An Unfortunate Tragedy

Although we are very supportive of police efforts in our area, we are absolutely appalled by the horrific killing of our neighbor's dog in his own backyard in Lakeview April 14 by police officers who were answering a burglar alarm.

We know this dog to be a sweet, loving animal. His owner, Patrick, is an extremely responsible pet owner. We residents of Lakeview need our dogs. They are deterrents against the now-frequent crimes committed in our area. The police should be supportive of our controlled efforts to decrease crime.

Our dogs are loved members of our families and should not be subject to slaughter for barking at intruders: This is their job! This particular dog was recovering from major surgery and was thus no threat. The police officer that shot him eight times obviously panicked and is clearly not suited to be armed in a civilized city. Action needs to be taken here.

Kathleen Barfoot, M.D.

Function Over Form

"Scuttlebutt" (News & Views, March 11) reported on Buddy Caldwell's trip to Washington, D.C., for a crime conference where he objected to the early release of people in jail for crack use. "Crack cocaine users are quite different from powder cocaine users," he said. "Crack is highly addictive. Crack users can be some of your worst criminals, and they will strike again."

With all due respect, Caldwell has his facts wrong. Scientific evidence now shows that crack and powder cocaine have the same effects on the body, and crack users are no more likely to become violent than powder cocaine users. There is no medical or rational basis for the law punishing crack users more severely. But there is a social one, and that's that black people are much more likely to smoke crack than snort powder cocaine.

Since 1986, when disparate sentencing laws went into effect, the main result has been to lock up more African Americans and keep them in jail longer. Recent data reveals that African Americans make up 15 percent of the country's drug users — and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for drug use. If you're a black person using drugs in the U.S. today, you're five times more likely to go to jail than if you're a white person using drugs. And while 80 percent of people punished for crack are African American, half the people using are white or Hispanic.

That's why the U.S. Sentencing Commission four times has recommended changes to crack and cocaine sentencing guidelines. Under the original policy, black people are likely to end up doing twice as much time as white people for nearly identical offenses.

Treating crack more harshly has a devastating impact on poor, black neighborhoods — putting parents behind bars, breaking up families and destroying people's chances of future employment. It's time to revisit outdated myths about crack and to treat it as what it is: another form of cocaine.

Marjorie R. Esman

Executive director, American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana

What Not to Wear

Ville Platte Democaratic Sen. Eric LaFleur's Senate Bill 9 seeks to remove the requirement to wear a motorcycle helmet. The senator says motorcyclists should have a "choice" to wear a helmet or not. Given this logic, all public safety laws should be abolished.

State and national statistics abound that helmets save lives and reduce injuries. The bill's requirement for a $10,000 medical insurance policy is laughable once the helmetless folks hit the hospital emergency rooms, head/spinal cord injury facilities, home health, etc. The reality is that taxpayers eventually foot the bill in the form of uncompensated care, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. Publicly funded long-term care already costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

If the "choice" motorcyclists want is the wind running through their hair, let them go buy a fan. For the record, I ride a motorcycle nearly every day, with helmet firmly in place.

Paul Forbes


Helmets Are Just the Start

Why single out motorcyclists for state mandates to lessen the impact of informed freedom of choice? ('Keep the Helmet Law," Commentary, April 15). Since the vast majority of fatal auto accidents are head injuries, why limit the protection of helmets to a small minority of vehicles? Let's mandate helmets for all vehicles and all passengers. That would save far more lives than just mandating them for motorcycles.

We could save even more lives if we outlawed cigarettes. If the state made this choice for us, it would save far more lives than auto and motorcycle accidents combined. While we're at it, alcohol kills even more people. This freedom should be taken away and the choice should be made by the state. We did try this once (Prohibition), and freedom-loving people rose up against it.

The bottom line here is that it is not helmets that are the issue, it is the helmet law. If it is right for the state to legislate the risk out of life for one group, it will be right for them to legislate the risk for all. Is this the direction we really want our society to go?

'The cost associated with the treatment of motorcyclists' injuries account for less than 0.001 percent of total U.S. health care costs." Health care costs in the United States attributable to motor vehicle accidents are approximately 1.16 percent, of which motorcycles represented a mere 0.53 percent, according to the Hurt Study funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and research done in conjunction with the University of California.

Also be careful when listening to insurance companies that try to float the idea that insurance rates will drop if motorcycle riders wear helmets. In 1989, Nebraska passed a mandatory helmet law using that argument and rates have not fallen, but increased. Iowa, which is next door, has no helmet law but lower rates than Nebraska.

Rudy Avizius

Audubon, N.J.

Negotiate But Don't Strike

Thank you for mentioning the Fraternal Order of Police and our quest for collective bargaining rights for the men and women of the New Orleans Police Department ('Scuttlebutt," News & Views, April 15). We firmly believe a collective bargaining agreement allowing our police officers the right to negotiate wages, benefits and conditions of employment would go a long way toward restoring the morale that is, unfortunately, at an all-time low in our department. Further, such an agreement would provide another critical element — stability — to our rank-and-file members and to the administration.

One point of clarification: Although individual members may have taken part in the 1979 "police strike," the Fraternal Order of Police as an organization voted not to participate in that work stoppage. Quoting from Article II, Section 2 of our Constitution and By-laws, "Crescent City Lodge 2, Fraternal Order of Police shall not strike or by concerted action cause a cessation of the performance of police duties, or induce other members or lodges to do likewise."

The above was an article of our Constitution and By-laws in 1979, and remains in our Constitution and By-laws today.

The Fraternal Order of Police would not only welcome, but would insist upon, a no strike, no sick-out, no work slowdown clause to any agreement we would sign on behalf of our members. The members of the Fraternal Order of Police take very seriously our oaths of office, our commitment to protect and to serve the citizens of our great city, and our pledge to act at all times as professional law enforcement officers.

Jim Gallagher

Fraternal Order of Police