Letters to the Editor

Why the Mumia case is a watershed (or a waste of time); Anne Lamott is wrong on Vietnam; the Web helps racists find friends.

Published July 16, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Mumia's millions

JoanWalsh attempts to hijack the Mumia issue by interjecting sob stories about
the sorry state of the Oakland, Calif., school system. She's right; here in
Detroit, we don't give a rat's ass about the Oakland schools, but we sure
as hell care about Mumia. It hasn't been so long since the beating death
of Malice Green by Detroit's finest that we've forgotten what racism in the
criminal justice system means. Despite Walsh's broad-brush assertions to the
contrary, Mumia activists of my acquaintance aren't blinkered, single-issue
SUV-driving suburbanites with white guilt -- they're a broad cross-section of the
community, committed to social change on their block, in their town, in
their state and in their nation. They're concerned about the Abu-Jamal case
because they rightly see it as a watershed, with oppression and malfeasance
to one side and social progress on the other. They don't want more Mumias,
more Malice Greens, or another incarcerated generation of young black men;
they want an end to cop racism, to rigged trials, and to a barbaric prison

Mumia Abu-Jamal's guilt or innocence ceased to be significant as soon as
exculpatory evidence started disappearing, false testimony was given, and
his appeal process subverted by a single vindictive judge. Ultimately,
Mumia isn't the issue -- the rotten state of the Philadelphia police
department and court system is. And the Philadelphia story is repeated across the country -- in
Detroit, in L.A., in Newark, in Giuliani's New York and everywhere in
between. The state-sponsored cop lynchings of the Fred Hamptons, the
Mumias, the Malice Greens and the Abner Louimas have got to stop. If that
makes Joan Walsh "sick," then so be it, and to hell with her.

-- David Livingstone

Abu-Jamal may be a fabulous journalist, and the
American justice system may well be racist, but Mumia Abu-Jamal has never
explained how he came to be lying on the ground with a bullet wound, his
fingerprints on the gun, next to a dead police officer. I have yet to
meet a Mumia Abu-Jamal supporter who can rise above the rhetoric and,
concentrating on the facts, explain their side's take on the incident
on that night in 1981.

-- Michele Deniken

As a resident of the Philadelphia area, I have become increasingly disgusted by
the international activism generated on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal. My
disgust and dismay hit an all-time high over the Fourth of July weekend as
hundreds of tourists were kept waiting in intense heat to view the Liberty
Bell while police removed Mumia supporters who were staging a "sit-in."

I get the symbolism intended by Mumia's supporters, but feel the true
"lesson" for those unfortunate tourists on that hot day was that in the
United States, we must tolerate the uninformed and misguided.

-- Kristine M. Fogliano

To say that the Black Panthers self-destructed is to elide history a
bit. The FBI's dirty tricks, including "snitch-jacketing" and agent
infiltration, had a major role in generating mistrust among the group's
membership. And Fred Hampton's only association with violence was his
murder in his own apartment by federal agents.

-- George Stubbs

Melrose, Mass.

You mentioned that Mumia's radio commentaries appeared on NPR. Actually NPR elected not
to run these recorded audio conversations with Mumia, due to pressure
from national police unions. Mumia has been heard on and off on
Pacifica radio, an institution that is not afraid to report on the
"other" side of the story. I hope that in the future Salon can
provide a more balanced report on Mumia's case.

-- Salvador Jimenez

Los Angeles


Though NPR taped several Mumia-behind-bars commentaries, protests
short-circuited plans to broadcast them, and they were later run by the
Pacifica Radio Network. The article has been corrected.

Prisoners of a crappy war

Lamott is a liar. She states when she and others were protesting the war in
Vietnam, they also hurt at the horrors being done to American prisoners. But they did not.
Their position then was that we were all gangsters, murderers, government goons
sent to kill poor innocent people.

Let her understand that her actions and those of others led directly to thousands of
American deaths and injuries, by convincing weak politicians to withhold what
we needed to at least hold back the enemy if not win. Now she congratulates
those brave prisoners -- where was she when it really counted?

-- Richard B. Higgins

Tiverton, R.I.

I'm happy to see that Annie Lamott could identify and empathize with, be
proud of and inspired by America's Vietnam POWs and still not regret her
protests of that "crappy war," as she puts it. Unfortunately, many other reviewers of "Return With Honor" have taken it on themselves to trash the protest movement -- as if, somehow, the agony that these brave men suffered justified the policies of the cowardly leaders who
created, expanded and kept that war going, despite early evidence that it
could not be "won."

Poignant as "Return With Honor" is, those who use it to justify the war in
Southeast Asia are no better than those twisted protesters who spat on
returning veterans.

-- Timothy Lange

The Web can't make racists

Scott Rosenberg presumes that the only way that the Web can foster hate
groups is by exposing people to bigoted ideas. The impact of such
exposure isn't negligible -- more for its facilitating one's ability to
rebut attacks on one's bigoted ideas than for introducing them in the
first place. But the more significant impact of the Web may be offering
people social support for holding such beliefs.

A certain portion of the population is inclined towards bigoted beliefs
(and might well develop them independently even if not exposed to them),
but a good number of such people won't internalize or act on them
because doing so seems pointless and unpleasant. The Web, though, may
offer the sense of being part of a larger
whole struggling romantically in the face of overwhelming odds on behalf
of one's "race." This makes incorporating bigoted ideology as a major
part of one's identity becomes more alluring -- and more likely.

No bright line can be drawn to exclude hate groups' Web sites that would not
increase their allure, be completely impractical and gouge the First
Amendment in the bargain. But we must acknowledge that, yes, the Web
will facilitate more hate (as well as more love), and that we will be
confronting more bigotry for years to come. What disturbs me is that Rosenberg's refusal to
acknowledge that the Web will cause harm -- as have cars, phones,
toilets and air conditioners -- puts his argument on a weak foundation
and invites readers to dismiss his policy prescriptions, which would be
a shame.

-- Greg Diamond


I come from a rural town on the west coast of British
Columbia, and I have to say that my town is racist. When I run across such
sites on the Web, my first reaction is generally anger that such idiots can
create hate-filled sites. The other day I had the misfortune to visit the
site www.godhatesfags.com. I'm gay, and a friend had noticed it and wanted me to check
it out. I was almost in tears by the time I finished
reading through the garbage that Phelps and his followers had posted. But I would
never want to take away their site; at least now people know how these people
think, and how filled with hate they are. In some ways they are the gay
community's best friends -- because their hate-filled messages drive people
sitting on the fence to embrace our community.

-- Daniel Cunningham

Powell River, British Columbia

"The ones who fell on top of me saved my life"

Throughout the recent Kosovo war we have been told not to demonize the
Serbs, that not all Serbs are guilty and that the main criminal is
Slobodan Milosevic. The facts that have come out clearly prove that this is not true.

Slobodan Milosevic has probably never raped a woman or directly
committed murder. But in Bosnia, Croatia, and now Kosovo, tens of thousands of ordinary Serbs
have demonstrated that they have no compunctions about committing mass
rape, mass murder and genocide. Millions more have demonstrated that
they are willing to support the perpetrators of these crimes.

Instead of trying to indict a few guilty leaders, we need to think about
how to deal with an entire guilty nation. This is a much more difficult
problem -- one that we have not had to deal with since the end of World War II.

-- Mike Friedman

Hong Kong

It is difficult to believe that the incidents described are real. There
is a surreal, almost ancient quality to these reports of children thrown
down wells and women shot in the back as they obey orders to flee for
their lives. It is as if a tragedy of Homerian proportions were
being played out on the gutted battlefields, not of modern Europe, but
of the Rome or Greece of ancient history.

Peter Landesman reports horror with clarity, which may be the only hope
we have left. It hurts to realize what humans have done.

-- Nancy Lambert

Van Nuys, Calif.

These stories are very difficult to read, but I don't want to
forget about the suffering of the people there, which is certainly
nowhere near over.

The perpetrators of crimes against humanity during World War II were
largely ignored -- only a few leaders at the top were ever punished. No wonder this kind of stuff still goes on. Perhaps by continuing to publish these stories, you will help
in some small way to create a world that does not look the other
way when crimes of this magnitude are committed.

-- Nick Kricheff

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Joan Walsh Paul Shirley