Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Editorial: Learning from chaos in Missouri

President Barack Obama appealed for calm in a St. Louis suburb Thursday and the Missouri governor shifted control of security from local police to the state highway patrol after several nights of civil unrest that has captured the nation's attention. The protests following the death of an unarmed black teen shot by a police officer and the overreaction by police put the suburb of Ferguson on the map for all the wrong reasons. But the images of armored trucks, plumes of tear gas and police officers clad in riot gear offer lessons for all communities.

First, Ferguson police overreacted with a militarylike presence on the streets at night. That shocked Americans watching news reports and following along on Twitter, and it inflamed emotions on the ground. Police agencies in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere have more military-type equipment and greater firepower than in other eras, and those resources should be used with restraint. The outrage over the aggressiveness in Ferguson led the governor to finally intervene on Thursday as school in the area was canceled for today.

Second, keeping residents informed in tense times is more important than ever. The police have refused to name the officer involved in the shooting and have withheld other details about the incident, including how many times the teen was hit. In the vacuum of information, tempers flared and rumors spread. Peaceful protestors were met by a police force, a mishmash of local and county agencies, that responded with guns drawn atop armored trucks in broad daylight. At night, when some of the protests turned violent, officers have fired rubber bullets into crowds, lobbed tear gas canisters near international news crews and arrested two journalists working in a fast-food restaurant.

Third, citizens have the right to conduct peaceful protests and law enforcement has to accommodate those protests even in times of stress. Ferguson tried to stop all gatherings at night, and it backfired. Law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay and elsewhere are better trained to accommodate protesters and see that they remain peaceful.

Finally, law enforcement agencies have to work harder to hire officers who better reflect their communities. Only three of 53 police officers are black in Ferguson, where about two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black. The lack of trust between residents and law enforcement can escalate civil unrest, as Tampa and St. Petersburg learned in other decades.

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are conducting independent investigations into the teenager's death, which triggered this week's violence. That is an appropriate role for the federal government, particularly when local law enforcement overreacts and loses credibility and control of the situation. Obama said there is no excuse for violence against police, citizens conducting peaceful protests or members of the media. The mistakes made in Ferguson should provide valuable lessons to the rest of the nation about the importance of strong ties between residents and local police — and the consequences of overreaction by law enforcement.


Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18