The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of California has endorsed Proposition 19, California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. LULAC is one of the most prominent organizations representing Latino voters. The group announced Friday it is supporting the initiative.
"The current prohibition laws are not working for Latinos, nor for society as a whole," said Argentina Dávila-Luévano, California LULAC State Director. "Far too many of our brothers and sisters are getting caught in the cross-fire of gang wars here in California and the cartel wars south of our border. It's time to end prohibition, put violent, organized criminals out of business and bring marijuana under the control of the law."
Proposition 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21 and allow them to grow their own in a space of up to 25 square feet and possess the harvest. It would also allow counties and municipalities to permit, regulate, and tax commercial marijuana sales and cultivation.
In a June report, the Drug Policy Alliance found that while blacks and Latinos made up 44% of the state's population, they accounted for 56% of pot possession arrests. The report concentrated on African-Americans because the FBI's Uniform Crime Report data on which it was based does not recognize Latino as a racial category, instead lumping Latinos in with whites. Still the language of the report applies to Latinos as well.
Calling racially disproportionate marijuana arrests "a system-wide phenomenon," the report explained why: "Police departments deploy most patrol and narcotics police to certain neighborhoods, usually designated 'high crime,'" the authors wrote. "These are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately African-American and Latino neighborhoods. It is in these neighborhoods where the police make most patrols, and where they stop and search the most vehicles and individuals, looking for 'contraband' of any type in order to make an arrest. The item that young people in any neighborhood are most likely to possess, which can get them arrested, is a small amount of marijuana. In short, the arrests are racially-biased mainly because the police are systematically 'fishing' for arrests in only some neighborhoods, and methodically searching only some 'fish.' This produces what has been termed "racism without racists.'"
It's not just the arrests, said LULAC board member Angel Luévano. "In these tough economic times we must find ways to provide new jobs for our people and prosperity in our communities. Supporting Prop 19 will put more Latinos to work and generate cash for our state's budget," she said. "It's our neighborhoods and our families that suffer the most from widespread and ever-increasing unemployment and budget cutbacks for schools and public safety programs."
LULAC of California is just the latest in an ever-growing list of Prop 19 endorsers, including the National Black Police Association, the NAACP of California, and the Latino Voters League. To see them all, click here.
Attorney General Holder Says He Will Enforce Marijuana Laws Even If California Votes to Decriminalize, ACLU Says Continued Criminalization of Marijuana Has Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color (Press Release)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 16, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO – In a letter made public late Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice will “vigorously enforce” federal laws against marijuana in California, even if the state’s voters next month approve Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would decriminalize marijuana in the state. The proposed initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal use and allow cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial sales. Holder’s letter was sent to nine former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The criminalization of low-level marijuana possession has disproportionately impacted communities of color, has no impact on public safety and serves to divert criminal justice resources from the prosecution of more serious crimes.
In a letter sent to Holder several weeks ago, the former DEA chiefs urged him to take legal action challenging Proposition 19 in court if it passes and to make clear that it would be void even if passed because federal law would preempt it under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S Constitution. Holder’s letter this week was notably silent on both issues.
The following can be attributed to Allen Hopper, Police Practices Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California:
“Attorney General Holder’s silence speaks volumes. He does not say that the Department of Justice will seek an injunction against Proposition 19 being enacted because there is no constitutional basis for doing so. A bedrock constitutional principle underlying our federalist system of government prohibits the federal government from telling the state of California what laws it can and cannot pass or forcing the state to expend its resources prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses. It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration would seek to impede a law that would go great lengths toward dismantling one of the defining injustices of our nation’s failed “war on drugs”: the fact that people of color, and especially youth of color, are disproportionately arrested for low-level marijuana possession. Such arrests do not increase public safety, and merely serve to divert already scarce criminal justice resources from the investigation of more serious crimes.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of California has endorsed Proposition 19, California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. LULAC is one of the most prominent organizations representing Latino voters. The group announced Friday it is supporting the initiative.
No fewer than a baker's dozen polls have surveyed Golden State voters since May of this year, and at least one more will appear the weekend before election day. The average for all the polls so far has Prop 19 winning 47.4%, with 43.2% opposed and 9.4% undecided.
The numbers would have been better for Prop 19 except for Monday's Reuter/Ipsos poll, which bucked the trend to show Prop 19 losing by 10 points. It is one of only three polls that show the measure losing; one was a Field Poll in July and the other was another Reuters/Ipsos poll in June.
Here are the results of the 13 polls, beginning with the most recent:
|10/03/10||Public Policy Institute of California||52.0%||41.0%|
|05/26/10||Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D)||49.0%||41.0%|
|05/16/10||Public Policy Institute of California||49.0%||48.0%|
"What is remarkable is that the polls agree so closely," said Jay Leve, CEO of SurveyUSA. "Initiatives are among the most difficult things for pollsters to poll, because many of them are about arcane things that nobody knows about, like 30-year bond issues, so the polls can be all over the place. But in this one, the issue is pretty clear, and that's reflected in the agreement among the polls."
"Our surveys get more accurate the closer we get to election Day," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, which had Prop 19 trailing by four points in July, but leading by seven in September. "In our second survey, we were able to read voters the actual ballot question," he noted.
Field will be taking one more poll before the election, DiCamillo said. "We will release our final poll the weekend before the election," he announced. "It will be much more insightful."
But with less than a month to go, things are looking pretty good for Prop 19. Liberals, Democrats, and young voters consistently showed strong support for Prop 19 across all the polls, suggesting, somewhat paradoxically, that voters motivated by support for Prop 19 could help the campaigns of Democrats gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer, both of whom have come out in opposition to legalization. Likewise, if surging Brown and Boxer campaigns bring out Democratic and liberal voters, they are going to be likely to vote for Prop 19 despite the positions of their gubernatorial and senatorial candidates.
But Republicans, who oppose Prop 19 by margins of 2-1, are also counting on a massive turnout. If the primary is a reliable indicator, they could see just that. In 2008, Democrats made up 42% of the electorate and Republicans just 30%, but Republican enthusiasm this year could close that gap. In the primaries, where only 33% of the electorate voted, 44% of Republicans did, while only 32% of Democrats did. A strong GOP turnout combined with weak turnout among Democrats could spell doom for the measure.
If polling for some groups has been consistent, that hasn't been the case for others, especially black voters. For example, at one point, the Field Poll had Prop 19 losing by 12 points among black voters, while just weeks later Public Policy Polling had it up by 36 points. Black voters only account for 6% of the state's electorate, so the results may suffer from too small a sample size.
Pollster Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com had another possible explanation, one he called the "Broadus Effect," after one Calvin Broadus -- better known as the rapper and major pot aficionado, Snoop Dog. It's a variation on the "Bradley Effect," named for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who lost a mayoral race despite leading in the polls before election time.
The "Bradley Effect" posits that polls can be skewed by respondents who reply with what they think are the politically correct answers, rather than what they really think. Silver noted that automated robo-phone polls were showing higher support among blacks than polls done with human poll-takers.
"This might also explain why the split is larger among black and Hispanic voters," Silver wrote. "Marijuana usage is almost certainly more stigmatized when associated with minorities, and drug possession arrests occur much more frequently in minority communities. This is in spite of the fact that rates of marijuana consumption are only a smidgen higher among blacks than among whites, and are somewhat lower among Hispanics."
Pollsters are congenitally cautious about making predictions on actual election results, but both DiCamillo and Leve made heavily hedged predictions. "Usually, the burden of proof is on the proposition," said DiCamillo. "It's always on the yes side to make its case. In this case, there is a lead, but it's not quite at 50% plus one. Most initiatives do get a few percentage points out of the undecideds, so you'd expect this one to be favored for passage, but it's not a slam dunk."
Undecideds would have to break dramatically toward a no vote for the initiative to lose if the poll average today holds until Election Day. With Prop 19 at nearly 48% and undecideds at just under 10%, it would need to pick up just better than one out of five of those voters to get over the top.
And DiCamillo says Prop 19's prospects are good, barring some sort of October surprise. "If somebody came in and started advertising heavily against it, that could change things," he warned. So far, there's been no sign of that, but there is still time for a late TV ad campaign.
SurveyUSA's Leve was only a bit more definitive. "That it's maintaining a 10-point lead is good for the initiative, but that it's having trouble getting that 50% plus one is not," said Leve. "It's sort of a glass half full thing. If I was in Las Vegas and I was a betting man, I'd bet on it to win," said Leve. "But I'd only bet money I could afford to lose."
With less than a month out Prop 19 is leading by an average of more than four points. A historic victory for marijuana legalization may be coming into view, but Election Day will be a nailbiter, and its going to depend on turnout and those undecideds.
In This Issue:
- Feature Story » GO
- Putting Faces on Justice » GO
- Segregation Behind Prison Bars » GO
- Upcoming Events » GO
Search our Clearinghouse of over 450 books, articles, and reports on racial disparity in the criminal justice system.
"Define Justice and Make Change"
Chicago, IL, September 23-25, 2010
The Facing Race conference will include discussions of hot-button race issues while offering models for change. It will serve as a focal point for organizations and individuals committed to crafting innovative strategies for changing policy and shaping culture to advance real racial justice.
Symposium on Crime and Justice
"The Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing Research"
Albany, NY, September 23-24, 2010
The symposium is based on the premise that new advances in sentencing research will come in part from engaging with other disciplines that focus on sentencing issues, and engaging with ongoing public policy issues like prison overcrowding and risk assessment. The main topics will be the role of race in sentencing outcomes, discretion and decision making, managing the criminal justice population, and risk assessment in the sentencing process.
Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Justice Research and Statistics Association 2010 National Conference
"Using Statistics and "Research to Improve Justice Policies and Practices"
Portland, Maine, October 28-29, 2010
The program includes more than 20 panel sessions on topics, including, corrections, domestic violence, human trafficking, racial disparity, reentry, research using national incident based reporting system (NIBRS) data, sentencing, substance abuse, tribal crime data, and victimization, as well as plenary discussions on current justice issues. There will also be skill building seminars (October 26th, 27th, and 30th) on cost-benefit analysis, evaluation methods, and evidence-based programs and practices.
Do you have a contribution or idea for Race & Justice News? Send an email to The Sentencing Project's research analyst, Valerie Wright.
The Sentencing Project
1705 DeSales Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
September 1, 2010
Race & Justice News
"The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people. Saying the U.S. criminal justice system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that."
-- Dr. Nancy Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity Program at Saint Catherine University
RACIAL PROFILING PART OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN BROOKLYN
Allegations of racial profiling have become common in many predominantly black neighborhoods across the country. The New York Times recently reviewed police data provided by the New York Police Department, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union on police stops and found that the police made nearly 52,000 stops in an eight-block radius of Brownsville, Brooklyn between January 2006 and March 2010. Overall, 88% of individuals stopped were black or Hispanic. Despite the large number of stops only 1% yielded an arrest over a four-year period. Typically, squad cars with flashing lights cruise along the main avenues and officers use their controversial "Stop, Question, and Frisk" tactic on residents. The encounters are so frequent that they amount to nearly one stop per year for the 14,000 residents over the four-year period.
The Times reports that if police think someone is carrying a weapon or entering a building without a key it is common for them to ask for identification and check to see if the individual has any warrants. In many encounters with police, residents were told that they fit the description of a suspect. However, the data show that less than 9% of stops were made based on "fit description." More often than not, the police listed "furtive movement," a vague category that equates to "other" as the grounds for the stop. This stop-and-frisk strategy has come under intense scrutiny and the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed lawsuits challenging the NYPD's current practices. Click here to read more.
PUTTING FACES ON JUSTICE
VOICES FROM BROOKLYN
Watch and listen to the residents from a public housing community in Brownsville, Brooklyn speak for themselves about how they believe they have been unfairly targeted by police stop-and-frisk tactics. One young man states "If you see cops, they automatically search you." Several other residents say they feel "belittled," "violated" and "degraded" as a result of their contact with police.
SEGREGATION BEHIND PRISON BARS
INMATES STILL HOUSED BY RACE AFTER SUPREME COURT RULING
In a 5-3 decision reached in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that prison officials in California could not rely solely on racial classification when assigning inmate housing. Historically, prison officials in the state have relied on race to separate male inmates. Five years after the ruling, approximately 165,000 inmates in California are still housed by race and critics argue that the state is not responding quickly enough to the ruling. Part of the problem is that the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not keep a record of integrated cells and therefore does not know how much change has occurred. In addition, only four of California's 30 prisons have implemented guidelines that consider additional factors such as gang affiliation and offense committed in determining housing location.
One prison spokesman, Lt. Anthony Gentile, asserted that "These boundaries are determined by the inmate population." Another spokeswoman, Terry Thornton, emphasizes that there is no deadline for ending segregation by race in prisons and such changes should be implemented slowly. In addition, she points out that, "The deficit-ridden state also has no money for additional training needed for prison staffers to learn the new ways to assign cellmates." Click here to read more.
The Sentencing Project is a national, nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.
Ever since NAACP endorsed marijuana legalization in California, there's been a raging debate over whether the drug war targets black communities. Looks like the DEA just settled it.
ATLANTA — Federal agents are seeking to hire Ebonics translators to help interpret wiretapped conversations involving targets of undercover drug investigations.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recently sent memos asking companies that provide translation services to help it find nine translators in the Southeast who are fluent in Ebonics, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Monday. [AP]
But don't get the wrong idea. This has nothing to do with the drug war being racist. They just need expert testimony to help win drug cases:
"You can maybe get a general idea of what they're saying, but you have to understand that this has to hold up in court," he said. "You need someone to say, 'I know what they mean when they say 'ballin' or 'pinching pennies.'"
Wait, is that drug slang? As dumb as all of this sounds, I'm beginning to envision a very real risk of the DEA bringing some jackass into court to randomly redefine words and incriminate people who could've been talking about anything. If they start asking for search warrants on the grounds that 'pinching pennies' means laundering money, that's a total nightmare and it's exactly the kind of crap we should probably expect from this.
Asthmatic medical marijuana patient Chris Diaz sits in jail in Brownwood, Texas, facing up to life in prison for a half ounce of marijuana and three grams of hash. Quadraplegic medical marijuana patient Chris Cain may be joining Diaz behind bars in Beaumont, Texas, after he goes to trial next week. When it comes to medical marijuana, Texas isn't California (or even Rhode Island), and don't you forget it, boy!
Under Texas law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, while possession of hashish is either a state jail felony punishable by up to two years for less than a gram, or a second-class felony punishable by up to 20 years if less than four grams, although probation is also possible.
But because police allegedly read a text message on Diaz's seized cell phone advising a friend that he had some great hash and asking if he wanted any, he was instead indicted on the trafficking charge, punishable by up to life in prison. He remains behind bars -- without his medicine -- on a $40,000 cash bond.
Diaz was diagnosed with asthma just before he turned three, his mother, Rhonda Martin said. "He was on medications ever since. He used a nebulizer, all kinds of inhalers, Albuteral, Advair. He stopped taking them when he was 14 because he didn't like the effects," she recalled. "He said the steroids made him feel agitated and wouldn't take those chemical medications anymore."
While the family was aware of medical marijuana, it was only when Diaz fell ill during a family vacation in California and was hospitalized in intensive care that they first learned about medical marijuana for the treatment of asthma. "We were put in touch with a doctor there, and he recommended it. It was his recommendation Chris was carrying," said Martin.
Neither Brown County prosecutors nor Diaz's court-appointed public defender had responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.
Diaz and some of his strongest supporters, including his mother, consider themselves "sovereign citizens," and have a web site, I Am Sovereign, in which they argue their case and attempt to win support for Diaz. But that set of beliefs, which precludes carrying government-issued identification, is also complicating things for Diaz. "Failure to identify" was the first charge he faced, and he was searched and the cannabis was found subsequent to being charged with that. Similarly, the authorities' lack of any records or ID for Diaz played a role in the setting of the high bail.
He's not having an easy time of it in jail, said Martin. "He is not receiving any medical attention. He eats only organic food, but he's not getting that. He was assaulted last Sunday by a jailer when he asked for medication. The jailer got in his face and started screaming and pushing him. Chris didn't react. He is a peaceful man."
"The reality is that this kid is in jail for having medical marijuana and is looking at life in prison," said Stephen Betzen, director of the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care, which is lobbying for a medical marijuana bill next year in the state legislature. "You've got to be kidding me. You don't give drug addicts life in prison, so why would you do that to a patient with a legitimate recommendation from another state?"
"I'm surprised somebody is facing a life sentence for basically half an ounce," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana support group Americans for Safe Access. "But in states that don't have medical marijuana laws, authorities are free to arrest and prosecute regardless of whether it is being used medicinally."
Meanwhile, over in Hardin County in East Texas, Chris Cain, 39, will be rolling his wheelchair to court next week, where the quadriplegic faces a jail sentence for possessing less than two ounces of medical marijuana. Cain, who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, has been an outspoken medical marijuana advocate for a decade.
He was arrested in 2005 when the Hardin County Sheriff's Office raided his home with the assistance of two helicopters, seized three joints, and threw him in jail. He wound up on probation, but could not use his medicine.
"Within six weeks, the spasticity was so bad he was developing bed sores," said Betzen, so he started using again. "The cops would come by every two weeks to see if he was healthy enough to go to jail."
Now, he faces trial again for possession. "They actually want to put him in jail," exclaimed Betzen. "The sheriff there really has a vendetta against him."
While Texas certainly needs to enter the 21st Century when it comes to medical marijuana, the problem is larger than the Lone Star State, said Hermes. "It's critical that we develop a federal medical marijuana law so that people are not treated differently in Texas than in California, and patients who need this medicine in Texas should be allowed to use it with fear of arrest and prosecution. Americans for Safe Access is committed not only to encouraging states to pass medical marijuana laws irrespective of federal policy, but also to push the federal government to develop a policy that will treat patients equitably no matter where in the US they live."
Under quarter-century old federal laws drafted in the midst of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, people convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine faced a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalties. The law subjected tens of thousands of African-Americans to long prison sentences for crack offenses, while whites busted for crack mainly got sent to state court for comparatively lenient sentences.
Under the new law, that 100:1 disparity is reduced to 18:1. That means instead of five grams of crack garnering the same sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine, it will now take 28 grams of crack to earn the five-year mandatory minimum. That goes up to 10 years if the amount in question is more than 280 grams of crack.
While the new law removes the mandatory minimum sentence for simply possessing five grams of crack and while it will likely reduce sentences by about two years for federal crack offenders, it is not retroactive. That means thousands of people doing harsh sentences under the old law will continue to serve them, at least for now. However, the US Sentencing Commission could take up the retroactivity question for those people, now that Congress has change the threshold for mandatory minimums.
Drug War Chronicle did a feature article on the bill last week. For more detail and analysis, read it here.
The US House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill, SB 1789, that addresses one of the most glaring injustices of the American drug war: the 100:1 disparity in sentencing between federal crack cocaine and federal powder cocaine offenders. The bill does not eliminate the disparity, but dramatically reduces it.
Under federal drug laws enacted during the height of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, a person caught with five grams of crack cocaine faced the same mandatory minimum five-year sentence as someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine. And though blacks constitute only about 30% of all crack users, they accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions.
The bill approved by Congress reduces that 100:1 ratio to 18:1. It also removes the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams or less of crack, marking the first time Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum since Richard Nixon was president, although not the first time a law involving mandatory minimums has been scaled back. To the dismay of advocates, the bill is not retroactive.
Under the bill, it will take 28 grams of crack to garner a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and 280 grams to trigger a 10-year prison sentence. It will still take 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum. Estimates are that, once enacted, the law could affect about 3,000 cases a year, reducing sentences by an average of two years. The shorter sentences should save about $42 million in prison costs over five years.
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling has been working to reform the law for nearly two decades -- since just a few years after he helped write it as House Judiciary Committee counsel at the time. The change didn't come nearly fast enough, he said. "I'm very personally relieved," Sterling said. "My role in these tragic injustices has pained me for decades. You realize that probably hundreds of thousands of men and women went to prison for unjustly long sentences that I helped write. It's not something I've ever forgotten."
"Members of both parties deserve enormous credit for moving beyond the politics of fear and simply doing the right thing," said Julie Stewart, founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "For those of us who have been pushing for reform for nearly 20 years, today's vote is phenomenal. To see members of Congress come together on such a historically partisan issue like this during an election year is heartening. The 100:1 disparity was an ugly stain on the criminal justice system," Stewart continued. "Nobody will mourn its passing -- least of all, the thousands of individuals and families FAMM has worked with over the past 20 years that have been directly impacted. I am hopeful that the forces of reason and compassion that carried the day today will prevail again soon to apply the new law retroactively to help those already in prison for crack cocaine offenses," Stewart concluded.
"This is a historic day, with House Republicans and Democrats in agreement that US drug laws are too harsh and must be reformed," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The tide is clearly turning against the failed war on drugs. I'm overjoyed that thousands of people, mostly African American, will no longer be unjustly subjected to the harsh sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s," Tyler said. "The compromise is not perfect and more needs to be done, but this is a huge step forward in reforming our country's overly harsh and wasteful drug laws."
"Well, I guess there's 80% less racism, but there's still a big problem, though," said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on federal drug war prisoners. "This is a fix on the back end, but as the US Sentencing Commission noted, sentencing really begins when the police start investigating. That whole drug war system of cops and snitches and prosecutors is still in place."
"Substantively, this is not a major policy change," agreed Sterling, "But symbolically, it's very important. I wouldn't have thought this would have made it to the House floor, and I wouldn't have thought this would pass by two-thirds on a recorded vote."
"This is progress, but it's not retroactive, so all the people who worked so hard to pass this bill don't get any reward," said Callahan. "When you leave out the principle of extending justice to all, it's really tough. How do you tell people sorry, we left you out of it?"
Making the law retroactive will be the next battle, but it won't be the only one. "In concrete terms, the next step will be to try to get retroactivity," said Sterling. "The other side of it is to push the president to start commuting sentences."
An unlikely pair of anti-prohibitionist insurgents are running statewide campaigns in New York designed to challenge the political status quo. Randy Credico, a comedian turned activist turned senatorial candidate, is challenging incumbent Charles Schumer for the Democratic Party senatorial nomination, while hedge fund manager turned madam turned convict Kristin Davis is running for governor on the Anti-Prohibition party ticket.
By all accounts, neither has a chance of winning outright. In the latest Siena Poll of New York politics, Credico was pulling 11% against Schumer, up from 9% last fall, but still hardly a close race. Davis has not figured in any polls, but is running as a third party candidate in a year when Democrat Andrew Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in in November.
Still, both are committed to doing all they can to bolster their campaigns and get the spotlight focused on their issues. Last week, the Credico campaign handed in signatures in a bid to qualify for the Democratic primary, while the Davis campaign is in the midst of a signature drive of its own.
"I'm exhausted, I just spent 38 days on the petitioning drive," said Credico on the way back from Albany after handing in signatures. "I'm sick. I have some bronchial problem. If Paterson signs the medical marijuana bill, I might be able to get some relief. We have enough signatures to get on the ballot. Now we have to wait to see if Schumer challenges us," Credico said.
That may be unnecessary, given that the state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs told the New York Daily News Sunday that Credico and his allies had not turned in enough signatures to make the party ballot. But whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico will be in the race. He is also on the ticket for both the Libertarian Party and Davis's Anti-Prohibitionist Party.
"Randy submitted 7,000 signatures himself, and one running mate submitted 6,500, and the third guy was supposed to submit 9,000, but only handed in 500," said Roger Stone, a Republican political operative who is friends with Credico and is advising Davis. "The next morning, the Democratic state committee was peddling the story that Randy had fallen short. I think the third guy was working with Chuck Schumer in a Nixon-style dirty tricks operation. Why does Chuck Schumer fear competition? Why deny people a vote?"
Stone might know a thing or two about political tricksters. He has a long history of political shenanigans, most notably a role in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riots" in Florida in the disputed 2000 presidential election, where mobs of angry Republicans rushed election offices as officials scrutinized chads. He denies any involvement in that.
"I'm a libertarian Republican, not a religious right or Moral Majority Republican," Stone said. "I'm pro-freedom, I favor gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, casino gambling, and prostitution. The only way to get the pimps and drugs out of it is to regulate it. It's a $10 billion industry -- let's legalize it and run out the mob, the pimps, the guys who exploit women, let's empower women."
He is also critical of New York's drug laws. "The Rockefeller laws were racist," Stone said bluntly. "If you were a rich white kid, you could get a break. I think there's a difference between cocaine and marijuana, and I'm not for the legalization of heroin, but until someone can convince me marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, I say legalize it. It's a harmless herb that grows from the earth, and the idea it's a gateway drug is horseshit. New York has millions of marijuana users and they didn't all turn into heroin addicts."
Whatever Stone's motives, he is pushing both anti-prohibitionist campaigns and played a key role in getting Davis into the governor's race. "I met Roger Stone on a Sirius radio show, and afterward, I approached him about lobbying for the legalization of prostitution," said Davis, whose blonde bombshell looks belie a keen intellect. "That was right after a woman who had worked for me was killed by the Craig's List killer in Boston. I feel very strongly she would still be alive if prostitution were legal. If one of his earlier victims had felt comfortable calling the police, he might have been caught before he killed," she said.
Davis acknowledged that actually winning the governorship was unlikely, to say the least, but said her campaign was more about getting the issues addressed and getting enough votes to get the Anti-Prohibitionist Party official status in New York. "People say you can't expect to win, but that depends on your definition of winning," she said. "Andrew Cuomo has approval ratings over 60% and $23 million in campaign funds, but voting for me sends a clear message to the career politicians that these issues need to be heard. If we can get 50,000 votes for the party, then we're officially recognized and can lobby for our issues. Every single vote matters. Every vote for me shows the career politicians that New Yorkers care about these issues, that they want legal marijuana."
The anti-prohibitionist tag team has been doing some joint appearances, Davis said. "Randy is on my Anti-Prohibitionist Party petition as the Senate nominee. We just did an event over the weekend. It was a signature drive kickoff slash birthday party for me," she said. "There were maybe 300 people there."
Davis's notoriety has both helped and hindered her campaign, the former madam said. "It's a double-edged sword. Compared to sex, people by and large are not so interested in politics," she explained. "Sex gets people interested, and I'm an interesting character, but on the other hand, the mainstream media has been skeptical. The Post and New York One have not covered the campaign at all. I hope that once we're on the ballot, and they see this isn't a hoax, they'll start taking us a little more seriously."
"She's been able to use the celebrity that came out of her brush with Eliot Spitzer to her advantage to continue to point out the inequities of the criminal justice system," Stone said. "She went to prison, and he went back to his town house."
If politics makes strange bedfellows, anti-drug war politics makes even stranger ones. Stone is a libertarian Republican, Davis describes herself as a libertarian, but Credico comes out of a left-leaning social justice perspective. They don't agree on everything. For instance, Credico has come out in favor of allowing a mosque to be built near the former World Trade Center site, while Davis opposes it. Similarly, Credico touts an anti-war, anti-interventionist foreign policy, while Davis doesn't touch those issues.
"In the end," said Stone, "Credico and Davis become running mates and are on the same side. The drug war is one of the issues that motivates them both."
Whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico isn't going away. "We're going to start a war of attrition against Schumer," the activist/comedian turned candidate vowed. "We'll be making inroads in the black, latino, lesbian and gay communities, we'll be making inroads with people upstate concerned about their mortgages and credit cards. "I know Schumer is not happy I'm in the race," said Credico. "I'm the last person he wants challenging him. I have a show biz background, I have charisma."
But he also has street cred dating back to his days agitating against the Rockefeller drug laws. "I worked with the families of prisoners, I worked with the African-American community. That's what helped get me over the top. Women whose kids were incarcerated came out and canvassed for me. Schumer has nothing to offer them," Credico said.
Credico compares and contrasts his career with Schumer's and finds the incumbent fares badly. "I ran a civil rights organization, and he conducted himself as someone opposed to civil rights, as manifested by his support of the Patriot Act, the drug war, ID cards, the wall on the border, and other repressive measures. He's anti-civil rights, not for constitutional or civil rights for most Americans."
The Schumer campaign did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
"I'm for civil rights, human rights, a clean environment, and pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia," Credico elaborated. "Schumer was going to waltz right in there without having to talk about this, and New Yorkers deserve better. Why is he an avid supporter of the drug war? Why isn't he as progressive as [Republican senators] Sessions and Hatch on the crack/powder sentencing disparity?" the long-time activist asked.
"I'm for legalization of marijuana," Credico continued. "We should be able to grow marijuana here, without taxing it. Let's not give the government any more layers of power. Prohibition has to be abolished. We have to talk about this. The drug war is a Trojan horse to incarcerate people of color for social control."
The Republicans and Democrats in New York have shown little taste for challenging drug war orthodoxy, but insurgent candidates Credico and Davis are determined to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to justifying prohibitionist policies. Let the games begin!
(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)