Letters for June 2, 2005

Prison guards need interrogation

Re “Meet Arnold’s Willie Horton” by Stephen James (SN&R Cover, May 19):

Will Royce Timmons be Arnold’s Willie Horton? That depends.

Will citizens let the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) get away with playing this case as a failure of the concept of rehabilitation? Will we let the media continue to ignore the huge structural conflict of interest of the guards (who are in a position to abuse inmates and practically guarantee violence in ex-inmates)? Will we let restorative justice be derailed by vengeful victims’-rights groups that are CCPOA pets?

SN&R should follow up this informative history of recent political developments with some needed in-depth discussion. From this article, I noticed the following points, which I suspect would be surprising news to most citizens.

First, the California Department of Corrections seems to have neither a clear operational definition of violence nor any treatment options for violent parolees. The implication that violent inmates don’t need treatment programs because they won’t be paroled is doubtful—most of them will get out someday. Then what?

Second, there doesn’t seem to be a retraining program for prison guards to help them transition from a culture of punishment to one of rehabilitation of inmates and restoration of community.

Third, the list of actions that may be classified as parole violations, re-offending or recidivism include ordinary activities like carrying a pocketknife or having a beer with your picnic. The definitions of “serious” as opposed to “violent” felonies are never described. I suspect that many of the “serious” felonies are really just someone falling off the wagon or stealing something sufficiently overpriced. Many felonies would be reclassified as misdemeanors if the dollar threshold for the felony definition had been indexed to inflation.

Finally, reported shortages of law-enforcement recruits, although ascribed to demand for soldiers, may also be ascribed to demand for prison guards, since we keep building more prisons and stuffing poor people in them.

Timmons is much more likely to be Arnold’s Willie Horton if the political discussion remains as superficial, reactive and secretive as it has been to date. I look forward to more articles from SN&R addressing these issues. Without serious, realistic and practical changes, taxpayers will continue to spend money hand over fist.

Muriel Strand

Bites is the ho

Re “New ho prices” (SN&R Bites, May 19):

Thanks, Bites, for the free press! I guess it is mildly funny that Google map searches yield comical results.

We did some of our own searches, like for neocons in Sacramento, for instance, and found some funny places listed; but only one of them was a place where one would actually find a neoconservative (the governor’s office). Bites’ brothel search rendered equally inaccurate results, as a search of California NOW’s Web site showed only one instance of the word brothel (in a title of a book).

Bottom line: We don’t recommend depending on that route for much information, and, as much as we enjoy Bites generally, the column also refers to a fantastical action where NOW (the National Organization for Women) teamed up with the religious right to hold a giant Take Back the Night rally to educate sex workers of the errors of their ways, which never happened.

For your information, Take Back the Night is an event to cast light on the atrocities of sexual assault, not to reform brothels. California NOW is in fact a sex-positive, pro-legalized-prostitution organization. But who cares what’s accurate, as long as the advertising dollars keep coming in, right? Now who is the ho?

Helen Grieco
executive director, California National Organization for Women

Bites responds: Hats off to California NOW for its sex-positive stance. Still, according to Laura Lederer’s book detailing the history of the Take Back the Night marches, the first such event was aimed at San Francisco’s “pornography strip,” where marchers listened to a speech by anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin before marching through the adult-business district and chanting, “No more profits off women’s bodies.” That said, Bites appreciates that mainstream feminism is embracing free speech and distancing itself from the days when Dworkin and legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon joined forces with right-wing fundamentalists to declare pornography a violation of civil rights.

Feeble ‘witch hunt’ defense

Re “Scandal-stung Bee columnist talks to SN&R” by Jeffrey M. Barker (SN&R News, May 19):

My former colleague Diana Griego Erwin—who took her notebooks and went home rather than doing the apparently wearisome work of proving that she’d been honest in her reporting—says, “There’s a witch hunt going on in American journalism.”

But is it really unfair and unjustified to audit the work of journalists who appear to have made up sources or plagiarized or somehow reconfigured the truth?

The only people being examined are those who’ve allegedly committed egregious errors. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem so witch-hunty to me.

In Griego Erwin’s case, serious questions were raised about the existence of characters in some of her columns—folks who either weren’t publicly named, or who were but apparently couldn’t be found by an infantry unit of editors and other database miners.

She had—and still has—every chance to prove that these “people” exist. I hope she does. But please, Diana, stop playing the witch-hunt card. It’s a feeble defense.

Josh Freedom du Lac

Some sources should be anonymous

Re “Scandal-stung Bee columnist talks to SN&R” by Jeffrey M. Barker (SN&R News, May 19):

It is absolutely ludicrous that columnist Diana Griego Erwin has been fired, or even encouraged to resign, for obscuring the identity of the people about whom she writes. It is absurd for Michael Fitzgerald and the Sacramento Bee editorial staff to put homeless people, undocumented immigrants and teens in the same category as political insiders who reveal potential scandals affecting us all. There is no loss of trust with the public because she uses only first names or pseudonyms. These are people whose lives should affect us morally and emotionally but whose fortunes don’t. I don’t need to know their “real” identity to connect with their plights.

I have corresponded with Ms. Griego Erwin several times concerning people about whom she has written, especially the homeless, who are visible and identifiable through her vivid descriptions. In our correspondence, I have found her absolutely truthful. Ms. Griego Erwin and I traded information on people about whom we’d both grown to care, and she knew precisely whom I meant, as I knew whom she meant. Neither of us knew—or ever will know—the full names of the street people with whom we interact. That’s the choice of the people, not just Ms. Griego Erwin and not just me.

Shame on all concerned who think an undocumented worker or hapless teenager has less need for protection by a reporter than did Deep Throat. Fie on those same people for equating personal stories with government revelations.

Elizabeth Sholes
via e-mail

Why let a ‘picky eater’ review restaurants?

Re “Unrequited love” by Kate Washington (SN&R Dish, May 19):

Am I truly supposed to value the dining advice of someone who describes herself as “a picky eater in general” and whose own mother had to struggle to find something the child would eat in a packed lunch?

Kate Washington’s review of The Beach Hut Deli could be reprinted without edits in The Onion as an amusing bit of satire. No one would suspect that it came from someone employed by an actual newspaper and charged with evaluating the quality of food or restaurants.

Her review ran 11 paragraphs. Nine of these precede any mention of whether the food tasted good. Not that it mattered by then, since she informed us three paragraphs earlier that she’s extraordinarily difficult to please when it comes to food.

If SN&R is serious about running restaurant reviews from the perspective of a 9-year-old, it could save a great deal of space by having Ms. Washington merely indicate whether the restaurant was “gross,” “icky,” “cool” or, in rare cases, “hecka cool.”

Michael Heenan

That’s why it’s called an accident

Re “Hit the brakes for safety” (SN&R Guest comment, May 19):

Tim Castleman wrote an “opinion” column that by no means has any basis in reality.

Castleman seemed to be upset that the driver of the SUV was not cited by the police or held responsible in any way. That might be because the driver of the vehicle had not done anything wrong, let alone illegal.

How many times have we all had near misses with kids running out into traffic? Especially when there are several children together? You can bet that, since one child lost his life and two more were injured, the investigating law-enforcement agency scrutinized every move the driver of that SUV made. The fact that the driver was not even issued a speeding citation says that the unfortunate incident was not his fault. It was a tragic accident.

Just because something horrible happens does not mean there needs to be finger-pointing. Sometimes it’s just an accident.

Tom Fox
via e-mail