years of frustration with police brutality and institutional racism. The crowd demanded to speak with an officer.

Conceding that he had no “magic words” to make them feel better about Floyd’s death, Ball pledged his officers would do everything they could to allow protesters to safely exercise their First Amendment rights. He also admitted some Akron police officers make mistakes, promising his department will admit when it’s wrong and is willing to listen to concerns.

Video shows many in the diverse crowd were appreciative of Ball’s words but far from satisfied. The moment did not duplicate scenes across America where officers knelt with protesters or dropped their body armor and joined marches, immediately diffusing situations. Nor did tensions escalate until hours later.

In Akron and elsewhere, it’s clear that police who allowed protesters to speak their peace and sought to deescalate tensions did the best job of protecting their communities. When police showed up in riot gear, unfortunate events followed.

There’s a great lesson in that reality.

Before we comment further, we want one point to be clear. We appreciate the dangerous work police officers undertake every day, not knowing if their next call will be the one where a surprise gunman fires on them. Too many officers lose their lives in this country every year.

We also support proper policing of our communities and reject the ludicrous notion of “defunding police” as some liberal activists have suggested. Such foolishness hurts the righteous call of many for police to fundamentally change how officers approach minorities and the proper use of force only when necessary.

Thanks to cameras nearly every citizen now carries, we’ve finally begun to understand the level of police misconduct in our society. It’s always been there, but far too often most citizens and the media accepted the official recounting of events from police officers, who, at times, falsified their reports to superiors. In too many departments, it’s more than one or two bad officers.

The playing field between police and citizens has been leveled forever by this technology, including officer body cameras, which protect police and citizens with accurate information.

There are many worthwhile ideas for reforming police departments and ensuring proper oversight by the citizens they serve. Better training to help officers to intervene against their colleagues could pay real dividends. It’s also clear our society needs to close the significant gap in training between large, professional departments and small-town forces.

It’s time for Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry and their fellow leaders in towns large and small across the region to immediately convene public hearings and study successful police reforms. We also call on police unions to embrace this opportunity to improve policing by openly considering reforms that will improve public confidence in their work.

There’s no turning back. Citizens — not just protesters — clearly expect significant change.

George Floyd’s senseless and avoidable death won’t be forgotten.



Riot charges, but no riot?

Sandusky Register

June 8

If ever there were a police department prone to abusing the public and sidelining the law it is the Put-in-Bay police. We’ve seen it in the past, many times, too many times. It’s too soon to know, however, if what happened in the village Saturday night is another case of police abuse, a case of protest or riot, or something in between.

But what we already know about this police department gives credence to the initial information we’ve received from family members that their loved ones were not out of line and should not have been handcuffed, arrested or jailed. The five men arrested were not at Put-in-Bay to protest and they were certainly not there to riot, family members said.

The mother of one of the men told the Register her son and his friends went to the island to enjoy themselves like everyone else.

“They’ve been there plenty of times and nothing like this ever happened,” she said.

We support police and we support good leadership in our local police departments. We can say confidently that our local police leaders, by and large, are strong leaders who understand the challenges they face. They did not invent racism, they do not promote or tolerate racism and they work to expose any systematic biases that exist in their departments.

Law enforcement agencies have evolved in the last decades, but systematic and implicit biases in police departments are something that still exists. Racism is a foundation of the nation. Police agencies didn’t employ blacks for many years since the first African American hires happened, in the 1960s, or thereabouts, and progress has been slow.

For whites that’s not been a pressing problem in their neighborhoods. But for black people it’s been a weapon of subjugation, obedience and punishment. The criminal justice system to this day is harshly punitive and unfair toward people of color.

The island police department is a special case, however, with unique challenges. For about seven months of the year all that’s needed is an officer, or two. There are fewer than 200 full-time residents on the island. But from May until October it’s a party island, attracting thousands of visitors daily, and needs a strong, well-trained force. The Put-in-Bay police department has not been a well-trained force, and for too many years and in too many instance some island police officers have failed to meet an acceptable standard of professionalism.

We hope the police department has evolved from it worst years, which happened not long ago. Video footage from the body cameras should show what happened Saturday night and should work to justify the arrests if these arrests are justifiable. The men arrested, their families and the public will know more when Chief Steve Riddle releases that body cam video.



Civilian oversight can help police, community trust each other

The Columbus Dispatch

June 7

In February, when a community review board said Columbus police should be subject to civilian oversight, The Dispatch endorsed the idea but cautioned patience, acknowledging that it would take time to successfully traverse this “delicate territory.”

It should be apparent to all now that the timetable must be more aggressive.

We acknowledge what many people reading this may be thinking: That should have been apparent years ago. Yes, and the events of the past two weeks have made clear that the patience of black and other minority communities that have been disrespected, brutalized and killed with impunity for centuries is exhausted. And the patience of all people of good will to tolerate it should be gone, too.

We welcome Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s and the City Council’s official call on Monday for creation of such a panel. It’s easy to say that in the fervor of this extraordinary moment, after days of street demonstrations have heated the issue to a fever pitch. We encourage Ginther, whose bumpy relationship with the Fraternal Order of Police has been a political headache for him, to stay on what probably will be a difficult course.

Establishing a review board will require agreement of the police union, the FOP. The current contract expires in December, but we hope union leadership is ready to start talking now about how to make this happen.

None of this is to paint the Columbus Division of Police or officers in general as villains — they’re not. They’re expected to do an immensely difficult, stressful and dangerous job that, in the toughest situations, requires wisdom and restraint beyond the capacity of most people.

This nationwide convulsion of anger is about the fact that some law-enforcement officers apparently lack the training or temperament to meet society’s high expectations — and that there seem to be too few consequences when they fall far short.

Bad cops — those who are unethical or whose biases leave them with no empathy for the people they serve — are a small fraction. But the damage inflicted by that fraction is enormous, and when it goes without punishment, the anger that we are witnessing in the wake of George Floyd’s death grows.

That’s where civilian oversight comes in. The traditional avenue for investigating police misconduct — an internal affairs process conducted by police officers — has been undermined too often by a culture of officers protecting each other. That culture of closing ranks is legendary among police and it’s understandable, given the unique stress of the profession. It’s also why expecting cops to hold each other strictly accountable may be asking too much.

No one should think that setting up a civilian review board for police will be simple. It isn’t unreasonable for police officers to fear that a commission could be stocked with activists who have an ingrained hostility toward law enforcement or with people too naïve to understand that dealing with impaired, violent and enraged people sometimes requires police to use physical force that would be unacceptable in any other job.

Discussions about how a civilian review panel might work should involve a broad cross-section of those who have been critical of police as well as police and academic experts in law enforcement. The grievances of those who have been involved locally should be thoroughly considered.

When the time comes to choose people to serve on a commission, however, it might be best to turn to volunteers who come to the table with fresh eyes. With robust training and preparation for the task, truly neutral evaluators are most likely to produce fair outcomes that will be credible to the public.

Unfortunately, the week-plus of protests in Columbus have reinforced the need for police accountability. Numerous reports describe, and videos seem to show, officers using pepper spray on people who are on the ground or fleeing. Images of three of Columbus’ most prominent black residents — U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, City Council President Shannon Hardin and Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce — being sprayed by local police made national news.

It’s important to stress that social media posts and videos can be misleading, intentionally or unintentionally. Especially troubling, though, was the interaction between police officers and three journalists for The Lantern, Ohio State University’s student newspaper. Journalists are exempt from the city-imposed curfew, but officers ordered them to leave anyway.

The students, all wearing Lantern hats and sweatshirts, showed officers their press credentials and stood their ground. Police hit them with pepper spray for their trouble. As they turned and ran away, one of the student journalists says, they were sprayed again from behind.

During a Tuesday news conference, Police Chief Thomas Quinlan’s take on police/protester conflicts was problematic: “We ask the public to have some patience and please comply. ... Please don’t stand there and argue; move along and comply and we’ll fix this after.”

Of course, people should comply with a police officer’s lawful orders. But those officers’ disregard for the Lantern journalists — one can be heard on video saying “I don’t care” after they identified themselves — throws into doubt their willingness to respect any rules.

Sorry, Chief, but if journalists are blocked from doing their jobs when an event is happening — or worse, injured by police while doing their jobs, as has happened in some instances — there is no “fix this after.”

No one should ignore the fact that, in some instances, some in the crowd were pelting police with water bottles and even rocks. Many officers were working 12-hour shifts and more. Some lost their cool, but many were consummate professionals. Nana Watson, president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, was impressed by the restraint she witnessed during the first day of protests, telling a Dispatch reporter, “Watching those officers stand there like tin soldiers as people stoned them — I won’t soon forget that image.”

Special credit should go to Jennifer Knight, an acting deputy chief, who already is improving the police division’s community relations as head of the Police and Community Together unit, formed to replace the scandal-ridden vice unit and focus instead on stopping human trafficking. Knight further showed her commitment on Monday by walking into the crowd of protesters at Broad and High streets — in ordinary uniform, no protective riot gear — to declare, “Change starts right here. We have a conversation.”

Knight added, “Nobody likes a dirty cop.”

She’s right, and that’s why a properly run civilian review commission is so important: so the good cops and good people of Columbus can rely on each other for protection.