- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Nov. 17

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s COVID restrictions:

Back in March, when a COVID-19 outbreak spread toward the southeast United States, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper followed the lead of North Carolina counties and took aggressive actions to slow the virus in his state. He was among the first Southern governors to close schools and shut down non-essential businesses, and he continues to be among the most cautious to reopen his state.



The result: North Carolina has been less devastated by COVID-19 than many of our neighbors. Our positive test rate has consistently been among the best in the Southeast. Fewer people per capita have been hospitalized, and fewer have died.

Now, with another COVID-19 wave looking our way, Cooper and N.C. counties need to be aggressive once again. It might be North Carolina’s best hope of avoiding another lockdown.

Other states are at various stages of that realization. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has closed colleges, high schools, some workplaces and in-person dining for three weeks as new coronavirus cases have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown responded to an increase in cases with a 14-day “social freeze” that included closing restaurants and bars to in-person dining and limiting the number of people that can gather for faith-based organizations. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said state officials were ready to crack down on businesses that didn’t enforce mask mandates, and on Tuesday he announced a 10 p.m. curfew for 21 days.

Closer to home, COVID spikes have been less severe as temperatures have yet to push people inside. But in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and ordered bars closed at midnight. In Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan tightened indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, local officials went further and ordered restaurants, fitness centers and stores to operate at 25 percent capacity.

In North Carolina, COVID-19 metrics are steadily moving in the wrong direction, with record numbers of cases that portend a spike in hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks ahead. The governor, who took no new action on restrictions Tuesday, should more assertively reach for the state’s “dimmer switch” and dial back on activities that are the drivers of COVID-19 spread. He, as well as local officials, can start with restrictions at bars, where an 11 p.m. alcohol cutoff hasn’t stopped young adults from cramping together outside in large numbers. Cooper also might look at halting or reducing indoor dining, now at 50 percent capacity, as well as limiting risky activities such as exercise classes. Finally, the governor needs to follow Ohio’s lead and put more teeth behind orders and mask mandates.

One place to avoid new restrictions: schools. Data is showing that schools, especially elementary schools, have not been a source of community spread. The governor should resist for now a forced return to full-time online learning.

Republicans lawmakers will bark at tightened N.C. restrictions, and it’s true that reducing capacity at businesses could bring new financial struggles. But if lawmakers want to help bottom lines affected by COVID-19, they should call a special session and work with Cooper to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund target relief to businesses and employees squeezed by new orders.

We hope Republicans don’t do what they’ve done since March, which is attempt to score political points by pushing back against sensible restrictions and mask mandates. Such resistance encourages the kind of behavior that COVID-19 needs to thrive, and that would be especially tragic for North Carolina if the winter brings the kind of surge that health officials fear.

We know the public has tired of COVID-19, and that another lockdown could bring devastating hardship. That’s why especially now, it’s time for Republicans to work with the governor and address the coming crisis. COVID-19 vaccines may be arriving soon, but their full impact won’t be felt until at least the spring. Until then, North Carolina’s best chance to avoid a lockdown is to get ahead of the virus. The governor should do the difficult and right thing, again.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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Nov. 17

The Greensboro News & Record on a report by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association that recommends policing reforms:

A raft of mostly sensible, proactive policing reforms proposed by statewide law enforcement organization are, on the whole, both thoughtful and constructive.

Yes, a few of the recommendations on the list may make you shake your head and wonder why. Or why not?

But give credit where it is due: This is a serious effort that involved a working committee of 10 sheriffs, three of them Black, and sought input from all 100 sheriffs in the state.

And it primes the pump for a critical and long-overdue dialogue in North Carolina.

Released last week by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, the report suggests a number of forward-thinking reforms that would improve the quality of local policing and help build better accountability and trust between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

Among those suggestions:

- Prevent problem officers from hopscotching from one job to another, taking with them same troublesome baggage.

- Create a publicly accessible database of officers who have lost their certification.

- Provide regular psychological screenings of officers.

- Mandate that officers intervene and make a report when they see another officer uses excessive force.

- Shift the responsibility for transporting persons to be involuntarily committed from law enforcement to mental health professionals.

- Ban chokeholds, except in cases in which an officer’s life, or someone else’s, might be in jeopardy.

- Upgrade and standardize training.

- Establish an accreditation program for local law enforcement.

Each of these proposals is thoughtful and timely, as the nation continues to grapple with the aftermath of the senseless death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

In fact, few of the above suggestions are likely to provoke much debate.

But others will.

For instance, the report opposes removing school resource officers from campuses. Citing concerns that the presence of police in schools too often results in routine disciplinary matters being handled by police, critics of school-based officers think campuses would be better off without them.

As a result, they say, too many young people, especially students of color, wind up in the criminal justice system.

While that’s a valid worry, making SRO programs better - which means properly screening and training SROs and providing clear guidelines on when and how they should be used - seems a better path than removing them.

This is especially true given the specter of school shootings and other possible threats from off-campus intruders.

Onsite SROs enjoy the advantage of already being there if a crisis should arise and being familiar with the campus and the students.

Until someone suggests a better approach, these officers should remain.

We do take issue, however, with the report’s endorsement of a state law that requires a judge’s order to view police dashboard and body camera footage.

As we have argued ever since bodycams came to Greensboro, this footage should be treated as public record and should be more easily accessible to the general public.

The report’s resistance to more empowered citizen police review boards also is disappointing, if not surprising. Strong civilian oversight should be a key ingredient to effective policing.

The Sheriffs’ Association report precedes another soon-to-come high-profile report on law enforcement reforms.

A task force headed by state Attorney General Josh Stein and Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls is due Dec. 1.

Gov. Roy Cooper created the task force in June to make recommendations for increasing police accountability and addressing discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Is the Sheriffs’ Association report intended as a preemptive strike? Probably.

The organization’s executive vice president and general counsel, Eddie Caldwell, told The (Raleigh) News & Observer in an email that the sheriffs hope to prevent some “changes being discussed that, if implemented, would damage the law enforcement profession.”

But frankly, we don’t care.

As Stein and Earls said in a joint statement: “We look forward to continuing to work alongside law enforcement and other policymakers to make North Carolina safer for all North Carolinians.”

The point is, the discussion is continuing.

The more ideas, the better. And the voices of law enforcement need to be a part of the solution.

Y’all come.

Online: https://greensboro.com

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Nov. 14

Winston Salem-Journal on the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election:

As we entered the weekend, it looked as if some of the overheated drama surrounding the presidential election was finally losing steam. With court after court dismissing his flimsy claims, more Republican officials put aside outgoing President Trump’s conspiracy theory about massive voter fraud and accepted the inevitable. (As Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, put it, “A lawsuit without provable facts showing a statutory or constitutional violation is just a tweet with a filing fee.”)

On Thursday, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and members of the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council, composed of the government’s top security and election officials, announced: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. … There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

That’s a much more reliable assessment than anything coming from a Fox News opinionator.

Trump is full of surprises, as evidenced by his abrupt dismissal last week of multiple Pentagon officials, quickly replacing them with loyalists. Some wondered if he was planning a coup to stay in power. Normally, such claims would be seen as ridiculous, but this is a president who has taken many unorthodox actions, from soliciting foreign aid for his reelection to siphoning military funds to build his border wall. If there’s a line past which he will not go, we don’t yet know what it is.

But it’s reassuring to see rational Republicans step forward to congratulate Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. At this point, with some Republican legislators attacking Republican election officials, apparently for doing their jobs well, the notion of voter fraud is not so much a matter of Republican vs. Democrat as rational vs. irrational.

Voters of a certain age can assure the rest of us that it’s not unusual or unexpected for a Democrat to win a presidential election. It shouldn’t be suspect now. But as some Republican strategists have tried to portray Democrats as cheaters, they not only strain credulity, they undermine the electoral process and diminish the possibility of cooperation. In an atmosphere as divided as ours, with threats of violence and talk of civil war brewing, this is a highly irresponsible tactic.

Such divisive tactics found their apex in Trump, who practiced a scorched-earth approach to disagreement and encouraged a skewed view of reality that’s still shared by many of his supporters.

Democrats are not going away. If anything, their number is increasing. Republicans need to figure out a way to accept and work with them for the good of the nation as a whole. They can’t keep obstructing government as if dysfunction were a virtue.

Last week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that if the Republican Party is going to be successful in the future, it needs to build “a multiethnic, multiracial, working-class coalition.” He said that following Trump’s apparent defeat, Republicans need to rebrand their party with a smaller focus on being the party of big business and instead emphasize how they can make free markets work for the working class.

That’s a development we would welcome.

America needs a conservative party - a party that values American traditions, including the peaceful transfer of power, established by George Washington. A party that values military service, based not on brutality, but on honor. A party that doesn’t pander to its supporters’ worst instincts, but inspires their best.

Trump’s response to losing the election has been immature, to say the least. It has shaken America’s reputation even further. His supporters may not care. They’re focused on more narrow goals than America’s standing in the world.

For the rest of us, President-elect Biden’s vision of the future is one of shared prosperity, not that far from Rubio’s. Many in the nation, stressed and strained by division, stand ready to give him a chance.

Online: https://journalnow.com

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