Our readers talk back.
Proud of Record
In a recent article, The Austin Chronicle accused the Williamson County district attorney of choosing to prosecute criminals based on their race ["If You're Right, It's All Right," News, Sept. 24]. That unfair accusation deserves a reply.
As a Christian, I take seriously our Lord's instruction that we treat our fellow men and women as we would want to be treated. Whether I am at home or at work, I constantly remind myself to follow those words.
As a lawyer, I take seriously the words of our Founding Fathers, who established a government of laws to be enforced equally, regardless of the race, religion, or creed of its citizens. From the time that I took an oath as a lawyer, I have promised to follow that law.
As a district attorney, I also take seriously the law that requires a prosecutor to seek justice. Justice takes many forms. Justice can mean a conviction and prison sentence or probation or even an acquittal.
Several months ago, I was approached by a federal drug task force that had completed a long and difficult investigation in Taylor. At the request of several citizens, the task force had focused on drug dealers who were destroying the peace and tranquility of Robinson Park and area neighborhoods.
After looking at the evidence the task force had collected, I determined that there was a very serious problem that could only be solved through aggressive prosecution and long prison sentences. Taylor citizens deserved to have a quiet, safe neighborhood and park just as much as any other Williamson County citizen.
I knew that pursuing the cases from Taylor would cause some to think that it was a racist cause. All of the criminal defendants who had been caught dealing drugs were black. I did not choose the defendants; they chose themselves by engaging in their criminal activity. Nor could I ignore the defendants simply because of concerns over a reaction by some to their race. That would have violated my Christian, legal, and prosecutor oaths.
So, I took the cases to a grand jury. That grand jury, without any knowledge of the race of the individuals, found that there was sufficient evidence to require indictments and trials. I then began taking the cases to court for trials. The first jury, which heard the case of Floyce Jackson, agreed that the case was very serious and sentenced him to life in prison.
Some of the other defendants have chosen not to have a jury hear their cases. They agreed they were guilty and deserved a prison sentence. Their sentences were reduced because they accepted responsibility for their crimes.
The remainder of the cases will be resolved by a Williamson County jury or each defendant's decision to accept responsibility. They will not be decided on the basis of race. I consider that to be an unacceptable and immoral basis for any decision.
I am proud of the record of the Williamson County District Attorney's office. I believe that our office has continued a tradition of tough but fair law enforcement that makes Williamson County a great place to live and raise a family. And I promise you that I will continue to maintain that high standard so that everyone has an equal opportunity to live in a safe neighborhood.
[News Editor Michael King replies: Having reneged on an agreement to discuss his policies concerning plea bargaining, District Attorney Bradley now chooses to overreact to an article that simply raises very specific questions about long-institutionalized prosecutorial practices, common not only to Williamson County. A self-righteous citation of the Golden Rule is not much of a response does Bradley really mean to suggest that were he arrested in possession of a minuscule amount of illegal drugs, he would welcome a sentence of 20 to 50 years? Even more distressing is his cavalier insistence that it's purely a coincidence that all those targeted by the federal task force just happened to be black. In light of the recent history of narcotics task forces in Texas, evoking corrective reactions even at the Legislature, it doesn't seem too much to ask that a prosecutor show some minimal awareness of the larger issues at stake in apparently self-justifying sting operations, and apparently disproportionate prosecutions of white and black offenders. It also doesn't seem too much to ask that a district attorney exhibit some minimal understanding that as a Christian and a prosecutor he may not be entirely infallible. Mr. Bradley's letter fails badly on both scores.]
Bicyclists Do Help Pay for Roads
James Beitman makes two mistakes that are sadly typical ["Postmarks Online," Oct. 4]. First, he assumes that cyclists don't pay for the transportation infrastructure. In fact, considering that funding for city roadways, the majority of which is for nonbike-specific infrastructure comes not from gasoline taxes and vehicle registration, but from property and sales taxes, it is reasonable to argue that cyclists actually pay more than their fair share. The second mistake is to imply that, because some cyclists flout their responsibilities to obey the rules of the road, cyclists as a class should be denied access to publicly funded transportation infrastructure. If I were silly enough to exploit this line of faulty reasoning, I might suggest that, because we know there are motorists who intentionally break laws and practice unsafe driving, we should not fund public roadways used by all motorists.
One would imagine that folks in a city with the traffic congestion and air quality problems that Austin has would take better care to at least not needlessly and erroneously berate folks who are trying to solve those problems, if not support them in their efforts to do so.
The comments of some of the small number of Austinites who actually support the CTRMA toll road plan, including Mike Clark-Madison ["Austin@Large," News, Sept. 17], indicate that there is some confusion about what the real problem with this plan is. The issue is how the tolls (or more precisely the prospect of tolls) will be used, not whether they constitute a fair-use payment. What the CTRMA intends to do is borrow enormous amounts of money using future toll revenues as collateral in order to build unwanted and largely unneeded roads as quickly as possible. This is nothing more than a cash grab to benefit the highway lobby and suburban real estate speculators. Then, when and if the projected toll revenues don't materialize (a very likely scenario, given the steadily increasing price of oil), they will simply default on the bonds, leaving taxpayers holding the bag. (See Southwest Parkway for an existing example.) The highway builders and real estate speculators walk away with billions leaving us to pay the bills while enjoying a considerably compromised environment and even more crappy, unsustainable land use. It is for this reason that the toll road plan must be opposed unequivocally and toll road supporters on the CAMPO board must be convinced to put an end to this nonsense by whatever means necessary. I don't think I've ever seen greater consensus in Austin on any other issue (i.e., opposition to toll roads), and yet this piece of sh*t is still in place. We're like the Czech Republic in 1969 realizing that "hey, I guess we're not a democracy after all" as the road-building equipment (as opposed to Russian tanks) comes rolling into town.
[Mike Clark-Madison replies: Translation: Patrick doesn't like roads. Without a toll plan, the roads don't get built, at least not for a while, maybe not ever. Is that the issue on which the community is so united and the CAMPO board so out of step? I don't think so. If it were, I wouldn't be supporting this plan. I think, on the contrary and maybe unfortunately, but that's a separate issue that the majority of Austinites (let alone Central Texas) do support these road projects, regardless of how they feel about tolls.]
I Support Nader
Nader's anti-war, pro-poor, pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-labor, anti-death penalty, pro-universal heath care candidacy attracts people who recognize the two-party system as a choice between two bought-and-sold, pro-war, anti-gay marriage, pro-corporate candidates. Relying on Democrats to make change from above has immobilized the left and moved the U.S. backward on abortion rights, affirmative action, poor people's rights, immigrant rights, and GLBT rights.
History tells us that movements alone can win progressive reforms, pressuring even Nixon's administration to defend funding for social services and appoint justices to the court that handed down Roe v. Wade and imposed a four-year moratorium on the death penalty. We held his feet to the fire just as we should the Democrats', who have taken us for granted and betrayed us, over and over. Progressives' anti-democratic trashing of Nader turns a blind eye to the Democrats' record and impairs the building of a fighting alternative.
The Clinton administration did things conservatives had only dreamed of (ending welfare, for one). Gay rights groups' support for the defender of straight marriage and don't-ask-don't-tell was appalling. But Clinton, Kerry, and their party can count on the progressive vote no matter what they do. Bush's agenda will not be stopped by a Kerry presidency because on the whole, it's a shared agenda.
I'm not going to hold my nose and vote for a candidate who is against my full citizenship and who only privately opposes the death penalty while sentencing thousands more U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians to death. He is not on my side. As the famous socialist Eugene V. Debs said, "I'd rather vote for something I want, and not get it, than vote for something I don't want, and get it." Let's rebuild a left alternative rather than sending it to its historical graveyard: the Democratic Party.
International Socialist Organization
Libertarians Are Okay
Louis Black made some good points about the polarization of the electorate, despite being close on issues ("Page Two," Oct. 8). I've given a survey meeting the standards Black called for named the World's Smallest Political Quiz to nearly 1,000 people in the Austin area. The survey measures people's desire for the level of government involvement on two different scales: economic and personal issues. Afterward, the individuals self-identify as Democrat, Republican, or other, before posting their results on a chart. Based on results I've collected, I would not simply say Democrats and Republicans are close, but that people's views on specific issues vary widely regardless of party affiliation. There are differences on average between Democrats and Republicans, but the difference is not that big.
The intense hatred between Republicans and Democrats is based on team spirit and the love for hatred too many people have. When I ran for Austin City Council, people would ask whether or not I was a Republican or Democrat. When I responded that the race was nonpartisan, they would say, "No, you know what I mean. What are you?" When I would confess I was a Libertarian, many Democrats would say, "Okay, as long as you're not a Republican," and Republicans vice versa. For once, being a Libertarian was not an automatic political liability! Take the survey online at www.self-gov.org.
As a budding entrepreneur myself, I read with interest Amy Smith's well-written "Can Schlotzsky's Be Saved?" [News, Oct. 8]. When I moved back to town a year ago, Schlotzsky's was one of the first stops I made while rediscovering Austin gastronomically. What I got for my $7-plus was a combo featuring a sandwich that, while tasty perhaps, seemed to contain just enough meat and cheese to avert a complaint to management. Instead, I showed my disappointment the American way; I never set foot inside a Schlotzsky's again. Repeat my experience times 10, 100, and 1,000, and you know exactly the problem facing the chain: Accountants started making the sandwiches.
Thanks to Austin Community
On Sept. 19, I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand the outpouring of love and kindness from the Austin community.
The Alamo Drafthouse and Barr Mansion, along with many friends, local merchants, and the Texas Culinary Academy honored me with an incredible dinner, movie in the garden, and silent auction. The money raised has assisted in paying medical bills plus meeting day-to-day living expenses while I continue my healing process.
No amount of thank yous could express my gratitude, and the list of those who contributed time, money, and donations, as well as thoughts of support, is far too long to list here.
However, three people must be mentioned as they have renewed my outlook on life. I will always be indebted to Virginia Wood and Cathy Cochran-Lewis for their incredible showing of friendship in making the event possible. And a special debt of gratitude goes to my beloved life partner, Greg Murphy, who gives me reason each day to live.
Thank you, the people of Austin who have proven that it truly is a blessing to be here.
Being a Patriot
Something happened at Yankee Stadium that typifies what is happening in America today. My uncle and I went to the game and landed some great seats behind home plate thanks to his connections from the old neighborhood. Being a retired NYC cop doesn't hurt. During the seventh inning stretch we stood to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." They changed the song to "God Bless America" after 9/11, don't ask why. Some of us sang. Some just stood. Some sat. The young man in front of us, being a super patriot, took it upon himself to chastise a family of four for not standing. "How dare they insult our great nation!" he exclaimed (I translated from unprintable Yankee Stadium speak). The crowd said nothing. His friend told him to shut the f**k up; "They can do what they want, it is a free country." Which are you? The person exercising his right not to participate in such a sappy patriotic display, the super patriot who makes sure everyone is marching in line, the silent bystander, or the guy who speaks up for others?
p.s. The family was there visiting their son who was pitching that day they are from Venezuela and don't speak English.
I recently returned to L.A. after spending three days at the ACL Festival with my two girlfriends. The bands were gnarly! People were so friendly. The guys in the turquoise shirts were awesome and allowed us backstage access for a nominal fee. The mood and the music left us feeling very relaxed and spiritual. Austin's got it goin' on! As we were leaving, we began making plans to attend next year's festival. Thanks, Austin!
Manhattan Beach, Calif.
How to Survive?
When do I get a break from the grind? I love life and enjoy my family so much; however it's so difficult to keep motivated with what is going on in our country. I want to just be comfortable, not rich; this means to pay my bills, have health care for my daughter, and be able to donate extra cash to others in need. However, all this is becoming more and more difficult to have because the government has no help for the middle class like me. For those not sure which way to vote I know that some of us could use some help.
Joe Rudy Saenz
Doesn't Like Article
Good god! Send this chick to a clinic! Not only is she a terrible writer ... she's also boring and so full of her own virtue that she missed the whole vibe of Austin because she couldn't quit focusing on her suffering. What a waste of newsprint ["31 Nights," Music, Sept. 10].
Maggie San Miguel
Adjusting Ideas Is Essential
To the editor,
Please, will somebody please stand up and say this so called "flip-flopping" is not only OK, it's essential. At my company, we have a philosophy called Continuous Measurement and Improvement. It's the idea that once you put a plan in place you must monitor what happens and alter/improve your strategy as you learn. The best leaders take a three-step approach to policies: vote, monitor, and adjust. This idea of "staying the course" no matter what is ridiculous. I put forward that the man (or woman) who can put the perfect plan together for a situation as complex as worldwide terrorism and not have to adjust as the situation develops is the first real proof that God does exist. Who could know the exact course of action required, a course that required no adjustment? The man who knew the future ahead of time.