(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #69, 12/4/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To our readers: We are back after a much-needed Thanksgiving break, and hope that everyone had an enjoyable holiday weekend. Here at DRCNet, things are moving fast and 1999 is shaping up to be a breakthrough year for us as well as for the movement. As we head into the home stretch of what has been an exciting 1998, we hope that you will consider supporting DRCNet's work. (We're facing a cash crunch at the moment!) Why, you may ask, should you dig deep to send us a check (or even another check), when there are so many worthy causes and organizations vying for your support? Here are just a few of the reasons:
To donate, please use our online registration form at https://www.drcnet.org/cgi-shl/drcreg.cgi (secure, encrypted version for credit card donations) or http://www.drcnet.org/cgi-shl/drcreg.cgi (unencrypted version, use either version to create a printable form to mail in with your check or money order), or just mail your donation to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036. Note that donations to the DRCNet Foundation should only be made by check, as the Foundation doesn't yet have a credit card merchant account.
Diana McCague will appear in New Brunswick Municipal Court on December 17th at 1:00pm on a single charge of syringe possession stemming from her arrest by investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's office on September 29, 1998 (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/061.html#chaibust). We must show the judge, the prosecutor, the community, and New Jersey's elected officials that Diana does not stand alone in her commitment to keeping drug users and their families and communities in New Jersey safe from HIV and other disease and injury which can result from the use of illicit drubgs.
There will not be a trial. Diana is expecting to plead guilty under the terms of a negotiated plea agreement. However, Diana will make a statement to the court and it is possible that the judge will question her before imposing sentence. The sentence could include: up to two years driver's license suspension, up to six months in jail and as much as $1000 in fines.
An orderly but passionate crowd of supporters will send the desired message -- New Jersey's elected officials will be watching. This is an opportunity for those concerned about the issue of syringe exchange in New Jersey to make their commitment known! For further information, call the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition at (732) 247-3242.
Congressional Republicans this week passed an initiative which will triple the amount of aid, mostly in the form of military hardware, being sent to Colombia. The move, which surprised even Andres Pastrana, Colombia's new president, appears to have been the result of direct communications between congressional Republicans and General Rosso Jose Serrano, chief of Colombia's national police force.
The approval of military aid, including upgraded Huey and Blackhawk helicopters, directly to the National Police, worries critics who point out that the police have consistently blurred the lines between fighting the narcotics trade and fighting the insurgency forces within the context of Colombia's thirty-five year old civil war. Adam Isaacson of the Center for International Policy told the New York Times that the move has the potential to increase America's involvement in that conflict. "It's another step in the wrong direction" he told The Times.
This comes at a time when Pastrana has already involved his government in the most aggressive peace initiative in recent memory. Already, Pastrana has pulled his military forces from an area the size of Switzerland as a show of faith leading up to the beginning of talks with the rebels.
The increase in aid "surprised everybody," said Rodrigo Lloreda, Colombia's defense minister. Statements such as this underscore the disconnect between Congress' actions and the will, or at least the plans of the new government, despite the feelings of the U.S. lawmakers who engineered the increase. "I look at this as giving Colombia the support it needs to do what it wants to do," Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) told The Times. "It will put the government in a better bargaining position."
But such statements only serve to highlight the blurring of the lines between counter insurgency, in which the U.S. has previously avoided getting involved, and counternarcotics operations which, though largely unsuccessful, some would say futile, remain a darling of the drug warriors. In fact, in an apparent effort to justify the crossover in the use of American Aid by Colombia, many advocates have begun to use the phrase "narco-guerillas" when referring to the rebels.
Cynthia Arnson, Senior Program Associate for International Policy at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told The Week Online "The trouble is that it is very unrealistic when we hear officials from either nation struggling to make rhetorical distinctions between the two operations, when those on the ground know that no such distinction is being made in practice."
The difficulty stems from the fact that some portion of the nation's estimated 15,000 rebel troops are making money from protection taxes levied against traffickers operating in regions under their control. The situation is further complicated by the fact that experts agree that all sides in the conflict are benefiting from drug profits to one degree or another. Colombia's previous president, in fact, became persona non grata in the US after allegations that he took over $6 million from traffickers for his election campaign. The country's former drug czar is currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of drug corruption.
A report issued this week (12/1) by the Correctional Association of New York and the Washington DC-based Justice Policy Institute reveals that over the past ten years, New York State has increased its spending on prisons by nearly as much as it has decreased spending for higher education. The culmination of ten years of education cuts and ten years of prison spending increase is that in 1998, the state is spending $1.5 billion on higher education and $1.76 billion on prisons.
Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, told The Week Online that it is the drug war, above all else, that has driven New York's prison population to 70,000 and prison spending to record highs.
"New York is home to the infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, perhaps the most extreme set of mandatory minimums in the country, which have resulted in a stream of low-level, non-violent offenders" said Gangi.
Gangi said that while the trend of less spending for education and more for prisons was not surprising, he was shocked by both the magnitude of the shift and by its disparate racial impact.
"At one time in New York, higher education spending outstripped prison spending by a 2-1 margin. Today we're spending $260 million more on prisons than on education. What was most disturbing however were some of the radial breakdowns. New York State now has more people of color in prison on drug convictions than are enrolled in the state university system.
"The reality is that people of color, arrested and convicted for drug offenses, mostly in New York City, are being used as grist in an economic mill which provides jobs in the corrections industry in rural upstate towns. Those towns, of course, are primarily white."
Gangi believes that it is imperative to reform the Rockefeller drug laws.
"The Rockefeller laws, because of their severity and because they've been in place for some time now, are symbolic. If we can make a dent here in reforming them, it will have a trickle down effect on the rest of the country. The numbers in this report reflect the situation in one state, but they are indicative of what is going on in other states as well."
(The Correctional Association of New York/Justice Policy Institute report is available online in full at http://www.cjcj.org/jpi/nysomfront.html.)
The ongoing congressional hearings on Presidential Impeachment took a turn of interest for drug policy reformers this week as Harvard Law School professor and Author Alan Dershowitz testified that the President's perjury pales in comparison with the culture of lying which has become ingrained in the criminal justice system. Dershowitz cited, among others, the Mollen Commission's recent findings, which claimed that perjury was so rampant among police officers that the practice had been given its own term in some law enforcement circles, "testilying," and Joseph McNamara, former chief of police of San Jose and Kansas City, and current fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution (and board member of the Drug Policy Foundation), who said that "hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit perjury every year testifying about drug arrests alone."
Dershowitz testified that not only did the President's misstatements under oath constitute the least important and damaging form of perjury (lying to avoid personal embarrassment where the lie was not materially relevant to the substance of the proceedings), which he called the nation's most common and least prosecuted crime, but that perjury is prosecuted selectively, if at all, with motivations ranging from the political to the tactical.
Dershowitz is far from the only national figure to point out the prevalence of perjury in criminal, and specifically drug enforcement, as evidenced by McNamara's quote. But it was encouraging for reformers to hear the problem referenced on such a national stage by such a respected figure.
The Week Online spoke with Professor Dershowitz.
WOL: In your testimony, you spoke about the impact of the drug war, and its prosecution, on the criminal justice process, particularly with regard to perjury by police officers. What has been the impact of the drug war on the system as a whole?
Last week, as many as 7,000 people showed up at Fort Benning, outside of Atlanta, to protest the continued operation of the Army's "School of the Americas" which is housed at the base. The school, which trains specially selected personnel culled from the militaries of Central and South America, is known to its detractors as the "School of the Assassins". It counts among its 60,000 graduates Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, former Argentine dictator Leopoldo Galtieri, Haitian coup leader Raoul Cedras and Salvadoran death squad organizer the late Roberto D'Aubuisson.
According to organizers, more than 2,300 people risked arrest by entering the base. The protest was by far the largest of the eight, which have been held annually since 1990. Last year, more than 600 people were arrested for entering the base, and more than thirty of them served six month sentences because it was their second such offense.
In our last issue before the Thanksgiving holiday, we reported that voters in the nation of Switzerland were to decide November 29 on the legalization and regulation of drugs (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/068.html#droleg). Droleg did not pass, with 72% of voters opposed and 28% in support.
An exit poll found, however, that of those who voted against the initiative, 40% would have voted for legalization of marijuana only, yielding a majority in support of marijuana legalization and suggesting hope for future reform in that area. Opposition to the initiative focused on the concern that by legalizing all drugs while their neighbors continue to have prohibition, Switzerland could face large numbers of "drug tourists" and resulting nuisance problems.
Earlier in the year, Swiss voters approved prescription availability of heroin by a margin of 70-30, and doctors now have the right to prescribe heroin to addicts. Opponents of drug policy reform have portrayed the Droleg vote as a reversal. Droleg's non-passage may, however, reflect caution rather than outright opposition to the concept of legalization. Swiss voters may simply want to see how well heroin maintenance works, rather than proceeding swiftly and dramatically to full legalization, before any other country in the world. It is notable that a full 28% of Swiss voters were aware enough of the consequences of prohibition to support full legalization all at once and in advance of any other European country. How would the Swiss vote have gone, were it in the context of a European- or world-wide policy shift? Perhaps more than 28% would have supported it.
Nine organizations, including the Washington, DC chapter of the League of Women Voters, the Republican National African-American Council, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the Libertarian National Committee have all filed "friend of the court" briefs in support of the DC government and ACTUP DC's lawsuit seeking the release of the results of the DC Medical Marijuana, Initiative 59. The results of the election have been kept secret in the wake of language added to the DC appropriations bill by Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) forbidding the District from spending any money on any initiative which would reduce, in any way, penalties for marijuana possession or use.
The growing coalition of supporters is evidence, say activists, of the federal government's inept handling of everything having to do with medicinal marijuana. Robert Kampia, director of governmental relations for the Marijuana Policy Project told The Week Online, "The federal government blesses us with new allies every time it rears its fascist head on this issue. Groups like the League of Women Voters were probably wholly unaware of the issues involved in medical marijuana until the feds decided to try to quash the results of a democratic election. Even the Washington Post, which has been notoriously bad in its coverage of this issue, has devoted an editorial as well as serious news space to medical marijuana in the wake of the Barr amendment.
"Congress is so beside itself on this issue, so eager to make sure that sick people go to prison for their personal medical choices," said Kampia, "that they are willing to run roughshod over the constitution in an effort to impose their will. The elections proved, however, that their will and the people's will are two entirely different things. We can only thank them for their absolute irrationality. It has given activists the opportunity to involve and to educate a much broader range of concerned citizens and organizations."
Last month a report was issued by Amnesty International detailing the treatment of children by the United States criminal justice system. The report found that there are over 11,000 children, under the age of eighteen, currently being held in prisons and other adult correctional facilities in this country. The report also cited over 89,000 cases of children being placed in solitary confinement for periods longer than 24 hours. According to Amnesty, such treatment offends internationally accepted standards. The U.S. incarcerates more of its children than any other nation on earth.
For several years now, law enforcement officials and politicians have courted the fears of the American public with dire warnings of "super-predators," a generation of children so violent, so evil, that they are barely human. Despite several well-publicized cases, however, the fact is that murderous children are the rare exception. Most children who come into contact with the justice system are there for far less nefarious reasons. Even of those who are transferred into the adult criminal justice system, more than half, according to the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, have been charged with non-violent offenses.
Children who are incarcerated are more than three times as likely to re-offend as children charged with similar offenses who are sentenced to a non-incarceratory alternative. And children under the age of eighteen who are incarcerated with adults are more than three times as likely to be beaten by staff, more than five times as likely to be raped, and more than eight times as likely to commit suicide than children who are incarcerated in juvenile facilities. Still, in the last session of Congress, legislation was introduced which would have mandated that states transfer out of the juvenile system children as young as fourteen who are charged with certain offenses, both violent and non-violent (including drug-related). The bill would have encouraged, though not required, the transfer of thirteen year-olds charged with such offenses.
The incarceration of children, large numbers of children, horrendous as it is, should not be surprising in light of current policies. It is, in fact, the predictable end-product of a society that has slowly but surely criminalized youth itself. In cities across the country, curfews have been instituted, both at night and during school hours. The effect, in some cities, is that for up to eighteen hours a day, it is illegal for a teenager to be out in public without his or her parents. When kids are allowed out on the streets, they are often insufficient public spaces for their activities. Go find a group of kids hanging out anywhere in this country, and there's a good chance that at least one of them has a key chain or a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "skateboarding is not a crime." In many parts of the country, running away from home is a criminal act, regardless of the conditions of the home that the child is fleeing.
Drugs, of course, play an enormous role in the criminalization of youth. "Protecting the children" is the most common excuse given for the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of American adults jailed for consensual acts. But despite the ongoing war, the number of kids using drugs has been unaffected, and they are using at younger and younger ages. For many kids, drug use is very simply an act of rebellion against an adult culture that seems oppressive. The answer, of course, is to lock up more kids. Arrest them for marijuana, arrest them for cigarettes, arrest them for beer, arrest them for being out too late. If we're not catching enough of them, drug test them. Drug test them for school sports, for the chess club, drug test them when they apply for drivers' licenses, or simply drug test them all. Or else, as the town of Peekskill, New York is attempting to do, place surveillance cameras in the places they hang out. Find them. Catch them. Punish them. Our national motto, it seems, is that it takes a prison to raise a child.
In the 1960's, the baby boomer generation, the ones whose children are now such a threat to the fabric of society, wore t-shirts warning not to trust anyone over thirty. Today their sentiment is not to trust anyone under eighteen. Perhaps they've forgotten what it's like to be young. Or perhaps it is a generation so full of self-righteousness, so convinced of their own infallibility and superiority, that they simply don't trust anyone at all who is not a member of their ranks. Whatever the reason, they are doing no favors for their kids.
Today's children are growing up in a world where the state has declared them suspect, and has been given absolute authority to control their lives. Far from the day when an errant child would be brought home by an officer of the law to be dealt with by his or her parents, that child is now routinely taken down to the station, booked, and thrown in a cell with all the rest of the criminals. The parents, who in another time would have had a long talk, or grounded the kid or even tanned his hide for, say, smoking marijuana or even dropping a tab of acid, will now frantically try to secure the services of a lawyer (if they can afford one) and will be left to hope and pray that the child is not sentenced to jail or even held before trial, where he is at risk of being raped or beaten.
Our children are criminals, and they know it all too well. Why then should they obey our rules? Why should they respect our authority? Why should they play the game? Out of fear? That works only when they are in your line of vision. Outside of that, your words, your rules, your wishes will be respected only if the child respects you. And respect is not what we engender when we send the state out after our children. Jail them and they will reject society. Surveille them and they will retreat to the shadows. Drug test them and they will find substances for which you are not testing. Teach them that the state is all-powerful, that the power of the state is to be used as a primary method of controlling behavior, and they will grow up to use the power of the state to do things unintended by our Constitution. Or they will overthrow it.
We will not solve the problems of adult society by making criminals of our children. And we will not solve the problems of our children by locking them up as if they were adults. There are more than 11,000 children sitting right now in American jails and prisons. Many of them are being beaten. And raped. And scarred for life. Hundreds of thousands of other children, living "free" are under the constant scrutiny of the state. It is a perverse way to raise the first American generation of the twenty-first century. They will not always be children.
P.S. In this time of renewed hope, we also give thanks to all of those who helped to make this past election day a turning point for drug policy reform, and all who came before them and who gave of themselves, their time and their energies to educate their neighbors on some of these important issues. We at DRCNet would also like to give thanks to all of you who have supported our work. We hope that if you have, you will continue to do so, and that if you have not, you will consider a small donation as the movement kicks into high gear. Together, with the truth, we will prevail. Thank you.
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