Letters for the Week of September 1

Readers sound off on Prop 19, levee design, and capital punishment.

“Citizens Outspending Cops on Prop 19,” Legalization Nation, 8/11

Pot and Schizophrenia

The UK has over 25,000 kids in therapy for schizophrenia due to smoking marijuana and has increased the criminal penalties for both using and selling it. The same with Australia. The Aborigine population in Australia has been decimated by the abuse of marijuana. The Netherlands have closed over 43 of their coffee houses in Amsterdam (where they allow marijuana smoking) and almost all the coffee houses in the other cities have been closed. They have a terrible crime problem there with over eighty gangs there now. The Dutch Supreme Court recently decided that their legal administrator can lawfully change their laws and tell their so-called coffee shops that they cannot sell marijuana to citizens outside of Holland. The Dutch people are fed up with the issue of marijuana, the crime, and the costs to their pocket books via their healthcare services. With this knowledge, why would anyone with an ounce of common sense want this garbage legalized in California?

Ronald Kirkish, Gilroy

A War on Marijuana Smokers

Regarding David Downs’ August 11 column, the drug war is largely a war on marijuana smokers. In 2008, there were 847,863 marijuana arrests in the United States, almost 90 percent for simple possession. At a time when state and local governments are laying off police, firefighters, and teachers, this country continues to spend enormous public resources criminalizing Americans who prefer marijuana to martinis. The end result of this ongoing culture war is not necessarily lower rates of use.The United States has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available. Decriminalization is a long overdue step in the right direction. Taxing and regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as organized crime controls distribution, marijuana consumers will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. This “gateway” is a direct result of marijuana prohibition.Robert Sharpe, policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, DC

“Delta Levee ‘Repair’ Threatens Salmon,” Eco Watch, 8/11

The Problem Was the Design

You write: “The corps came under heavy criticism when poorly maintained levees broke in New Orleans in August 2005.” In fact, the two independent forensic engineering investigations into the flooding — the ILIT report from UC Berkeley and the Team Louisiana report from LSU — focus on the design and construction flaws of the “hurricane protection system,” not maintenance. That is the Corps’ spin on the devastating findings of the reports.

Harry Shearer, New Orleans

“Nicole’s Final Act,” Music, 8/11

With a Sad Heart

As a friend of Nicole’s for almost 40 years, it is with a sad heart that I applaud her for the path she has chosen. We played together many, many times, shared many, many great times together — even shared a bedroom one summer in the Hamptons while playing there. Niki is one of the best musicians I have ever had the pleasure of playing with and knowing. When I was putting together a band back in the Seventies, Niki wrote a song for me to record and use if I wanted it. I did and recorded it and made it a part of our set. When we finally got into the studio to start recording my original songs and I recorded my first record of my own, Niki was there with me singing (“You Better Stop”). With any luck, I will be able to make it to the last hurrah show and we will go “Faster Than the Speed of Love” (the title of the song) one last time. If not, then I will be seeing you again someday my friend.  

Kevin Martin, Hopewell Junction, NY

“Are Capital Punishment’s Financial Costs Worth It?” Feature, 8/18

Death Not the Harshest Punishment

Charles Mintz’ article on the exorbitant costs of the death penalty in CA raises many points worthy of consideration. One point, however, that deserves more forceful clarification is that the death penalty is not always the most harsh punishment available.  In fact, it is something of a kindness to end the life of someone filled with remorse for a murder he or she has committed. Many people welcome death, as evidenced not only by the number of people who kill themselves, but by the greater number who do so in jail or prison.This appears to be the case with Luis Hernandez, who reportedly killed his estranged girlfriend in broad daylight. In terms of inflicting punishment, forty years in prison is likely to involve more suffering than an early and painless death, provided at the taxpayers’ expense.The death penalty is not a strong deterrent to people who are obsessed by passion, guilt, hatred, extreme racism, jealousy, or remorse, yet these are the very people to whom the death penalty is most commonly assigned. Are humans capable of logic when it comes to crime and punishment? Apparently not, but it’s good to see some people try.

Kevin Barton, Berkeley

Justice for the Privileged

I used to think the death penalty was sometimes justified. I used to believe in the myths of law and order. That ended this past Spring after I sat through parts of the trial of my childhood friend, Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, in Oakland. Because of Drew’s trial, I learned the system is rigged against the person who is charged, and I don’t trust the system. I find it hard to believe that ordinary people charged with crimes ever really get a fair trial.  Only the über rich with a fleet of lawyers can receive justice.Drew killed a UC Berkeley frat boy when he was defending himself against fifteen frat guys who had surrounded him. Attending this trial opened my eyes to the fact that the judge lets in certain evidence and not others. In Drew’s case, Judge Horner let in all kinds of “good” facts about the frat boy, but excluded most of the good facts about Drew. The jury wasn’t allowed to know that Drew was a Boy Scout, that Drew was a goofy guy who dressed up in a banana costume to sell smoothies for Jamba Juice.The judge excluded lots of pertinent “bad” facts about the frat boy such as the fact that he had previously been involved in a drunken fight, but let in every bad fact about Drew.  The DA’s case was based upon character assassination. She argued that because Drew liked Tupac Shakur in ninth grade and wrote “thug life” on his ninth-grade backpack, Drew had a “thug” mentality. Because Drew smoked marijuana, that meant he was a criminal. Because Drew threw rocks at a car when he was eleven, that meant he had “anger management problems,” and by insinuation had violent tendencies. I’ve known Drew since we were two, and I never saw any of this.

When my mother testified that Drew was a sweet, goofy kid, the DA said my mother was delusional. The other frat guys testified that the guy who died grabbed Drew from behind. The other frat guys testified that they never saw Drew hit or punch or stab anyone. I heard a witness admit that he and his friends threw the first punch. Yet, on the basis of the DA’s character assassinations, Drew received sixteen years to life.What I learned is that the system is not about the truth. The system treats privileged people as more worthy. Drew was convicted of second-degree murder because he’s a son of blue-collar working people, and defended himself against a privileged UC graduate.  The jury felt that when UC students attack a blue-collar guy, that blue-collar guy has no right of self-defense and should “take” the beating.Your East Bay Express article questioning the death penalty in Alameda comes on the heels of reports from North Carolina that investigators there withheld evidence in over 200 cases. The very, very sad part is that three of the individuals in those cases have already been executed.Innocent people are regularly found guilty. Innocent people are jailed and do time. And even when someone does something wrong, the penalty is totally out of proportion to the crime. The death penalty is absolutely wrong because our penal system is not about justice or fairness. It’s about DAs racking up kills.

Megan Johnson, Roseville


In our August 25 story, “Residents Take Sides in Piedmont Gardens Lockout,” we mistakenly stated that the Piedmont Gardens retirement community is located in Piedmont. It is in fact in Oakland.


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