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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Today's Letters: Whom do we blame for this tragedy?
Letters to the Editor
Published August 24, 2007
In reading Sue Carlton's column, I wondered why no one is asking why Michael Allen Phillips was not tried during the six months since his arrest. I suspect that's because we all know the answer.
As a lawyer for the last 30 years, I have watched each year as the judicial system has begged lawmakers for the resources needed to make the system work as it is supposed to work. Each year I have watched as lawmakers have provided the system with a small fraction of the necessary resources. I don't blame the lawmakers, because it is clear that the voting public is simply unwilling to pay the taxes necessary to adequately fund the judicial system.
The result, of course, is that persons presumed innocent must be given reasonable bail and remain free until the overburdened, underfunded system can get around to putting them on trial. Rather than provide for a properly functioning judicial system with enough judges, prosecutors, public defenders and jail space to try people like Phillips, we have made the decision to have a system that requires him to be set free so he can kill someone like Sgt. Ronald Harrison.
When it comes to assessing blame, however, we are unwilling to accept the responsibility for our decision to underfund the judicial system.
Rather, we cast about for a scapegoat. In this case, the scapegoat is an overworked judge trying to do the best he can under the law and a woefully inadequate judicial system. Judge Manuel Lopez did not create the inadequate judicial system or the constitutional requirements of bail and the presumption of innocence. He was simply doing the best he could under the inadequate system the public chose to give to him. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
Ed Bradley, Lithia
Whom do we blame for this tragedy? Aug. 22, Sue Carlton column
Deeper look could save lives
No one disputes the fact that the death of Hillsborough County sheriff's Sgt. Ronald Harrison is a tragedy. But other than an outline of Michael Allen Phillips' criminal record, we know very little as to what caused him to do what he did.
Before any of you dismiss this as another liberal attempt to coddle a murderer, might I suggest that playing the blame game will do nothing to prevent the loss of life of some future innocent victim. We need to look deeper to find the reason for his actions.
For example, given Phillips' long history of violence, had there been any attempt to determine if he had psychological problems that could have been addressed, or was he involved with a gang or hate group? Why is this important? Because if he was involved with a gang or hate group, the threat to other officers still exists. And if this horrendous deed was caused by some mental defect, then we could look to programs to prevent future similar tragedies.
I know that seeking answers to these questions may not make for a good sound bite, but if it saves one life it is well worth the effort.
Frank Kopczynski, Clearwater
To the Tampa Bay community:
I want to thank each of you for your thoughts and actions following the death of Sgt. Ron Harrison. The support shown by residents and businesses around the Tampa Bay area was wonderful and inspiring. There were telephone calls, cards, e-mails, donations, flowers and prayers.
The depth of loss to a law enforcement agency when an officer is killed cannot be measured. The emotional toll will always be with us. It is also an irreplaceable loss to the community.
But the Tampa Bay community showed the Harrison family and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office that together we can move forward from this tragedy. Your thoughts and prayers told us we do make a difference, and that we all must never stop searching for ways to keep our peace officers safe.
Sgt. Harrison proved to his family and community what it meant to be a dedicated, caring law enforcement officer. The words the community spoke, wrote and prayed proved to the Sheriff's Office that we will heal together, and that what we do counts.
David Gee, sheriff, Hillsborough County, Tampa
Vick to enter guilty plea Aug. 21, story
How can he apologize?
While I am disappointed that Michael Vick will be able to make a plea agreement, I understand how the system works. And while I would like to see more serious charges, I guess I can try to accept that. However, what I cannot accept is the quote from one of Vick's attorneys: "Michael wishes to apologize to everyone that has been hurt by this matter."
How can anyone apologize to the dogs that were taken from the property and probably will be euthanized? How can anyone apologize to the dogs that were maimed and killed because of their failure to perform adequately as fighting dogs?
The illegal "sport" of dogfighting is extremely lucrative. It is also extremely secretive and hard to track. From specials that I have watched, and research I have done, it is apparent that sometimes one of these fights can bring in up to $60,000.
I think Vick should be fined and imprisoned, be tossed from the NFL and never be allowed to own any animal. He also should have to donate a sizeable sum of money to the agencies that brought him down, so that we can continue to fight this "sport."
Nancy Dively, Tarpon Springs
Worst of the worst Aug. 23, Susan Estrich column
All too human
"Worst of the worst" what? Susan Estrich's well- intentioned column, while readable, was as inflammatory and reactionary as any I've yet read regarding this deplorable incident. This might be a headline for the PETA newsletter and Westminster Dog Show devotees, but given all the potential headlines (Iraq, presidential election, hurricanes, etc.), this story doesn't deserve the attention it's receiving.
Estrich wonders if Michael Vick apologized to the dogs he abused, as if they would understand such a thing. I wonder if Estrich apologizes to the anonymous cows responsible for the steaks or hamburgers she may have eaten. In some countries they eat dogs; in other countries cows are considered sacred. It's all relative. What is not relative is that Vick broke several laws in a country where this blood sport is illegal. He'll be punished for that as he should.
Dogs should clearly not be treated as Vick treated them. To classify him as an "evil subhuman," however, is ludicrous and a tad juvenile. If Vick's actions make him subhuman, what of the numbers of others who have done far worse things? Are we a country, a world full of "subhumans" or does the designation of human actually encompass persons composed of the myriad varieties of human nature, however repugnant we may find some of them? I don't know what Vick (or the many others that participate in this activity) finds pleasurable about dogfighting. My inability to understand that makes me no more or less human than his inability to find it reprehensible.
Steven Levy, Palm Harbor
NAACP: Punish Vick, then give him a chance Aug. 23
Don't back Michael Vick
I urge the NAACP to drop its support of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and its request that the NFL consider giving him another chance after he has served any potential prison time.
This should not become a question of race. If anything, this should be a time when people of all ethnic backgrounds should unite to rebuke an individual who clearly was out of control. There are things that are simply indefensible; dogfighting and animal cruelty are two. People who torture and kill animals for sport often go on to torture and kill people.
Instead of another chance, the NAACP should urge the NFL to insist that Vick receive a thorough psychiatric evaluation and any treatment he may need to lead a healthy and productive life. As of right now, he is a dangerous man. It's certainly not because he happens to be African-American.
P.F. Bruns, Seffner
Future job prospects
I am, for once, in agreement with the NAACP in its stance that Michael Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL after serving his sentence for his role in a dogfighting enterprise.
To deny him his right to his livelihood is punishment beyond the crime that was committed. I for one would enjoy seeing Michael Vick running onto the field as the Atlanta Falcons' new "water boy." Then, after the game, he can be in charge of washing the team's jock straps.