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HANKEL RESPONDS

Regarding the June 3 Gambit Weekly article titled "Crime, Punishment and Politics":

It has come to my attention that certain political operatives and media have carried incorrect, misleading and politically motivated attacks against certain present and past members of the Legislature, following the arrest of a suspect in the south Louisiana serial murders. It is distasteful that anyone would use this human tragedy for political gain.

Disregard and distortion of the history of the legislation is truly unfortunate. Rep. Hunt Downer passed legislation in 1997 establishing a DNA detection of sexual violence/ offender law, providing it would go into effect in 1999.

It became apparent to Downer, and other strong law enforcement advocates such as myself, that it was impossible to provide the appropriate trained personnel and the equipment to operate the state police crime lab to enforce the legislation at that time. It also became apparent that additional funding would be necessary, and additional start-up time would be required. In addition, there were unresolved constitutional issues regarding DNA testing of any and all individuals who were arrested, as distinguished from those who are charged and actually convicted.

In order to allow the state police crime lab to obtain the necessary equipment and appropriate training for personnel and to provide adequate funding, HCR 40 of the 1999 Regular Session of the Legislature was passed, suspending the operation of the law until these tasks could be accomplished.

We are currently in the process of passing Senate Bill 346 by Sen. Jay Dardenne, which requires DNA samples for those arrested or convicted for a series of misdemeanor sex offenses and funds it to the tune of $5 million per year.

--John J. Hainkel Jr.
President, Louisiana State Senate


THE LIVING VICTIMS

OK, so they caught the prime suspect in the Baton Rouge serial killer case. Everyone can go back to their "normal" lives, right? I suppose that depends on what you call normal for someone who lost a loved one to the killer. These people have been forced into a terrible reality. The victims' families have become reluctant experts on serial killers, forensic technology and the politics of widespread panic. Mass hysteria provides a platform for every Tom, Harry and private Dick to advance their version of how things should be done. The cacophony of opinions drowns out the collected wisdom of those professionals who do not have the tragic luxury of concentrating all of their being into this relatively isolated batch of cases. The state police crime lab will not be remembered for the incredible technology and human precision necessary to actually match five degraded samples to a statistically significant match of one person. Instead, it appears the heroic responders in this agonizingly slow emergency will fall prey to the lynch mob of living victims who have suddenly lost their focus yet still require distraction from their grief.

Will the victims' families get back to picking up the pieces of their shattered lives now that a suspect is in custody? It appears as if they are as bold as ever with the "I told you so"s and the "You're very welcome"s for their role. Some have even become self-appointed watchdogs for the next time a serial killer decides to take up residence in Baton Rouge. I suppose we can all rest easier now -- unless you happen to be a college-educated biochemist on the slave decks of the state police crime lab.

I have a request of the living victims: go home.
--Tim Borel

HARD PRESSED?

I am writing to comment on Dalt Wonk's review of the play Pressed, which was featured in the Black Theatre Festival this March.

In his review ("From Tennessee to Ethiopia," April 8), Wonk praises the festival for its presentation of the play, but fails to portray the play itself as a quality work. I was very disappointed to read what I thought was a rather careless summation of a play that struck me as not only well-written, but also thought-provoking. I immediately wondered if the review was perhaps rendered more from a lack of understanding on the part of the critic than from any real shortcomings on the part of the play.

Without going into other elements of Wonk's review that bothered me -- such as his peculiar focus on playwright Carmen White as a singer and not an accomplished thespian (anyone who saw White in NORD's 2001 Purlie will agree) -- I will, instead, focus on the two elements that Wonk criticized.

First, Wonk accuses Pressed of not really knowing what it's about, referring to the many issues touched upon by the play. This is, perhaps, his weakest argument. It seems obvious that Mr. Wonk has spent little or no time in a black beauty parlor (or any beauty parlor or barbershop for that matter). If he had, it seems that he would be privy to the fact that that in these settings there are many subjects that may rise during the course of a day. Any play that did not honor this element would clearly have not been true to reality. Issues relevant to the African-American female such as politics, low performing schools, blacks in the media, and relationships among black men and black women were all touched upon by the colorful array of characters in what I thought was a seamless manner -- one subject leading naturally to the other as would be done in any theatrical piece. Why this seemed so strange to Wonk, I am not quite sure.

Secondly, Wonk accuses the play as needing more "craftmanship" in its writing. Wonk fails to go into any explanation of this final, damning claim. Such vague expression of disdain for a work fails in several ways. First of all, it does not lend any constructive, useful feedback to the writer. Secondly, it suggests to any reader who did not have the opportunity to view the work for themselves that some mediocrity exists that very well may not be there. Thirdly, it provides a way for a critic with perhaps no real, legitimate reason to write off a play to, in one stroke of a pen, do so.

Unlike Wonk, I can effectively cite causes for my support of the play, its integrity and its writing. I remember the dialogue as being realistic and fluent, the monologues poetic, and the humor outrageous. (But then again, I was just an audience member.) Consequently, I feel that a critic who cannot effectively provide legitimate cause for a "dis" should consider that perhaps there just simply isn't one.

--Nancy Marie Logan

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