Letters to the Editor (10/18/17) | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Letters to the Editor (10/18/17) 

Published October 18, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

Who's Accountable?

The City of Burlington should use the collective impact approach to address issues associated with mentally ill homeless people in downtown Burlington ["Burlington Cops Call Out Repeat Offenders in News Releases," October 11]. Mayor Miro Weinberger and Police Chief Brandon del Pozo have been very effective at using the collective impact model to address the opioid crisis in Burlington and deserve major credit for recent progress on that front.

We need the same data-driven, pragmatic, accountability-based approach to this issue. And the only ones being held accountable can't be the people struggling with severe mental health disabilities and homelessness. Instead of venting frustrations with a broken system or pointing fingers, we need to sit around a table and hold ourselves accountable as providers and policy makers who get elected or paid to protect and support the most vulnerable among us, even when they exhibit challenging behaviors.

Tom Dalton

Essex Junction

Dalton is the executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.

'Work' on This

Thank you for Mark Davis' article on domestic violence in Vermont ["'Til Death Do Us Part," October 11]. Hopefully, the more we — men and women — learn and talk about domestic violence, the more likely we'll be to get better at preventing it.

I did find something in the article that I felt needed mentioning. Davis wrote that Molly McLain "left [her] job when the couple's first child, Jack, was born in 2013 and never worked again." The statement "never worked again" sends a subtle yet powerful message to its readers. To state that a woman who has a child is not working feels terribly dated, inaccurate and sexist. It undermines the importance of raising children and those who do that work. Women raising children are indeed working women. 

We need to do more to support and revere those who rear the children in our world. What job could be more important?

Interestingly, later in the article, Davis quotes a text from the murderer, Jason McLain: "I was a good man. I worked 7 years she worked 6 months." The article stated that she had two children. Again, the message implies that rearing children is not considered work.

It's important to pay attention to the language we use. Words have a lot of power.

Sally Colman


Responsible Reporting

I appreciate Mark Davis' thoughtful coverage of the appalling murder of Molly McLain at the hands of her estranged partner, Jason ["'Til Death Do Us Part," October 11]. It included plenty of background and context, using the McLain case to educate readers about many aspects of domestic violence. (One thing I wished Mark had addressed in more depth was how men are often socialized to be violent and possessive with women and to deal with their feelings by lashing out. These are aspects of domestic violence we still hear too little about.)

I couldn't help but notice a contrast with the Los Angeles Times' infuriatingly exploitative recent podcast web series "Dirty John," which managed to tell the sensational story of a domestic abuser, con artist and sociopath with almost no mention of how classic its protagonist's and victim's behavioral patterns were. Unlike Davis' piece, I don't think it included a single statistic, and it all but lacked takeaways about domestic violence in general. It didn't even pretend to be anything but gruesome entertainment.

A journalist's job is, in part, to educate, and Davis succeeded where the LA Times failed. 

Jenny Blair


Blair is an occasional freelance writer for Seven Days.

Maxed Out

[Re "Max-imum Candor: Burlington's Most Outspoken Prog Pulls No Punches," October 11]: When Max Tracy says "I'm not retracting anything" and "I would appreciate an acknowledgement of the screwup," most people with self-respect would conclude that the Tracy touch leaves much to be desired. He is out of step with the norms of mutual respect we expect from public representatives.

Yes, Burlington needs conscious opposition, but it doesn't need Donald Trump-style rudeness and belittling language from our leaders, regardless of intent. How would any of us react if one of our colleagues spoke to us in this manner regarding an oversight and then stated that they're not retracting it? This is one of my main gripes with some Progressives and Mayor Miro Weinberger's far-left critics: They let their civic passions overrun their obligation for basic respect and civility. They become caricatures of resistance when they traffic in hyperbole and erode their long-term credibility in the public eye.

By any standard measure, Weinberger's mayorship has been a resounding success with positive long-term prospects. This despite the state of city finances the previous administration left him. To compare Weinberger with the scandal and financially challenged Bob Kiss administration speaks to how out of touch Tracy's political reasoning and reactions are. Going forward, Tracy should focus less on grandstanding and more on communicating with the same respect that the mayor uses with everyone, no matter how oppositional.

Burlington deserves better, and, until Tracy changes his tone, he shouldn't be treated seriously by people who value basic respect and dignified discourse.

Mickey Cruz


Blame the Media

The Seven Days article [Fair Game: "Dems Depleted," September 27] is another example of lazy reporting and a writer with an ax to grind. It singles out Rights & Democracy, alleging that we have a lack of transparency around donor disclosure, but did Seven Days determine how many of Vermont's numerous and politically diverse 501(c)(4)s publish their donor names? It is also disingenuous to not explain that the Internal Revenue Service constructed (c)(4)s for the names not to be publicly disclosed, so organizations have to develop their own process of disclosure. Stay tuned for a public announcement about our supporters, as Rights & Democracy is committed to model transparency and is proud of those who support our grassroots movement. 

It would be great if the media would focus on truly substantive issues facing our world and state, such as the lack of affordable health care; increasing childhood hunger; the impact of climate change on our farmers; the impact of pollution on our lakes and streams; the impact that the near-lynching of a child in Claremont, N.H., has had on children across the region; and having a president who is navigating threats of a nuclear war via Twitter. The list goes on.

Your reporters have the potential to play an important role in the community by providing vital information that benefits people and helps us navigate the struggles we face. You can do much better.

James Haslam


Haslam is the executive director of Rights & Democracy.

In Defense of Wesley Richter

The disorderly conduct charge against Mr. Richter ["UVM Student Cited in 'Racist and Threatening Language' Case," October 5] is a grave violation of his rights and should be dismissed. First, pursuant to the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution and State v. Tracy, “As a general matter, government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” Furthermore, “The Constitution protects expression without regard to the truth, popularity, or social utility of the ideas and beliefs which are offered.” It does not matter if whatever Mr. Richter said was untrue, unpopular, or valueless; those statements are equally protected.

Second, “New categories of unprotected speech may not be added to the list by a legislature that concludes certain speech is too harmful to be tolerated.” So-called “hate speech” is not a crime. The question that matters is whether Mr. Richter’s overheard phone conversation constituted “true threats” or “fighting words,” two existing areas of unprotected speech.

Third, pursuant to Chapter 1, Article 13 of the Vermont Constitution and State v. Albarelli, the “Disorderly conduct statute, prohibiting one from engaging ‘in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior,’ proscribes conduct, not speech, and therefore does not penalize speech.”

Fourth, “In determining whether a defendant's behavior, including speech, is sufficiently threatening to support finding that he engaged in disorderly conduct, the fact finder may not consider the subjective effect based on reaction of particular persons, but instead, must evaluate effect under an objective standard based on how a reasonable person would view the defendant's behavior.” It does not matter how distressed the third party might have been when he/she overheard Mr. Richter. The only metric that matters is how a reasonable person of no particular color would view Mr. Richter’s remarks.

Fifth, “In determining whether the State presented sufficient evidence to meet the standard of threatening behavior, as required to support conviction for disorderly conduct, the Supreme Court reviews the evidence presented by the State viewing it in the light most favorable to the prosecution and excluding any modifying evidence, and determines whether that evidence sufficiently and fairly supports a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Consider these facts: “UVM Police Services has conducted a thorough investigation and threat assessment. They found no information of an imminent threat to public safety.” As such, Mr. Richter’s words could not have fallen under the category of “true threats.” Furthermore, the speech at issue prompted only a complaint; it did not “so provoke the average listener that an affray [ensued].” As no violence stemmed from Mr. Richter’s words, it is unlikely they could have fallen under the category of “fighting words.”

Finally, the standard of evidence necessary to find Mr. Richter guilty of disorderly conduct is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Since the disorderly conduct charge is based purely on hearsay, specifically a third party overhearing at most one half of a phone conversation, the requisite standard of evidence cannot possibly be met. As such, the charge against Mr. Richter should be dismissed.

Patrick Low


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