Week of November 11, 2004

Nov 10, 2004 at 4:00 am
Scouts' Honor
Doing their part: As a former Cubmaster and a current Assistant Scoutmaster here in my community, I find it disturbing that you even regard this event as newsworthy [Malcolm Gay, "Get Lost, Kid!" October 20]. But since you do, I feel compelled to comment.

First, Scout leaders are volunteers. They may be properly vetted in terms of the permissibility of their background (criminal behavior, etc.), but they are not professional social workers of any flavor, nor are they required to be by the Boy Scouts of America. In that vein, they are not equipped to deal with handicapped or disruptive children.

Second, no Scout leader worth his salt wants to exclude a boy from participating. Scout leaders, by and large, want to include every boy who is interested, and I can tell you from personal experience with my units and others I've encountered at various Scouting functions that there is broad tolerance for individual behaviors. I have full confidence that the leaders in question considered this at length before concluding that they could not accommodate these two boys.

It is a cruel fact of life, but a fact of life no less, that "normal" boys (and girls, too) are not comfortable in the company of severely handicapped peers. Scouting is a voluntary activity, and most parents I know leave the decision to participate in the hands of their children. If a child goes to a Tiger Cubs meeting (first-grade age) and finds the experience undesirable, then they are likely to drop out. In such a voluntary organization, there is no way to compel the children to participate, and even if a parent chose to do so, the discomfort would diminish the experience for the child.

Finally, I would point out that, as the boys grow older, there is more tolerance for handicapped participants. Boy Scouts can be compelled to be more tolerant, given their maturity, than Cub Scouts.

Public schools in most states attempt to mainstream handicapped children. Whatever social good that can be done through mainstreaming is done there. There is no justification to compel a volunteer organization with the burden of accommodating handicapped children. The experience and professional training required to do this effectively are not there. You presume that Scouting is a public accommodation and is thereby required to find a way to accommodate each and every child regardless of the challenges that this presents. We do everything we can given our limitations to find a way to include every boy who wants to participate, but sadly, the reality is that not every boy can be accommodated. You quote the number of registered handicapped boys at 100,000, but I can assure you that the real number is far higher, especially when you include the number of boys who are ADD- or ADHD-affected.

I am quite comfortable concluding that the Boy Scouts of America are doing their part to include all boys. Your demonization of Scouting is simply unacceptable.
Frank Hujber
Mercerville, New Jersey

Victim, shmictim: Your article on Pack 765 is kind of unfair, don't you think? You immediately took the side of the "victim," making it seem that the Boy Scouts were somehow heartless and discriminatory towards handicapped/disabled children.

It is sad that the pack had to ask the child not to attend. However, wouldn't it be inappropriate to state publicly the reason(s)? If the child was disruptive, uninterested, incapable and a safety concern, would you want him attending any other type of meeting with your children?

Unfortunately, the child has a mental disability that doesn't allow him to participate. It is not Pack 765's fault that he can't fit in. I feel bad for the child, but for the parent to put the child in that type of situation, wanting him to be around normal children when he isn't normal, has set this child up for the failure the parent is complaining about.

I think it was great that Pack 765 tried to accommodate this child. However, they had to make a decision, a very hard decision, to tell the parent not to bring the child back. Based on your argument, if she had enrolled him in a gifted-and-talented academic program and was asked not to bring her child back, would she and you state that the child had been unfairly discriminated against?

Give Pack 765 some credit. They tried. It sounds like she knew what was happening, that the child didn't fit in, and is playing the part of the victim instead of accepting her own culpability.
Roy Flores
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Voice of experience: I am an Eagle Scout from New Hampshire, and I am outraged by what the Cub Scout pack has done to this child. I have been involved with Scouting for over eighteen years and I can't believe a Scout troop would do this. I have worked with special-needs kids and I understand that they might not be able to do all of the activities in the pack. But that is no reason to tell someone that their kid is unwelcome. Scouting has changed my life in so many ways. I want to express my support for the Irby family.
James Mandeville, airman first class
United States Air Force
Okinawa, Japan

How about a merit badge?... As the mother of a former Girl Scout, I can understand both sides of this dilemma. Mrs. Irby wants her son accepted into the Cub Scouts. She obviously has no time to start her own troop, nor should she have to. A troop filled with developmentally disabled children really could not give them a flavor of what Boy Scouts is all about unless you have phenomenal leaders. Cub Scout Pack 765 doesn't seem to have the leadership to handle a child with special needs; a group of seven-year-old boys is challenging enough to handle on its own. Some people have a gift for working with those with disabilities and others have to be taught.

My suggestion is to allow Christopher to remain in Pack 765 but assign to him one or several older boys to be with him at the meetings to help him to be an active member of that troop. I'm sure the Boy Scouts must have some sort of badge that can be earned by serving in this way.
Darlene Houry
Willowich, Ohio

...Or a move to North Carolina? While I do not have all of the facts about the boy in your story, I feel appalled at the action taken by the pack leaders. I have been involved in Scouting for many years and have had to deal with boys who were "slow." it would take quite a bit of bad behavior for me to take that kind of action.

My own son is ADHD, which I used to think of as something that could be controlled by parents but have since found is not true, and he has a tendency to be compulsive and indirectly disruptive, but I or my wife attend all activities, not to control him but to be there just in case. The leaders of this pack seem like they would not be interested in him, since he is not Mr. Perfect. Were I in your area, I believe the leadership of my son's pack would welcome this young man.
Harry Davis
Hillsborough, North Carolina

Insult to injury: To suggest that a separate group for disabled children be founded adds insult to injury. The adults who made this decision have passed on a lesson to their charges: Some are better than others and it's acceptable to discriminate against the "others." I don't think that's what the Boy Scouts of America had in mind when the Scout Creed was written.
Gayle Fitzpatrick
Falmouth, Maine

Watch your language: I understand the Cub Scouts' position, inasmuch as it is a private club, anything goes. The mother's comment at the end ["I feel like it's all bullshit"] possibly shows the true attitudes of the family.

There was no need for that comment, and if she speaks like that to the newspaper, how does she speak at home? Could that possibly have an effect on the boy? The Scouts gave an alternative; take it and quit crying. Life is not fair. Wake up and stop looking to attorneys every time you do not get your way.
Jack St. James
Las Vegas, Nevada

Between the lines: In my experiences with mainstreaming handicapped youth in the Boy Scouts, it usually takes a family member or two (or three) to work shoulder-to-shoulder with their handicapped son, especially those with extremely short attention spans or no retention. I am going out of an assumption here: If all the parents were complaining about the safety of all the other kids, where was this mom and why didn't she do anything to control her son?

Something is not being said in the article if the Scout leaders had to resort to communicating officially via a letter. Again going on an assumption, one would think that the mom would understand when talked to in person and recognize during the meetings that her son is out of control to the point of endangering the other kids.
Name withheld by request
Indianapolis, Indiana

Cut both ways: On one side of this double-edged sword, I despise discrimination of any kind. On the other hand, I can understand the pack's decision. Whether I agree with the cruel inhumanity of their act is another matter. Yet they have the right to make this heartless request. This is a private group.

Any group that already has a reputation of discrimination against one segment of society will easily engage in discrimination against another. This is an evil that always claims a higher moral ground. To expect otherwise is impractical. If discrimination is allowed and accepted in one form, then it must be greeted with open arms and sanctified when it presents itself in another. They have shown themselves incapable of producing and apparently unwilling to produce an extra measure of integrity that would allow this child to participate.

Let them exclude at their will. Why associate with people that would refuse a child with special needs, a gift from their hearts? I speak from an emotional standpoint and years of experience. I am the mother of two special-needs children. I've been waging my own battles with discrimination against the handicapped for two decades. Use the actions of this group as a guide that will teach your child what a painful lack of compassion in word and deed -- truly is. This is an unfortunate fact of life; it will never go away. There are people out there that will always treat this child as inferior and exclude him, no matter what you do to shield that child from the pain of this isolating behavior. This will happen again.

Ezekiel had a vision of angels with six wings and multiple faces. I would tell this mother: Find your son an angel out there with a face of love and of acceptance. Find your son an angel with a face of patience and of compassion. Find an angel with knowledge and understanding. These angels are out there, but you will have to work to find them. You will bleed emotion from the very core of your being during this search. Place yourself between your child and people that act within the limits of their own ignorance and seek to make your son less than you know that he is. Find your son an angel with multiple faces and six wings. Let each face offer your son a smile and a place of comfort, and let each wing be large enough to shield him from prejudicial attitudes and beliefs.
Victoria Santiago
Fargo, North Dakota

A harsh lesson: How unbelievably snobbish for these two Scout leaders to prevent this little boy from being a Cub Scout because of his disability. These parents are teaching their children and the other children in the pack to be snobs and to be afraid of people who are mentally disabled.

I can understand the Boy Scouts not allowing a child who refuses to pledge allegiance to God, because faith is part of what the Boy Scouts are. But to refuse a child because he is mentally disabled, something he has no control over, is absolutely disgusting. How the Boy Scouts' management stands up and supports these types of actions is appalling. Kicking out a disabled child seems to go against everything the Boy Scouts supposedly represent.
Robert Moon
Fort Worth, Texas

Down with prejudice: I am deeply disheartened by the narrow-minded, ignorant behavior of the individuals who represent the Scouts. To write such a letter to members of the community that have stepped forward selflessly in adopting these children. This family enrolled this child with faith in the values the Scouts provide in their teachings. I seriously doubt these were the values they would encounter: ignorance, prejudice and a lack of compassion.

My niece and nephews live in Virginia and all are involved with the Scouts and have not encountered troop leaders so blind, and I thank God for this blessing. What are these people teaching the other children in this troop? What do they say to the kids when one asks where their friend went? It is my hope that these leaders who wrote this letter to this amazing, selfless woman are dismissed from their mentoring positions. This is the only way to ensure such prejudice isn't spread to our future.
Colleen April Moan
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Bare Necessity
Yep, it's her all right! My wife says one of the women in the peace-sign cover photo is her [October 13]. I know she is active in [the] antiwar movement, and the picture does look a little like her, but I don't believe it. Is that local St. Louis women? I think she is trying to pull one over on me.
Name withheld by request
Town & Country

More, please! I work in a convenience store. Our delivery drivers stocked our Riverfront Times and I went to turn them right-side-up. Then I was told that I had to see the cover and make the decision. Hello!

Well, the RFTs stayed the way they were. We had no problems with people complaining. I need more copies if possible.
Tom Stelling

A word from the censor -- er, the pastor: It is with great disappointment that I find myself having to write this letter. The fact that a publication such as yours, that caters to much of the same clientele as we do but offers a more liberal view, should find itself in need of talking a step beyond the edge and right up to the doorstep of innocence in our communities. By displaying full-frontal nudity (I am sure that many would call this anything from art to pornography) on the cover, you have more than challenged the moral fiber of our communities, you have attacked it, and I must say, it is in very poor form. Not only have you violated many obscenity codes, but you have put the innocence of our children at risk by placing your free, easy-to-secure, widely distributed publication within grasp of minors and within visual contact of many in our society who do not wish to view such things.

I use your publication for a source of reference from time to time in the area of the arts. I don't think I'll be doing this in the future. You can't imagine the surprise and shock of the police chiefs, mayors and other elected officials who I have called and shown your publication to, some of which went out and removed the publication from easy access. Some store owners pulled the magazine altogether and others took the cover page completely off.

I think this about sums it up. I hope to expect a greater accountability on your part in the future.
Pastor Mike Smith
Swansea, Illinois

Yeah, but what'd you think about those damn Cub Scouts? I was shocked and appalled that the sight of naked women on the cover of the RFT offended people, and disappointed that the RFT apologized and claims it was a mistake. That's too bad -- I thought it was a cool photo and a great idea! I was inspired to see this picture! It's great!

I'm saddened that so many people equate a picture of a nude body with smut and dirty sex. Don't people have an appreciation for art, nature, beauty? I wonder if those who were offended have any respect for themselves. Are they scared and appalled by the sight of their own nudity?! Ugh! I worry for my community's soul. I'm also sad for the lesson these freaks are pounding into their innocent children's minds. It's sickening. What's next, covering up nude sculptures at the art museum?
Bridget Batterson
St. Louis

We're spineless and cowardly...: I decided to write after I read your editor's note in the October 20 issue regarding the cover photo of the nude women in the form of a peace sign. I have to say, at first, I was impressed with your courage to take such a stand. The human body is not dirty or nasty, especially in the context in which it was used in this instance. Letters complaining about having to explain the cover to a three-, four- or five-year-old were laughable. I wonder if these same people flipped to the back section of your paper where, every week, you can find a plethora of advertisements appealing to every kind of sexual deviant known to man and felt they had to explain them to their kids. I'm betting kids wouldn't even have noticed it had it not been pointed out.

To me it seemed the point was to get the public's attention and make the statement that war is wrong. Salute to you for doing so. Shame on you for not sticking by it. I'm deeply disappointed in the spineless, cowardly stance you've taken since getting a few complaints and negative comments. I happen to know a few of the women who were in the picture and never was it discussed that you would not be using the nude photo. For you to now start tap-dancing around, saying it was all a big mistake makes me sick.

Maybe what this country needs is to loosen up a little bit and not attach such a negative stigma to a naked body. If you don't make nudity an issue, it won't be. Treat it like it's a big deal, and it will be a big deal. I'm not saying we should all just walk around naked whenever we want. I just don't think there was anything sexual or obscene or naughty about that cover picture. It had its desired effect. It got people's attention. Then you ruined it by calling it a "mistake." How do you think the women who posed for the picture feel when you call their courage a "mistake"?

You had me locked in with the October 13 cover. You lost me when you called it a mistake. Well, at least now I'll have something every week with which to wash windows, start fires in the fireplace and line my birdcage. So long, RFT.
Tim Splett
St. John

...And we have no huevos... : Come on folks, show some huevos. I was so proud of you for pulling such an artistic coup when you printed the naked peace sign on the cover. And then what? You backpedaled.

No one in their right mind would ever begin to believe that you would accidentally print an image on your cover. Even the most illiterate of readers know that the front page is scrutinized more than any other. Give us some credit and take a stand. Those suburban housewives who griped about their poor, corrupted children are the same folks that let the TV and Britney Spears babysit them while they're out filling up the SUV.

I think it was beautiful to see all those real people naked and proud. Finally an image that wasn't corrupted by our society's sick obsession with youth and modelesque bodies. Stand your ground and we'll stand behind you.
Steve Kelly
University City

...But wait! We've got the jewels! Bravo! I'll have to admit that I was shocked when I saw your cover, but I wasn't offended. I thought it was historic that a local newspaper would have the jewels to put nudity on the cover.

After reading the feedback, I wondered if these "offended," "appalled," "insulted" individuals have ever seen naked women. Do these people bathe with their clothes on? As far as children go, they are not as clueless as parents like to believe they are. The human body is taught in school last time I checked. These women weren't spread-eagled, French-kissing each other, were they? No. They were showing off their natural, beautiful selves in a sign for peace. I would rather see that on the cover than pictures of injured soldiers and civilians who can't come home to their loved ones.

I did wish that an article had been printed about the courageous females that bared all for peace. Never mind the bollocks, this is freedom of the breasts -- I mean press!

Keep up the good work!
Kelly Parks
University City

Sad panda: I loved reading all the letters from readers who regard the human body as beautiful in all shapes and sizes. I read the RFT online every week (I moved to Florida three months ago from south city, St. Louis).

How could that cover possibly have been a mistake? Whoever sent that copy to print knew what they were doing and why. Don't try to cover it up and say it was a mistake. I've always loved reading the RFT because of your no-nonsense, edgy angles and a look into a different side of St Louis. Don't apologize! Stand up! Don't be such pussies! You had the perfect opportunity to stand up for your right as a newspaper and your freedoms. Instead you dropped down into fetal position and cowered to the powers that be. That makes me a sad panda.

And as for those who complained: Suck it up. You have the right as an American citizen to not look at it if you don't like it. It's not like you spent any money on the paper!
Courtney Ringle
St. Augustine, Florida

Plan of Attack
Panic mode: After reading "Extreme Makeover," Randall Roberts' October 13 story about Rollin Stanley and the obstacles he's up against in achieving his vision for St. Louis, I felt the classic symptoms of anxiety. My stomach was twisted and fluttering, my chest was tight and my heart felt swollen and fast-paced.

It may all sound very dramatic, but I have great hopes for this city. The thought of being so close to achieving greatness, with the assistance of someone as talented as Mr. Stanley, only to never attain that status is a fear I have for St. Louis. My husband and I have lived in many major cities, including Washington, D.C., and New York. We came to St. Louis so my husband could pursue graduate studies at Washington University. We fell in love with the city for its cultural diversity, accessibility, charm and that glorious Arch, to name a few reasons. However, we also fell in love with the promise the city holds for becoming even greater. It thrills me to learn of projects that will improve and advance this city to the level it is capable of providing its residents and visitors.

Stanley is an integral factor to seeing this happen. He is providing us with our chance to achieve greatness. Those who want to see this city come alive and thrive must rally around this man and do all we can to get him the support he needs. The anxiety I experience comes from the fear that he will become discouraged with his inability to make progress, thus forcing him to leave, and our opportunity will be lost. We are like shipwrecked castaways, and he is our one flare to beckon that passing liner. We must not let this man go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Stephanie Porrello
St. Louis

Where's the Magic?
It's the brutality, stupid: Mike Seely's "No-Look Pass" [October 6] questions the judgment of urging Magic Johnson to avoid, for the time being, investments in St. Louis. Of course, economic investment in north city seems to be a win-win situation, but only if you don't factor in the losers.

Seely spends no time looking at the police misconduct which lies behind the dispute. This city's police have recently been found to arrest the homeless with no probable cause; the department has declared that officers who slashed innocent people's bike tires had committed no crime; internal affairs routinely refuses to respond to complaints; the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression is overwhelmed with requests for assistance in dealing with everything from simple harassment to outright violence by police.

As a constructive response to this situation, the coalition originally authored and has campaigned for a modest reform -- the creation of a Civilian Oversight Board to hold police accountable. Seely devotes only one paragraph to that subject, merely repeating Mayor Francis Slay's public-relations statements as fact. There are vast differences between our proposal and the mayor's, which, for example, gives the board power to make disciplinary recommendations only after the discipline has been determined! Like Starsky Wilson, we prefer "mediation and moderation," but the mayor refused to include us in federal mediation, despite hundreds of endorsements and requests from citizens and community groups that we be allowed to represent their interests. Nor was the mayor moderate when he rushed his ineffective proposal through the Police Commission, consulting no one and outraging leadership of all stripes.

We did not ask Magic Johnson never to invest in St. Louis, or even to wait until police brutality or racism has ended. We simply asked that he wait until the passage of an effective oversight board. Like union strikes which forgo short-term economic gain for long-term benefit, this strategy is in a long and not outlandish tradition. Not one person from groups affected by police violence has said to us that he would prefer continued victimization to our economic boycott. We hope that both will end soon.
John Chasnoff, member
Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression
University City