Letters: The lesson of Boot Hill

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The Independent Online

America needs to learn the lesson of Boot Hill

Sir: Your story about Bush's lethal legacy of executions (15 August) made me think immediately of my visit to Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona, last week. One of the graves is marked: "Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he's gone."

Johnson had innocently bought a stolen horse, but was blamed for the theft. Perhaps George W might usefully visit the place and ruminate on his actions.



Sir: I currently write to Jessie James Cummings, a prisoner in McAlester, Oklahoma, where Death Row is housed in underground cells where air conditioning fails in a regime that is already harsh. He has been there for over a decade, during which time 81 fellow inmates have been executed, including one suffering from Alzheimer's (aged 78), and another who was only weeks away from a natural death (cancer).

Jessie is fighting to prove his innocence. He is asking for evidence to be DNA tested. He is not allowed to earn any money, but has to raise funds for his appeal and the DNA testing. He was very happy with his current lawyer, but sadly the lawyer has been taken seriously ill, and may not be able to continue to represent him.

My blood runs cold to think this man has fought for so long to prove his innocence and might be caught by President Bush's new stance on federal appeals.



Sir: I am not an opponent of the death penalty and I am in tune with a large majority of American voters. I doubt if any of the main presidential hopefuls for 2008, especially Democrats, will campaign for the abolition of the death penalty. Hillary Clinton supports it, as does her husband. American voters alone will decide if and when capital punishment in their country is abolished, not bleeding heart voices from abroad.



Who will speak for England?

Sir: Alex Salmond is calling for a "conversation" about Scottish independence. This must clearly involve all the nations of the United Kingdom, but how can England join in such a conversation? Wales and Northern Ireland have their own First Ministers, Executives and Assemblies that have been denied to England.

Should it come down to hard negotiations on how to divide up the assets of the UK, who is qualified to argue for the best interests of England? Although the UK Government governs England it can hardly be right for Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Des Browne, all of whom represent Scottish constituencies, to negotiate for England.

Without an English Executive we would easily be sold down the river.



Sir: Surely for the Union to survive, all the countries in the Union must be treated equally. As England is the only country which has no control over its own affairs, it is time to remedy this and grant England the same advantages as Scotland, namely its own Parliament.



Sir: Should we not be concerned that, in a world stricken by bombs, threats, murders and hatred all resulting from nationalism, the Scottish National Party should be urging the breakdown of the UK into national countries?



Jews and Arabs in mandate Palestine

Sir: Zionist propaganda is tedious in its persistence and invites pedantic exactitude of equal persistence; so here goes.

There is no basis, official or otherwise, for Jacob Amir's claim (letter, 11 August) that the population in the area allocated by the UN for the Jewish state was 60 per cent Jewish and 40 per cent Arab. The figures provided in support of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) partition recommendation of 3 September 1947 showed 498,000 Jews to 407,000 Arabs (55:45) but added by way of a footnote that there would be about 90,000 Bedouin residing in the Jewish state, making the proportion practically 50:50.

However, these figures were revised by the UN on the eve of partition Resolution 181. On the 11 November 1947 the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine recorded that the proposed Jewish state would contain an Arab majority: 499,020 Jews to 509,780 Arabs (49.5 to 50.5).

Granted, all the UN figures were for the end of 1946, and an unknown amount of Jewish immigration had occurred during the intervening period. However these were illegal immigrants under the regulations of the British Mandate and liable to deportation and therefore could not be assumed to constitute part of the population of any future state, Jewish or otherwise.

Consequently, there would have to have been over 764,000 Jews in the area of the proposed state to make Amir's 60:40 claim stand. This is considerably more than the Jewish population claimed by the State of Israel on 15 May 1948 in an area much larger than that allocated by the UN. Essentially, Tony Greenstein (letter, 8 August) is correct and Jacob Amir wrong.



Sir: Evan Jones says, "The reason why the Palestinians and the Arab states did not accept the partition (1947) is because it gave 55 per cent of Mandate territory to the Jewish state, when the Jewish population was less than 30 per cent" (letter, 31 July).

It was even more unjust than this. When the Palestinians were freed from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, they should have been free to pursue their own destiny, but they came under the British mandate. The US King-Crane Commission found that the Arabs constituted 90 per cent of the indigenous population and that they did not want a Zionist state installed in their country.

Between then and 1947, Zionist "boat people" flooded into the country but the Palestinians were helpless under the mandate to stop this.

When the UN passed Resolution 181 giving away Palestinian land to these "boat people" from around the globe the Palestinians had no say in the matter. This UN resolution was unjust and immoral.



Inquiries into police shootings

Sir: The problem Ken Campbell overlooks (letter, 13 August) is that, to many people, the assumption that all homicides by public servants can be reliably investigated internally is a false one. That the officers in the Menezes case acted selflessly is not denied: that their actions caused the death of an innocent man is being elided, and that the credibility of their internal investigation procedures in such cases is questionable, is equally ignored.

If we must have a shoot-to-kill policy, we need a public discussion about its criteria. And we must have an examination under oath and in public that includes having the senior officers who made the decision in the dock as well as the shooters. The more aggressive the response, the more vigilant the public must be. Few people have a problem with firearms officers, but everybody should have a problem with internal investigation of their actions.

The fallout from Stockwell has proven unedifying in the extreme, and the internal conflicts within the Met, made public by the delayed IPCC report, cannot give any citizen confidence either in any internal investigation carried out by a government agency in a high-profile case such as this, or if a similar case occurs. As was said in ancient Rome, "Vice is nurtured by secrecy."



'Access' and A-level grade inflation

Sir, The debate about declining standards that every year accompanies the publication of the nation's "best ever" exam results has become stale. The question that now needs answering is whether it is possible to "widen access" to our national examinations system and, at the same time, preserve the academic "gold standard". It is likely that public exam "grade inflation" is the result of the attempt to square this circle.

And it is not surprising that an increasing number of schools, with the necessary resources and independence, are turning to alternative qualifications (such as the International Baccalaureate) that appear immune from this phenomenon. Historians as well as economists would confirm that one cure for monetary inflation is to replace the depreciated currency with a completely new one.



Bad things happen 'because I'm black'

Sir: Margaret Busby's suspicion (Opinion 13 August) that people may be bumping into her in the street because she is black does not surprise me, given the attitude and thinking of British blacks.

My wife is of mixed-race origin from Brazil and I know many black Brazilians and Africans. They have a totally different mindset from that of blacks in Britain, especially in London. My wife once said to me that Britain's blacks are obsessed with their colour and race. If anything goes wrong, it's "because I'm black". If they receive bad service in a restaurant, for instance, it's "because I'm black" - as if no white person ever receives bad service in a restaurant.

London is aggressive and British people do not know how to walk through crowds. I watched my wife in Rio city centre once walk through large crowds of people, and she simply turned her body sideways when somebody came towards her. She never bumped into anybody and people coming towards her did the same. I now do this in central London when I visit and it works. British people do not do this. You need to try it.



Sir: Thomas Blair (Letters, 9 August) is right to point out that the ever increasing number of inter-racial unions and mixed-race children has little overall bearing on the economic and social inequalities of blacks and whites in Britain, without the sustained efforts of everyone who would seek to end discrimination or injustice.

However his assertion that inter-racial marriage is "a way of reconstructing race by broadening the boundaries of whiteness" fails to convince. Why should I, or any other mixed-race person, be compelled to regard "whiteness" as our dominant identity? He goes on to describe this social phenomenon as "one stage in the process of 'aryanisation' of blacks that benefits whites". This viewpoint appears to support the desire to maintain the black/white divide by avoiding miscegenation. Would we have much sympathy for those who discuss the "negrification" of the white race?



Sir: It is my experience that for a pedestrian collision it takes two, whatever their colour, to take no avoiding action. Apart from those on mobile telephones, who are in another world, direct confrontation most often results in both dodging the same way then both the other way, ending in a mutual smile of embarrassment and apology. Should there be an accepted rule of always both dodging to the right, or left?



British seahorses

Sir: I was fascinated by your feature on seahorses and the relatively recent recognition that they bred in British waters (15 August). While waiting for the ferry from Place to St Mawes in Cornwall in 2001 I looked into the clear waters of Place Creek and saw a shoal of baby seahorses. There was no sign of the father - or mother.



Safer driving

Sir: Your correspondents are of course perfectly correct concerning the effect of reduced speed on fuel consumption. They all omit however to mention another huge benefit - the reduction in accidents. In recent years the French, merely by severely enforcing their existing speed limits, have reduced road deaths by one third. Why don't we try it?



Rabies danger

Sir: The foot-and-mouth outbreak has drawn attention to the fact that virus escape is possible in spite of the highest levels of bio-security. Surely the authorities should now give further consideration to their decision to allow pet animals to enter the country provided they have been immunised against rabies. This decision exposes the UK not only to accidental or criminal import of rabies but also to other tropical and subtropical animal diseases.



Dignified exit

Sir: How my wife and I agree with Alison Sutherland's letter of 16 August about the choice between prolonged care in old age, with all that it entails emotionally and financially for family, society and ourselves, or a dignified exit at a time we judge right. We have not yet spoken to anyone of our age group (late 70s) who would not prefer to die peacefully, together, and with our family around. Perhaps it is time to stand up and be counted.



Turkish emperor

Sir: The Rev Julian Shurgold (letter, 8 August) disputes a reference to the "Ottoman emperor", adding: "I've always understood the ruler of the Ottoman/Turkish Empire to be the Sultan of Turkey." Since the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultans styled themselves "Kaysar-i-Rum", as well as "Sultan" and "Commander of the Faithful"; that is "Roman Caesar" or "Roman Emperor". (Giscard D'Estaing and others in the EU take note.)



Origins of 'Doh!'

Sir: I was wondering if people are confusing "Doh" with "Duh". "Duh" was commonly used when I was growing up in the 1950s in the US, but I don't remember "Doh" until I heard it on The Simpsons.