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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

June 25, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. June 23, 2019.

— A jury’s rare decision

A jury in Canadian County recently convicted a man of killing a woman and her young child in 2013, and ordered a punishment seen less and less these days — the death penalty.

As The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay reported, the death sentence for Derek Don Posey, 35, was just the fifth imposed by an Oklahoma jury since 2015 when the state put a hold on executions until it could get its protocol straightened out. Nearly four years later, it’s unknown when executions — using nitrogen gas instead of drug injection — will resume.

A reluctance by juries to impose the ultimate punishment has been evident for some time. Look no further than the state trial for Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols in 2004.

Nichols faced 161 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of 160 people and the loss of an unborn girl. Jurors spent 62 days on the trial, but ultimately deadlocked on whether Nichols should receive the death penalty. The judge sentenced Nichols to 161 consecutive life-without-parole sentences, and later said three jurors told him they felt that was a tougher punishment than death. (Nichols had previously escaped the death penalty in his federal trial, again due to a jury deadlock.)

The idea of making a killer spend the rest of his days thinking about his crime may be one factor in the reduction of death sentences. Another is a growing lack of faith in the system. In October, Gallup said fewer than half of Americans (49 believe the death penalty is applied fairly. That’s the lowest point ever.

Cases like that of Anthony Hinton in Alabama contribute to the skepticism. Hinton spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, and then wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir. The Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against the death penalty, says 164 former death row prisoners have been exonerated since 1973.

According to the DPIC, death sentences were imposed just 42 times nationwide in 2018, when Washington became the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment (New Hampshire made it 21 last month). For the first time since 1973 when the death sentenced resumed in the United States, no county imposed more than two death sentences last year. The DPIC projects that 42 new death sentences will be imposed this year by 14 states and the federal government.

Oklahoma had only one death sentence imposed in 2018. Posey’s was the first imposed this year — he smashed his victim’s head after forcing his way into her home and raping her, then set the place fire, killing the woman’s 5-year-old son.

A prosecutor told jurors the case “isn’t about vengeance, this is about justice” for the victims. After just three hours of deliberation, the jury agreed that the appropriate form of justice was the death penalty. If the prosecutor was surprised, well, who could blame him?

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Tulsa World. June 25, 2019.

— Mayor G.T. Bynum offers the better means of civilian oversight of police use-of-force situations

Mayor G.T. Bynum’s plan to create an independent city office to review police internal affairs investigations of use-of-force situations, make policy recommendations and act as a liaison to the community is facing some opposition on the City Council.

City Councilor Connie Dodson has proposed an alternative: A city contract with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to review use-of-force incidents. Dodson also has proposed creating a citizen advisory committee.

Dodson’s proposal would be less expensive, but less permanent and, we think, accomplish less.

The annualized cost for Bynum’s plan is $500,000 (a tiny fraction of the city’s $120-million-a-year police budget). An OSBI contract would probably cost the city about $100,000 a year, but any future mayor could simply cancel the contract and end the effort. Bynum’s plan could create a civil service-protected wing of city government that would be much more difficult to eliminate in the future.

The biggest problem with Dodson’s plan is that it would essentially amount to police investigating police, which is less effective as a means of building public confidence in the system. OSBI would only take up investigations in Tulsa at the request of the local police chief. While we admire Chief Chuck Jordan as a man of integrity, having the chief in charge of what gets outside oversight undermines the perception of independence from the beginning.

We need to remember that a Gallup survey of Tulsans released in January found that only 18% of black residents say they trust TPD a lot and 53% of black Tulsans said they disagree or strongly disagree with the idea that police treat people like them fairly.

A strong, professional, permanent, civilian oversight process within city government is the better way to improve those disturbing perceptions.

Dodson’s proposal is better than what we have now, which is nothing, but Bynum’s plan is the better way to ensure effective use-of-force oversight, and we continue to support it.

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Enid News & Eagle. June 25, 2019.

— Creating liaison position for ELL students, families will be a major benefit

Enid Public Schools has taken an important step in bridging the language gap facing many of its students and their families.

The district has named an ELL liaison to assist English Language Learner students and their families. Jennifer Fields, a longtime EPS teacher, will start in the new position in the 2019-20 school year. She is a 21-year teacher, with the last five serving as ELL teacher at Longfellow Middle School.

The ELL liaison is to be “the go-to” between all the organizations and resources available in Enid, and the diverse communities represented in the school district, said Randy Rader, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

There certainly is a need for the position. Enid has a large Spanish-speaking population, as well as a significant population of Marshallese and Micronesian. Fields’ office will be located in the Administrative Services Center, but the idea is for her to be out and about town as often as possible, Rader said.

“One of the mistakes we sometimes make is telling people what they need, instead of reacting to their needs,” Rader said. “We want this person to be reacting.”

EPS is modeling the role after a similar position in the Springdale, Arkansas, school district. Like Enid, Springdale has a significant Marshallese and Micronesian population, as well as a Spanish-speaking demographic.

Language, cultural differences and the unfamiliarity of a new home can all be barriers to finding help in a given community.

“What we’re looking for is that one person that can go to all the different organizations ... and help coordinate,” Rader said.

Having a liaison to work with the diverse population of Enid students and their families should be a big benefit.

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