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Georgia Sex Offenders Sue Over Signs Discouraging Trick-or-Treaters

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  • Last Halloween, the Butts County Sheriff’s office required signs to be placed outside the homes of sex offenders that read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address!”
  • Authorities planned to use the same policy this year but are being sued by a group of sex offenders who say the signs violate their rights and are a form of “compelled speech.” 
  • The group is asking for the policy to end and want compensation for damages including emotional distress. 

Sex Offenders File Lawsuit Against Sheriffs 

A group of registered sex offenders in Georgia filed a lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s office for posting signs on their homes warning trick or treaters not to visit. 

The signs in question read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address! A community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long.” 

Source: Butts County Sheriffs

According to Sheriff Gary Long, the messages were designed to keep kids safe, however, the sex offenders who filed the lawsuit argue they are a violation of their rights to privacy and have likened the policy to “compelled speech,” which violates the First Amendment.  

The lawsuit was filed by Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden, and Corey McClendon. The men say some of the signs were put up by county sheriffs but, in other cases, the county’s sex offenders were told they had to either display the signs on their properties or face unspecified trouble.

The Sign Policy 

The initiative to display the signs began in 2018 when Long directed deputies to place the warnings in the front yards of over 200 sex offenders registered in the county from Oct. 24- Nov. 2. The sheriff’s office planned to do the same this year, which prompted the lawsuit. 

In a Facebook post, Sheriff Long said the signs were first instituted after the cancellation of a local Halloween festival, which resulted in an influx of children going door-to-door. He has also explained that the signs comply with a state law that forbids sex offenders from participating in Halloween. 

Source; Butts County Sheriff’s Facebook

Other areas in the state, like Monroe and Lamar counties, also use the signs. In Monroe County, if an offender did not want a sign in their yard, they had to wait in the lobby of the local sheriff’s office during trick-or-treat hours last Halloween.

Attorney’s Argument 

Mark Yurachek, the lead attorney for the men who filed the suit, told Fox 5 Atlanta that the Georgia State Sex Offender Registry does not require offenders to post these signs on their homes, therefore offenders should not be forced by local deputies to display them.

“The law allows the sheriff to put a list of registered sex offenders at his office, at the courthouse, on the internet,” he explained. “It does not allow him to go door-to-door telling people you have a sex offender living next door to you.”

“I’m just not sure that this kind of action makes your kids any safer,” Yurachek continued. “It just makes your constitutional rights less safe.” He also went on to call the deputies’ actions clear examples of trespassing, saying, “They’re coming onto their property and putting the signs on there.”

The suit asks for a trial by jury and asks that the jury award the plaintiffs with compensation for damages including economic harm, emotional distress, and the cost of legal fees. The group is also asking that local authorities are prevented from using the sign policy moving forward. 

According to Sheriff Long, the case will be heard by a federal court Thursday to see if the signs can be used this year, but regardless of the outcome, he says his office will do everything within the law to protect the community’s children. 

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (The Washington Post) (Fox 5)

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‘Meth. We’re on it’: South Dakota’s New Anti-Drug Campaign Met With Ridicule

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  • Officials in South Dakota launched an anti-meth campaign with the slogan “Meth. We’re on it,” which has been mocked and ridiculed online. 
  • Others have also called the motto “tone-deaf” to those impacted by the epidemic and have criticized the state for spending nearly $450,000 on the campaign ads.
  • However, South Dakota’s governor seems happy with the response, saying that the campaign is working because its mission is to get people talking about the issue.

South Dakota Is on Meth

South Dakota launched an anti-drug campaign on Monday with the highly criticized slogan: “Meth. We’re on it.” 

According to state records, South Dakota’s Department of Social Services paid a Minneapolis ad agency $448,914 for the campaign, which includes billboards, commercials, and social media photos that aim to raise awareness about the state’s growing meth epidemic

“South Dakota has a problem,” said a message on the campaign’s website, onmeth.com. “There isn’t a single solution because meth is widespread. But we can approach it from different angles, so it doesn’t take over counties, towns, neighborhoods. Let’s work together. Meth. We’re on it.”

As you might have seen all over social media by now, photos for the initiative include South Dakotans of various ages alongside the motto.

 A video for the campaign also features different South Dakotans saying “I’m on meth.”

State’s Meth Epidemic 

Drug addiction is actually a serious problem in the state. When announcing the initiative, officials said that in 2019, 83% of the state’s court admissions were specifically related to meth. On top of that, twice as many 12- to 17-year-olds reported using meth compared to the national average, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

The issue was one the Republican Governor Kristi Noem, the state’s first female governor, has promised to focus on. In the past, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the state for relying heaving on the incarceration of drug users instead of investing in treatment. 

Last summer, the state asked companies to pitch them ideas for an aggressive marketing campaign to bring awareness to the meth epidemic, with the Minneapolis firm Broadhead winning the project and grabbing Noem’s attention.

According to a news release for the initiative, officials plan to combat the issue from a law enforcement standpoint by implementing meth task forces in areas known for the majority of the state’s arrests. 

Additionally, Gov. Noem requested more than $1 million in funding to support meth treatment services. The campaign’s website, onmeth.com, also promises to connect residents to preventative and treatment resources. 

Slogan Criticism 

Still, some people couldn’t get past the slogan. Though it was met with a slew of jokes, some also called the ad tone-deaf to the pain and devastation the epidemic has caused. Others fear that laughing at the issue could bring shame to those struggling with addiction. Meanwhile, many criticized the state for spending so much on the ads.

Bill Pearce, assistant dean at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, told The Washington Post that any sincere messaging by the governor was lost by an ad campaign that embodies “poor strategy and poor execution.”

“I can’t imagine this is what they intended to do; any good marketer would look at this and say: ‘Yeah, let’s not do that,’ ” Pearce told the paper. “I’m sure South Dakota residents don’t like being laughed at. That’s what’s happening right now.”

State Officials Double Down

However, it appears that officials are happy with the reactions they are getting online. In fact, state officials are suggesting that the motto was intentionally designed to be provocative. 

In a statement to The New York Times Monday night, Laurie Gill, the state’s secretary for the Department of Social Services said Governor Noem “wanted to do it in a way that got the attention of citizens.”

“We are looking for a way that would cause the citizens to stop, pay attention and understand that we do have a meth issue and that there are resources available.”

She added, “That was the tone going into it, looking for something that would be edgy and that would be able to cut through clutter in advertising and social media.”

“It’s sort of an irony between healthy South Dakotans, that probably very much aren’t meth users, saying ‘Meth. We’re on it.’ The point is everybody is affected by meth. You don’t have to be a user to be affected by meth. Everybody is.”

According to state records, the contract with the ad agency, signed in September, called for approximately $1.4 million to be spent on the campaign. According to Gill, the campaign was slated to run through May and the state could spend less than the total $1.4 million if it wanted to cut back on the campaign. But so far, officials are pleased with the response.

Governor Noem tweeted Monday, “the whole point of the campaign is to raise awareness. So I think that’s working.”

In a separate statement sent to media outlets, she called the initiative “a bold, innovative effort like the nation has never before seen.”

She then went on to make comments similar to her initial tweet saying, “South Dakota’s anti-meth campaign launch is sparking conversations around the state and the country. The mission of the campaign is to raise awareness — to get people talking about how they can be part of the solution and not just the problem. It is working.”

Some aren’t buying it. Professor Pearce told The Washington Post,  “There’s another trope that goes, ‘When they’re running you out of town, pick up a baton and pretend you’re leading the parade,’ ” he said. “That’s what this feels like.”

But others think the campaign is doing its job. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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Journalists Say Northwestern School Paper Should Not Have Apologized for Protest Coverage

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  • A Northwestern student paper apologized after activists critiqued it for covering a public protest.
  • Critics specifically focused on a reporter who tweeted photos from the protest, and other reporters using the school’s directory to contact sources.
  • Several outlets and journalists have spoken up saying student reporters should not have apologized for doing their jobs, as they were just doing what was required to cover the protest.
  • The Dean of Northwestern’s Journalism School has also defended the student reporters, saying they were following ethical standards and should not have to apologize for that.

Northwestern Paper Publishes Apology

Reporters are speaking out after a Northwestern University student newspaper apologized for how it covered a recent public protest. 

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the school’s campus on November 5, The Daily Northwestern sent reporters to cover his speech, as well as the protests surrounding it.

According to The New York Times, protesters were pushing through the back of the building. Police tried to stop them from entering but ultimately failed. This series of events was documented by one of the reporters, Colin Boyle, who is a photographer for The Daily. 

Some of the activists attending the protest disagreed with the paper’s coverage of the events, particularly the photography. Boyle posted his photos to Twitter in a move some found to be inappropriate. One student depicted in the photos referred to it as “trauma porn.”

After facing this backlash from protesters, The Daily published an editorial on Sunday largely apologizing for their coverage. 

“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward,” the piece, signed by eight editors said. 

They also noted that some saw the photos taken to be “retraumatizing and invasive.”

“Those photos have since been taken down,” the editorial continued. “On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.”

The piece also addressed student reporters using the student directory to contact sources for the article. They said they would no longer continue this practice because it is an “invasion of privacy” and promised to find a new way to reach out to sources. 

“Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups,” the piece said.

Reporters Speak Out

This editorial ended up getting attention on both a local and national level. News outlets and journalists alike made comments saying that the student paper should not have published this piece because the student journalists were just doing their job.

“The Daily is apologizing for posting photographs of protesters at a public demonstration. In what world is that “invasive?” the Chicago Sun-Timeseditorial board said. “The real concern, for anybody who cares about the state of our free society, should be quite the opposite. The real concern should be the frequent efforts by government to keep journalists and protesters far apart to tamp down voices of dissent.”

They also defended students using the directory as a method to contact sources. 

“Requesting an interview, via text or any other polite means, is not an ‘invasion of privacy.’ Not even in the world of campus safe spaces,” the piece continued. “It’s a request for an interview, to which anybody can say no.”

Guy Benson, a Fox News contributor who got his degree from Northwestern spoke about the piece on a Wednesday segment of Fox and Friends. 

“It was sort of grovelingly apologetic for doing the sin of journalism,” he said. “They committed journalism by asking questions of students, contacting students for comment, publishing on the record quotes from people, and taking photographs of a public protest from a public event. And that is all just totally proper.” 

A Huffington Post news editor, Saba Hamedy, approached the situation from a sympathetic angle, calling it a learning opportunity.

Dean Responds

The Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Charles Whitaker, published a statement of his own, defending the student’s right to report on the world around them and condemning others for pressuring them into apologizing for doing so.

“The coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism,” he wrote. “I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the ‘sin’ of doing journalism.”

“It is naïve, not to mention wrong-headed, to declare, as many of our student activists have, that The Daily staff and other student journalists had somehow violated the personal space of the protestors by reporting on the proceedings, which were conducted in the open and were designed, ostensibly, to garner attention,” he continued.

As for The Daily’s editorial itself, he called it “heartfelt, though not well-considered.” 

“I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared,” he said. “I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would effect a measure of community healing.”

The Other Side of the Aisle

Though, not everyone thought the apology was out of line. Some did think The Daily needed to address what happened. 

One student said this showed that journalists often “don’t care about people, they care about stories and headlines.”

Reporter Karen Kho pointed out that many reporters were getting upset about this industry-related situation, but don’t speak as much about other problems in the field of journalism, “such the lack of diversity in their newsrooms, declines in public trust, or how reporting can further hurt underrepresented communities.”

Others also pointed out the school’s history when it comes to protests.

What the Students Involved Are Saying

Some of the student journalists involved in the story also spoke about the events. 

Troy Closson, the paper’s editor in chief, published a Twitter thread partially justifying the editorial but also acknowledging over-correction.

He added that balancing this role with the knowledge that the paper has historically not treated students of color well has been a challenge. Closson said he appreciates people raising their voices about their coverage and said the staff is learning to navigate the space of being student journalists. 

Boyle spoke to The Washington Post about what was going through his mind as he took photos at the protests.

“These are my peers, these are people that I might have class with,” he told the paper. “If something happened, God forbid, I was the only camera that was non-police-owned in that area, to my knowledge.”

On Twitter, he said that he has reflected a lot on what it means to be a journalist. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Veteran Burial Problem: Why Veteran Cemeteries Are Running Out of Space & What’s Next

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Over the last few decades, veteran cemeteries throughout the US have been facing an ongoing problem — they’ve been running out of space. In an effort to address this, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically the National Cemetery Administration, has been working to acquire new land to expand current national cemeteries and establish new ones.

They’ve also launched the Urban Initiative and the Rural Initiative in order to improve accessibility for veterans living in densely populated cities and in more rural parts of the country, respectively. But the challenges don’t end there. As it stands, national cemeteries are still at risk of running out of room within the next twenty to thirty years. And as a result, new changes are being proposed; changes that would impact eligibility requirements and potentially limit which veterans can and cannot be buried below ground. Watch the video to find out more.

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