Editorials

A reader recently called the office and asked a member of the editorial staff why social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have been shielded from lawsuits over the content users post on their platforms, while newspaper editors usually take extra precautions when publishing letters to the editor.

Social media platforms have been covered by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, as they are not considered moderators of content provided by their users, but distributors. The same act protects distributors of books, magazines and newspapers.

It is a law that has become controversial, as The New York Times has pointed out, since it also covers websites that propagate hate speech. Websites can effectively set their own rules for what is and what is not allowed.

However, regarding newspapers, readers will often find that letters to the editor pages in many publications such as ours stress that the opinions of columnists and letter writers are their own. They do not speak for the newspaper. We also edit letters for length, libel, style and good taste,  and the editorial department vets them to ensure factual accuracy. While social media companies and internet service providers are protected under Section 230, newspapers, radio and television stations are held to a higher standard, allegedly due to their ability to moderate content and maintain editorial control.

At the same time, more social media sites are expressly moderating people’s posts. Facebook recently cited that it’s detecting and removing most hate speech before anyone sees it. If the argument was these sites didn’t have the capacity to moderate all its content, it is in the strange spot of arguing at the same time that it effectively can.

While outside content across the worldwide web is innumerable and almost impossible to keep track of, with a newspaper the content can be reviewed by an editor. Although most newspapers, including ours, are open to printing readers’ opinions no matter what side of the political aisle a person may take, as a privately owned business we have the option to decline to publish anything that comes across our desks. Based on our standard of ethics, letters can be declined if they include racist comments or defamatory statements — such as accusing a person of a crime, a breach of ethics or professional dishonesty. Newspapers can potentially bear the responsibility of being held accountable under libel laws if a letter claims something about a person that is known to be false or should have been known by the editorial staff. Of course, it’s hard to litigate libel in New York state, as one has to prove the defamation was made with actual malice.

Local newspapers like ours don’t always have the luxury of having numerous letters to choose from and, being familiar with the different viewpoints of community members, we have the right to decide not to publish letters that express extreme views. Still, we do our best to provide an outlet where everyone feels they can express their opinions and exercise their freedom of speech. However, unlike most posts on social media, we also understand the importance of protecting our community members as best as we can from hearsay.

Regarding Section 230, it may be time to hold social media accountable for the content that pops up in a person’s newsfeed. Let’s not forget which accounts have been suspended by Twitter or those who have been thrown in “Facebook jail.” It seems as if the technology is out there to decipher false claims and what is otherwise hate speech. The fact that these corporations seem to want autonomy while displaying they have the capacity to monitor their users’ messaging is untenable — the general political divisiveness and the proliferation of so much mistruth are reasons enough that laws need to change.

Considering how many rely on social media for information, it may be time for these platforms to step up to the plate and verify what their consumers read or risk government reform.

METRO photo

There’s no good way to put this. We know in a year of hardship so many of us crave the companionship and familial connection of a traditional Thanksgiving, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s something we simply can’t have this year.

Yes, we fought through the worst of the virus in New York, but cases are rising again all over the country. Suffolk stands as a positive test rate of 3.4% as at Nov. 17. Just a few weeks ago we were bragging about how well we were doing at 1%.

Experts have repeatedly said we will enter a second wave of the virus as the weather cools and more people spend time indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced new limits on several businesses and gatherings. Bars, restaurants and gyms are mandated to close by 10 p.m. for everything barring takeouts. The state also limited in-person gatherings to 10 people, though it excludes households with residents already numbering 10 or more.

Some have questioned the point of the latter restriction, especially whether the state even has the ability to restrict the number of people in a family home. Though there are residents who have reported large gatherings in backyards, the order should be taken more as a notice and reminder. It’s easy to guess just how quickly COVID-19 spreads when there are 20 or more people sitting shoulder to shoulder shoveling Thanksgiving delights into maskless mouths.

We only have to look at recent superspreader events to know just how dangerous maskless gatherings can be. A Sweet 16 event at the Miller Place Inn in September caused 37 people to come down with the virus, some of whom weren’t even at the event, while a reported 270 were required to quarantine.

Local officials have already cited Halloween parties for an increase in positive cases. One can only think holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year will do even more harm if we don’t take the initiative now.

With that said, there are still many local businesses who depend on Thanksgiving sales, whether it’s the local butcher or bakery. We ask people to still patronize your neighboring establishments even if you might not need as much this year as previous. I mean, don’t we all look forward to Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches?

But likely more people are concerned about not seeing their family sitting around the table as they do every year. There’s no way around it, no, you shouldn’t. Keeping it to household members only will be hard, but there are ways to talk to friends and family through video and phone. We know some people in our office will offer toasts over Zoom and other facilities. And we know that we will be toasting the many people who work and continue to work, making sure people are safe during an unprecedented time. We also need to thank the many volunteers providing food for the needy during an especially difficult  time, and hope all those hungry people find some meal and companionship this holiday.

So, combined with people still traveling home for Thanksgiving, with more visitors likely to come from out of state, we are left with few good options. Some people say something to the effect that “we can’t let the virus control our lives.”

We would counter that thought with the following: If every single one of us having a smaller Thanksgiving for one year saves even just one life, then it would have been worth it.

Is Thanksgiving canceled? Maybe a traditional one is, but the spirit of the holiday certainly won’t be, not if our goal is to keep those around us safe and healthy.

Amongst record-breaking turnout for the 2020 election, there is still one lingering issue that Suffolk County needs to correct for the many elections in our future, namely the dearth of early voting locations in the county.

In the midst of a pandemic, providing an opportunity for locals to vote earlier than Election Day made more sense than ever before. It was about keeping the number of people to a minimum to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Accommodating those who didn’t want to vote amongst crowds because they felt they would be at a higher risk to catch the coronavirus should have been at the utmost of priorities.

In Suffolk, past years have seen one early voting site per town, and this year the number of locations was increased to 12. Critics had lobbied for more than a dozen sites in the county, preferably 21, but the calls were met with compromise.

Well, the results are in and the critics were right. The slight bump in polling places wasn’t enough. People found themselves in line at early polling locations for hours. Lines at locations like Brookhaven Town Hall or Nesconset Elementary School snaked through parking lots and twisted around residential streets. As ridiculous as it sounds, people had to bring chairs with them to vote.

According to New York State law, the boards of elections should consider various factors when choosing a site including population density, travel time, proximity to other sites and how close it is to public transportation routes.

In Brookhaven, voters could find locations in Farmingville and Mastic but nothing on the North Shore. Smithtown residents had one location in Nesconset and many, once they discovered they would have to wait hours in line, traveled to Brentwood to vote early. In the TBR News Media coverage area from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River along the North Shore of the Island — which can vary between 40 to 50 miles depending on what route a person takes — that Nesconset location was the only early voting polling place.

Of course, we realize one of the problems may be a lack of poll workers and volunteers. Hearing the concerns of many residents who are now shouting voter fraud and the like it’s ironic how more people aren’t willing to participate in one of the most important processes in America. Our suggestion to the Suffolk County Board of Elections: Make more of an effort in getting the word out that people are needed to help voters.

The long lines of people to cast an early vote proved that Suffolk residents wanted their voices to be heard. Those lines proved that the county and country need to rethink the early voting process.

Suffolk County needs to work out a funding stream that is dedicated to early polling places come Election Day, and the nation needs to have a serious conversation about standardized processes for mail-in ballots or early voting. At the same time, why not make Election Day a national holiday?

While the hope is that future election procedures won’t need to adhere to pandemic guidelines, offering a more flexible schedule enables people more than 15 hours on Election Day to have their say, no matter what their workday schedule or other responsibilities entail.

To have one day to vote may have worked in the early days of our country, but with the U.S. population increasing massively over the centuries, and people of color as well as women gaining the right to vote along the way, it’s time to expand to make sure every adult in America can vote no matter what their circumstances may be.

METRO photo

Here is the rub, we’re in tense, dangerous times. We all feel it, a sense of unease blowing on the wind from who knows where. We don’t know what will come in the weeks following election day Nov. 3.

Absentee voting has been around for years, but the pandemic has caused a new swath of residents looking to vote remote. In New York state, boards of elections will not even begin to count absentee ballots until Nov. 6, and that process could take weeks to finish, especially if this year’s Democratic primary is anything to go by. Some experts have said we could not see the final results until December.

Due to this, sites like FiveThirtyEight, which often analyses election polling, said New York may initially skew Republican and then edge Democratic as more absentee ballots are counted.

Effectively, as we look at the preliminary results in the days after Tuesday, we have to remember that nothing is set in stone, especially this year.

It’s only fair that every person who voted in this year’s election is counted, no matter which way they may have voted. Anything else would be undemocratic, and nobody can judge another for deciding to stay home and cast a ballot by mail, especially if they or a person in their family is in the high-risk category for getting COVID-19.

Despite this, President Donald Trump (R) has continually called absentee votes into question, despite the likely fact that many of the people voting for him have cast absentee ballots, and that he himself has voted by mail, specifically by giving it to a third-party individual to return. He has even suggested legal action to mandate only the votes counted by Election Day are applied.

We’ve been trained to want our results election night, but no state has ever fully counted every ballot on the first Tuesday in November. Some states, like North Carolina, are counting absentee ballots that arrive as late as Nov. 12.

And lacking any bombshell reports of vote mismanagement, we have to trust the system. New York’s process double checks each absentee ballot to make sure the person also did not vote in person. Voter fraud remains rare, and multiple states use mail-in ballots as the primary way people can vote in local, state and federal elections.

And what should we expect in those days after? Are we really going to see violence? Will people really accept the outcome of this year’s election? That’s the real question, and as we write this editorial for an issue that comes out two days after the initial results, we cannot say what’s on the horizon.

We urge everyone to stay safe and stay sane. We’re all looking for someone to take the lead in asking for calm, but it seems we should be looking to those in education for a guiding light. Stony Brook University’s new President Maurie McInnis wrote: “While we wait for the results, we are bound to be anxious and tense. Practice patience, extend courtesy and be considerate. When results do come, given the variety of political affiliations that are part of our strength as a diverse community, some are bound to feel elation while others will be disappointed and distressed. I encourage you to reach for empathy. Reach for critical understanding. Reach for the profound combination of caring and intelligence.”

We know tensions will be high, we know the national news will be covering unrest in different parts of the country, but we want to believe our communities have the right mindset to move forward, and that we can stifle the most radical voices with a bulwark of civic mindedness and a sense of neighborly compassion.

A caravan of cars rolled through Port Jefferson Oct. 17 in support of President Donald Trump. Photo by Kyle Barr

Beyond the interruption to Saturday business for stores, some of whom are hanging on for dear life by their pinkie, beyond the traffic and the noise, where is this going?

Because we are two weeks before an election, likely one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, and the Trump caravans taking over roads not just on the North Shore as they did last weekend, but from both east and west, have told us one thing: There are real efforts to take the general antipathy seen on the national stage and transport it to here at home.

Seemingly in response to a single Black Lives Matter march in Port Jefferson back in June, local right-wing group Setauket Patriots has hosted three events since July. One was a sanctioned car parade for Fourth of July. Another was an unsanctioned parade for 9/11. Now we have the most recent caravan supporting the reelection of President Donald Trump (R) last Saturday. All these events have contained many examples of people waving flags supporting Trump, but this latest parade finally dropped any pretense.

In videos shared online, some patriots members have displayed animosity to local officials, to neighbors or effectively anyone who doesn’t agree with them. One video highlighted an actor portraying Trump calling Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant “evil” for issuing the group a summons for marching without a permit. In another, a member of the caravan jokes about shooting counterprotesters.

Grown men and young children got into public shouting matches on the side of the street. There were reported examples of people in the caravan using gay slurs at any who showed disagreement. And, of course, not every example of bad behavior was carried out by Trump supporters. One counterprotester flipped the bird at all those gathered at the street corner, drawing jeers from the crowd.

Are these examples just small bites of a larger, more intricate context? We hope so, but there’s a real danger to thoughts like these. Yes, you can and should disagree with the decisions of public officials like the mayor of a small incorporated village, but what is the point of pejoratives? Where is this going? Is there going to be something like the planned armed coup by residents against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)? Not likely but, then again, officials like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) have joined in on attacks against the mayor seemingly on political grounds. These attempts at further dividing a local community are not welcome.

And beyond that, if you joke about shooting your political opponents, no matter if they are protesters, officials or police, you no longer deserve the kind of public platform you currently enjoy.

Divided. That’s what we call ourselves now. We say we are polarized and distinct, with one red America and one blue America. Why? Why do we push this polarization as if it’s inevitable?

This month, TBR News Media has been hosting debates with candidates running for local elections. Would you be offended or glad to know just how often these people from two separate parties actually agree on local issues? Both Republicans and Democrats agree with how important it is to maintain our North Shore bays and the Long Island Sound in general. Both parties understand the issue of Long Island’s brain drain and the need to keep both old and young here. They might disagree on the particulars, but that is why we have the debates in the first place, isn’t it?

Even on the so-called hot-button issues like police reform, there is real nuance and ideas from candidates you likely won’t see on any nationally televised debate stage.

There are people, even in our local community, who are trying to twist us and divide us. We ask that we all look past that and attend to the facts to guide our political decision-making. Check back with TBR News Media Oct. 29 for our upcoming preelection issue.

Stony Brook University

In 2016, Stony Brook University rebranded itself to a new campaign called Far Beyond.

The idea behind the campaign was to highlight the wide range of programs and activities the school offered, since everyone normally acknowledges the university for its medicine, science and technology specialties.

But this year in 2020, the institution proved that it indeed has gone “far beyond” with protecting public health.

Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, visited SBU last week, a stop in a several-month-long tour of different colleges and universities across the United States. But her visit to the local university was different, and she made that clear.

During her press conference, she spoke highly of how Stony Brook has handled the COVID-19 crisis. She said from the start, it was going, well, “far beyond” what other schools, and even hospitals, were doing.

She said that back in March when the university shut down and patients with the virus were filling the rooms, Stony Brook did something different from other institutions — it actually collected data, while continuing to take care of the patients.

“I was listening to the research activities that they started from day one,” she said during the press conference. “And it thrilled my heart to hear from them that their number one thing was collecting data and collecting information in real time.”

It’s right to give credit where its due, and Stony Brook, both on the medical and campus side, has done good work in keeping the number of cases down. The university’s COVID dashboard reports just two students, one university employee and four Stony Brook Medicine employees have currently tested positive as of Oct. 11. Better yet, the school has been upfront in where those cases are located and how it is handling them.

This is compared to places like SUNY Oneonta, which had to close back in August after hundreds of students tested positive after a large super-spreader party. The Oneonta dashboard reports 712 confirmed cases among students since the start of the fall semester.

It’s also not to say that SBU has not made stumbles, especially in communicating with students.

Right off the bat during the start of the pandemic, students were rightfully upset at how the university handled the virus. In March, dorming students were shocked when each received an email saying they needed to move out, go home or find shelter elsewhere because the campus was officially closed.

Students said they felt rushed, and felt the university wasn’t being truthful or transparent with everything being so abrupt. Some international students couldn’t even go home since their countries were in lockdown.

But the students are back, and cases remain low. Is it because of the incentives the university has taken with social distancing guidelines, removing of sports and recreational activities, hybrid learning and sanitizing stations? Or is it just because Stony Brook is not a “party school” and the students there really don’t congregate as at some of the schools upstate, like Oneonta. It’s also important to note the number of students living on campus has fallen from 39% in 2019 to 17% this fall.

With a new president installed at SBU, Maurie McInnis, we think that communication with students has improved. Every person, every institution has been impacted by the pandemic. The students, who feel they are paying a lot for what at times must feel like a mostly online education, need that person-on-person interaction to let their voices be heard, even if it’s behind a clear plastic barrier.

Nonetheless, Stony Brook gets high praise from both us and those involved in the national response to COVID-19, as well as Birx, for going “far beyond.” We kindly ask that the university keeps it up, for the sake of both your students and the wider community.

METRO photo

We weren’t surprised when business owners in the wedding industry held a press conference Oct. 2 to appeal to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). For months, while restaurants have been able to operate at 50% capacity, reception locations can only allow 50 guests at an event.

The 50-guest cap and arbitrary state guidelines have been concerns of several business owners in the wedding and party industry. These locals have shared their experiences with TBR News Media for articles in the last few months, and vendors weren’t quite sure what they could do or not do, as they have had little direct communication with the state.

While we understand the need for Cuomo’s administration to keep gatherings down to a minimum, there needs to be more continuity and empathy in the guidelines. With the support of legislators, a class-action lawsuit is being filed by caterers. Business owners at the press conference said they feel they can provide a safer party than those being thrown in homes and backyards since they have more space to social distance and need to follow higher cleanliness standards. Owners said they realize following the guidelines is imperative for not only safety but to keep their licenses — something a homeowner doesn’t need to entertain.

The business owners may have a chance. This summer a federal judge issued a temporary injunction to allow an upstate golf club to operate at 50% capacity for two weddings after the couples and co-owner of the club sued New York State. That owner said his restaurant had the capacity to seat 438 people, but while operating as a restaurant one night he could have more than 200 people, on a wedding night he could only have 50.

This example may leave one wondering how a person visiting a restaurant could potentially be around more than 50 strangers, but cannot sit with more than 50 family members, friends and acquaintances at a party, especially since many wedding venues are committed to following current public health guidelines, including discouraging dancing.

Like so many businesses, COVID-19 has had a tremendous negative financial effect on the wedding industry and many are hoping to get back on track or else they may have to close their doors forever. During the shutdowns, venues had no money coming in while still needing to pay rent and utility bills. This has had a trickle-down effect where photographers, videographers, DJs and bands are called for less work, and while bakeries may have made some wedding and other celebratory cakes, the orders are smaller in size than usual.

If venues get their way, it’s imperative that owners and employees follow public-health guidelines such as 50% occupancy, social distancing, banning dancing and enforcing mask wearing when people are not seated. Seeing how restaurants in our coverage areas have been able to come up with creative ways to serve their patrons safely, including turning parking lots into outdoor dining areas, using tents — even small ones for individual parties — we believe wedding venue owners will do the same.

Of course, keeping our local businesses open works both ways. It will take more than residents signing a petition to help these businesses stay afloat, it will also require people to follow public health guidelines. So, we implore individuals to be responsible as well. It’s up to all of us to stay 6 feet away from each other, wear a mask, wash our hands regularly and stay home when we are feeling ill.

There’s a certain positive energy in the air when people come together to celebrate, and even if they can’t hug, kiss or show off their moves on the dance floor, we’re sure the majority will appreciate being there for their loved ones just as much as having dinner at their favorite restaurant.

We get it. The only time most of us think about Suffolk County buses is when we’re stuck behind them on the oft-congested Long Island roads.

But despite how many Long Islanders complain about the traffic, those who use Suffolk County buses every week have it that much worse, as the county has announced the potential loss of 19 bus routes all across the Island affecting about 2,500 riders. A loss of routes impacts the most vulnerable people, namely the poor, elderly or handicapped folks.

This is a real crisis, and it does not seem like everyone is on the same page about just what that means. The S62 bus is the only thing that can take somebody east and west in the Rocky Point area without having to call for an expensive cab. The north/south line of the S54, which many retail and service industry workers use to get to their jobs, is on the chopping block as well.

Some lines have very few daily riders, but even if one of those people won’t be able to get to their job, to the supermarket or even to visit friends and family, it will be a loss for the greater community.

This comes a week after county officials said they will need to cut two whole Suffolk County police classes, which means 200 new recruits not being put out on the streets.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) now weekly press conferences portending doom if the federal government doesn’t come through with funds for state and local municipalities are a kind of theater, yes, but they are also perhaps the only way for the county executive to make his point beyond sitting in the president’s lap and telling “Santa Trump” all the things he wants for Christmas, before the county hits the point where a budget goes through, and so do the cuts.

And that makes some local elective’s response to Bellone’s talk that much more exasperating. Republicans in the county Legislature contend the current financial woes are all the executive’s doing, and that since he already received over $280 million in federal aid, we should not be hitting up the federal government for more. That would be fine, if Suffolk wasn’t going to see at least an $800 million deficit going into next year

Beyond judging just how badly the current executive has handled Suffolk’s finances, the argument falls flat when every municipality from Montauk to Orange County, every village, town and county have all said they need federal funds as well. The congressional delegation, including both Democrats and Republicans, has at least been outspoken about the need for federal funds, but the fact is the top dogs for both parties have failed to drop the animosity and create an aid package for the municipalities nationwide who need it.

It seems like the executive and minority party in the Legislature are not on the same page — as if they ever really are — but there needs to be one, and only one, message on this issue, not a cacophony of back chatter. As important as the past state of Suffolk County finances was before the pandemic, and still is after the fact, the only way that any of these local municipalities can get to the position where those arguments are valid is if we’re all on a stable financial footing.

Because we believe Bellone when he says there won’t be a single line in the budget that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. The loss of police classes and bus routes might be the most physical and politically stimulating examples, but one should shudder to think what other municipal services, not even county but town as well, might be getting axed in their 2021 budgets.

We are thankful that Legislature Republicans have been keeping on top of Suffolk’s financial well-being, beyond partisan politics we know it’s necessary, but now is not the time for disunity, not when the water is slowly rising and is at our necks.

Our voices need to be one, at least in this strange moment of time. We are beating back COVID-19, at least for now. Congress should not be as hard as that was if we stick together.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s difficult to comprehend that women didn’t always have the rights that they have now, and many of those rights were only gained a few short decades ago.

Imagine when women weren’t able to open a bank account, have credit cards or a mortgage without a man’s signature until the passing of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. Considering a woman founded our media company in 1976 and still sits in the publisher’s seat, the thought is unfathomable to many of us.

One of the trailblazers who worked for women’s rights to manage their own finances and their own lives was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She accomplished this feat as the co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. The void her death leaves behind is immense. Let us remember all the work that’s been done and is still being fought for true equality. Now with her seat locked in political turmoil, we believe her legacy needs to be respected more than ever.

What we need to remember is sometimes the champion for equal rights, Ginsburg, needed to represent men to work toward the goal of all being treated equally. In 1972, Ginsburg argued in front of the Supreme Court when she and her husband represented Charles Moritz, a bachelor who was unable to take a tax deduction for taking care of his sick mother as a woman or a divorced/widowed man would have been able to do. It was an ingenious tactic, showing how any discrimination on the basis of sex was harmful to the whole, rather than one select group. Throughout her career, Ginsburg was the champion of many causes that have had a positive effect on both men and women of all colors and orientations. She believed that everyone has a right to vote, to access health care including birth control, to obtain an abortion, and that when two people of the same sex fall in love, they have the right to get married just like everyone else.

Replacing Ginsburg will be no easy task, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. President Donald Trump (R) said he will nominate a woman to the seat and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is eagerly waiting in the wings for the process to begin, despite arguing in 2016 that Supreme Court nominees should not be put to the bench in an election year. He and other Senate Republicans did not even hold a hearing for former President Barack Obama’s (D) court pick Merrick Garland that year. It’s the kind of House Rules situation you would expect more from a shady casino owner than the highest legislature in the land. It’s the kind of political skullduggery that does irrevocable lasting harm to democracy itself.

Locally, vigils held by two separate left-wing groups on Long Island’s North Shore have called for Ginsburg’s replacement to wait until after the election, and we’re inclined to agree. The dangerous precedent the U.S. Senate has engendered goes well beyond politics, but to the heart of democracy itself. There cannot be one rule for one party and another rule for the other, effectively eschewing several basic tenets of the Constitution.

There is a reason Ginsburg held on for so long, much longer than any of us would have stayed in such a stressful and high-profile position despite having five bouts with the cancer that eventually led to her death. One of her last statements dictated before her death was, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

The American value of equality for all is one that seems to be lost in our divisive times. We must honor Ginsburg’s legacy by remembering this ideal by moving toward the future and not slipping back to the 1950s where it was believed that women were only capable of being, as the saying goes, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. If that were true, we would have never experienced people like RBG.

File photo

When Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the 30-member police reform task force last Wednesday, Sept. 9, there was not much in the way of fanfare for what should be a big moment for the general police reform movement.

Like the sound of a flat trumpet announcing the arrival of the king, it did not create any kinds of sensation other than pursed lips and a general groan from the community at large.

The news has left people on both entrenched sides of the police debate uncomfortable. One side probably thinks it is a dangerous waste of time, the other believes it to be an attempt at lip service, one piloted by the same people advocates accused of sustaining bad practices within departments.

The muted and sometimes hostile response to the new task force is likely due to how long it took the county to actually release its own plans. It has been over three months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) released his first executive order mandating that the government actually looks into this. Police reform advocates have hounded his heels since then but the county exec stood mum. Perhaps he, like others, was confused by what the county should have been doing to prepare for what is likely seen as another unfunded mandate from New York State.

But this is bigger than that, or at least, it should be. Bellone and other police officials should have been upfront about what they were going to do and how they would do it. At least then they wouldn’t have been in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation as they are now. Especially because without a plan, Cuomo has promised municipalities’ police departments could lose state funding.

Suffolk County police officials throughout the entirety of the police debate have touted recent advancements in anti-bias training and department reform that was happening even before Minneapolis man George Floyd was killed at the hands of police.

And to say there haven’t been significant efforts would be a disservice to the several notable people within the police department who have strived to increase inclusivity and enact change for the better. Most times, however, it’s better to let the people themselves tell you if that change has been enough, rather than just sitting in the echo chamber that is bureaucracy.

The 30-person task force is effectively evenly split between Suffolk County officials/police reps and other religious, racial and community groups. This disparate set of characters plans to hold eight meetings, one for each precinct plus the East End, then using another large survey the county has announced alongside the task force, craft some sort of policy plan.

The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association will of course advocate for no changes to police budgets or personnel. Their leadership has been staunch supporters of Blue Lives Matter rallies and have routinely decried any and all Black Lives Matter protests, even though in the county the vast majority have been peaceful and civil. That’s not to say police don’t have the right to speak up for themselves. We know just how much work goes into serving a community as an officer — from the holidays not spent with families to the danger they put themselves in every day. But we need to listen to communities, especially the large communities of color, for whether they feel police actually treat them the way many of us on the North Shore feel we are positively reflected.

We at TBR News Media think there should be a minority report, or potentially multiple minority reports, to go along with whatever result gets crafted before the governor’s April 2021 deadline. That way we can see what was left on the cutting room floor and, more importantly, how either police reps or reform advocates feel things should be done if they had their way.

It’s time to stop thinking of this task force as an afterthought and move toward some consensus that leads to real change.