Editorials from around Oregon
By The Associated Press
Sep. 13, 2017
Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Oregonian/OregonLive, Sept. 12, on Eagle Creek suspect's name being a matter of public interest
The Oregon State Police may have the best of intentions in withholding the name of the 15-year-old accused of sparking the Eagle Creek fire with fireworks. The nuclear-level fury and calls for violence against the unidentified teen have generated understandable concern over his safety if his name were to be released.
But the agency is only fanning the flames by saying it does not plan to ever release the teen's name. Such a refusal goes against its practice of releasing suspect names of juveniles in high-profile cases, as Oregon State Police Capt. Bill Fugate acknowledged to The Oregonian/OregonLive's Noelle Crombie. It also raises legitimate questions for the public about why the agency would take such an unusual step on behalf of this suspect and whether the agency's apparent sympathy for the teen is affecting the rigor of its investigation.
Fugate later amended his earlier statement, telling The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that Oregon State Police would consult with the state justice department and others before making a final decision. Prosecutors, provided they charge the teen, could also release his name. But the instinct to withhold public information for dubious reasons is one that has unfortunately become increasingly common. For example, the Oregon State Police still has not released the name of the trooper who fatally shot Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, one of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers, in January 2016 despite the obligation to allow the public to scrutinize situations in which an officer uses deadly force.
In the teen's case, Fugate pointed to several comments on the agency's Facebook page in which people called for public floggings, suggested that the teen be dropped from one of the planes dumping water on the fire and even that he be shot. Such remarks are disgusting and as recklessly ignorant as the teen's alleged actions.
But as repulsive as they are, those comments don't amount to credible, specific threats. They are examples of how people are emotionally imposing a hypothetical punishment, just as others are calling for prison sentences, fines, community service or other reparations. As extreme as some of these remarks are, the entire string of comments reflects the public's reasonable desire that the justice system hold this teen accountable if he is responsible. There is plenty of room to do that without venturing into medieval punishments and while recognizing that no one mistake should define a teen or his future.
The public's need for justice is what police and prosecutors need to remember. Their job is to demonstrate professionalism and objectivity in carrying out the investigation and determining what charges are merited. They should not bend the rules or change protocols out of sympathy. While the teen and his family deserve every bit of protection from genuine threats as any other member of the public, they do not deserve to be shielded from taking responsibility for what happened.
Instead, all the public has heard is radio silence - from the teen suspect, from the teen's family and from the teen's friends who accompanied him. Whether they realize it or not, such silence comes across as an arrogant disavowal of responsibility.
The authorities' endorsement of such secrecy only makes things worse for the teen and for themselves. Conspiracy theories flourish in the absence of information. Already, people are filling in the blanks with their own ideas of why the teen isn't being identified and whether a nonwhite suspect would receive similar treatment. All fuel to add to the social-media conflagration.
The steps that Oregon State Police and prosecutors take reverberate beyond the teen's identity. Will Oregon State Police subvert public records law and refuse to release video footage that reportedly shows the teen setting off the fireworks? Will it redact police reports sought by individual property owners who have lost homes to the fire and want to take legal action against the family? What other policies will the agency ignore to accommodate the teen and his family?
Certainly, the teen and his family shouldn't have to live in fear of violence, but the Oregon State Police should look to respond to true threats, not online rants that officers imagine could evolve into a threat someday. This blaze trapped 150 hikers, burned four homes, torched 35,000 acres so far and forced nearly 2,000 people to evacuate. The vast fire and the destabilized terrain have put firefighters, police officers and emergency responders at risk. The conflagration has caused immense economic and incalculable emotional loss. Police shouldn't add to the loss by devaluing the public's legitimate right to know who was involved and how this devastation came to be.
The News-Review, Sept. 10, on investigation into Umpqua Community College tragedy
At long last, nearly two years after the tragedy that struck Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1, 2015, the police released their investigation records about the incident.
For some, the records help provide some answers to the lingering questions about why this horrible event happened. For them, perhaps, it offers a sense of closure. For others, unfortunately, it may reopen old wounds.
We want to once again offer our condolences to all those who suffered injury and loss and trauma that terrible day. And to express our gratitude for the immense bravery of our law enforcement and first responders, along with all those who stepped in to help in the aftermath. Many lives were lost that day, but many also were saved.
To the brave officers who took out the shooter at grave risk to their own lives, we thank you. To the people who pulled out the survivors, rendered aid, transported them to and treated them at local hospitals, we thank you. To all the people who counseled the traumatized, brought candles to the vigil, laid flowers down, gave donations and lined the streets to welcome UCC students when they returned to class, we thank you too.
We also are grateful to the investigators who looked into every aspect of this case. Going through their records, our staff members were able to gain a better understanding of what motivated the killer, of the heroic actions through which he finally was stopped, of what the survivors experienced.
For those seeking answers, we've done our best to provide them and will continue to do so. For those not willing to reopen old wounds, we understand if you set down the paper for a few days and look away. That's OK too.
Some of our readers and others in the community questioned why we chose to name the shooter. In part, the answer is that we are, as journalists, obligated to report the facts and record the history of our time. We understand that some feel to use the name somehow glorifies the shooter or gives him what he wanted.
The shooter hoped that after he murdered his classmates he would join a demon hierarchy in hell. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, the line blurred between severe mental illness and pure evil.
Speaking his name won't change that. Fearing his name won't prevent the next shooting down the line.
Looking the truth square in the eyes, understanding as best we can what happened here — that might help prevent the next one. But there are no guarantees.
The truth is that a very mentally ill young man, one who may have been molested in a church, one who felt he would never have friends, one who identified himself as part black but who hated black men, and one who believed demons spoke to him was able to fill his home with guns. And one terrible day, he used some of them to murder nine people.
The truth is also that we all wish this had never happened in our beautiful community. And that the real Roseburg was revealed not in the shooter's actions, but in our response to this tragedy.
In the end, the only thing that can defeat the darkness is light.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Sept. 10, on Congress needing to move on fire-funding fix
Here's the good news: The bill that Congress passed last week for billions of dollars in aid for the victims of Hurricane Harvey also included additional money to fight this year's crop of wildfires.
It's true that the money is more or less an afterthought to the $7.85 billion Congress (quite properly) allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, but that doesn't make the wildfire allocation any less welcome. The approved wildfire fighting provision allows for payments to cover additional firefighting costs that go over agency budgets. Staff members for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said that amount is estimated to be at least $300 million, but our guess right now is that's low.
The additional money means that the federal agencies primarily charged with battling blazes (the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management) can pay their firefighting bills without having to dip too deeply into other programs. And the programs that often get raided during severe wildfire years often are those designed to pay for maintenance work on lands so that future fires don't burn with the same intensity that we've seen recently.
Which leads to the bad news: Congress still has not moved to end this practice, known as "fire borrowing," despite having ample opportunity the past few sessions. And we don't see any sign that makes us think that this dereliction of duty will end any time soon. Apparently, the preferred congressional solution to the issue of how to pay firefighting bills is to toss money at it when required — which actually is a step forward, we suppose — but ignores the better solutions that are available.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, in a letter last week to President Donald Trump, gave the president a quick primer on the issues. (A copy of the letter is included with the online version of this editorial.)
Wyden reminded Trump of the scope of this year's fire season: More than 7.65 million acres have burned (or are burning) this season across the Western United States. Nearly 28,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and they've been shuttled from state to state as new fires erupt, often with startling speed, across the landscape. "This is a truly a national natural disaster," Wyden wrote, "on the scale of hurricanes, tornadoes or floods."
Wyden noted that fires across the West are "burning hotter, longer and more severely due to the effects of climate change. The reality is that by providing more funding to reduce hazardous fuel loads in our nation's forests we can get ahead of these disasters and reduce the length of fire seasons."
But, he added, that requires a consistent source of funding. And that's what's been lacking: Agencies faced with huge firefighting bills have no other choice but to tap into the funding for those programs. The result: As summers grow hotter and drier, forests that haven't been properly maintained become tinderboxes.
Wyden noted in his letter that Congress has been discussing this effort for a number of years. Among the solutions is one that would treat the nation's very biggest wildfires as true national disasters and allow money to fight those to come from a FEMA fund. That would help protect money used to maintain forests and other wildlands.
But these common-sense and often bipartisan solutions never seem to get the traction they need to win congressional approval; they often get tied up in broader efforts to reform federal land policies, and sink of their own weight. In the past, we thought it would take a fire season like this one to finally make lawmakers take notice of the issue. But here we are, and we have nothing to show for it except fears that each successive fire season will be worse than the one before. It's not an encouraging thought.
The Medford Mail Tribune, Sept. 10, on addressing Oregon's legacy of injustice
Oregon's sordid history of racial and ethnic discrimination is well known. Here in the Rogue Valley, a photo of the Ku Klux Klan parading through Ashland in the 1920s has been reprinted over and over when the issue of race relations comes up. What is less well known is that the state's criminal justice system still contains a relic of that intolerance. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to take up a challenge to that relic.
Today, in 2017, Oregon is one of only two states that allow criminal defendants to be convicted with a less-than-unanimous jury verdict. The other is Louisiana.
Why does it matter whether all 12 jurors in a felony case vote to convict, or only 10 of 12?
For starters, a unanimous jury verdict has been presumed to be the standard for criminal conviction since before the U.S. Constitution was written. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury, although it does not mention a unanimous verdict. But the Supreme Court has held that a unanimous verdict is included in that guarantee — in federal trials. State trials, the court has held, are a different matter, and the court has declined to impose that constitutional requirement on the states based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, although it has done so for other rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, including the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Secondly, both Oregon's and Louisiana's non-unanimous verdict rules originated in attempts to limit the ability of minority viewpoints to sway jury verdicts.
Louisiana changed its constitution to permit non-unanimous verdicts in 1898, after the 14th Amendment permitted black Americans to serve on juries. By allowing non-unanimous verdicts, Louisiana saw to it that one or two black jurors could be overruled by a majority of white jurors. The amendment was adopted at the Constitutional Convention of the state of Louisiana, which was held, according to the journal of its proceedings, to "establish the supremacy of the white race."
In Oregon, a Jewish man was accused of killing a Protestant man in Portland in 1934. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on second-degree murder and convicted the defendant of manslaughter instead. The public outcry — fueled by editorials in the Morning Oregonian — led the Legislature one month later to propose a constitutional amendment allowing non-unanimous verdicts for everything except first-degree murder. The voters approved.
The Morning Oregonian wrote: "This newspaper's opinion is that the increased urbanization of American life, the natural boredom of human beings with rights once won at great cost, and the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe, of people untrained in the jury system, have combined to make the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory."
And yet, 83 years later, it is still considered satisfactory — everywhere but in Oregon and Louisiana.
Beyond the consideration of racial and ethnic bigotry, non-unanimous verdicts make it easier for prosecutors to win convictions in Oregon than in other states. A 12-member jury that takes a poll at the beginning of deliberations and comes up 10-2 for conviction is unlikely to take the time to deliberate and persuade the two dissenters to change their minds when that isn't necessary.
On Sept. 25, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether to take up the case of Daniel Lambert of Louisiana, who is serving a life sentence without parole for second-degree murder although two of the 12 jurors in his trial were not convinced of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court should take the case, and erase once and for all this legacy of injustice.
East Oregonian, Sept. 8, on DACA and legislative failures
Last week, Donald Trump rescinded DACA, an Obama-era policy that gave short-term relief to about 800,000 residents who illegally entered the United States as children.
Nicknamed "Dreamers," those young people temporarily protected by DACA are among the most widely supported groups of illegal immigrants in the country. According to most recent surveys, 75-80 percent of Americans approve of keeping them in the U.S., either via some sort of avenue to citizenship or under special government protection from deportation. After all, these are children who arrived here without really having a choice, have known no other home and have committed no crimes while in this country.
Still, there are immigration hardliners who won't budge, and those 20-25 percent of Americans and their representatives have stopped any meaningful immigration reform from being enacted, even on a lay-up like the Dreamers.
For decades our national legislative bodies have failed in their duties. In order to protect their own hides from that vocal minority, members of those bodies have disregarded the will of a large majority of Americans. And in covering their own behinds, those Congressmen are hanging Americans — and should-be Americans — out to dry.
This country has long needed comprehensive immigration reform, but Congress hasn't got it done. This country has long needed massive infrastructure investment, but Congress hasn't got it done. This country has long needed comprehensive tax reform, but don't hold your breath.
This puts presidents in a poor position. Being a constitutional law scholar, Barack Obama admitted that his DACA program was on shaky legal ground from the beginning. He made no bones about that, but felt he had no other choice because Congress had abdicated its duties by doing nothing and leaving a critical problem festering and unresolved.
President Trump claimed that DACA was sure to be challenged in court — and it would likely fall. Perhaps he is right. But the announcement of his decision was nearly universally panned by Congressmen both Republican and Democratic. Yet how hypocritical of them. They are the people who can solve this mess, yet they choose to criticize rather than create.
A wide majority of Americans want to protect Dreamers. Congress should do their job and create a reasonable, legal system for doing so. Then get on to the next problem on the list.