September 19, 2014
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Fung’s weak response to potential abuse of police power
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

ABUSE OF POLICE POWER IN CRANSTON:  Police departments are successful only when an environment of trust and confidence exists between the citizens and the police who patrol their streets. When police use intimidating tactics to infuse widespread fear of retaliation among citizens, it leads not only to distrust and decreased reporting of crimes, it creates the atmosphere of an “us against them” police state in which citizens believe their police are no longer “protectors.”

Is that what’s happening in Cranston? It would appear so. The blanketing of two political wards with parking tickets was meant as a clear message to the two city councilors who represent those wards that they had better “get in line” and support the rejected police contract. The statistics make it clear; with 60-plus tickets issued in each of the two wards while only nine tickets were issued throughout the rest of the city, the message of revenge, retaliation and coercion was abundantly clear.

How could this have happened in a police department that, only hours before the intimidation was brought to light, received national police accreditation as a department that adheres to the best practices in law enforcement? Part of the problem may be that Rhode Island law allows senior police supervisors to be members of police unions. In fact, the president of the Cranston police union is a police captain. It must be difficult for patrol officers to refuse orders – either direct or implied – by senior union leaders when those union leaders are also the patrol officers’ senior police supervisors. The General Assembly needs to quickly pass legislation that will change this police union membership practice.

Mayor Fung’s response to the clear evidence of police intimidation was about as weak as it could possibly have been – especially for a politician who seeks to be governor. He said he “doesn’t condone intimidating behavior by city employees.” Wow! What a forceful response! He should have railed against such behavior since the statistics provide clear evidence of intimidating misconduct and vowed to fire those responsible. He should have asked the State Police to conduct an investigation since there is an allegation that a high-ranking police officer was involved in the misconduct. Fung’s weak response certainly will not sit well with the state’s voters.

OUR DELEGATION DISINGENUOUS ON FLOOD INSURANCE: Rhode Island voters should remember that all four members of our congressional delegation voted in favor of the 2012 law that enacted huge increases in flood insurance premiums for Rhode Island and other states. Now, our U.S. senators, Reed and Whitehouse, have joined other senators in sponsoring a bill that would delay for four years implementation of sharp increases in flood insurance. Our two congressmen support a similar bill in the House of Representatives. Reed said, “This legislation will give FEMA extra time to strike the appropriate balance between risk and affordability.”

Well, Senator, it’s nice that you’re finally thinking about the original bill’s impact, but what the heck were you, Whitehouse, Langevin and Cicilline thinking in 2012 when all four of you voted in favor of the original bill that clearly had no regard for an “appropriate balance between risk and affordability?”

Trying to backpedal and cover their tracks now, pretending they had the best interests of Rhode Islanders in mind all along, is highly disingenuous on the parts of all four members of our congressional delegation.

PROPOSED GUN LEGISLATION: Surrounding the anniversary of the horrible school shooting in Newtown, Conn., there has been renewed talk of proposed gun violence legislation in Rhode Island. It is refreshing to see that most of the discussion has centered around the type of person who commits mass slaughter with firearms, not centered on the type of gun used. As state Senator Deb Ruggiero, who chairs a panel looking at how our state can keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness or drug addiction, said, “The task force is looking at the person, not the weapon.” The Ocean State has the eighth strongest gun violence laws in the country with the three good bills passed last legislative session. It appears that we are headed in the right direction by strengthening laws that will help prevent gun violence without destroying the Second Amendment.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ALLOWED VAST LEEWAY: A news story last week revealed the ridiculous extent to which our government allows illegal immigrants to function in our country. A Providence woman, her husband and an employee – all three of whom the government believes are in this country illegally – stole $362,000 from the food stamp program by taking a 50 percent share of the cash they allowed EBT card users to withdraw from the immigrants’ convenience store while they disguised the transactions as food purchases. The fraud had been going on for three years. Four other Providence businesses have been identified as doing the same thing. 

Why did local officials issue a license to an apparently illegal alien to operate the convenience store? Why doesn’t the federal government have a better investigative and audit process to ensure such fraud doesn’t happen? Why does it take three years to uncover such taxpayer rip-offs? And why weren’t these people identified and deported before they could set up such a lucrative program to rob taxpayers and needy children?

WORLD WATCHES CIVILIAN MASSACRES IN SYRIA: How long can the world stand by and watch the systematic massacre of non-combatant civilians by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad? The recent introduction by Assad of helicopter-borne “barrel bombs” that rain down massive destruction on civilian homes, killing countless women and children, perhaps marks the time that the U.S. and its allies should establish a no-fly zone over Syria.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PIPELINES: Rhode Islanders will be upset when they start paying an extra 12.1 percent on their electric bills, a per-customer average increase of $9.56 per month, that was approved last week by the state on behalf of National Grid. The problem: Most electricity in this area is generated by clean-burning natural gas-fired plants and, thanks to overreaction by environmentalists who have halted miles of new pipeline construction, there just isn’t enough pipeline capacity to get the gas to these plants in a cost-effective manner. It’s reminiscent of the national pipeline problem with President Obama refusing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would create thousands of jobs and lower the cost of energy in our country.

MORE EVIDENCE NSA SPYING HAS GONE TOO FAR:  Last week it was a decision by a federal judge that the NSA has far exceeded its constitutional authority by spying on so many Americans. Now, the panel appointed by President Obama himself, has determined that the NSA’s massive snooping into the private communications of Americans must be reined in. The judge’s decision and the panel’s call for significant changes in the spy agency’s post-Sept. 11 operations should help convince Obama and America that we have given up far too much liberty in exchange for very limited security improvements.

RUSSIA’S PUTIN BEATS OBAMA TO THE PUNCH AGAIN: Even though President Obama spends American tax dollars like a drunken sailor, many times by circumventing Congress and relying on executive orders, he couldn’t find a way to boost the European Union’s assistance to Ukraine in time to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from jumping in last week and sending Ukraine $20 billion. Previously on the fence whether to shift east or west, Ukraine will now abandon its plan to enter the EU and will instead go back into the former Soviet Union’s Russian orbit. Putin beat Obama to the punch in Syria and now he’s beat him again in Ukraine. It just adds to Obama’s extraordinarily weak foreign diplomacy legacy.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell, in his decision affirming a lower court ruling that a teen who broke into the former Ladd School and injured himself while playing around with acid stored there was responsible for his own actions, had this to say: “The remedy for the injury that results when bravado meets caustic acid does not lie … in holding the landowner liable.” Hurray for common sense and for a judge who holds wrongdoers responsible for their own illegal actions.


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