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Editorials from around Oregon

August 1, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The (Roseburg) News-Review, July 29, on transgender students and bathrooms:

It’s hard being an adolescent. We all remember the insecurity, the embarrassment of bodies run amok, the struggle for identity, the jockeying for status.

Using the bathrooms and locker rooms at school is just one more reminder how awkward it is. It would be nice if adequate stalls without gaps were available to shield everyone, male or female, going to the toilet, or changing or showering.

But dudes have been managing with the urinals for quite awhile now, and there are usually stalls available for the extra-modest student. “Pee, wash and leave” is the usual course of action.

So we couldn’t help but raise our eyebrows when we read in his attorney’s letter that a young man called “T.B.” was feeling “tremendous anxiety” because a transgender student who identifies as male was using the same bathroom he was. T.B.‘s mom is suing the Sutherlin School District, calling out the transgender student, Tyler, and seeking to bar him from using the boys’ bathroom.

Poor Tyler. He has found himself on the cutting edge of the culture war in a small town where the battles can get vicious. He was born with female genitalia but identifies as a boy. He’s a member of a small minority, and one that has a much more credible claim to anxiety, not to mention depression and other ailments, largely as a result of the discrimination, bigotry and hatred they face on a daily basis.

Because let’s be crystal clear. The victim in this situation isn’t T.B. It’s Tyler.

The director of Basic Rights Oregon called this case an example of “bullying by lawsuit.” We agree.

There was a time when white people didn’t want to share bathrooms with African Americans. There was a time when it wasn’t legal in most of the country for two members of the same sex to marry each other.

Then, most people just got over it. And those who insisted on clinging to outdated bigotry crawled back under their rocks.

Until they found somebody else to pick on.

Tyler gave an interesting answer, according to his detractors, when asked why he chose to use the boys’ bathroom for the first time this January. He reportedly said “because I can.”

There’s been a bit of pushback on that comment, but we can’t see why. After all, he’s right.

Oregon law expressly considers sexual identity part of sexual orientation, making transgender people a protected class against whom discrimination is illegal. And federal law currently leaves the decision about whether to protect transgender people from discrimination in school bathrooms up to the states.

That’s one reason why a similar case brought by anti-transgender parents against the Dallas, Oregon school district was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

It’s also the reason why the lawsuit brought against the Sutherlin School District is likely to be thrown out of court, but only after it’s inconvenienced the school district and made Tyler’s already difficult life path just that much harder.

Let’s hope this nuisance suit is quickly disposed of by the court.


The Mail Tribune, July 29, on guns and dementia:

People with dementia who own guns pose a threat to themselves or others, but removing their access to firearms can be easier said than done. As is often the case with guns, there is no simple answer, no piece of legislation that will remove every risk. Instead, family members must be prepared to take responsibility.

A recent story in the Mail Tribune from Kaiser Health News laid out the problem in detail. The report included accounts of a retired police chief in Oregon who accidentally shot his wife while handling his guns, and an Idaho man who shot his son-in-law in a fit of rage.

Those are anecdotes. The available data suggest there will be more.

While the rate of dementia is decreasing, the number of people over 65 is soaring. And a 2017 survey found that 45 percent of those have guns in their household.

In Washington state, an analysis of government survey data showed 5 percent of those over 65 who responded reported worsening memory and confusion and guns in their household. That could be as many as 54,000 people.

If that’s not alarming, consider this statistic: 1.4 percent of respondents over 65 said they had cognitive decline and kept their guns unlocked and loaded. That works out to 15,000 people in Washington state.

We don’t have the corresponding number for Oregon, or for any other state, because Washington is the only state that tracked those trends. The gun lobby successfully has blocked federally funded research into guns as a public health issue, so detailed data is not available. Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association declined to comment on the Kaiser Health News story.

What the NRA and other gun-rights advocates routinely argue is that existing laws should be fully enforced before new ones are adopted. Federal law already says people declared not competent to manage their own affairs may not purchase or own guns. But merely being diagnosed with dementia does not count.

Oregon is one of a handful of states that has adopted so-called red flag laws, which allow law enforcement or family members to seek a court order to temporarily seize guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. That requires family members to take legal action against a loved one who may resist their efforts. That’s not an easy thing to do.

A better approach would be to address the issue early, when the person’s dementia is first diagnosed. Families can draw up a “gun trust” that spells out how firearms will be transferred to family members as the affected person’s dementia progresses — essentially an advance directive for guns. If the discussion happens soon after the diagnosis, and the gun owner cooperates, that can make the process easier.

Doctors, too, should routinely ask about guns in the home when they discuss a diagnosis of dementia with patients and their families. But violence prevention researchers say doctors are more likely to discuss driving than guns. That’s not acceptable.

Yes, we know: Driving is a privilege, and gun ownership is a constitutional right. But both can become deadly in the wrong hands, and people with advanced dementia should not have access to either.

Any suggestion that the government should assess gun owners’ cognitive abilities raises the specter of a totalitarian state trampling their freedom. So that leaves family members to do what must be done.

Most people don’t think twice about taking away Dad’s car keys for his own protection and that of others when his mental condition deteriorates. It should be no different for his guns.


The Yamhill Valley News-Register, July 27, on RV dwellers:

McMinnville is in the process of learning something every parent discovers: It’s easier to issue orders than force compliance.

When an irate toddler refuses to follow directions, you can reason, bribe and demand by turn. But the toddler holds the upper hand.

He can force you to cave in unless you are willing to bring your superior physical force to bear, hard to justify in any but the most extreme circumstances.

So it is with the number of homeless RV dwellers the city is trying to evict from Marsh Lane and Dustin Court.

The city can assess all the fines it wants. But if it isn’t prepared to evict RV occupants by force or tow an occupied RV — which most would agree is out of reasonable proportion — it could well face a protracted stalemate.

As Police Chief Matt Scales acknowledged, “The city would not be towing RVs with people still inside of them. That goes without saying.”

Understandably, residents of the two affected neighborhoods long ago passed the point of frustration. They won’t be satisfied until the offending encampments have been cleared and can’t understand why the city is having such a tough time with the task.

Do Waco, Ruby Ridge and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge ring any bells? How about the more recent protest encampment at ICE headquarters in Portland?

The fact is, people resistant to moving on are hard to force out. Escalation to the use of force can quickly produce disastrous results.

City Manager Jeff Towery promised an ordinance adding booting and towing to the city’s enforcement arsenal would soon be presented for council consideration. But if a four-month deluge of fines didn’t budge anyone, we don’t see much prospect for more hollow threats.

The RV dwellers are in desperate straits. Barely scraping by, they don’t regard pulling up stakes and moving on as a viable option.

We see no advantage to anyone in moving them downtown to church parking lots, as some have suggested. That simply promises to inflame a different neighborhood, one that has already borne more than its share of the homeless burden, because of earlier olive branches extended by downtown churches.

If they can’t gain access to alternative housing, the RV dwellers want a hassle-free place to park their rigs. That’s the bottom line for them, and by extension then, for the city.


The Capital Press, July 27, on Portland gridlock:

It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to determine that Portland is highway-impaired. Traffic in Oregon’s largest city is slow.

How slow is it?

A few years ago, the state Department of Transportation estimated that 34,600 hours a day were wasted in Portland traffic jams. That’s nearly 4 years of people’s time that was wasted each day. We’d bet the number is much larger now. And just think of what all that stalled traffic does to the climate. A car or truck stuck in Portland traffic is producing carbon dioxide but getting zero miles per gallon. By that standard alone, Portland must be a major contributor to climate change.

Portland traffic is so bad people headed for the airport often have to factor in an extra hour of drive time just to avoid missing their flights.

And here’s the kicker: Portland traffic is so bad the state Legislature set aside $25 million to help agricultural shippers in the nearby Willamette Valley avoid it. That’s how bad Portland traffic is.

The plan is to build an “intermodal facility” somewhere in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. Trucks will haul containers full of hay and other agricultural commodities from farms and processors to a loading terminal where the containers can be loaded onto railroad cars. From there, trains would go to ports in Tacoma or Seattle for export overseas, thus avoiding Portland traffic snarls. The Port of Portland handles only a tiny number of container ships, making the trip to Tacoma and Seattle necessary.

It should be noted that there are already three such intermodal facilities in the region — including one at the port — but all are in Portland. Trucks hauling containers to those facilities are just as likely to get caught in traffic.

The big problem is Portland traffic. If Interstates 5, 205 and 405 had adequate capacity, and if traffic not bound for Portland could avoid its multi-lane parking lots, many problems could be solved. But, for whatever reason, that is not to be.

Having a $25 million intermodal facility in the valley represents the next best thing for valley growers and processors who still have to get their crops and goods to ports for shipment to overseas customers.

In the running are two proposals. One would be built in Brooks, a few miles north of Salem. The other would be a repurposed paper mill in Millersburg, a few miles south of Salem.

We can’t comment on the attributes of the proposals. Suffice it to say: Any option that allows shippers to avoid Portland traffic jams is well worth considering.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, July 31, on Portland mayor’s response to ICE occupation:

When protesters first gathered at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office six weeks ago, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler rushed to take a stand. Channeling the disgust that many felt about President Trump’s inhumane policy of separating families entering the country illegally, Wheeler announced in a flurry of tweets that he did not want Portland Police to get involved in the conflict between protesters and ICE, a “federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track.”

He wrapped up his tweets with a talk-tough soundbite, telling ICE that if they’re “looking for a bailout from this mayor, they’re looking in the wrong place.”

But in his desire to show solidarity with protesters, who disbanded camp last week after 38 days, Wheeler appears to have mistaken “bailout” for basic responsibility.

News media organizations have reported multiple stories of harassment by some protesters directed at those who work at or live near the ICE building, including the shouting of racial slurs at an African-American federal employee and alleged threats against a woman working in her parents’ food cart. The absence of police - who allegedly were called in multiple cases but did not respond - also paved the way for the right-wing Patriot Prayer group to later descend on the scene as self-appointed enforcers.

And as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Anna Spoerre reported, a lawyer representing the union for ICE employees is now requesting a meeting with Wheeler to discuss how he will ensure that police respond to ICE employees’ public safety requests in the future. The letter, sent by attorney Sean Riddell, warns of a possible lawsuit if the city continues to deny police services to ICE employees in violation of equal-protection guarantees in the Constitution.

As understandable as the mayor’s position may have been for Ted Wheeler, the politician, it’s untenable for Ted Wheeler, the police commissioner. While he is right to decry the brutal policy that triggered the protest, he also must commit to unequivocal professionalism in leading the police bureau — particularly considering the bureau has long been plagued by accusations of unprofessional conduct. Unfortunately, his stance only cements the belief that police can and do base their enforcement activity on biases and political position.

It’s not a good look for Wheeler, who should recall that he’s commissioner of police, not commander of his own personal army. And it’s reminiscent of the very behavior that Wheeler is condemning. As Riddell told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board, “there’s only one other politician who creates policy via tweet and uses his executive powers to inflict harm on his political enemies.”

Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler responded, criticizing Riddell’s letter as inflammatory. He wrote that police told federal officials they would respond in cases of “immediate life safety concerns.”

In other words, don’t expect any assistance unless all hell is breaking loose. That’s an indefensible stand for someone responsible for building trust in public safety, not giving people reasons to doubt going to the police.

Wheeler must initiate a course correction, not just for the credibility of the police bureau but for his own as an elected official who understands his obligation to all Portlanders. Meeting with Riddell and the ICE union to resolve concerns would be a start. But Wheeler should also commit to investigating allegations that police failed to respond to 911 calls from employees facing harassment by protesters, as Willamette Week reported, as well as other news reports that the food cart owners similarly sought police assistance but received only a phone call.

And finally, Wheeler should recognize and communicate that this isn’t an argument over Trump’s separation policy, but rather about providing basic services to members of the public fearful for their safety. In no way does that compromise Portland’s status as a “sanctuary city” in which the city refrains from helping federal agencies find or deport undocumented immigrants whose only offense is entering the country illegally.

Without question, Wheeler and Chief Danielle Outlaw should show discretion in how to deploy police resources. But that should be based on factors such as urgency or severity of illegal activity — not on whether the mayor agrees with the policies of someone’s employer, no matter how egregious.

We’re seeing on a national scale what happens when those in power decide to stray from ideals of fairness and base policies on anger and emotion instead. Portland and Mayor Wheeler should not fall in that same trap.

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