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Kid Stuff

Posted 2/13/2002

As an attorney defending juveniles for nearly 10 years, I applaud City Paper for exposing some of the many failures of our state's juvenile-justice system ("Shackled," Jan. 30 and and Feb. 6). The very future of Baltimore City is being washed through like water under the dam. I have had clients whom Department of Juvenile Justice workers would repeatedly forget to bring to court; clients who were refused vital medications while detained; clients who were thrown back into the homes of their criminal and abusive parents, simply because that was the easiest thing to do (no forms needed to be filled out). If there are people who can't sympathize with a "troublemaker"-type child, consider this: I have represented many children who were gifted poets, artists, athletes, scientists, and musicians. They were also ignored by the system, left to flounder about without support or attention. Citizens of all political persuasions and social positions should be outraged at the time bomb that is ticking.

Tamar Alexia Fleishman
Baltimore

Two exaggerated misconceptions must be dispelled in the second part of Molly Rath's series "Shackled."

First, despite the use of the loaded phrase "sexually assaulted" repeatedly in the story, 11-year-old "Bernard Smith" never forcibly raped or sodomized his 4-year-old niece. Although it would be a disservice to this young girl to minimize what occurred, it was also a disservice to Bernard to invite speculation about more heinous offenses. The case was horribly overcharged from the onset, and this is precisely why all sides agreed to a misdemeanor charge. Today, the little girl is delightful and well adjusted, and the two other boys involved in the incident are thriving children too. Unlike Bernard, these boys never had charges filed against them and never had to endure victimization and institutionalization by the Department of Juvenile Justice. It begs the question whether Bernard would have been better off if DJJ had never gotten its clutches on him.

Second, "Beverly Jones" is not a hapless and ignorant parent. Yes, it is true that DJJ both kept her from participating in many decisions and kept many decisions from her. When I met Beverly in the fall of 2000 and became her partner advocate, she was worn and weary but not defeated. With a healthy dose of respect, absent from any of her relationships with DJJ or the Public Defender's Office, Beverly became informed and empowered. She has become not only her son's best advocate, but an advocate for other families as a coordinator for Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative and Resources (JJ FAIR). In December, she was one of three parents to try to deliver a life-size holiday card and message to DJJ Secretary Bishop Robinson. Beverly spoke forcefully and eloquently when he refused to receive the parents. After Bernard was assaulted by a Cheltenham Youth Facility staff member, requiring stitches to his face, Beverly phoned DJJ Assistant Secretary Rudy Adams and got her son out of Cheltenham within two days, and three days after that into the Betrell Academy program. This was possible because she had already initiated interviews between Bernard and the program. Even after taking care of her son, she continued to call Adams demanding to know what DJJ was going to do with the offending staff member. Adams said he was fired and that DJJ would stand behind a prosecution. Despite Rath's inaccurate portrayal, Bernard did go cooperatively to his room, and Adams understood there was no excuse or provocation for the violence inflicted on Bernard.

All of these facts were well known to Rath, yet she chose to write a story that needlessly sensationalized the actions committed by Bernard and ignored the strong and inspiring role of his mother. Assistant Secretary Adams put it best when he admired Beverly's tenacity and commented that he wished "there were more moms like her." Beverly and JJ FAIR readily agree and are working to make it so. We hope City Paper will report on this positive work in the future.

Stacey Gurian-Sherman
Program coordinator, Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative and Resources

Takoma Park

Molly Rath responds: The article never stated that Bernard forcibly raped or sodomized his niece, and it repeatedly made the point that Bernard's treatment by DJJ, at every step of the way, was inconsistent with his ultimate conviction of a minor offense. Bernard was treated by the juvenile-justice system not as the child in need of services that he was but as a dangerous criminal.

While the article reported that Beverly Jones was often not apprised by DJJ of her son's whereabouts, it did not suggest that she was a hapless and ignorant parent. To the contrary, her own quotes throughout the story show that she is very much aware of what is--and what should be--happening with her son's case, even if she has not always been kept informed by the Department of Juvenile Justice. Her advocacy on Bernard's behalf is indeed admirable, particularly in regard to his rapid placement in a community-based program after the incident at Cheltenham, where he had been stuck for months awaiting such a placement.

However, the larger purpose of the article was not to show the merits of parental advocacy vis-à-vis DJJ. It was to show, through the prism of one youth's experience, the ineptitude and failure of DJJ to meet the needs of so many of its charges, and the long-term impact of that failure on individual lives and families.

Fear Factor
In a recent column, Michael Anft points out that "very few news organizations have questioned why the White House's definition of 'terrorist' is incredibly broad yet hasn't been elastic enough to include allies that either act as terrorists within their borders, such as Israel, or others who harbor anti-American exports, such as Egypt" (Media Circus, Jan. 30). Indeed, not only has the mainstream media failed to point that out; it hasn't mentioned that the United States harbors alleged terrorists on its own (e.g., Haiti's Emmanuel Constant) as well as people wanted by international courts of law (e.g., Henry Kissinger, who was nearly subpoenaed by France last year).

Anft mentions the activists who have been petitioning Maryland Public Television to air programming (such as The Good War, about conscientious objectors during World War II) that inspires public participation and debate. However, Anft refers to them as "Baltimore anti-war types," which denies them both a name and a sense of purpose. The protest he is referring to was put on by the Baltimore Anti-War Coalition. I'm a member. In addition to the MPT demonstration, we marched during the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, and we will be demonstrating on Feb. 20 at 5 p.m. on the 28th Street bridge over the JFX.

The Baltimore Anti-War Coalition opposes terrorism and supports international law. I am personally participating with the group out of revulsion over the continued bombing of Afghanistan that has now caused more civilian deaths than perished on Sept. 11. In addition, I'm strongly opposed to the saber-rattling from the Bush administration and threats of more militarism to come (even against states that have no connection with Sept. 11). I also believe the upcoming military buildup (to $400 billion annually) to be a form of social suicide and a great peril to the world. People interested in learning more about the Baltimore Anti-War Coalition can meet us on the 28th Street bridge on Feb. 20 or contact Max Obuszewski ([410] 323-7200 or MObuszewski@afsc.org) for further information.

Scott Loughrey
Baltimore

Now that Michael Anft has published that Israelis are terrorists, why don't you come out with the headline "Jews Use Christian Child Blood to Make Matzo"? And while you are at it, why don't you change the name of your paper to Der Voelkisher Beobachter?

Leonard Kerpelman
Baltimore

Michael Anft responds: I never said Israelis were terrorists. The Israeli government, under Ariel Sharon, is another matter, particularly when it comes to its treatment of its fellow Semites in the Occupied Territories.

Flame Wars
The column "Memorial Daze" by Wiley Hall III (Urban Rhythms, Jan. 23) most definitely hits the mark. Perhaps the protest by the white firefighters over the proposed multiethnic memorial honoring the 343 firemen who died is a good one. Perhaps it overtly reveals some of the particularisms the World Trade Center was attacked for--ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and an arrogant display of power.

Conal Rose
Baltimore

Ebony and Ivory
Wiley Hall III's "Color Blind" column gave kudos to a relatively poor white woman who lives and works in Baltimore city and who has been "treated with absolutely no respect or regard when in a store, a line, a bus, any public group" (Urban Rhythms, Jan. 2). The tears of a white woman always deflate the balls of black men.

I am an Afrocentric feminist who is definitely poor. I do not expect to receive any kudos from Wiley Hall because I know that racism is in Baltimore City and every space in America that is under the falsehood of the "We the people" Constitution of this assumed democracy.

Most white folks can kiss my grits for telling you this truth: The majority of white folks in America dislike living near, working, socializing, or churching with blue-black, dark-complexioned African-Americans in urban areas. In my opinion, urban areas are perceived as jungles. African animals live in jungles. African-Americans live in high-rise housing projects or poor housing areas owned by rich white people who are politicians, City Council members, or private individuals who are CEOs of companies, large and small.

I am not a black bigot. There are not black bigots in the African-American communities where we understand that the color of our skin is the reason why democracy is not faithful to us.

Like Wiley Hall, I have had white friends (men and women) for more than 30 years. Most of the time my white friends get on my nerves. They have money. They associate with a few blacks to ease their guilty conscience about slavery, the Civil War, and the Arab Jesus.

I would like Wiley Hall and his token white e-mail lady to read the following books: The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes, Notes for an African World Revolution: Africans at the Crossroads by John Henrik Clarke, Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, and Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972, by Kenneth O'Reilly.

As I see it, most poor black Americans are perceived as the enemies of the government of the United States. This government uses military/police powers to defend itself (white president, white middle class, white members of Congress, and white far-right Christian ministers) against blacks who are militant and dangerous--or so the lie goes.

Larnell Custis Butler
Baltimore

Wiley Hall III has either a gutsy sense of fairness or he's not averse to letting a "relatively poor white woman" write the better part of his column for him. In either account, he wrote a marvelously frank article about racial bigotry not being an exclusive province of whites.

I take issue, however, with Hall's conclusion as to why black bigots are bigots.

It's true, as Hall writes, that they "see themselves as victims of racism rather than as aggressors," but the same could be said of a lot of white bigots. Never mind that in few instances are whites truly victimized by racism--many of them nevertheless perceive this to be; the black bigots only help fan that allusion.

And this fanning on the part of black bigots is just about the most self-defeating thing blacks can possibly do. Why? Because it turns potential allies into enemies. Case in point is Hall's "relatively poor white woman" who was "brought up believing that blacks were in every way equal to whites" and "who doesn't want hatred between the races."

My conclusion? Bigots, black and white, misdirect their anger toward each other. They should unite to struggle for a decent standard of living for all of us against an inherently unjust economic system that exists exclusively to optimize the profits for the 0.5 percent of Americans who own more wealth than 90 percent of all the rest of us (black, white, Latino, etc.) put together. Their profits are directly dependent upon our low wages and high costs of housing, education, and health facilities. When they can no longer figure out a way to directly exploit our labor, they steal our jobs from us; turn us out on the street; flood our cities with dope to dull our sense of resistance to their tyranny; and create an artificial shortage of the decent things in life. For us to divide ourselves (along racial and parochial lines) and fight each other over the diminishing scraps is nothing less than stupid.

The only way such a disgusting minority of plutocrats can rule a majority of working people is to divide and rule. All bigots--black and white--thus help them rule and make us miserable. Longfellow said it well in his epic poem Hiawatha: "All your strength is in your union, all your danger is in discord."

A. Robert Kaufman
Baltimore

Super Bowl!
I think it's hilarious how Joe MacLeod's only supporter is Kerri Moseley, who thinks it's very clever to head a column with an irrelevant, attention-grabbing headline, though she's not sure if he did it on purpose (The Mail). I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: "When I was a girl of 20, Joe MacLeod was so awesome I could hardly wait to read Mr. Wrong. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at what a foolish letter I wrote." Or something like that.

Gavin Elder
Baltimore

Corrections: The bibulous constitutional scholars among our readership no doubt caught the confusion in last week's Charmed Life: The Volstead Act didn't end Prohibition, as the column indicated; it was Prohibition (named after its author, the teetotaling Minnesota congressperson Andrew Volstead). The 21st Amendment gave us our booze back. Cheers.

Also, Todd Solondz made three feature films before the new Storytelling, not two, as stated (due to an editor's error) in last week's paper. Although Solondz reportedly hates his first movie, so perhaps it's just as well.

Finally, Marcus Dixon was not, technically speaking, an "insurance salesman" for Primerica Financial Services at the time he was described as such in the Jan. 30 cover story "Shackled." Dixon joined the company in September through a Goodwill job fair and was undergoing what Primerica terms a "review process" until he passed an exam to secure his insurance license, which would allow him to formally join the firm's sales staff. Except now that won't be happening--see Mobtown Beat, page 11.

Editor's note: Can't wait for summer? Here's a way to bring the hot season around right now: Help City Paper compile its annual Sizzlin' Summer calendar by sending us info on events and attractions from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and poof, just like that, summer will magically happen. Honest, it works. Send the lowdown plus photos if you have them (sorry, they can't be returned) to Sizzlin' Summer, c/o Ronald Hube, City Paper, 812 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201; fax: (410) 523-8437; e-mail: calendar@citypaper.com. Deadline: March 10.

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