- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

May 1

The Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, on a meltdown in Baltimore:

All hell broke loose in Baltimore, Maryland, this past week following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. The protest Monday was more than outrageous. The same day as Gray’s funeral, teenagers and others attacked police, equipment and other property and ignored the pleas of Gray’s family for peace and calls from ministers such as the Rev. Jamal Bryant — pastor of Empowerment Temple — to call off all protests. These people weren’t protesters. They were rioters. Police showed tremendous restraint and the rioters took their kindness for weakness. These young hoodlums have no sense of history. Fortunately, calmer voices in the community stepped up efforts to take back their city and by Wednesday, with the help of a curfew, tensions began to ease.

Still, the underlying cause of the discontent has yet to be fixed. No one has a magic wand that can address the needs of wide swaths of the city that have been neglected for decades. And now it’s worse. In an area of the city already devoid of a grocery store, rioters looted and then burned down the CVS Pharmacy. The company has yet to announce rebuilding plans. Other businesses were also destroyed and those that survived are lacking customers in this atmosphere of danger.

Baltimore is Maryland’s largest city and the 26th largest city in the nation. A far cry from Ferguson, Missouri, and North Charleston, South Carolina, locations of other death-by-cop incidents and large-scale demonstrations and riots. The fires and disruptions in Baltimore have been broadcast worldwide and have had worldwide implications. When we talk about human rights, they point to our own bloody present.

The time to start rebuilding trust between the department and the community has to start right away. All of the incidents should be a wake-up call to all communities. It could happen anywhere. The urban cores of our nation are seething and as we’ve seen in several communities, the tension between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect is thick.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the city has paid $5.7 million since 2011 due to excessive force claims against the police department. Funny, over the same period of time, Baltimore paid $5.8 million in legal fees to defend itself. How many recreation centers would that have built? It would be wrong — and dangerous — to sweep what’s going on in Baltimore and other major cities under the rug or to wait and allow business to return to normal. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, the urban cores are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”




May 5

Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on a hotel-motel room tax hike and its effect on tourism:

Tacking on an additional $5 per night for hotel and motel rooms in Georgia shouldn’t kill the golden goose of tourism in Savannah. The city’s popularity remains healthy and strong.

Sure, the extra five bucks won’t help the local lodging industry attract price-sensitive visitors. But let’s also keep everything in perspective. Let’s focus on what the community can do, not on something it can’t control.

On Monday, the governor signed legislation that imposes this new tax to help the state Department of Transportation generate money for road improvements.

Yet there may be unintended consequences.

Last week, a study by economists at PKF Hospitality Research showed the new tax would drain away about $200 million in business just in the lodging industry. The researchers also believe the percentage of lost business would likely be greater outside of metro Atlanta, where prevailing room rates are lower.

Savannah-area hoteliers are worried they’ll lose out when competing for conventions against other cities because of the added cost. But the governor dismissed those concerns.

“I don’t think that the additional $5 is going to affect tourism,” he said. “If it is, it’s a minimal effect.”

Let’s hope he’s right. Let’s also hope that if the local hoteliers are genuinely concerned about competing for conventions, then they must keep their eyes on the ultimate prize: Making Savannah more attractive in terms of its capacity to attract groups.

That’s different from pricing.

It’s also something the community can directly influence.

In March, the Trade Center Authority announced that it is in talks with the Westin Savannah Harbor, Westin parent Starwood and CSX Reality on a recommendation by PKF Hospitality Research - the same Atlanta-based firm that predicted the $200 million drain - to add a 300-room tower to the Westin on Hutchinson Island. “The addition of 300 hotel rooms on the island will enable trade center management to compete more effectively for a greater number of regional conventions and perhaps a few more national meetings,” said Mark Woodworth, PKF’s president.

Mark Smith, who chairs the authority, said he was surprised that the consultants recommended that boosting convention hotel capacity was a higher priority than expanding exhibit space and breakout rooms in the trade center. But that’s why you hire consultants. At the same time, Mr. Smith added that several of the trade center’s largest convention clients, such as Gulfstream Aerospace, which brings about 1,500 people to town for 10 days, would like to see both - an expanded trade center and more hotel rooms.

The big conventions aren’t likely to blink at a $5 per night room tax. But they may blink if Savannah can’t sufficiently accommodate them. The overall impact of Gulfstream’s convention is nearly $800,000, Mr. Smith said. It’s more important to focus on keeping and expanding that business than on worrying too much about day-trippers who spend far less.




May 5

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on repercussions from the Texas terror attack on the “prophet” cartoon contest:

Two gunmen chose the wrong targets when they tried to massacre a group in Texas gathered for a cartoon contest.

Now, media talking heads are choosing the wrong targets in their scramble to blame someone.

Reports say roommates Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson attempted to execute a group of about 200 people gathered in Garland, Texas, Sunday for an exhibition of entries in a contest in which artists were asked to depict the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Since Islam considers any visual depiction of Muhammad blasphemous, authorities say the gunmen attempted to carry out an American-soil equivalent of January’s deadly Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. That satirical publication also repeatedly depicted Muhammad in its artwork.

In Paris, 12 people died, including a policeman, and 11 more were wounded.

In Garland, a security guard was shot in the ankle while quick-thinking police officers killed both attackers.

Simpson had been watched by the FBI as a possible terrorist since 2006, and was convicted in 2010 of lying to agents about his plans to travel to terrorism hotbed Somalia.

But whom are media figures aiming at instead? Incredibly, the organizers of the cartoon competition.

“How about the event itself?” pondered ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “The organizers said it was organized to take a stand for free speech. Is it fair, also, to call it anti-Muslim?”

“Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest?’” asked New York Times’ foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi.

We would ask why artist Andres Serrano would take a photo in 1987 showing a crucifix submerged in urine. We’d ask why artist Chris Ofili would paint, in 1996, a depiction of the Virgin Mary and cover it in elephant dung. The most provocative examples of free speech can be the most repulsive.

We don’t support demeaning religious figures that many people find dear, but we fully support someone’s free-speech rights to do so. And the proper response isn’t violence, but peaceful opposition.

Being sensitive to others obviously is nice, but it has to be voluntary for freedom to mean anything. Any attempt to force sensitivity or any other behavior or belief on someone through violence or intimidation is tyranny. And that has no place in this country or in the whole of human affairs.

Both gunmen were Muslim and American-born. Simpson had converted; Soofi returned to America several years ago from Pakistan after moving there as a child with his father and stepmother.

The radical Islamic State terror group is claiming responsibility for the attack, though it’s not yet clear as of this writing how closely tied the gunmen actually were to ISIS. Ideologically they obviously appear radical. But some speculate ISIS could be just conveniently capitalizing on the event’s notoriety.

Still, there is a closely related issue here. If the Garland incident in fact is a signal, as ISIS vows, that more attacks can be expected on American soil, it further lays bare how unsafe our border is. It clearly is time - past time, really - to vigorously secure America’s border, and for federal authorities to know comprehensively who’s coming here and why.



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