3 posts from Legislation


Ferguson, MO: The Mixture of Race, Crime, Police Use of Force and the Utility of Riots

Dr-Arthur-H-GarrisonBy Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

On August 9th, Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. As soon as the killing was made public, every politician, platitude, accusation, argument, justification, rationalization and defense that exists in these types of situations was heard on T.V. and radio. Nothing was new. Then, two nights later, fully armed in riot and militarized SWAT gear, the police moved onto the protestors with tear gas, flash grenades and armed vehicles. There was nothing new in the police using force on what they perceived as African American rioters and looters. What was new was the equipment the police used to suppress them. On that night, the public was introduced to the fact that the U.S. military, since 9/11, has been providing local police departments with surplus military grade equipment.

After the police use of militarized force, the Governor of Missouri removed the Ferguson police as lead agency to deal with security and appointed the state police as the new agency in charge. The officer in command, Captain Ronald S. Johnson, was able to bring a sense of calm and control that reduced the tension on the street. Two days later, the Chief of the Ferguson police released a video showing Brown committing a strong robbery in a local grocery shortly before his confrontation with Wilson. The release of the video occurred during the same press conference in which the Chief identified Wilson as the officer who killed Brown. A few hours later, the Chief stated that Wilson did not know Brown was suspected of the robbery when the confrontation occurred. That night the police were met with a riot and wholesale resentment by the press.

From this point on, the case has been met with calls for special prosecutors and condemnation of President Obama for saying too little and saying too much about the whole incident. Attorney General Eric Holder has been praised and vilified for sending in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division and the FBI. Commentary has proved, again, that there is a significant difference between how African Americans and Caucasians see this entire case. African Americans assume racial bias on the part of the officer and intentional cover-up or mishandling of the case because the loss of Brown's life is of no consequence to the police. Caucasians assume that race has little or nothing to do with the case because police don't shoot African Americans for no reason. Further, conservatives asked, if black life is so important to the protestors and politicians, why don't they decry the death of African American youth that were killed in Chicago during the same period as the unrest in Ferguson?

There is no simple answer to any of this. But there is one thing that we all can agree on. Riots make society stop and ask why. Riots have utility. Riots are both cause and effect.

Martin Luther King said of riots,

"But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard."

Thomas Jefferson said of rebellion while reflecting on the proposed Constitution,

"God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion . . . .What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."

It is interesting that it's King who teaches us that riots disrupt communities economically, socially and politically; while it's Jefferson who teaches us that riots are a toll of liberty, the remedy of the people and the creator of positive social and political change.


Veteran questions Toomey's voting record

I'm a Vietnam War veteran and a Past President of the PA State Council of VVA.  I would like to respond to your report of Senator Pat Toomey's news conference in which he discussed new legislation called the VA Accountability Act.  I understand that the bill would include several items to make people in the VA accountable by, for example, providing remedies for those veterans harmed as a result of willful VA misconduct.

While I think it's nice he wants to question VA practices, I question how substantially effective his action will be.  I wonder if he, in fact, may be a bit politically opportunistic. His record of support for veterans is woefully inadequate.  He has had many opportunities to demonstrate his support for veterans and has repeatedly failed to deliver.

For example, Toomey voted against every veterans' funding bill (13 of them) in the 10 years he has served as a Congressman from 2000-2005 and as a Senator from 2011 until now. He only voted for one in his career, in 1999. In addition to his votes against Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appropriations bills, he voted against every other bill that would fund veteran programs, such as the Veterans Jobs Act and the recent Health and Benefits bill for our veterans.

Let me just point out what his votes against those bills mean to our veterans. When he filibustered the Health and Benefits bill for veterans, he voted against increasing assisted living services for veterans who have traumatic brain injuries. That bill also would have expanded care for women veterans through various programs such as occupational counseling and stress reduction therapy.  When Toomey filibustered the bipartisan Veterans Jobs Act, he blocked efforts to help our Iraq and Afghanistan warriors get jobs in their communities after deployment -- even after he voted to send them to war.

While it's good Toomey is paying attention to the issues at the VA hospitals, I wish he would have stood with us veterans in the past -- when we really needed his votes.
Very respectfully,
Larry Holman, MS, MBA
Past President, PA State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America
Past President, PA War Veterans Council


Marijuana Legalization is Dangerous to Pennsylvania's Youth

Doyle-HeffleyBy Doyle Heffley, State Representative of the 122nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania's drug-induced deaths rank higher than the national average. In fact, a few years ago, more than 1,800 residents of Pennsylvania died as a direct consequence of drug use, compared to the number of Pennsylvanians who died from motor vehicle accidents (1,604) and firearms (1,325) in that same year.
In Carbon County alone, there's been a sharp increase in drug overdose-related deaths since 1996.  In 2007, four adults died of drug overdoses in our county. That figure spiked significantly in 2010, when 18 county residents, including one person under the age of 21, died of drug overdoses.
With marijuana being the second most abused drug in Pennsylvania, I can't help but wonder why some state lawmakers are pushing legislation to legalize recreational use of this gateway drug.
State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), in his recent opinion-editorial, "Legalize Marijuana: We're Locking Up Pennsylvanians for No Reason at Great Cost," said the only crime committed by those who smoke marijuana is "smoking a plant which makes them feel giddy," and that the perception of marijuana being a gateway drug is false.
Well, here are the facts.
A 2012 Yale University study, which appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were associated with an increased likelihood of prescription drug abuse in men ages 18 to 25. In women of that age, marijuana use was also linked with a higher likelihood of prescription drug abuse.
More specifically, the Yale researchers focused on a sample of more than 55,000 18- to 25-year-olds. Of those, about 12 percent reported that they were abusing prescription opioids. Of the group abusing these drugs, more than 34 percent had used marijuana. Among both men and women, those who had used marijuana were 2.5 times more likely than those their age who abstained to later dabble in prescription drugs.
Perhaps it's a mere coincidence that the most abused drug in Pennsylvania is heroine? After all, the increase in prescription drug abuse is fueling a rise in heroin addiction, according to a recent NBC News report. A growing number of young people who start abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy.
According to Pennsylvania's most recent "Youth Survey Report" results, nearly 20 percent of students in grades six, eight, 10, 12 across the Commonwealth admitted to using marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. More than 5 percent of those students also admitted to abusing painkillers.
Marijuana legalization brings questions to the minds of parents and causes confusion for our children. Frighteningly, it can also cause the misperception that marijuana is not a harmful drug.
Studies have shown that teen marijuana use can aggravate depression and affect the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is not fully developed in teens. The list of negative affects is long, but that message can be challenged in the minds of our youth with marijuana legalization.
It is important that parents in Carbon County and the entire state keep talking to their kids about the harmful effects of marijuana and educate themselves on marijuana facts.
I am hosting a free Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo on Thursday, April 18, from 6-8 p.m. at the Lehighton Area High School, for parents and educators to gather more information on substance abuse.
Keep the message straight with the youth across the Commonwealth: Despite talks of legalization, marijuana is still a dangerous drug.