Editorials

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What if we told you that you could travel to Paris this summer? What if you could finally achieve your dream of becoming an astronaut? What if you had the opportunity to travel back in time to the 1890s or 1960s? Well, you can. Just pick up a book.

Some of our school districts already require students to read one or multiple books over the summer. We commend those districts and think others should follow suit and implement their own summer reading programs in the future.

Summer learning loss, or the summer slide, is real — but we can prevent it. This is more important than ever before as students are being held to a higher standard.

We’ve heard the argument from parents that summer break should be just that — a break — and mandating a child to read a book defeats that purpose. We disagree.

Instilling the value of reading into our lives and those of our children is important. Reading stirs the imagination, helps you think critically and makes you a lifelong learner.

While reading may be difficult for some kids and others may just not like it, there is a book for everybody — or at least an educational magazine — and there are so many places to find them.

Visit your local library to find summer reading programs for kids and adults. Go online and download an eBook. At the bare minimum, try out Audible and listen to an audiobook.

We urge everyone to turn off the video games, get off the computer and escape for a few minutes in the pages of a book. Relax — you will be OK and you may even find it fun.

In the time-honored tradition of required reading, we end with a quote from Betty Smith’s 1943 classic, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

“The world was hers for the reading.”

May the world be yours this summer.

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Our nation suffered yet another tragedy last week when an avowed racist allegedly murdered nine people at the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and it didn’t take long for the debates to start.

Should the Confederate flag still be flown? Does institutional racism still exist? Should the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, be labeled as a terrorist?

The correct answer depends on whom you are speaking to. Most people already have an opinion and are sticking to it, which really doesn’t solve any of the important issues this most recent incident brings to light. Nine innocent people are still dead.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups nationwide has increased by 30 percent since 2000. In addition, antigovernment groups rose from 149 in 2008 to 874 in 2014 — numbers that jumped following the financial downturn and the election of President Barack Obama. The center also cited an influx of nonwhite immigrants as another factor.

“This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive,” the center said on its website.

We are lucky to live in a country that values freedom of speech and there are countless platforms to voice our opinions today as the Internet continues to connect us. But, it also gives individuals a space to spread their message with like-minded people. Our nation has a serious case of confirmation bias — the tendency to read, listen and seek out information that we agree with — and it is a big issue.

Those who condemn the killings but continue to spew vitriol are fueling a fire. The effects of the South Carolina shooting rippled throughout the country because they could happen in any community, including our own. In fact, one of the victims was a blood relative of a family from Port Jefferson.

The chilling notion that hatred and racism still persist in modern American society should not be ignored. Our freedoms come with responsibility and those who preach hatred against any group of people are wrong. As a society we need to be kinder, or at least remember the lessons we learned as children.

Let’s think before we speak, and if we don’t have anything nice to say, let’s not say it at all.

Pumping nitrogen into our local waters can contribute to fish kills and have other nasty environmental effects. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

There is no need more basic than clean water. We need it in its simplest form to survive, but we also need it to be clean so that it can sustain the animals and plants we eat and support the environments we live in. So why aren’t we trying harder to avoid pumping it with toxins?

Tens of thousands of dead bunker fish have recently washed up on eastern Long Island, killed by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Algal blooms are a cause of those low oxygen levels, and that’s where we come in — the blooms, in turn, can be caused by excess nitrogen in the water. How does that nitrogen get there? It can come from our septic and sewage treatment systems and from the fertilizers we use on our nicely manicured lawns, to name just a few sources.

We may not be able to avoid using the toilet, but we can easily refrain from dumping fertilizers with harmful chemicals into the ground and our water supply. But many of us are operating on obsolete waste systems and our governments should be making it a top priority — in action, not just rhetoric — to move communities over from septic to sewer.

This is undoubtedly a costly process, but it has benefits beyond the immediate. For example, sewer systems enable and encourage development, which is important for all of the downtown areas we are working to revitalize. Revitalized downtowns could help keep young people on Long Island, reversing the brain drain that is the source of such frequent sound bites for our politicians.

Shoring up our water management plans would create a ripple effect throughout so many other important items on our political and social agendas. Without clean water, none of these ambitious improvements will be achieved. We are calling for a heightened awareness from both our neighbors and our public officials not to let our water initiatives run dry.

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Photo from Flickr/David Rodriguez Martin

As a community newspaper, we find ourselves tossing around the phrase “NIMBY” — standing for “not in my backyard” — from time to time. But it’s usually more of an expression, and a negative one, than a literal translation of residents resisting something from going into their actual backyards.

But in the case of drones, NIMBY could not be taken more literally.

Call them drones, call them unmanned aircraft systems — either way, the public perception of these flying devices is still developing as they buzz around the skies.

Huntington Town attempted this week to ground concerns over these drones when it introduced a resolution that would regulate their use for the betterment of public health, privacy and safety “so that operation of same is respectful of community standards [and] the concerns of residents, as well as protect property and privacy rights,” the resolution said.

Huntington wasn’t alone in its efforts to come out a step ahead of drone regulation, either. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and several other elected leaders have been banging the drone drum for months now, calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to require drones to fly below 500 feet and limit where they can fly.

While we understand the legislative urge to keep an eye on the sky for the sake of public privacy and safety, we hope our public leaders don’t turn the drone debate into a droning drain on resources.

There are several things to consider when it comes to drawing the legislative line for drones. At what point would new laws encroach upon our personal freedoms? Whose job is it to regulate them? Does the regulator depend on how high the drone flies or what jurisdiction is underneath it? Should regulations vary based upon the type of drone?

Moving forward, our local municipalities should not jump the gun. Officials should properly investigate all the nuts and bolts of the drone industry and be careful when determining where governments should step in.

Flying a drone is not like flying a kite, and we, like many of our neighbors, are concerned about personal privacy and public safety. All we ask is that our elected officials consider the whole subject carefully before inking laws.

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MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department

Shortly after our newly-elected school board trustees are sworn in for the next school year, MaryEllen Elia will officially take her seat as New York’s top education official.

As a community newspaper, we understand just how much the neighborhoods we cover care about education. We’ve taken notes through countless school board meetings, forums on the Common Core Learning Standards and rallies for public education. We have witnessed the passion on both sides of the aisle when it comes to educating our kids.

But while the whole debate over Common Core, higher standards, testing and teacher evaluations — just to name a few — started out as a civil one, it has become overrun with rhetoric, anger and confusion. We hope Elia will help start a new conversation.

Critics of former commissioner John B. King Jr. often mention he had no experience in the classroom. We are pleased to see that Elia, who began her career as a social studies teacher in New York state, has nearly two decades of teaching experience.

In addition, the teacher evaluation system she helped develop received praise from the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that oversees many of our local teacher associations. The system uses student test scores as a factor, but also provides developmental support for teachers and utilizes a pay structure that encourages teachers to take on more challenging positions.

We see this system as a sort of compromise and we want to see similar outcomes in New York with Elia at the helm. Both sides need to cooperate with each other, remain respectful and — most importantly — leave politics out of the classroom.

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Thanks to legislation introduced by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), the county could be the next municipality in the nation to create safe spots — public locations where residents can exchange goods and conduct private sales.

Similar safe havens have been created throughout the United States — in Georgia, Missouri and Connecticut, for example — in response to crimes committed against people using websites like Craigslist to buy and sell goods. While the majority of Craigslist transactions occur without incident, there is always the chance of someone taking advantage of the situation, whether it be robbing the other person in the transaction or physically harming them in some way.

We applaud Muratore, a former Suffolk County police officer, for looking into this simple solution to deter unscrupulous individuals from harming others.

But if the county does move forward with this idea, we hope the locations will be in active places; be monitored by surveillance; be heavily signed, notifying visitors that it is a safe spot and is being monitored; and provide residents with safety tips for engaging in such exchanges in an effort to be even more proactive than reactive.

As Muratore said, “Technology is changing the way people are doing business,” and we have to change with it.

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With warmer weather comes an urge to leave the house, and we expect, as usual, there will be a lot more cars on the road, so now is a good time to remind our readers not to lose their cool behind the wheel.

Whether a driver made a mistake — as we all do from time to time — or not, it can be terrifying for that person when another motorist becomes enraged and takes it out on them. We’ve all experienced tailgating or obnoxious horn-honking, and some of us have been victims of more dire cases of road rage, like prolonged following and actual physical violence or threats. In the less confrontational incidents, frustrated and angry drivers often lash out because it’s easy to hide in the anonymous bubble of a car, when they would not have been so bold to display such anger in person. In the more extreme cases, the mad drivers may have had a screw or two loose to begin with and might have acted out no matter the location or circumstance.

We understand that daily stresses factor into this problem, and Long Island’s immense traffic congestion doesn’t help the frustration we might already be feeling while in the car. But consider this: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that aggressive driving is a factor in more than half of all traffic fatalities, according to 2009 data. In those cases, “motorists are concerned with the others’ aggressive driving while many are guilty themselves.”

Terrible accidents involving mangled cars happen all the time, but they don’t have to happen over things as petty as payback for being cut off or revenge on a slow-moving vehicle. We urge our readers to slow down when they’re seeing red behind the wheel and take some time to think about what the other person’s situation might be before lashing out. Give each other the benefit of the doubt because we are all humans who make mistakes. Let small road infractions go with a deep exhale. Rising tempers don’t give us license to rage on the road. And the consequences can be deadly.

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If you haven’t yet read The Post and Courier’s “Till death do us part” series of stories on domestic violence in South Carolina, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, you should. The opening paragraph sets the tone for the series with a shocking statistic: “More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.”

It goes on to say that while “state officials have long lamented the high death toll for women, lawmakers have put little money into prevention programs and have resisted efforts to toughen penalties for abusers.”

The piece is both disturbing and eye-opening, and while South Carolina is different from both New York and the smaller communities of Suffolk County, domestic violence is still a complex issue, and we commend our representatives for not just standing by.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program on Tuesday that would provide 30 new GPS tracking devices for family court judges to assign to offenders with an order of protection against them. The program would also allow victims of domestic violence — if they so choose — to wear their own tracking devices so they may be alerted if an offender is near them.

The legislation is the latest brought forth by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and continues to strengthen county laws relating to domestic violence.

While some may question the use of tracking devices, giving the discretion to judges allows us to evaluate each case on an individual basis. That would hopefully limit the GPS system to the most dangerous offenders and prevent us from violating anyone’s constitutional rights. And 30 devices is a small number when looking at the bigger picture — in 2013, there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in Suffolk County.

If assigned appropriately, carefully and conservatively, the devices could help give domestic violence victims a new sense of safety and freedom to live their lives.

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Tensions between police departments across the country and the communities they have sworn to protect have been high over the last several months, and Suffolk County is not an exception in this trend. But we differ from the areas where tensions have exploded into street protests and violence in one crucial way: We can prevent such an eruption.

A group of 21 local Latinos has recently filed a lawsuit against the Suffolk County Police Department, alleging officers racially profiled them and even robbed them during police stops over the last 10 years. The lawsuit alleges the police have a culture of discriminatory policing.

The case is in part a response to the arrest of the SCPD’s Sgt. Scott Greene, who during a sting operation was found taking money from a Latino driver. Greene now faces 81 criminal charges against a couple dozen Hispanic victims, and authorities say he was working alone.

But we could trace the issue back a little further as well, to the 2008 hate-crime stabbing murder of Marcelo Lucero, a Patchogue man from Ecuador. In the wake of the murder — for which seven young men were convicted — and the police’s investigation, there was public outcry over perceived police bias against Hispanics.

We have no doubt the majority of police officers are good people who just want to do their difficult, and at times dangerous, job of protecting Suffolk County residents. But it’s also true that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch — or lead to public perception that they have spoiled the bunch, which matters just as much.

The good news is we are in a desirable position to change things for the better — if we acknowledge the warning signs of trouble. The places in this country where there have been protests and riots, for various reasons, tensions between the police and the community had been stewing for a while. We should not let this come to pass in Suffolk County through our own inaction.

A 2013 settlement between the county Legislature and the federal Department of Justice — enacted in response to the Lucero case — is a good start. That agreement called for anti-bias training, taking feedback from the community and tracking complaints of police misconduct.

Our police department should kick that into high gear, holding more community forums and communicating to residents both the steps officers are taking to reduce bias and the progress of that work.

If we act as partners, we can improve police service and our officers’ relationship with residents to make our community a better place to live for everyone.

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We should secure our homes and cars when we are not in them. Stock photo

Sun’s out, thieves out.

As Long Island heats up after a long, cold winter, so does criminal behavior.

We’ve been seeing more and more reports of larcenies, burglaries and stolen property as the weather warms up. It may tick up from here into summer, which would be nothing new in the world of crime patterns. But many of these incidents can be avoided if people would just use their heads.

That means locking our cars when we’re not in them, and not leaving purses and other valuables inside — and especially not in full view of every passerby.

It also means turning the cars off and not leaving the keys inside. One of our reporters once called the police after spotting an idling but empty car in a parking lot, the lights on and the driver’s side door ajar. About five minutes later, a man who may or may not have been the owner got into the car and drove away.

Leaving a car running and walking away from it is foolish, whether we are in a parking lot or in front of our own house. Why tempt fate?

We should also remember to close the windows in our houses when we aren’t there. This one is tricky because it’s hot outside and there could be a lot of windows open. But we should all be in the habit of doing it just like we are in the habit of locking our front doors, because open windows can make an easy access point for burglars.

Sometimes we cannot prevent a criminal from breaking in and stealing something, but we can reduce our risk by securing our belongings as much as possible.