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Bob Emmers' feature article about crack was a brilliant, vivid piece of writing and made me feel as if I was right there with the author ("Crack's Back: Or perhaps it never really left," May 21). I, too, can confirm that crack is indeed very much with us, just as much as the wind-blown trash that gathers in the grimy gutters of any large city.

I've tried crack cocaine myself a few times, but (luckily?) I eventually chose the bottle as the means to destroy myself, foolishly counting myself fortunate that I never got hooked on drugs. I was still a walking dead man. I'm now a resident of a recovery facility where, on a near-daily basis, I see men seeking a way out of the vicious cycle of drug addiction. Many were hooked after the first scary experiments with crack and before too long became the pathetic, lifeless shells Emmers mentioned. By the time they begin to look for help, they are cornered, angry animals.

Even a hardcore crack addict can change. In my year clean and sober, I've witnessed countless remarkable cases where addicts, who are often tough-as-rawhide felons, become likable, happy and helpful people after as little as a week clean, and they remain that way long after they move on. Then there are those who are not ready to quit crack, cannot stop and go from program to program, working the system with their tired-ass, dope-fiend bullshit. For these, there are three known alternatives: jails, institutions and death.

—Robert Stevens, San Pedro

"Crack's Back" proved a good read and exactly what I expected it to be: a portrayal of white, former middle-class users who "if you met them on the streets, you probably wouldn't guess they smoked crack (for that matter, you might not even guess they were homeless)." Why not then use photos of these "unrecognizable" crack users to accompany the article rather than those you chose: African-American males huddled in industrial/impoverished-looking landscapes (particularly the one man looking alone and deprived)? Did you assign a photographer to go out and shoot a few photos of "guys who look like they're dealing and using"? Did you even interview these men to find out that they were, indeed, crack users?

Bravo to the author of the article for contributing to dispel the racist, classist myth of the Crackhead. Shame on the editors for using photos that perpetuated that myth on the very same pages.

—Rebecca Alber, via e-mail The editors respond: No, we didn't tell the photographer to shoot crackheads—he did that on his own—but, yes, the people in the pictures were dealing and using. As to the point of your letter—what's up with using black crackheads to illustrate a story that features primarily white crackheads?—you're right: it was stupid. "FAGGOT" STRIKES A NERVE

With all the pundits finger pointing over the causes of high school violence, I was grateful to see Richard Goldstein tackle the issue of the verbal and emotional abuse that the "dweebs" of the teenage world suffer daily ("The 'Faggot' Factor: The chickens come home to roost at Columbine High," May 21). The fact that this behavior of the "privileged" class of students over the "lowlier" ones is ignored (and in some cases condoned) by the teachers and administrators of our schools makes these situations even more reprehensible.

What happens to the psyche of a teen who is constantly, day in and day out, berated by classmates as a "faggot" and a "cocksucker"? Why do the people responsible for educating our children allow this? In high school, I was one of those disposable "faggots," and while I never resorted to bringing a loaded gun to school, I spent many nights wishing such horrors upon my tormentors. Does this excuse the kid who decides to actually waste his fellow students? Of course not. Is it understandable how a wounded mind and embattled spirit could seek revenge so cold? If you've been there, of course it is.

—Thom Heinrichs, Long Beach

Finally! Somebody gets it! Growing up gay in Huntington Beach (which may as well be the Littleton of California), I've had it all screamed in my face: "queer," "sissy," "pansy" and, yes, the infamous "faggot." Being punched, kicked, spit on, mocked and choked were daily events. Remembering back to the years of grade school and junior high, it is easy to identify with the intense rage and rejection Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris probably felt. I had fantasies about getting back at the rock heads who made my life miserable for so many years. Did they get reprimanded for their actions? Yeah, right!

And don't think for a minute that teachers at Columbine High School didn't witness the jocks harassing the trench coats and failed to report the altercation. Boys will be boys—isn't that the excuse? Jocks are too important to the infrastructure of high school for the administrators to mess with or for the teachers to fail. It is a sad state of affairs when the elite are chasing one another to get a goddamn leather ball or dressed up in skintight jump suits rolling around on a sweaty mat, trying to pin each other. And they are the ones calling me faggot?

—Ian Jensen, Huntington Beach
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