GOODBYE, 2017

BY DIANE DIMOND

Terror attacks on American soil, mass murders in church, widespread serial sexual assaults, unwarranted police shootings, continued gang activity in major cities, nationwide political schisms — 2017 news headlines were both frightening and disheartening. Will 2018 be any better?

The truth is it depends on us — all of us.

First, to restore respect among citizens, politicians need to draw on their better instincts, ignore pressure from their party leadership and stop with all the political potshots. They do no good and only tear at the fabric of government. Politicians at every level — local, state and federal — need to concentrate on the job and pledge to take actions for the good of the country, not their political party.

Sheriffs, police chiefs and all law enforcement leaders should demand more  of  and for their officers. They should insist on better training in anger management, mediation and conflict resolution because teaching an officer ways to respect all citizens and keep the peace in lieu of reaching for their weapon is a win-win for everyone involved. Standing by a good officer is admirable; protecting a bad officer is not.

Judges, lawyers and employees of the criminal justice system need to remember that compassion really does have a place in their work, especially when dealing with guardianship of the elderly or issues involving children. Uncaring or unfair treatment leads to growing citizen mistrust of the system, as does uneven application of the law.

Prison wardens must maintain discipline, for sure. But the dehumanizing conditions in some facilities are shameful. Guards who rape, employees who threaten visitors and those who provide deliberately inadequate meals or medical attention for inmates are disgraceful. Ice-cold cells in winter and oven-hot cells in summer are akin to torture. Serving hard time is difficult enough. Making every day a struggle to survive only serves to make inmates more antisocial upon their release. That’s a no-win for everyone.

Lawful gun owners must make sure to safely store and protect all their firearms to make sure criminals — or, God forbid, children — can’t get at them.

The families of gang members need to try to convince their loved ones there is a better path in life, urge them to help sweep out the neighborhood’s criminal element and turn guns over to the nearest police precinct. While this may sound impossible, it is not. Who better to talk sense into a bad kid than a concerned parent or a loving relative?

Mental health experts must band together and protest until they are blue in the face to get the necessary funding for more treatment centers and psychiatric beds. Mass shooters and homegrown terrorists who turn their wrath on innocents just to see how many people they can kill rarely act on impulse. They live and work among us and display their unbalanced discontent in all sorts of ways. When we fail to help them, society pays a morbid price. Think of the outdoor concert attack in Las Vegas, the massacre at First Baptist church in Southerland Springs, Texas, or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Men and women across this country need to reassess their sexual attitudes and behavior toward one another. Everyone needs to keep their hands and suggestive thoughts to themselves until they are sure there is genuine interest from the other person. If men who grab, squeeze and demean women haven’t already gotten the message, they’d better get it fast. And women should realize the current dialogue now imbues them with the power and responsibility to stop sexual harassment and assault dead in their tracks. Standing up for oneself doesn’t mean running to a lawyer. It means forcefully saying, “Back off — now!”

Special interest groups with a duty to speak up for their constituents must realize the whole world doesn’t revolve around their particular needs. They are only one square on America’s quilt of needs.

Organizations demanding automatic diversity, racial harmony and acceptance of alternative lifestyles need to realize change happens incrementally, not overnight. And change forced down the throats of others is really no change at all.

Those on the right, the left and the fringes have to stop vilifying others’ points of view, be they political, intellectual, spiritual or otherwise. It may seem foreign to some (say, those on college campuses), but this country was founded on the basis of tolerance and the right to freedom of thought and speech. Those must remain at the forefront of our national attitude.

It all really boils down to respect for others: their choices, their opinions, their bodies and the way they live their lives. If they aren’t hurting others or committing a crime, tolerance should be the key.

If we could only move the needle a bit on these issues — if everyone would work to improve their own little corner of the world — we could truly make 2018 a better year.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net