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Heroin Chic

Posted 2/23/2000

A few months ago I read a more-mindless-than-usual Joe MacLeod column spouting a number of old-standby drug-war fallacies and lies (Mr. Wrong, 10/13). I didn't respond then because, well, why bother when Mr. Wrong's self-chosen moniker says it all? But I can't keep quiet after reading Dan Savage's shockingly irresponsible "advice" to a teenage user (Savage Love, 2/9). I hope this kid doesn't take Savage's (untrue) word for it that needles will inevitably kill him, decide he's doomed, and stop taking precautions with his drug use.

As with MacLeod, untangling Savage's web of nonsense isn't easy. A few facts: The Hell's Angels' favorite substance was and is not heroin; it's good old legal booze. (For proof, read Hunter S. Thompson's book on the Angels, as Savage obviously hasn't.) Not all heroin users are addicts (the chippers tend to keep quiet about their use). Some addicts, lacking access to clean, affordable product, do indeed become skanky street punks. Others have been brilliant writers (William Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi, Anna Kavan). Others have been successful musicians both during and after a lengthy period on dope (Sonny Rollins, Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, Anita O'Day, Dr. John). Some may be great doctors, such as William Halsted, a founder of the Johns Hopkins medical school who's known as the father of modern surgery. Halsted had an unlimited supply of pure dope. If street punks did too, they wouldn't be stealing stereos.

I can't help but note that Savage's attack on the junkie as a fiend in human form is strikingly similar to right-wing attacks on homosexuals, the minority group to which Savage belongs. Demonizing the junkie may be a great way to sound hip without really rocking any power-structure boats, but does it contribute anything worthwhile to public discourse?

I don't much mind City Paper's apparent refusal to run a column about drugs that makes any sense, as long as the letters page remains a forum for readers who agree with former Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, that drug-law reform is needed. But I do think you should cancel Savage's dangerous, harmful feature right away. And next time you feel like printing some dope's ranting on dope, make it a local nitwit like MacLeod, who presumably needs the money more than Savage.

Jon Swift

Dirty BirdThank you, Tom Scocca, for artfully articulating the Ray Lewis problem (8 Upper, 2/9).

I spent all fall helping my small boys watch football. We checked scores in the sports page and they told me which teams had more points. They learned team names and colors. By the end of the season my boys could count downs. The Super Bowl was a big event for them, as they were allowed to eat in front of the TV.

Now, when a picture of Ray Lewis appears on the TV news, my sons see the Ravens icon and ask, "Who's playing football?"

"Nobody," I tell them, "the season's over."

"Why is football on TV?" they ask.

It shouldn't be. Ray Lewis didn't do his job right. Thank you, Mr. Scocca, for spelling it out. We'll turn our attention towards Michael Jordan and the Wizards. And, Tom, how about a follow-up piece on Mike Washabaugh?

Amy Kimball

Platt AnswerThis is in rebuff to Thomas Platt's letter about Wiley Hall III (The Mail, 2/9). In 1882, African-Americans and white farmers gathered in Texas to support the newly formed Populist Party. In that same year, the Populists seated more than 90 African-American delegates at their national convention. African-Americans voted in large numbers and helped the Populists win many state and national offices throughout the South. When the Populist Party declined in the late 1890s, many white southerners vowed that never again would they allow African-American votes to decide elections. In 1901, the last African-American representative from the South, George H. White of North Carolina, left Congress.

"This is perhaps the Negro's temporary farewell to the American Congress," White said. "But he will rise up some day and come again."

That day did not come until 1972, when Georgia elected Andrew Young to the House of Representatives. Someone should tell Mr. Platt that it is not the Wiley Halls of America who are the real and true racists.

Leo Williams

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