Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Akron must get community policing right this time

Akron Beacon Journal

June 20

The Akron Police Department still has a chance to get community policing right.

As cities across the country grapple with how to best address the disparate treatment of Black citizens in the wake of massive public protests set off by the senseless and brutal death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, we stress how important it is that the department succeed.

Although the concept of community policing is not new, with roots dating back to the 19th century, it was not widely practiced in the United States until the late 1960s and 1970s, when it evolved in response to issues raised during the civil rights movement.

The idea is as easy to understand as it has been difficult to successfully implement: Build trust and cooperation by having officers spend more time in communities, interacting with residents while “walking a beat.”

And Akron has tried to do just that, first with a “community relations” unit in the 1960s and then with “community policing” in the early 1990s. Neither attempt was a success.

Former Mayor Don Plusquellic, who pushed a successful ballot issue in 1991 to hire more officers and deploy them in communities, said he could never get the police department to buy in.

“APD gave less than a half-hearted attempt to appease me by calling four officers ‘community policing officers’ and sent them to community meetings,” he said. “But every officer needed to accept that they needed to be part of the community and build bridges by building relationships with the tens of thousands of good-hearted citizens who live in all of our neighborhoods instead of acting like an ‘occupying force.’”

Akron Police Chief Ken Ball said that is not an issue today.

“It has to be a mentality, it has to be part of the personality of your organization that officers feel and know they are not in the community, they are part of the community,” he said. “I think our people do a good job for that.”

But the fact Akron’s Black leaders insist that’s not the case suggests Ball has more work to do. To effect the change in policing the community is demanding, Ball must help foster a culture in his department that can deliver it.

The goal here is not to assign blame. Police work is dangerous. It is stressful. Most of us are simply not cut out for it. The protests that became violent in many U.S. cities remained largely peaceful here, and that was in no small part because of the smart approach employed by Akron police.

But each of us has a stake in making sure policing is done properly, that it serves the needs of all of Akron’s citizens. Clearly that currently is not the case.

Of course, Akron is not alone in that. The fragile communal bonds required for a functioning society are fraying all around the country, and it seems we have reached a tipping point on police violence against minorities, for so long a shameful feature of American life.

“Governments are instituted among men,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The many Americans who have taken to the streets to protest police violence are letting it be known they do not consent to it. Just like Akron’s Black leaders, they are demanding change.

It’s long overdue.



Planting seeds for food needs, clawbacks and bug attacks

Columbus Dispatch

June 22

Naturalization ceremonies are no doubt always a joy to the new Americans for whom the rite is required to legally transform from immigrant or refugee to citizen. But amidst the global coronavirus pandemic and protests over systemic racism, learning that 800-plus new citizens were welcomed last week over three days is a much-needed reminder that being an American is still a treasured right.

Creepy shades of George Orwell color the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s recent demands that Plain Dealer and reporters turn over photos and recordings of “potential criminal activity” from May 30 riots in downtown Cleveland. Turning journalists into agents of law enforcement is a 180-degree departure, and just as bad, as other jurisdictions, including Columbus police, that tried to deny some news media their right to cover protests.

We can’t help but itch just thinking about the prospect of GMO mosquitos being unleashed in Florida and Texas by the EPA to seek to eventually eradicate a disease-bearing variety of the bitey bugs. Environmental groups in Florida are fighting for more information from the company proposing to create and release the genetically modified blood-suckers.

It would be bad enough news that the coronavirus pandemic has hurt fundraising, volunteer ranks and donations at Ohio food banks. It’s worse that the need is much greater due to unemployment and other pandemic-related economic pressures. A new Census Household Pulse Survey finds food insecurity in Ohio —measured by people skipping meals or being uncertain if they can feed their families — has jumped from 14% earlier this year to 23%.

As demand on food pantries grows, so too will fresh produce planted last week by people who know how to nurture it to harvest: volunteer gardeners who work at ScottsMiracle-Gro in Marysville. Many employees have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic but about 50 showed up to continue a tradition of planting Associate Gardens to supply the Marysville Food Pantry with tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, broccoli, potatoes and more.

Kudos to state regulators for going after GM for a full refund of $60 million in tax subsidies granted in 2009 for promised expansion of the Lordstown auto plant — even if they’ve been mum about the effort. GM closed the plant and sold to a company planning to build electric-powered pickups; GM also is planning to build and run an electric-vehicle battery plant next door. The ProPublica Local Reporting Network with the Business Journal in Youngstown revealed the proposed clawback, which could help build pressure to see it through.

The state might be able to avoid throwing more tax dollars away on a questionable cracker plant that JobsOhio, Ohio’s economic development nonprofit, has been wooing a Thailand and South Korea partnership to build along the Ohio River in Belmont County. The state has already invested $70 million to lure the petrochemical plant whose fruition is in doubt along with the future of plastics manufacturing. Pulling the plug might be more prudent than seeking another clawback on a yet-to-be-built facility.



Twitter’s experiment

Toledo Blade

June 21

From civic life to attention spans, social media has had a toxic effect on many facets of our society. But Twitter, one of the chief offenders, is experimenting with a new tool that could restore some thoughtfulness to digital debate and conversation.

The company announced recently it will begin asking users (just on Android devices, for now) to actually open a link and read an article before mindlessly resharing it on their Twitter feed.

The experiment is modest in scope. It will only apply to links from news publishers, and Twitter can only tell if a user opened the link through its platform. If someone read a story on a Web browser and later retweeted the link on Twitter, the prompt would still appear.

But Twitter’s efforts are addressing a disturbing trend. Research has repeatedly shown the majority of social media users do not read the articles they share. A 2016 study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute found that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.

What’s more, the study found blind retweets actually have a powerful effect on shaping political and cultural agendas.

“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” said Arnaud Legout, a co-author of the study, at the time of its release. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

This phenomenon also affects the quality of what news outlets and other online platforms put out. Headlines and images meant to evoke an emotional response are more likely to be shared, as people use them to craft a digital identity. This has tipped the scales in favor of social-media engagement rather than sound journalism.

There are concerns about Twitter’s approach to these issues. Some fear that its system will deanonymize users and track them across the Web, including confidential interactions between journalists and sources.

These are concerns that must be addressed by Twitter.

But the company must also be commended for leading the charge to unwind a problem it created.

The world has been made dumber by social media. Any effort to make us more thoughtful in what we read, share, write, and say is a step in the right direction.



Reimagining downtown

Sandusky Register

June 18

For many Sanduskians, the downtown district is where they first shopped in a department store, rode an escalator or pushed the buttons for a different floor on an elevator.

It’s also there where many saw their first movie, play or concert, at the Ohio Theatre on Market Street; or maybe the Star Theater on Columbus Avenue, where Mr. Smith’s Coffee House is today; or in the theater across the street, the one so damaged by a windstorm June 10. We just don’t know what to say about that just yet.

We’re part of downtown, in the Register building, which was built a century ago and known originally as the Star Journal Building, at the southwest corner of Jackson and Market streets.

The day of the storm was slated as demolition day for another downtown iconic structure, the Cooke Building, but the wrecking ball was kept idle due to high winds. The irony of that is not lost: One building past its prime and deteriorated scheduled to come down is preserved for just another day, while another one — pristine, cherished and so unifying for a community — gets ripped from the skyline by a force of nature.

That’s simply an observation within an observation, which is this: The year 2020 has been unlike any other in our lifetimes, with the pandemic and the shutdown that made downtown a lonely place after 15 years of resurgence, with new businesses opening and thriving.

As we reopen, even in this tentative way, the future of the downtown district is at a crossroads, and our businesses will need the support of locals returning for the food and safe company.

The Cooke Building has been razed, and the Sandusky State Theatre has a groundswell of support for being rebuilt and resurrected, perhaps bigger and better with an anchor on its incredible vaudeville beginnings, history and heritage and some modernization and updates as reconstruction happens.

The structural presence of the downtown district — along its central corridor, the last block of Columbus Avenue to Water Street — has been altered greatly by this chain of events, perhaps as much as it ever was. But there’s still so much promise for prosperity.

This might be the time and the opportunity for city planners and investors to re-think the traffic pattern along that last block of Columbus Avenue and consider whether a walkway outdoor mall and dining area is better suited to the future than a roadway. We hope there can be a discussion about that and a continuing conversation about other buildings and other projects the city, the county, the state and the public can have that will serve the continuing redevelopment and resurrection of downtown Sandusky.



Transparency needed with relief funds

The Warren Tribune Chronicle

June 22

American taxpayers should not be handing out hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to businesses without having at least some idea of where our money is going.

That seems obvious.

However, demanding such transparency puts the U.S. Treasury Department — and some of the businesses being assisted — in a tough position.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress recently that recipients of about $600 billion in coronavirus relief funds will not be disclosed publicly. “We believe that that’s proprietary information and, in many cases for sole proprietors and small businesses, is confidential information,” Mnuchin told members of the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee.

That drew fire from many lawmakers, including both Republicans and Democrats. Small business panel Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Congress will “ensure there is adequate transparency without compromising borrowers’ proprietary information.”

“Hiding recipients of federal funds is unacceptable and must end,” said U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Mnuchin is right, however. Disclosing that a business required federal aid and how much was obtained could be very valuable to the firm’s competitors. Even the opposite, learning that a company was secure enough it did not have to seek help, could give competitors an advantage.

Still, the larger and more hastily implemented the federal program, the more likelihood there is of improprieties. Six hundred billion dollars handed out in just a few weeks certainly would seem to fit the category.

So some transparency is essential. It is up to Congress and Mnuchin to work out some way of making that happen.