Dangers to our democracy
I have always replied negatively to left-leaning friends’ remarks implying or outright stating that Republicans and conservatives want to lead us to a fascist type of national government.
My reply has been that most people on the political right don’t want that, but rather a smaller government than Democrats and liberals: lower taxes, less government regulation of business, less spending on social welfare programs, etc.
There is now a redeeming remnant of that ilk, but we've seen the polls — a significant majority of Republicans believe that Joe Biden is not a legitimately elected president, with no credible evidence to support that claim, and a significant minority of Republicans believe that violence — of the type we witnessed at the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection — is justified when they deem such illegitimacy. A majority of Republicans have internalized Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election.
At the Jan. 6, 2022, candlelight vigil to protect democracy and voting rights on the lawn of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, counter-protestors bellowed, “Democracy is not in the Constitution.” This disingenuous claim, based on a historical, academic argument about the difference between a "republic" and a "democracy," has been used — not just by street protestors, but by elected officials, legislatures and appointed officials — to legitimize onerous restrictions on voting rights, restrictions hitherto eschewed by politicians of all but fringe political parties.
Even worse, some have proposed that incumbent officials and legislatures have the power to nullify free and fair elections they determine to be “illegitimate” without corroborating evidence.
We are in a much different, more dangerous time than we were just five years ago. In 1935, the Nobel Laureate author Sinclair Lewis — who was from Minnesota and had a winter vacation home on Surfside Avenue in North Beach — wrote a dystopian political novel ironically titled, “It Can’t Happen Here,” referring to a Third Reich type fascistic national government in our country.
I had previously thought that there were sufficient safeguards in our political system to prevent a fascistic takeover of our national government. Now, I am not so sure that it can't happen here.
John Pilecki, St. Augustine
Law Enforcement's commitment to the mental health crisis
The needed change of law enforcement's approach to mental illness.
Nationally, 1 in 4 fatal police encounters results in the death of a person with severe mental illness.
Stated another way, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to die than other citizens.
To counter this tragic situation, both the Jacksonville and St. Johns County sheriff's offices incorporate crisis intervention team training.
The curriculum requires a full 40 hours, preparing law enforcement to better deal with the mentally ill.
Training focuses on encounters with people with a serious mental illness who are in crisis, how to de-escalate the situation, and how to connect those in need with service providers to avoid placing them in the criminal justice system when possible.
Instructors include mental health providers, the courts, people with lived experiences, and members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
That our sheriffs dedicate this much training time is significant.
According to the Justice Center, Council of State Governments, the hours for training to prepare first responders for mental health encounters varies significantly.
Their study found one state had no standards for this training, 10 had standards but no hours specified, and 12 states required eight hours or less.
A pre-pandemic study, so hopefully the numbers are improving.
When I present the parent's side, obvious by their questions they fully understand the importance of this training.
I always close with this: "For all those in uniform, be it military, law enforcement, and all the other first responders we have protecting us, thank you for your service."
Richard Marquis, St. Augustine
Frustrated with The Record
I would like to address our frustration with the changes in our local newspaper, The St. Augustine Record.
We have been subscribers since 1998 and enjoyed the local news coverage, as well as a bit of national and international news items.
Over the years, we truly appreciated the editorial page, where we were able to read opinions by Kathleen Parker, Leonard Pitts, Carl Hiassen, and especially our own Jim Sutton.
Since Mr. Sutton retired, the newspaper has definitely gone downhill. Mr. Sutton understood the political games played in Tallahassee. We never miss his fishing column, even though we are not fishermen.
We also subscribe to USA Today, but many of their articles will be reprinted in The Record. Frankly, we look for the Associated Press byline for "fresh news."
While the opinion article in Sunday's edition may have been interesting to some, I fail to see the relevance of placing it on the opinion page. We also miss the Saturday review of the mutual fund markets.
But on Thursday, and again today, (Sunday) we noticed that the St. Johns County and St. Augustine weather pages, usually found on the back page of the Sports Section, was missing. When you consider our location being close to the ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway and the St. Johns River, checking the tides, precipitation, water temperature, phases of the moon, temperature and wind gusts have become a daily routine for us. (Not to mention checking the weather in the cities we all left!)
We realize that the printed newspaper will soon become history, which will be a sad day for all who want to read the news and enjoy several cups of coffee in relaxation — not trying to get a bit of news from a quick "soundbite" on the TV news, interspersed in 20 or 30 advertisements.
Marcia Pietrzak, Crescent Beach
This article originally appeared on St. Augustine Record: St. Augustine Record letters to the editor for Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022