WHO WILL LEAD US?
Re Thulani Davis's "We Need You: It's Time to Call for New Black Leadership" [February 18-24]:
I just want to thank Davis for her excellent analysis of the state of leadership in the black community. The day of the one-man show is over. The nature of political struggle has changed and it's time for the black community to stop waiting for some black (male) messiah to come and save us.
Change is made from the bottom by those who occupy the bottom, not single-handedly by omnipotent "leaders." Each of us has the passion and ability to participate fully in the shaping of our lives and our communities. We can lead together. Let's get busy doing the work of social change in our homes, our schools, our jobs, and our neighborhoods. I invite all our so-called leaders to join us after they're done getting famous.
I enjoyed reading Thulani Davis's "We Need You" and agreed with much of its contents. The leadership impasse that Davis describes spans several decades and stems from a number of reasons, which include political repression, internal contradictions, underdevelopment, crack, and globalization.
There are black leaders out here providing direction; however, they are not in the glare of the spotlight. I believe that some of us have become seduced into the celebrity definition of leadership and the cult of idolatry that it spawns. A great or effective leader has a coherent program or vision. Nationally, Sharpton is not a leader since he has not used his platform to articulate a coherent program for urban America. At least Jesse Jackson did have a program (the Rainbow Coalition), which he and others simply betrayed. A spokesman is not necessarily a leader, but a leader has to be a spokesman. In Sharpton's case, the question is: Who does he speak for and who is paying him to speak?
Cambria Heights, Queens
Re "We Need You": Perhaps the black community should ask itself, What is a leader, and where do leaders come from? Davis fails to mention one name in her article.
My vote goes to William H. Gray, who has announced he will be retiring as the leader of the United Negro College Fund. Mr. Gray gave up his seat in Congress in 1991 to take the position of president of the UNCF. Mr. Gray felt that you had to "learn to earn," and that "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."
Change does not come overnight, and true leaders are not going to come from sport stars or rap singers.
SEEING RED OVER BLUE
Ta-Nehisi Coates's story "Black for Blue" ["Black for Blue: Learning to Love Tha Police," February 18-24] was frighteningly Tommish and shortsighted, especially for The Village Voice. The maturation of the hip-hop generation will not include a mass forgetting that the police remain a very dangerous element of our communities.
Coates is more accepting of the police because he's a parent, but with the death of Timothy Stansbury Jr. so fresh, does he not realize that the cops he praises could take his son from him at any time, whether or not he's done anything wrong?
It's a war going on outside. A friendly ride in the back of a pig car for your girls pocket change does nothing to erase the systematic harassment, brutality, and human rights violations that the Black community suffers daily. Wish u cld've caught a ride to the Louis Armstrong houses last Tues. nite when Neri went home unchecked as usual. The kids we were talking to cld've relieved u of a few more dollars.
Ta-Nehisi Coates's valentine to the NYPD brought to mind the night, two summers ago, when I needed the police. Unlike in Coates's situation, they did not deliver. After being pushed down a flight of stairs by a young man outside my place of employment, the Mount Morris Baths in Harlem, I called 911 three times. The police never showed up.
Two paramedics arrived about 20 minutes after the unprovoked attack. By then the young man and his buddies were long gone. Fortunately, the only damage was a scraped knee and broken eyeglasses, but it could have been much worse. I thought about writing a letter to the precinct commander, but then I changed my mind, thinking that it would be a waste of time. Maybe the quick response of the police to Coates's partner was because a female was the victim. And maybe because my location was that of a gay men's bathhouse, the police didn't feel it was necessary to exert themselves by making an appearance.
Whatever the reason, it certainly didn't make me think that they cared about me, the victim of a crime.
Charles Michael Smith
Ta-Nehisi Coates replies: Thank you to everyone who took the time to write in. Feedback is a vital part of any attempt at responsible journalism. I'd like to extend my condolences to you, Mr. Smith, for that terrible incident and NYPD's lackluster response. As your case so poignantly demonstrates, there is still work to be done, in terms of police-community relations.
THOU SHALT WHAT?
Both authors make excellent points in their articles about the emptiness of the arguments against gay marriage. However, there is a big problem that neither of them faces: the Bible, which forbids homosexuality.
One of the anti-gay verses, Leviticus 20:13, commands us to kill homosexual men. Nevertheless, there is not a single Jew or Christian, no matter how religious, who wants to obey this commandment, despite the fact that homosexuals were executed in Europe for centuries. Even fundamentalists are not as willing to heed Scripture as they used to be. Similarly, there is nobody who would like to bring back the Salem witch trials.
Whether we are religious or not, we have chosen to be selective about the commandments we obey. We should point out that once we have decided that it is immoral to kill homosexuals we might as well recognize that it is wrong to be anti-gay.
I agree with Richard Goldstein's recent column "It's the Symbolism, Stupid." I believe his eventual point was that it's not the symbolism, stupid. It's not. It's the simple fact that the policy of "separate but equal" is not ever acceptable for any group of American citizens in any case. Period. Remember that during the 1960 election cycle, the presumptive Democratic nomineea Senator John K. from Massachusettsparsed the question of African American civil rights just as this John K. is doing with gay civil rights. What seemed an unsurmountable wedge issue at that time was a done deal just one election cycle later. Let's hope this John K. has the vision to take the lead on what is clearly a basic irrefutable constitutional issue rather than leaving that legacy to his successors.
STATE OF THE UNION
In response to the equality issues of gay marriage versus civil union or domestic partnership [Alan Hirsch, "Separate Still Not Equal," February 11-17], I offer a compromise: The federal and state governments eliminate marriage altogether. A similar institution of civil union should be recognized with all the previous benefits and drawbacks of a legal marriage and should be open to any two mutually consenting adults. This would continue to promote the traditional societal benefits of marriage without discrimination or inequality. Individuals and private, non-governmental institutions (such as churches, etc.) are left open to define "marriage" as they deem appropriate. They can exclude or include people in accordance with their prejudices and beliefs. All citizens are treated equally and the church and state are separate.
New York should be the first state to enact such legislation and only bestow the privileges of civil unions on other states' marriages if those states do the same in reverse for all New York civil unions.
WHOSE RIGHT IS IT, ANYWAY?
Bravo on "Separate Still Not Equal." I have been trying to explain to people that gay marriage goes way beyond marriage. I worry that, if there is an amendment to the Constitution, what's next? This could open a whole floodgate of amendments. There is no acceptable explanation for denying a group of people a place in society that everyone else enjoys (especially one they pay taxes in!). The other thing that makes me angry is the idea of voting on thishow can you vote on human rights? What business do heterosexuals have in our marriage debate anyway?
International Falls, Minnesota
Hirsch claims that some Democratic presidential candidates "don't see" the injustice of denying gays full marriage rights. I believe they see things all too well. I suspect some of them secretly sympathize with gay marriage, but wisely mask their true feelings with publicly palatable pronouncements.
Even Abraham Lincoln's timid campaign peeps on slavery were enough to earn him the label "black Republican," and his election further fanned the secessionist flames. If Lincoln had openly condemned slavery, he would not have been elected, and our country may well have self-destructed.
I hope Hirsch will consider that politicians don't always say what they think or think what they say. Sometimes that can be a good thing.
THE REAL NADER
Wayne Barrett's "Sleeping With the GOP" [February 4-10] is a great article, but I have to ask for a correction. The author states, "Just as Stone has a history of political skulduggery, Sharpton has a little-noticed history of Republican machinations inconsistent with his fiery rhetoric . . . [he] invited Ralph Nader to his headquarters on the eve of the 2000 vote." I understand that Democrats still have it out for Nader, but he's not a Republican operative.
Smithfield, Rhode Island
I LIKE THE WAY YOU ANALOGIZE
I read a whole bunch in Pazz & Jop [February 11-17] about OutKast and Andre 3000 but very little about Big Boi. How is that? Understand: Speakerboxxx is the Shaq of the two discs; holding the whole sound together. The Love Below is just the Kobe: fluttering around, scoring a whole bunch of points, looking pretty, and getting its name in the paper.
JUMPING THE GUN
Erik Baard's article on police psychology was fine ["Misfire: Why Brain Structure Makes Unintended Shootings Inevitable," February 4-10], but no one seems to be examining the big picture. Given a choice between taking a bullet from a crook because he didn't fire fast enough in defense, or jumping the gun (no pun intended) and shooting an unarmed civilian, a cop must take the bullet. The job comes with obvious risks and bravery demands this, because it is far worse for a cop to kill an innocent civilian than for a criminal to kill a cop. (Also, cops have on bulletproof vests, unlike criminals or civilians.) As long as the NYPD allows cops to shoot anyone dead any time they are "scared," innocent people will continue to die unnecessarily.
I want to thank Sydney Schanberg and The Village Voice for finally opening my eyes to the importance of the upcoming presidential election. I am 56 years old, and have never voted in my life. I have always been noncommittal concerning politics. But all that changed after I read Schanberg's "George Bush, Make-Believe President" [February 18-24]. Schanberg made his position absolutely clear. So I've decided to register and vote in the upcoming elections. As I am retired, I will also become active in candidates' campaigns, and devote my full time and energy to their elections.
We can no longer let liars determine policy for this country. And with the help of people like Mr. Schanberg, recruiting people like me to the conservative movement, we will have a huge advantage.
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