- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

The Helena Daily World. Jan. 5, 2017.

Same old song, second verse; thought things would eventually get better but they’re only getting worse.

That pretty much sums up our feelings as far as the crime problem is concerned in Helena-West Helena. As the new year approaches, we here at The Helena World, thumb through our files and pull out the top stories that made the headlines from the previous 12 months. We were appalled after completing our research.

At least 65 percent, probably more, of the stories that graced the space occupied by the lead story were crime stories. And the stories that made our annual year in review were just those that were the lead stories. There were numerous other crime reports that made the front page but were below the fold.

As a community we should be deeply concerned and some should even be downright ashamed about our current plight. Statewide, Helena-West Helena is best known for its criminal element that apparently rules the streets.

For Pete’s sake - a 7-year-old child got shot in the leg on Christmas night. An armed robbery occurred at a local store the day after Christmas. Tis the season huh?

Fortunately, we had only three homicides during the past 12-month period. That’s not good but considering the number of shooting incidents that occurred in the city we should indeed be gratefully that only three died. We can’t blame all the violence on guns either. One of the homicides was a stabbing incident.

Where do we start pointing fingers?

It certainly is not at the police department. After all, they are not mind readers; they do not know when or where these violent attacks will occur. Police Chief Virgil Green is to be commended for his efforts to curb violent crime and get the offenders off the streets. The only problem with our police department is a severe manpower shortage; and the criminals know the men and women in blue are outnumbered and in some cases overmatched in weaponry.

At least one finger must be directed at the judicial system that turns the criminals loose faster than the police can take them off the streets. The system strongly favors the criminal over the victims’ rights. That’s simply got to change.

Third and fourth offenders shouldn’t be getting fourth and even fifth chances. For some, it is way past time for locking them up and throwing away the key.

Another finger should be wagging in the faces of some of our city officials. It’s time to focus on ridding ourselves of this crime plague. Money that is going toward Christmas bonuses for elected officials perhaps should be directed toward increasing the lighting in some of our neighborhoods - a promise that has gone unfulfilled for way too many years. Police also need more troops in the field. Yes, we said troops. Whether we want to admit it or not there is a war going on - a war to regain our young people and to take back our streets.

Chief Green recently instituted “Operation Safe City” in which he is stepping up patrols in the most crime-riddled sections of the community. In his report, Green stated that the age group most frequently involved in violent crime is 16 to 25 year-olds.

Now, we’re going to wag another finger. While there’s not much mom and dad can do with a child once they pass the age of 21; there’s plenty that can be done in those years before 16-20. Lack of parent control and involvement is the number one reason our city is suffering from such an infectious crime rate.

Why are children roaming the streets late at night without any adult supervision? Why do mommas and daddies go to bat for their youngsters when they get in trouble? To all those parents who believe their child can do no wrong - oh yes they can and they do.

One mom came into The Helena World office one day upset that her “baby” was reported in connection with a criminal incident. “My baby’s served his time,” she bemoaned. Her “baby” was in his mid-to late 20s. Well, obviously second and third chances didn’t help much because he had list of criminal offenses longer than my arm.

The old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, that very well might be so but the village can’t do anything about the situation until parents step up and take up the leadership role of raising children. That’s a God-given responsibility.

___

Southwest Times Record. Jan. 8, 2017.

It’s time Arkansas separated Martin Luther King Jr. from Robert E. Lee.

The state has observed Robert E. Lee Day since 1947 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 1983. The holidays were combined in 1985.

The two historical figures share a January birthday, but there’s little else to connect the two beyond that.

Robert E. Lee is one of the most famous figures in the history of the Confederacy, while Martin Luther King Jr. fought for something else: equality and justice for all. Lee may represent the South and what it stood for, but the decisions he made in the 19th century do not resonate today.

King, on the other hand, left a lasting legacy of peace, hope and nonviolence, something the entire nation can honor and celebrate.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he supports ending the state’s joint Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee holiday and making the day a holiday for King only. He said he favors creating a separate day of recognition for Lee in October that would not be a state holiday.

Hutchinson has supported attempts in recent years to separate the holidays, but the proposals have stalled.

During the 2015 regular session, Reps. Nate Bell, R-Mena, and Fred Love, D-Little Rock, filed separate bills that would have separated the observances, keeping King’s day as a state holiday and creating a separate, non-holiday observance for Lee. Both measures ultimately failed to get out of committee.

“It just strikes me as the right thing to do,” Hutchinson said as he previewed this year’s legislative session, which began Jan. 9.

In Arkansas, the issue has stalled for a variety of reasons. Lawmakers have called it a “nonproblem” and have said removing Lee from the holiday would say “my ancestry and my heritage is not worth honoring,” according to previous reports from the Arkansas News Bureau.

We disagree. Why not have a separate day to honor Lee and celebrate southern heritage? As the nation celebrates King, his achievements and legacy, only two other states, Alabama and Mississippi, honor both men on the same day. Lawmakers from these states also have tried (and failed) to have the holidays separated.

“I believe (King) deserves a separate day of recognition because he inspired a nation in his lifetime, and after his death his life continues to inspire, teach and cause us to think. He causes us to think about fairness, about justice, about responsibility and service,” Hutchinson said last year during an interfaith prayer breakfast at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“I would like to see his special day, his Martin Luther King Day, be a separate day to himself and to the recognition of his role in the civil rights movement in our country,” Hutchinson added. “It’s important that that day be distinguished and separate and focused on that civil rights struggle and what he personally did in that effort, the great leader that he was during that cause.”

We applaud Hutchinson for his support in separating the holidays. As he recently said, it’s just “the right thing to do.” Let’s hope legislators will agree this time.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Jan. 8, 2017.

Arkansas has its share of swamps, scattered around the Delta region mostly. The closest to Washington County is probably 150 miles away.

Northwest Arkansas residents recently discovered their region has at least one swamp, the kind that the new president-elect had in mind when he campaigned to “drain” one in Washington, D.C. It’s the swamp of political corruption, and it is becoming clearer just how deep and slimy a swamp could be in these Ozark hills.

Most shocking of all - at least based on what’s publicly known so far - was the first person identified as having contributed to and become mired in a bog of greed, betrayal and deceit revealed in a federal court. It was Springdale’s own Micah Neal, operator of a local landmark called Neal’s Cafe that’s been a mainstay of the Springdale community and local politics for going on 73 years.

Many know Neal as the man at the register who, between ringing up customers, would pull up a chair at a table to talk politics and other subjects with the diner’s many repeat customers. It gave him a platform from which he launched first a successful bid to become a Washington County justice of the peace, serving the people of Springdale eight years in that role. Then he easily won election to the state House of Representatives, taking the seat vacated when Jon Woods of Springdale sought and earned a post in the state Senate. In both his public positions, he was a reliable no-nonsense Republican willing to push perspectives largely in accord with his conservative Springdale constituents. When he announced plans in 2015 to run for Washington County judge, the conventional wisdom was Neal would be a shoo-in.

Then, months after winning the GOP primary last spring, Neal suddenly bailed out of the race. He was moving into Benton County, he said. It was because of family and business reasons, he said. And while his supporters were left to accept those explanations, plenty of head-scratching went on about what could have changed so dramatically to alter Neal’s public political plans.

It recently became more clear when Neal pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. We’ll leave it to the news stories to untangle the federal government’s convoluted tale of Senator A arranging such-and-such for nonprofit C involving a kickback to Person Q. But Neal acknowledged his role: Accepting a total of $38,000 in kickbacks to help arrange the allocation of $600,000 in taxpayer dollars to a private Christian college in Springdale and a Northwest Arkansas drug and alcohol addiction treatment program.

Details about other individuals involved remain in the shadows, for now. Neal’s plea and his pledge to cooperate with federal investigators are sure signs that he represents the first domino in what will be a chain reaction. How far it goes is anyone’s guess.

News of Neal’s plea led us to the same series of reactions we’re sure his family, his friends and his political supporters went through: disbelief, crushing disappointment and anger.

The disbelief dissipated quickly, once the fact of Neal’s admission sunk in. The disappointment lingers, because of the reputation Neal had established as a man who knew the difference between right and wrong and because it further erodes the trust one can place in those who take on the mantel of public service.

And anger? You bet, because it’s an affront to patriotism and sense of civic duty that someone asks for the public’s trust, that someone assures the public that he’s worthy of that trust, then he turns around and abuses the trust invested in him.

Every time there’s a glimmer of hope that Arkansas government might have weeded out the corruption of its past, that glimmer is extinguished. Where do people who otherwise seem to be upstanding members of our community, leaders within our state, get the motivation to throw away all levels of trust people have placed in them?

Who, after all, could have imagined that Micah Neal would join the ranks of state government’s Nick Wilsons, Bill McCuens, Lloyd Georges and Martha Shoffners?

We applaud the investigators and anyone else who helped to bring this public corruption to light. We are hopeful that they can exorcise state government of any remaining vestiges of this shameful episode.

If corruption is a swamp, Neal may represent the pulling of a plug that will let the murky waters of corruption drain out, exposing those who chose to wade in.

Let it drain.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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