- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Dec. 16

The Commercial Appeal on the shooting death of Memphis teenager Darrius Stewart:

The release of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report on the gunshot death of Memphis teenager Darrius Stewart should help sharpen the public’s perception of whether the case represents a breach of one of the central tenets of the American justice system.

Although it cannot always be relied on, the notion that, in the end, no one is above the law is nevertheless one of the most important threads binding the fabric of society.

The public loses faith in the system when someone seems to have gotten away with a criminal act because of wealth, connections or a position of authority.

When people do not have faith in this basic principle, society breaks down. The police do not get the cooperation they need from the public to do their jobs effectively. The decisions of prosecutors and courts are constantly being questioned.

The TBI report, which can be viewed on the website of District Attorney General Amy Weirich, includes some witness accounts of the struggle with Memphis police officer Connor Shilling that led to Stewart’s shooting.

More clarification is expected from a review of the incident by a team of FBI agents, federal prosecutors and attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington.

The investigation was announced by U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, whose promise of an independent, impartial and thorough probe could help answer the question of whether Schilling has escaped prosecution so far because of his authority as a Memphis police officer.

Stewart, a black 19-year-old, was shot July 17 by Schilling, who is white, during a Hickory Hill traffic stop.

Police say he tried to flee from the officer after Schilling had verified two warrants that had been filed against Stewart in Iowa and Illinois.

According to the police, the officer had opened a door to the car in which Stewart was being held when Stewart kicked the door and attacked him, striking him with the officer’s handcuffs.

Schilling’s attorney says the shooting resulted from the officer’s attempts to protect himself when a scuffle ensued. An attorney for Stewart’s family says witnesses claim the teenager had surrendered and was on his knees when he was shot.

Weirich recommended that Schilling be charged with voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, but a grand jury declined to indict the officer.

That apparent contradiction as well as the confidential status of the TBI probe, which was lifted Tuesday morning, left the public with doubt, for the time being at least, whether the scales of justice are truly equal in this case.

Whether the new probe leads to a federal indictment or finds the evidence insufficient to warrant further action, it is the best chance the criminal justice system in this community has of maintaining the public’s trust.




Dec. 12

The Tennessean on Franklin Rep. Jeremy Durham:

Franklin Rep. Jeremy Durham’s poor behavior is under scrutiny.

However, instead of taking responsibility for any lapses in judgment, Durham, R-Franklin, has lashed out at those in the media who would bring these incidents to light.

Most recently, Durham was the focus of a 2013 investigation of prescription fraud, and he wrote a 2014 letter to a federal judge asking for leniency for a former youth pastor convicted of possessing child pornography.

Public officials should be held to a higher standard of conduct and, given these two instances, it is justified to examine them publicly.

Durham calls the scrutiny a “witch hunt” by the “liberal media,” turning his sights specifically on The Tennessean, which has reported stories on these incidents as well as of a robocall asking for Durham’s resignation.

But judgment, ethics and comportment matter, as the leaders of his own party have said in recent days.

If Durham’s skin is so thin that he cannot function as a respectable lawmaker, he should resign.

His voice has certainly not been silenced by this publication as he alleges. The Tennessean reporters have asked him for comment on each of these stories. The Tennessean agreed to publish Durham’s opinion piece last weekend touting his vision for the future of workers’ compensation.

In the first incident, the 21st District Drug Task Force in Williamson County in 2013 accused Durham of altering prescriptions and found that the timeline reported in medical records and the timeline provided by the lawmaker did not match up.

Law enforcement brought the case to a grand jury, which did not indict Durham. It should be noted that an indictment requires unanimous agreement among jurors, not that law enforcement falsely accused him.

Both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes have expressed concern about the allegations.

“Although I have not reviewed the documents from the Drug Task Force investigation, I in no way defend any unlawful activity by a member, and take it very seriously,” she said in a statement to The Tennessean last week.

Haynes, who said Republicans had taken the lead in “cleaning up the legislature,” stated: “Any allegation of illegal activity against an elected official is always a serious matter.”

In the second case, Durham wrote a letter to a federal judge asking for leniency for a youth pastor convicted of possessing child pornography.

Durham told The Tennessean that one of his closest friends knew the family. “There are certain times when a total second chance is not possible and a reset button is simply not available,” he wrote in his letter to the judge.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on this case said: “It’s just poor judgment, I think, on anybody’s part as a state legislator to write a letter to encourage a lesser sentence on child porn.”

The issues are serious and require serious examination, something Durham would prefer to avoid by deflecting attention from himself and onto the media.




Dec. 8

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro on Middle Tennessee State University’s ROTC building, being named for Nathan Bedford Forrest:

The first public meeting of the task force charged with studying a possible name change for MTSU’s Forrest Hall was filled with people voicing strong opinions on both sides of the debate.

After the June 17 shooting deaths during a prayer meeting at a predominately black church in Charleston, S.C., calls went out across the country to take down images of the Confederacy. The confessed shooter is thought to identify with white-supremacy groups and reportedly said he murdered the nine church goers in hopes of igniting a race war.

As the appropriateness of public display of Confederate symbols became a hot topic, attention turned to Middle Tennessee State University’s ROTC building, named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

University President Sidney McPhee appointed a committee of 15 to look into possibly renaming the building, and its public forum this past week brought heated debate.

Supporters of a name changed declared that Forrest represents a time of slavery and racial prejudice that needs to be put behind us. Those wanting to keep the name called Forrest a brilliant military man who came to denounce the Klan.

Although two more public meetings are planned before the April deadline set by McPhee for the task force to decide on a recommendation to retain the Forrest name or suggest changing it, we don’t see much chance of the two sides coming together.

While one group at the meeting called to “change the damn name,” others chided them for being “thin-skinned.”

A symbol of racism for some represents another group’s heritage.

Despite the efforts of one side to paint Forrest as a totally evil man, he did rescue a large number of Murfreesboro residents during the Civil War who were captured and held by the U.S. Army on suspicion of helping the enemy.

Despite the efforts of those who would canonize Forrest, he did lead the massacre on Fort Pillow in which nearly 300 Union soldiers, most African-Americans, were killed.

We do not envy the Forrest Hall task force its committee appointments, but we do tip our hats to them for being involved.

We also applaud the students, faculty and staff of MTSU as well as residents around the university for attending and voicing their opinions at the public meeting last week.

Whichever way this turns out, we’re not all going to agree, but it is important to listen to each other, to let each side have its say.

Perhaps the answer is to keep the Forrest name and use it as a teaching opportunity. Acknowledging the complexity of the man the building is named for allows us to learn from both his victories and his faults.

Maybe we should keep the name to remind us that hate dishonors us all, that no matter what good we do before or after, if we have dishonored ourselves with the practice of hate, we are permanently stained, even though that is not all that makes up our nature.

The truth is, future generations will decide. The idea of changing the name of Forrest Hall has come up in the past. If it is not changed this go around, it may be during another. The building will age and eventually be replaced by a more modern structure appropriate for whatever time period that happens. A new name will probably be chosen then.

We can only hope that generation remembers ours fondly as one that wrestled with the past in hopes of a better future.





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