Media links and letter-writing information appears below.
Albany, New York, District Attorney David Soares has ignited a firestorm of criticism over remarks he made at last week's International Harm Reduction Association conference in Vancouver. But given the local response to the controversy, it may be his critics who are feeling like they got their fingers burned.
Both Albany Police Chief James Tuffey and Albany County Sheriff James Campbell ripped into Soares after his Vancouver speech was reported in New York. County Commissioner Ann Comella offered up a no-confidence resolution calling on Soares to apologize for his remarks because they supposedly insulted police officers.
Early this week, Soares apologized for appearing to attack police officers, but clarified that he was really attacking a failed drug policy. He was not saying that police were in it to get rich, he explained. "I am saying we have an incredibly expensive criminal justice system that continues to expand as a result of laws we pass." And while he expressed admiration for police, he stood firm on the larger issue. "I stand by my statements; we are losing this drug war. We are losing it ultimately here on the streets."
Soares supporters from around the country were quick to respond. "I spent 34 years as a cop and saw firsthand the damage caused by the war on drugs, the cost to individual lives, public safety and community health, not to mention the squandered taxpayer money," said Norm Stamper, former chief of police for the city of Seattle and a member of the advisory board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "We all owe David Soares our respect and admiration for speaking the truth. We need more public servants like David, especially in the criminal justice system," said Stamper, "It's not uncommon to be castigated or criticized for speaking an unpopular truth."
"Without courageous, principled leadership, the US will never develop the workable, effective drug policies that we need to address the impact of drug abuse on our families and communities," says Gabriel Sayegh, Director, State Organizing and Policy Project for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Albany County and New York State should be proud to have a district attorney who has the intelligence and vision to demand effective alternatives to failed drug war policies," said Sayegh.
Soares also scored the backing of the Albany Times Union, which in an editorial castigated his critics. "What neither Mr. Tuffey nor Albany County Sheriff James Campbell nor any other aggrieved party can do is muster much of a counterargument to Mr. Soares' larger point," the Times pointed out. "The facts are on his side when he says, 'My advice to Canada is stay as completely far away from US drug law policy as possible.' How have Draconian laws that disproportionately leave blacks and Hispanics serving excessively long prison sentences stopped drug abuse and all the problems that come with it? What can Mr. Soares' critics say to rebut his view that it's a fear of reform that keeps these laws on the books?"
At the Monday night commission meeting where Soares was supposed to be censured, it was instead a Soares pep rally. Scores of Soares supporters turned out, and more than 20 took the opportunity to tell the county legislature he has their backing.
Shawn Morris, president of the Albany Common Council, was one of them. "The real subjects of David Soares' remarks were lawmakers who are afraid to make a change," he said.
Chief Tuffey has now agreed to meet with Soares, and Commissioner Comella decided Monday evening that her no-confidence resolution wasn't really necessary. The prohibitionist attack dogs came after Soares, but in a sign of changing times, they are the ones ending up licking their wounds.
Below are links to news reports we know of about the controversy:
Governor Faults Soares' Remarks, Albany Times Union, 5/10and letter/feedback info:
Albany Times Union, letters to the editor: http://www.timesunion.com/forms/emaileditor.asp