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As the President of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), I am writing this letter to commend Dave Jamieson on the stellar work he did on his “Letters From an Arsonist” article (6/1).

For far too long, the crime of arson has been routinely portrayed in the media as a “property” crime and one of fleeting interest to society. It is time to change that portrayal, and Mr. Jamieson has stepped forward with this article of an arsonist who spent over 30 years committing crimes against people, and to expose the human, emotional, and physical toll that arsonists inflict on every one of us—every day.

Fire is a tool. In the hands of an arsonist, it is a weapon; no different from a handgun or a knife used by any other cowardly criminals to strike terror in their victims. In the hands of individuals like Thomas Sweatt, fire is a weapon of mass destruction. Left to the laws of science and physics, a bullet will quickly fall to the ground and eliminate any further danger to potential victims. Applying laws of science and physics to a single struck match dropped to the ground and left unabated can destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, homes, and people. The need for aggressive, relentless, and scientifically based investigations is paramount.

In a research paper produced by the U.S. Fire Administration called “Arson in the United States,” arson is the leading cause of fire in the United States. Each year, an estimated 267,000 fires are attributed to arson, which results in $1.4 billion in property loss and causes over 2,000 injuries and 475 deaths. In recent years, we have started to see a gradual decline in some of those numbers, thanks in part to the commitment of the professional investigators and the training they pursue. The IAAI has been in existence for over 60 years and is recognized around the world as the leader in the training and education of fire investigators.

The task of investigating fires for origin and cause is like none other. The commitment to see this task to the end takes special individuals like those who removed Mr. Sweatt from society, to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude. Sadly, the battle continues every day across the country and around the world, as more and more fires go unsolved, or worse, not investigated. IAAI is committed to fighting this problem by training and educating the dedicated professional fire investigator. Perhaps Mr. Jamieson’s work will also help to erode the ignorance and apathy that seems so pervasive in the general population’s regard to the crime of arson.

Thank you, Mr. Jamieson, and thank you to all the men and women around the world committed to improving our lives through the diligent efforts to investigate fires and solve the crime of arson.

Thomas Fee
President, International Association of Arson Investigators
Pomona, Calif.

Meeting Mute

Generally, I enjoyed reading Mark Jenkins’ review of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (6/1). But I was struck by Mr. Jenkins’ comment that there is only one “white person with a speaking part” in the movie. Is he concerned that white folks might not be able to relate to such a movie? Is that why it’s remarkable? Are we to look forward to similar notes in the future when there are few black speaking parts in movies? Is Mr. Jenkins aware that black folks routinely watch and enjoy movies without a single black face on screen? In fact, there are whole cinematic universes in which black folks don’t even seem to exist. (The overwhelming number of movies set in the future for example. One wonders whether the makers of such films envision some apocalyptic event in which only blacks fail to venture into that undiscovered country.) But we manage to enjoy those movies as long as they’re done well. Let’s leave out the comments about the paucity of white speaking parts on screen unless you’re also willing to note the billions of instances in which there are no or few black speaking parts in the movies.

Stanley Stocker-Edwards