Letters: What Do You Think?

Downtown Joe

It is surprising that only now James Heflin notices that Noho is not an "underground bohemia" anymore ["The Other Awards Show," Feb. 26, 2009]. Rather it has been for years an elite yuppie enclave of million-dollar homes, $1,200 apartments and $5 cups of coffee. The "underground" is now elsewhere—somewhere where it can afford to survive. Rarely if ever would Heflin's "gritty underground" get public commendation from a typically bland community-sponsored group such as the Noho Arts Council. Heflin then implies that Downtown Joe Blumenthal should be disqualified from receiving an arts award because he is involved in controversial politics that Heflin disagrees with and is also (God forbid) a successful businessman.

Clearly Downtown Joe does have a daily "dynamic impact" on local arts that goes well beyond his performing music. His store is the only surviving music store in Noho. It employs musicians, many of whom couldn't get another job. His front store windows are open as a gallery for local artists, and he pays them. The store's bulletin board is the best in the area for keeping track of public performances. His store is also a center for music education; additionally, he helps run the Northampton Community Music Center. I'm sure that this "Dynamic Impact" award recognizes all of this, not just his bands and other political activism.

Steven Pistrich

School Zone Laws Don't Work

One out of every three Massachusetts school zone convictions is in Hampden County [see "Urban Penalty," Feb. 26, 2009]. The law requires judges to give a mandatory two-year sentence to anyone convicted of certain drug offenses within 1,000 feet of a school. The one-size-fits-all law prohibits judges from giving more appropriate sentences to minor offenders who pose no risk to children. The state can ill afford a law that disproportionately incarcerates Black and Latino minor drug offenders for long sentences without affording children any extra protection.

The state legislature is considering reforming the school zone law, but Hampden County District Attorney Bill Bennett can take action today. The law gives prosecutors the discretion to look at the facts and decide whether or not an enhanced penalty is appropriate. Hampden County seeks the school zone sentencing enhancement in all cases where it could apply. Justice would be better served if District Attorney Bennett brought his prosecutions in line with the rest of the state. Hampden County is only a small part of the state and should not be taking up such a large portion of the state's prison and jail cells.

Peter Wagner
Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative

Correction: Our Feb. 26, 2009 notice of the Focus on Andy Warhol exhibit at Mount Holyoke College's Futter Gallery mistakenly stated that 150 photographs recently donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation will be on display. Twenty-eight of the photographs will be on display; the others may be viewed by appointment (call 413-538-2245).

Author: From Our Readers

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