Watch Your Language

I was very pleased in some ways and very disappointed in others with the “Ganging Up on City Hall” article [March 9–15]. On the one hand, I applaud the Weekly for taking on this topic and for attempting to unpack some of the statistical posturing on gang violence that has taken over our city in the past weeks. On the other hand, I felt that this article was another example of rhetoric that prevents meaningful dialogue on the subject of gangs. The way I was quoted in the article was particularly saddening to me, as, in addition to my ongoing gang work, I have recently spent a lot of time attempting to talk to law-enforcement officials and to represent their views fairly.

In giving the interview to the Weekly, it was my intention to be part of an article that would get a discourse going. The inflammatory language used in presenting my quotes is not only a misrepresentation but also undermines the possibility of dialogue. I sincerely hope that people will re-read the quotes I gave and take out the words “sarcastic” and “mocking.” The article accuses the media and local politicians of bias, but this language is a form of bias in and of itself.

Susan A. PhillipsPitzer CollegeA Tragic Waste

Regarding Judith Lewis’ piece about Billy Cottrell [“A Terrible Thing to Waste,” March 2–8], as Cottrell’s lawyer I wish to clarify a few points about the defense position.

Billy testified that he was responsible for graffiti only, not arson. Incidentally, FBI affidavits reflected that the Molotov cocktails were non-petroleum-based (probably alcohol).

The jury acquitted Billy of the initial arson charge involving an SUV in Monrovia because they believed Billy had no idea this arson would occur. As framed, this charge carried a minimum 30-year sentence. However, the court denied Billy’s Asperger’s syndrome defense, although both defense and prosecution experts concluded he had Asperger’s. The jury was instructed to decide the Clippinger arsons based on whether an average person would recognize that his companions could not be trusted when, after the first arson, they promised they would only spray-paint thereafter. Thus, Billy’s diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and the difficulty he would have in ferreting out that his friends were lying to him could not be presented to the jury. Had it been, an acquittal was probable.

W. Michael MayockAttorney at lawPasadena

I read the sad tale of Billy Cottrell’s lousy treatment with anger but not shock. I’ve been defending cases in federal court for decades, and the portrait he provides of the Kafka­esque circumstances of his imprisonment are not new or surprising.

I hope Cottrell’s appeal succeeds and he gets transferred, but a guy who lacks social skills is unlikely to thrive in an environment where every day he faces the possibility of violence from inmates and contempt from guards. He will be radicalized and bitter; he will not be “rehabilitated.” That word is a canard issued to assuage the consciences of politicians too cowardly to admit that ware­housing humans for long stretches produces long-term negative results. Eventually, the prisons will blow up again as they did in the ’70s, and inmates will riot. Reform is unlikely unless and until that happens.

Ellen BarryLos Angeles

Thank you for “A Terrible Thing to Waste.” It was effective muckraking. It was also a well-rendered tragic story. I read it and was newly dismayed at our criminal-justice system. I was also reminded that life is short and sacred, that the blessings I have, I’ve got to cherish. I was moved to call my mother to tell her I love her. As I learned, she needed to hear that especially when I called. Thanks — it was a humanizing read for this reader!

Eric GamonalLos AngelesBack in the Former USSR

I was amused by Steven Leigh Morris’ story “Moscow Shake­down” [March 2–8]. After staying here for about 18 months, I can write a thousand similar stories about stupid American service people, dumb bureaucracy at all government levels, and of course the American airports, where the biggest problem is always finding an attendant who can speak English — since I don’t speak Thai, Hindi, Chinese or Spanish! When I come back to Russia I say with relief the same thing as the writer of that funny L.A. story — finally, I’m back to my sweet Russia! It’s the best country and the best people in the world!

Evgeny AgoshkovWashington, D.C.Corrections

The article “Nasty Battle for Classroom Control” [March 2–8] misspelled the names of Alice Callaghan, Neal Kleiner and the Jardin de la Infancia school. Also, two incumbents ran for school board, not three, and Compton is encircled by LAUSD but not part of it.

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