Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
New York City Council, Don’t Roll Back Police Reforms
The New York Times
In June, as New York City was gripped by protests over the death of George Floyd, the City Council passed legislation banning police officers from using maneuvers that restrict a person’s airflow. Now the Council, cowed by pressure from police unions and officials, is considering rolling back part of this important step toward police accountability.
Such a rollback would be a mistake.
Mr. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. But long before Mr. Floyd was killed, America’s police departments knew the risks of using maneuvers that restrict a person’s airflow.
A 1995 memo to police departments from the U.S. Department of Justice warned that such tactics can quickly lead to asphyxiation. “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach,” the memo advised.
The New York Police Department’s patrol guide directs officers to “avoid actions which may result in chest compression, such as sitting, kneeling, or standing on a subject’s chest or back, thereby reducing the subject’s ability to breathe.”
Though they knew the risks, police departments in New York and elsewhere have continued to use these maneuvers. In 2014, New York’s medical examiner said chest compression played a role in the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed Black man who died during an arrest for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island.
In July, New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, signed the bill banning chokeholds and other airflow-restricting measures into law, giving district attorneys discretion to prosecute officers over the maneuvers. Violating the law is punishable by up to a year in prison.
New York’s police officials and union leaders balked. In August, police unions sued the city, seeking to overturn the law.
Terence Monahan, the N.Y.P.D. chief of department, has called the portion of the legislation addressing the restriction of a person’s diaphragm “dangerous,” arguing that it is often necessary to kneel on a suspect’s back when making an arrest.
Over the summer, arrests for gun crimes have been down in New York City, even as the number of shootings has increased compared with last summer. These numbers led to concerns that the N.Y.P.D. was in an unofficial slowdown, with officers angry over the police reforms and protests sweeping the city. (Police officials deny that there’s been a slowdown.)
Either way, after a summer of increased gun violence - and ahead of next year’s city elections - some New York City lawmakers suddenly seem eager to chip away at their own reforms.
An amendment to the recently passed law that’s under consideration in the City Council would require prosecutors to prove an officer acted “recklessly” and caused injury by using an airflow-restricting measure. The amendment wouldn’t apply to the portion of the law involving chokeholds. Still, meeting such standards can be difficult. Councilman Rory Lancman, the sponsor of the original bill, has said that the amendment would make it all but impossible to prosecute officers who violate this part of the law.
Councilman Donovan Richards, who is chairman of the Council’s public safety committee and supports the amendment, suggested last month that scaling back the reform law could appease the city’s police force and end a slowdown, if one exists. “I would be open to having a conversation about the diaphragm portion of the chokehold bill if this means the New York City Police Department would get back to work,” he said. “And I don’t want to hear excuses.”
Last week, Mr. Richards, a Democrat running for Queens borough president, seemed to change his reasoning. He told the editorial board in a phone interview that the amendment was about keeping the less contested portion of the law - the ban on chokeholds - from being struck down in court.
New York’s law enforcement lobby has a long history of fearmongering to oppose reform. For years, top N.Y.P.D. officials said reducing the use of stop-and-frisk would lead to an increase in crime, before they were proved wrong. More recently, they blamed last year’s state bail reforms for an increase in crime - even though the N.Y.P.D.’s own data suggests that is wrong.
It will be best for New York City if the law passed in June remains intact. Police officers perform a difficult and sometimes dangerous job. But they are not above being held to account.
Fresh evidence of City Hall’s deadly lead-paint lies
New York Post
Documents coughed up under the Freedom Of Information Law again show that the de Blasio administration downplayed the true scale and scope of lead exposure crisis in public housing.
From 2010 to ’18, city health inspectors found lead in 222 NYCHA units across 93 developments - more than a quarter of all complexes citywide, The Post’s Nolan Hicks found. Experts say that finding lead in one apartment meant the poison likely was present throughout the building. Yet NYCHA leaders opted to avoid costly remediation by challenging findings - successfully, in 158 cases.
But the costs to the children potentially exposed to a brain-damaging toxin at places like the Jacob Riis Houses are incalculable.
Just before the COVID-19 lockdown, Bart Schwartz, the federal monitor overseeing NYCHA, reported that over 100,000 public housing units hadn’t been inspected for lead and 55 percent of the ones inspected are indeed contaminated.
To be fair, NYCHA’s “appeal everything” approach started well before Mayor de Blasio took office - but it continued on his watch. And the mayor didn’t expose the trickery as he downplayed the lead threat long after the public learned of the crisis.
Maybe he’ll learn, before he leaves office, that honesty really is the best policy.
Show a little patience as schools start up
Syracuse Post standard
A popular post going around Facebook begins, “To my child’s teacher.” The writer recognizes the extra effort the teacher is putting in to make her classroom safe and welcoming, to prepare lessons, to see that her students succeed. She goes on to say that despite “all the craziness this new school year will bring … know I have your back.”
Now that’s a radical statement at a time when blame seems to be the default setting.
This coronavirus school year, let’s try turning the default setting to patience, as every player in the school reopening saga learns a new part and things inevitably go wrong.
Students are having to put up with the new health protocols that greet them at the schoolhouse door and follow their every move. Until it becomes routine, there may be waiting. There may be conflict. There may be mistakes. There may be more disappointment as activities like sports are postponed or canceled.
Teachers are having to figure out how to instruct students while keeping a distance, through a Zoom connection or some combination of the two. It will take time to establish relationships and get into a flow. The technology for remote learning might fail.
Parents are having to keep a close eye on their children’s schoolwork, while working, caring for other family members and running the household. It’s a lot. It’s not going to be perfect.
Employers are having to show mercy to employees juggling on-again, off-again school schedules and childcare emergencies.
The larger community is called upon to keep up the hard work of reducing the spread of the coronavirus by keeping their distance, wearing masks and limiting their social circles. That sacrifice will give schools the best chance of staying open for the long haul.
The reward for all this shared pain is being able to resume parts of our pre-pandemic lives. Getting kids back to school is good for their mental health and emotional development. It lets parents get back to work, at least some of the time.
We can’t forget that the coronavirus casts a shadow over everything, an outbreak could shut down school at any time. Also, the well of patience is not unlimited. We need science to solve this virus as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless, the first full week of school is a milestone to celebrate. We’ll be taking it day by day, hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and digging deep to find patience as we figure it out together.
Time to relax NY’s nursing home visit rules
The Auburn Citizen
“A hopeless target.”
Those were the words the daughter of an Auburn nursing home resident used to describe the 28-day infection-free window required at her mother’s facility for her to be able to visit. It’s a standard that has prevented this family from spending quality time with their 85-year-old loved one for half of a year.
Six months without a hug. Six months being forced to talk loudly through a window just to have conversation. Six months of starting and ending every socially distanced meeting in tears.
It’s the result of a policy that is now doing more damage to nursing home residents than it is helping to prevent.
The original visitation ban in long-term care facilities, put in place in mid-March just as COVID-19 cases were starting to surface in New York, made sense - as painful as it was. Infection control in nursing homes had always been a challenge. Dealing with a new virus that’s especially deadly for older people necessitated severe restrictions at the beginning.
And a cautious approach to phasing in visitation, which is what the state put in place earlier in the summer based on federal guidelines, also made sense.
But now, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo happily points out, New York state has had an infection rate under 1% for more than a month. It’s time to lower the threshold for allowing nursing home visits to be done in a safe manner.
The New York State Health Facilities Association and New York State Center for Assisted Living said face-to-face visits are “essential for the health and well-being of our residents and their families and loved ones.” The association reports that three out of every four adult nursing homes have been unable to allow visits under the rules put in place in July because a coronavirus case was confirmed, restarting the 28-day clock.
Hopeless target, indeed.
It’s time to make changes that will give nursing home residents and their families the hope and visits they so badly need.
Taxpayers Who Are Paying The Library Tax Levy Should Have A Say In How It Is Spent
James Prendergast Library board members should absolutely further discuss a residency requirement for board members at its meeting Thursday.
Board members who say a residency requirement too drastically limits the pool of possible board members or that the board has functioned well for the past 120 years don’t seem to realize that the board’s role has changed over the past few years.
The library board has always had a fiduciary responsibility to use its money wisely, including in controversial decision to auction the library’s artwork to raise money for the library’s endowment fund. But the library itself wasn’t actively a taxing entity. It was taking money granted to it by foundations, the city and other sources and spending it.
Passage earlier this year of a 259 vote, which placed the library’s budget as a budget line on the Jamestown Public Schools budget, fundamentally changes the library’s role in the public. Rather than simply taking money it was given from a budget decided upon by elected officials, the library is raising tax money by its own request. Now that the board is a direct taxing entity, its board should be made up of people who live within the library’s taxing area.
Board members said last week that it appears too expensive to create a school district library, which would come with elections for board seats. We agree with that idea. It’s enough of a stretch for taxpayers to be on the hook for 42% of the library’s funding - they shouldn’t be on the hook for any more while living in one of the most highly taxed cities in New York state. That leaves a residency requirement as the next best way of overseeing how the new tax money is spent.
In our view, the taxpayers - either homeowners or business owners - who are paying the library’s tax levy should be making decisions on how that money is spent. If board members who live outside the city want to continue serving, they should contact a realtor.
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