Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Complete nursing home tests
Once the grim tally of deaths from COVID-19 is finalized — sometime later this year, we hope — there is little doubt it will be clear that nursing homes are the coronavirus’ favored killing grounds.
To most public health leaders, that already is obvious. In some states, most of the epidemic’s victims have been in long-term care facilities.
We know already that mistakes were made in how nursing home patients were handled. New York was a leading offender.
There, according to The Associated Press, more than 4,500 people recovering from COVID-19 after hospital stays were sent to nursing homes. How many new cases that resulted in can only be speculated, though the number must have been enormous.
It is for New Yorkers to determine whether alternatives were available. Some argue there was no alternative, in view of the state’s overtaxed hospitals and other health care facilities.
Some governors recognized the threat in time to save lives.
Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump urged that staff members and residents in all nursing homes should be tested for COVID-19. As The Associated Press reports, at least half the states will not be able to accomplish that.
Some “aren’t even bothering to try,” the AP noted.
Only a few states, including West Virginia and Rhode Island, had completed testing by last week. West Virginia stands out because its governor, Jim Justice, ordered testing of all nursing home residents and staff prior to the president’s recommendation. That probably saved lives.
COVID-19 seems to be winding down in many areas of the country. It remains a serious threat to older people, however. States where testing in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities has not been completed should redouble efforts to do so.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives could be saved.
Trump’s order more petulance than policy
The Citizen's Voice
President Donald Trump’s preposterous executive order, attempting to regulate speech on the internet, actually could do some good. It would force social media platforms to rein in ... Trump.
After Trump added a vicious smear against a dead woman and falsehoods about mail-in ballot fraud to his torrent of lies on Twitter, the company added a notice to several of his tweets advising that fact checks were available.
That caused Trump to froth “censorship!” even though his tweets were not edited.
Trump’s order would strip civil liability protection from social media platforms. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 holds that platforms can’t be sued for defamation if they simply post the words of others.
Trump aims to cause financial harm to the platforms. But he apparently has not considered that exposing them to liability would cause them to be more cautious about what they post and, given his talent for mendacity, his tweets likely would be among the first to go.
His assertion about Lori Klausutis, a young aide to former Rep. Joe Scarborough who died in a district office in Florida in 2001, easily could be construed as deliberately causing emotional distress to her family. Police found no foul play and a medical examiner concluded that she died from head trauma in a fall induced by mitral valve disease, but Trump dredged up unfounded rumors and spread them on Twitter.
Trump’s order is a waste of paper. It’s more petulance than policy. The last thing he wants is incentive for social media platforms to act like the legitimate news outlets he so detests.
Finding light in the darkness
It’s not easy finding light in the darkness that has engulfed the country. Starting last weekend, protests nationwide over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis resulted in thousands of people arrested and widespread vandalism and destruction.
The outrage, frustration and anger came to a head last weekend with demonstrations that often started as peaceful assemblies but later turned to violence and looting.
Where to find hope in such tumultuous times?
We can start with those who tried to stop the protests from becoming violent. In Pittsburgh on Saturday, demonstration organizers tried to stop a young white man (since identified and charged) from spray-painting and breaking windows of a parked police car. Although they were unsuccessful, they clearly wanted the protest to be about changing a broken justice system, not vandalism and violence.
When a handful of protesters surrounded a local television news cameraman outside PPG Paints Arena, a black woman rushed to his defense. A powerful video image emerged of the woman trying to hold off others from attacking the man. When a group of protesters ignored her pleas for calm and began beating the man and destroying his video equipment, David Morehouse, the president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Penguins, came from the arena and dragged the cameraman inside to safety before he was taken to the hospital.
In Flint, Mich., Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson is seen in a video telling the crowd that not all police officers are like the one responsible for the death of Floyd. He later takes off his helmet and marches with the protesters in a show of support for their cause. There were similar instances throughout the country of police supporting demonstrators.
We find hope in the actions taken by a protester in Minneapolis on Sunday who, after nearly being struck by a tractor trailer that had driven onto a highway ramp filled with demonstrators, rushed to the assistance of the driver who was being attacked by the crowd. His rationale was simple: They were there to protest a death, not cause one.
And we can take comfort in the actions of Pittsburghers who instead of answering Saturday’s violence with more violence, instead volunteered on Sunday morning to help clean up their city. Jon Potter, who runs Pittsburgh Good Deeds with his wife, Rachel, sent out social media posts asking for volunteers. More than 60 people showed up to help clean up broken glass and damaged merchandise from stores vandalized the day before.
There is no quick and easy answer to the issue of racial injustice, and peaceful protests always run the risk of being hijacked by those bent on causing violence and destruction. But the many acts of goodness and kindness and courage in this spring of our discontent give us hope — a little hope, but hope.
Trump would like Philly’s response to protests. We’re better than this.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The images of panicked crowds scrabbling up the embankments of I-676 to escape tear gassing on Monday will likely be one of the defining images of the protests in Philadelphia — and of the Kenney administration. Whether that tear gas was an outrageous response to a peaceful protest or, as the mayor and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw maintain, a justified response after protesters descended on the highway and refused to disperse, we need better answers. That it came an hour or so before peaceful protesters at a church near the White House were tear gassed in order to clear the way for President Donald Trump to pose in front of that church with a Bible links the two events.
Trump’s tear gassing followed his announcement that he will deploy the military to go into cities to quell the protests that ignited over the weekend — an astonishing declaration of war on all of the American people, not just those protesting the loss of black lives at the hands of police.
Trump has continued to drop lit matches on the fires of racism that have been burning across the country for generations, and it didn’t start with protests over George Floyd’s death.
But he brought a blowtorch by threatening military occupation in order to quell protesters, by goading governors to “get tough” with protestors, and claiming to these officials that “most of you are weak.“
That strongman mindset escalates the kind of racist violence on the part of those police who fail at their jobs to keep citizens safe and protected, and who kill without accountability. That behavior, in turn, emboldens more widespread racial violence, the threat of which appeared in Fishtown Monday night when white men armed with bats, hammers, and shovels patrolled the streets.
Trump would likely applaud Philadelphia’s response on Monday. And that’s sad. Philadelphia is better than this.
We are the city where the principles and promise of free speech were forged.
If riots are the language of the unheard, the city’s response to protests over the last few days has been the language of force and confrontation, rather than a strategy of de-escalation.
De-escalating can work. In the summers of 2014 and 2015, when police across the country responded violently to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, then-Commissioner Charles Ramsey instructed police to de-escalate riots. When other cities combusted, Philadelphia didn’t.
This time around, the city has responded with a National Guard presence, with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and flash bangs. Research shows that using force can turn a peaceful protest violent.
Mayor Jim Kenney has called for an internal affairs investigation into Monday’s protest, but that likely means no one will ever know the truth of who made the call to tear gas and whether it was justified. Kenney also needs to be clearer about the rationale for the arrest of journalists, the guidelines for curfews — and why that doesn’t seem to include people “protecting their neighborhoods” — and on the chain of command for decisions to use tear gas and other means of force. We need more from our mayor than smoke signals and excuses.
Work together to make change
The York Dispatch
Peaceful protests. Demonstrations. Marches. Clashes. Uprisings. Riots.
So many words for the many shades of what is happening around our country right now.
The death of George Floyd, coming so soon after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, has set a match to the tinder that has piled up for years.
George Floyd died in police custody May 25, after a video caught a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s throat with his hands in his pockets for several minutes while Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and cried for his mother. Four Minneapolis police officers were fired, and one, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.
Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, Kentucky, was shot and killed by police who knocked down her front door after midnight in March while serving a drug warrant. No drugs were found in her apartment.
Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood in February. The shooting was captured on video. It took more than two months for authorities to charge Gregory and Travis McMichael, a white father and son, with murder.
Three black deaths, but so much more than that. Decades, centuries of white privilege and black oppression, eased somewhat by the civil rights movement and changes in laws, but always simmering, always a thought.
Many African Americans are afraid of police, and rightly so.
“Even in York County, people in the African American community are extremely afraid to interact with police, and how a simple phone call could lead to brutality, arrest and death,” said York NAACP President Sandra Thompson.
The York NAACP and local law enforcement held an online roundtable on Wednesday, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday urged everyone to make a video every time they have an encounter with a police officer.
“I have been encouraging folks to do anything they can to record any kind of interaction they have,” Helfrich said. “It’s difficult to just take people’s word. It doesn’t get us what we need to remove cops.”
And while that will help, more needs to happen. Police need to be trained to diffuse situations rather than using force and to not gauge the level of threat by the color of a person’s skin.
All of us need to acknowledge the institutional racism that has brought our country to this moment, when peaceful protests can become uprisings in a flash.
Needless deaths and suffering must stop. Traffic stops that become deadly must end. Using deadly force on a potential suspect in a nonviolent crime should never, ever happen.
And when those unthinkable acts occur, people must act. People must protest. People must call out the powers that be and demand action.
But there is a point when a protest becomes a riot, when peaceful demonstrators become a violent mob, when a clash becomes a flash.
Violence isn’t the answer. Destruction of property hurts only the property owners, who are often minorities. More violence by police and people claiming the right to defend themselves will only cause the situation to erupt even more.
People must stand together. White people must come to terms with their own racism and privilege, and they must make the changes that will bring an end to the institutional oppression.
In the best photos from the past few days, protesters and police are talking together, pledging to work together. Those are the leaders we all need to follow to prevent the protest from becoming a riot.