I read the Dec. 19 Associated Press article regarding the shameful fact that 1 in 5 inmates in the American prison system has contracted COVID-19, and the stunning fact that 275,000 have been infected and 1,700 have died, which is a far higher contraction and death rate than the population at large ("At least 1 in 5 U.S. prisoners infected").
Most of those incarcerated are serving time for wrongs done and rightly so. But being in prison should never be an arbitrary death sentence. Those living behind the walls of the United States penal system are human beings — fully deserving of basic, fundamental human rights.
The article notes social distancing in prisons is clearly impossible. Further there has been little or no testing, and even those clearly symptomatic are not being treated. For those not already sick, it's a cruel game of Russian roulette courtesy of a justice system that claims: "Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur."
The racial disparity in American correctional facilities also means more Black prisoners than white are sick and dying, which is shameful in an age when we are working hard to right the wrongs of our past.
The government has a responsibility to ensure those who break the law pay their debt to society, but in this inhumane treatment of the incarcerated, the judicial system is inflicting viral capital punishment on prisoners who have no voice or recourse.
I have yet to see, including in that article, any plans to include these prisoners as among the most vulnerable of our citizens and thus eligible for priority in getting vaccinated. In essence they are being unfairly punished again, this time outside the rule of law.
I believe those rightly convicted of a crime should serve their sentence. That is justice. But allowing COVID-19 to spread uncontrollably within our prisons represents cruel and unusual punishment at its worst.
Ward Brehm, Minneapolis
How much do lives of workers cost?
Thanks to the Star Tribune for reporting on the death of a pipeline worker on Line 3 ("Pipeliner killed at Enbridge site," Dec. 30).
Wow. I guess the multibillion-dollar Enbridge doesn't have the money to put a camera on the back of its equipment, the sort of thing every car sold in the U.S.A. now has. Maybe we need to give the company some money. How much does a backup camera cost?
I also now can't help but wonder how many deaths were factored into its costs of doing the pipeline, and how many deaths were factored into the approval process all the regulators gave? How much is a father of nine worth? Will more deaths follow?
Again, thank you for your work. It's amazing the details of this death were not published for more than 10 days.
John Shockley, Minneapolis
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In the Readers Write section of the Dec. 30 Star Tribune, two letter writers voiced opinions on Enbridge Line 3. Brian Holmer, mayor of Thief River Falls, wrote: "The impact of this can be seen across northern Minnesota as thousands of people are now working on the Line 3 project — thousands of jobs helping families ... ." And yet, in the same issue of the paper, the article "Pipeliner killed at Enbridge site" says Jorge Villafuerte III died in a fatal accident. "He was among the first 2,000 workers to arrive on the long-awaited and controversial Enbridge Line 3 project.
Meanwhile another letter to the editor in that same issue states: "Enbridge never demonstrated a demand for this oil from Minnesota refineries ... . The pipeline will carry primarily new crude oil destined for dubious overseas markets."
Louise Erdrich pointed out in an essay published Dec. 28 in the New York Times that there are lawsuits pending on this pipeline from both the Red Lake and White Earth nations, but construction is going ahead anyhow. It's not just about treaty and land, she said. "This is not just another pipeline. It is a tar sands climate bomb."
In this same essay, Erdrich says that James Doyle, a physicist at Macalester College, released a report that said the "pipeline's greenhouse gas emissions are greater than the yearly output of the entire state." (Opinion editor's note: Erdrich's commentary will be reprinted on our Opinion Exchange page on Sunday.)
Let me see if I have this straight: 1) Some of the workers on the project are coming from out-of-state, so there is less local employment benefit. 2) The oil is not destined to be used in this state but will be sent elsewhere. So it's not about heating Minnesota homes. 3) The pipeline is running through land that belongs to Native Americans without their permission. 4) There will be an extraordinary negative environmental cost to the state in this process.
So the question has to be asked: Why are we allowing this? What safeguards in Minnesota environmental decisionmaking have failed us? And the most important question of all: Cui bono?
Judith K. Healey, Minneapolis
Walz and Ellison are trying to control what they can
I would like to respond to the Dec. 26 letter asking what Gov. Tim Walz has to gain by closing businesses because of the pandemic. I believe that he and Attorney General Keith Ellison are on an ego power trip. They can't control the big businesses, but they can control the small people by threats of closing and bankrupting them. Why else would they not shut done the Walmarts, Targets, etc., who have the legal power to fight back? Why treat the small business differently than the large business?
My question is, why they didn't enforce the laws when the arson, rioting and protesting on the freeways was going on and then decide later to go after the easy targets who are just trying to make a living? The riots and protests were virus-spreading events, but all they can come up with is that bars and restaurants are spreaders.
Why are people who have multiple arrests and convictions still on the street committing new crimes only to be let go to commit crimes again?
I believe this current state administration and certain city administrations are way off-base on their priorities for what I believe is the thinking of the majority of people in Minnesota. We want to be able to walk down the street, shop, carry on a normal life without having to worry about being a victim of carjacking, assaults, robberies, thefts. It seems they are more worried about the rights of the lawbreakers than the law-abiding people.
Jon Sanford, Mora, Minn.
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I don't doubt that the Let Them Play group has the best intentions ("Sports mom champions 'Let Them Play,' " Dec. 30), but it seems like its supporters see the world only from the sports perspective and that the primary solution is to open everything up so "my" kid can play. They site "scientific evidence," but I've never heard someone with an epidemiology background advocate their position.
As a leader, the governor has to consider the entire population, planning for worst-case scenarios.
What is the Let Them Play group's plan if ICUs are beyond capacity, if a coach gets sick but has no insurance, if an asymptomatic player brings home COVID and a parent dies, etc.?
Greg Schaefer, Golden Valley
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Leveling up a poem into a song
The Mary Schmic "A weak and weary 'good riddance' to 2020" poem published in the Dec. 31 Star Tribune is worthy of framing. It also can be sung to a famous hymn tune, "St. Gertrude," better known as "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Admittedly, this requires some elisions and melismas, but it works!
David M. Gehrenbeck, White Bear Lake
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