Letters to the editor

I knew Mumia when he was Wesley Cook. Plus: The L.A. Times' "blow job"; don't ask, don't tell about Stuart Little.


Letters to the Editor
January 5, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

Black
like who?

BY DEBRA DICKERSON

(12/21/99)

I have never been to a Free Mumia rally or signed a
petition. I am not a MOVE sympathizer. I have police
officers in my family, and I think the death of Daniel
Faulkner was tragic. But I also went to elementary
school with the Cook boys, Wesley and William. I knew
them only as kids in the neighborhood. The Cook boys were respected by adults and
kids alike in our neighborhood for the way they
carried themselves. Wesley was a good student and a
super-responsible big brother who kept Billy in line.

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I also understand the terror that went with being a
young black person in Philadelphia in the 1960s and
'70s. I understand why Wesley and many of our peers
felt the need to become Mumia and join the Panthers.
Keep in mind that he was 15. Between the gangs and the
police, the rule of law was scarcely in evidence. The
police routinely harassed the Panthers and other
dissidents, without regard to due process. Those who
report on Mumia's case seem to forget that. One of the
searing moments in my memory is a 1971(?) front page
photo from the Philadelphia Bulletin. The members of
the local BPP chapter were standing barefoot and naked
in the street, having been rousted in the middle of
the night and stripped by Philadelphia's finest. The
mayor, former police commissioner Frank Rizzo,
guffawed, "The big Black Panthers with their pants
down!"

When he became a journalist, Mumia was one of the few
who had the courage and independence to report on
cases of police brutality and corruption. In the early
1990s, hundreds of convictions were reversed because
of improper police procedure. Perhaps if there had
been more journalistic investigation of police
practices in the preceding years, those improper
practices might have been revealed sooner.

I understand the ambivalence Debra Dickerson describes
on the part of many African-Americans. I do not know
what happened on December 9, 1981. But I believe that
in light of the treatment of dissidents in that
period, and the ambiguities in the case, Mumia Abu-Jamal deserves a new trial.

-- Kim Pearson

I recently attended the post-WTO police rally in
Seattle. Organized by the police, it was intended to
show that the people of Seattle really did approve of
the police beating and gassing of peaceful protesters.
It was also a chance for WTO protesters who were
abused to speak directly to citizens who knew nothing
more than what they saw on the
evening news.

A 6-foot-long banner for Mumia spoiled any real chance
to get the protesters' message across to the public.
Though Mumia had no part in the WTO protest,
supporters of a new trial carried his message into
this forum. This gave the police an excellent chance
to dismiss the protesters, and to cast doubt on their version of the
WTO protest. Over the
voices of the protesters, the police proclaimed,
"There is one difference between you and the people
over there. You are here to support your police. They
are here to support a cop killer."

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I was there to protest the violence of the police
during the WTO, but the Mumia supporters gave the police a new diversion from the truth.

-- Chris Knight

Wow. I hadn't realized that my complacency made such
an impact. I was born in the '60s and my parents were
active in the civil rights movement. My father,
Washington Butler Jr., was the third black elected
official in the state of Tennessee and the first black to
run for governor. Our pastor, the Rev. Billy Kyles, was
personal friends with Dr. Martin Luther King.

Having been born into such a progressive environment,
I at one time thought that racism had been overcome
and that we were all better off as a result. Ha!
Wouldn't that be nice. I can't speak for anyone but
myself. I support Mumia but haven't become too
involved with his struggle. My personal philosophy is
to spend my time and energy making a positive impact
in the lives of those with whom I come in contact
every day rather than trying to change the world as a
whole. Maybe
that's a cop-out but it's the best that I can do.

To Mumia I'd like to say, don't cut your dreads, man.
That's a sign of a depth of commitment which most will
never know. Somewhere, that counts for something. Keep
fighting.

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-- Landry Butler

To assume that black people should be interested in
the Mumia case because it involves a black man is racist in itself. It is essential to acknowledge how the intersection of race and class affects who among us supports Mumia and who does not.

People who are struggling to make a decent living for themselves and their families do not have the time or mental energy to worry about folks who go out and court trouble. The
majority of black people in the United States fit into
this category -- working-class or even poor people who
simply want to keep their families safe and well-fed.

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Those of us fortunate enough to be middle-class
African-Americans expend a great deal of energy
working to retain our position in society and ensure
our families' happiness. Most of us share a belief
system that stresses family, religion and trying to
"live right." People like Mumia Abu-Jamal and his
supporters would be hard pressed to convince us to
spend our precious time and hard-earned financial
resources on the likes of him.

-- Renee McKinney

Debra Dickerson's article on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case
outlines the two most prevalent theories surrounding
the case: that Jamal is innocent but has been
railroaded, and that Jamal is guilty and is cynically
manipulating the radical left. A careful study of the
facts of the case, however, brings up a third
possibility: that Jamal is
probably guilty but has been railroaded nevertheless,
is certainly due a new trial, and probably does not
deserve the death penalty.

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I'm not sure whether Jamal is guilty or
innocent, but I believe the evidence is
overwhelming that he did not receive anything even
remotely resembling a fair trial. In an excellent article on the case, Stuart Taylor Jr. (hardly a
leftist) of the American Lawyer writes, "Jamal is
probably an unrepentant killer," but also says that
the facts of this case are "complicated enough" that
he is "joining the 'Save Mumia' movement, here and
now." He puts forward a vast array of evidence,
ranging from direct testimony of witnesses that they
were coerced by the police to strong evidence that
there was "rampant police perjury." Furthermore,
there were most likely mitigating circumstances:
Faulkner probably shot Jamal before Jamal shot the
officer.

-- Mitsuharu Hadeishi

Did Mumia Abu-Jamal kill a police officer in cold
blood? The overwhelming circumstantial evidence --
plus his refusal to give a plausible alternative
explanation that would exonerate him -- indicates that
he did, and for that he must suffer the consequences.

Dickerson (whom I presume is white) spends much time
and space arguing that blacks do not support Mumia,
citing their disdain for his radical politics and fear
of his angry demeanor. But it never really required
the views of blacks to look at the case objectively
and come to the inevitable conclusion that Mumia
Abu-Jamal murdered a police officer in cold blood, and
since that time has taken white liberal activists for
a ride.

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-- Michael Lee


Out
of Time

BY SEAN ELDER

(12/21/99)

No one has plausible deniability in the Staples
fiasco. Anyone looking at the special Staples Complex
magazine [that the L.A. Times published] could reasonably
be expected to know that it went beyond puff piece all
the way to blow job.

The reader might wonder why the L.A.Times left off the
words "advertisement supplement," but its commercial
nature was clear. The leadership troika at the Times
has not gotten its story synchronized yet. They seem
to at once not know that there was anything wrong,
deny that it was wrong and apologize sincerely for
doing something so terribly wrong. Huh?

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The issue of conflict of interest in the media is far
bigger than the Times. It is the smallest canary in
the mine shaft. As media consolidate and Murdoch
gobbles up papers, TV networks and sports teams, what
are the ethical implications? How do reviewers on
Disney-owned ABC review Disney movies, or talk about
the (mis)management of the Angels or Ducks?

Once upon a time, we only had to worry if the
restaurant critic was getting special service (the
answer was yes, of course). Now the conflicted
relationships are so byzantine that we do not even
discuss the full ramifications of media consolidation.

-- Jonathan Dobrer

Columnist, the Fullerton Observer

Fullerton, Calif.

I'm afraid [L.A. Times media critic] David Shaw's
piece was itself weak-kneed. While I agree with Sean
Elder that Michael Parks should go, it won't make the
Times a better newspaper. It has always been made up
of display ads making room for a little news-gathering
and today, more than ever, it is a third-rate paper.

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-- Robert Solo


Amazon to world: We control how many times you must
click!

BY SCOTT ROSENBERG

(12/21/99)

I'm not going to comment on whether Amazon.com's
patent for one-click is "obvious" or not. Obviousness
is a term of art among patent lawyers, a group of
which I confess to being a member.
One thing is obvious to me, though. The Internet has
created a time-distortion field that affects all too
many people in our present-day society.

Around 1994, just six years ago, Netscape was coming out
with its first browser. Windows 95 had not yet been
released. Events moved at an exponentially exploding
rate after that. We had browser wars, portal wars and
now we have e-cash register wars. In hindsight, all of
these things appear obvious under the time-distorting
lens of the Internet. I'm wondering how many readers
out there know what the "obvious" next great thing is,
and why they are not rushing to get a patent on it, or
better yet, donating it to society on a gratis basis?
Could it be that the next great thing (i.e., e-sliced
bread) is not at the moment really obvious?

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-- Gideon Gimlan

Scott Rosenberg's declaration that "every win for
Amazon is a loss for the Web as a whole" is not only
unnecessarily inflammatory, it is also glaringly
inaccurate.

I can't have any sympathy for Barnesandnoble.com given
that they have essentially tried to copy Amazon.com's
entire business model! Amazon proved that a Web-based
business could appeal to consumers, and then someone
at B&N saw the light and figured they could grab
market share. I don't blame Amazon for trying to
profit from the technology they implemented to make
shopping at their site easier -- they're under
incredible pressure to differentiate themselves in the
fast-growing dot-com playing field.

Maybe, in the interests of a "free and open" Web,
technology innovations shouldn't be patented -- or
maybe companies that come up with innovative business
methods should be "allowed" to profit by them. But to
portray Amazon.com as some behemoth trying to stamp
out its "poorer" competitors like B&N is absurd.

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-- Anne Lear


The love that dare not squeak its name

BY DAVID RAKOFF

(12/21/99)

David Rakoff's article on Stuart Little is yet another
example of the compulsion to claim a literary heritage
(while not bad in its own right) for gays through
ridiculous misinterpretations of highly innocuous
literature. When will we stop hearing that Winnie the
Pooh, or Stuart Little, or even Bert and Ernie are
homosexuals? This distortion only serves to alienate
heterosexuals from homosexual culture and further
delays the acceptance that some homosexuals desire.

-- Angela James


John Irving blasts Tom Wolfe, Wolfe blasts back

BY CRAIG OFFMAN

(12/21/99)

John Irving's statement that Tom Wolfe is writing
entertainment and not literature is snobby and very
telling of his academic, achingly boring writing
style.

If you set out to write "literature" you will fail
miserably. Those we regard as authors of "great
literature," such as Shakespeare, Twain and
Hemingway, were all working writers who wrote for
people's enjoyment. They wanted to entertain!
Shocking, isn't it?! But why else would someone pick
up a book and read it if not to be entertained? The
works of these great writers are "literature" only in
retrospect.

Tom Wolfe spins a good tale, and that puts him, in my
opinion, in good historical company. Irving puts me to
sleep, and is good company for insomniacs.

-- John Grgurich

I have been waiting to get even with Wolfe since "The
Bonfire of the Vanities," which I read and despised. I
will never look at another fiction book he writes.
"Bonfire" was stinko. Irving's first assertions that
Wolfe can't create a character or a situation that
doesn't reek with journalistic simplicity -- all
right, I added the last part -- is just exactly right.
Wolfe can knock the worn goods of Mailer and Updike,
who weren't much good, but Irving is the best sort of
writer around today. I loved Wolfe's journalism and
have read a lot of it. But his novels are a fraud and
he must be exposed and pilloried.

-- Mike Rice

Brilliant Careers: Gary Larson
BY SUSAN McCARTHY

(12/21/99)

If any cartoonist has become an American icon, it is
Gary Larson. He has brought smiles, chuckles and gusty
laughs to us for years. I consider him as American as
Norman Rockwell because he satirized America as
prolifically as Rockwell painted it.

I also mourned when he decided to retire "The Far
Side." A part of my day was gone, but I understood.
His "Far Side" calendars, however, are worth any price
he wants to charge. I'm grateful I finally have an
opportunity to tell Gary Larson how much his sardonic
and offbeat humor has brightened my life. Thank you,
Gary. I will always be a devoted fan.

-- Gordon Martin


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