Letters to the Editor for June 2003

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Ex-Panther Is No Hero

John W. McCullough, Executive Director
New Justice Conflict Resolution Services
Syracuse, N.Y.

I am deeply troubled by your laudatory article regarding Peter O’Neil (“Panther in the Bush,” April). I find nothing positive or praiseworthy in a man who fires guns off at night, “just to keep people thinking.” Our neighborhoods in Syracuse are undergoing such evening “speak outs”: intentional acts designed to intimidate and mark the dominance of the street gangs over their neighborhoods, with the implied threat of violence if their wishes are not met.

The Black Panthers had a moment in time to be a productive force in the black community. Rather, they degenerated into an armed gang with a simplistic and violent “revolutionary” image of a socialistic takeover of the United States.

The small asides offered by your reporter do nothing to dispel the image of a man and a woman who refuse to acknowledge their own failings or take responsibility for their past actions. A gun-runner wanted on federal gun charges is no role model for American youth, nor is a woman who “fondly” recalls teaching youngsters to “off the pigs.”

No self-respecting youth organization should be sending people to his “re-education” camp.

For a publication that is quick to publish any anti-firearm material available, this article reveals the hypocrisy of your editorial staff. If a National Rifle Association member said he liked to fire guns off at night to make people think, you would be in a frenzy of condemnation. If a chic old radical says it, it’s just a style statement.

Harm Reduction’s Harm …

Gordon McLean, Director
Juvenile Justice Ministry
Metro Chicago Youth for Christ

I am concerned about the direction some programs are taking with young people by urging them to “just say less” (“Just Say Less,” May). How unfortunate that responsible adults would approve of youths doing something harmful to their health and illegal. Talk about a confusing message to give kids!

Reality says they are not all ready to take on the “no” message of drug use, and it may take time for them to reach that goal. But to lower the goal and make such a compromising response as the “harm reduction” process presents is a folly and disservice.

No thank you. We are not going there.

… And Benefits

Alice Blue, Director
Area Prevention Resource Center

Thanks you so much for raising the unmentionable on the front page of Youth Today. I direct a prevention resource center that receives state and federal funds, which I assume prohibits me from endorsing the harm reduction philosophy. However, in the parallel universe of pregnancy prevention, I heartily endorse an approach which teaches abstinence where it is effective and birth control methods when teens are sexual.

The central question for both drug prevention and teen pregnancy prevention should be: How do we keep kids safer?

A Nonprofit’s Plight

Kenneth Martinet, President
Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters
Los Angeles

Your April editorial and articles – “The Future of After-school Programs,” “Children at Bay” and “Screening and Training: Devils in the Details” – compel us to air our plight.

We felt that our surge in public funding – allowing 500 percent growth in the last five years to over 4,000 youth served annually – would buffer the stock market downturn. Then came the ever-rising budget deficit in California, which will cause most, if not all, of our school-based and law enforcement-related mentoring programs to lose funding. Unfortunately the “Perfect Storm” is fast approaching.

We collaborate with after-school programs within the public school districts and law enforcement sectors to be cost-effective. The program evaluations show success. Regardless of these successes, public budget cutting will eliminate or drastically cut our collaborative programs. Federal funds may be too late to save our youth served and our agency infrastructure.

On top of the financial woes we face, even from private foundations, our agency name has been something of a lightning rod because of the church [sex abuse] scandals – though we serve all faiths and cultures and have a successful child safety record. We are not directly supported by the Roman Catholic Church but affiliated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. For over 75 years screening and background checks have been a way of life for us.

Nevertheless, we are heading directly into the storm, hoping that the short-term losses in public support will not turn into long-term disasters for the over 3,000 of our youth affected by the program cuts.