(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #64, 10/23/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
After a last minute reprieve which allowed their doors to stay open over the weekend, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club shut down on Monday (10/19) under threat of forced closure by federal authorities that evening. Standing in front of the club as the last of its equipment and stock were removed by volunteers, director Jeff Jones told gathered supporters about his experiences watching his father die of cancer, and said that the federal government's action was putting the health of the club's 2,200 members at risk.
In response to the club's forced closing, the Oakland City Council voted on Tuesday to declare a city-wide "state of medical emergency" and to explore options for providing patients with access to their medicine. Last week, councilman Nate Miley told The Week Online that the city was committed to the health of its citizens, and to the will of its voters, and that if all else failed, the possibility existed for members of the city government itself to provide cannabis to patients in an act of civil disobedience (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/063.html#oaklandcbc). At the present time, no plans have been made and it is unclear what can be done legally under the medical emergency designation.
"This has been a very sad and a sobering experience" Jones told The Week Online. "The federal government has come in and has used every tactic to subvert the will of the people of California and the health of its citizens, not to mention, the stated intent of the Oakland city government. As of now, temporarily at least, our doors are closed. Our patients, people with AIDS and cancer and a host of other debilitating diseases, will be forced into the street to find their medicine. We will, of course, do everything in our power to see this injustice righted."
Jones took some solace in the possibilities of the upcoming elections. "If medical marijuana initiatives win in four or five states and in Washington, DC on November 3rd, then I think we'll have a whole new ballgame. It's one thing to ignore the will of voters in one or two states, but assuming that the feds keep losing these, it's going to become apparent that the voters are way out in front of the politicians on this issue. There's also the matter of the attorney general's race here in California, where Lockyer, the Democrat, has been a strong ally. It's a close race, but if he wins I think that the patients will have a strong advocate."
Colombian President Andres Pastrana rebuked the US Drug War in harsh language last week (10/15), telling a group of foreign correspondents in Bogota that aerial eradication of coca "has not worked," adding, "clearly, we have to look for another policy."
Over the past four years, while US-funded eradication efforts have been increased, the amount of land being used for coca cultivation in Colombia has more than doubled. In response to the eradication efforts, however, peasants have moved their operations deeper and deeper into the Amazon Basin, clearing rain forest and harming the environment.
Pastrana, who has taken bold steps to begin peace negotiations with the rebels who control much of the southern half of his country, is scheduled to meet with President Clinton in Washington on October 28-29.
But US Drug Warriors, both in the Republican-controlled congress and in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, were less than eager to stop dumping poison on Colombia's rainforest and its inhabitants.
"Sixty percent of all the drugs that enter the United States start from or pass through Colombia," Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey told reporters. "There has to be a continued willingness to confront this threat to the hemisphere, and aerial eradication has to be part of it."
Eradication has become the focus of a number of environmental groups recently, as the US has pushed for the use of Tebuthiuron, which can be dropped from higher altitudes than traditional defoliants, providing a measure of safety for pilots. Until recently, Dow Chemical held the patent on Tebuthiuron, and had refused to sell it to the US for use in eradication, citing environmental and safety concerns (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/47.html#herbicide).
Congress has also ignored Pastrana's statements, and last week passed an omnibus spending bill which included over $150 million in aid, including hardware, for the purpose of eradication.
Winifred Tate of the Washington Office on Latin America told The Week Online, "Eradication is obviously a serious issue in terms of the peace process. President Pastrana is in a difficult position on this in that the support of the business community, which is vital to his peace effort, will be impacted if the US decides to decertify Colombia. And there are other relationships as well between the two countries where the US can apply pressure, especially with regard to trade and military aid."
Cynthia Arnson, Senior Program Associate of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center told The Week Online, "This latest confrontation over eradication is just the latest manifestation of a storm that has been brewing since Pastrana took office. There growing unease in Colombia with eradication as it is seen as a process which is driving peasants further into the arms of the guerrillas. The growing clash is evidence of contradictory viewpoints between the two governments. It (eradication) is politically difficult for the Colombian government, especially as it pertains to the peace process, but while the State Department has been supportive of that process, there are other interests at stake for the US as well.
"Officials in the Pastrana administration have been publicly questioning eradication for some time," she said, "and these latest statements sound like a digging in of the heels in advance of his visit. I'm sure that the program will be seriously discussed next week when President Pastrana is in Washington."
(Editor's note: Report after report issued by US government agencies as well as private research groups have found eradication to be a total failure. For example, skim through the General Accounting Office reports online at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/gao/gaomen1.htm for many relevant studies. Mike Gray makes the point powerfully in the book Drug Crazy, released by Random House last June. Chapter six, The River of Money, takes us from the inauguration of President George Bush, who dramatically increased the Andean strategy of coca eradication, through to the end of his four-year administration. Eradication had not reduced coca cultivation -- in fact the total cocaine output in the Andes increased 15 percent -- but had merely shifted it around in what is known as the "balloon effect" or "push down, pop up". In Peru, where $2 billion was spent on eradication during the Bush years, coca cultivation moved from the Upper Huallaga valley, to which it had previously been limited, to the valleys of the Aguatyia, the Ucali, the Tambo and the Apurimac. As Gray puts it, "In all, some two hundred thousand farmers were now growing coca in an area that had been largely rain forest on the day Bush was inaugurated." Latin America's cocaine industry, including cultivation as well as refining and transportation, had spread to an area nearly as large as the continental United States. While drug warriors point to nations that at times have reduced their coca cultivation -- one of the chief criteria in the certification process -- that cultivation has invariably been replaced with increased growing in other nations. Eradication is not sensible part of a drug-fighting strategy; it is a ridiculous wild goose chase, the justifications for which fly in the face of principles familiar to anyone who has taken a single semester of economics. We urge our readers to go to the bookstores and support Mike Gray's important book; or check it out online at http://www.drugcrazy.com to read the first chapter and the appendix of online resources and other information, or to purchase it online. - DB)
On July 12, Pedro Oregon Navarro, a 22 year-old father of two, was shot to death in the bathroom of his home by at least six Houston (TX) police officers. The officers had entered Navarro's home by kicking in his door without a warrant on the word of a drug suspect who told them that there were drugs being sold in the apartment. The suspect was not a registered informant as required by Houston Police Department policy. No drugs were found in the home and, blood tests on Navarro's corpse came back negative.
Officers claimed that they believed that Navarro had fired upon them, but ballistics tests showed that all 30 shots were fired by the officers. Twelve of those shots hit Navarro, nine from above and behind him. Of the six officers, five were no-billed by the grand jury while one was charged with a misdemeanor trespass.
On Monday (10/19), demonstrators outside of the Harris County Courthouse chanted "No Justice, No Peace," raising concerns that civil unrest might ultimately erupt in Houston much as it did in May, 1978, after Houston officers beat and drowned Joe Campos Torres, a young Vietnam veteran whom they had arrested for public drunkenness.
Houston Mayor and former US Drug Czar Lee Brown said on Monday that he will seek a federal grand jury investigation into Navarro's death.
Johnny Mata, a spokesman for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told the Houston Chronicle, "We will continue pressing (the Justice Department) on the matter. This is a travesty of justice. We're asking the community to be calm, but there is a lot of outrage."
Travis Morales of the Justice for Pedro Oregon Coalition told the Chronicle, "This gives the green light for cops to go into homes and kill. A trespass charge is not going to stop any police officer."
In the days following the shooting, Harris County D.A. Johnny Holmes inflamed passions, telling the press that the officers were within their rights to kill Navarro as they believed he was resisting arrest.
Al Robison, President of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, told The Week Online, "This case is a very clear illustration of the insanity of our current drug policy. The Drug War mandates that the state will be kicking in the doors of its citizens. It's time to discuss alternative policies, policies which allow society to control drugs, rather than the warfare between police and communities leading to tragedies such as the death of Pedro Oregon Navarro."
A march was scheduled for Thursday afternoon (10/22), to protest the grand jury's decision. City officials were hopeful that cooler heads would prevail and that violence in the streets would be averted.
At the annual meeting of the Magazine Publishers of America this week (10/19), Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey addressed the publishers of 1,200 of the nation's most popular titles. In his speech, McCaffrey "challenged" the group to take part in the Partnership for a Drug Free America's $775 million print ad campaign, both by running paid advertising and by providing "appropriate editorial support".
The ads, bought at market rates by the Partnership using government (taxpayer) funds, will run over a concentrated period of time during 1999.
After McCaffrey spoke, the board of directors of the MPA issued a press release announcing that they had "accepted the challenge," and that they "urge our member companies to participate by running (ads) and providing editorial support..."
A spokesperson for the MPA told The Week Online, "On the editorial side, certainly there's no money involved. ONDCP initially approached the MPA, in fact it was Reader's Digest, Greg Coleman, their chairman, was approached by McCaffrey and they met and said 'this is probably something we can do.' So Greg went back to the members and met with them and it became a program."
"This is worded very broadly. Obviously the MPA can't tell the editors what to do. This statement comes from the MPA board of directors. The board of directors is made up of the presidents and chairmen of the companies, and also a few editors. This is just a statement by them, and it's very general."
But Michael Hoyt, Senior Editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, had a different take. Hoyt told The Week Online, "I don't think that the MPA should be urging members to provide editorial support for anything at all. It's simply not their role. And it doesn't matter how worthy they think the cause is. That's particularly true where there can be a perceived conflict of interest, such as urging that support in return for advertising dollars.
"The Chrysler Corporation took some heat fairly recently for using its considerable advertising muscle on editors by telling them what stories to run or not to run. As a matter of fact, the Review ran a cover story on that. This is a different twist, however, in that it's the government, using taxpayers' money, and asking for support of a particular position."
Tom Haines, Chair of the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information, told The Week Online, "This is a critical issue in that we are seeing the unification of the business end of the media community and the government for an advocacy campaign where only one point of view is coming across. If this were happening in any other country it would be denounced as a propaganda campaign."
A provision in the appropriations bill which funds the DC government makes it illegal for city funds to go to any group that operates a syringe exchange program, even if the funds are unrelated to the exchange. The language, attached by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), impacts the Whitman Walker Clinic, which until this week operated a mobile exchange program out of a van.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was less than pleased about the provision. "This congress has said 'drop dead' to thousands of Americans, most of them people of color. I view it as a callous death sentence with profound racial overtones."
In response to the provision, Whitman Walker has formed a new corporate entity called Prevention Works!, unrelated to the clinic, which will run the program with private funds, although district monies had accounted for $210,000 of its $260,000 annual budget. Whitman Walker's attorneys believe that this arrangement will protect the clinic's other city grants which it uses to provide a multitude of health services.
The first private money for Prevention Works! came through this week, as the Washington, DC-based Drug Policy Foundation pledged $25,000 to help to keep the program running.
"It's our hope that this $25,000 gift will inspire at least eight more $25,000 gifts this year. We must keep Prevention Works! alive and vibrant," DPF Executive Director Sher Horosko said. "We challenge our foundation colleagues and any individual to step forward and match our gift. No amount of fear or prejudice will stop this program and other programs like it from preserving human life."
"This deplorable, regressive act is a slap in the face to the residents of the District of Columbia," Horosko said. "This is passive genocide. Social conservatives in Congress are telling African-Americans in particular to drop dead. Six federally funded studies conducted under Republican and Democratic administrations have shown that syringe exchange works. Each study has each shown that syringe exchange prevents the spread of HIV and that syringe exchange neither encourages nor increases the rate of drug use."
"Why Congress would single out one community to lead to the edge of its grave is beyond us."
DPF can be found on the web at http://www.dpf.org.
Father Bob Gardner, a Roman Catholic Priest and a member of Scotland's Citizens' Commission on Drugs, raised eyebrows this week calling for the legalization of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy, or MDMA. The Commission's findings were similarly reformist, recommending the legalization of cannabis, the medical study of MDMA, and the establishment of a national heroin prescription trial.
In comments aired on a Channel 4 (UK) documentary this week, Father Gardner says that the British government has cast a generation of young people as "modern-day lepers" for their use of ecstasy.
The Commission, comprised of eight people, including a lawyer, a teacher, a priest and a magistrate, was set up in response to the government's refusal to empanel a Royal Commission on Drugs. In researching their report, the group visited eight European cities, spoke to 30 organizations, 50 drug users and five politicians from Britain and other European nations. In the documentary, Ken Temple, the panel's chairman, complained that although the UK Home Secretary Jack Straw, who has publicly pronounced that he would speak with "anyone, anywhere at any time" about the issue of drugs, nevertheless refused to speak with the group. Neither could the group persuade any other government minister to meet with them about the government's position and policies.
In Houston this week, a grand jury refused to indict six police officers who shot and killed Pedro Oregon Navarro, known to his friends as Jimmy Oregon, in the bathroom of his home after kicking in the door and entering without a warrant, searching for drugs. No drugs were found anywhere in the house, nor were drugs or alcohol found in Oregon's blood. Ballistics tests also confirmed that the officers were wrong in their belief that Oregon had fired upon them, and that the first shot was fired from the gun of one of the officers, as were the next twenty-nine. Oregon's gun, allegedly found near his body, had never been fired. He was 22 years old and the father of two small children.
The officers, part of an anti-gang task force, entered the home without a warrant, on a tip from a suspect in another case who was not registered with the city as an informant, without any corroborating evidence. Of the twelve shots that hit Oregon, most were fired from above and behind the victim. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Entering a home by force is perhaps the most dangerous and intrusive part of the job of a police officer. One must embark upon such a task with the implicit understanding that anything at all, including an armed and dangerous individual, might be waiting inside. It is for this reason that it is in the interest of both the police and the community at large that such intrusions happen as infrequently as possible, and for much of our nation's history, such entries were, in fact, the exception rather than the rule.
Enter the Drug War. Over the past three decades, the escalation of the drug war has made forced entry a regular part of police work. By its very nature, the black market and the use of drugs remain hidden, often behind the closed doors of private dwellings. There is rarely a complaining witness, and the word of an informant is often the only outward evidence of what are essentially consensual acts. In an effort to enforce an unenforceable prohibition, restrictions on "no-knock" entries have been loosened, and doors, often the wrong doors, are kicked in greater numbers year after year across America.
Jimmy Oregon had done nothing wrong. He was simply at home, his own home, when six armed men burst in and shot him to death. There were no indictments for murder, there will be no significant criminal charges, it was simply a case of the police doing their job and escalating the war in the midst of an insane and destructive Prohibition. The grand jurors, perhaps aware of the difficulties and the dangers inherent in trying to enforce that prohibition, declined to indict on anything save a single misdemeanor for illegal entry by one of the six officers involved.
Perhaps those grand jurors were right. Perhaps it is not the officers, but rather the drug war itself, which ought to be indicted. For we, as a nation have embraced a policy of domestic warfare. A policy that requires the state, armed with any information it can lay its hands upon, to kick in the doors of its citizens, guns drawn, prepared to kill. It is not a vision that our founders would have liked. It is not the America that they planned to build. We have become a nation at war with the shadows, shooting and killing and putting in cages anything that moves. Terrified and enraged by the prospect of what goes on behind closed doors, by the chaos we have created in our quest for order, by our inability to win the war.
There is no justice in Houston this week, where a grand jury has decided, essentially, that being gunned down in one's own home by agents of the state is simply a price to be paid for living in a time of Prohibition. And even if those officers were indicted, and tried and convicted for the murder of Pedro Oregon Navarro, there would be no justice still. Because as long as we as a society are at war with ourselves, as long as we insist upon escalation rather than reason, upon terror rather than compassion, upon guns and prisons rather than regulation and control, there will always be a next time. And a time after that.
But it is long past time for justice. And humanity. And peace. So for Jimmy Oregon and for thousands like him, for the health of our nation and the viability of our constitution, for our safety and our sanity and for the future we will hand to our children, it is time to stop kicking in doors. It is time to end the war.
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