THE UNAMERICAN WAY
Jill Nelson should win a prize for her article exposing the plain and ugly truth about the reversals of the Louima convictions ["The Louima Decision: Is Punishment Possible for Police Brutality?" March 12]: As our society moves ever further to the right, the police are given even greater license to abuse the rights of citizens who are powerless to protect themselves. What does it say for the "American way" when innocent victims have no recourse to the justice system?
DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Thank you for last week's articles on the Louima decision by Jill Nelson, Alan Dershowitz, and Wayne Barrett. Overturning the convictions of three police officers in this case only deepens the indwelling fear in the hearts of all African American mothers.
As the mother of an adult African American male living in the city of Cincinnati, I know that if my son is stopped by the police they won't see a Wharton business degree. All they'll see is a very dark black man with shoulder-length locks.
I very much appreciated Raffi Khatchadourian's article "Beyond Survival: Freed From Slavery and Terror, Mauritanians Fight for Those Left Behind" [February 26]. For too long, northern Africa has been under the imperialistic grip of Muslim Arabs, Berbers, and Moors, while the native black Africans suffer under slavery sanctioned by, in Khatchadourian's words, "twisted notions of Islamic scripture." Yes, the Christian Europeans used black African natives for chattel slavery for a few hundred years, but a lot of peopleespecially African Americansdon't seem to realize that Muslim Arabs have practiced chattel slavery on black Africans for a much longer time.
What I found most ironic was the statement in the article by Nasser Yessa of the Mauritanian abolitionist group SOS Slaves: "Though we were both Muslims, my slaves and I understood that their black skin made them impureand that they had to serve me faithfully." This is no better than what the European American colonialists used to tell black slaves who were brought here. Many blacks in America rightfully blame African slavery on the Europeans, but maybe the Europeans were also following the Arabic example. Khatchadourian's article was indeed a wake-up call for humanity.
DISABLING THE MIDDLE CLASS
Thanks for the press, but Andrew Friedman's Towers & Tenements column on the impending doom for the residents of Henry Phipps Plaza West, of which I am one, didn't go far enough ["Heartless Partners," March 5]. The bottom line is: The state's Mitchell-Lama buy-out clause has sounded the death knell for all middle-income projects in Manhattan. To say that state reps have given their blessings to these money-mongrels is an understatement. They've already nixed a bill that's been floating around the assembly that would've extended the 20-year Mitchell-Lama buy-out period currently allowed to 50 years.
With the economy so crunched, thousands out of work, and the city still reeling in the aftermath of 9-11, I can't think of a worse time for this to happen. And if the money runs out for the subsidized vouchers that some supposedly will be eligible for, then what? We will all be left without any protection, and many of us will be forced out. Where then, pray tell, is a disabled woman in a wheelchair who's lived in these buildings since 1977 supposed to go? For me, that second-, third-, or fourth-floor walk-up is out of the question at any price.
Nat Hentoff was way off base in his tirade, entitled "Judge Ross vs. Free Speech" [March 12]. Judge Ross is a talented, careful, and fair jurist (and, I am proud to say, a good friend), and is by no means a poster boy, as Hentoff outrageously suggests, for "the diminishing of constitutional rights around the country in the aftermath of the Bush-Ashcroft USA Patriot Act and the cowardice of Congress." As Karen Houppert previously reported in the Voice ("Jailhouse Shock," January 27, 1999), it was Judge Ross who stood up to the police department by throwing out a charge of disorderly conduct brought against a pedestrian who called an abusive off-duty cop an "asshole."
The recent case about which Hentoff writes was a much closer legal question than he leads the reader to believe. As Hentoff surely knows, the First Amendment permits reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of protest speech. And while I ultimately disagree with Judge Ross's ruling, his opinion is well reasoned and provides absolutely no basis for the simplistic jeering in which Hentoff indulges. Perhaps Hentoff should follow his own snotty advice and sue the journalism school he attended for return of his tuition.
Nat Hentoff replies: Not having attended journalism school, I rely on the Supreme Court ruling in my columnTerminiello v. Chicagowhich has never been overruled. No matter how offensive a speaker, if a crowd threatens to become disorderly, it should be dispersed. The speaker must not be arrested. Judge Ross approved what in law is called a heckler's veto. It violates the First Amendment. Judge Ross, however admirable in other cases, is dead wrong on this one
ACROSS 110TH STREET
I disagree with Tom Sellar's February 19 review of Native Son at the Classical Theatre of Harlem [Sightlines, "Wright From Wrong"]. Mr. Sellar complains "the inner life Wright ascribes to Bigger in prose evaporates." Well, all I had to do was to watch the amazing performance of the central character given by actor Ben Rivers to see Bigger's inner life exposed. With every look and gesture it was there.
In addition, Sellar's dismissal of the lawyer's courtroom confrontation in Act II as "packed with didactic speeches" that "quicklybecome tedious" smacks of elitist snobbery. I found the second half entertaining and thought-provoking, and it certainly didn't hinder the audience from giving the performance a rousing standing ovation.
For an Off-Off-Broadway production in a Harlem venue with a ticket price of $15, I think the show overachieved and was worth every penny.
Jessica Winter's review of the New York Underground Film Festival in last week's issue ("The Targets Shoot First") erroneously implied that festival director Ed Halter is the event's sole curator. Halter shares those duties with program director Wendi Weger and a number of guest curators.
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