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Shaka Con

Posted 7/23/2003

Not even one mention of the family and friends of Shaka N'Zinga's victim! This is very bad journalism, City Paper ("Disjointed," July 9). Nothing but the vivid and trashy description of this horrid torture, rape, and killing, and the callousness to reprint some "anarchist" logic that this killer was really "in the same boat" in society as his victim. This woman was garroted and raped to death in her own apartment, and you treat this as a small, yet salacious, detail. If you and your staff or anyone you knew were in the same boat as Jean Wantland, would you even tolerate this? Were you awake when you edited this article?

Come on, City Paper! How did your writers and editors fall for all this self-pitying that N'Zinga and his pie-eyed advocates speak, all the "humiliations I've had to endure" from "their sadism"? Then the simple comparisons of this rapist even to God, how he's "the word made . . . flesh," who has some right to "forgive" those who put him away, those who are, as the cliché goes, "the blue-eyed devil." Yawn.

Maybe the reason his prison moved the drug dealers and prostitution from it was not a political maneuver, but because these things are, well, crimes, and not well known to help those in prison get over criminal life?

Hip as you are, City Paper, you fall for a con easily. It's not like N'Zinga has vigorously defended his innocence at any time, not for long anyway, not without taking it back right away, as the article expressed. Add to that his writing is almost as shallow as author Blake de Pastino's.

But thanks for the photos: N'Zinga does have cool hair! I guess you think that's hip and all. Gee, it sure makes having a conscience and talent seem soooo unnecessary.

Unlike his anonymous defenders, I will sign off here giving my last name:

Erik Kestler

Shame on City Paper for even publishing the story of Arthur Wiggins, aka Shaka N'Zinga, as a story of triumph. The man learned to read and pen a few bad lines behind bars because he raped and killed an 18-year-old girl for the pleasure of the act. I find it hard to believe his innocence in light of the facts surrounding the case, and I think City Paper should consider this before lauding a violent criminal who happens to have the brains to make a later attempt to make amends. Did City Paper contact strangled Jean Wantland's family before publishing this laudatory piece?

Here's my own poetic offering:

"La La Boo Hoo"
That's all the City Paper
can do for you.
Go to bed hugging your .22.
Wait for Shaka to bust in your door,
choke you with a bed sheet,
throw you to the floor.
If that's all you're worth
when the man pens his verse,
then hug your .22
close to you.
Wake up tomorrow and
buy a .38;
carry it in your purse and
when you stay up late,
if Shaka and his friends
show up at your door,
give them lead.
Give them lead.
Let the real writers write
and the potentials go dead.
Is that what the City Paper
wants you to do
when it loves killers like family
and can't spare love for you?
Then look out for yourselves, ladies--
Buy a .22, a .38, a .44,
and when Shaka comes to your door
before he learns to read,
put a bead in his head
and keep on breathin'.
Enough said?

Tanya Evans

Guts and Glory

City Paper has always been kind to Ben Valis, honoring him with two "Best of Baltimore" awards in the past ("Youth Gone Mild," July 16). Since the Small Intestine was not an official "business," it could not take advantage of CP listings. Ben devoted countless hours to booking bands, and then "flyering the show," creating imaginative fliers for each show and spreading hundreds of them all over town, week in and week out. It really was a full-time job.

Despite his best efforts to expose Baltimore youth to the newest, freshest bands in the country, there were many nights when there were only a handful of Small Intestine hard-core regulars in attendance. Ben was always there. He devoted his youth to music with a passion and zeal seldom seen. That is when the Small Intestine changed into a venue that was more important as a weigh station along the emo-punk Underground Railroad. It was a place for bands to take a break from grueling cross-country trips in old, hot, dilapidated vans and rest and play music. That is what it was all about.

As an adult who was there often, I was most impressed by the kids who played there. Punk rock denotes certain stereotypes of snarling, foul-mouthed malcontents hellbent on destruction. Nothing was further from the truth. These kids were polite, intelligent, creative, and grateful for the opportunity to perform. They looked out for each other. Often the band in the direst financial situation got the biggest cut of the door. The Dismemberment Plan often played for gas money so a bunch of kids from somewhere else could keep on touring for at least another week. There was energy to that community that was inspiring.

The thing I will always remember is how hot that place got. The windows did not open, and there was no air conditioning. Ben would keep the door closed because he wanted to remain under the radar of the local residents and police. He didn't want it to be loud, and he strictly enforced a straight-edge no alcohol, no drugs policy. The only ventilation was his great-grandmother's old Kenmore window fan in the transom above the door. Once a drummer passed out in the middle of a show from the heat. The mix of condensation from the humidity and the sweat of the kids literally left a half-inch of moisture on the floor. It smelled awful, and after awhile that scent permeated the Small Intestine. Every time I walked in the door, I would think to myself, Now that smells like teen spirit.

Ben's vision and dedication to the city's music scene has certainly been noteworthy. As his father, I am proud of his accomplishments and I will miss him dearly.

Jim Valis
Odessa, Del.

Bad Hair Daze

It appears that with a bit of help from City Paper, the Baltimore City School Board has intensified the scope of its education mission (Mobtown Beat, July 16). It is currently teaching:

a) the public that unnatural hair color is reason enough to "leave a child behind" (unless, of course, the unnaturalness occurs among members of a favored race);

b) its principals and vice-principals that breaking the rules is OK, especially if you simultaneously lie about it, claiming that you are implementing the rules;

c) parents of school kids that their ideas of appropriate dress for their children are irrelevant to arbitrary "Big Brother" bureaucrats; and

d) eighth-grade pupils that a principal's power corrupts and that petty power corrupts just as readily as absolute power.

We trust that rational school board members will see that these are not lessons they wish to impart to pupils, parents, principals, and the public. We suggest a Mikado-esque solution: 1) The five young people should be invited to a school board meeting at which board members, publicly and with solemn ceremony, grant the students their diplomas and the board's congratulations; and 2) Principal Anthony Barnes and Vice Principal Barbara Harahan should be prohibited from attending the next graduation ceremony at their school.

Barbara and Rick Gilmour

P.S. We offer our personal congratulations to Amanda Becraft, Skye Blair, Samantha Szukiewicz, and the two other uncelebrated eighth-graders upon their graduation. May their hair always be the color they want it to be!

Damn! Reading the article about Hamilton Elementary-Middle School eighth-graders who were excluded from graduation ceremonies made me hair hoppin' mad! What year is this? What musical, based on a John Waters' film, won all the Tony Awards this year? And wasn't Hairspray about injustices that were practiced in the last century?

What has Principal Anthony Barnes taught us? Is his lesson that school is not the place to explore creativity or find your own identity? Or is it that we shouldn't hate folks for the color of their skin, but it's OK to hate them for the color of their hair? Or did he mean that scholarship is not as important as following the rules? In this case the rules were incorrectly interpreted, which begs a higher level of scholarship on the part of the schools' administration.

It's time for Principal Barnes to learn the lesson of humility and admit he made a mistake. It's never too late to learn is it?

Alix Tobey Southwick

The article "Talking a Blue Streak" by Tori Woods left me feeling incensed beyond imagination. This was in regards to several teenagers being excluded from their graduation ceremony at Hamilton Elementary-Middle School for apparently little else than having hair of a nonconforming color. Victor Wilson, the father of one of these teenagers, reacted in a far better fashion than I would have in his position, and I hope he continues to pursue action through appropriate channels, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

Thirteen years ago, when such hairstyles were, if anything, less acceptable, I graduated from elementary/middle school as valedictorian, and four years later my hair had grown to my shoulders and was five different colors at once, with both ears pierced and a fresh tattoo. College, understandably, brought further experimentation, which continues to this day in my professional setting. Each time, I walked away with multiple honors, such as twice receiving the American Legion School Award (celebrating such "All-American" qualities as courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship, and service).

To suggest that such self-expression (particularly in as mild a form as described in the article) impacts the formality of such an event as graduation is ludicrous. These events are a celebration for the recipient and their mentors (primarily parents and teachers), and while it's understandable that violations of school conduct may prohibit participation, a blue streak hardly cuts it. Samantha Szukiewicz is an honor student with (can you believe it?) an interest in science. School administrations should be kissing the ass of every honor-roll student, who by his or her very academic performance enhances the tarnished image of a damaged, if not broken, public-school system. Instead, it seems easier for the likes of (those-who-can't-teach-administrate) Anthony Barnes to set Samantha up as an example for other kids. The precedent he sets says that it doesn't matter if you come to school, get good grades, and stay out of any serious trouble. If you dare practice self-expression and nonconformity, you will be punished. Nice job, Mr. Barnes.

What I commend is the fact that, despite six days notice, Samantha (and/or her family) refused to conform to the mandate requiring a change of color. I am pleased to see that Miss Szukiewicz maintained her own true colors. With academic performance as described and this kind of tenacity demonstrated, we can expect great things from her.

Here's an assignment for the entire graduating class of Hamilton: Spend part of your summer reading a little piece of literature called Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. Samantha, you are excused. You have already gleamed (and practiced) the major theme of this work.

Marc-Oliver Wright

Long-haul Bob

In the "Fleeting Keating" section of Ballot Stuffing, we are informed "Ballot bookies are taking extremely high odds that [A. Robert] Kaufman, like [Anton J.S.] Keating, will bail" (Ballot Stuffing, July 9).

Take me to your "bookie," because I'm prepared to mortgage the hacienda to take on that bet.

Where does your writer come up with such a weird prediction? Has Kaufman developed a reputation of running away from a fight?

Put you money where your mouth is, anonymous writer--and turn over your bookie.

A. Robert Kaufman

The writer is (still) a candidate for mayor.

Mr. Smith Returns to Baltimore

I read your last two issues in reverse order, so I was disappointed at the inexplicable addition of Russ Smith's simultaneously warmed over and half-baked Gregory Kane-lite Right Field, viewing it as a lame attempt at joining the current herd mentality among papers to have a "conservative" column.

Having now seen the reason behind the column, I wish to offer you my congratulations on how far you have progressed and how much you have left behind your amateurish roots.

J. Newport


As the songwriter for the play Ella's Song, I wrote a letter to City Paper that cataloged the numerous factual errors and outright misrepresentations in Gadi Dechter's review of that play (Stage, July 2). However, since the list (which went well beyond the offensive "real Jew" comment mentioned by other writers to the editor) exceeded the maximum length for published letters, the public did not get a chance to see just how distorted the review really was. So, to just put in a final word on this sophomoric review, which has already gotten more ink than it deserves, let me make one observation. I don't know if Dechter's review cost us any audience in the days immediately following its publication. However, by the final weekend of the run, word-of-mouth advertising about the play provided us with standing-room-only audiences and standing ovations. In a question-and-answer period following the final performance, we heard moving comments from many people about how the play had deeply affected them and got requests for an extended run.

When I read Dechter's willfully inaccurate review I considered him to be an irresponsible journalist. In the wake of the play's successful run I am now very satisfied to know that he is also quite fittingly irrelevant. I suspect that the hundreds of folks who saw the show and read Dechter's review won't be reading him or taking him seriously anymore. Perhaps his employers should keep that in mind.

Jim Emberger

Correction: Sun sports columnist Laura Vecsey was misidentified as Susan Vecsey in last week's Right Field column (www. citypaper. com/2003-07-16/right.html). City Paper regrets the error.

Also, it was WJZ-TV (channel 13), not WBAL-TV (channel 11), that broadcast its morning show from Porters Coffee House, as mistakenly reported in last week's Cheap Eats. Sorry about that.

Editor's note: Charmed Life is taking a week off and will return next week, as will DVD & Conquer.

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