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South Carolina editorial roundup

June 21, 2017

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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June 14

Aiken Standard on the Congressional shooting:

America came awfully close yesterday to experiencing one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history.

As it was, Wednesday’s shooting at a practice for a congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, was an incredibly dangerous situation. Five people were wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who’s in critical condition; an aide; a lobbyist and two police officers who bravely but their lives on the line to prevent any further loss of life.

The shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, was shot by police. He died later in the day.

We can’t underscore enough how grateful we are more people weren’t hurt and that there wasn’t (as of press time) any loss of life among the victims. Several members of Congress who were present remarked how 20 or more people could’ve been killed. They were sitting ducks, baseball bats their only defense against a disturbed, armed gunman.

The idea that 20 or more members of Congress could’ve been killed is beyond imaginable. Attacking anyone in the fashion as the Alexandria gunman did is callous and evil. That House members were targets makes it an attack on all of America.

In America, we have seen far too many mass shootings. Wednesday’s attack comes virtually within a year of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, when 49 victims were gunned down in a gay nightclub. Mass attacks by gunfire, explosives and even motor vehicles are becoming far too common here and abroad.

The madmen and women responsible for these despicable, cowardly acts are guilty of crimes against humanity. As abhorrent as these acts are, they fail to shake our resolve as a nation. They unite, not divide.

We watched with pride as senior Republican and Democratic leaders stood united, condemning the attack in the strongest possible terms. House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders delivered moving speeches that needed to be heard.

President Donald Trump did the same, swiftly addressing a nation whose nerves were understandably frayed. It was a wonderful show of unity among our nation’s leaders at a time we needed it most.

Above all, we wish to salute the U.S. Capitol police for its bravery and quick thinking. Officers Krystal Griner and David Bailey, themselves wounded in the shooting, took out the gunman. Griner and Bailey saved many lives, illustrating perfectly that the vast majority of law enforcement officers in this nation really do serve and protect.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., summed it up this way:

“The shooting this morning was reprehensible, and I am grateful for the bravery of Officer (Krystal) Griner and Officer Bailey. They each embodied the courage and selflessness that Capitol Police officers display each and every day,” the statement read.

We agree.

Wednesday’s shooting was a terrible act, a black eye on the very heart of our democratic processes. But it also could have been much, much worse. We are beyond thankful that it wasn’t.

Online: http://www.aikenstandard.com/

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June 18

Herald-Journal of Spartanburg on jail and mental health:

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright is correct when he points out that mentally ill people shouldn’t be in his jail, they should be getting treatment.

The problem is that South Carolina offers too few treatment possibilities for the mentally ill, particularly those who may not have a way to pay for expensive care. Many mentally ill people end up incarcerated in the jail for lack of an alternative.

The Sheriff’s Office is now dealing with an investigation into the third suicide at the jail in two years. It isn’t like the jail hasn’t adapted. After each previous suicide, steps were taken to prevent others. Areas where they occurred were renovated. Additional checks by jail personnel were added. The Sheriff’s Office has tried to make suicide more difficult.

But the undeniable fact is that the Spartanburg County Detention Facility is not a mental health treatment facility. And the Sheriff’s Office is not a team of mental health professionals.

Asking detention officers to act as mental health experts is unreasonable. It’s not the focus of their training. It’s not what their team and their facility is designed to accomplish.

But it’s what the Palmetto State is asking of them and jails across the state. By eliminating other avenues of mental health treatment, we have pushed this job into the already full and overstressed lap of law enforcement.

The problem is recognized. And Spartanburg County has led the way in addressing it. The jail has added more visits by mental health counselors and psychiatrists to inmates. The County Council has gone on record in acknowledging and promising to work on the problem.

Our community has responded by creating a mental health crisis center and opening more options for telepsychiatry

The state needs to step up and join the effort by replacing some of the beds that have been eliminated for inpatient mental health treatment. There used to be thousands of those beds in the state. Now there are hundreds and a long waiting list to occupy them.

Amarenda Dasa, the young man who hanged himself in the jail last week, had a long history of mental illness. Authorities and doctors were well aware of his struggles long before he was arrested for stabbing his younger brother to death.

Yet, more than two years after his death, after twice being found mentally unfit to stand trial, he was still in the Spartanburg County Detention Facility. Why wasn’t he in a mental health treatment facility?

There are those who will have a hard time dredging up sympathy for an accused killer, but that’s not the point. Any of us could need mental health treatment. Any of our family members could need help. It needs to be available to them.

It’s a false economy to save money by warehousing the mentally ill in our jails. Some of the costs are hidden because we impose them on law enforcement. And withholding the proper treatment from people ends up incurring larger costs as their problems become deeper.

But it’s the cost imposed on our families and our community by treating mental illness as if it is a crime that should really outrage us.

Online: http://www.goupstate.com/

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June 19

The Post and Courier of Charleston on tourism:

Charleston welcomes a lot of tourists every year. In fact, the area’s roughly 6 million annual visitors outnumber tri-county residents about 10-to-1.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to Venice, Italy, where the city’s 20 million annual visitors outnumber residents about 333-to-1. It’s not even as much as Myrtle Beach, where an estimated 15 million annual visitors dwarf the metro area population about 34-to-1.

But Charleston receives more tourists per capita than popular European destinations like Barcelona or Amsterdam, both of which are struggling to balance tourism and quality of life for residents. And more and more people visit every year.

Not surprisingly, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice all made a recent admittedly unscientific list of “Eight Places That Hate Tourists The Most” compiled by British newspaper The Independent.

“Hate” is a strong word, of course. But it’s no stretch to say that a lot of popular travel hot spots are at least a little weary of the attention.

Other places on the list included rural Thai islands that deal with an influx of as many as 4,000 tourists per day, and the Greek island of Santorini that recently struggled to cap the number of cruise ship passengers who can visit per year.

Sounds familiar.

Charleston may not even be the tourism capital of South Carolina in terms of sheer numbers, but it has plenty in common with Venice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Santorini.

Like those destinations, the focus of tourism in Charleston is largely limited to a relatively tiny historic district. Area beaches are a draw too, but almost everyone visiting Charleston is going to make at least one trip downtown.

And that puts a huge burden on a small and geographically limited area surrounded by water on three sides.

Meanwhile, hotels are popping up at a relentless rate. Short-term rentals are pushing out long-term tenants in favor of a quick buck. Rents are rising. Restaurants and bars are catering to well-heeled tourists at price ranges increasingly fewer locals can afford.

The problems are similar in Charleston and pretty much any place on The Independent’s list. But solutions are hard to come by.

Amsterdam has mulled charging a tourist tax and capping the number of visitors per year. Barcelona has slapped Airbnb with huge fines for violating city rules on short-term rentals. The picturesque Italian region of Cinque Terre announced plans last year to start a ticketing system to limit tourism.

Venice, where the resident population is shrinking so quickly that locals could disappear completely by 2030, took steps this month to ban new hotels from its historic city center.

In contrast, a moratorium on new hotels in Charleston failed to get City Council approval earlier this year.

Maybe a moratorium will never get the votes, but a smarter policy is undoubtedly needed. Charleston should learn from its foreign counterparts and address tourism-related issues before they turn into full blown crises.

And the city is working on that. A Short-Term Rental Task Force is expected to offer finalized recommendations in September. Officials also are looking at ordinances related to accommodations zoning, hotel room limits, housing affordability, traffic and other hospitality-related issues.

That’s critical. Because the tourists keep coming. And we need a healthy, thriving Charleston to be able to welcome them.

Online: http://www.postandcourier.com/

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