From Our Listeners

Letters: Racial Tensions, Infant Deaths, Plane Spotting

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We hear praise from listeners for a piece by Wade Goodwyn on racial tensions in Jena, La., where six black students were charged with attempted murder after the beating of a white student. We also hear criticism of an interview on a spate of infant deaths in the Detroit area, and on conjured memories of plane spotting in Tulsa, Okla.


On Thursdays, we read from your e-mail. And we'll start with praise for Wade Goodwyn's report from Jena, Louisiana. Racial tensions are high in the town after an incident last year. An African-American student asked the high school principal if he could sit under a tree favored by white students. The principal said yes. Someone responded by hanging nooses from the tree. There were fights. And in the end, six black students were charged with attempted murder.

Mr. BILLY FOWLER (Board Member, LaSalle Parish School): I think it's safe to say that some punishment has not been placed out evenly and fairly. I think blacks may have gotten a little tougher discipline through the years.

BLOCK: That's Jena school board member Billy Fowler.

Well, listener Mark Wintersmith(ph) of San Diego writes this. Nothing makes my blood boil like injustice. And injustice is what I heard in your piece. My prayer is that something truly constructive comes from all this. Thanks for taking us where we are all a bit reluctant to go.

Our story also hit a nerve with Steven Williams(ph) of Mechanicsville, Virginia. He's upset with the prosecutor who brought the charges. Williams writes, at first, I gave District Attorney Reed Walters the benefit of the doubt, but it is clear he is not interested in fairness. I still believe that all men are created equal. But Mr. Walters needs to be reminded that African-Americans are due the same respect and rights as other Americans.

Sonny Sims(ph) of Spring, Texas thinks our story was unfair. It portrayed white people as the enemy and black people as being unfairly persecuted, writes Sims. This argument is no longer valid. NPR should try to take more of an unbiased middle ground when presenting this type of sensitive case.

We got dozens of letters about my colleague Michele Norris's interview about a spate of infant deaths in the Detroit area. Dr. Carl Schmidt, the chief medical examiner for Wayne County, Michigan, linked the deaths to unsafe sleeping conditions, specifically co-sleeping.

Dr. CARL SCHMIDT (Chief Medical Examiner, Wayne County, Michigan): You have to pay attention. You know, if you're only 100-pound adult and your child is a standard seven-pound baby, you are 14 times heavier than that baby. And if you're tired and are sleeping deeply and you put that child in a bed with you, you may not feel yourself rolling over that child.

BLOCK: The information regarding co-sleeping is sensationalist and frightening for parents, writes Catherine Abdaner(ph) of Grants Pass, Oregon. Your story lacked a full perspective. I encourage NPR to provide some balance for those of us who know that babies belong with their mothers.

Jennifer Kirkmoore(ph) of Birmingham, Alabama was left with more questions than answers. What other factors were at play? Were the adults intoxicated? Co-sleeping is a safe option for families around the world. The reality is that for myriad reasons, parents sleep with their babies. Let's educate them on how to do it in a safe manner.

Finally, our audio postcard about plane spotters in Baltimore brought back memories for Jim Lewis(ph) of Lake Oswego, Oregon, specifically about his family trips to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lewis writes, each evening, my grandfather would pack us into his Dodge and drive to the airport. He would park at the end of the runway, place his three grandkids on the trunk and let us watch the planes come in, or is it just the plane? Looking back on it, I suspect half his motivation was to get us out of the house in those pre-air-conditioning days. I had completely forgotten about this until your story.

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