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    Letters to the Editors

    Firing of Vines has trivialized important issue


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 20, 2001

    Re: The firing of police Chief Mack Vines.

    How is it that in America, a person cannot use a descriptive term to describe behavior without it being turned into a racial slur? If the man had been acting like a donkey, would that be racist? If he had been acting like a pig, would that be racist? The person in question was hanging onto a steering wheel column with both arms and legs, for crying out loud; no matter what his race, he was acting like an ape.

    Maybe I am naive, but I don't equate blacks or any other human beings with primates, because I believe we are all made in God's image, red and yellow, black and white. I can't pretend to understand things from a black perspective, because I am not black, but I think the real issue here is why anyone would take offense at a remark that was obviously one describing behavior, not race. Racism is a very real issue, on the part of blacks as well as whites; that issue is trivialized by turning an innocent remark into a tribunal. There are still major issues that need to be addressed to lift people of all races, creeds, and colors up out of whatever repression they may be victims to. Issues such as poverty, broken homes, crime and lack of education need to be addressed by the people who are affected the most by them. I wonder how much more the betterment of the community, black and white, would be served if folks used all that protest time to mentor a child, help a neighbor, or clean up a vacant lot in their community.

    At least this episode has shown St. Petersburg what their new mayor is really made of. Obviously the new mayor cares much more about public opinion than what is right. On the other hand, the poor ex-chief may be so skittish now, he probably would no longer have been effective anyway.
    -- Sheryl Eder, Pinellas Park

    We're not building a positive image

    Most perceptive people have felt that Omali Yeshitela and the Uhurus have been running the St. Petersburg Police Department for some time. Can there be any doubt now?

    St. Petersburg has been trying valiantly to revitalize the downtown and many other areas, but now that the citizens realize that the mayor will cave whenever a minority feels that every other remark that a white police officer makes is racist, how positive an image can be built? If an Italian or Chinese person had wrapped his legs around a steering wheel while resisting arrest and had been described as acting like a monkey or orangutan, would his compatriots make a big fuss? I doubt it.

    Your liberal paper showed a lot of class on Dec. 18 by printing only those letters pointing out how absurd the whole thing is.
    -- Bob Brindley, Belleair Beach

    Mayor Baker did the right thing

    Bravo to Mayor Baker for having the courage to do the right thing.

    As a white, North-side resident, I speak for many others when I say I felt safe and secure under the tenure of former chief Goliath Davis. Crime was down and there was the feeling that every citizen would be treated equally and respectfully by the police. Police department statistics show that poverty and crime are linked. Under Chief Davis, there was a commitment to economic justice as a key to peace, security and crime reduction across the board, rather than heavy-handed policing and containment policies directed at impoverished black neighborhoods.

    As soon as Chief Vines took over, an intimidating police presence was apparent to me when I would visit the South side. It seemed an ominous sign of a return to the old days when brutality was rampant.

    I serve on the steering committee of Citizens United in Shared Prosperity, a civic organization devoted to bringing about unity and economic justice to our city. CUSP members are broadly representative of the many diverse neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, north and south.

    At the end of October the CUSP steering committee met with Chief Vines to voice our concerns about reports that police harassment and brutality was returning to the South side. Chief Vines assured us that he would continue the policies of Chief Davis, and agreed to address the monthly general meeting of CUSP, which he did on Dec. 4. In a standing-room only meeting, many people, black and white, raised issues of concern and gave examples of increased police presence and brutality.

    "Trust me," Vines urged the crowd, and most people agreed to take a wait-and-see attitude. Little did we know that Dec. 4 was the same day that Vines had made the offensive and unacceptable "orangutan" remark and had given the nod for officers to use excessive force in the black community. As the truth began to be revealed it was clear that the community had been betrayed and any hope for "trust" was gone.

    In the five years since the police killing of TyRon Lewis there have been tremendous strides in bringing about unity and peace in our city. St. Petersburg can be a model for economic justice and for bonds built between all races and neighborhoods, as opposed to a city infamous for divisions, injustice and police brutality and killings of black people. We don't want to go backwards. Let's go forward together.
    -- Penny Hess, St. Petersburg

    Call in the thought police

    After a week or more of reading about the infamous "orangutan" comment, it now appears that Mack Vines wasn't even making reference to a "black man."

    According to the Dec. 19 article, Baker fires Vines for rousing distrust the following is what was actually said:

    "He said it might be necessary, in some instances, for as many as four officers to restrain a suspect who is acting like an orangutan. Several officers in the room thought Vines was talking about a black man accused of ramming a police officer during a drug investigation."

    If you read that closely, Vines was referring to a "suspect," not a "black man." His remark applies to anyone acting in such a manner. There certainly is nothing racist about it.

    Assuming that the Times is reporting accurately, it sounds as if Vines was fired not because of what he said but because of what several officers thought he was thinking.

    So now do we need to worry about thought police, too?
    -- Bill Hamlin, Seminole

    A word not race-related

    I am a nurse, and I recall some time ago a mother and child in the emergency room. The mother was holding her child to her body, and I handed her a piece of paper to sign. She let go of the child with both hands to sign the paper. I looked for a strap or something holding this baby, but there was nothing. The child was clinging to the mother. I said, "You are not holding that baby." She smiled but said nothing.

    When I saw the emergency room doctor I was trying to describe to him how the baby was holding on to the mother. He said, "You mean like a monkey." Well, yes, and we both smiled. The baby and the mother were white, but I guess if they had been black and someone had overheard there could have been a problem?
    -- Sandy French, St. Pete Beach

    Mayor's move promotes divisiveness

    It takes a gigantic stretch of the imagination to find anything racial in the remark made by Police Chief Mack Vines, but it was all the Uhurus needed to get him fired. During the "reign" of Goliath Davis, the city was besieged with lawsuits against Davis and the police department. When Davis decided he wanted to retire, the new mayor, Rick Baker, established a new department in city government for him. Mack Vines makes a remark some consider inappropriate, and he is fired by the Uhuru figurehead, Rick Baker. Baker, like his predecessor David Fischer, knows on which side his political bread is buttered.

    Rick Baker has proved that he is not qualified to be mayor of this city, but then puppets rarely make good mayors. I have read that the morale in the police department has improved. We can't have that, can we? It seems the only important thing the police department has to do is appease a militant faction in the black community.

    Mayor Baker stated that he went back and forth until he arrived at his decision. I doubt that he spent much time deciding how to handle this situation, but I'm sure he agonized over how to appease the Uhuru and the NAACP without alienating the white people on whom he counts for votes.

    The most common rhetoric in the last decade concerning this city has been "heal" and "move forward." St. Petersburg will never be a great city without great leadership. It is difficult to move forward when you constantly regress, and you don't heal quickly when you get stabbed in the back.

    Mack Vines did not make a mistake, and no apology was called for. This has been blown way out of proportion. He did not name any individual when he made the controversial remark. Vines said it might be necessary for as many as four officers to restrain a suspect who is acting like an orangutan. It was several others in the room who decided that he must be referring to a certain black man, so they are the ones at fault if there is any reason to place blame. However, in this age of political correctness to the point of lunacy, it did cost him his job, and it is yet to be determined the cost to the citizens of St. Petersburg.

    Some say this move on the part of the mayor will prevent racial divisiveness in the city. Hogwash! This is the sort of thing that promotes it.
    -- Carolyn Woodard, St. Petersburg

    Ex-chief is not a racist

    This is a shameful day for the city of St. Petersburg. Shameful in that we have a mayor, city manager and city council that cannot recognize the difference between innocence and guilt... offhanded levity or covert prejudice.

    Is it conceivable that Vines has a hidden agenda that would label him a racist? Has his past record here in St. Petersburg and elsewhere around the country demonstrated that he is actively promoting racist philosophies by uttering defamatory words at opportunistic moments? I would think that in today's society, given the amount of daily arrests of persons of all races, that Vines would have the opportunity to spread his venom often and in every area of the country he served.

    Mack Vines is not a racist. His actions and record do not support this position. It is wrong for Mayor Baker to fire him under a label that will follow Vines the rest of his life.

    Shame on the city for cowering to organizations that lie in wait for any non-black official to make a mistake -- innocent or ignorant -- while excusing any and all improprieties within their own community. Political correctness should be conceived with practical logic and governed by due process. Instead, those who themselves are governed by minority extremists govern us. I wish the majority of "us voters" of all races had the time to lurk in the bushes, awaiting the inevitable error of every official in government today.
    -- Steven Hazell, Largo

    More jokes to come

    I guess St. Petersburg is destined to always remain a second-class city with no leadership, no direction, and no common sense. Expect I'll be seeing more of this on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno . . . what a joke!
    -- Roger Eaton, Palm Harbor

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    Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by e-mail to letters@sptimes.com or by fax to 893-8675. They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number.

    Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be published.

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