Civil Rights

RSS Feed for this category

Rallies, Vigils Mark 40 Years of Failed Drug War [FEATURE]

It was 40 years ago Friday that President Richard Nixon (R) declared illegal drugs "public enemy No. 1" and ushered in the modern war on drugs. Four decades, millions of drug arrests, and a trillion dollars later, the sale and consumption of illicit drugs is as firmly ensconced in American society as ever, and a growing number of Americans are ready to end drug prohibition and embark on a more sane and sensible, not to mention less harmful, approach toward drugs.

Marching to the end the drug war in San Francisco (Image courtesy the author)
In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered Friday to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Their numbers were not overwhelming, but their voices are being heard, and the more hopeful among us can begin to see the faint outlines of a nascent mass movement for reform.

Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

In San Francisco, several hundred people from more than a dozen sponsoring organizations gathered at City Hall for a press conference and to demand that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the state legislature prioritize vital social services over spending on prisons. Then, accompanied by drummers from the Brass Liberation Orchestra, they marched through the city center to state office buildings before returning to City Hall.

"It is past time that we take real steps to make real changes to California’s totally inhumane prison system," said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), one of 17 local groups organizing the march.

The Brass Liberation Band was beating the drums for an end to prohibition (Image courtesy the author)
"Spending on prisons has grown from five percent to ten percent of our General Fund spending, doubling just in the past decade," said Lisa Marie Alatorre of Critical Resistance, a CURB member organization. "Locking up too many people for too long does not contribute to public safety and is draining essential resources from education and health care -- programs that make a real difference to Californians."

"We call on the governor, California's mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs, and all Californians to join us in calling it a failure that should be stopped immediately," said Dr. Diana Sylvestre of Oasis Clinic and the Oakland-based United for Drug Policy Reform. "We will continue to organize to win our fight against this endless assault on sane drug policies."

In Chicago, hundreds gathered outside James R. Thompson Center in the Loop to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the drug war, while inside the center was a ceremony honoring Juneteenth, a remembrance of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1863. For those present, the connection between the struggle to win civil rights and the fight to end the drug war was easily made. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Father Michael Pfleger and other community leaders lent their voices to the rally.

Dancers joined the protest krewe in New Orleans (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
"There is not a war on drugs, there is a war on the poor and a war on people of color!" said Pfleger, whipping up the crowd.

"We all know that the war on drugs has failed to end drug use. Instead, it's resulted in the incarceration of millions of people around the country, and 100,000 here in Cook County on an annual basis," said Preckwinkle, the only elected official to address the crowd. "Drugs and the failed war on the drugs have devastated lives, families and communities. For too long we've treated drug use as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public issue, which is what it is."

In Honolulu, the ACLU of Hawaii and other drug reform advocates marked the occasion with a rally and speeches. Access to medical marijuana was a big issue for attendees there, although the main focus was on ending the drug war.

"It has cost a trillion dollars. It has perpetrated massive racial injustice. It has made the United States the largest jailer," said Scott Michaelman. "Treatment over incarceration is a core part of our message. Low level nonviolent users should not be a part of the criminal justice system," he added.

Braving the heat to beat prohibition in the Big Easy (Image courtesy Pelican Post)
In steamy New Orleans, several dozen protesters led by Women with a Vision and including dance groups and local anarchists braved temperatures in the 90s to hold a bouncy second-line parade through Central City and then a community forum to call for an end to racial profiling, lengthy sentences, and unfair drug policies.

"You get to see the people coming together. It's a unity thing," Keyondria Mitchell, a supporter who led one of the dancing groups, told the Pelican Post.  She said the event's varied attendees were testament to a changing public perception of the drug war. "That's what you want, awareness."

Women with a Vision director Deon Haywood said that 40 years on, the drug war had failed to make us safer despite all the money down the drain. "It hasn't curbed the use of illegal drugs, but what it has done is incarcerate many people," said Haywood. "We have only two licensed addiction counselors serving three parishes: Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard. Why can't that money be put into treatment?"

In San Diego, dozens gathered at Pioneer Park in Mission Hills to hear, among others, former California Assemblymember Lori Saldana call for complete repeal of drug prohibition; in Denver, the Drug Policy Alliance sponsored a well-attended debate; and in Portland, Oregon, the Lewis & Clark chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized a candlelight vigil at Pioneer Square attended by around 100 people. Events also occurred in other cities, including Ann Arbor, Miami Beach, and Washington, DC.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

These Are Your Rights on Drugs (Opinion)

Scott Lemieux, Assistant Professor of Political Science at The College of Saint Rose, discusses the Supreme Court's continued long-standing assault on constitutional protections in service of the war on drugs (or, as it might be more accurately described, the war on some classes of people who use some types of drugs).
Publication/Source: 
The American Prospect (DC)
URL: 
http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=these_are_your_rights_on_drugs

Another Drug Case Dismissed in Connection with San Francisco Police Misconduct Probe

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Another drug case was dismissed in connection with allegations of police misconduct by San Francisco officers. More than 85 cases have been dropped because of a string of videos released by Public Defender Jeff Adachi that he said show misconduct by plainclothes officers performing drug busts at residential hotels in the city. The latest dismissal might not be the last related to the police misconduct allegations. Adachi said last week that the district attorney's office has provided him with a list of 6,900 cases involving officers from the previous videos, which appear to show officers from the Police Department's Southern Station entering rooms without a warrant or consent, contradicting what was written in the officers' reports.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://www.foxreno.com/news/27958695/detail.html

Drug Warriors Gun Down Young Father (Opinion)

Location: 
AZ
United States
James Peron, President of the Moorfield Storey Institute, recounts the recent drug prohibition related death of a young husband, father, and Iraq veteran who was shot at 71 times by heavily armed men who then allegedly prevented medical assistance from being given until he was dead. The heavily armed men were from the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Another drug raid gone bad.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-peron/jose-guerena_b_863278.html

What the Drug War Has Wrought (Opinion)

John Sinclair opines on what drug prohibition has wrought. He says only the most nave, cynical or deluded among us can subscribe to the pervasive mythology of drug police, prosecutors and judges as fearless warriors valiantly fighting a depraved horde of heartless pushers and evil dope fiends whose anti-social pursuit of self-gratification by getting high threatens to destroy the American way of life and everything it stands for.
Publication/Source: 
Counter Punch (CA)
URL: 
http://www.counterpunch.org/sinclair04292011.html

Mexico’s Congress Considers Changing Security Law In Attempt to Control Drug Prohibition Violence

Location: 
Mexico
With the current session of Mexico’s Congress scheduled to expire Friday, members of Mexico’s House of Deputies have less than a week to deliberate over extremely controversial changes to the country’s National Security Law that would give the President the power to deploy Mexico’s Armed Forces against broadly defined internal threats to Mexican national security. PT and Convergencia parties say that the 83-page initiative to change the law constitutes a threat to individual liberties and could create a state of exception in Mexico that would effectively put the country under military control. They remain deeply skeptical of proposed changes to the law, which advocate, among other things, the monitoring and recording of private communication for intelligence-gathering purposes. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to frequent abuses by the Mexican military and contend that there is a widespread systemic failure to prosecute human rights violations in Mexican military courts.
Publication/Source: 
Latin America News Dispatch (NY)
URL: 
http://latindispatch.com/2011/04/27/mexicos-congress-considers-changing-security-law-to-control-drug-war-violence/

Medical Marijuana Users Fight for Gun Rights

Location: 
OR
United States
Cynthia Willis is part of what is considered the first major court case in the country to consider whether guns and medical marijuana can legally mix. When it's over, the diminutive 54-year-old plans to still be eating marijuana cookies to deal with her arthritis pain and muscle spasms, and carrying her pistol.
Publication/Source: 
National Public Radio (DC)
URL: 
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135105875

Delaware Valley School District Sued Over Drug Testing Policy

Location: 
DE
United States
ACLU lawyers are fighting Delaware Valley School District's drug-testing policy in court on behalf of two students. The ACLU believes the district's policy violates a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, Theodore vs. Delaware Valley School District. That decision required schools to justify suspicionless drug testing programs with evidence of a widespread drug problem among students, unless the school could show additional evidence that the group of students undergoing testing had a high rate of drug use.
Publication/Source: 
Pocono Record (PA)
URL: 
http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110310/NEWS/103100321/-1/NEWS01

Washington State Medical Marijuana User Dies Without Transplant

Location: 
WA
United States
Timothy Garon, a musician who was denied a liver transplant because he used marijuana with medical approval under Washington state law to ease the symptoms of advanced hepatitis C, died. Dr. Brad Roter, the physician who authorized Garon to use medical marijuana to alleviate for nausea and abdominal pain and to stimulate his appetite, said he did not know it would be such a hurdle if Garon were to need a transplant.
Publication/Source: 
KBOI (ID)
URL: 
http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/117191348.html

Pennsylvania Lawsuit Takes Aim at Use of Stickers in Drug Arrests

Location: 
Middletown, PA
United States
After a small marijuana raid at a home three years ago, police left behind a bright yellow sticker, plastered to a window for any passer-by to see that read "SAY NO TO DRUGS: BUSTED — Middletown Police Department." The charges against one of the residents, Deana Perry, were later dropped. Perry has gone to federal court, claiming the act of applying the sticker violated her constitutional rights. One of her lawyers, Dennis E. Boyle, said that Perry wants the police to be barred from labeling people as drug dealers before they have had their day in court.
Publication/Source: 
The Patriot-News (PA)
URL: 
http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/02/lawsuit_takes_aim_at_use_of_st.html

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School