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Taped Interview Bill Requires Nothing

Posted 8/6/2008

I always appreciate the amount of research that goes into a City Paper cover story. Your dedication to the facts is no small feat, especially for a free weekly.

This was again the case as I read Van Smith's heartbreaking article about Ronald Hinton and Ja'niya Williams ("Puzzling Evidence," Feature, July 30). However, while the piece inundates the reader with a wealth of information, I feel it necessary to correct at least one statement I know to be faulty.

Mr. Smith references a "law that passed in Maryland's 2008 General Assembly session requiring police to videotape all aspects of interviews with suspects in murder and sexual-assault cases" (emphasis added). While that was the original intent of Senate Bill 76/House Bill 6 (2008), the final version turned out quite different.

As introduced, the bill established, among other things, sanctions for failure to record custodial interrogations. This was strongly opposed by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP), the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association, and the Maryland State Police--to name just a few. The bill was heavily amended and GOCCP committed $1 million over the next two years to building properly equipped interrogation rooms. The bill provides that it is the public policy of the state that law enforcement "shall make reasonable efforts" to record interrogations of a criminal suspect in a murder, rape, or first- or second-degree sexual assault case "whenever possible" (emphasis added).

I am sure this was merely an oversight and I look forward to more quality reporting in the future.

G. Dan Martin

Van Smith responds: City Paper had previously reported that the new law is toothless, as Mr. Martin suggests, because interviews that are not videotaped remain allowable as evidence at trial ("Roll the Tape," Quick and Dirty, April 16). Regrettably, that detail was omitted when describing the new law in "Puzzling Evidence."

Puzzling, and Definitely Not Positive

Its good to see that City Paper has revealed its aegis, specifically by featuring two stories exposing "butt-naked" challenges facing the black community here in Baltimore: "Thinking Positive" (Feature, July 23) and "Puzzling Evidence."

After reading "Thinking Positive," I understand why and how sexual molestation is destroying the black woman and black family, and why HIV infections are rampant in Baltimore City despite outreach (one in seven black males, one in 10 black females reportedly are positive in the city). Sexual molestation is breaking the spirit, reasoning, and self-esteem of children everywhere. Why is the black community content in watching/listening to women being defiled in the programming we support, while passively explaining away the sexual molestation of our children?

Although "Puzzling Evidence" (about the brutal rape and murder of Ja'niya Williams, and subsequent admission from "cousin" Ronald Hinton) lent itself to exposing inconsistencies in the Baltimore Police Department, I was more alarmed by the dramatic examples of the vanishing black family/community structure and oversight that caused poor Ja'niya's death.

Gangs are attracting youths. Baltimore City public schools need 500-plus courageous volunteers this year to handle the children (after just letting go 1,000-plus uncertified classroom teachers this summer, by the way--watch out, YouTube). With such pathetic parents raising horrible children, the children may as well be on their own.

The "taboo" topic of families (especially black families) not protecting their children from sexual molestation is one that needs to be discussed. Forget a "Hip-Hop Summit," we need a "Protect Your Children From Being Sexually Molested" summit. After all, one in four girls, and one in six boys will be sexually molested at some time during childhood; we pretend that this isn't happening, strangely enough. It's 6 p.m.--where are your children right now?

Billy Wilkins

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