Thank you for the inspiring article about Melanie Benson, the beloved Metro Transit bus driver ("That's how she rolls," Oct. 13). I first met Melanie years ago when I boarded her bus for the first time and she complimented me on my earrings. That led to a longer conversation, and after several other rides, we realized that I taught at the same school her nephews attended. I never had the pleasure of having them in my class, but it's been fun over the years to follow their lives and careers through Melanie. She shows what we all should be doing in our lives, striking up conversations with strangers. When I rode with Melanie the other day, I told her I thought riding on her bus should be a required class for prospective police officers. She has a way of defusing situations. She deals with the same public police officers do — all of us — with a greeting and a smile.
Thank you, Melanie, for many safe and stimulating rides. You help us make connections — to our next bus, and more importantly, with each other.
Mariann Bentz, Minneapolis
Diversion is a key player
I write to voice my disappointment with the Star Tribune's recent piece on Ramsey County's juvenile diversion program ("Crime – but no punishment," front page, Oct. 17). My objections are the imbalanced nature of the piece that played into a common but intellectually weak analysis of an important and complicated issue.
This Collaborative Review Team diversion initiative was not done in secret. Rather it was an organic outgrowth from a community that was frustrated with the ineffective outcomes for kids who are petitioned into the juvenile system. As a member of the group that assisted in developing this initiative, I can say law enforcement was at the table and participated in these discussions.
Law enforcement expressed frustration with the poor outcomes for youth in Ramsey County who go through the traditional juvenile process. Everyone agreed that the current system labels and stigmatizes children. Further, petitioning kids into court six to eight months after an offense is completely counterproductive to brain development and for appreciating consequences for behavior that needs to be corrected.
Correcting youth behavior requires immediate intervention to allow meaningful impact. It does not require harsh, punitive measures. Further, holding kids accountable but requiring victim-offender mediation is a key component for brain development and for growth in children. The current traditional juvenile system misses these touchstones.
Your piece inaccurately suggested that very serious offenses are ignored and diverted. This is not at all true. The county attorney decides which cases are sent to diversion and the Collaborative Review Team. Victims have voice in this process, and I argue that they will be heard through this process. The voice of a grandmother who wants her grandchild to go to jail is not at all representative of the vast majority of people in Ramsey County.
I believe this piece fell for an uninformed narrative on crime that lacked any sense of journalistic integrity.
James D. Fleming, St. Paul
The writer is district public defender for the Second Judicial District-Ramsey County.
I'm early in my ninth decade on earth and have a large family circle. Life shows there is no such thing as a simple answer to the very complex problem of crime and punishment. The article does take a good run at it, and the debate is worth having.
There is a long human history of the fallacy of punishing someone into being good. There's a similar history of a seeming need for revenge. Neither are helpful. Remediation is also imperfect but beats the alternative.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher has seemed to earn his reputation by playing tough. I first saw this when he got his force armed and dangerous during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, an absurdly weaponized time.
I think instead of my friend, a former legislator, whose background is restorative justice, whose ongoing campaign is for civility in civic conversation, rather than a win-lose attitude.
Yes, this topic is very difficult and worthy of debate. But the way to rehabilitation is not incarceration.
I like County Attorney John Choi's initiative. I wish him success.
Dick Bernard, Woodbury
Religion isn't a free pass
A front-page article in the Oct. 17 Star Tribune ("Vaccine opt-outs test faith, courts") sheds important light on why claiming religious exemption to employer requirements for employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is such a rapidly growing trend. Clergy offering to write letters to certify as sincere religious beliefs the objections to vaccination of anyone who requests them demonstrates the political, opportunistic nature of the claims.
The article tackles the question of what constitutes a sincere religious objection to vaccination. It points out that vaccination is approved and encouraged by all the major religions, so the religious objections are "an individual and personal decision." Consistency seems to require that people who claim they are religiously opposed to COVID vaccination must prove that they have never accepted any other vaccine.
The article points out that at least one of the vaccines was developed using fetal cell lines originating from an abortion performed a half-century ago. Some people applying for religious exemptions assert that it is immoral to benefit in any way from an abortion, no matter how long ago it occurred. The article notes that one employer applies a similar consistency test to this claim, asking applicants if they have used other drugs developed with the same fetal cell line, including Tylenol, Tums and Ex-Lax.
Even if some applicants pass this test of the sincerity of their religious belief, the law does not necessarily require the employer to grant them an exemption. Title VII counterbalances protection of the employee's religious practices with protection against "undue hardship on the conduct of [the employer's] business." The harm of introducing into the workplace a virus that has killed over 700,000 Americans clearly outweighs the religious harm unvaccinated people experience from getting a jab in the arm.
George Francis Kane, St. Paul
Can't wait for the popcorn
Thank you, Mann Theatres, for rescuing the Edina Cinema ("At 50th and France's longtime cinema, the show will go on again," Oct. 19). I look forward to once again enjoying going to films in that great space of art deco and especially in the new, more comfortable recliner seats. I hope you continue to serve the delicious popcorn that the former Edina Cinema was well known for, because it was the best around!
Barbara La Valleur, Edina
The Edina Cinema has seemingly been resurrected like the biblical Lazarus.
My husband and I are movie lovers and are delighted by the news!
After experiencing a particularly difficult summer and fall (surgery, deaths of three close friends and relatives, and the grave illness of another), my spirits are lifted after reading the article in Tuesday's Star Tribune.
Catherine Spottke, Mendota Heights
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