- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


July 5

The Augusta Chronicle on jail sentences for harboring mosquitoes:

A former Stanford University swimmer is expected to serve only three months for rape in California.

That would be just one month more than the 60-day sentence an Augusta man received recently for harboring mosquitoes on his property.

We’re sure that three months for rape isn’t enough. Three years wouldn’t be.

But if a 60-day sentence for what amounts to a code violation sounds stiff - well it is. And rightly so.

We absolutely agree with the spirit of Judge H. Scott Allen’s sentence.

“I’m sick and tired of people in this community that don’t take care of their homes,” the judge said. Hear, hear!

Richmond County officials say they’ve been trying to work with Meadow Grove Road homeowner Lester Grubbs since at least last October. The backyard pool, according to Richmond County Mosquito Control, is a mosquito-breeding factory, with stagnant pool water under a torn liner that has trees and brush growing in it - and surrounding piles of junk and trash that also gather water.

A check of just the standing water in a vacuum cleaner dust cup on the back patio revealed 154 mosquito larvae.

It needn’t be said, but apparently must, that maintaining conditions that invite mosquito breeding isn’t just a nuisance anymore; in the days of the Zika virus and more, it’s a health hazard. Officials estimate the property is putting some 75 nearby households and as many as 190 people at risk.

This is the land of fierce individualism, certainly. But when you choose to live in a city, with neighbors close at hand, you cannot just do as you please. Your behavior affects those around you. This is the compact you sign when you live in a municipal environment.

Again, 60 days in jail may seem harsh - though Grubbs may be released next Thursday if conditions on his property have changed markedly, and with good time he probably was looking at 30 days at worst. But some manner of punishment, or at least attention-getting, is called for in aggravated cases of nuisance- and health-code violations. Frankly, not enough violators are punished.

If you want to live in a rural environment, buy a farm. Until then, have the decency and courtesy not to be a nuisance or health hazard to those around you.

And when the local government has pestered you for half a year to clean up under foot, don’t be surprised if a foot comes down on you.




July 1

The Savannah Morning News on policing police officers:

It takes a special kind of person to become a police officer. These people often face sudden danger for little pay and lots of second-guessing. Fortunately, there are such men and women willing to do that to keep the rest of us safe, and most of them are honest, diligent public servants.

But not all. And the good work done by most doesn’t mean that we should protect officers from prosecution if they deserve it.

For too long, police officers in Georgia have had a special right that law enforcers elsewhere haven’t had and which other Georgians don’t have, either. That special privilege may have helped cops get away with, well, manslaughter, and certainly has contributed to a growing sense that they do.

“It definitely brought the integrity of the process into question, and rightfully so,” Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia says.

Fortunately, it’s a privilege that ends today with a new law.

Up until now, officers facing possible criminal charges were allowed to sit in the grand jury room and listen as jurors heard evidence while deciding whether to indict, a privilege criminal defense lawyers would give up their first-born to get for their clients.

That’s not all. After hearing what the state had against him, the officer could then tell the grand jury his side of the story. That’s not all, either. He could do so without facing cross-examination. No questioning from the prosecutor or a juror.

No other state in the union grants those privileges to its law enforcers.

Georgians accused of crimes but who don’t carry badges can’t step foot in the grand jury room, much less present their version of events.

The new law takes away most of that privilege. No longer can police officers listen in on the evidence against them. And while they can still testify to the grand jury, the officer who takes the witness stand will now face cross examination.

These days there’s a louder cry to make police accountable for wrongful killings, as well there should be. Under the old law, which dated to 1975, it was too easy for a law enforcer to escape prosecution, even after killing someone.

Police in Georgia shot and killed 184 people from 2010 through 2015, according to an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta. Of that number, 31 of those killed were unarmed. No police were indicted in the 184 deaths.

In Chatham County, police killed seven people during that five-year period. Six of the people police killed had weapons they had used or were using against officers, civilians or both. As for the seventh person killed by police in Chatham County, police said they felt in danger when a 20-year-old Pooler man they were trying to question hopped in a car, backed it up and seemed to be headed for them. Witnesses refuted that account to reporters, saying the young man was driving slowly in reverse, not pointing the car at police. A Chatham County grand jury declined to indict the Port Wentworth officers involved.

These are not simple cases. They usually rest on a split-second decision made in volatile situations, when innocent lives may be at risk. If the officer was reasonably in fear of his life or those of others, the homicide is justifiable. That’s why the new law still lets police accused of crimes testify to grand juries when no other kind of criminal defendant can.

“No other citizen is similarly situated. We invest police with the authority to use deadly force and to make arrests,” says Mr. Spahos, whose organization advocated for the new law. Although the old law granted law enforcers too much grand jury access, he says, “It’s important for the grand jury to hear at least why the officer made that decision.”

The new law means that police can get a fair shake before a grand jury without getting an unfair advantage to escape the consequences of their actions.




June 30

The Newnan Times-Herald on the June 29 explosion at the Bonnell Aluminum plant:

The shockwaves of Wednesday’s explosion at Bonnell Aluminum traveled far beyond the neighborhood surrounding the plant, and they continue to reverberate in our community until every injured worker is fully recovered.

Five workers suffered by varying degrees, with two treated at the scene, two taken to Piedmont Newnan Hospital and one flown by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center.

The first responders - the police and sheriff’s deputies, emergency-medical technicians, firefighters and state troopers from here and surrounding counties - bravely rushed into the scene. Sirens echoed along the walls of downtown buildings repeatedly all morning as these public servants answered the call of duty.

So many local law-enforcement officers were needed that the Georgia State Patrol showed up to take care of the routine matters around town in the interim. It was also at the same moment that some of Coweta’s finest were themselves assisting fellow officers from Carroll and Douglas counties in searching the Chattahoochee River for the body of a drowning victim.

The impressive response also included an outpouring of support from private citizens and companies. Restaurants brought food to the rescue personnel. Stores supplied bottled water. It was spontaneous and heartfelt.

It was a grand display of a community caring for its neighbors.

One of those neighbors is Bonnell Aluminum. It has been a major employer and corporate citizen for decades. Its payrolls have fed, clothed and housed hundreds of local residents in that time. It has paid an untold sum in taxes, made countless charitable contributions, supplied customers across the region and served as a cornerstone for the Newnan economy.

It’s too early to identify the cause of the explosion, but its impact is likely to be felt in many ways. First is the human cost to the injured workers and their families, and we join in offering our prayers for a complete recovery. Second is the financial sting of Bonnell’s lost revenue from disrupted production and the repair expenses. That’s not to mention the cost of possible litigation, a fact of modern life.

One thing that didn’t suffer Wednesday is the fine reputation of this city.

As the story of this incident traveled across the state and even across the globe, it was the story of both the tragedy and the response. This newspaper helped spread the news by temporarily allowing nonsubscribers access to our reporting because of the importance of having current, objective facts and quelling rumors at a time like this.

(We had more than three times our usual number of online readers, and we hope they’ll come back. And indeed, we were flattered that many news outlets depended on our reporting because that’s another reflection on the quality of this city.)

Coweta County pulled together admirably Wednesday. The job is not through until every worker’s family welcomes home their loved one. And we have no doubt that the community will continue rallying around them during their ordeal.



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