- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 29, 2016

Worthy sacrifices

“America has no north, no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and undivided.”

— Sam Watkins, First Tennessee Infantry Regiment, Confederate States Army

What’s the point?

Fort Smith school leaders who backed a step away from a racially charged mascot at Southside High School took a courageous stand, but not without serious costs in doing the right thing.

American vs. American.

That’s what the Civil War was, a festering disagreement among countrymen that would only be resolved by warfare. It was, perhaps, an inevitable and necessary part of the nation’s bloody journey away from unjust attitudes and practices.

The War of the Rebellion or the War for Southern Independence — each name reflected one’s loyalties — concluded with the April 9, 1865, surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. It would be nice to say the hostilities came to a conclusion at the same time, but our nation’s history demonstrates otherwise.

In Fort Smith, the distant rumble of Civil War battles still lingers in the fight over the former mascot of Southside High School. Until a year ago, the school mascot was the Rebel and its fight song was “Dixie.” In the wake of last summer’s Charleston, S.C., church shooting that left nine black churchgoers dead at the hands of a racially motivated white assailant, Fort Smith’s School Board joined leaders across the country in re-evaluating long-held traditions rooted in a form of Southern pride that cannot be separated from a war designed to continue the oppression of black slaves.

The Fort Smith School Board made the right decision.

But it’s been a tumultuous year since, pitting neighbors against neighbors in a smaller form of civil war. Those who feel slighted by the decision cannot or refuse to see the wisdom of retiring a 50-year-plus tradition to help clear the air and move forward in educating students in an environment free of its racial connotations.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen (Class of ‘81), in particular, has led the fight to restore the Rebel mascot. He’s been so aggressive in his pursuit, so devoted to a return to the past, some have label him as a hater or as a racist. McCutchen sued in an effort to overturn the decision and has led a campaign against school board members who supported the move. He’s called on 30-year Superintendent Benny Gooden to resign. He’s accused the district’s leaders of deceit, dishonesty and deception. Two school board members who supported the change were defeated at the polls last September, replaced by two largely perceived as supportive of McCutchen’s campaign.

The atmosphere within the school district has gotten ugly. Gooden announced in April that he would end his 30-year run as superintendent at the end of this school year. The school board last week voted to delay a millage increase election — to put off a campaign to invest in the educational system — in no small way related to the tensions over the mascot issues. It was in that same meeting the real shocker came, when longtime athletic director Jim Rowland, who has been with the school system 53 years, revealed his plan to resign.

Rowland, universally considered a gentleman’s gentleman and an advocate for the people of the Fort Smith School District, took the microphone in the school board meeting and decried the “poisonous atmosphere” that’s taken hold in the community.

“We have seen one individual, motivated by questionable motives, including a thirst for power and publicity, use the mascot issue to incite a small number of followers to turn a whole community against its school representatives,” said Rowland. His resignation brought gasps from the audience and tears from his supporters.

Surely, no one wanted the mascot debate to come to this. Is it worth it?

No, it’s not.

Is saving the Rebel mascot worth the damage being done to the community? For those advocates of McCutchen’s “the South will rise again” strategy, consider that in the end, if you’re successful, all you will have accomplished is the revival of a mascot seen, at best, as unnecessarily hurtful to some residents and, at worst, would represent a clear affirmation of a community desire to embrace a racist symbol above all else.

Fort Smith cannot want that.

Dalton Person, a 2009 graduate of Southside, implored those attending last week’s meeting to not let McCutchen define the community.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “This has gone too far. I hope as a community we’ll remember that in September (school board elections). Mr. McCutchen says that all the time. It’s up to us to get out the word. It’s up to us to put it on Facebook. It’s up to us to bring our friends, our neighbors, our husbands, our grandparents to vote in September, because if you want the change, you need to be it.”

Perhaps the dramatic meeting of last week was the necessary ingredient, the required climax, to help bring this disappointing episode to a conclusion. By Friday, McCutchen posted on social media that he had made “one of the hardest decisions in my life, which is to suspend my fight for the Rebel tradition at Southside.” One of the two newer board members, Wade Gilkey, announced Thursday that he had no desire to revisit the Rebel mascot decision.

We can hope the destructive nature of this issue is waning,. The school board last year took a courageous step, knowing how strongly some would resist. They showed themselves to be leaders, to affect the kind of change that was needed, not just that which would prove popular. It can be hard to see that in the carnage of the last few months, but in the long run, Fort Smith schools, students, faculty and staff will be better off for it.

Fort Smith School District officials have important decisions to make affecting the educational needs of future generations, and a school mascot is the least critical issue affecting those futures.

___

The Daily Citizen, May 29, 2016.

Sentence unsatisfying in Malik case

“For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

— Colossians 3:25

Jeffery Clifton did not get what he deserved.

How could he when the 6-7 former Arkansas State University basketball player beat his 2-year-old son Malik Drummond so severely as an act of discipline that Malik did not look or act OK afterward then refused to take him to the hospital for fear of getting in trouble because of the “extensive bruising”?

That’s according to his then-girlfriend Lesley Marcotte, who was in Clifton’s apartment at 710 W. Park Ave., on Nov. 20, 2014, when Malik’s short life was cruelly ended, with the toddler suffering from his beating for not behaving during dinner until his last breath. We don’t know Clifton’s side of the story because he decided Friday to accept a deal, pleading no contest in White County Circuit Court to second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse instead of going on trial for capital murder.

Reducing the charge allowed him to avoid the possibility of the death penalty or a life sentence. Instead, he received 40 years in prison.

That means he will be 83 years old when he gets out if he serves his entire sentence, but who knows how long he’ll actually be in the Arkansas Department of Correction since he will be eligible for parole.

Maybe the possibility of parole is what makes that sentence unsatisfying. Maybe it’s that he didn’t have to admit to what Marcotte said he did to the child he didn’t know was his until a few months earlier. Maybe it’s that no sentence short of him going through exactly what Malik went through could ever be enough.

The Daily Citizen has published what details we have of the night that Malik died multiple times to make sure that everyone who reads our paper sees the consequences of child abuse. It’s possible that Clifton did not mean to hurt Malik the way that he did, but still he did it, according to Marcotte. We all need to understand that there is a big difference in disciplining your children and beating them.

Maybe if Clifton had taken Malik to the hospital when they realized he was not all right, then the 40-year sentence would have been more palatable. Yet, Marcotte’s statement indicates that he understood what he had done to the child was wrong and did nothing about it, choosing to watch him die over accepting responsibility and whatever punishment would have followed.

Then, they concocted the story of Malik wandering away from the apartment into the night Nov. 23, 2014, never to be seen again, which led to a massive search in Searcy and the story becoming national news.

Becky McCoy, the 17th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, called Clifton’s punishment an “appropriately harsh sentence,” but can anything be harsh enough for someone who could do the things Clifton is said to have done?

No sentence could ever be what he deserved.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 28, 2016

A good question

It was a question that we’ve heard many times around the campfire in the last few months. But this week was the first time we’ve seen it in the paper. It came from Gene Banks of Palestine, Ark., at a Game and Fish Commission meeting this week.

As readers and especially hunters will know, some awful sickness called Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in Arkansas. Specifically in a few counties in northern Arkansas, up in the mountains. The disease affects deer and elk. And it’s always fatal. The Game and Fish folks are doing what they can, which may be limited, to keep the disease from spreading. One proposal is to limit the baiting of deer statewide, to keep deer from concentrating around one particular feeder.

Now for Gene Banks’ question: “They’ve got the problem (north of the Arkansas River), and you’re trying to solve a problem in another part of the state where it doesn’t exist.” Namely in South Arkansas. “Why don’t you impose these regulations up there and see how you do before you implement it in the rest of the state?”

Surely the disease will jump the river. One day. But there’s no proof it has yet. Besides, if deer have to go long distances in search of food, aren’t they more likely to catch the sickness and spread it?

Oh, we don’t envy the Game and Fish people. Surely they’re learning how to best handle this CWD by talking to folks from other states who’ve been dealing with it for much longer. But hunters, elk-watchers and businessmen might have their own ideas worth considering. And good questions. Let’s talk this out.

___


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