Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The (Jacksonville) Times-Union on fighting terrorism more than a decade after the attacks on September 11, 2001:
All the changes that have occurred since Sept. 11, 2001, have made it extraordinarily difficult for terrorists to come into the U.S. and attack us.
That’s what Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, said on the Preet Bharara podcast “Stay Tuned.”
And the terrorists have had scattered success in that endeavor over the years - one example was the deadly Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
Then add the threat of cyberattacks, which are particularly a risk in a free society like ours. “The United States is the most vulnerable society in the world to cyberattacks,’” Morrell said. “We live in the biggest glass house.”
VIGILANCE IS A KEY
So what can we do? What can people do who aren’t in the public safety business? If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that fighting terrorism requires an alert, responsive citizenry.
After all, it was the citizens on United Airlines Flight 175 who prevented a passenger jet from likely crashing into the White House; in many cases, alert individuals have pointed out suspicious activity that prevented attacks.
“An informed, vigilant and engaged public remains one of our greatest assets to identify potential terrorists and prevent attacks,” reports the Department of Homeland Security.
THE WORLD CHANGED IN HOURS
On Sept. 10, 2001, just 1 percent of Americans considered terrorism to be the nation’s No. 1 concern, according to the Gallup poll.
That worldview changed hours later.
The next day 2,977 people - not including the hijackers - were known to have been killed on the four hijacked planes and in the World Trade Center and Pentagon; about 6,000 more were injured.
TIPS TO FIGHT TERRORISM
The Department of Homeland Security provides tips through the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Citizens should report tips to local law enforcement, not Homeland Security.
Trust your instincts, and look out for these red flags:
- Unusual items or situations: Why is that vehicle parked in an odd location? Why is that package or backpack unattended? Why is that window or door suddenly open when it is usually closed?
- Eliciting information: A person is asking questions about a building’s purpose - or operations, security procedures, personnel or shift changes - that go beyond normal curiosity.
- Photography: Taking pictures or video in an unusual or surreptitious manner that would arouse suspicious of terrorism in a reasonable person. One example: someone taking pictures of rarely used access points or a bridge.
- Surveillance: Someone is paying a level of attention to facilities or buildings that goes beyond a casual or professional interest. This includes extended loitering without explanation - or taking notes and measurements.
- Materials: Acquiring unusual quantities of items such as cell phones, fuel or chemicals.
Some of these activities could be innocent, but it’s the job of law enforcement to determine whether the behavior deserves attention.
The Department of Homeland Security advises Americans to be alert for how people behave, not how they look. Factors such as race, ethnicity or religious affiliation alone are not accurate predictors of behavior suggesting criminal activity.
ACTIVE SHOOTER ADVICE
Some active shootings are in fact cases of domestic terrorism. And they can often happen in just a few minutes, so here are the main tips offered by authorities:
Here are some details on each step:
- Run: Have an escape route and plan in mind. Leave your belongings. If possible, help others escape. Keep your hands visible if officers see you. Call 911 when you are safe.
- Hide: If evacuation is not possible, find a hiding place out of the shooter’s view. Lock the door or blockade it with heavy furniture. Turn off your cellphone or any source of noise.
- Fight: As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt or incapacitate the active shooter.
The Orlando Sentinel on helping Bahamians take refuge in the U.S. after Hurricane Dorian:
Hundreds of people boarded a ferry in Freeport, Bahamas, on the night of Sept. 8, thinking their immediate Dorian nightmare was about to end. Just before the ferry took off for Fort Lauderdale, bad news crackled over the intercom.
“All passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark,” a crewman said.
About 100 people had to gather their belongings and walk the gangway back to misery.
“At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing,” Renard Oliver told WSVN. “Watching my daughters cry. But it is what it is.”
What it is is an example why the visa requirements need to be waived for Bahamians trying to get to the United States. And it needs to be done immediately.
Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio sent an open letter to President Trump last week asking him to quickly allow in refugees who have relatives in the U.S.
Eighteen more Florida lawmakers, including Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto, also signed on.
There’s been no response so far from the Trump administration to this bipartisan appeal. A State Department spokesperson sent a generic email Sept. 9 saying the U.S. is working with Bahamian officials to provide disaster relief. She did not address the visa situation.
Scott did address it Sept. 9, after he heard about the previous night’s events on the ferry.
“We cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport,” he said.
Bahamians usually need a visa to visit the U.S., but the requirement can be bypassed if they present a passport and a recent police certificate showing they don’t have a criminal record.
A lot of people didn’t have such documents, or lost them in the wind and water of the Category 5 storm. Obtaining them now is next to impossible since the Bahamian government is literally swamped with bigger problems.
A lack of proper paperwork wasn’t the big problem Sept. 8, however. It was a surplus of confusion.
The ferry company, Balearia Caribbean, told passengers U.S. Customs and Border Protection told it to remove everyone who didn’t have a visa.
The CBP said it did not order anyone off the ferry and would not have required visas for entry to the U.S. It pointed out that about 1,400 people traveled to Fort Lauderdale Sept. 7 aboard the cruise ship Grand Celebration. Many reportedly did not have visas.
“Why they said that, I wouldn’t know,” a CBP official told WSVN. “It’s really heartbreaking for them to say that to these people who have suffered beyond comprehension.”
The whole fiasco might have been avoided if visa requirements had been waived. This isn’t the Mariel boatlift of 1980, where Fidel Castro put thousands of Cuban prisoners and mental patients on boats and sent them toward Key West. The risk of an unsavory character penetrating the U.S. border is minor compared to the totality of the Category 5 carnage.
Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the northern Bahamas look “almost as though a nuclear bomb was dropped.”
It landed only 180 miles from the U.S. That’s 1,000 miles closer to the mainland than Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory Hurricane Maria devastated in 2017.
America has no legal obligation to provide aid and shelter, but we have a moral duty to help one of our closest neighbors.
About 20,000 Bahamians live in the U.S., most in South Florida. They should be allowed to welcome relatives as soon as possible.
The United Nations estimates Dorian left 70,000 people homeless. The majority probably don’t have relatives in the U.S.
About 395,000 people live in the Bahamas. It’s unclear whether the country can provide adequate shelter for such a large percentage - some 18% - of its population.
If it can’t, the U.S. should be open to providing help for all of Dorian’s refugees until the situation is stable enough for them to return home.
Scott has also proposed redirecting foreign aid to the Bahamas, easing the U.S. tax code to encourage charitable giving and transferring all Peace Corps efforts from China to the Bahamas.
Such moves are worth considering, depending on how relief and rebuilding efforts go. But there’s no need to keep deliberating over visa requirements.
Not surprisingly, President Trump poured a bucket of icy water on compassion Sept. 9, suggesting some “very bad people” might try to enter the United States. It was his typical, xenophobic response, but this time his cruelty is directed at the suffering of our neighbors.
The humanitarian risks grow with each day that passes. An area of disturbed weather is approaching the Caribbean and headed in the Bahamas’ direction.
If it strengthens, the last place these already traumatized people need to be is in the Bahamas. Especially if what’s keeping them there is a pile of government paperwork.
The Ledger of Lakeland on being vigilant about threatening social media posts:
Twice within a week in late August two Polk County students were arrested for bringing guns onto campus - one at Auburndale High School and another at Ridge Community High School.
No one was hurt. And for that we can thank people who paid attention. Auburndale police say the arrest there was attributable to a tip from a student who overheard the suspect talking about the gun, while in Haines City, officers credited a teacher who discovered a device for carrying drugs that led to a search that uncovered the weapon.
But paying attention at home is just as important as doing so at school - as Lake Wales Deputy Chief Troy Schulze makes clear in a social media video, released the same week as these arrests. We hope his message sinks in because it’s important.
Without specifically mentioning the recent Polk County incidents, Schulze noted that “see something, say something” has proven to be an effective tactic to reduce the risk of violence. He thus encouraged parents to monitor their children’s phones and other devices for social media posts that, depending on circumstances, could be construed as bullying or threatening. Schulze added that parents have actually contacted the department inquiring whether it was lawful for them to do so. “You are allowed to check your children’s devices,” he says in the video. “If your kids are living in your house, their bedrooms, their devices - it’s wide open. Check it. … Parent first, friend second.”
“I need you, we need you, the community needs you to be involved,” Schulze said to parents in the video.
He pointed out that threatening social media posts, whether so much talk or actual threats, are becoming more common, and carrying consequences.
To underscore that point, coinciding with the start of school last month, authorities in Florida arrested teenagers in Broward, Wakulla and Collier counties for posting threats of violence, typically gun-related, on social media. Outside of Florida, students were arrested in California, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky and Illinois, as well as at colleges in New York and Michigan.
And the frequency and concern about school violence have led authorities to stop trying to guess who might be an actual threat and who is just mouthing off, Schulze suggested. “We take it all seriously,” he said. “If the threats are made, if the threats are put out on social media, if they’re sent in text messages, if they’re sent in private messaging, if we’re made aware of it, we’re going to act on it. We’re taking every one of them seriously.”
Then Schulze gets to the crux of the issue: “Parenting starts in the home, not the schools. The schools are a secondary place they go for education.” But, he added, all adults around students must be mindful of what they see and hear. “The success and safety of our community is not by chance,” Schulze added.
Schulze acknowledged in the video that the First Amendment grants us the right to say pretty much what we please. But freedom of speech, as with all rights, comes with a responsibility. The old standard for the unmentionable was once saying fire in a crowded theater. We have updated that to uttering bomb in an airport or on an airplane. Now, and going forward, expressing violent thoughts on social media will bring a visit from the police.
Words matter, and the spate of violence at schools has left authorities little choice but consider a zero-tolerance policy. Parents can make a difference before cops come calling, however, with a little diligence and loving intrusiveness in the home.
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