- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Dec. 23

The Brunswick News on having a safe Christmas:

You’ll shoot your eye out - a common but frustrating refrain often returned by adults, from parents to teachers - and even Santa Claus - whenever Ralphie asks for a BB gun in the ever-popular seasonal favorite, “A Christmas Story.” Turns out he gets the gun, and those who have seen the movie know how it ends.

While fictional, the story serves as a great example why parents, relatives and friends should be extra careful what they give children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews for Christmas. There are times when children will receive something they may be a little too young or immature to handle properly. It can be a recipe for disaster.

Always check with parents before presenting them something that can be potentially dangerous. No use setting up a clash between parent and child on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day if it can be helped. As a general rule, moms and dads know their sons and daughters better than most others, so please heed their advice or recommendation.

Even common, everyday gifts can pose risks. This includes one of the most often acquired gifts of all, bicycles. Do not let children ride on trafficked streets, and watch young boys and girls on quiet neighborhood streets. Teach them right off about the rules of safety, like staying close to the side of the road and stopping at intersections, looking carefully in both directions before crossing.

Helmets are useful equipment and the law for younger children. Scooters, go-carts and four-wheelers fall into this category as well.

Motorists should be extra careful, too, on Christmas Day and the immediate days afterward. Sometimes the excitement of a new bike or toy can be a distraction to even the safest kid on the block. Drive slowly and cautiously.

Hunting rifles and knives also are common gifts in families that spend a lot of time outdoors or hunting. Be sure to go down the A-to-Z list of safety with the recipient. It never hurts to stress caution.

And during large gatherings, try to remember there are young ones around. Keep an eye on them. Some parents take turns watching so that each can visit with other family members. Keep gates to pools shut and locked and access to anything dangerous closed.

Have a safe and merry Christmas!

Online:

https://www.thebrunswicknews.com/

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Dec. 21

The Marietta Daily Journal on gang activity and prison contraband:

How serious is the gang problem in Cobb County? Critically serious, if you ask those whose job it is to keep gang-related criminal activity in check.

District Attorney Vic Reynolds says members of the Bloods, a notorious street gang, tell him they have a presence in every high school in Cobb County. Sheriff Neil Warren warns that violent criminal street gangs are a serious problem in Cobb County and one that is growing worse by the day.

Last week, for example, the MDJ reported a fifth man involved in gang-related shootings of a house in Kennesaw’s Legacy Park subdivision in late 2013 and early 2014 was sentenced to 15 years. Investigators believe the shootings were in retaliation for a man attempting to leave the PIRU gang, an offshoot of the Bloods.

Legacy Park, it should be noted, is not a federal housing project, but the neighborhood where Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh live.

Reynolds has asked County Chairman Tim Lee, lawmakers and Cobb law enforcement agencies for help in combating the growing crisis.

“If we don’t cut the head off the snake today, it’s going to wrap around us so tight we’re not going to be able to get out from under it,” Reynolds said.

Lee has apparently received the message loud and clear, raising the topic during the Cobb Legislative Delegation’s annual meeting last Monday where governments and other groups presented wish lists in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session.

Of the six requests Lee presented to the delegation, reforming the Georgia Criminal Street Gang Act ranked first on Cobb County’s 2016 state priorities list.

State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, a former assistant district attorney, is working with Reynolds’ office and area police departments and plans to file legislation in the coming session to update the Gang Act. The last time the law underwent a major change was in 2006, and advancement in technology has continued to march forward.

One of the problems authorities encounter is that gang leaders are running their gangs from prison by communicating with outside members. Witnesses are being intimidated on social media outlets and retaliation is being carried out, despite these gang leaders being locked up, Reeves said.

Incredibly, the Department of Corrections told Reynolds there were 7,300 cellphones confiscated from inmates last year, a large number of which belong to gang members. An inmate locked up in a state prison recently ordered an attack on one of Cobb’s undercover narcotics officers.

Reeves seeks to enhance punishments for inmates who have contraband communication devices and who interfere with witnesses.

Some may wonder how prisoners obtain smartphones.

Reeves said he’s heard of countless ways, from drones dropping off bags to stuffed soccer balls being kicked over prison fences. Probably the most common way, Reeves believes, is for corrupt Department of Corrections workers to smuggle them in.

Reeves’ bill would require a mandatory prison sentence for any employee of a prison/jail/penal institution who is convicted of smuggling these items into prisons and getting them to prisoners.

Reynolds said the legislation would also make it less burdensome to introduce prior gang convictions, particularly if the conviction occurred when the person was a juvenile.

Reeves called on his fellow delegation members at Monday’s meeting to support his bill.

“I think everyone at this table is aware that we have a serious criminal street gang problem in Cobb County,” Reeves said. “This bill is going to benefit every metro Atlanta community and also other communities in our state that have criminal street gang problems.”

Not everyone is sold. State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Austell, raised concerns that the bill’s impact would have “a perception of negative consequences in certain communities, and so I just don’t want to put our law enforcement in a position where they’re enforcing laws that we create, and then getting blamed for basically harassing black folk.”

Wilkerson said he didn’t want someone who happened to live next to a gang member to be labeled as a gang member just because they interacted from time to time.

Yet the state’s burden of proof is high, as it should be, and just because a neighbor lives next to a gang member doesn’t mean that neighbor will be targeted.

“It’s certainly not the case that if your neighbor is involved in criminal street gang stuff that you’re going to be arrested and charged with it just by virtue of being neighbors with them,” Reeves said.

Like Reynolds, Reeves said he too has heard there is a criminal street gang presence in every high school in Cobb County. The days of Cobb County being a sleepy suburban community free of the cancers of urban centers are coming to an end. And while no single change will ultimately solve the gang problem completely, we believe these measures can serve as a very significant deterrent.

It is encouraging that Reeves, with the help of the district attorney, sheriff and area law enforcement agencies, are coming together to tackle a problem that threatens the quality of life we in Cobb County are privileged to enjoy.

Reeves’ anti-gang bill is a needed tool for effective and efficient law enforcement. It should be considered and passed in this next legislative session.

Online:

https://www.mdjonline.com/

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Dec. 20

The Augusta Chronicle on the Christian approach to Syrian refugees:

As Muslims flee the Mideast and flood Europe, the question of Christian obligation has become a hot topic.

Some folks, using the Christmas story as a metaphor, have compared Muslim refugees to Joseph and Mary seeking shelter in a manger. “How could we turn them away?” they argue.

Others have claimed that not embracing Muslim refugees unquestioningly is simply un-Christian.

Besides the fact that questioning someone else’s Christian bona fides is - well, itself un-Christian - we find the debate a tad one-sided and, frankly, naive and misguided.

We also find the Christian self-flagellation to be rather rich, at a time in which Christianity itself is being violently eradicated in the Holy Land of its birth.

Of course charity is a signature Christian trait. But be careful before accusing other people of being un-Christian. You don’t know their hearts or acts. One of the most Christian-like behaviors is to commit acts of charity anonymously - the ultimate in humility.

Moreover, there’s nothing in Christianity that either mandates or even recommends reckless benevolence. God certainly understands the need for safety.

Given the savage attacks on innocent civilians that we’ve seen in Paris, San Bernardino and elsewhere; Islamic radicals’ promise to infiltrate refugee populations; and frequent unwillingness among many migrants to assimilate to the host culture, wariness is called for. It’s certainly no sin or shortcoming.

“The Bible makes it clear that compassion is to be exercised thoughtfully,” the Rev. Barry Clifton wrote recently in The Hartford Courant.

Giving generously but with care is a biblical value and a requirement of wise stewardship of our communities and our very lives, Clifton argues.

“The enactment of a sound immigration policy that defines who the nation allows in, how many, and expectations for their assimilation, is not selfish, but the height of wisdom,” the pastor writes.

“When our leaders look the other way as tens of thousands pour through a sieve-like border, with no thought to where the resources to care for them will come from, with no concern that they be properly enculturated into the ideals and ethos that made this country special, and with an insufficient process for weeding out those bent on destroying us - these actions do not inspire trust.

“Because I am a Christian, because I am caring, because I am compassionate, I call upon our nation’s leaders to stop being petulant and politicking, and try for once to lead with an eye toward the next generation, and not just the next election.”

He’s absolutely right to urge caution and care.

And so very Christian too. For, while preaching caution, his church has begun to study how to help a refugee family.

Online:

https://chronicle.augusta.com/

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