Before I was born…long before Hurricane Ike raked Southeast Texas, a young Houston television reporter was cutting his journalistic teeth covering a monster. It was 1961. Dan Rather was the News Director at KHOU-TV here and his assignment that September…a storm named Carla. In a neighborhood park on Galveston’s east end, a small crowd gathered Friday morning to plant a tree for Arbor Day. A few dignitaries and volunteers spoke about restoring the island’s tree canopy, much of which was lost in Hurricane Ike. Galveston’s always affable Mayor Joe Jaworski offered a few remarks. Then he introduced an 80 year-old man standing in the crowd, a squinting fellow with gray hair and a hearing aid and a weathered face that looked familiar, especially to people of a certain age. “Dan Rather, you are a legend in America,” the mayor said, as he read a proclamation declaring this Arbor Day also Dan Rather Day in Galveston.
The old reporter had returned to the scene of one of his biggest stories. A half-century ago, his riveting reports from inside the Weather Bureau office in Galveston warned Texans about a monstrous storm called Hurricane Carla. He literally changed the way the world sees hurricanes, convincing Weather Bureau officials to allow the first broadcast of live radar images showing the massive storm system churning toward the Texas coastline. “What I remember was how huge it was,” Rather recalled. “That’s number one. And number two, I remember the moment when I saw for the first time the radar picture of the hurricane. It literally took my breath away.”
Ghostly black-and-while television pictures preserved from that week in September 1961 show Rather, who was then news director of KHOU Channel 11, reading weather bulletins about the approaching storm. “Evacuation should be hastened before it is too late,” he said, as Galveston forecasters bustled around him. The technology was so primitive, a Weather Bureau official resorted to scrawling on a piece of paper in an attempt to teach the television audience about the now familiar pattern of rain bands swirling around a hurricane. “I wonder if you could explain this business about the eye of the hurricane,” Rather asked, knowing that people watching on television had never before seen such a thing. (He pronounced it not “HER-uh-cane” but “HER-uh-cun.”)
Government officials were wary of showing radar pictures on television, especially superimposed over a map of the coastline that emphasized the mammoth storm’s size. But Rather helped persuade them it would save lives. “I among others told them, listen, Texans have a lot of flaws and failures, they have their problems, but Texans don’t panic,” he said. “Texas are hard to herd, impossible to stampede.” The ominous radar images of the hurricane churning toward the coastline played a huge role in persuading—maybe scaring—an estimated 350,000 people to evacuate their homes. At the time, it was considered the biggest weather-related evacuation in American history.
Carla may well have been the most intense Atlantic storm ever to strike the United States when it slammed into the Galveston seawall. Forecasters believe it was even more intense than the 1900 storm that killed an estimated 6,000 people in Galveston, which remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history. And yet, only 46 people died during Carla. A government report on the storm later credited KHOU’s telecasts with saving countless lives. It also propelled Rather into the national eye, catching the attention of Walter Cronkite, who’s reputed to recommend CBS News hire his fellow Houston reporter who was “up to his ass in water moccasins.”
Today, after his contentious parting with CBS, Rather continues producing award-winning documentaries for HDNet, whose fledgling news operation he compares to the days when he pioneered television news at KHOU. “I don’t quit,” he says. “I teach my children and grandchildren Rathers don’t quit.” This reporter has admired the reporting of Dan Rather for years. To call him simply an inspiration is an understatement. He epitomized what I wanted to be and how I wanted to do it. Dan changed the way television covers news and remained a pioneer throughout his storied career.
The resignation of Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub is concerning. Straub was brought in to reform the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and enhance its standards. He had a fight on his hands before he ever landed in Indianapolis. The news of his departure is depressing. Not because it’s Frank Straub but because it is someone bent on reform and making the police department better. It’s because he was fought on every front for every battle. “Straub was up against a decades old bureaucracy and a political mindset that for too long has kept new policing strategies and higher standards at bay,” Matt Tulley writes for the Indianapolis Star. “He’s taken criticism for problems he inherited and for insisting on better use of data, and his departure shows that it is often easier to do nothing of substance than it is to demand much-needed changes.”
Straub faced some noted hostility when he arrived for the job. The Fraternal Order of Police immediately took an adversarial position. Hoosiers, who are normally distrustful of anything originating from outside Indiana’s state lines weighed as well against the “New Yorker.” Straub was not a good speaker by Indiana standards, his words and east coast style had an air of arrogance and as Tully points out, “his words sometimes came back to hurt him.” There is no question that the David Bisard case was Straub’s undoing. Bisard was an on duty Indianapolis police officer who crashed his patrol car into a group of motorcycles at more than 70 m-p-h while allegedly having a .19 BAC. The ensuing investigation, by the IMPD, was so grossly mishandled that it resulted in minimal charges being filed against Bisard. It doesn’t help that the FOP has rallied to Bisard’s defense.
Police work is difficult and inherently dangerous. I have often said that cops are under-praised, woefully underpaid and often misunderstood. It doesn’t help though when they, through one of their own, betray the public trust. Cops need and deserve respect but respect is earned. While 99% of any police force can be trusted, there will always be some bad eggs. I am drawn to a Facebook comment that I read earlier today. “From the police point of view,” the post says, “how would it feel to constantly be stereotyped and bashed by the media and members of the public for something a co-worker did?”
It would suck but the words “constantly stereotyped and bashed” by the media and members of the public shows a siege mentality. Us against them. It doesn’t have to be that way. Recognizing that David Bisard killed someone, while definitely negligent and probably drunk, speak out loudly and compassionately as a police force and as human beings. How would you feel if someone ran over a family member while drunk and killed them and that person’s employee union rallied to their defense. Perception is reality.
When it comes to addressing fundamental problems in the police department, after years of scandal and trouble, being too cautious with your words can lead to yet more complacency. When it comes to making a community safer, you need the type of urgency and frustration Straub often exhibited. While the Indianapolis Police Department is filled with outstanding public servants, that doesn’t mean the system they operate under does not need reformed but reform must come without demeaning the rank in file officers whose job is public safety and who perform their duties above reproach. Indianapolis, like all cities, has it’s share of bad eggs but it’s about how they are dealt with.
Tully writes that “it’s a shame. But after years of constant criticism from insiders and partisans, Straub is making the right move — for himself and for the city. He deserves to walk away from what has become a political mess and take his reformer’s message somewhere that is more welcoming. Even though the public turmoil is largely not his fault, it’s best for the city that a new leader comes in without the baggage that has been accumulated.” “Let’s hope that Mayor Greg Ballard doesn’t show shaky knees as he selects a replacement. He’s often said he is “not a politician,” so he shouldn’t do what a politician would — that is, select a new director who is fearful of challenging the status quo.”
“The only good news is that there is likely a higher tolerance for police reform in the city than there was when Straub arrived. Even if the new director is not as forceful as he has been, that leader likely will be an improvement on many of Straub’s forgettable predecessors. The bar is higher now. The next person will need to be more cautious with what he or she says, and how it’s said, but there is no reason that the underlying strategy implemented under Straub should change.” “Police standards must be higher. The police force must be more diverse. The system must be focused intently on spotting and attacking crime trends more quickly. The outreach to the community by the department must be more intense. These are things that Straub has been obsessed with since his arrival.”
Ultimately, it’s worth remembering that Ballard was re-elected last year despite constant criticism of Straub from the police union and Democrats. The voters of Indianapolis, if not the politicians and the union, made clear their approval of the work Straub was doing which makes it incumbent upon the Mayor and the Police Department to continue this work.
Over the course of the next few months, I will share different opinions that will play a part in the decision-making process we all face in the 2012 election. If it seems like we have been down this economic road before…we have. The first answer was Franklin Roosevelt, the second answer was Ronald Reagan. The third answer to our insatiable spending and economic woes was Barack Obama. Will he be the fourth? We face huge issues. They are daunting and concerning. There are opinions from our two highly polarized political parties about how to fix our problems. Many of us, clearly in the middle and fed up with politics as usual are looking…longing for real and effective change. It’s time to move past phrases and campaign lies and find out how to make our future better.
Tavis Smiley is the host of the late-night television talk show “Tavis Smiley” on PBS and Cornel West is a professor at Princeton. They co-host “Smiley & West” on Public Radio International. The following piece is theirs and worthy of a serious read and deep consideration:
The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that the unemployment rate fell to 8.2%. That should have been a signal that jobs are coming back and that the economy is about to rebound. But, as many economists say, the numbers fell primarily because unemployed Americans have become so discouraged with trying to find a job that they’ve simply quit looking. Because nearly one-third of the American middle class, mostly families with children, have fallen into poverty or are one paycheck away from poverty, it is paramount that we dissect the root causes of this mass disenfranchisement within the American workforce. This was the motivation behind “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience,” our 18-city bus tour that traveled across the country last year. It was designed to bring more attention to the plight of impoverished Americans. These citizens do not fit the negative stereotypes and propaganda that we’ve heard during the Republican presidential primary contests. The candidates who have vowed to cut government subsidies speak of the poor as if their constituents had been exempted from the millions who, despite their middle-class identification and aspirations, now fall beneath the established poverty line.
The people we met aren’t lazy or eager to live off so-called government entitlements. We spoke with formerly middle-class parents who were thrust into poverty when one or both lost their salaries. We heard the stories of single mothers and fathers, military veterans and former high-wage employees desperately trying to re-enter a workforce that no longer pays living wages. Joann Cotton, a 54-year-old Columbus, Mississippi, resident, was one of those faces of poverty we met on the tour. Unemployed for three years, Joann has gone from making “$60,000 a year to less than $15,000 overnight.” Her husband is disabled and dependent on medicines the couple can no longer afford. They rely on food stamps, which, Joann says, “is depressing as hell.”
Receiving government aid, however, has not been as depressing as her job search. Joann says she has applied for at least 300 jobs. Even though she can barely afford gas, she drives to the interviews only to learn that the employers want to hire younger candidates at low wages. The experiences have taken a toll: “I’ve aged 10 years in the three years that I’ve been looking for a job,” Joann told us. “I want to get a job so I can just relax and exhale … but I can’t. After a while you just give up.” Like Joann, millions of Americans are just giving up on the possibility of ever rejoining the workforce. These frustrations reflect a reality that is unraveling the American identity. One of the most fundamental dictates in achieving the “American Dream” has always been a good job that pays wages decent enough to care for our families, buy a car and a home, and live reasonably comfortable lives.
What has caused so many to quit looking for jobs and, by extension, abandon the American Dream? We argue that a covenant has been broken with the American people. We live in a society where corporations put profits over people. We march to the beat of political leaders who have decided the richest 1% of the people in this country deserve generous tax breaks and preferential treatment while most of the 99% are forced to pay unbalanced shares of the tax burden and live on less and less. Unemployment has been discussed in sound bites within the framework of the Great Recession. Reporters and pundits pontificate about the housing and home-lending fiasco, the collapse of Wall Street and the amount of construction, manufacturing and government jobs lost as a result of the market’s economic downturn.
Yet economists and politicians propose failed remedies based on rebuilding and rebooting systems that have already dashed the American Dream for many. Economist Peter Morici, for example, suggests dynamic job growth will be sparked by increasing domestic oil production, tackling the trade imbalance with China, relaxing regulations for big businesses and curbing health care mandates. Not only do these efforts lack the innovation necessary to meet the demands of a burgeoning world economy, they also do nothing to change the nation’s capitalist equation that renders everyday Americans irrelevant. “Fair trade” with China will not interrupt the transportation of construction, manufacturing and production jobs overseas in exchange for huge profits. Fat-cat executives running investment firms, banks, insurance, health care and pharmaceutical companies might like to curb health care mandates, but that approach certainly doesn’t address the needs of Americans looking for decent wages and affordable health care.
The Supreme Court’s regressive Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in many ways validates a truism. The court basically ruled that corporations are people. And like all Americans, corporations have the free speech rights and can spend whatever they want on political ads without disclosing who they are or exposing their agendas. So, in a very real sense, corporations are people — super-rich, self-serving people who can use their billions to influence elections at the expense of, well, real people. Most major corporations are run by the über-rich — the same people who shipped American jobs overseas, broke the backs of labor unions, pay a fraction of the salaries once paid for manufacturing jobs, turned full-time work into part-time positions, and snatched health care benefits away from employees. And many companies have even established “unemployed need not apply” policies. In other words, if you don’t have a job when it’s time to apply, you can’t get the job.
When the “need not apply” story broke late last year, more than 6 million Americans had been out of work for six months or more. Talk about kicking people when they’re down. During our poverty tour last year, we met countless people caught in vicious cycles of looking for nonexistent jobs because their unemployment benefits were expiring or had run out, scraping change together for gas to go on interviews that may or may not pan out, and having to swap food stamps for cash to keep the lights or gas on in the house.
Frustrations are especially high among young people dealing with an 18% unemployment rate — a more than 60-year high. We attended a town hall meeting in Detroit during our poverty tour where parents complained of 25-year-olds who came of working age before the Great Recession who have never had a job in their lives. The newly launched #FixYoungAmerica campaign is centered around the fact that 20% of young workers have been out of work for a year or longer, jobs are scarce, and the cumulative student loan debt is more than $1 trillion. “Our generation has been hit far worse than any other,” said Scott Gerber, 28, part of the group of young people who started the campaign. “We represent the broken dream of America, and we can’t let it continue.”
That dream has been broken for youths and adults all over the country. Many single mothers have stopped looking for work for the sake of their children’s health. Because of deficit budget cuts, states are either eliminating or tightening eligibility requirements for child care programs that used to serve the working poor. More cuts are on the way, but, for the moment, children of women on welfare have access to basic health care. But previously eligible low-wage-earning parents are now either denied assistance or their children are placed on interminable waiting lists. It has reached the point where struggling parents have to choose between a low-wage job and welfare so their children can receive basic medical attention.
A person can survive in the jungle for only so long before his or her spirit breaks. And the spirit of the American workforce is approaching a breaking point. Today’s staggering unemployment isn’t the stepchild of the Great Recession. It is the illegitimate offspring of a long-abided system that places the profits and concerns of big business and the mega-rich above the rest of us. The cancer of greed has spread throughout the body of America and surgery based on pre-recession strategies won’t cure the disease. The inconvenient truth is that America itself is in need of a transfusion of economic equity and radical reform. Everyday people must recognize that their lives matter just as much as the lives of the rich. A workplace rooted in fundamental fairness that provides decent living wage jobs will allow frustrated, unemployed workers like Joann Cotton to breathe again, and give them a chance to become revitalized contributing members of society. It’s time to resuscitate the American Dream.
This editorial raises valid concerns that must be addressed. Through all of the rhetoric, name-calling and trash spewed by the extremists on both the far left and far right we must find real, workable solutions. The Democrats have got to understand the government is not the solution to all of our woes and speaking from the standpoint of having served in our nations Armed Forces, I can tell you, without hesitation, that too often and for the wrong reasons, government is the problem. On the other hand, Republicans must understand that there are some things the government must administer and run and they must do this with proper oversight and accountability. Republicans must also understand that unabashed greed has consequences and a lot of what they call entitlements are actually programs that we paid for our entire working lives. Compromise is necessary to correct the ills this nation faces. Both sides have workable ideas and it’s time to come to the bridge of agreement.
More fallout today from a two year old case involving an Indianapolis cop who allegedly blew a .19 BAC when he crashed his patrol car into a group of motorcycles killing one person and seriously injuring others. Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub is the latest casualty of a police department in disarray amidst allegations of institutional corruption and misconduct that saw the criminal investigation into Bisard so grossly mishandled, prosecution on drunk driving homicide charges were impossible. The Bisard mess also led to the resignation of Indianapolis Police Chief Paul Ciesielski and several 0thers after evidence was mishandled a second time.
Mayor Greg Ballard will announce Public Safety Director Frank Straub’s resignation this afternoon. The resignation will be effective Aug. 1. While Straub’s resignation comes during the Bisard mess, it is important to note that he was brought into Indianapolis to help reform and clean up the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department which has been saddled with allegations of corruption and misconduct at various levels for more than 30 years.
Ballard seemed to allude to the daunting task of reforming the 1,600 person police force today. “Frank Straub came to Indianapolis facing the difficult task of updating and modernizing the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at the same time preparing for and successfully hosting the highest profile event in this city’s history. It hasn’t always been easy but meaningful reform seldom is,” the statement said. Criminal homicides are at their lowest levels in 15 years during Straub’s tenure, Ballard said.
Straub’s plan to leave is the latest tremor to shake Indianapolis law enforcement. On April 16, Paul Ciesielski resigned as Indianapolis Metropolitan chief of police after it was revealed that evidence had been mishandled in a police officer’s criminal case from a fatal traffic accident. Almost immediately the Fraternal Order of Police and other critics began calling for Straub’s resignation. Ballard hired Straub, a New Yorker, in January 2010. Straub has faced tough questioning from a City-County Council committee over the evidence problem in the the Officer David Bisard case and other matters in the police department.
At hearing earlier this month, Straub grappled to explain that his program of reforms is taking hold in IMPD against a drumbeat of criticism that centered not only on the problems in the Bisard case, but on his leadership and performance in general. “When you stereotype somebody, they aren’t a person anymore. To some degree, I think that happened to me,” Straub told the committee. “Early on, I think I was maybe overagressive by Indianapolis standards,” he said, adding: “There’s a tremendous amount of respect from my end toward the officers of this department.” Beside an unstable relationship with the police union and limited diversity in the police force, Straub has been dealing with $15 million public safety deficit this year.
Mayor Greg Ballard.
“I am proud to say the (Public Safety) Department has accomplished its mission and much more, Straub said in his letter of resignation. There is much more work to be done now and in the future,” Straub said in his resignation letter. After Ciesielski resigned Straub remarked that the police department had been a bed of corruption for decades. That angered the FOP which brought out a former IMPD chief and a former Marion County Sheriff to calls for Straub’s resignation. Ballard has asked the FBI to investigate the mishandling of the Bisard evidence.
An internal police investigation found that Bisard was driving at 73 mph in a 40 mph zone while typing, sending and receiving messages on a laptop in the Aug. 6, 2010, when he struck a group of stopped motorcyclists, killing one and injuring two. Police said no one at the scene suspected that Bisard had been drinking, though a blood test showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 — more than twice Indiana’s legal limit. Bisard was charged with drunken driving, but then-Prosecutor Carl Brizzi dropped that charge because the officer’s blood sample had not been taken in a hospital by someone certified to do so, as required by state law. Brizzi said the sample was not admissible as evidence.
Three high-ranking police department officers were demoted for their handling of the crash scene, and the internal probe concluded that the investigation was botched. Then, on April 16, Ballard announced a second vial of police officer David Bisard’s blood had been moved an stored improperly and that Ciesielski took responsibility. Several other high-ranking IMPD officers and department heads have been placed on leave in connection with the case.
Straub’s departure comes at a difficult time but it is probably best for the city and the Department of Public Safety. Citizens must have confidence in law enforcement and law enforcement must have respect for the people they serve. Both have been shaken. This journalist hopes that city leaders in Indianapolis make a wise choice to continue the reforms in the IMPD to restore public confidence in an agency that is horribly tainted by the actions of one officer but the rumors of malfeasance attached to so many others. Perception is reality and right or wrong someone has to bridge this dangerous gap.
Yes, I expect a lot from the police. No one forced them to take an oath to protect and serve but at the same time, thank God they do. It is incumbent upon rank in file police officers to speak up and speak out about wrong-doing, corruption and malfeasance and it is also incumbent upon the public to give law enforcers the benefit of the doubt…they are human. I still don’t have confidence in the handling of the Bisard case but I now have confidence that these folks will get their act together and do the right things. This is a step in the right direction.