Roundup of Arkansas editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, Nov. 8, 2014

Stand your ground

More than two years ago, there was a case in Florida that drew national headlines and sparked a national debate.

George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black high school student, to death following an altercation in a Sanford, Florida, gated community.

Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" law, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

But being found not guilty by a jury of his peers did not mean Zimmerman was free to go on with his life. There were plenty of people out there who still insisted he murdered a young black man who did nothing wrong.

Around the same time, there was another Florida case, another test of the "stand your ground" law, that made a brief splash in the papers and was then largely forgotten.

In November of 2012, a 47-year-old man named Michael Dunn was in Jacksonville to attend his son's wedding.

After the ceremony, he and his fiancée drove to a convenience store and parked next to an SUV occupied by four black teens. The vehicle was, in Dunn's word, blasting out music with a "loud thumping bass." He termed the music "rap crap."

Dunn's fiancée went into the store. At trial, Dunn testified he asked the three teens inside the SUV to turn down the music and that they did so, but later turned the music up even louder and started hurling insults at him.

At that point, Dunn testified, "I wasn't going to ask for favors anymore."

The teens inside the SVU tell a different story. They say they turned the music down as requested and only turned it back up when Dunn started cursing them.

What happened next isn't clear. Words were exchanged. Dunn says he thought he saw a gun.

But this part is certain: Dunn, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, took out his handgun and fired 10 shots into the SUV.

One of the young men, Jordan Davis, 17, was killed.

Then Dunn and his fiancée left the scene and headed back to their hotel. Even after learning he had killed someone, he did not contact authorities. But he was eventually tracked down.

When police responded to the scene, no weapon was found in the SUV.

Dunn was charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He claimed self defense, saying he felt his life was in danger.

A jury convicted him of the attempted murder charges in February but deadlocked on the murder count. Dunn was retried on that charge, and last month the jury had no problem handing down a conviction.

The sentence? Life without parole.

During the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, we heard a lot about how "stand your ground" essentially gave reckless shooters a get-out-of-jail-free card. And it's true that often there is too much ambiguity in such cases to know beyond a reasonable doubt what happened.

But that's not the whole picture. Often the law allows an innocent person to protect himself and his family. And sometimes that defense doesn't stand up against the evidence. Sometimes justice takes its course and the defendant is convicted.

This is one of those times.

Southwest Times Record, Nov. 9

Resuming negotiations a good first step

It was good news Thursday when Fort Smith officials announced they were rejoining the federal government in negotiations concerning the city's Clean Water Act violations.

The city for many years has been in violation of federal clean water standards because during heavy rains sewers overflow and discharge into the Arkansas River. Since 2006, the city has been working with officials of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice to improve and ultimately, it's hoped, eliminate the situation.

Specifically, the city hopes to present a schedule of new construction projects and ongoing sewer care the governmental agencies would sign off on.

In early October, we learned that although the pace of negotiations had picked up in the last year, the federal agencies abruptly broke off talks in late September. A federal lawsuit seemed likely to follow. Consequences could have included the feds' taking over the sewer system, driving the pace of improvements and setting significantly higher sewer rates.

In negotiations, the city has been looking for a 15-year plan while the Department of Justice has wanted a 10-year plan.

The city Board of Directors adopted a resolution affirming the city's willingness to continue talks and already-scheduled improvements.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel added his efforts to stave off expensive litigation, saying, "I appreciate that the federal government and the city have been receptive to my efforts to reach a resolution, because this is truly the city's last opportunity to avoid litigation."

Although the attorney general did not comment on word of resumed talks, clearly some combination of efforts including his was necessary to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

What will happen next is uncertain. City Administrator Ray Gosack notes the parties continue to disagree about the length of time it should take to eliminate the violations. While voter-approved sales tax funds have been used to build new sewers, the upkeep and rehabilitation of the older system also is necessary. So it seems likely that sewer rates will have to increase.

This is a decades-old problem that recent boards have been forced to address because earlier boards did not. Voters stepped up to do their part, and residents likely will have to pay more. We hope the EPA and DOJ and the city's negotiators can find the right mix of due speed going forward and a price the city can afford.

Sitting back down at the negotiating table is a good first step.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nov. 9, 2014

Recognized at last

After last week's national elections, after President Obama held his post-midterm press conference and wake, after the din subsided and the muddy floodwaters of politics began to recede, however slowly, the president of the United States took a break from politics. Much like the rest of the country, he may have sorely needed one. With the election safely past, the president_and commander-in-chief— was able to announce the latest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The presentation was made posthumously to Alonzo Hereford Cushing, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Artillery. His friends said he was a fierce patriot, not to mention a fierce fighter. Wounded so badly he could hardly talk, he whispered his final commands to what was left of his battery before he fell. He was 22 years old.

Lieutenant Cushing died July 3rd — of 1863. On the last day of an engagement that would become known as Gettysburg.

As the massive wave of advancing infantry began to move up toward Cemetery Ridge, the air was filled with smoke and fire_and rebel yells. That last gallant attack would become known as Pickett's Charge, or the High Tide of the Confederacy. On and on the human tide came. Lieutenant Cushing and his cannoneers sighted their pieces and held their fire until . . . all Hell broke loose.

When the smoke cleared, thousands of bodies littered the field. There would be 64 medals of Honor awarded for heroism at Gettysburg, including this latest one to First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing. But it would take more than 150 years for Lieutenant Cushing to be recognized. And honored.

Why? For one thing, awarding officers the Medal of Honor wasn't done back then. Promotions, it was assumed, would be reward enough. That began to change just as those two reconnoitering armies chanced upon each other at a place called Gettysburg barely in Pennsylvania. Which may explain why this Union officer wasn't honored immediately after the battle.

The papers in Wisconsin, the lieutenant's home state, report that he fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and the Battle of Bull Run, too. By the time 1863 and Gettysburg came around, he would have seen a lot of blood shed in that most uncivil war.

Lest we forget, Johnny Reb had artillery of his own. Just before that great infantry formation charged across the open field before Cemetery Ridge, the Confederates began a massive bombardment that all but wiped out Lieutenant Cushing's Battery A of the 4th U.S. Artillery. Four of his six guns were no longer operative, and the Rebs were closing in.

Those who have walked that now historic battlefield will remember the low stone wall on the downslope of the ridge. That was where the Union infantry crouched, awaiting the onslaught. Assigned to support the infantry, Lieutenant Cushing's guns were positioned only about 20 yards behind that wall, but that was too far away from the action for the lieutenant. He ordered his last two guns run down to the wall and, with the help of any volunteers he could rustle up among the infantrymen, who suddenly became cannoneers, he opened direct fire on the advancing enemy.

According to his first sergeant, Lieutenant Cushing was hit first in the shoulder, then the groin. But he continued to lead. The fatal slug caught him in the head. His sacrifice would not be in vain. For once the Army of the Potomac would prevail. And the Army of Northern Virginia (R.E. Lee, Commanding General) would be dealt the decisive blow of that long, cruel war.

A hundred years later, in the 1960s, an amateur historian named Margaret Zerwekh would move to the Cushing homestead in Wisconsin. There she would uncover his story by reading the letters and memoirs of the men who fought alongside him. After going through mounds of historical documents and, with the eventual help of her congressmen, she was able to convince the government of the United States to bestow the Medal of Honor on another deserving recipient.

Ms. Zerwekh was there Thursday when the president of the United States and commander-in-chief of its armed forces, flanked by leaders civil and military, presented the medal. Accepting it for Lieutenant Cushing was Helen Ensign_the lieutenant's first cousin twice removed. The occasion marked the longest time between an American soldier's actions above and beyond the call of duty and his heroism's being recognized with the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It's been a long time coming, Lieutenant, and you'll want to know that those caissons keep rolling along.

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