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South Carolina editorial roundup

March 21, 2018

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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March 21

The Post and Courier of Charleston on South Carolina’s ‘disturbing schools’ law, which it says is disproportionately applied to black students:

South Carolina needs to get rid of an overly broad, century-old “disturbing schools” law that criminalizes “obnoxious” behavior and is disproportionately applied to black students.

Under the law, students as young as 7 can be charged for yelling, shoving or cursing, thereby entangling them in the juvenile justice system. Even if convictions don’t result in criminal detention, students are often channeled into probation or classes for those with disciplinary problems. Such overreactions frequently are an extension of schools’ zero tolerance policies that insert police officers into many situations once ably handled by teachers and principals. The results can have bad long-term consequences for children.

The 1917 law is outdated, vague and misapplied. Originally aimed at loitering and obnoxious behavior outside girls’ schools, it was amended in 1968 to cover all schools, and then toughened in 1972 to include fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

The law is overly broad — “obnoxious” or “disturbance” can mean almost anything — and has been misused as a catch-all to criminalize otherwise common adolescent behavior. If a student, or any juvenile for that matter, is truly breaking a law, there are plenty of well-defined statutes to address that.

And critics contend that the constitutionality of the “disturbing schools” law is questionable based on the lopsided way it has been applied to minority students. Between 2010 and 2016, more than 9,500 South Carolina students were charged under the law, with blacks nearly four times more likely to be prosecuted than whites, according to reporting by the Post and Courier’s Paul Bowers.

It’s been more than two years since a Columbia high school girl was jerked out of her chair in a headline-grabbing arrest for refusing to surrender her cellphone and charged under the “disturbing schools” law. But even more unsettling, two classmates were charged under the same law for objecting to the arrest and posting video of the school resource officer’s actions. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott eventually fired the officer.

Thanks to a recent federal appeals court ruling, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law will get a new hearing in U.S. District Court.

State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, who represents the defendants in the lawsuit, also has introduced legislation that would amend the law to apply only to non-students on school campuses and to specifically define what constitutes an offense.

It’s good news that the law has been used less frequently since the highly publicized 2015 case in Columbia that helped trigger the lawsuit.

Yes, some students are troublemakers. Yes, they can be obnoxious and disturb classes. And they should be punished appropriately. But misbehaving isn’t a crime — or at least it shouldn’t be.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/

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March 20

The Times & Democrat says the state shouldn’t drag out executing people sentenced to death:

It’s understandable why society wants the death penalty and why our leaders seem determined to have and use execution as punishment for violent crimes. It’s not as easily understood how we can allow cases to extend over so much time.

The death penalty is the ultimate punishment for the worst of criminals. We must be certain, with a defense being vigorously mounted for accused criminals, that guilt is established.

Already, a flawed legal process allows those sentenced to death to remain on death row for two decades and longer after their crimes. That’s not the way the process should work. Capital cases should receive top priority, getting a thorough and complete review. And they should be handled quickly.

Appeals should be prioritized. Last-minute stays, as a matter of routine, are as inexcusable as the years it takes from sentencing to execution.

Recent years have seen the problem grow more pronounced.

Executions and new death sentences have been declining in South Carolina and across the United States. South Carolina has not executed anyone since May 6, 2011.

The complication has been in the method: use of lethal injection.

States have been unable to obtain drugs because pharmaceutical companies that compounded them in the past have received a great deal of outside pressure to end the practice.

Without the drugs, states have had no way of executing inmates on death row unless, as in South Carolina, they choose to die by electrocution.

South Carolina lawmakers are addressing that issue this session.

The Senate has approved a measure that switches the default mechanism of execution from lethal injection to electrocution. The change would allow the Department of Corrections to use electrocution if lethal injection is not available.

While lethal injection remains the most acceptable method of administering capital punishment, complications surrounding the process should not mean capital punishment is non-existent.

Upstate Republican Sen. Shane Martin said, “Our statutes have no meaning if they are not enforced. This bill enables the enforcement of our laws and justice for victims across South Carolina. I trust that the House will act swiftly to ensure justice in South Carolina.”

But the most pressing problem is not the only one.

Until we change the procedures surrounding capital cases, the death penalty is no good as a deterrent - and really not even very good as retribution. Too many times there is sympathy for the person being executed as the stories of the victims are deep in the past. The victims, let us remember, are not around to tell their stories.

Victims are punished as cases drag on and on. If a life prison term really meant a life prison term, the victims certainly could rest easier.

Call punishment by death or life in prison with no chance to get out nothing but retribution if you will, but time it is for people to pay the price for their actions.

If the electric chair is the only certain method of execution available, use it.

Online: http://thetandd.com/

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March 17

The Herald of Rock Hill on students’ walkout as a call to action:

High school students in our tri-county area joined tens of thousands of their peers nationwide Wednesday participating in National Student Walkout programs. The event, organized mostly through social media, was in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

There were 17 victims at Douglas High, and the Walkout was symbolically designated as a 17-minute event at 10 a.m.

The idea was to honor the victims, create dialogue about gun regulation and mental health, and allow students to express themselves about personal safety, bullying and other issues important to them.

It was a call to action.

Many students called out Congress for doing little to nothing since school shootings first came into the public’s consciousness in the 1990s.

Local school districts had varying reactions to the event. Some school leaders decided where the events would be held, whether students could participate, and whether the media could be on campus to report the events.

Lancaster County school officials chose to welcome reporters on campus to document the event and speak with students. Some of their comments were bracing.

“I never thought that it would be a day that I would be walking out of class in honor of 17 individuals that were murdered in a senseless crime,” said Makaylen Crosby, a senior at Andrew Jackson High.

“I never thought that I would see the day that going to school would be more dangerous than it was fun.”

Another senior at the school, Diamond McDovow, said Parkland might be a few hundred miles away, but what happened there still feels close to home.

“I’m a student too, and this could happen to any school.”

Indeed, there is no geographic boundary to gun violence, whether in schools and other public institutions, nightclubs or businesses.

However, school shootings occupy a special space. We send our children to school with the expectation they will be educated and return home safely. The students have that expectation.

Lancaster schools, where some facilities are not far from a community experiencing an inordinate number of fatalities and other incidents connected to gun violence, now randomly sets up metal detectors at buildings throughout the district to help keep students and faculty safe. The Lancaster County School District also created a school safety director position and added other security measures.

Other districts also are acting.

During the past five years, the Rock Hill school district has invested more than $8 million to improve school security.

The Clover school district has committed $2 million from its capital improvements budget to upgrade and improve school security systems.

Fort Mill school district is bringing in more armed security guards to protect students from intruders. The projected cost for the physical security systems is $100,000 and the district plans to spend $35,500 on the additional security officers for the remainder of the school year. Counselor salaries will be based on qualifications.

In one form or another, our schools are trying to stay a step ahead of the unthinkable.

It was good to see students find an avenue to articulate their thoughts, being activists and using their First Amendment right. It may not solve the problem, but providing an outlet helps students cope and keeps the message - in instances where the media was permitted to chronicle the events - in the public’s consciousness.

Let’s hope lawmakers, and whoever else can make a difference, were paying attention.

Online: http://www.heraldonline.com/

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