As 2018 comes to a close, the Inquirer Opinion department looks back on some contributions from writers outside our newsroom.
Want to submit an opinion piece to the Inquirer? Email Deputy Opinion Editor Erica Palan at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Opinion Coverage Editor Elena Gooray at email@example.com. Submissions should be about 650 words long and should include links to pertinent sources. Please paste your work into the body into the body of an email. We’re mostly looking for newsy opinion and commentary submissions — the pieces below are great examples. We give priority to highlighting voices from under-represented communities.
Safe Injection Sites
In January, city officials announced that the city won’t stand in the way if a private entity wanted to open a safe-injection site in Philadelphia. The announcement put Philadelphia on track to become the first city in America to have such a site. The announcement drew a mixed reaction:
Staff writer Abraham Gutman reviews the evidence on safe-injection sites: “A safe injection site is a harm-reduction measure to make drug use safer. The premise is based on the evidence-backed notions that illicit drug use is a reality that is not going away anytime soon and that drug-use disorder is an acquired disease of the brain and should be treated as such."
Columnist Solomon Jones, who himself struggled with drug addiction, opposes the sites and critiqued the city for how the decision to approve a city was made: “The voices of Philadelphians must be included in anything that would have us support the use of illegal drugs in our name — even if that drug use is supposed to eventually save lives.”
Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner wrote about safe-injection sites in the historical context of the crack epidemic: "As a society, we failed many people during the crack epidemic by treating it solely as a law enforcement problem rather than a health problem. Many people spent time in jail when they should have spent time in treatment. No doubt, criminalizing addiction happened in part because the people affected were mainly African-American, Latino and poor. "
Criminal Justice Reform
Criminal justice reform was a big topic in Philadelphia in 2018. Larry Krasner started his tenure as DA after running on sweeping reform, Meek Mill who spent months in prison for a probation violation was released, a homicide in Rittenhouse divided Philadelphia, Malcolm Jenkins and the Player’s Coalition continued their advocacy for reform, just to name some of the issues that populated our pages.
Super-Bowl champion and Eagles player Malcolm Jenkins writes on cash bail: “That system, which punishes poverty, is galling on its face, but all the more so when you consider that almost half of those who are held in jail pending trial are never found guilty. Either their cases are dismissed or withdrawn, or they are found not guilty at trial. But the city gets some flesh: time in jail pre-trial.”
Linda Schellenger, the mother of Sean Schellenger who was killed in a Rittenhouse stabbing, critiqued DA Larry Krasner for not seeking first degree murder charges in her son’s case: “The shame of it is that I am a supporter of Krasner’s political platform. I, too, believe that in the case of minor legal infractions or misdemeanors, sentences are too long, and people are incarcerated inappropriately. However, I do not, and have never, believed that reducing sentencing guidelines or charges in the case of violent crime, specifically murder, is just. Violent crimes, especially murder, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
How we get around is a topic that never ceases to spark debate in this city. This year was no different. Here’s some of our most-discussed issues around transit and transportation from 2018.
Urbanist Jon Geeting of Philadelphia 3.0 says that if PennDOT wants to focus on pedestrians and cities, it needs a change of culture: “The urban areas and downtowns of Southeastern Pennsylvania badly need the next generation of PennDot engineers to have more empathy for pedestrians, cyclists, and walkable commercial districts.”
Lance Haver for the PA Save Our Safety Net Coalition writes says that SEPTA Key punishes poor people and calls on the City to fix it: “An administration that says it is attempting to lift people out of poverty should find it unacceptable for SEPTA to surcharge those who can’t use the Key system.”
Family biking advocate Dena Ferrara Driscoll says Philadelphia needs dockless bike share: “Across the country, bike share has overwhelmingly proven to be safe. But if you still have concerns about more bikes having to use the road with motor vehicles, the answer isn’t fewer bikes. The answer is asking City Council and the mayor for more protected bike lanes and complete streets.
In 2018, Gunviolencearchive.org reports that there were 338 mass shootings in the U.S. In Philadelphia this year, 1,358 people were shot in Philadelphia, according to the most recent city data available (which ends on December 27, 2018). How to deal with the gun violence epidemic is an important topic every year. Here’s a selection of some pieces we ran in 2018:
Christopher “Flood the Drummer” Norris, journalist and activist, on a solution for gun violence: “Our goal now should be to execute bold new approaches, and having the Commerce Department at the table when discussing violence reduction through economic empowerment certainly fits that bill. The mantra should be peace through prosperity."
Dr. Daniel R. Taylor explains why he advocates for gun control: The NRA recently tweeted something telling doctors to “stay in your lane” when it comes to advocating against gun violence. Visiting my once healthy, happy patients in the ICU after their lives were altered or ended by a stray bullet is my lane.
Shira Goodman, the executive director of CeaseFirePA, on the questions to ask your representative after the Pittsburgh shooting: “I believe our gun-violence problem is solvable. But we have to want to solve it. If you agree, make your voice heard.”
On April 12, two black men were arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks after a barista called the police on them for requesting to use a bathroom without purchasing anything. The arrest was captured on camera and the video went viral and sparked a national conversation about race and public spaces.
Author Sophia A. Nelson on Starbucks decision to conduct racial bias training to all its employees: “If Starbucks wants to fix their clear bias problem, it’s not about mandatory training. It starts with conversations. It starts with honesty. White people must stop telling black people that what we tell you happens to us does not.”
Sociologist Elijah Anderson on the racial dynamic of Philadelphia’s “cosmopolitan canopy”: “In these circumstances, the black men felt humiliated, deflated, and acutely disrespected. This situation is all too common for black people operating in what they know as “white space.”
Formerly incarcerated blogger Chandra Bozelko has a suggestion on how Starbucks can atone: “The best way for Starbucks to atone for what its employees did is to hire more people with criminal records."
Reggie Shuford and Carl Takei of the American Civil Liberties Union call Starbucks a teachable moment for Philly police: “Starbucks chief operating officer Rosalind Brewer described the April 2018 incident as a “teachable moment” for the company and stated, “Good companies acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, and then make the necessary changes.” Commissioner Ross should take note.”
In 2018, a record number of women spoke out about their own experience with sexual harassment and assault. Two high-profile cases this year ended in opposite results — Bill Cosby was sentenced to prison for sexual assault and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court in spite of allegations made against him.
The Inquirer and Daily News went to college campuses in the city to ask young women: Do you feel vulnerable around men? And have the Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Cosby stories increased that?
Journalist Nicole Weisensee Egan has been covering the allegations against Cosby for years, on finally meeting Andrea Constand — Cosby’s main accuser — during his trial: “On the day of closing arguments, Constand came back into the courtroom to listen to the prosecution. She was seated two rows in front of me. As she turned to talk to someone behind her, our eyes met.”
Labor attorney Michael Homans on the lessons that employers should learn from the Cosby trial: “Lesson 1: No claim is too old to be relevant anymore.”
Columnist Christine Flowers argues that Brett Kavanaugh created a #MeToo moment for unjustly accused men: “What did impress me was Brett Kavanaugh. His voice was a mixture of anger and righteous indignation at what was being done to him, and there was again that horrible sorrow that came out in long pauses, and actual tears.”
Catholic Clergy Abuse Scandal
In August, after a long legal battle, Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report that detailed decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests in six dioceses across the state. The horrifying description made some grapple with their faith and called into question on how to prevent these types of abuses from happening.
Meredith Edelman, an academic who writes about institutional accountability for clerical child sexual abuse, shares lessons from how Australia responded to child sexual abuse: “Just as was true in Australia, here in the United States the evidence is clear that child sexual abuse is widespread and a new approach to resolving institutional accountability is needed.”
Pa.'s First Lady Frances Wolf calls for changes to the statute of limitations: “We failed these victims so badly for entirely too long. Now is our opportunity to do right.”
Judge Timothy Rice, a practicing Catholic, shares his prayer for the Catholic Church: “If we can persuade the bishops to acknowledge the church’s sinfulness, we might help save it.”
Former federal and state prosecutor George Parry on the Pa. Supreme Court’s decision to not release the names of 11 priests accused of abuse: “as someone who has conducted and participated in numerous federal, state, and county grand jury investigations, I believe that the Supreme Court was right to forbid publication of the priests’ names.”