Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Sept. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Community faces injustices of the past

An atrocity committed 120 years ago in this community should not be erased from history or hidden. The lessons of the past should not be missed, even those that are shameful.

Terre Haute citizens, civil rights groups, religious and interfaith organizations, public officials, racial justice advocates and historians gathered Sunday afternoon at Fairbanks Park to dedicate a historical marker in remembrance of George Ward. Several of his descendants participated, too.

Ward died in a gruesome act contrary to the tenets of America’s democracy, human decency and morality. Ward, a Black man accused of murdering a White schoolteacher, was lynched by a white mob near the Wabash River. The mob violently stormed the Vigo County Jail on Feb. 26, 1901, hours after he had been arrested for the killing of Ida Finkelstein, a 20-year-old Jewish woman, who was white. Ward was yanked outside the jail, clubbed with a sledgehammer, dragged to the river bridge, hanged and then cut down by the mob, so his body could be burned.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people watched.

No one was ever charged with Ward’s killing.

The lynching terrorized Terre Haute’s Black population for years. It stained the city. Most of all, it denied justice to two traumatized families.

Sunday’s dedication of the historical marker allowed the lessons of history to be learned. It also gave Ward’s descendants a long-overdue opportunity to see Terre Haute acknowledge the injustice. The marker culminates several years of efforts by numerous people and organizations, including the Greater Terre Haute NAACP branch, which launched the Terre Haute Facing Injustice project as part of the national Community Remembrance Project to recognize lynching victims. The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative (or EJI) led the national remembrance project. The goal is to promote healing from past injustices and build stronger, more just communities.

More than 4,400 Black men and women were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. Eighteen people were lynched in Indiana.

Terry Ward’s great-grandfather, George Ward, was among those 18 Indiana lynching victims. Terry Ward, now retired from a successful career in public utilities in Indiana and California, came back to Terre Haute for the weekend activities surrounding the historical marker’s dedication. The events included the Saturday program, “The George Ward Story: A Lynching in Terre Haute,” at the Vigo County History Center, presented by educator, historian and NAACP member Crystal Reynolds; a candle-lighting ceremony Sunday at Allen Chapel; and the marker dedication that followed. The local NAACP branch, Allen Chapel and the AME Church, the Interfaith Council of the Wabash Valley, United Hebrew Congregation, the Sisters of Providence and the Ward family cosponsored the Bridge Project events.

Terry Ward and his family hopes this serves as a positive turning point.

“Our desire is to open the eyes of people today to the injustices of the past, so in the future, we’ll never have to experience these atrocities again,” Ward said Sunday.

The ugly consequences of racism — and this particular act spawned by such hatred — cannot be prevented by pretending those moments never happened. An awareness of that history can and should strengthen Terre Haute’s resolve to reject division and discrimination, and instead accept and appreciate our diversity, and seek justice.

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KPC News. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Politicization of COVID-19 vaccine impacting wider public health

Vaccine hesitancy — or in many cases vaccine hostility — directed toward COVID-19 vaccines is doing more damage than just the ongoing death toll racking up in Indiana.

Yes, the vast majority of people still ending up in hospitals and dying from COVID-19 are those who have refused to get their shots. But health officials, as well as this editorial board, have beaten that topic to death. The people who haven’t gotten one by now are not going to be swayed by argument.

But the politicization of the COVID-19 vaccine — inflamed by Hoosier political leaders including Attorney General Todd Rokita and northeast Indiana Rep. Jim Banks — and the widespread availability and circulation of vaccine misinformation and disinformation online is doing more widespread damage than just this novel coronavirus.

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box on Wednesday expressed her concern that vaccine hostility is going to, or already is, stretching past COVID-19.

“I do have some concerns about that, that this bleed off with COVID vaccines and the political nature that has surrounded that will then bleed off into other childhood vaccines and influenza vaccines that people tend to get on a yearly basis,” Box said.

We already know that childhood vaccination rates for diseases like polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, hepatitis, chickenpox, meningitis and others have dropped sharply.

While some of that drop may be due to people putting off health care visits due to pandemic restrictions, some of the decrease is also very likely due to people who have consumed and been poisoned by anti-vax propaganda.

Statewide, only about 70% of children get their shots on time within the recommended first 35 months after birth. Noble and DeKalb counties are right at the state average, but Steuben County trails at about 65% while heavily Amish LaGrange County is worst in the state at slightly below 50%.

The good news is that for a lot of Hoosier children it’s better late than never as almost all children end up getting them eventually, primarily because these vaccines are mandated for students starting kindergarten.

Box also notes that vaccine mudslinging is likely to reduce flu vaccination efforts. Like COVID-19, influenza is more dangerous to older people and can stress health care facilities during particularly bad seasons. But flu can also be highly dangerous to very young children, too.

With hospitals still seeing many patients from COVID-19, the last thing facilities need is a pile of flu patients filling up beds as well. Nevermind that schools and employers are impacted when diseases go unchecked, causing sick days and lost productivity.

Many communicable diseases are endemic, meaning they never truly go away and can’t be fully eradicated from the population. But that’s precisely why vaccines were developed and deployed at mass scale, in order to control these illnesses as much as possible and reduce their toll as much as possible.

Disease outbreaks are opportunistic. As we’ve seen with COVID-19 this year, the delta variant primarily ravaged those people who opted not to vaccinate. Some of those who had their shots may suffer breakthrough infections, but they rarely end up seriously ill or dead.

That’s not a situation we should aim to repeat with flu or any other disease by letting anti-vax hucksters erode confidence and trust in extremely effective, extremely safe modern medicines.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Feds’ outlay in bolstering local budgets tough to track

A glossy mailer from a state lawmaker – paid for by taxpayers – boasts of the automatic tax refund residents are set to receive next year. “Thanks in large part to Indiana’s track record of fiscal responsibility,” proclaims the state representative.

How big a role state officials played in Indiana’s fiscal condition is subject to debate. The Pew Charitable Trusts, which tracks state finance as part of its mission to improve public policy, reported recently that more than half of the states recorded their strongest personal income growth ever in the first quarter of the year.

“(N)early all states recorded double-digit growth in total personal income compared with the same period a year earlier, when the abrupt March-April 2020 recession first derailed the economy,” according to the report.

Those gains by the states were driven by “multiple rounds of pandemic-related government benefits” which, in turn, bolstered personal income, according to Pew.

In other words, federal COVID-19 recovery funds fueled growth across the nation, not just in Indiana. Neglecting to mention the role of the federal CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act packages in public budgets – state, city, school and all other levels of government – is a considerable oversight. The state of Indiana received $2.4 billion in CARES funding, approved in the early days of the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Act, approved in March without the support of Indiana’s GOP senators and representatives in Congress, brings $3.1 billion to the state, plus millions of dollars distributed directly to cities, towns and counties. Allen County will receive about $73.7 million; the city of Fort Wayne will receive $50.8 million.

The federal government has guidelines for spending as well as strict accounting rules. The first accounting period required reports on spending through July 31. With some effort, those reports can be found on state and local websites.

Some states and communities are doing a better job at transparency, however. The state of Wyoming, for example, makes it easy to see where federal money flows. From a link on its transparency portal, at wyopen.gov, residents can track not only awards made from that state’s $1.25 billion allocation, but also individual expenditures. Officials in Lexington/Fayette County, Kentucky, share extensive information on community priorities and spending for the consolidated government’s $121 million at lexingtonky.gov/ARPA.

The state of Indiana’s plans for Rescue Plan funds are commendable. They include $100 million for public health; $500 million to restore a depleted unemployment insurance fund; $1.1 billion for roads and bridges; $250 million for broadband; and $85 million for conservation and trails. But Hoosiers should have an easier way to follow the money than through the state’s transparency portal, which can be cumbersome to anyone unfamiliar with tracking expenditures there.

Asked about transparency plans, state Auditor Tera Klutz’s office pointed to links on the State Budget Agency website, with appropriations and total spending, but not detailed expenditures.

Likewise, required federal reports for Fort Wayne’s Rescue Plan spending can be found at the city’s website, but not without considerable effort. City spokesman John Perlich said there are plans to make that information available to the public and media, but no timetable for getting it done.

“Transparency with the ARPA funds is a top priority of ours,” he said in an email.

It should be, for the city, state and all other units of government receiving a share of the $1.9 trillion federal package. What is too often forgotten in Washington debates over spending, deficits and debt ceilings is that federal dollars are spent nationwide. The connection between those debates and body cameras for Indiana State Police, for example, or COVID relief for Allen County business owners, should be clear to everyone footing the bill.

Indiana COVID spending: in.gov/sba/covid-19-financial-management/federal-2020-coronavirus-relief-fund/

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