« December 2004 | Main | February 2005 »

January 31, 2005

Mobile, Alamaba Police Chief Blames Drugs, Guns, Domestic Violence for Homicide Rate

The Mobile Register in Alabama reported today that homicides in 2004 were on the upturn -- 28 within the Mobile Police Jurisdiction, which extends three miles beyond the city, up from 24 homicides during 2003.

The article discussed the much higher homicide rate during the mid 1990s -- 1995 had the peak with 56 -- implicitly raising the question of whether 2004's increase means that violence is again going back up. Police Chief Sam Cochran isn't worried about that, according to the article, for among other reasons arguing that three of the 28 are likely to be cut from the statistics -- they were killed by police and ruled "justifiable."

It seems awfully cavalier for Chief Cochran not to be worried about a possible rise in violence, if that characterization by the reporter is accurate. To be fair, four homicides or one out of 28 is not very conclusive statistical evidence; maybe it's not going up. But there have been ominous signs in other parts of the country in recent years, such as Baltimore, which in 2002 saw a wave of juvenile murders putting the city on track to exceed the mayor's hoped for reduced homicide target by more than 25%. And two weeks ago the Baltimore Sun reported on a wave of drug trade killings and the stunning admission by police that their drug crackdown was the cause.

More unfortunate was Chief Cochran's predictably unimaginative response -- he wants more cops, 600 instead of the current 475 -- and he credits the work of the Street Level Interdiction Drug Enforcement (SLIDE) team for reducing violence in the city. Cochran should look to the Baltimore events for an example of why his analysis may be off base.

Regardless of that, the national homicide rate, and the individual rates in our big cities, are unacceptably high and only go to show just how bad the situation was a decade ago when they were even higher. As Chief Cochran points out, one of the cause is drugs. By and large that means the drug trade, which means that the way to stop them is clear -- end prohibition, legalize drugs. Then Cochran and the taxpayers wouldn't need 125 more cops on the payroll. And they might be able to do something about those five remaining unsolved homicides from last year -- at least they could try harder if they weren't spending so much on the futile drug fight. But Cochran loves his SLIDE team too much for that.

Letters to the editor can be submitted here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 09:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

State Dept. Issues Mexico Border Travel Advisory Over Drug Fighting

Fighting among rival drug gangs near the US-Mexico border has prompted the US State Dept. to issue a travel advisory, and Mexican officials are not happy, according to an article by Ginger Thomas in the New York Times. The US ambassador to Mexico, Antonio O. Garza, Jr., predicted a "chilling effect on the cross-border exchange, tourism and commerce" if Mexico could not rein in the violence.

Mexican president Vicente Fox shot back at Garza and the State Dept., saying "Mexico's fight against drug trafficking is firm," and "The Mexican government does not admit judgment from any foreign government about political actions taken to confront its problems."

If Fox really meant that, he would push harder for legalization, which once a few years back he said was the right way for the world to go. Mexico suffers terribly from the drug trade violence that prohibition has created, and they have the right to an effective solution. Only replacing the illicit drug traffic with a legal trade that is governed by laws has a chance of providing that.

E-mail [email protected] to send a letter to the editor. And send good thoughts for peace southward to our peoples on both sides of the border.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Heroin Fatalities Double in Austin, Texas, Despite Prohibition

KXAN News 36 in Austin, Texas has reported that despite drug prohibition remaining fully in place, heroin deaths in Austin nevertheless more then doubled, from the low-mid twenties in 2003 to 50 in 2004 -- 2005 has gotten off to a bad start with the latest fatality coming this past Tuesday. According to the report, prosecutors are seeking severe prison terms even for low-level players in the distribution chain as a result.

It would be unfortunate if they got them. The way to reduce heroin overdoses and poisonings is to move the trade into a legal, regulated environment in which users can know what they are getting. Certainly there are some, probably many dealers who knowingly put their customers' lives at risk by providing bad stuff, and there are dealers who engage in violent behavior and who are legitimate targets of the criminal justice system for that reason. Going after the former group might help a little in preventing ODs; going after the latter will clearly not. Many low-level suppliers are addicts who have been driven to it by the high price of heroin that prohibition has caused. Many others are just down and out people who are doing what they need to do to survive.

In the end, the government shares in the blame for most if not all of these deaths, because the government's prohibition laws made them more likely. Legalization, not prosecutions or lengthy sentences, will rescue generations of heroin addicts.

KXAN News 36 accepts comments online here. I haven't seen this story run anywhere else yet; please post back here if you do.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 07:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Dozens Including School Official Indicted in Virginia Trafficking Bust

The Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, reported today on the arrest of dozens of people in a major operation by the Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force. The 324-count indictment refers to drug trafficking going back to 1996 and charges that the numerous defendants "would and did on a consignment and cash basis obtain, distribute, and possess with the intent to distribute in excess of 10,000 pounds of marijuana, in excess of 300 kilograms of cocaine and 20 kilograms of cocaine base, known as crack, throughout the course of the conspiracy." It follows eight months after the task force seized "$2.2 million in cash, a money counting machine, and digital scales from a storage shed in Newport News," according to the article.

One of the people indicted is an assistant superintendent in Prince Georges County, Maryland, Pamela Hoffler-Riddick, which has led to coverage by the local NBC affiliate. That's nearby to where DRCNet is based in Washington. I haven't seen the report, which was posted on the web at about 6:30pm this evening. The CEO of the county school system, Hoffler-Riddick's boss, made some appropriate remarks in which he refrained from rushing to judgment and expressed compassion for her and her family. Hoffler-Riddick has been placed on administrative leave for the time being.

Obviously I don't whether she is innocent or guilty, and the law presumes her innocent until proven guilty. The federal jurisdiction is the one headed by US Attorney Paul McNulty, according to an article about the same operation in The Virginian-Pilot, and he is scheduled to make an announcement and provide further information tomorrow. McNulty is the son-of-a-bitch who prosecuted Dr. Hurwitz, and that makes any indictments brought by his division suspect in my book, especially high profile indictments such as those against Hurwitz or Hoffler-Riddick -- McNulty and his crew may have a special penchant for seeking to make high-profile takedowns on prominent citizens that biases their decisions. But that is speculation only and is neither here nor there in this case insofar as the information currently available is concerned.

Regardless of my suspicions of anything prosecutor McNulty does, my main suggestion in this post is directed at the newspapers that have reported on the indictments. They should investigate whether the cash and equipment seizures done eight months ago had any noticeable impact on the price or availability of drugs on the Peninsula, and they should return to the topic in a month or so to see whether this week's indictments have had any effect. If, as is overwhelmingly likely, the answers are "no" and "no," their editorial boards should ponder what the rationale is for drug busts or prohibition itself.

Get Virginian-Pilot letter-to-the-editor information here. Get Daily Press letter-to-the-editor information here. NBC4 accepts comments online here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 07:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

Niagara Falls Stun Grenade Incident Shocks Residents -- DRCNet and LEAP Quoted

An article in Friday's Buffalo News, 'Stun' Device Burns Woman in Drug Raid, quoted yours truly as well as upstate New Yorker, retired police captain Peter Christ of Prohibition in the Media partner organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), to whom I had referred the reporter after he called. That's not the only reason I'm blogging it, though. :) The incident, which occurred in nearby Niagara Falls and in which police used a dangerous military-style device on a routine drug suspect raid, makes two important points.

One of those points is about the extremity of the current drug war, the use of paramilitary tactics such as stun grenades. This has been driven in part by the dilution of the strict separation between the military and domestic law enforcement, a dilution which began in earnest under the Reagan administration. My quote in the article characterizes the use of pyrotechnic devices in routine drug raids as "reckless" and takes the position that such equipment should be limited to extremely dangerous situations such as those involving hostages. An unidentified local woman also used the word "reckless." While withholding judgment on the specific situation without knowing more details, Peter makes some trenchant observations about the dangers inherent in such tactics and the values that lead to them being used so widely.

John Chella, Niagara's police superintendent, while regretting the injury caused still defended their use of the device, noting that police recovered a loaded weapon during the raid. I stand by my criticism fully -- results are what count, and the harm is not limited to the injured bystander but is felt in the fear of all her neighbors that their police could one day do the same thing to them. Policing is an inherently risky profession -- we should be grateful to our police officers for that reason -- but that does not afford them the luxury to used any available tactic to minimize all risk to themselves while increasing it to others. The least risky course for the officers would have been to just blow the house up and kill everybody inside. Obviously that's the most extreme example, and I'm not by any means implying that what the officers did in this case resembles it. But it's a question of balance and where in a given situation the line gets drawn. In my opinion pyrotechnics crossed the line in what by all appearances was a routine drug raid -- and again, results are what count.

But this leads to the second important point. The use of such tactics by police is not hard to understand, given that the dangers that the drug trade and drug war often present to them. There is an arms race going on between the drug fighters and the drug suppliers, and amongst drug suppliers, with prohibition is at the root of both. Hunting down marijuana dealers and their product is clearly not worth arms races with their attendant collateral damage. But the same principle applies even to the more dangerous drugs, which could be controlled instead and more effectively through some form of legalization.

Check out Dan Herbeck's and Bill Michelmore's critical examination of stun grenades in drug enforcement here, and click here for letter to the editor information or here to submit one online.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 04:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Harlem "Drug Apartment" Slaying Ilustrates Prohibition's Deleterious Impact on the Inner City

An article in last Friday's New York Post illustrates the corrosive impact of prohibition on the quality of life in our nation's poor inner-city neighborhoods. The article Slaying at Harlem "Drug" Apartment described the killing of a marijuana dealer by robbers targeting his presumed cash and stash, and the critical and possibly fatal wounding of his girlfriend and her 17-year old son.

Whether or not one regrets the loss of a marijuana dealer's life in a robbery targeting his cash or supply, Henry King did not deserve to be killed and his girlfriend and her son did not deserve to suffer life-threatening wounds. But most clearly, their neighbors don't deserve to have to live in an environment characterized by violence. Nor should they have had to deal with the constant stream of visitors his business brought in and out of the building every day -- that also affects the quality of life.

Decades of the "war on drugs" have shown that the drug trade cannot be extinguished in that way. This means that blaming the dealers, deservedly or otherwise, accomplishes nothing. Only some form of drug legalization can put those kinds of dealers out of business, stop the violence and disorder, and give inner city neighborhoods a chance to finally heal and prosper.

I've submitted a letter to the editor -- and you can too. Click here to do so online.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 04:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

Pompano Beach-Area Dealer Rapes Woman as Cocaine Debt "Repayment"

Local 10 TV news in Florida reported that a cocaine dealer raped a woman who was unable to pay her debt to him to make things "even." Sergio Barr, the accused, previously served time for burglary and armed robbery. If convicted of sexual battery, he could face life in prison this time.

Rape is a horrible crime, and Barr if found guilty should be punished for it. But that will be small comfort. Wouldn't it be better if the rape had never taken place at all? The victim, whom police and Local 10 mercifully did not name, was forced into contact with the criminal underground because the drug on which she is hooked is banned under law. If she had had access to a legal source of cocaine, through a pharmacy, perhaps, or some other appropriate outlet, she would probably not have come into contact with Barr, certainly not for the same reason or with the same frequency; there would have been no necessity for her to associate with such unsavory characters.

And, how many people who get victimized, in this or other ways, by people with whom they have engaged in drug transactions, don't report the crimes because they are afraid of being criminally prosecuted as drug possessors or worse themselves?

Local 10 can be contacted here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 08:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

Yet Another Drug Trade Related Slaying

An article in the Ann Arbor News today reports that federal indictments have been handed down against seven people for the killing in 2001 of a rival participant in the illegal drug trade, and for running a drug operation that brought marijuana and cocaine from Detroit over to Ypsilanti. According to the article by News report Tom Gantert, one of them, Terrance Smith, age 22, is already serving a life sentence for what it call "another drug related slaying" in 2002.

The article could have described the killings more precisely as "drug trade related" rather than "drug related." Smith and his cohorts didn't kill people because they were high on drugs at the time -- at least that's not what usually happens -- Smith and company were fighting a "war over money," as Baltimore's former mayor Kurt Schmoke has described it, using violence to control drug turf and secure for themselves rather than their competitors.

Substitute "alcohol" for the words "drugs" or "marijuana" or "cocaine," and change one of the seven's names to "Capone" and "Ypsilanti" to "Chicago," and the article could have run 80 years ago during Alcohol Prohibition. In the years following repeal of Prohibition, the national homicide rate decreased by 50%. Similarly, only some form of drug legalization can ultimately bring this kind of violence to a stop. Let anyone doubt how important it is to end violence, even violence against supposed "bad guys," consider how it would feel to live on a street where such a murder takes place, or how unlikely an investor is to open a business there. The violence affects us all.

Visit mlive.com's News Talk section to start a thread on this issue, or click here for letter to the editor information.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 08:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

Baltimore Police Admit Their Campaign Has Prompted More Violence

Today's Associated Press includes an article in which police officials actually acknowledge that their campaign against drug trafficking is the cause of increased violence. In Drug Killings Blamed as Baltimore Death Toll Swells, acting police commissioner Leonard Hamm said that "we are keeping with the same game plan [of]... putting pressure on drug dealers," but also that pressure by police against drug trafficking has led to dealers resorting to trying to collect debts more quickly and using violence to do so. Police spokesman Matt Jablow said they are prepared for more killings, and "we hope each month we will have fewer homicides than the previous month. "We have a good plan."

So far the results of this "good plan" are more violence. Lest anyone dismiss the dead as mere drug dealers who took their chances and had it coming, I will point out that we don't know that. There may have been ordinary addicts among those who were killed, or ordinary bystanders caught in the crossfire. Even if not, does anyone doubt that such violence has a debilitating impact on the quality of life and economic hopes of the areas in which it occurs? Isn't violence the foremost reason above all for pressure to act against drug dealing? Baltimore's police are responding to the woes associated with inner-city drug dealing with a plan that increases those woes, and instead of rethinking what they are doing are instead promising more of the same.

The Baltimore Sun also ran an article, this one unusually sophisticated for the mainstream media. In Killings' Link to Drug Crackdown Examined, Laura Vozzella refers to a speech by Baltimore's Health Commissioner, Peter Beilenson, a few years ago, in which he predicted that a crackdown on the drug supply along with providing more treatment and shrinking consumption that way could lead to increased violence as competitors fight over the decreasing market.

Councilman Jack Young told Vozella that "I don't know whether it's because they're cracking down and forcing them not to be selling their drugs, but what I do want to see is a decrease in the number of people being killed." And there is additional interesting commentary in the article, well worth a read.

Young's comments are far wiser than Hamm's reported reaction, at least so far. As Baltimore's former mayor, Kurt Schmoke, has pointed out, drug trade violence isn't about people getting high on drugs, it's about people fighting a war over money, it's about prohibition. Rather than chasing the drug dealers from place to place and prompting added violence in the process, legalization would be a better plan for Baltimore and elsewhere. Let's clean up the streets once and for all.

I saw this AP article in The Washington Post, and that is where my link points. The Post's letter to the editor information is available here. Newshawks are encouraged to post back here their sightings of the article in other publications and the appropriate letter to the editor info for those. The Sun's letter to the editor info is here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 09:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

Mass Cocaine Arrests in Jackson, Mississippi

Today's issue of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, reported on mass arrests of accused participants in a cocaine ring. Get this -- it took 60 people from 10 different agences a whopping seven years to pull it off. If they took the relatively modest $160,000 worth of cocaine impounded in the operation and sold it back onto the street at black market prices, that would scarcely begin to recoup the costs of arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating the 22 suspects.

I decided to get off my behind this time and send in a letter to the editor of my own. Here's what I wrote:

The arrest of 22 people on drug trafficking charges in Clay County following a seven year operation is a major event in the lives of enforcers and defendants alike. But what does it signify?

As the editor of a major weekly newsletter on drug policy, I view such events through a different lens than most. At Drug War Chronicle we rarely report on drug busts, even large ones. The reason is they happen so often, but the drug situation never seems to change as a result, at least not for long. We can't devote much ink to big drug busts because we would be stuck telling the same story over and over, and our readers would get bored.

Just as fruit and vegetable distributors anticipate some of their product will go bad before reaching the supermarkets, illicit drug producers and traffickers expect some of their goods to be seized, so they ship correspondingly greater quantities. That's why although drug seizures may make good visuals, they ultimately don't reduce the amount of drugs on the streets. Markets just don't work that way.

I urge The Clarion-Ledger to run follow-ups, perhaps in two weeks, a month, and at two or three months. Examine whether these arrests have reduced cocaine's availability or increased its price in Clay County. If I am right, the answer will either be "no" or "not for long." Better to regulate the drug through some form of legalization -- prohibition didn't work before and it isn't working now.

I'll let you know if it gets published. In the meantime, consider submitting your own! The Ledger's opinion page has information on how to do so.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Danny Kushlick for Legalization on BBC

Danny Kushlick of Transform Drug Policy Foundation in Britain, a friend of DRCNet and future participant in this blog, set forth his views today on the BBC. "Politics, not evidence, drives the war on drugs," according to Danny, who nevertheless believes that evidence will prevail and that drugs will be legal and regulated by 2020. Also commenting was David Raynes, taking the prohibitionist stance.

Click here for a transcript of Danny's remarks -- you'll also find links to Raynes' commentary and to a page where you can post your remarks, join the discussion, and thank BBC for supporting debate on the issue.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 08:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

Legalizers Score Big This Week

Those of you who read our newsletter, Drug War Chronicle, might know about the work of Prohibition and the Media coauthor Nicolas Eyle and his organization, ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, based in Syracuse, New York. A few weeks ago our article, Syracuse Reconsiders Drug Policy, reported on hearings by the Syracuse City Council at which speakers discussed legalization and options available to the city for reform. The hearings followed up on a report by former City Auditor Minch Lewis, which Lewis prepared at Nicky's suggestion.

This week Eyle and company scored big, with an editorial by syndicated columnist Neal Peirce of the Washington Post Writers Group titled "Legalizing Street Drugs an Experiment Worth Considering." Peirce's column quoted extensively from Eyle and from a number of the reformers he brought to Syracuse, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition executive director and Prohibition and the Media coauthor Jack Cole.

Those of us who are active in drug reform frequently discuss and debate the approaches we take to the issue. The Peirce column lends some weight to the corner of the movement in which people like Eyle, Cole and myself reside, the corner that openly and directly talks about prohibition itself and the legalization alternative. That's what they did in Syracuse. They were taken seriously -- admittedly because of the years of work that ReconsiDer has already done there, perhaps -- and the case for legalization has as a result been presented on editorial pages in papers around the country. And this did not come at the expense of the partial reforms that are politically viable in the shorter term, such as harm reduction, decriminalization or deprioritization -- those were also discussed. Score one for our side.

Peirce's columns are syndicated by The Washington Post to papers around the country. I don't know what papers chose to run it, but it's possible that quite a few did -- please let us know by posting here if you've seen it. The link I provided above is from the Seattle Times -- click here and go to the bottom right of the page to get letter to the editor information. And click here to send your kudos to Nicky.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 09:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2005

LA Times on Administration's Afghan Opium Quandary

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported on a debate erupting within the Bush administration on whether and how to proceed with opium eradication in Afghanistan, which is now the world's largest opium producer. The State Department has asked Congress for $780 million in counternarcotics aid for the country, $152 million of which would go to aerial eradication -- e.g., dumping chemical poisons out of airplanes into the Afghan environment. The Karzai government has pledged a "jihad" against the opium trade but has ruled out aerial spraying and has delayed manual eradication.

A range of current and former officials intoned on the matter with a range of viewpoints. Opium profits almost certainly fund the Taliban and possibly Al Qaeda too, one said, noting how little money was needed to finance the 9/11 attacks vs. how much money drugs can provide. Therefore we need to cut that off. Others pointed out how crop eradication, particularly by air, will help to build for support for the Taliban and generally foment instability -- opium is the mainstay of the nation's economy, and people won't give up their only viable source for earning a livelihood without fighting against those who are trying to take it away, allying with those who are also fighting them, the Taliban's past anti-opium stance notwithstanding.

For all these reasons, the article observes that the administration's three main objectives in Afghanistan -- counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and political stability -- appear to be contradictory. A senior Republican congressional aide acknowledged anonymously that "we still don't have a policy."

The goals are contradictory, but why is that? It's because of the structural problem imposed by drug prohibition. Opium is an underground commodity that distorts social structures and funds crime, sometimes even terrorism, because it is illegal. Legalization would provide a less dangerous, less corrupt framework for controlling the flow of drugs and the money people are paying for them. Governments providing aid to Afghanistan could then work with the Afghan government on regulating the trade in order to reduce the potential for money getting into terrorists' hands in that way, and overall the amounts of money involved would be much less -- the price of drugs would drop -- making it less useful of a venture for terrorist or other criminal organizations. Crime and terrorism expert John Thompson of Canada's Mackenzie Institute has estimated that drug profits account for perhaps a third of the funding of political violence worldwide, and has predicted that legalization would deal terrorist organizations a severe blow -- read the interview Thompson gave Drug War Chronicle in October 2001.

Eradication has never reduced the world's drug supply, only moved it from place to place. Any official who denies or ignores that fact is misleading the public in an extraordinarily dangerous way. They should get real -- they owe it to us.

Click here for LA Times letter to the editor information. Feel free to post your letters back to this blog, as well as letter-to-the-editor information if you see the article syndicated in other papers.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack