Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angles Times on the crack epidemic in the 1980s, harsh prison sentences disproportionately against black men and the lasting effect in black neighborhoods:
What if the nation had met the crack epidemic of the 1980s with healthcare rather than with police and prison? How much more prepared might we have been today for a deadly viral pandemic, and how much more resilient in the aftermath, had we built out a public health infrastructure with treatment clinics, housing and other resources and supports aimed at restoring the health of American neighborhoods?
What if we had recruited, trained and adequately paid a generation of clinicians, physicians, nurses, researchers, peer counselors and educators to deal with the drug crisis instead of buying tanks and armored cars for police and sending them into neighborhoods suffering the physical and social consequences of cheap crack cocaine?
The 1980s were our fork in the road. The path we chose led directly to the nation we now inhabit, overwhelmed by serious illness, fear, anger, mutual mistrust and a level of inequity and incompetence that mocks our self-image as Americans.
To know what to do now, it’s essential to remember what we didn’t do then.
Smokable cocaine “rocks” first appeared on the streets of American cities in 1981. Cheaper than powder cocaine and highly profitable for suppliers and dealers, the drug was associated with an alarming increase in hospital emergency room visits. Nevertheless, the early governmental response was neglect.
As the ’80s wore on, though, rock cocaine became known as “crack,” and it wormed its way into the popular imagination as a fearful substance that threatened to destroy the nation. The anti-crack frenzy preceded the real epidemic, which took off in the middle of the decade when Congress made penalties for possessing the substance 100 times greater than for similar amounts of powder cocaine. The rationale was specious: that crack was more addictive, an assertion that subsequent studies demonstrated to be untrue. Crack possession may have been targeted because it was associated in the public mind with African American users, and powder with well-to-do whites. The race-tinged national panic over crack reshaped and reinvigorated the “war on drugs” that President Nixon declared in 1969.
Two companion public health disasters followed in quick succession. The first was violent crime, as crack profits lured street entrepreneurs and gangs. Competition became deadly. The murder rate for young Black men doubled.
The second was the law enforcement response and what later became widely known as mass incarceration. Black communities that for decades had suffered from official neglect suddenly saw astounding investment of public resources — in the form of violent policing.
In Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates ratcheted up the force, deploying armored cars to break down so-called crack houses and conducting massive weekend raids that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of young Black men, whose cars were impounded and often ransacked by the time they were released from jail — without charges — on Monday morning.
Black men who were indeed charged were typically sentenced under new crime laws carrying shockingly stiff mandatory prison terms.
Health officials consider waves of murder, male depopulation of communities and racism to be public health crises equal to drug or viral epidemics. Health is intimately tied to social and economic opportunity, the quality of our schooling, the safety of our workplaces, the cleanliness of our air and the readiness of family, friends, neighbors, peers, parishioners and officials to render aid when any of us is in crisis.
The disparity in the quality of those social determinants of health is readily identifiable on maps that display life expectancy by ZIP Code. In some parts of Los Angeles, a stretch of three miles means a difference of 13 years in average lifespan.
Instead of fixing that disparity, the police-and-prisons response exacerbated it.
When the savage beating of Black motorist Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1991 was caught on videotape, African Americans in Los Angeles were hopeful that the rest of us would finally see what they had been suffering through the crack epidemic and the violence and harassment that ensued, and would finally do something about it. Instead, a year later, the officers were acquitted. The angry outburst that followed was a reaction not just to the King beating and LAPD impunity, but to a decade’s worth of serious health and social needs being answered with law enforcement “solutions.”
The crack epidemic was an opportunity lost. The legacy of the 1980s could have been a service infrastructure that provides people in crisis a place to go for care and a set of enforceable health quality standards.
But instead we built and packed prisons. Now, 28 years later, those institutions have become the nation’s leading centers of novel coronavirus infection.
The disease has so far sickened nearly 2 million people in the U.S. and killed well over 100,000, with the death toll being much higher in communities of color, including Black neighborhoods — predictably so, considering those maps that measure and depict community health and resilience.
The May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, like the beating of Rodney King, represented more than just a shocking example of police violence. The killing and the angry and sometimes violent protests that followed sum up yet another generation of failed policy and imposed inequity.
We are called to respond differently this time. We must do now what we failed to do then: Build a system of care that fosters health and justice, and deconstruct the costly police-and-prisons infrastructure that we foolishly built instead.
We need not start from scratch. Los Angeles County helps people coming home from jail or prison reunify with their families and get jobs, housing and care. The Office of Diversion and Reentry — housed, it’s important to note, in the Health Department — is the leading edge of a broader care-first, jails-last program that, if built out as envisioned by frontline service providers and county workers, could be the system that we should have built more than three decades ago. It could be a model for the nation.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors adopted a framework for the care-first program, formally known as Alternatives to Incarceration. But then came the current health crisis, and implementation has stalled. It would be ironic — and tragic — if the program is mothballed because the pandemic and the reaction to Floyd’s killing turn the county’s attention elsewhere. Might we, in 30 years, look back again at the road we should have taken but didn’t?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Georgia's election problems:
Georgia blew it – big time. An election meltdown that had been simmering here for a long time finally boiled over Tuesday for all the world to see.
The election process – what should be a near-sacred ritual of this Republic – quickly devolved into what national and local commentators called, with ample justification, a hot mess.
Georgia must do much better when the next election comes.
That’s a big lift, given looming deadlines and wild cards like a global pandemic. But it’s a task that this state must resolve. Democracy demands that much, especially during this divided, angry age that’s strained or shattered faith in bedrock civic institutions.
There is adequate blame to go around, and leaders here chose to play the currently fashionable blame game of institutional finger-pointing. Given the magnitude of what happened and the risks for democracy now laid bare, it matters less who screwed up and how.
What is of paramount importance is to assess what went wrong and fix it before the next election.
The intramural sniping should stop, and the focus needs to shift toward repairing an embarrassing, intolerable mess.
That shouldn’t be an insurmountably hard job, given the many leaders of government who are quick to proclaim their “get ’er done” credentials honed in the private sector. That ethos seemed in pitifully short supply on Tuesday as politicians largely laid the fault for this debacle at others’ doorsteps.
It’s popular now in American politics to seemingly campaign incessantly, long after elections are over and key offices filled. That has created a smokescreen, obscuring the fact that officeholders and the bureaucrats they oversee should be expected to competently deliver at least the basics of sound governance.
Elections are a cornerstone of that. Or they should be. And they must be.
The back-and-forth we saw Tuesday was simply childish and unbecoming of the leadership for a state that proclaims itself as world-class. Our elections apparatus certainly and spectacularly failed this week to live up to those claims. And it’s fair to ask just what that says about the caliber of leaders we’ve chosen here.
Looking at what happened in a granular sense, it was not shocking but certainly saddening to see that Fulton County once more bungled a key election. Georgia’s largest county saw widespread problems of long lines, usage of brand-new voting machines, inadequate staffing or training and other technical breakdowns.
The word “nightmare” was not on the ballot, but it certainly swept the election.
Fulton County could have provided a stellar example of what an efficient voting process could look like for an important, diverse county. Perhaps not in a century or more has that been as important as it is now.
But the influential county failed spectacularly in delivering that to voters and others who were watching.
Fulton County officials, taxpayers and voters should demand that such a breakdown does not happen again.
In fairness, Fulton was not the only county with problems. Long lines, technical problems and staffing issues were reported elsewhere in metro Atlanta and in other Georgia cities and rural areas.
The problems in places like Savannah and Columbus strongly suggest that there are large challenges that the state needs to look at seriously. That will only happen if Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ends attempts to deflect away the failures by laying blame on counties.
That’s unacceptable, given the Secretary of State’s office has overall responsibility for overseeing Georgia’s elections. For this state and its 159 counties to work, or succeed in a competitive world, citizens need to have faith in bedrock institutions of our government.
Having reasonable access to the ballot – and a reasonable belief that votes cast will actually be counted – is a cornerstone of American democracy.
Georgia’s behavior so far seems intent on comprehensively undermining that trust. Our history in recent years does not seem to be improving in this regard. Large swaths of voters have adequate reason to believe we’re getting worse.
That is dangerous for an America and Georgia that are now in a stormy moment of existence. Blaming each other – or the other political party – will not improve things.
Instead, Georgia needs brainstorming – not blamestorming – if this problem is to be fixed.
That will take collaboration and cooperation at all levels of government, focused on fixing problems — and not affixing blame on the other guy.
State, county and local officials should start now on assessing just what went wrong and how problems can be repaired. Assuming the worst scenarios for the next election seems a good place to start. As in:
- Figure that the stubborn coronavirus will still be in our midst, necessitating complications of social distancing and repeatedly disinfecting our new, touch-screen voting machines.
- Count on shaky poll worker participation because of virus fears or other reasons.
- Account for the inescapable need to train election workers in an age where packed training rooms seem an artifact of yesteryear.
- Allow for an unprecedented number of absentee ballots that use a postal service that’s also under strain in this COVID-19 economy.
The list of variables no doubt goes on for a while. Find them, study them and absorb the lessons.
Other states seem to have had a much-better time of it on Tuesday. Neighboring South Carolina is also rolling out new electronic machines that produce a paper ballot that’s scanned to tabulate results. The Palmetto State saw some issues, according to news reports, but nothing on the scale of Georgia’s meltdown.
Georgia should quickly learn what other states do differently to achieve better results. That seems a more-worthwhile endeavor than convening new investigations seemingly intent on pinning blame elsewhere.
With the future of democracy at some risk, now is not the time for those kinds of time-honored, cover-your-rear political parlor games.
Georgia and its voters need a voting system that works. That must be our common endpoint. Our leaders must work to ensure that another widespread election breakdown does not happen here.
Georgians, after all, deserve better.
The Washington Post on defunding the police:
Weeks of sustained anger and grief after the police killing of George Floyd have reignited a public debate over police brutality in the United States. Alongside demands for police reform, another demand has surfaced: Defund the police. This provocative slogan at its most constructive represents a welcome call to reimagine public safety in the United States.
As peaceful, impassioned protests show no signs of receding and polls show high levels of approval for police reform, the moment feels ripe to overhaul police departments and procedures. On Monday, congressional Democrats unveiled a major police reform bill, and several state and local bills are being considered throughout the country. Advocates and political leaders are right to focus on concrete reforms — especially those that don’t require massive spending increases, such as updating standards on use of force and increasing transparency around police misconduct.
But while pursuing such reforms, we also should take on the more fundamental questions posed by the “defund” movement. Police reformists and defunding advocates agree on plenty, but where the former ask how police can most effectively be improved, the latter ask: Are there non-policing solutions to society’s problems? Is this the safest America we could have?
The pandemic is prompting reimagining on many fronts, from education to health care to support for the unemployed. In this context, it makes sense to reconsider our goals for public safety and the kinds of institutions we think would best achieve them. It makes sense to consider changes to ways of doing things that were never optimal but have seemed, until now, so baked-in as to be beyond questioning.
Are we really safer in a world where armed police respond to mental health emergencies, or can we imagine communities in which those struggling with mental illness are met with expert and reliable services? Are we safer when homelessness is met with criminalization, not compassion and housing? Are there ways to fund local governments so that they are less financially dependent on extracting fees from citizens? Asking these fundamental questions — and not being anchored in existing institutions for answers — is what the moment requires.
This conversation, in other words, is not just about budgets. It is true that, as the pandemic-inflicted economic crisis forces painful cuts in state and local spending, onlookers are rightly alarmed at plans to slash social services while sparing police budgets. Outrage over such priorities led the mayors of Los Angeles and New York City to pledge to shift some funding from police departments to social services. But it would make sense in many cases to invest in constructive alternatives at the same time or before existing institutions are downsized. The process should be led at the community level, because every community’s strengths and needs are unique, but a broader national conversation can expand our ideas of what is possible and what we deserve.
Ultimately, the call to defund the police should be understood as a call to reinvest in communities and explore new solutions. It asks us to draw on our resources and creativity and to be clear-eyed about the most problematic and painful parts of our policing history. At its core, it is an expression of relentless optimism — in response to the suggestion that things could be a little less bad, it says: We can do so much better.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on removing Confederate statues:
Suppose you were strolling through Forest Park and came across a flattering statue of Adolf Hitler. Or Fidel Castro. Or Osama bin Laden. Of course, nations don’t generally bestow statuary upon enemies — unless those enemies happen to be Confederate leaders in the Civil War.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s call to remove a statue in the state capital, Richmond, of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee should be only the beginning. These monuments to slavery and treason don’t belong in positions of honor in public spaces.
For 130 years, the 60-foot-tall monument, topped with the bronze statue of Lee on horseback, has towered over downtown Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy and now a majority-black city. For modern African American citizens to have to walk in the shadow of the man who led the crusade to preserve slavery is a daily slap in the face — indeed, to any American supportive of racial justice amid recent reminders of how elusive it still is.
Northam’s move followed protests that have swept Virginia, as in Missouri and around the nation, over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. Northam’s announcement noted the “false version of history” that “pretends the Civil War was about ‘state rights’ and not the evils of slavery.”
It’s not only the history of the Civil War that’s too often falsified but also the history of the statues, Confederate flags and other Civil War symbolism. While the 1890 Lee statue is an exception, much of that symbolism around America arose in the early- to mid-20th century, when the war itself was a distant memory — but Jim Crow oppression of black citizens was in full swing. Those symbols were looming reminders to African Americans of where they stood, even generations after Emancipation.
St. Louis knows something about this. Three years ago, a 32-foot-tall, 40-ton monument that had stood in Forest Park since 1914, idealizing a Confederate soldier going off to war, became the center of controversy in light of modern racial strife. Mayor Lyda Krewson ultimately had the monument dismantled and taken away by the Missouri Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks, with the agreement that any future display of it would be in a museum or other appropriate setting.
A federal judge this week temporarily halted the removal of the Lee statue to consider a lawsuit claiming Virginia is contractually obligated to “affectionately protect” it in perpetuity. That promise, made at the dawn of the Jim Crow era, should hold no weight today when even the U.S. military is, at last, considering removing the names of Confederate leaders from its bases.
This isn’t, as some wrongly claim, an attempt to purge the Confederacy from history, but to keep that history where it belongs: in history books and museums, not to be celebrated in the public square.
The Wall Street Journal on the resignation of Philadelphia Inquirer editor Stan Wischnowski and New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet:
The purge of senior editors at progressive newspapers this weekend is no cause for cheering. Their resignations are another milestone in the march of identity politics and cancel culture through our liberal institutions, and American journalism and democracy will be worse for it.
The long-time editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who’d seen the publication through difficult times, was pushed out over a headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.” It was atop a piece by architecture critic Inga Saffron, who worried that buildings damaged by violence could “leave a gaping hole in the heart of Philadelphia.” Staff members deemed the headline an offense to Black Lives Matter. They protested, and no amount of apologizing or changes to the headline were enough. Editor Stan Wischnowski didn’t last the week.
At the New York Times, editorial page editor James Bennet resigned Sunday after a staff uproar over an op-ed by a U.S. Senator. Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton wrote that military troops should be sent to restore public order in American cities when the police are overwhelmed. A staff revolt deemed the piece fascist, unconstitutional, and too offensive for adults to read and decide for themselves.
Our editorial last week opposed deploying active-duty troops, but the idea is legal under the Insurrection Act. George H.W. Bush deployed troops in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, and other Presidents have done it too.
Mr. Bennet defended the op-ed on Friday as part of his attempt to broaden debate in his pages, and at first so did publisher A.G. Sulzberger. But Mr. Sulzberger changed his mind the same day, suddenly declaring that the op-ed he had defended had not received proper editing and should not have been published. By Sunday Mr. Bennet, as true-blue a progressive as you can find, was out the door. James Dao, the opinion editor who had signed off on the Cotton op-ed, was reassigned.
An ostensibly independent opinion section was ransacked because the social-justice warriors in the newsroom opposed a single article espousing a view that polls show tens of millions of Americans support if the police can’t handle rioting and violence. The publisher failed to back up his editors, which means the editors no longer run the place. The struggle sessions on Twitter and Slack channels rule.
All of this shows the extent to which American journalism is now dominated by the same moral denunciation, “safe space” demands, and identity-politics dogmas that began in the universities. The agents of this politics now dominate nearly all of America’s leading cultural institutions—museums, philanthropy, Hollywood, book publishers, even late-night talk shows.
On matters deemed sacrosanct — and today that includes the view that America is root-and-branch racist — there is no room for debate. You must admit your failure to appreciate this orthodoxy and do penance, or you will not survive in the job.
Some of our friends on the right are pleased because they say all of this merely exposes what has long been true. But this takeover of the Times and other liberal bastions means that there are ever fewer institutions that will defend free inquiry and the contest of ideas that once defined American liberalism.
The Guardian on Black Lives Matter protesters taking down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston:
Bristol made a fortune out of the slavery business. For a century and a half, from the late 17th century until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, its merchants, ships and warehouses played a key role in the extraordinarily cruel system that saw men, women and children taken from West Africa to British colonies in the Americas, where they were forced to provide free labour to sugar growers and rum distillers. Edward Colston, whose statue in Bristol’s centre was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday afternoon and dumped in the river, was a leading figure in the slave-trading Royal African Company. He shared responsibility for the transportation of an estimated 84,000 Africans, around 19,000 of whom are thought to have died at sea.
Bristol is not unique in owing much of its 18th-century wealth to slavery. The docks of Liverpool and Glasgow were two more hubs of the system. London was its financial and political centre. But the extent of Colston’s philanthropy in his home city, as well as the decision to erect a statue of him there in 1895, have made the local arguments about slavery’s legacy there particularly fraught. Had the city council been able to broker an agreement on the wording of a new plaque that was due to be appended to the statue, acknowledging Colston’s crimes and victims, it might never have been so spectacularly toppled.
With a police investigation under way and the eventual fate of the statue to be determined, the struggle over Colston’s posthumous reputation is far from over. Already, the weekend’s events have accelerated moves to rename Bristol’s biggest music venue, Colston Hall. In a city that is already deeply divided along racial lines, and where inequality was found by recent research to be growing, the challenge for local politicians and others in favour of change is to carry as large as possible a segment of public opinion with them.
It will never be possible to draw a neat line between public symbols such as statues or street names and the systemic inequality and prejudice that blight so many lives in Britain. Many of the problems of minority communities are closely tied to poverty and the low-quality housing and health that go with it. But it was not a coincidence that the city where the monument was targeted is well known for being poorly integrated and for its troubling history. Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, who is of African-Caribbean descent, said on Monday that he had found the statue “an affront to me and people like me”.
The built environment in the UK is chock-full of statues. Conversations about these objects, the spaces they command and the messages they send should be part of a much bigger discussion of our nation’s history. How to remember the vicious business of slavery, and the imperial project that carried on long after it was abolished in 1833, is not just a challenge for Bristol.
The Chicago Sun-Times on big businesses supporting the fight against racial injustice:
In the aftermath of the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, more American companies than ever — scores of them, big and small — are calling for racial justice.
This is laudable. We suppose we should cheer. Maybe, if we were inclined to accept corporate paeans to social justice at face value, we’d say it’s a big deal.
Big corporations and Main Street chambers of commerce enjoy a loud and outsized voice in this country. Their power in Washington rivals your collective power at the ballot box.
But pardon our skepticism. Pardon our need to question whether we’re seeing a true awakening or a feigned wokeness backed up by nothing of substance.
Corporations have begun to signify their commitment to social and racial justice for a number of years now. Among the most memorable examples popped up on Twitter two years ago when Nike posted up a photo of Colin Kaepernick — the quarterback blackballed from the NFL for taking a knee to protest police brutality — along with the words “Just Do It.”
But corporate expressions of social concern, while nice, matter less than concrete actions. Where’s the follow-up?
For too many companies, the words are calculated, part of a marketing strategy. The aim is to please a certain set of customers — such as the kids of color who buy Nike shoes — or the socially conscious young employees the company hopes to hire.
Along those lines, here are three key takeaways from a survey conducted this month, immediately after Floyd’s death, by the data company Morning Consult:
- Most Americans want companies to commit resources to help communities recover from the unrest.
- Most Americans want their employers to make their own workplaces less racist.
- Corporate messages on social media expressing support for racial justice were the least likely to satisfy those who were surveyed.
Americans may be wising up, looking for less talk and more action.
THE POWER IN WORDS
Let’s give credit where it’s due.
We respect that Chicago-based McDonald’s on Thursday released a silent video that lists the names of Floyd, Trayvon Martin and others.
We admire that Netflix took to social media and said, “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter.”
We were struck by the blunt language of a tweet last week by Ben & Jerry’s, a company that has always been willing to take progressive stands: “These racist and brutal attacks against our Black brothers and sisters must end.”
There is a power in these statements, in and of themselves. Like the demonstrations, they compel the whole nation to take seriously a bitter truth: Black citizens are overwhelmingly the victims of police violence.
When heavy hitters McDonald’s and Netflix step onto the field, injustice becomes that much harder to ignore.
HOW HYPOCRISY WORKS
If you’re looking for an example of hypocrisy, though, look no further than the National Football League, the same people who effectively banned Kaepernick. The NFL had the effrontery last Saturday to issue a hand-wringing statement of support for the demonstrators.
“The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. The police killings were “tragedies,” he continued, that “inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action.”
An urgent need for action? Sounds great.
The NFL might start by apologizing to Kaepernick and offering him work again in the profession he lost because he dared to be a man of principle.
REAL TESTS LIES AHEAD
Businesses that really want to do their part will review their own hiring, promotion and compensation practices, with a commitment to being as racially equitable as possible.
A big step forward in the aftermath of the civil rights protests and unrest of the 1960s was the enactment of fair housing, hiring and lending laws. Banks and other corporations put the words “Equal Opportunity” right on their ads.
In the decades since then, though, we have learned the limits of this commitment. There has been only marginal improvement, for example, in the ability of black people to obtain bank loans.
Just this past week, in a remarkable report on home lending practices in Chicago, WBEZ and City Bureau found that bankers have made more loans in overwhelmingly white Lincoln Park than on the entire South Side.
Case in point is JPMorgan Chase. Between 2012 and 2018, the giant bank made 80% of its $7.5 billion in Chicago mortgages in white neighborhoods and only two percent in black neighborhoods.
Still, Chase last week, commenting on Floyd’s death, put out one of those noble corporate statements.
“Let us be clear,” Chase stated. “We are watching, listening and want every single one of you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination wherever and however it exists,” the memo said.
Chase might want to start by reviewing its home mortgage practices.
Do black lives matter — really matter — to LaSalle Street, Wall Street and Main Street?
As we say in the news business, show, don’t tell.