S.C. editorial roundup: Friday, May 15, 2020


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Times and Democrat

May 13

Decline in robocalls is positive aspect of virus lockdown

Have you noticed? Fewer robocalls are coming during the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of robocalls made to U.S. phone numbers in April was the lowest in two years, according to data provided to CNN Business from YouMail, a robocall-prevention service that tracks robocall traffic across the country. This includes both scam and legitimate calls, such as payment reminders from banks.

YouMail said Americans received about 2.86 billion calls in April, a 30% drop from the month before and down 40% from February. At their peak in October 2019, about 5.66 billion robocalls were placed to the U.S. in a one-month period.

According to CNN, the decline coincides with the shuttering of call centers in countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines, where workers who are placing unwanted robocalls don't own laptops to support working from home and some have lost their jobs or been furloughed.

But the decline in unwanted robocalls likely won't last.

"Phone scammers have shown resiliency over the years and constantly change their tactics to find new ways to exploit the public," Kush Parikh, chief operating officer of Hiya, a service that provides profile information to some telecom companies to help consumers identify incoming calls and block unwanted ones, told CNN. "They will likely bounce back from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis."

That's not what South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson wants to see happen.

Wilson recently joined a coalition of 52 attorneys general in calling on USTelecom - the leading organization representing telecommunications providers - and its Industry Traceback Group to continue its collaboration with state attorneys general by bolstering technological capabilities to improve enforcement against robocallers. The coalition is asking USTelecom to further develop robocall traceback and other tools suited to law enforcement needs.

"I get robocalls all the time just like you do, and they're incredibly annoying. Fighting those calls requires the telecommunications industry to work with law enforcement, so we're asking for the industry's help," Wilson said.

A key part of that action would be for USTelecom to develop and roll out an online platform to collect live data from carriers and robocall-blocking apps. When USTelecom or a law enforcement agency detects an illegal robocall campaign, the law enforcement agency would then be able to submit a subpoena to USTelecom in a streamlined online portal.

According to Wilson, the process would allow for rapid review by USTelecom and provide law enforcement agencies the ability to expedite subpoena procedures and access the platform to quickly retrieve relevant data. The platform would bolster law enforcement investigations and could potentially lead to attorneys general offices issuing temporary restraining orders that could stop a live robocall campaign in its tracks.

It's not possible to say many good things have arisen from the coronavirus emergency, but the decline in fraudulent robocalls is a clear positive. A "return to normal" with these calls is not desired - and they should be targeted even amid so many other priorities.

The Post and Courier

May 12

Nighttime citizen's arrest law should be repealed in S.C.

It's long been a poster child for archaic laws that should be removed from the books. Section 17-13-20 of the S.C. Code of Laws allows a nighttime citizen's arrest of anyone who "has broken or is breaking into an outhouse with a view to plunder."

Apparently, we've been so busy laughing about the outhouse provision that nobody ever bothered to look at the rest of the section: A citizen's arrest can be made "by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken." And the lethal "arrest" can be made not just for outhouse-plundering but also when the suspect who is "under circumstances which raise just suspicion of his design to steal or to commit some felony, flees when he is hailed."

Yep, it really does say that: If it's dark, and someone thinks you're planning to steal something or commit a felony, and he tells you to stop but you run, he can kill you. And it's all perfectly legal.

Even South Carolina's notorious stand your ground law requires the killer to believe her life is in danger before she can use lethal force.

For that matter, even our police can't shoot a fleeing suspect simply because they think that person had committed a crime and might get away. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that they have to have reason to believe that the fleeing suspect poses a danger to the officer or other people. So even in the most controversial cases where police kill unarmed, innocent victims, the officers always at least claim they feared for their lives if they didn't kill the suspect.

And these are people who we hire, train and authorize to enforce our law - not just some Joe Yahoo who gets his jollies playing cops and robbers.

S.C. legislators came across 17-13-20 as national outrage swelled over two Georgia men who weren't arrested for more than two months after they shot and killed a black man they thought looked like someone they thought was a burglar. Police and prosecutors apparently bought the men's story that they acted legally under Georgia's citizen's arrest law.

And here's the thing: Georgia's law isn't nearly as wide open as South Carolina's. It merely authorizes a citizen to make an arrest if a felony "is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge" and "the offender is escaping or attempting to escape." It says nothing about killing the suspect.

So even if Ahmaud Arbery had in fact been a burglar and not simply someone out for a jog, and even if Gregory and Travis McMichael had witnessed the burglary, Georgia law wouldn't have authorized them to shoot him.

South Carolina's law, by contrast, would have allowed the shooting, based on a mere suspicion - if it had happened at night. Which is crazy.

It's hard to imagine that the courts would allow either of those laws to stand. And indeed, once the video of the Georgia killing surfaced, and police and prosecutors who didn't have personal ties to the vigilantes got involved, both men were arrested.

But we can't be certain how a court would treat South Carolina's law because, fortunately, it isn't invoked often. The last time it came before the courts apparently was 2000, when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled in State v. McAteer that it didn't authorize a DUI arrest - because the arrest had occurred in daylight. The court went on at length recounting the history of the law but never discussed the lethal force provision.

There are legitimate reasons to allow citizen's arrests. There is no legitimate reason to have a law that encourages trigger-happy citizens to go out looking to kill people they deem suspicious. The Legislature needs to repeal this one - before someone accepts this legislative invitation to vigilantism.

The Index-Journal

May 12

Being safe during the state's reopening

You, along with nearly everyone else, long for a return to normalcy. You've about had enough of this new normal. Or, at least, likely most of us have.

But with full knowledge we are repeating ourselves here, we want to again urge caution as the state begins to reopen and attempt to return to life as we all knew it.

On Monday, restaurants that had previously been relegated to curbside pick-up or takeout only were given the green light to allow indoor dining with limited capacity. Some are jumping on board, some are not ready and some, frankly, don't want to do that just yet.

For the most part, retail outlets are back open. A few are yet waiting and most seem to be practicing physical distancing and maintaining restrictions on the number of customers that can be inside at any one time.

School - on-campus school, that is - has long ended, and it will be out for the summer shortly. That signals the beginning of summer, which for some has effectively already begun. People want to get going, in other words, and they're champing at the bit to hit the beach, hit the club pool, gather on the lakes and sandbars. You get the picture, and you might well be one of those anxious to put it back in drive again.

On Monday, city officials discussed the prospects of the Festival of Discovery and Greenwood Blues Cruise taking place. So many events have already been canceled or postponed until fall, so of course there's a desire to have something yet take place.

But they are proceeding with all due caution, too.

As much as the festival means to the City of Greenwood - it's a big year because the festival is celebrating its 20th year in 2020 - those involved are not taking unnecessary risks.

If the festival does take place, it will likely have a different look and feel to it.

So again, proceed with caution. Everyone. Don't take unnecessary risks yourselves by potentially exposing people to the coronavirus or exposing yourself to it. While you might feel plenty healthy right now, you can become a victim. And maybe it won't be the worst illness you have experienced, but who knows?

Shop smart. Maintain physical distance when and where you can, when and where you should. And if you're just not too sure whether you should slip into drive just yet, take it easy and try first gear for now. Slow down. Maybe even wait a while longer.