Editorials from around New York
By The Associated Press
Aug. 09, 2017
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The Jamestown Post-Journal on police training and body cameras
No one disputes that the death of a woman at the hands of Minneapolis police was a terrible mistake. There was no ill intent.
Nevertheless, Australian Justine Damond, who had been living in Minneapolis, is dead. She leaves behind a grief-stricken fiancé and scores of people who remember her as a wonderful woman.
She was shot by a police officer on the night of July 15 — after she summoned help when she heard what she thought might have been someone being assaulted.
Already, her death has illustrated shortcomings in how some police officers and departments have responded during the past few years to multiple accidental shootings by officers.
One recommendation stemming from the earlier deaths was that law enforcement personnel wear body cameras to record their interactions with the public. Obviously, the idea there was either to corroborate or refute officers accused of negligence or misconduct.
But both the Minneapolis officers involved in Damond's shooting were wearing body cameras. They were turned off.
Investigators have been told by one of the officers, who was driving the squad car that night, that as they cruised down a dark alley in response to Damond's call, he was startled by a loud noise. Soon after, Damond approached the car — whereupon the other officer shot her through the driver's side window.
It will be some time before the investigation is concluded, of course. But one thing seems likely: After hearing a loud noise and seeing someone approach the squad car, one of the officers fired his weapon instinctively, fearing he and his partner were at risk.
The two lessons, then, are first that officers on duty should have their body cameras turned on at all times, if they are so equipped, and second, that better training to help officers handle stressful situations without, in effect, panicking, is needed in some departments.
Easy to recommend, hard to do, of course. But unfortunately, what law enforcement officers do often places them and innocent bystanders in jeopardy. Unless we do better in minimizing that risk, there will be more needless deaths.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on Aim Photonics jobs
In the summer of 2015, elected officials were breathlessly promising that AIM Photonics would create thousands of jobs in our region. It does not take an investigative journalist to figure out that has yet to happen.
If you go to the AIM Photonics website, there is a picture of a green highway sign with the words "Opportunity Just Ahead" emblazoned on it. When you click on the picture, it leads to a listing of current job openings. There are seven.
Two of the openings are in Albany, not Rochester. So, technically, there appear to be only five jobs related to the nation's top photonics testing, assembling and packing site. To qualify for any of these photonics positions, you must be a highly skilled engineer with at least one year of industry experience.
If hired, it is unclear where you will report to work, since the actual AIM Photonics facility on Lake Avenue has yet to open. There is no definitive date for a ribbon cutting.
Note to elected officials: It is time for a detailed update.
Investigative journalist Brian Sharp went searching for one in his report on AIM Photonics' second anniversary.
He discovered that nearly $120 million in public funds have been, or are about to be, spent on the institute. Where our tax dollars have gone remains largely a mystery.
The institute is an incredibly complex and expensive undertaking, no doubt. And, photonics is a highly secretive industry given the intense global competition for market share. The United States is far behind dominating players like China, Japan and Germany and we cannot afford to slip up.
There are several good reasons why some information should be withheld from the public eye, even when the public is footing the bill.
But, as has been the case since Day One of AIM Photonics, its leaders are not being as forthcoming as they should be.
The public, through our tax dollars, is leasing Eastman Kodak Co.'s old Building 81 for the institute, but we have no idea what terms we have agreed to.
The public, through our tax dollars, is just starting to fix the place up. Presumably that means we will be doing work such as tearing down walls and erecting new ones, equipping clean rooms and installing high tech security features. But, we are not being allowed into any part of the building to see progress, or envision our future. The Democrat and Chronicle asked to take a photo or two, but no one would open the door.
This is the sort of information that the public should have access to. We should also have a better understanding of how the politicians got their job numbers so wrong, and whether we could be doing more to make them right.
Two years ago, our local elected officials were fighting to get into the photonics spotlight. Those very same leaders should be engaged every step of the way, demanding transparency and accountability from AIM Photonics, making sure that our dollars are being invested wisely, and providing concrete reasons to believe that our patience will pay off.
Middletown Times Herald-Record on the state's approach to medical marijuana
By this time you would think that somebody in Albany would have taken the governor, the head of the state Department of Health and legislative leaders aside and pointed out the obvious.
While New York continues to pretend that it is succeeding with its approach to providing medical marijuana to those who need it, a slow, costly and bureaucratic exercise even given the state's tendency to make most projects more complex than they need to be, evidence is readily available that we are on not just the wrong track but one that heads toward a messy and costly derailment.
The news last week from Albany was that the state has now licensed five new companies to join the five current ones to grow and sell medical marijuana products. Two of the new ones are in Orange County, joining one already here, and one new one is in Ulster.
The five existing suppliers resisted the expansion because they have not been very successful and feared that more competition in such a restrictive environment would make it difficult to survive. One executive said that given the lack of participating physicians and patients, any single supplier could handle present demand, making an expansion from five to 10 even more puzzling.
All of this is happening while many other states continue to offer less restrictive approaches on marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use and some of them are right next door. In a few months marijuana sales will be legal in Massachusetts, where personal possession is already legal. Vermont is working on legislation to allow people to grow their own and several other states are expanding access.
Most states which consider medicinal uses learned a lesson that still has not taken hold in New York. For marijuana to help those who need it, a principle that New York has adopted, patients need to work with their doctors free of unnecessary bureaucratic interference and doctors need to determine what would help. We see evidence of that unmet need in New York where more than 10,000 patients recently signed up now that the state has allowed doctors to write prescriptions for those with chronic pain, a condition that inexplicably was not included in the original list of allowed maladies. A bill expanding the list to include post-traumatic stress disorder has passed the Legislature but has not yet been signed by the governor.
At this rate, New York will continue to add a few illnesses here and there, will slowly add physicians to the list of those registered to write prescriptions and will hope that the competition among 10 suppliers does not bankrupt more than a few of them.
At the same time, people in New York who have illnesses not on the approved list or who do not live near one of the dispensaries or who do not want to bother with the cumbersome process of getting certified or put up with the restrictions on how it can be used will have more and more options available nearby to get the marijuana they want, assuming that they have not already found a local pot dealer to meet their needs.
New York Daily News on better affirmative action
It is altogether fair to look upon a fresh foray by President Trump's Justice Department, under Attorney General-for-now Jeff Sessions, with more than a little skepticism.
Sessions, no friend of voting rights protections, criminal justice reform or other matters of importance to black Americans, now focuses legal fire on affirmative action programs built to give historically disadvantaged African Americans and Latinos a hand up in college admissions.
But even progressives who believe deeply in the value of diversity should be prepared to admit that, as important as the overall objective of affirmative-action programs remains they often function, as designed, as blunt instruments with pernicious unintended consequences.
At immediate issue is the federal willingness to take sides in a complaint filed against Harvard University in 2014 by plaintiffs that include an Asian-American applicant rejected despite perfect test scores and wide-ranging extracurriculars — alleging that the university employs illegal quotas that give systematic advantage to black and Latino applicants and disadvantage Asians.
This, goes the claim, is discrimination akin to capping the number of Jewish students in the 1930s and 40s.
Harvard replies that qualified Asians are not being shut out, but that race is one factor among many used — consistent with the law and the Constitution — to ensure that its student population remains diverse.
For two years, the Obama administration stood on the sidelines; the Trump administration looks poised to jump in, on the Asian students' side.
The students make a compelling case for reform, boiling down to a provable pattern that Asian Americans face consistently higher bars to Harvard admission attributable to their race — in violation of the Civil Rights Act.
More broadly, research by Princeton scholars finds that African-American students get an admissions boost worth 310 SAT points compared with whites. Hispanics get a 130-point preference.
These are granted regardless of economic disadvantage; as President Obama pointed out, his privileged daughters will be the beneficiaries of admissions preferences.
Meanwhile, Asian students face strong headwinds, even if they happen to come from poor or working-class backgrounds.
But rather than scrapping preferences altogether, or pitting blacks and Latinos against Asians in a zero-sum fight, the far better way forward is for colleges — with guidance from the feds — to begin recrafting affirmative action programs to be responsive not to a student's skin color, but to his or her disadvantage.
A team led by an economist at Stanford (harder to get into than Harvard) found that top universities admit more students from the top 1% of U.S. households than from the bottom 50%. Shameful. Recalibrate admissions to cure that disease — doing away with legacy preferences, and putting a thumb on the scale for youngsters from lower-income families — and racial diversity will naturally follow.
None of this is to suggest that the educational playing field is anywhere near racially level or that the moment for remedying past discrimination has passed. The burdens of history are real. And millions of black and Latino children, chronically failed by separate and unequal public schools, are disadvantaged by the time they apply to college.
For society to throw up its hands and demand all 17-year-olds be subjected to a rigid meritocracy would be to abdicate our common responsibility to strive toward genuinely equal opportunity.
But the answer is not to cling to rigid and simplistic race-based preferences; it is to embrace a fairer, more inclusive understanding of equity.
Newsday on the Korean nuclear crisis and 1945
As words fly fiercely and tensions mount over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, world leaders would do well to remember the singular lesson of this week in history:
Never again. We have seen the devastating consequences of these weapons before. We cannot get this wrong.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States deployed the first nuclear weapon, killing 140,000 people in Hiroshima. Wednesday is the anniversary of the second attack, when 70,000 died in Nagasaki, hastening the end of World War II. Those bombs were not as powerful as the ones that exist today.
Yet the dream of a non-nuclear world remains remote. Last month, the UN announced its first pact to ban nuclear arms. But neither the nine nations with nuclear weapons nor Japan participated in the process. Unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to test missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland.
The UN Security Council responded by levying its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea, costing the impoverished country up to $1 billion a year. Most encouraging was China's yes vote on the new penalties it drafted with the United States. Kim will not be deterred, if he can be at all, without help from his main benefactor.
Bellicose words and displays of military strength only inflame hostilities. Better to turn down the temperature via diplomacy. Meeting is better than not meeting. Talking is better than not talking. It was good news that North Korea's foreign minister sat down last weekend with colleagues from South Korea, China and Russia, and that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held open the possibility of direct talks with North Korea.
The way to a more peaceful future lies in lessons learned 72 years ago. Never again.