Letters to the editor for Jan. 24, 2014

Set record straight

To the Editor:

As we begin the New Year, I feel it is important to set the record straight regarding the controversy over “The Laramie Project” performed last fall at the Lyric Arts Theater. Many of you read the letters to the editor, pro and con. Two letters claimed the play was based on a lie. Other letters were written in defense of the play and stood by the belief that it was not based on a lie — that it really was a hate crime. What is the truth and does it make any difference now that the play is over and done?

“The Laramie Project” enshrines Matthew Shepard’s tragedy in a type of passion play with his brutal beating portrayed as a “crucifixion” on an old fence in a lonely, remote prairie in Wyoming. Since the brutal murder in 1998, the Shepard industry has grown to include a long list of books, songs, movies, foundations and disinformation.

Matthew became the poster boy — the patron saint of hate-crime laws. His name has become synonymous with anti-gay hate. But what if you knew that Shepard was not killed because he was gay? What if you knew that he was a meth dealer? What if you knew that he was a friend and sex partner of his lead attacker Aaron McKinney and that the squabble was over a large amount of meth that he possessed?

Gay journalist Stephen Jimenez exposes the lies and brings to light the truth about this savage attack in his new book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard.” In a decade-long investigation Jimenez interviewed more than 100 people that had firsthand knowledge of the case. He used public records and media accounts and carefully deconstructed what was believed to have been an open-and-shut case of bigotry and violence. He discovered that vital truths about the murder had been concealed by local corruption and that the evidence of a drug component was ignored by police investigators.
Shepard’s life was a tragic story in itself. He was a “preemie” and was very sickly as a child. He received hormone treatments for delayed puberty. He suffered from severe depression, panic attacks and attention deficit disorder. His father traveled a lot and they had a strained relationship. As a child, Matthew was a victim of molestation and sexual abuse by three adult males. In 1995, while living in Morocco, he was attacked and raped six times by a gang of young men. Traumatized, he never really recovered from that attack. Sadly, a victim will often become a perpetrator. At age 15, Matthew was arrested for molesting two eight-year-old boys.

During Wyoming’s epidemic of methamphetamine addiction and meth-related crime, Matthew became a user and a dealer. He was heavily involved in drug trafficking just days before his attack. He owed drug money to his lover McKinney.

The day of the attack was a routine drug run, but McKinney had other plans. He had been on a five-day meth binge when he attacked Matthew. A forensic pathologist confirmed that Matthew’s wounds were consistent with an explosion of rage from someone on a meth-like drug.

McKinney and Russell Henderson were not found guilty of a hate crime by any judge or jury. So who rendered that decision? It was the national media, the politicians and the special interest groups. McKinney and Henderson were tried in the court of public opinion and found guilty.  The facts were distorted and Matthew’s death politicized. The fact that Matthew was HIV positive was concealed.

Jimenez writes that President Clinton’s early statements about the case — before law enforcement agents had completed their investigation — “had a powerful and lasting impact on how the crime was perceived at the Justice Department in the halls of Congress, and by the public at large.” Press crews came out in force and galvanized LGBT youth and an outraged gay community.

During President Obama’s first year in office, he signed into law “the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act”—known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

Jimenez interviewed Shannon Shingleton, a friend of Shepard and McKinney. Shingleton related how he was interviewed extensively by members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project — the creators of “The Laramie Project.”

Shingleton said, “I told people [from the Tectonic] everything I knew”—including what he knew about Aaron’s and Matthew’s crystal meth involvement. Shingleton commented that he was “angry at how fake [‘The Laramie Project’] is.” He could not understand, as Jimenez put it, “why its makers had betrayed the truth to make a political statement.”

Andrew Sullivan, a celebrated gay journalist and blogger, has also commented on the value of seeking the truth about the Shepard story. He stated, “It may be that as a culture we don’t want to let go of the myth. The myth serves far too many purposes. But myths aren’t truth and however complicated the truth is, I think it’s worth finding out.”

“The Laramie Project” was based on a lie. But does it really matter? As C.S. Lewis said, “It matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth.”

Barb Anderson
Champlin

Critical of sentence

To the Editor:

Dear Anoka County District Court, are you kidding me? A thief and a rapist of a teen…. the thief of wedding gifts did get an appropriate sentence of 17 months.

I read about Derrick Duane Manson and thought… good for him, what a low life thief to steal from a newly married couple at such a joyous celebration.

Below that was the heading of “Probation for East Bethel man guilty of sexually assaulting teen.”

David James Pankow entered a guilty plea to one of two felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges…. and gets what – 10 years of probation and fines and fees of $135.

The further details of this young woman’s life with this man (not of her picking but her mom’s boyfriend) was appalling to me.

This was not a one-time episode, but a pattern of behavior that had started since she was 13 or 14 with her having to perform sexual acts for basic needs, according to the article in the paper.

If the paper had these details, the judge must have also.

How can this be? Really?? I feel so sad for this young woman, I felt bad for me and all women.

You mean if someone treated me this way I would see them get 10 years of probation and a $135 fine/fees??

Where is justice here? Please, district court, educate me. David James Pankow stole so much from this young woman and the court system only made it worse by it’s actions or rather non-actions.

Shame on the judge who made this decision and I encourage the paper to print the names of the judges so the public can personally write them a letter, or call to let them know how we feel about a sentence.

Dear judge, this is your letter from me.

Ellen Bernardson
Oak Grove

Concert was spectacular

To the Editor:

The evening of Dec. 21, there was a special benefit holiday concert for young man named Jason Cains. You see, Jason has a very rare form of cancer (NUT). He currently is in Boston to receive treatment.

Mr. Halstenson, the North Suburban Concert Band and the AHS musical alumni put on a spectacular concert.

Jason was very lucky to be able to see the live performance, via Skype.

When Michelle Hayes sang “O Holy Night,” you could hear a pin drop. It was beautifully done.

Mr. “H” performed on the piano and played his own magnificent arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” All the vocalists did a super job. A little while later Mr. “H” played his special arrangement of the “Carol of the Bells.”

If you want to go to Orchestra Hall or the Ordway for some fine music, go ahead. My ears were treated to some wonderful music, right in my own backyard.

You go, Mr. Halstenson. You are blessed with tremendous musical talent. Thank you. Thank you very much.

A big fan

Priscilla Quaday
Ham Lake

Skiing is fantastic

To the Editor:

I have to comment that the cross country skiing at the Green Haven Golf Course is fantastic.

The trails are nicely groomed and the skating trails are excellent.

What a great place for Anoka area residents to go to burn off a few calories.

The trails are only minutes away. The best part is that they are free.

Dick Steffen
Anoka

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