Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Police body cameras a win for Erie
Erie police hit the streets Thursday with body cameras amid a historic nationwide outcry for police reform. That gives this forward-looking action by police added impact. But it would be a mistake simply to view this long-awaited reform within the confines of 2020.
The cameras now worn by Erie patrol officers and other units represent a watershed in a decades-long push to strengthen trust between Erie police and the community they serve.
It is a credit to Mayor Joe Schember, for whom it represents a campaign promise kept; Police Chief Dan Spizarny and Erie Bureau of Police leadership, who researched and tested different systems for two years before choosing one to implement; those who helped put together the funding for the near $1 million, five-year camera contract; and generations of community activists who have been calling for this tool to provide an objective record of encounters between police and residents.
Following George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, some advocates for police reform in Erie targeted Schember personally. While the passion was understandable, those protests overlooked the distinct context in this city.
After long years with scant progress, community and law enforcement leaders have been working under Schember’s lead to mend relationships with the minority community and diversify the police department at a pace and with a focus not seen before.
A judge-led panel in 2002 called for Erie Bureau of Police reforms. The debate was renewed in 2009 after a white officer was filmed mocking a Black mother’s grief over her son’s shooting death. An independent panel at that time found there remained too much of an “us vs. them” mentality in the department. New citizen complaint procedures were implemented. Former Police Chiefs Randy Bowers and Donald Dacus focused on recruiting minority officers, something Spizarny continues to emphasize.
Following Montrice Bolden’s violent arrest in 2015, calls were renewed for police body cameras, something Schember promised to deliver if elected in 2016. The U.S. Justice Department took the lead in bringing together residents and police for tough, honest, private conversations to break down barriers and establish relationships built on trust. When Schember came into office, he built on that work, creating the Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships Council.
Not empty feel-good gestures, this work, which also includes Sgt. Tom Lenox’s big-hearted Police Athletic League for youth, is essential to the promise of equal justice under the law. In recent years, remember, disaffected residents undermined the prosecution of serious crimes by opting out.
Not perfect, body cameras nonetheless hold potential to create an independent record of police encounters to which both police and citizens can look to for protection. Of course, the cameras alone won’t restore trust or change hearts. That remains on all of us. Let’s get on with it.
Trump’s illness a reminder of pandemic’s grip
News that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have contracted COVID-19 underscores the reality that the coronavirus is still very much a threat.
The nation watched Friday night as the president walked - wearing a mask - to a helicopter for transport to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. By Saturday, confirmations of more infections were reported, including top campaign officials, two senators, and guests who attended the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony introducing Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Some Trump family members and Vice President Mike Pence tested negative but restricted travel and activities as a precaution.
The spread of this disease to the pinnacle of leadership in our nation serves as “a bracing reminder to all of us,” Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden said.
Biden joined national and world leaders - and people throughout the country on both sides of the political spectrum - in offering prayers and wishes for the president and first lady to have a speedy recovery.
The president’s doctor reported that Trump was fatigued and had been injected with an experimental antibody drug combination.
The infections of the president and White House staff came just days after the first presidential debate in which members of the president’s entourage refused to wear masks, going against the protocol set by the Cleveland Clinic for the debate.
The spread also follows by less than a week the Rose Garden ceremony in which attendees were shoulder to shoulder without social distancing and with few people wearing masks.
Meanwhile Berks County continues to see a steady increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. In recent days the state has reported increases of 40 cases or more on a regular basis in Berks. The county has had well over 7,000 cases and about 400 deaths, and there’s no end in sight. Just when it seems the numbers are tapering off, they start going back up again.
Neighboring areas are reporting some positive signs. Leaders in Montgomery County reported that in week 30 of the coronavirus pandemic, the county saw the lowest positivity rate since the pandemic began, a sign that residents continue to reduce the spread of the virus in the county. County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh stressed that residents should continue to abide by all mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing recommendations.
“Working together we continue to suppress viral spread here in the county. Happily, we are continuing to see stabilization in our positive numbers. But there does still remain plenty of virus circulating in our communities,” Arkoosh reminded residents.
When the coronavirus disease COVID-19 was first detected in Pennsylvania in March, Montgomery was home to one of the first and fastest spreading outbreaks. But from day one, leadership by Arkoosh and others - and a deliberate effort of individuals, organizations and businesses - followed the data and the protocols. Testing has been made available readily throughout the county, and leaders have reminded people to wear masks, social distance, get tested, and cooperate with contact tracers.
Have there been outbreaks and missteps? Certainly. But progress is being made in much of our area. If that success continues and spreads. more schools should be able to reopen safely, restaurants to serve more customers and businesses to resume operations.
We are terribly saddened by the infection’s spread to the White House and anxiously await news of a full recovery of the president and those around him. The effects on the future of the nation are enormous.
As individuals, the best we can do is to view this reminder seriously. The coronavirus is not to be taken lightly or as something we have put behind us. We remain in the grips of a pandemic: Wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands often. Be safe, and keep those who are sick in your thoughts and prayers.
With the integrity of elections at stake, local governments and voters can help
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Americans have fought and died for the right to vote. The alarming developments in this extraordinary election year make clear the fight to exercise that right is far from over, particularly for voters of color in cities like Philadelphia.
The disruptive “poll watchers” the Trump campaign dispatched to the city’s early voting locations - where poll watchers don’t have the right to enter - and the so-called election integrity panel Harrisburg Republicans are concocting suggest that partisan attempts to intimidate voters and interfere in the election process are more brazen than at any time in living memory. President Donald Trump, who is trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden in most polls, including those in Pennsylvania, is laying the groundwork to de-legitimize ballot counts nationwide - and has hinted he might not readily concede to losing, either.
Months before preliminary voting began in September, Trump was seeding doubts and sowing fears about the Nov. 3 election. He proclaimed without evidence in May that the only way he could possibly lose his bid for a second term would be if the voting were “rigged,” made fake claims about the capabilities of the United States Postal Service, and falsely asserted that voting by mail is vulnerable to wholesale fraud - which it is not.
Trump unleashed a barrage of disinformation during last week’s debate. He predicted with almost incantatory fervor that the casting and counting of ballots “will be a disaster” and that declaring a winner may take “months” or even “years.” But as Joe Biden rightly pointed out on the Cleveland debate stage, the president can’t “stop you from being able to determine the outcome” of the election.
Biden’s timely note of reassurance bears repeating: There are more reasons for the electorate to be confident than there are reasons to panic.
Trump’s self-serving predictions of “disaster” and “fraud” impugn the integrity of the public servants and civic-minded volunteers who are the backbone of our locally controlled process of voting. The system is not without flaws. But the traditional American way of casting ballots - including by mail, beginning in the 19th century - has served our country well, as have the Democrats and Republicans who work to make sure every vote is counted.
There is also reason to be confident in the fact that the $2 trillion CARES Act on March 27 included $400 million to states nationwide to help them conduct elections in the face of the pandemic. Pennsylvania received $14.2 million and New Jersey, $10.2 million.
These resources could help reduce the potential for significant errors, delays, and even the exceedingly rare attempts to game the voting system. Local election boards in Pennsylvania and New Jersey need to add staff, secure additional technology, and train additional volunteers to handle the challenges of accommodating in-person, and mail-in, balloting. We have confidence that the technical glitches that confounded early voters at election stations in Philly neighborhoods last week will be corrected. And the discovery that several memory sticks for programming voting machines were stolen from a warehouse in East Falls must be vigorously investigated.
Like the memory-stick theft, questionable mail-in ballots, such as those found after a municipal election in Paterson, N.J., earlier this year, often are identified and investigated. The improper disposal of seven mail-in ballots for Trump in Republican-controlled Luzerne County, Pa. - an incident Trump seized upon during the debate - came to the attention of election officials.
Due to the pandemic, confusion would likely have arisen this year even without the president’s falsehoods. It’s also worth noting that worries surrounding elections have long been mostly about low voter turnout and lack of civic engagement. The turmoil of this election has served to motivate voters, with a record turnout predicted.
Every registered New Jersey voter can expect to receive a mail-in ballot. Pennsylvania voters who wish to use that option must request a mail-in ballot from their county election office before the Oct. 27 deadline. Information is available through those offices or online at VotePa.gov, nj.gov/state/elections, or The Inquirer’s election guide.
It’s incumbent on voters to educate themselves, and for those choosing to vote by mail to do so well in advance of Nov. 3. And it’s the responsibility of local election boards and poll workers to make sure that voters are well served and ballots are properly counted. Pandemic and politics notwithstanding, we are confident this American tradition will be upheld.
Toomey is example to Senate successor
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t going to run for reelection in 2022.
Toomey has represented Pennsylvanians in the Senate since 2011. A committed conservative - he was president of the fervent free-enterprise Club for Growth - he took over the seat of Arlen Specter after the longtime senator turned his back on the Republican Party and subsequently lost his first Democratic primary.
While it’s always surprising when an incumbent just decides to walk away from Washington - Toomey says he will be returning to the private sector - there is something still unsurprising about the senator’s decision. Toomey has advocated for term limits and previously made good on a promise to serve just three terms in the House of Representatives.
“I always thought that I’d probably serve just two terms and often mentioned it along the way,” he said in a news conference Monday.
And while the legislator from the Lehigh Valley often is seen as a Republican stalwart, that reduces him to an unfair stereotype. He has been more than a reliable red vote.
Toomey might be among the last senators willing to build a bridge with someone from another party.
After 12 years in the Senate, his name might be longest remembered for the piece of bipartisan gun legislation he tried - and failed - to pass with his Democratic neighbor from West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin. The Manchin-Toomey proposal would have expanded background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting.
That partnership showed sometimes people have more in common than their opposing parties might show. It showed it can be just as important to stand up to your allies.
And it showed that sometimes just putting a proposal on the table is an important statement, even if it doesn’t pass.
Toomey has been a quieter presence in the Senate than his Pennsylvania partner, Democrat Bob Casey, with whom he has a productive and mutually respectful relationship. But while the upper chamber of Congress has no shortage of loud voices, that doesn’t mean the softer ones don’t serve a purpose.
Because Toomey might be GOP to his bones, supporting 99% of the party’s platform, but that doesn’t mean he has silently accepted the places where he differs. In sitting down with the Tribune-Review in 2018, he stated that while he supports a strong southern border, he never believed it would see 2,000 miles of wall. He always believed President Trump would be the 2020 nominee but believed the impeachment investigation should have gone along unimpeded.
He has been an old school Republican, the kind that held the office in the days when arguments had to be made and votes couldn’t be assumed because of party.
Regardless of who takes the seat when he vacates it in January 2023 - from a potentially fraught field of red and blue contenders alike - the next junior senator from Pennsylvania could learn a little something from Toomey’s example.
Leave other people’s signs alone
The York Dispatch
We understand the urge. Your neighbor has lawn signs up for a candidate you don’t like, maybe even flags or banners.
It’s hard to see those signs every day during this highly divided, highly charged election campaign. It would be so easy to sneak over and take them away, or to wait until dark and stealthily make alterations.
But, please, don’t.
Political lawn signs are disappearing around the county. Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, said Wednesday the number of signs stolen connected to his organization appears to “be in the hundreds at this point,” while officials at the York County GOP say supporters are stopping by the office every day to replace their pro-Trump yard signs that have been stolen or defaced.
By the end of the week, Baker said his party will have distributed 5,000 Biden/Harris signs throughout York County, excluding people who purchased signs on their own or received them from other organizations.
“Out of those 5,000, there are quite a few of those that are duplicates or triplicates of signs that have been taken,” Baker said. “We’re hearing more about it this year than usual. I don’t know if that’s an indication it’s happening more or if people are being more vocal about it.”
In Newberry Township, police said they have received numerous theft reports involving political signs and “Support our Police” signs, so many that the police department felt the need to send out a news release about it.
“The unauthorized removal of these types of signs is a theft and does not qualify as a legal expression under your First Amendment right to free speech, regardless of your opinion,” police said. “Currently, the political season is in full swing and everyone has the absolute right to express their opinion, but no one has the right to suppress the opinion of those with opposing views.”
That’s something everyone needs to keep in mind all the time, but this year especially.
Yes, it would be very satisfying to tear down the political flags and banners some people in York County see fit to festoon their houses and vehicles and property with. But it would be wrong, and it’s also illegal.
“There are parts of the county where it seems like the signs are being untouched,” Baker said. “There’s other parts of the county, specifically in the southern part, where we have had individuals who have come to us now three or four times to replace signs that have been stolen. We’ve also seen different signs that have been spray painted to cover up what is on there.”
That’s called theft and vandalism, and it’s a crime.
Everyone has the right to express their opinion about political candidates. That’s one of the keystones of our country, that Americans can speak out about the candidates they support and the candidates they oppose. And while it might make for arguments over the fence, neighbors with opposing political views need to live with each other.
We all have to keep in mind that we are a nation of laws, and while we’re all on edge during this year’s election season, we are also better than this. There’s no need to break laws to make your political views heard.
When you see a sign that raises your blood pressure, do something constructive. Put up your own signs. Volunteer for or donate to the campaign of your choice. Most important, vote, in person or by mail.
And remember, we will get through this. Deep breaths, everybody.
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