Editorials from around New England:
Over the summer, Otis Library Executive Director Robert Farwell used Narcan on a person who had overdosed inside the library, and may have saved the person's life. He took training on how to administer the opioid overdose-reversal drug less than a month earlier.
Farwell said of his action: "I did what I had to do. I was just happy I took the time to get the training."
The incident caused a ripple effect. When Norwich City Manager John Salomone learned Farwell was trained through a city grant, Salomone requested for training to be expanded. Norwich Youth and Family Services, a branch of Norwich Human Services, obliged. The agency received a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut to provide training and Narcan kits to 100 people in Norwich.
Every city department in Norwich was offered training, included were Norwich Public Utilities and the city's five volunteer fire departments. Realizing the importance of Narcan training, most jumped on board. Norwich police, however, did not.
Their reasoning: American Ambulance and city fire officials respond to medical emergencies and often arrive before police. Capt. James Veiga, of the police department, has said he is unaware of any plan to train the city's officers in the use of Narcan in the future.
City Council President Pro-Tempore Bill Nash, a member of the Public Safety subcommittee and retired Norwich police officer, wisely questioned Norwich police's hesitation to invest in a tool that can help curb death.
It's clear the opioid epidemic isn't slowing down. There were 33 accidental overdose deaths in Norwich last year, including five in December, according to medical examiner statistics. Norwich had 126 deaths between 2012 and 2017 — staggering statistics for a city of its size. Even clearer — equipping law enforcement with Narcan is saving lives.
Last week, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that Connecticut State Police have saved nearly 300 lives since the inception of a program that equips troopers with Narcan.
Prior to October 2014, state law allowed only licensed health care practitioners to administer the medication without being civilly or criminally liable for the action. In response to the nationwide increase in opioid-related deaths, Malloy signed legislation that year modifying the law and authorizing anyone to administer Narcan as long as they believe in good faith that the person receiving the medication is experiencing an overdose.
Since law enforcement is frequently the first to arrive to the scene of an overdose, we don't accept Norwich Police Department's deference on implementing Narcan. Training officers to use and carry Narcan is a relatively simple task, and one that could potentially save lives. At the very least, it would serve the public well if even a few officers were trained in the use of it. Plainfield police also don't carry Narcan, citing the same reasons as Norwich.
But both departments should re-consider their stance. Consider it a public service. Farwell did, and he very well could have saved a life.
The Cape Cod Times
A report earlier this month that the Trump administration is moving toward a strict definition about what defines a person's gender should be unsettling, not just for members of the LGBTQ community, whom it clearly targets, but for anyone who believes in upholding the basic dignity of individuals. If enacted, the move would represent a significant step backward for a country that has up until recently rightly seen itself as a bellwether for human rights. Now, however, that proud heritage and tradition risks being undermined by forces that seem intent on dividing rather than uniting us.
This is hardly the first volley against the LGBTQ community by this administration. Last year, President Trump indicated that he would ban individuals who are transgender from serving in the military, despite a military-commissioned report that indicated that their presence in no way negatively affected military preparedness.
The administration also oversaw a rollback of Obama-era guidance to public schools that encouraged school officials to allow individuals who are transgender to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identified. This, despite numerous reports indicating that transgender and gay students are disproportionately more likely to feel threatened and suffer from suicidal thoughts than the general teenage population.
Then there was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who issued a memo indicating that existing civil rights laws did not protect transgender individuals from workplace discrimination.
The list goes on and on.
But there is something about these new rules under consideration that strikes so deeply to the core of who someone is that it deserves an enhanced level of outrage. The proposal, which the New York Times reported is circulating at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would define gender as an unchangeable biological condition set at birth. Any questions arising as to the true gender of an individual would be settled through the use of genetic testing.
This would, of course, create an easily defined binary world where everyone fits nicely into one of two boxes, marked with either an M or an F. It would allow certain individuals, in their narrow minds at least, to erase not only the concept of being transgender, but gender fluidity, and even the medical condition known as gender dysphoria, a state of discomfort that comes with identifying with a gender that one was not born as. It would also essentially erase the legal identity of an estimated 1.4 million transgender individuals living in the United States today.
It would not, however, erase the fact that these individuals are our family members, our friends, our spouses, and our fellow citizens. It would not erase the pain and suffering that many of them have faced as they have undergone years of self-searching and self-examination as they tried to deal with the fact that they were born into a body with which they do not identify. And despite everything that the Trump administration seems committed to achieving, it would not erase them as human beings.
Fortunately, a large and vocal coalition of human rights advocates have begun to coalesce around challenging this effort, should it move forward. But they cannot act alone in this regard. This proposal should outrage anyone who values the dignity of the individual; who believes that no one — especially the government — has a right to define who anyone else is; who believes that laws of this country are designed to protect everyone within it, regardless of the gender with which they identify.
In short, it is time to send a clear and unmistakable message to those within this government who believe that they can use ignorance and fear to define and divide us: You will not succeed, because if you come after one of us, or one group of us, you come after all of us.
The Providence Journal
A survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, released earlier this month, produced sobering results: Only 36 percent of Americans would be able to pass the citizenship test that is given to immigrants. Passing, by the way, requires a score of a mere 60 percent.
Americans, it turns out, are ignorant on any number of subjects regarding their country: the U.S. Constitution, American history, and the basic structure of our government.
The questions are not particularly difficult, by the way. They used to be what was known as common knowledge.
Lowlights from the Wilson survey include: Less than a quarter knew why the colonists rebelled against the British. More than half did not know how many justices sit on the Supreme Court. A whopping 72 percent could not name the 13 original colonies. Some 37 percent thought Ben Franklin was famous for having invented the light bulb.
And a stunning 60 percent of respondents did not know which countries fought against the United States in World War II — a particularly striking finding, given that some Americans who experienced World War II are still alive.
The deplorable results of the survey do not appear to be an outlier: a 2016 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, for instance, found that only 26 percent of Americans could correctly identify the three branches of the U.S. government. The same poll found that 37 percent of Americans could not identify any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
We shudder to speculate that more Americans could correctly answer questions about the love lives of the Kardashians.
Widespread ignorance is depressing in and of itself. But as Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, noted, "It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today."
With voters heading to the polls in a little more than a week — many have taken advantage of early voting — the problem seems ever more urgent.
Interestingly, the Foundation reported widespread differences by age.
"Those 65 years and older scored the best, with 74 percent answering at least six in 10 questions correctly. For those under the age of 45, only 19 percent passed the exam, with 81 percent scoring a 59 percent or lower," it reported.
That suggests that the problem is the American education system: That, at some point, it made the utterly wrong-headed decision that teaching civics is no longer important. The results are plain to see: A 2017 survey by the National Education Association found that only 25 percent of U.S. students reach the level of "proficient" on the NEA's civics assessment.
American education has many purposes, including preparing students for the economy of the future. But that's not the only point: perhaps its most important mission is to prepare citizens for the monumentally important — and difficult — task of self government. It is self-evidently failing on that score.
The good news is, some 17 states have made passing the citizenship test a condition of high school graduation. (Neither Rhode Island nor Massachusetts has, though.) More states should do the same.
It's OK to be white. That fact is not being disputed here or anywhere else. But that's not really the point, is it?
This past weekend, a number of signs with the slogan, "It's OK to be White," appeared on the campuses of the University of Vermont and Champlain College in Burlington.
The message, which has clear ties to white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan that date back to the early 2000s, is part of a widespread online effort to stoke controversy and racial division. This current campaign began nearly a year ago as a meme on 4Chan, an online forum popular among online trolls and the alt-right. Since then, signs bearing the message have appeared on high school and college campuses around the United States and Canada.
In a vacuum, the statement — that being a white person is acceptable — isn't provocative. White people face no social penalty for their whiteness. No individual or group is waging a war against white people or white culture. There is no governmental threat to white civil liberties.
However, the statement doesn't exist in a vacuum. White nationalist ties notwithstanding, the slogan has reemerged in a political moment when racial anxieties are dangerously high. In this context, the signs are a deliberately provocative act, and the creators of the meme know it.
Indeed, the acknowledged goal of the signs is to trigger liberals and cause a media firestorm that will make them look like hypocrites. As one anonymous 4Chan user put it, "Normies tune in to see what's going on, see the posters saying It's Okay to Be White and the media and leftists frothing at the mouth (sic) . Credibility of far left campuses and media gets nuked, massive victory for the right in the culture war."
That goal has been aided by conservative pundits who have disingenuously taken the message at face value. "So it's not OK to be white?" they ask while ignoring the obvious intent of the message and obfuscating its irrefutable connection to racist groups.
Conservatives have played a similar game with the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement created to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice — in an attempt to make a false equivalency, asking, "Why is it OK to say, 'black lives matter,' but not 'white lives matter?' Why isn't it 'all lives matter?'"
But these are arguments made in bad faith, and the rank-and-file conservatives who accept and repeat them are being played. White people who are tempted to defend the "It's OK to be White" message and accept the false implication that other groups believe it's not OK to be white, must resist the urge to take the bait. The campaign is nothing more than a cynical ploy designed to exploit people's white fragility — the stress that elicits a defensive response in white people when confronted with racial inequality or injustice.
By taking offense, genuine or feigned, white people have re-centered themselves as the victims in a conversation about race. Like the popular deflection of "I don't see color," it is a product of privilege — the privilege white people have to get out of discussing race when the conversation becomes too inconvenient, uncomfortable or difficult.
Likewise, liberals must be measured in their response. While racism is indeed alive and well here in Vermont, these signs are part of a national campaign that stretches far beyond our borders. In discussing this troubling incident both in person and online, it's unproductive and unhelpful to paint white people who are less woke than you with a broad brush. Doing so can alienate potential allies and gives the trolls exactly what they want.
Yes, it's OK to be white. But if your whiteness prevents you from being an ally to people of color — from hearing and validating their experiences, from defending them from insult and injury, from speaking out against inequity, inequality and injustice — that's not OK.
Portland Press Herald
More than five years into the opioid epidemic, it's frustrating to see people arguing about the concept of harm reduction.
That's the notion that people with substance use disorder will not be able to do the hard work of recovery if they are dead. Gov. LePage says that the overdose antidote naloxone doesn't really save lives because some people go back to using drugs after they are revived. But even he can't deny that a timely dose of the medication can keep people from dying, giving them a chance to save their own lives.
The same logic applies to other harm-reduction approaches, including needle exchange programs and the still-controversial concept of safe injection sites. But still, as the body count rises, harm reduction is met with opposition from people who believe it's best to send a strong message that drug use is not only dangerous but also morally wrong and should never be abetted.
In frustration over this struggle, a group that calls itself "the Church of Safe Injection" is running an unlicensed mobile needle exchange program, distributing naloxone and advice about substance-use disorder treatment along with clean needles. It may be in a legal gray area, but they are doing the right thing, clinically and morally.
Maine averages about one drug overdose death a day, but that is just part of the problem.
In addition to the overdose deaths, cases of fatal diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C are surging, spread by the use of dirty needles. Every transmission of an infection puts another life at risk, and makes the road back from drug use much harder. Legal needle exchange programs are licensed and operating in Portland, Bangor and other cities, but there are not enough of them to meet the need. There are no legal safe injection sites in Maine, where drug treatment information is distributed along with clean needles and other products that keep users safer than they would be out on the street.
It's not ideal. It would be much better if every drug user were ready to enter treatment and there were enough room in treatment programs for them. But common sense should tell you that you don't need to worry about "sending the wrong message" by preventing people from hurting themselves. People who can't stop doing something that they know could kill them are not going to be "scared straight."
It would be great if there were no need for the Church of Safe Injection, but people are dying unnecessarily. As long as harm reduction remains politically controversial, there is a need that can't wait.
On Monday night, an estimated 500 people of every race, creed and color filled Temple Israel Portsmouth and locked arms literally and figuratively; we prayed and sang and declared in a way that left no room for doubt that ours is a community of love and mutual respect and that here, on the Seacoast, hate has no home.
The area's religious leaders called us to prayer and reflection in response to the worst attack on Jewish Americans in the history of this nation; the murder Saturday of 11 congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the wounding of additional congregants and courageous police officers who raced to the scene to protect the innocent.
Hatred is trying to gain a foothold in this nation.
People in prayer have been murdered in houses of worship in Pittsburgh, in Charleston, South Carolina, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in too many places.
W.B. Yeats's apocalyptic "The Second Coming" comes to mind:
"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
The rough beast of hate can only win if people of good will fail to speak out in the misguided belief that there is safety in silence.
The poem "First they came" by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, who wrote about the failure of the German people to stand up to Hitler, comes to mind:
"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a socialist.
"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a trade unionist.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
"Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me."
At times like these we must stand up, speak out and say no to hatred.
We are grateful to our local religious leaders for convening the prayer vigil and for helping us all to remember that we are responsible for the world we live in today and the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren when our time on Earth is through.
Will we follow the simple wisdom to love our neighbors as we would have them love us, or will we allow our sense of right and wrong to be manipulated and warped by those looking to harness mass anger for their own perceived advantage?
We are not passive players. Every minute of every day we are responsible for our action
We will never be able to prevent the hateful acts of warped individuals; we can always control how we respond to them.
Now is a time to look into your heart and ask if you are doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Are you thinking about others as you would have them think about you? Is your heart expansive, generous and warm, or have you allowed it to become shriveled, cold and unforgiving?
Gandhi, in his wisdom, reminds us not to despair.
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it -- always."
Truth and love will win, but only if we have the courage to stand up and speak out against hatred. We applaud the community for coming together to speak out for truth and love Monday night, and we wish all our readers the courage to continue to do so in the trying days ahead.