Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open letter to Marion County (Indiana) Prosecutor Terry Curry

Dear Mr. Curry,

I am writing this open letter for the purpose of suggesting that you reconsider pursuing the death penalty in your case against Major Davis Jr. in the shooting death of Officer Perry Renn. As you yourself have indicated, executing Mr. Davis probably won't deter further acts of violence and murder targeting police officers, a hunch borne out by FBI statistics showing that states with the death penalty experience a much higher rate of violent crime (by a margin as high as 46% in some years) than those without.

 (I should clarify that it does not appear that Mr. Davis was ‘targeting’ Officer Renn per se, as online reports indicate the officers on the scene fired first, and that Mr. Davis was simply firing back in what he may have believed was legitimate self-defense. Please correct me if my understanding on this is wrong.)

Therefore, if not serving as a deterrent, what reason could the state possibly have for ending a citizen’s life? If it is for the purpose of ensuring that justice is served, as you have also stated, I would ask that you clarify what you mean by ‘justice’.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the commonly misunderstood sense of “an eye for an eye”, you should think again, as this is revenge, justice’s hot-headed second cousin. While there may be some shared DNA between the two, one is not synonymous with the other. Revenge is an appeal to anger and emotionalism, rather than reason, and by setting such an example for your constituents, you infantilize them.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the dictionary sense, consistent with Merriam-Webster’s definition, “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals”, I would urge you to think again on this point as well. While Mr. Davis may deserve a sentence appropriate to the severity of his crime (if found guilty), the crime itself occurred within a milieu where a vastly disproportionate amount of violent crime is committed by young black men with limited prospects and a strong sense of alienation from mainstream society due to socioeconomic factors.

The extent to which these factors play a role in this case is for a jury to decide, though recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, as just one example, indicate that America has a racial disparity problem with serious public safety implications. As I’m sure you already know, Census Bureau figures show that an astounding 86% of those on Death Row are either black or latino. And given that death penalty states for the most part also happen to be ones that spend less on education than the others, it is evident that there are underlying social issues needing to be addressed beyond the personal guilt or innocence of someone like Mr. Davis.

By not addressing poverty and inequality, does the state do right by its citizens? What social costs are exacted in the name of austerity policies that reduce access to quality health services and education among those who happen to go on to commit the lion’s share of violent crime? And is it really fair to judge and punish Mr. Davis as if his alleged crime occurred in a societal vacuum, with something as final and brutal as the death penalty?

I’m not saying it’s up to you to rectify all of these social ills, as they are above and beyond your station as prosecutor. What you can do, however, is take a broader look at the situation and ask yourself if all of your constituents are truly being served by having yet another black man face state execution, an outcome you have already admitted will do nothing to save lives.


James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada

Saturday, August 23, 2014

News headlines should not editorialize

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Sun, as submitted on August 22, 2014. A shortened version was published on August 23.


Your relentless consistency in discouraging readers from making up their own minds about the issues of the day simply amazes. A case in point, for two different reasons, is the front page headline for August 22, which read "A PROTEST FOR ALL: 2,000 clog downtown streets to rally against this, that and the other thing".

Firstly, before the reader has a chance to read the story, you've told them what to think with a headline that rolls its eyes in disdain, and implies that the demonstration was a nuisance characterized by intellectual meandering.

Secondly, the headline is dishonest. While the event featured groups and speakers representing a wide range of concerns, it had a very singular focus. Those who took the time to read Kelly Roche's accompanying article would have been able to determine that much, at least, despite a front page headline that seemed to discourage the effort.

It is disrespectful to the reader and the reporter that you taint the article with front page editorializing, thus transforming responsible journalism into propaganda-by-association.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Presidents are not free to misrepresent their organizations

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Sun. I should note here that I have no vested interest in nor connection to the party in question, and that any sentiments here would apply to all political parties.


Re: Green Party shows its true colours

Eric Duhaime does your readers no favours by presenting such a skewed take on the Green Party's reaction to their President's recent comments vis–à–vis the Israel-Palestine conflict. He would have us believe that the party is exhibiting an aversion to democracy, as well as its central pillar, freedom of speech, and that this points to the evil incarnate of...socialism! (Cue sinister music.)

Nowhere does he mention that when Paul Estrin is speaking in his capacity as President of the Green Party, his audience could reasonably assume he is representing his party's policies, as democratically arrived at via regular policy conventions. If Mr. Estrin is uncomfortable with his membership's policies on the Middle East or any other issue, then he should indeed take his leadership skills elsewhere, rather than misrepresent his organization.

What we really have here is a political party doing what it needs to do to control its message on behalf of its card-carrying members in order to uphold their democratic will.

Lastly, socialism itself isn't predicated on stifling expression or curtailing democracy - all political ideologies are susceptible to being corrupted by factions jockeying for power. Just because Josef Stalin twisted communism into a brutal form of left wing authoritarianism doesn't mean all schools of thought under the "socialism" umbrella are inherently prone to the same evils.

Your readers deserve more even-handed analysis, and less bumper sticker politics built on lies of omission.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Matinee at the Imaginary Bijou

This afternoon I was introduced to William Grant Still's Poem for Orchestra while listening to KTEP, the NPR affiliate in El Paso, Texas. The piece evokes postwar Hollywood, and in response my brain projected a ten-and-a-half minute trailer on the inside of my head for some old black and white melodrama I've never seen, and only exists in the nostalgic vapors wafting up the nostrils of my imagination with each swell of music, complete with large captions like DANGER!, FOREIGN INTRIGUE!, and TRAGIC TEMPTATION WEARS A FEMALE MASK! splaying across the screen at visually-opportune moments.

In keeping with its silver screen aroma of yesteryear, Poem for Orchestra builds to a dark and cynical crescendo that cajoles my mind into seeing THE END in gigantic letters, with Filmed in Hollywood, U.S.A. in smaller script below, overlaying the final image depicting a denouement where most questions have been answered, and justice of a sort has been served, but with an evil little curl of smoke escaping from Pandora's Box before it is closed once again, portending moral accounts yet to be paid up.

Journal entry
July 31, 2014