Letters to the Editor (9/13/23) | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Letters to the Editor (9/13/23) 

Published September 13, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated October 3, 2023 at 1:35 p.m.

'Gift to the People'

Making the trip to City Market from my downtown office every Wednesday to pick up the newest Seven Days is the most important part of the day. This paper is a blessing and a good reason to never leave Vermont, despite the unyielding weather. Thank you so much for this incredible gift to the people. Chelsea Edgar's article on Bread and Puppet Theater ["Circus of Life," August 30] was a true gem.

Sue Fowler

Essex Junction

'How Could This Happen?'

Thank you for your cover article on Mbyayenge Mafuta ["From Room 37 to Cell 17: A Young Man's Path Through the Mental Health Care System Led to Prison — and a Fatal Encounter," September 6]. Derek Brouwer and Colin Flanders did a thorough job of investigative reporting and allowed us as readers to follow "Robbie" on his journey through Vermont's mental health and correctional systems.

My only encounter with Mafuta was when he smashed windows at our house during his early morning South End rampage last year. After that event, I talked to friends who knew him as a student at South Burlington High School or as a client at the Committee on Temporary Shelter. It was clear that, despite the trauma that his destructive visit caused to our family and neighbors, this was not a young man who belonged in prison.

The failure to provide effective treatment or support to a person who is so resistant to it is more understandable than the decision to transfer him to the general prison population. Now facing a second-degree murder charge, he may spend the rest of his life — probably a short one — in prison. Call me naïve, but after finishing the article, I was left staring at the arraignment photo of Mafuta thinking, How could this happen?

For me, the most emblematic and tragic part of the article was Corrections Commissioner Nick Deml's judgment that "There's really nothing in the record that would have led us to a different conclusion." Yep, we've covered all of our administrative bases, but our broken society's faltering systems have totally failed a young person who deserved more.

Andrew Simon


Give Responsibly

Thank you to Katie Futterman for a well-researched and written article on an important topic ["Payment Plan: At-Risk Young People Get a Monthly Stipend as a Hedge Against Homelessness," August 23]. My continuing recommendation to Spectrum Youth & Family Services and others is to substitute vouchers for cash debit cards.

There is simply too much temptation to put free cash into young people's hands and expect sound financial management.

Yes, in some cases, it will be spent on housing, but I suspect the bulk will not. I am particularly concerned by this quoted Spectrum approach to money management: "Spectrum can monitor the app to see how clients spend the money, though [chief operating officer Will] Towne said it would only use that data to help guide budgeting sessions with the youths."

In my experience over many decades of financial management, public giveaways need teeth as well as generosity. One example: COVID-19 stimulus spending of approximately $6.6 trillion. Audits are now revealing that as much as $500 billion resulted in fraud, misuse and waste.

The common thread in this gross fiscal mismanagement is a lack of personal accountability.

Let's not make that same mistake in Burlington.

Jack T. Scully


EV in La-La Land

[Re "EV Program Likely to Leave Some Flood-Stricken Vermonters Behind," August 21]: What kind of cynical marketing ploy is this — to "offer" a "deal" on a new EV to someone or a family who has just suffered the trauma of losing their essential transportation or home to the worst flooding since 1927?

Have you not noticed? We are in a housing/homelessness crisis, an environmental crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, a post-pandemic recovery period, now an agricultural crisis, a national political crisis of various kinds, and all you can think about is: Wow, here is our chance to sell some EVs!

This naked opportunism is insulting at best and cynically money-grabbing at worst. Most people are not in the market for any kind of new vehicle because they can't afford the payments, even with a measly 10 percent subsidy. Many Vermonters are struggling to keep their wheels on the road as it is, as insurance rates, interest rates and registration fees climb.

Owning an EV presupposes 1) a safe, private garage with a charging station; 2) the means to maintain it; 3) endless hours to recharge it; and 4) needing the car for more than just driving yourself to the nearest commuter line.

We out here in reality-land are glad just to have something that starts every day, can pass inspection and doesn't leak too much oil.

This helpful offer is nothing but yet another taxpayer-supported subsidy for an upscale lifestyle, while Vermont families, children and veterans are living out in the woods.

Julia Purdy


Bread and Puffery

Chelsea Edgar's aptly titled "Circus of Life" [August 30] is a probing, well-reported and refreshing alternative to the puff coverage given to Bread and Puppet Theater over the years. In my twenties, I reveled in trips to Glover to drink from the well. But seeing it in 2023 in Middlebury left me thinking this art has not evolved and is no more examined and no more challenging than a Donald Trump rally. Stale narratives, tired tropes, in-jokes and all-too-simple answers to complicated problems. Edgar asked the Glover thespians many good questions. She received few good answers.

Dan Beaupré


Good Investment

[Re "From Room 37 to Cell 17: A Young Man's Path Through the Mental Health Care System Led to Prison — and a Fatal Encounter," September 6]: Colin Flanders and Derek Brouwer have reported and crafted a remarkable piece of journalism that aims to find the story behind the story of Mbyayenge "Robbie" Mafuta and — as good journalism can do — to help comfort the afflicted. Seldom do newspapers today invest the resources for investigations, due to unfortunately dwindling finances as fewer people read (and support) these newspapers and fewer advertisers buys ads in them. So, it is commendable that Seven Days invested in this piece so that readers can have context and meaning rather than shallow cop beat coverage with sensational headlines.

Shawn Murphy

Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Ode to Oppenheimer

I thoroughly enjoyed ["Fission Accomplished," August 30]. In an amazing coincidence, one of my neighbors, who is in her early eighties, had just been telling me about the Rieser family and "the day Oppenheimer came to Norwich"; the Rieser house is just up the hill from where I live. Presumably this was the occasion in 1963 when he was hosted at Dartmouth College by Leonard Rieser. My neighbor also recalls attending a J. Robert Oppenheimer lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1964.

I first became interested in Oppenheimer in college after watching the 1980 BBC/WGBH TV series with Sam Waterston as Oppenheimer. I thought he gave a very credible and impressive performance. I then bought and read the BBC book of this series by Peter Goodchild. I even remember rummaging around in the basement of my college library, tracking down Oppenheimer's obituary in the journal Nature. In 2005, I read (and have since reread) American Prometheus, Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird's magisterial opus on Oppenheimer, and I was delighted when Christopher Nolan made the movie based largely on the book.

As a (retired) scientist myself, I find the contemporaneous vilification of science extraordinarily frustrating and depressing. The way Anthony Fauci was politically harassed during the COVID-19 pandemic was so disturbing and, in some ways, reminiscent of how Oppenheimer was treated during the communist fear era of the 1950s. It seems that human nature never fails to disappoint.

Thanks again for a terrific article, which I will happily be sharing with my neighbor.

Brendan Classon


'Deadly Status Quo'

Thanks for ["From Room 37 to Cell 17: A Young Man's Path Through the Mental Health Care System Led to Prison — and a Fatal Encounter," September 6]. The article highlights the glaring insufficiency of long-term creative alternative treatment for a man suffering from obvious severe mental illness.

At no time in his yearslong series of encounters with the health care and public safety systems did Robbie Mafuta get the kind of significant intervention he needed. Why is there not a therapeutic ombudsman in these kinds of potentially dangerous cases who derives authority from a judge to intervene and liaise with intensive inpatient treatment? Where is there a multifaceted therapeutic community equipped to apply creative approaches to healing such grievous severe PTSD and schizoid disorders?

Not much is mentioned in the media about the profound impact documented by the application of psychedelic and other alternative therapies. Maybe Colin Flanders and Derek Brouwer could follow up with a report on an upcoming conference at Spruce Peak in Stowe: Soulquinox: Psychedelic Science and Spirituality Conference. Remarkable statistics are emerging about the healing gained from these therapies by, for example, veterans of war diagnosed with PTSD.

Something is terribly amiss in a supposedly open-minded state, remiss to offer alternatives to the deadly status quo, which unconscionably (and expensively) relies on imprisonment as the default answer to horrible human tragedy and trauma. Putting resources into early intensive treatment instead of long-term incarceration is a no-brainer.

Michael Caldwell

North Wolcott

'Putin's Puppet'

The Bread and Puppet Theater article ["Circus of Life," August 30] deftly ignored Peter Schumann's anti-Ukraine position. The photo captioned "Peter Schumann playing violin" is from the act about the war in Ukraine, but it receives no mention.

Bread and Puppet portrays Russian aggression against Ukraine as the fault of the "empire puppet of NATO." For all of his artistic creativity, Schumann can't get out of a simplistic view that Russia is good and the U.S. is bad.

Schumann's myopic mindset shows a disconcerting ignorance of the history behind the conflict in Ukraine and gives a pass to the genocidal and territorial ambitions of an indicted war criminal. Vladimir Putin is a 21st-century Adolf Hitler. And it bears remembering that Hitler was only stopped through military defeat.

It is the hypocrisy of Bread and Puppet that is most offensive — claiming the high ground of concern for civilians killed in conflicts around the world as part of its political theater while ignoring massive war crimes in Ukraine. It is not just Schumann who is complicit but the entire troupe.

A Ukrainian socialist, Alona Liasheva, states it clearly: "I know the left tends to look for a nefarious U.S. plot behind everything ... [but] in the case of Ukraine, it's far simpler than many on the left think. Ukraine was attacked by an imperialist army, and as a result we are in a struggle to defend our lives and our very right to exist as a sovereign nation ... This is not an abstract question for us."

Schumann is Putin's puppet, to be sure.

Barbara Felitti


Help Those in Crisis

A deep thank-you to Derek Brouwer and Colin Flanders for their thoroughly researched, reality-based and compassionate feature article on Mbyayenge Mafuta ["From Room 37 to Cell 17: A Young Man's Path Through the Mental Health Care System Led to Prison — and a Fatal Encounter," September 6].

In January 2021, I attended a police commission meeting during which his interaction with the police was discussed. In a poem, I acknowledged the anguish of a young Black man saying, "Don't touch me!" as he is accosted and tased by police, knowing well his danger in such interactions.

Now, two and a half traumatic years later, Mafuta is confined at Southern State Correctional Facility — who knows for how long. Will his mental health be stabilized on antipsychotic medications while he is in a restrictive environment, which is apparently needed for some time to control his schizophrenia?

Will he meet compassionate people who can give him the paternal love he never had and help him deal, through therapy and reparative justice, with the damage done to him and the damage he has done?

Thanks for those folks who value the lives of people with mental illness and tried to help Mafuta.

Let's invest in systems that actively engage teams of therapists, clinicians, family members, friends and programs such as restorative justice to help others in crisis.

Sylvia Knight


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