Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Herald of Rock Hill on new DNA software:
DNA testing has played a prominent role in law enforcement and criminal trials for less than 30 years. But with stunning advancements in both DNA and computer technology, DNA evidence is likely to become an even more indispensable tool in determining the guilt - and often the innocence - of criminal suspects.
York County is fortunate to be one of the first recipients in the state of new software that allows investigators to narrow down a specific DNA profile in samples that contain profiles from multiple people. The software - Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS - was recently purchased by the York County Sheriff's Office with a federal grant of nearly $50,000.
With CODIS, work that used to take hours can be completed in a matter of minutes. The software can determine the probability that a profile is contained in the sample or, just as importantly, whether the potential match is too weak to keep pursuing.
Lab employees now are being trained how to use the software and how to testify about the evidence it produces in court. But once the system is up and running, York County will be one of only a handful of agencies in the state that operates the software.
This is another big step in the evolution of the county's ability to process its own DNA samples. Much of the credit for that goes to Sheriff Bruce Bryant.
Bryant, who plans to retire at the end of the year, led the effort to establish a local DNA lab at the sheriff's office in the Moss Justice Center to help reduce the backlog of cases. Three years in the making, the lab was accredited in 2014 and began processing DNA samples not only for the sheriff's office but also the Rock Hill, Fort Mill and York police departments.
With the new lab, York County became one of only four local agencies in the state processing their own DNA evidence. Instead of sending evidence to the State Law Enforcement Division in Columbia, which could take months to process it and as long as a year to do the tests for a low-priority property crime, York County could do it all in-house.
The increased efficiency made possible by the new CODIS software could be particularly helpful in rape cases. While precise figures are unavailable, it is estimated that hundreds of rape kits remain untested in law enforcement agencies across the state.
There is no state law guiding law enforcement on the testing of sexual assault evidence, and local agencies' policies are inconsistent. In many cases, it is up to individual investigators to submit a request to the appropriate crime lab.
With faster, more accurate DNA testing, agencies can submit more kits to see if suspects can be prosecuted or even when there is no identified suspect. In cases where no suspect is identified, the samples might contain a match to a DNA profile that already exists in the FBI's national offender database.
York County now is among the leaders in the state in establishing its own DNA lab, and the addition of CODIS software is a big step forward. We hope it pays off in more successful prosecutions, especially in cases where justice already has been delayed too long.
The Island Packet of Hilton Head on death of a Marine recruit:
"We Make Marines."
The sign at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island sharply tells the mission that has guided this great American institution in Beaufort County for the past century.
We as its home community share in that pride and mission.
But, like the rest of the nation, we want it done right.
Make Marines and make them tough, but make them the right way.
That's why we all have a problem — the Corps, the depot, the nation, the community — when a news story reads like this one earlier this month:
"The drill instructor who allegedly hazed recruit Raheel Siddiqui moments before his death was the same instructor who had previously ordered a Muslim recruit into a commercial clothes dryer and interrogated him about his religion and loyalties."
Recruit put in a clothes dryer? Really? In the 21st century?
And the same drill instructor was on duty in March when Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim from Taylor, Michigan, died after jumping into a stairwell and falling 38 feet. The recruit had asked to go to sickbay, but the drill instructor thought he was feigning illness, ordered him to do sprints and allegedly slapped him after he collapsed, crying. At that point, Siddiqui jumped to his feet, ran the length of the squad bay, opened and ran through a door, and vaulted over the third-floor stairwell railing.
The Corps ruled it a suicide, and outlined a number of internal repercussions and investigations. Many officers and senior enlisted Marines face administrative discipline or criminal charges, but the Corps would shoot itself in the foot again if it does not root out systemic problems.
This long-bubbling story has needlessly opened the Corps and the nation to criticism.
A Chicago Tribune editorial states: "Marine boot camp should be tough. It should challenge, and it should winnow. But hazing motivated by intolerance serves only two purposes: It makes a lie of the American values our military defends, and it supplies the Islamic State with fresh fodder for its global recruitment efforts."
The Washington Post editorial board writes: "It is hard to imagine a greater propaganda gift to Islamist extremists than the incidents now under investigation at Parris Island, which can and will be portrayed as evidence of America's cruelty and inexorable hostility to Islam. The revelations are also likely to subvert the Marines' recruitment efforts at home, and not only among young Muslim Americans."
We are saddened locally because all of this is the exact opposite of what we were told and saw last year when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of recruit training here.
The Corps has been through this before, right here on Parris Island in 1956. A forced night march into Ribbon Creek left six recruits dead. It also left the Corps itself hanging in the balance due to congressional and public scrutiny. It was determined that drill instructors had too little oversight, too little support and too few specifics on best practices. Everything changed that day. The Corps realized the issue was not limited to a single drill instructor. And it realized maltreatment of recruits was unacceptable to society at-large.
Aiken Standard on the need to release police video:
One of these days, law enforcement agencies and lawmakers opposed to open government will learn that greater transparency is not only a good practice to follow, but also the most reliable way to ensure unrest doesn't develop when things go awry.
Police in Charlotte, North Carolina still haven't figured this out, refusing for days to release police video of the Sept. 20 shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott. The position was that it would harm the ongoing information. The public doesn't buy the age-old cliche of "we can't release it because it's under investigation," and we don't either.
Eventually police released the video, but not before fires burned, interstate highways shut down and a second person died in another shooting. Similar rioting in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland following police shootings was instigated, in part, by a lack of police transparency.
In Charlotte, two separate cellphone videos recorded by members of the public were already circulating in the public realm days before Charlotte police released theirs. The official police video was only released after intense scrutiny by the public and media. Had it been a less high-profile case, the video would've likely remained a closely guarded secret.
Unfortunately, police secrecy concerning dash cam and body cam videos is as common in North Carolina as it is in South Carolina. Footage from officer involved shootings has previously been shielded from public view in Seneca and North Augusta. South Carolina law currently allows police to withhold body cameras, but doesn't prohibit the release of footage, setting up a scenario where only video favorable to police will be released.
Matters are worse in North Carolina, where a new law set to take effect Oct. 1 would specifically prohibit the release of body cameras unless there's a court order stating otherwise.
Legislative efforts to fix South Carolina's dash cam video law failed in 2016. State lawmakers would be wise to study closely what's unfolding in Charlotte, and how police secrecy there is prolonging the unrest there.
Contrast Charlotte with the City of Aiken, which has acted admirably in response to an equally unsettling situation involving a federal lawsuit claiming a roadside cavity search was unconstitutionally performed on a black male by white police officers.
Whereas most governments, including many in South Carolina, have resorted to secrecy and subterfuge concerning complaints about police, Aiken government and community leaders have taken a proactive and positive approach.
Aiken has formed a citizens advisory board, reached out to various law enforcement agencies and, certainly not least, promptly released dash cam video of the incident. There was no stonewalling, no obstructionism; only compliance with the law.
In the Aiken community, private citizens have taken proactive approaches as well. In a few weeks, the Rev. Paul Bush, president of the Concerned Ministers Fellowship, who's helping to organize a solidarity walk, will join others in a seven-day trek from Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to Glover Grove Baptist Church in Aiken County. The intent is to raise money to complete the rebuilding of Glover Grove, which burned in a recent fire, though it's also taking on a more figurative meaning amid the unrest in Charleston.
What's striking about the walk, aside from its magnitude, is that it's being conducted during the daytime.
Bush told us during a recent interview that society functions best in the light and not under the cover of darkness.
"We continue to push the message of peace and communication," Bush said. "Gas will never put out a fire. We encourage dialogue between the community and law enforcement. Communication is what fixes things."
Bush's words were spoken in the general context of bringing about societal change, but they have applicability to the police video issue as well. Enshrouding footage in darkness is also like pouring gas on a fire. Aiken kept that fire from spreading by being transparent with its police footage.
As a result, we didn't see citizens taking to the streets, pillaging and plundering. Instead, we saw government and community leaders work together to find solutions instead of assigning blame.