When the rules change

April 29, 2010 1:47:01 PM PDT
How to put the horse back in the barn? That's the conundrum facing news organizations throughout the area tonight. The lone survivor of those execution-style killings on a schoolyard in Newark is testifying in the trial of one of five defendants charged with the murders.

We have identified the woman before: She is a witness, a victim, and the sister of one of the murdered victims.

But today in court, the judge ordered cameras out of the courtroom because, it turns out, in addition to getting robbed and shot and seeing her friends and sibling gunned down, she was sexually assaulted.

So now, we won't name her or show her face. The "rule" for rape victims is that we don't identify them, unless the circumstances are extraordinary and unless they agree to it. It makes sense, and I get it. In a perfect world, victims of sexual assault would be viewed just like any other crime victim; there wouldn't be any shame attached to it, rape suspects' lawyers wouldn't have free reign to try to make the victim the criminal, and there would be no voodoo stereotypes or shadows cast upon the victims.

But we don't live in a perfect world.

We can debate the merits of this hide-their-identity "rule," and in fact I'd love to hear your comments. CLICK HERE if you'd like your views "printed" in this column tomorrow.

But this debate aside, does abiding by the "rule" suddenly wipe out all the prior news coverage? Of course not. It's easy enough to Google this young woman's name and find her picture and all the sordid details of the brutal murders. What you won't find is any mention of the sexual assault. Until today, when it was disclosed. And when the rules changed in how to cover her.

We'll have the latest on the trial, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, a radical proposal tonight from the principal of a middle school in our area: He wants all parents at his school to confiscate their kids' electronic gadgets, insist they sign-off, permanently, from all social networking sites, randomly check cell phone texts, and install parental control software on computers.

In a letter he wrote to parents, he says unabashedly that "there is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site!"

If you have kids, there's got to be a part of you that agrees with this. And yet, it's how kids communicate these days, and, to borrow a phrase that started off this column, how do you put the horse back in the barn?

Still, some parent controls over electronic gadgets wouldn't be a bad thing. Tonight at 11, we'll have reaction and the tips the principal is offering to parents to help them get control over their kids' electronics. Jen Maxfield is on it for us.

We're also following developments in the potential crisis that was averted on the subways, when a train operator suffered an apparent heart attack as he was driving a Brooklyn-bound G-train out of Long Island City in Queens. The attack killed him - but 50-year-old Domenick Occhiogrosso had his wits about him, and he pulled the so-called "dead man's switch," which brought the train to a stop, rather than continue on, gaining speed. How it would have stopped is anyone's guess, and most peoples' nightmare.

I'm wearing my subway-token cufflinks tonight, in tribute to Mr. Occhiogrosso. Who knows how many people he saved today? And we remember him tonight.

We're also taking a closer look at the new tarmac rules - that go into effect tomorrow - that limit the time airplanes can wait with passengers on board, without taking off. At JFK, the three largest carriers tried, unsuccessfully, to get an exemption from the rule. JetBlue, American and Delta argued that they shouldn't be held accountable for runway delays caused by JFK's huge construction projects.

The new rule carries stiff penalties: For every flight held on the tarmac more than 3 hours, airlines would be fined $27,500 per passenger. Jeff Pegues is on the story for us, tonight at 11.

I take my kids to school every day. I think they like it - getting driven to school rather than hope on the city bus.

Or maybe it's just me trying to hold on to them.

After all, they do ask to take the bus some days, so they can hang with their friends. And, truth be told, except on extremely rainy days and at their request, I drop them off some distance from campus, lest they be seen getting out of their dad's car.

All of which is a personal prelude to describing our story tonight about school buses. When you drive during the school commute, it's impossible to avoid the yellow buses - and impossible to avoid those red stop signs that shoot out. The law is that drivers on both sides of the street have to stop. It's a bit counter intuitive, because the door opens to the curbside, which leads to the school. So why would the car coming the other direction have to stop?

Because kids can dart the wrong way, that's why. And so we're supposed to stop.

(I do, although this morning my 17 year old daughter informed me that a stop sign swung out before our car fully passed the bus, so, technically, she said, I had broken the law. I was going about 5 miles an hour because the bus ahead had put out its stop sign, so while I didn't argue - who can argue with a 17 year old? - I felt pretty secure in my safe-driving record.)

But it turns out, many people do not stop. Tonight, our education reporter Art McFarland hits the streets to see who does and who doesn't stop, and what police are doing about it.

Finally, I have a friend who is so disgusted by politicians and government that at the bottom of his email he includes this diatribe: "STOP ORGANIZED CRIME - DEFEAT ALL INCUMBENTS."

An extreme solution in most eras, but not in this one. In fact, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released today shows that support for incumbents in general is at its lowest point since 1994. Nearly six in 10 people polled say they will not vote to re-elect their Congressional rep or Senator this fall, and will instead look to elect a new candidate.

Should be an interesting fall election season.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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