Idol Justice

Some who read Peter Noel's article "Police Brutality and Voodoo Justice" [June 20], which contained several quotes attributed to me, perhaps were amused by Noel's irreverent treatment of the religion commonly known as "Voodoo." Those in the media and law enforcement who have investigated crimes committed by practitioners of what commonly is referred to as the occult are accustomed to being ridiculed by those who do not understand the role that unorthodox religious beliefs can sometimes play in the commission of bizarre and often violent crimes. While Noel's tone betrayed his obvious enjoyment in telling this story, in doing so he missed several opportunities to relay facts that do not lend themselves to humor.

First, Noel did not clarify that it was members of New York's Haitian community who sought out retired NYPD detective Bob Volpe [father of Justin Volpe, the former police officer convicted of sexually assaulting Abner Louima] with their claims about Abner Louima, and that they gave to Volpe the religious items he kept in his possession during his son's trial.

Secondly, Noel failed to mention my report on this case, "17 Days in August: A Tale of Cops, Steroids, and the Mob!" in which I not only expanded on the angle that steroids were involved but was the first to publicly espouse the theory that there were three cops in the bathroom on the night Louima was tortured.

Finally, Noel did not report that I have frequently asked for public prayers on behalf of the Volpe and Louima families; on one occasion Reverend Betty Neal and I invited the Volpe family to an interfaith prayer vigil held at Harlem's Mount Olivet Baptist Church. Justin Volpe's parents attended and offered a public apology to the Louima family, who were expected to be in attendance. The members of the various faiths attending offered forgiveness and support to the Volpe and Louima families, and I encourage all New Yorkers to offer prayers of forgiveness and healing to a city that is polarized along racial lines. I especially send this challenge to those in the clergy and the media.

James Ridgway de Szigethy

The Art of War

As a documentary photographer who covers famine, disease, and other afflictions, I was appalled at Richard B. Woodward's treatment of photographer James Nachtwey's motives in his review of Nachtwey's new book, Inferno ["To Hell and Back," June 13]. Woodward's premise seems to center around the idea that Nachtwey's images corner the viewer into a predetermined set of feelings, including guilt and revulsion. He also contends that Nachtwey must love to photograph war, famine, and disease since he constantly calls our attention to it. In short, Nachtwey is practically portrayed as an unbalanced voyeur preying on his subjects and on a captive audience's emotions.

While I was shocked by the graphic elements in some of Nachtwey's images, I was more worried about how close he was to the action. I never questioned his motives. Nachtwey is a stunningly gifted photographer. Would Woodward have been more satisfied if the images were not as well composed? Photography is a medium with a language of graphic and aesthetic forms. One must be drawn to see the images in order to get the message. The goal is to make you think, to punch you in the gut in order to get the message across.

I also have wondered how Nachtwey has been able to take it for so long in the field, especially with respect to his war photographs. I realize that he feels he has a mission, as many of us do. Mr. Woodward should have focused on the personal costs Nachtwey has incurred by carrying on his calling.

Conrad Duroseau
Montreal, Canada

Richard B. Woodward replies: It is not only fair to question Nachtwey's motives but vital. Collecting anonymous dead, maimed, or famished bodies in a luxury art book is an anti-war statement of dubious efficacy, serving mainly to elevate the artist—his "vision"—above any horror suffered by victims. Nachtwey photographed a starving Sudanese as he looked up from his knees at the camera. What can this man have thought as Time's correspondent crouched, got his shots, and walked away? I'm not asking for sloppier pictures, but I am looking for a deeper connection to people in trouble—or maybe an honest admission about war's enduring appeal for photographers—than Nachtwey's arty eye and pious rhetoric seem to allow.

No Choice

The censorship of prochoice ads on network TV discussed by Sharon Lerner ["The Right to Choose Ads," June 20] is yet another threat to women's reproductive rights in the current political climate. At a time of severely restricted abortion access across the country, it is absolutely imperative that women are aware of the threats to their freedom and the necessity of upholding full reproductive rights.

NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox's refusal to run an ad sponsored by the Pro-Choice Education Project, while airing an ad by the antichoice DeMoss Foundation, indicates that they want to return to the time when tens of thousands of women died every year in America as a result of illegal abortions.

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