Letters for the week of December 6-12, 2006 

Readers comment on "The Making of a Criminal."

"The Making of a Criminal," Feature, 11/8

Branded as criminals
The November 8 issue of the Express has left many members of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association concerned. Forty-two years after the Civil Rights Bill was signed into law, African Americans continue to fight for equality in jobs, housing, and social standing. We remember when the only time people of color were in the news, whether print or television, was when they were being arrested or were victims of a crime.

We have made progress but it is disheartening to pick up the Express and see a full-page booking photograph of Cyrioco Robinson, an African-American teenager, above the headline: "Making of a Criminal" for your series on "System Failure."

We understand that African-American teenagers, like those of ALL other races, commit crimes. But the photograph feeds into the stereotype that young African-American men with braided hair or dreadlocks are criminals. There are many young men with similar hairstyles who are responsible members of our society who could now be unfairly branded because of this photograph.

In addition, there is nothing in this story that explains how the "system failure" was related to Mr. Robinson's current situation.
Bob Butler, president, Bay Area Black Journalists Association, Antioch

Keep after it
Just wanted to congratulate you. I see a lot of media on the juvenile justice system, most of it not very good, and deal with a lot of reporters, most of them not very curious. But I've seldom come across anything as well-informed AND skeptical as your two-parter on the Alameda County system. I hope you keep after the subject.
Patrick Griffin, National Center for Juvenile Justice, Pittsburgh, PA

A real charmer
That kid sounds like a great guy. Real charmer. I wish all those little shits would kill each other more quickly, and do it without breeding first. We are achieving a net gain on guaranteed criminality and our system has proven it can't handle what has already been produced.
Antwan Blagg, Oakland

My name is Bill, and I'm a thug
One way to address the habituated criminal behavior described in the article is through the establishment of a twelve-step program for criminal behavior: Thugs Anonymous or ThA. Some of the meetings could be facilitated by current and former prison inmates. The current inmates could be taken out of the prison setting, I imagine under guard, for the specific purpose of facilitating these meetings. Maybe you couldn't force the youths to attend but just as courts mandate attendance at other recovery meetings, they could mandate attendance at these meetings. There is also a service aspect to attending these meetings. The youths would be asked to help their peers in similar circumstances.
Steven Ford, Oakland

We all need expectations
Reading this article about Cyrioco Robinson, the general impression I get is of someone who feels very empty, feels unloved, and I think it's very significant that he enjoyed and felt cared for in a program for young men (Camp Wilmont Sweeney) run with strict discipline. I believe that a strongly disciplined structure, in all areas — home, school, work, church, social settings — is what young African-American men need most.

When I see young black men walking around on the street in pants worn so low they are indecent, hear them readily use violent and obscene language, read about yet another series of robberies committed by black teenage boys, read of the extremely high rates of incarceration of black males, see young black men idle on street corners, am treated to an obscene litany by a black youth whom I scold for throwing trash on the sidewalk in front of me, I see a crying need for strong guidance and discipline.

Larger society could offer more to young black men, but from talks with Oakland schoolteachers who've struggled with the insular, defeatist thinking of young black men, I get the impression that black youth often feel contemptuous of "society at large," its "white" values (such as success), and are not particularly disposed to be alert and responsive to what is offered in a broad sense. I feel they need particular, close attention not so much from a large society but from a smaller society: their immediate community. If the behaviors and attitudes that put them on the edge of a criminal career were given absolutely no tolerance by their parents, churches, schoolteachers, I think they'd have a brighter future. In particular, schools ought to have zero tolerance for foul language, indecent clothing, and disruptive behavior. Black kids can and should learn to speak proper English. Everyone working with black youth needs to help work against their attraction to gangster culture, which essentially puts them on a death march.

These kids need to be taught that if they want to dress, act, speak, posture like gangsters, then they have no right to complain when polite society slams its doors in their faces. They also need to be given alternatives to ghetto/gutter culture, other ways of developing their identities, more wholesome activities, and in particular, as Robert Bly has pointed out, young males need some type of rite of passage. Black youth deserve high expectations, which honor what they're truly capable of. Then too, African Americans need to take a hard look at the negative aspects of their own culture, such as the acceptance of a "hostile victim" mentality, and refuse to buy into the lie that wanting to succeed and be clean and respectable is a "white" thing. Taking that view will certainly keep black men in prison.
Deborah Mikuteit, Oakland

Stop stereotyping young black men
I am outraged by the continuous negative branding of young black men. Plastered on the front of the East ??? — you can't even see the full name of the tabloid newspaper — is the face of a nineteen-year-old dreadlock brother and the bold white title "The Making of a Criminal." Will your consumers even take the time to read the darkened subtitle "System Failure: California's Response to Youth Crime Part 1" and read the entire article in the East Bay Express to find out how the system has failed? Speaking of, there is not much in Part 1 that speaks of the subject of the system failure.

This cover immediately points a finger at every young black man in America labeling them as CRIMINALS! When will you and other mainstream media discontinue the use of negative imagery of the black community and start exposing the world to some positive ones? Once our youth start to see themselves from a positive perspective, the disparity will end. You are programming readers to think of black men and women as criminals and low life people. This branding must stop now!
Kai Aiyetoro, Oakland

Stop coddling murderous vermin
Perhaps Cyrioco will get a Rio de Janeiro treatment because society will get very tired of these murderous little urchins. The youthful predators that don't respond to pro-social modeling have also been dealt with in the same way in the Philippines where their criminal modus operandi is well developed before teenage.

At least your journalistic skills can be polished before you hit the big time with a mainstream paper or zine. That is the only beauty that comes from the type of vermin like Cyrioco. He will be a returnee to the judicial system ad perpetuam!

Great piece! Hope you get picked up as a stringer soon.
James R. Waldrop, Jr., Berkeley


"Rock Stars of the Caribbean," Press Play, 11/15

It's getting ridiculous
I absolutely do not understand why the Express has a music editor who clearly hates music and the East Bay. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but sheeesh — this guy is so bad! He just comes off as incredibly negative and judgmental and, perhaps worst of all, as a "journalist" who decides his bias way before interviewing, let alone writing, about his subjects. He's just insulting.

I just moved back to Oakland after being entrenched in cold, stuffy New England negativity for a while — but one thing that Providence, Rhode Island, seems to have that Oakland, California, does not, are local music writers who care about and support local arts and music. There's a place for criticism, sure, but everything this guy writes just seems to be a mean-spirited dig at scenes, styles, and genres that he clearly can't stand.

So one question is this: Why even write about people and music he so deeply loathes? Why cover their festivals and art shows? Unless this guy just hates all music and artists (and if that's the case then, dude, get a new fucking job), I'm sure he could find some event to actually write about. I don't see why Downs keeps offering coverage drenched in appropriate insults. He writes like a cranky dad who wants his kids to turn down their "weird" music. Which begs another question: What the fuck does this guy actually like? Did you hire him to just be an asshole? (If so, good job, total score.)

I really think that Downs owes the Budget Rock guy an apology. It's so easy to play on lame stereotypes about apathetic hipsters that I really can't believe you guys keep publishing his crap. It's bordering on character defamation, and it's just kind of embarrassing.

I look to the Express to see what's going on in my (new) community. I mean, I really genuinely like the publication. And I really, genuinely like the East Bay. But if and when I organize an event (and, as one of Downs' dreaded artist-types), I'd rather have no mention at all than have David Downs cover it. The idea of being "interviewed" and then slandered in a "writing" style that seems designed to heal some weird deep rejection wounds and suck the life out of the topic at hand is really a bummer. And the Budget Rock guy invited him into his house! OMG — Downs = Vampire.

Ugh. Please. Seriously. It's getting ridiculous.
Kate Schatz, Oakland


"Lost in Deutschland," Wineau, 11/15

The triple crown
Just want to say you're brilliant. This is exactly what I've been looking for in wine reviews. Availability, taste, and price deserve equal opportunity in the press, but no one had figured that out — until you. So thank you for your populism and your acumen. Cheers!
Tobin O'Donnell, San Francisco

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