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Prisoner(s) of Fear

Posted 8/15/2007

I'm so thrilled that Chris Landers and City Paper have explored the injustice facing Kenny Barnes ("The Boogeyman of Roland Park," Feature, Aug. 8). Kenny lived downstairs from me for nearly two years in Towson. He is so nonconfrontational and scatterbrained that he would say anything to avoid doing time, including admitting to something that he didn't do. He's one of those people that gets taken advantage of because of his need for friends. He was always extremely generous and polite. He may be weird, eager to please, and too "chatty," but I don't think that warrants such injustice by the community to scrutinize his presence in any public place, or the justice system for incarcerating a mentally ill person that never did anything except be weird (which many mentally ill people do).

Brian Truax

My response to Chris Landers' terrific exposť is primarily directed to the concerned parents that were profiled in the article. While I can't be sure that the parents were profiled fairly, I have seen firsthand the kind of witch-hunt mentality that is triggered by the sex-offender registry. What parents fail to see is the harm they do to their own children in the name of protection. One child's reaction to the fear-mongering was illustrated in the article. That poor child is walking around in the kind of fear that accompanies victimization and she hasn't been victimized. Living in that kind of fear interferes with a person's happiness. There is a balance that can be struck that is reasonably protective and does not leave one in fear.

I have many problems with the sex-offender registry. It's a bit like the death penalty without the advantage of eternal sleep to bring peace to the offender. It demonizes and ostracizes otherwise free persons and lulls citizens into the false sense that there is some measure of control over the potential for a traumatic encounter with a predator. People on the list, whether truly guilty or not, have no place to go but down. In that predicament, whether a perpetrator or not, they become more dangerous to society than if we did not emblazon them thusly. I believe that those who believe in the power of the registry who discover a registrant in their midst become uncivilized. It feels like old times when pillories, stake burnings, and other public humiliations are being practiced again. It's not society at its best. I might feel differently if I thought this behavior resulted in some kind of actual protection, but the fact of the matter is that whether we have a registry or not, people will be hurt by other people. Having a registry just increases the pain and fear for all concerned and won't make us any safer.

As a parent, a survivor, and a mental-health professional, I've found that the best protection for my children is to develop a strong relationship to the truth. The truth I hold most dear is the knowledge that I seldom know the full truth about anything. Most people seem to believe they know the truth. I believe that truth is a rare and elusive thing. Thinking they know the truth may be the most common error people make.

Coping with not knowing the truth is not easy, but it's far from impossible. I've acknowledged that bad things can happen to me; at the same time, I take reasonable care to protect myself. I've survived all the bad things I've experienced and was fortunate to find a way to come away a better person. Coping with the dangers in the world by depriving the mentally ill of their constitutional protections makes us the demons and brings more unhappiness than any of us deserve. May some wise judge re-examine the case of Kenneth Barnes and set him free.

Jan Caughlan

Save the Mechanic

Thank you for reporting about the fate of the Mechanic Theatre ("The Brutal Truth," Arts & Entertainment, Aug. 8).

The article basically seems to be concerned with the look of the theater and not necessarily its place in Baltimore's theater history and its legacy. This is an architectural site whose sum is more than its parts and exterior design.

There seems to be a need for voices from the arts community and preservationists to be involved in this debate and why the Mechanic Theatre's "landmark" status has merit. There are smaller theatrical venues that can work at this site and could also be put to multipurpose use for the arts and art organizations. If the Mechanic Theatre goes, we lose another theater in Baltimore and with it its history, legacy, and potential for the future.

The Hippodrome works for larger shows, but isn't there a rationale for a smaller theater that could be for more intimate venues that are traveling or community-based?

It is my hope the community will see the Mechanic as a place worth saving and repairing so it can continue to serve our community as a theater--not a parking lot.

Harriet Lynn

City Paper and The Paper

Congratulations on reaching your 30th anniversary, and a pause for me to think that your paper is older (30th Anniversary edition, Aug. 1). Then, my memory goes back to a time which must have been the late '60s or early '70s when I participated in a television commercial for The Paper. The Paper was an attempt at an alternative paper in Baltimore, but I don't think it lasted more than nine months--if that. The offices, as I remember, were probably on Howard Street, somewhere around 25th Street. The TV commercial was very good and put together by professionals around town donating their time and skills. The Paper had trouble building a cadre of advertisers. When City Paper first came out, I thought it was a reincarnation of The Paper, and that, possibly, some of the writing staff was around from the earlier product. I would be interested to know if this was so.

I enjoy City Paper and remember two of the classic articles that you have just reprinted. The only other City Paper I have viewed is the one pushed out in Rochester, N.Y., and that is laughable and anemic compared to the Charm City printing.

Donald T. Hart

Bob on Bob

I deeply appreciate the kind (and, I might add, well-deserved) words Blaine Taylor lavished upon me ("Early Endorsement," The Mail, Aug. 1).

But it has never been my intention to keep "all us 'real,' and conventional politicians honest." Firstly because that would be a Sisyphean job. It simply can't be done. Not that "conventional politicians" are by nature psychopaths (well, not all of them anyway), but they operate in a system that, by any honest assessment, is psychopathic. It even has a name: "capitalism." In order to get themselves elected, they kiss up to the fat cats who finance the major portion of their campaigns. When it comes to legislation and executive decisions, the anti-social swine who pay the fiddler call the tune.

How else to explain the growing poverty--which breeds the atrocious rates of murder, illiteracy, addiction, filthy air, Nazi-like imperialist foreign policy, and gradual immersion of middle-income families--in the richest country in the history of the world?

Teaching morality to the devil and his minions is a complete waste of time.

I'm not interested in making our ruling class merely "uncomfortable," when political disembowelment is what is called for. I struggle to help the 95 percent of American families that collectively own less wealth than the top 1 percent, unite our potentially overwhelming political superiority to take back our country, and run America, for the first time, of, by, and for the American people--not the international corporations.

A. Robert Kaufman

The writer is a Democratic candidate for mayor of Baltimore.

Michael on Bob

Brian Morton's July 25 column (Political Animal) is abysmal. It addresses the current mayoral race in the most cursory way, with hardly an examination of where the candidates stand on the issues. In particular, Morton takes pointless cheap shots at veteran social activist A. Robert Kaufman.

After listing the "major" (i.e., well-financed by the rich) candidates, Morton writes, "And getting down deep into the weeds, we've got A. Robert Kaufman." Why such a snide attitude toward a person of Bob's integrity, who has been fighting the good fight for the last 60 years?

If Morton bothered to read and analyze Bob's platform, he'd probably agree with most of it. If Morton disagrees with something in the platform, he should let Bob and his readers know about it. And if there's some creative or innovative ideas that Kaufman is presenting, then they should be analyzed and put before the public. Why does Morton personalize and dismiss the messenger without even reading the message?

Morton later writes, "I always wonder about the motives of people who constantly run for office yet don't have a chance at winning." The great American socialist and working-class hero Eugene Debs once said, "We are in politics not to get votes, but to develop the power to emancipate the working class." Kaufman is continuing that fight today. What fault does Morton have with that?

Further on Morton writes, "Yet, I understand why Kaufman runs--he's a True Believer." What in the heck does that mean? A true believer in what? Justice? Mercy? Democracy? Socialism? I'm sure Bob would plead guilty to all of that.

Morton then writes, "People like Kaufman have ideals, and insist on banging their heads against the system to give their viewpoints an airing in the marketplace despite their chances of being heard growing more remote with each successive attempt." Columnists like Morton aren't helping Bob's chances of getting heard. Why isn't he encouraging "idealism" as opposed to denigrating it? Why is it that the far more conservative Sun columnist Gregory Kane is more just and honest in representing what Bob does and says?

As to banging his head against the system, Bob banged and banged starting when he was 16, picketing Ford's Theater for seven years until they finally ended their racial discrimination; as a founding member of Congress of Racial Equality, he banged until he succeeded in helping to integrate the five-and-dimes, Read's drugstore chain, and the White Coffee Pot restaurant chain; as a member of the Civic Interest Group, he banged until he helped to integrate the Eastern Shore and Route 40. And was he banging his head against the system pointlessly when he was instrumental in organizing the first anti-Vietnam War march and the first rally against that war in Baltimore?

This is not the first time Morton has snidely dismissed Kaufman without analyzing what issues and solutions he is trying to put before the public. I guess The Sun and the rest of the bourgeois press don't do that enough to satisfy Morton.

Michael Melick

The writer is the mayoral campaign manager for A. Robert Kaufman.

Correction: The Count, our weekly Campaign Beat column on money in the mayor's race, has miscounted a bit. There were nine official Democratic candidates in the mayoral primary at the outset, but since Desiree Dodson withdrew March 19, there have been eight. The Count referred to nine candidates a total of three times over the course of three weeks.

Last week's feature on convicted sex offender Kenneth Barnes ("The Boogeyman of Roland Park," Aug. 8) reported that Barnes' father died when he was a boy; in fact, he died when Barnes was in his 20s.

Our Mobtown Beat story about Sandi's Learning Center ("Handled With Care," Aug. 8) erroneously reported that drug dealers worked "four houses down" from the center. While the reporter was approached by young men apparently selling drugs on that block, he did not mean to imply that any specific address was or is the source of the drugs or the home of the dealers. City Paper regrets the errors.

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