Sunday Reads — Aug. 14, 2022
It’s been a week full of stories that can renew faith in data and documents that define what’s real. And, there is the strength in transparency and asking and answering questions so we can all tackle challenges together with common facts and information.
Documents expose cracks in police hire process
Last week, the Georgia Department of Corrections and Savannah Police answered a nagging question about the hiring process for Savannah Police officer Ernest Ferguson: Did the police department know about Ferguson’s use-of-force disciplinary investigations as a prison guard when it hired him for the severely understaffed Savannah force? The answer appears to be no. The police representative didn’t request a personnel file after the corrections department lieutenant said Ferguson hadn’t had any disciplinary history. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is still investigating Ferguson’s deadly shooting of Saudi Lee in June, but the fallout from the case raises questions about how the Savannah Police is staffing up and training requirements for all. The Current’s Jake Shore breaks down the process and what happened.
• Plant Riverside promises….kept: Eric Curl of Savannah Agenda reported last week that the taxes, employment and payments on $43 million in bonds for developer Richard Kessler’s giant Savannah riverfront development turned out to look nearly as promised in the years since the controversial deal was struck. Curl breaks down where things stand in the agreement, which lasts another 27 years.
• Judges return PSC races to November ballot: A federal appeals court said that it’s too late to rework contests for the statewide races for 2 Public Service Commission district posts, including one district that includes Chatham County. Earlier a judge ruled the statewide elections for district PSC members violated the Voting Rights Act because it diluted Black majority districts with voters from the rest of the state. The Current’s Mary Landers wraps up the status now for the candidates.
• Sex ed in Georgia schools: The state’s new abortion law shifts the spotlight to prevention, knowledge and care for many. But, if you want to find out how sex education is taught in state school districts, you’ll have to ask them all. That’s what The Macon Newsroom‘s Laura Corley found out as she investigated exactly what students might be learning. Corley found that each district can approach sex ed differently, and that the “state’s minimal requirements for sex education leave plenty of room for interpretation by local school boards, resulting in an inconsistent smattering of instruction.”
• Georgia ranks 46th for uninsured young women: A Georgetown University report from the Center for Children and Families has found that 1 in 5 Georgia women of childbearing age does not have medical insurance. That lack of coverage for women 18 to 44 years old puts Georgia, again, in the bottom 5 nationally.
• Teachers face discussion limits, little guidance: In a national story by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news source dedicated to public education, 1 in 4 teachers across the country say they’ve been warned to to limit teaching about race, racism, politics and other social issues. The story is based on surveys of 2,400 K-12 teachers in various states after laws were passed to restrict discussions on certain topics. From a Kentucky teacher: “We are worried about being able to present the information that we have been trained to present, and then possibly facing backlash from the public or from parents. That definitely is a concern.”
When information unites, divides
Last week we learned that cable TV news is more polarizing than social media, and teens get most of what they are learning about each other and the world from social media. Neither idea may shock you, but new numbers offer some insight.
About the adults: Those ads that saturate television for politicians and issues do make a difference, according to social science researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. And, television networks with constant drumbeats in one direction or another create a silo effect for about 17% of us. The findings suggest that television – not the web – is the top driver of partisan audience segregation among Americans. However, those who consume news online are more likely to get more variety of topics with fewer allegiances to one source. Also from the research: The vast majority of Americans still consume relatively balanced news diets.
And our teens: A very comprehensive study of online technology and communications habits for teens finds that more than 70% have access to a smartphone, computer and a gaming console, and half say they use the internet every day. The study by the Pew Research Center tracks social media, usage habits and technology access. It surveyed social media usage for more than 1,300 teens ages 13 to 17 for several weeks in April and May.
Why does all this matter? What we watch or read helps shape our views of what’s around us. What television watchers see on their screens likely varies greatly from what others, especially younger generations, consume on TikTok and YouTube and Instagram. Today’s teens have few common experiences except through social media conduits. These channels are now the main connective information tissue for generations and will provide the knowledge and models they will use to make choices for their futures.
Your second cup: Right to speak
When does the right to speak equal freedom of speech? Always? Sometimes? Never? In Forsyth County, ProPublica reports on one group of parents that sought to ban some books from the school libraries. To make their points, they read graphic passages from the books out loud in public school board meetings. This practice ran afoul of the Forsyth County board, which eventually asked them not to return. Now the Mama Bears, as they are called, are suing the board for denial of their free speech rights under the First Amendment. Free speech advocates say there may be merit to the case where people who want to ban books are suing for their right to speak.
Salman Rushdie’s take on speech
For years, author Salman Rushdie has been battling for free speech. As this newsletter jetted to your inbox, he was fighting for his life following a knife attack Friday on stage in New York. Rushdie, 75, lived in hiding for years after a 1989 book he wrote sparked Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa, or threat, to Rushdie’s life because the cleric found his writing offensive. While timely now, he’s discussed for years what has been called “the cult of offendedness” and given interviews about the effects of it, religious threat, free speech and his time in hiding.
“Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read.
If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.
I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.
To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”
― Salman Rushdie
Officer Ernest Ferguson had a long disciplinary record as a prison guard An ex-supervisor hid that fact when he was seeking work with Savannah police.
Kessler has paid interest on the bonds since 2019, amounting to a total of almost $5.2 million in payments through February 2022. And despite holding a ribbon cutting for Plant Riverside in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kessler met the deadline for the first principal payment, amounting to $870,000, early this month.
New report shows state level of uninsured women, maternal mortality rates and prenatal care rates remain low.
It is difficult if not impossible to tell what type of sex education is being offered for a specific school system based on school board documents and policies available online. But parents have the right to review instructional materials and can opt-out their children from the class.
A higher share of teachers, nearly 1 in 3, said they’d gotten those orders while working in a state with an official restriction on teaching about racism, sexism, or other contentious topics. But teachers in states without official policies also felt that pressure: Just over 1 in 5 said they’d been told to limit their classroom discussions, too.
One free speech expert says the suit has merit in support of parents’ rights to petition a school board.
First-time and returning voters alike should know how to register and update their information before Georgia’s Nov. 8 midterms. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.