New York state editorial roundup: COVID-19 police, Trump fuels fire, school budgets
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New York state editorial roundup: COVID-19 police, Trump fuels fire, school budgets

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Of the 125 people arrested over offenses that law enforcement officials described as related to the coronavirus pandemic, 113 were black or Hispanic. Of the 374 summonses from March 16 to May 5, a vast majority — 300 — were given to black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

Videos of some of the arrests are hard to watch. In one posted to Facebook last week, a group of some six police officers is seen tackling a black woman in a subway station as her young child looks on. “She’s got a baby with her!” a bystander shouts. Police officials told The Daily News the woman had refused to comply when officers directed her to put the mask she was wearing over her nose and mouth.

Contrast that with photographs across social media showing crowds of sun-seekers packed into parks in wealthy, whiter areas of the city, lounging undisturbed as police officers hand out masks.

So it is obvious that the city needs a different approach to enforcing public health measures during the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio seems to understand this, and he has promised to hire 2,300 people to serve as social distancing “ambassadors.”

One promising idea, promoted by City Councilman Brad Lander and others, is to build quickly a kind of “public health corps” to enforce social-distancing measures.

In this approach, specially trained civilians could fan out across the neighborhoods and parks, helping with pedestrian traffic control and politely encouraging New Yorkers entering parks to protect one another by wearing masks and keeping their distance. Police Department school safety agents, who are not armed, could help.

The Police Department would play only a minimal role in this approach, stepping in to help with crowd control, for example, something it does extremely well.

New York is facing a public health crisis, not a spike in crime. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are already suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus. They don’t need more policing. They need more help.

— New York Times

A few hours after the Thursday afternoon rally organized by the group Setauket Patriots to oppose New York’s pandemic-related economic shutdown turned ugly, the group apologized for the ugly behavior.

President Donald Trump, though, took to Twitter to recklessly applaud that unacceptable and threatening ugliness. Trump’s move signaled to his followers and the nation that it’s fine to intimidate and accost journalists, even if those journalists are doing nothing but highlighting the event the organizers themselves hoped would bring attention to their cause.

Kevin Vesey, a reporter for News12, was accosted at the Commack event as marchers shouted, “Fake news is not essential,” and harangued and insulted him. Vesey, who had the coronavirus and has recovered, shot video as some marchers shouted at him and others wearing no masks invaded his space. That footage went viral, sparking coverage that multiplied exponentially once Trump got involved.

The Facebook apology from Setauket Patriots read, in part, “We can tell you that the few who decided to harass you and try to prevent you from doing your job are not members or affiliated with the Setauket patriots group in any way, shape or form. We were looking forward to you giving us fair coverage with what you documented when we first arrived. But as with all mass rally events you will always get a few idiots to disrupt an otherwise peaceful, pleasant demonstration and they should have been removed by police.”

The president didn’t seem to get that message. The first Trump retweet of Vesey’s video, posted Friday night just after 9:30, said: “FAKE NEWS IS NOT ESSENTIAL!”

Trump again retweeted the video a bit later Friday with no comment.

Trump retweeted it again Saturday morning, adding, “People can’t get enough of this! Great people!”

— Newsday

If there is one area Gov. Andrew Cuomo is flunking right now in his handling of COVID-19, it is the uncertainty of state aid to schools.

Schools had been told that an analysis at the end of April would dictate how much state aid to schools would be cut this year. That analysis by Robert Mujica, state budget director, would tell schools what their aid would be in time to plan school budgets when the new school financial year starts on July 1.

Those revised numbers still haven’t been finalized, in part because Cuomo and Mujica are trying to wheedle more money out of the federal government to help plug the state’s $10 billion to $15 billion budget gap caused by the cratering of state revenues from the COVID-19 shutdown. While the governor and Mujica seem to be trying to keep hope alive that the federal government will come through, the end result on local school districts is a budgetary uncertainty they haven’t seen for more than a decade.

School budgets had to be approved by Tuesday so that legally required public hearings could be held and state-mandated filing deadlines met. Because state aid hadn’t been released, schools are passing budgets that may not be worth the paper on which they are printed. Clymer, for example, is passing a budget that includes a pay freeze for both of the district’s unions, cuts one teaching position, eliminates a new reading program and increases unemployment costs. It also relies on the most optimistic reading of the state aid tea leaves revealed so far by Cuomo and Mujica.

State aid is the most important part of a school district’s budget. Expecting local officials to pass a realistic budget without knowing that bit of information is just asking for trouble down the road and renders meaningless the public participation in the local school budget process.

If drastic cuts are needed, the state must come up with a way to reopen school budgets so that a real public process can be had.

— The Post Journal

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