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Kentucky editorial roundup

Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:


April 14

The Daily News on no sympathy for death row:

It never ceases to amaze us that, quite often, when a death row inmate is about to be executed, he or she argues the method planned to be used to end his or her life amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

This is obviously a last-ditch effort - after years and years of appeals, often on the taxpayers' dime - to spare their lives or at least delay execution, but we simply do not buy it.

We often ask ourselves when we hear of these criminals pleading for their lives: What about the cruel and unusual punishment that their victims went through? Didn't the person they murdered, raped or tortured to death experience cruel and unusual punishment?

Of course they did. It was cruel and unusual punishment committed against them by these criminals. Those also suffering cruel and unusual punishment as a result of these convicted murderers are the victims' families. Many wait decades for justice for their loved ones who were senselessly taken from them. Some don't live long enough because the appeals process takes so long.

This is very sad for them, in our opinion. They often can't receive any closure until they know that the monster who killed their loved one is no longer living.

Consider the case of death row inmate Russell Bucklew in Missouri. He has been on death row since 1996 for the rape and murder of a woman. For 23 years, the family of the victim has waited for justice to be done. Bucklew and his attorneys have tied up his death penalty case all this time, recently taking their argument all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bucklew's attorneys did not dispute that Bucklew committed the crime; instead, they argued before the high court that he has a rare medical condition called cavernous hemangioma, which causes blood-filled tumors to grow around his head and neck and that using lethal injection would cause Bucklew pain during the execution, thereby resulting in cruel and unusual punishment.

It was clear that this very weak and desperate argument was a last-ditch effort to save this cold-blooded killer's life.

We didn't buy it, and thankfully the majority of the high court didn't buy it. In a 5-4 vote, the majority said the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment does not mean that executions must be painless.

Justice Neil Gorsuch also concluded that under the court's precedents in two previous cases, Bucklew is required to present an alternative method of execution that is feasible, readily implemented and likely to reduce the chances of extreme pain.

Bucklew, whose lawyers suggested the largely untested method of nitrogen asphyxiation as an alternative to lethal injection, failed to meet those burdens, Gorsuch said. Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi have approved the use of nitrogen asphyxiation, but it remains experimental.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by his fellow liberals, wrote that the majority's requirements could permit states to execute those who will endure pain similar to that inflicted by burning at the stake.

To suggest that putting someone to death through the means of lethal injection is comparable to being burned at the stake is a huge stretch, and frankly is a rather ridiculous comment to make.

The majority of the high court got it right in this case.

Bucklew had choices in life, like we all do. In 1996, he made the choice to rape and murder a woman. He showed her no mercy or sympathy on that day, but 23 years later he asks for sympathy.

He doesn't deserve one ounce of mercy or sympathy. He chose his path in life. He showed his victim very cruel and unusual punishment, and if he receives it he is most certainly deserving of it.



April 13

The News-Enterprise on helping children who are hurting:

Brandon Chambers was hurting, and had been for months. He and his family sought help and got it — from counseling to medication — and it still wasn't enough to keep the Elizabethtown 14-year-old from taking his own life last month. His pain was deep and one afternoon, it became too much for him. He made an unfortunate and irreversible choice.

Some children hurt more than others and some children can't hide the hurt. Others are masterful at it.

From self-harming themselves to easing the pain with illegal substances, children around the country are dealing with depression as they face challenges like never before.

And it's happening more in Hardin County than most want to believe.

During a recent school year, Communicare alone had contact with an estimated 700 students in Hardin County Schools, Elizabethtown Independent Schools, Head Start and West Point Independent. There are many other agencies and professionals in Hardin County and they saw even more students.

Mental illness is not defined by age or gender or social status, or whether you're an introvert, athlete or come from poverty or a well-to-do family. In 2019 more than ever, children are facing more life challenges than ever before.

If you think bullying doesn't happen on social media, in our schools and at the mall, get your head out of the sand.

Mayberry is only a television rerun. It always was a myth and certainly doesn't exist anymore.

Elementary-age children are in therapy, one school official said.

Kelly Fisher, who has been a guidance counselor in both Hardin County school districts, called mental health among youngsters "an epidemic."

The first, and most important step into easing the epidemic — the second-leading cause of death in the United States among the 19 and younger age group — is to recognize the problem does exist. In Hardin County, two teen boys took their own lives in an eight-month stretch.

The stigma of mental health needs to be removed and viewed as a sickness. It's a cancer of the mind.

There is help available in our community and there are plenty of areas to reach out, from school personnel to pastors to experts in the field of mental health. Find an understanding friend, and more importantly, be that understanding friend.

When Anita Chambers shared the story of her son a week ago today in a "Hidden Darkness" package on these news pages, she said her goal was to bring awareness to teen mental health and if telling her family's story helped one person, it was worth it.

Being aware of warning signs such as having declining grades in school, risk-taking behaviors, behavioral problems and withdrawing from family and friends is important; addressing them is critical. Hearing a teen say, "I just want to die!" is not an emotional outburst that should be scoffed at as dramatic behavior.

There is a responsibility each of us has to help one another, friend or stranger.

As the signs that are scattered throughout this county say, "Just Be Kind." We should for many, many reasons, among them we don't know what challenges someone next to us is facing.

It's imperative we reach out with a caring hand to let hurting children know they are not alone.



April 11

The Courier Journal on police traffic stops in West End:

What happened to 18-year-old Tae-Ahn Lea shouldn't happen to anyone.

And the fact that he lives in a high-crime area doesn't make it acceptable for Louisville police to treat him like a criminal — pulling him from his vehicle, frisking him and handcuffing him for a minor traffic offense.

That's harassment, whether you live in the East End or West End. And it's unacceptable.

Police Chief Steve Conrad was right to launch an internal investigation of Lea's stop, but that's not enough. He must end these overly aggressive traffic stops because they are doing more harm than good, creating more ill will directed at officers charged with ensuring the public's safety.

Conrad said the traffic stops are only a small part of the department's crime-fighting efforts and that part of the job of police is to enforce traffic rules.

But the Ninth Mobile Division, which is making traffic stops daily in western Louisville, was designed specifically to target illegal guns and drugs. It is not focused on enforcing traffic rules.

If that was the case, the officers who pulled over Lea last August in the Park DuValle neighborhood for making a wide turn would have shown up in court when Lea appeared for his traffic violation. Instead, the charges were dropped.

What the Ninth Mobile is doing are called "pretextual" stops. Officers pull over a driver for some minor traffic offense, but their real purpose is to fish around for illegal guns or drugs.

Sometimes they find them. But all too often what they find are frustrated, law-abiding citizens who are fed up with being harassed, intimidated and traumatized by the police simply because they live in western Louisville.

The practice is perfectly legal, but it's morally wrong.

The video of Lea's traffic stop, which has been seen by more than 1 million people, shows just how wrong the practice is.

Lea didn't have a criminal record. He was minding his own business. He went to the store to get a slushy and was driving home when he was followed by police and stopped for making a wide turn.

He did everything he was supposed to do. Kept his hands on the steering wheel. Told officers he didn't have any guns or drugs. Asked if he could get his license when the officer requested it.

But for some reason, Ninth Mobile officers thought Lea needed to be pulled from his vehicle. They searched his car with a drug-sniffing dog. Officers handcuffed him, rifled through his wallet and for 25 minutes lectured him about their jobs and their efforts to rid Louisville's streets of violent criminals.

What made an elite crime-fighting team think Lea was a violent criminal? Was it because he was a black man driving a nice car - his mother's 2011 Dodge Charger - in the West End? Why not just check his license to see if there were any issues and, if not, give him a ticket or a warning and let him go? That's what happens when you get pulled over for minor traffic violations in the East End.

But in the West End, there's a different standard.

A month before Lea's stop, the Rev. Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Church and president of Simmons College, was pulled over by police for a minor traffic violation in the Russell neighborhood and was treated like he was up to no good.

Cosby's message to the police: "Don't treat a person like a criminal over a routine traffic stop and then wonder why a black person might conclude he has been racially profiled."

Conrad admits there's room for improvement but said the police department will continue to use these traffic stops. More data is needed, he said, before determining whether to end them.

That's not good enough.

There is data from a regional neighbor that shows Louisville's policing strategy does not work.

A major study of 2.5 million traffic stops in Nashville found that they don't reduce crime. The study, by the nonprofit Policing Project at New York University law school, also found that as officers increased the number of stops in particular areas, crime did not necessarily fall and in some cases actually went up.

The study also showed that the stops resulted in the loss of dignity and trust of those who perceived their stop was illegitimate.

That's exactly the case with Lea. An officer involved in the stop wanted to know why Lea had a problem with police. Who wouldn't after the way he was treated?

Each time the police are overly aggressive and disrespectful, it costs them.

Conrad should end the harassing traffic stops because they do exactly what he says he doesn't want: They cause people to view Louisville police as illegitimate and untrustworthy.

Outside law enforcement experts who viewed the police body camera footage of the incident at the Courier Journal's request agreed the approach undermines community trust.

That makes fighting crime even more difficult. And it hurts our city.

Mayor Greg Fischer is right to call for a review of traffic stop data to see if the strategy has helped reduce crime. But he needs to stop the practice until that review is complete.

There's no doubt that police have a tough job. They work hard and risk their lives to keep communities safe, and they have our support and our appreciation. We are debating the merits of an ill-conceived policy, not the officers charged with protecting us.

There's also no doubt that there's a violent crime problem in the areas that Louisville police have identified - Russell, Shawnee, Park Hill, Victory Park, Smoketown and Shelby Park.

We need to get criminals off our streets. But a policy that allows random, aggressive traffic stops tramples on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

It's not good policing.

The traffic stop study conducted in Nashville included a recommendation that Louisville should embrace. It's called community policing. It requires officers to engage with people in high-crime neighborhoods and work with them to improve public safety.

Police stops declined 30% in Nashville last year, and the department attributed part of that drop to community policing.

It could work in western Louisville.

Joining with residents to fight crime is certainly better than treating them like criminals.