(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #124, 2/11/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Two Million is Too Many," Say Drug Policy and Penal Reformers
WASHINGTON, DC: Protests and vigils in over 30 cities will greet the day crime experts predict our nation will incarcerate more than two million people. The Justice Policy Institute reported last December that America's prison and jail population would top two million on February 15th, 2000. The JPI study "The Punishing Decade: Prison and Jail Estimates at the Millennium" reports:
"Two million is too many," says Nora Callahan, Director of the November Coalition, a national reform group calling for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. "In thirty cities we will call on state and federal governments to stop breaking up families and destroying our communities. Prison is not the solution to every social problem," says Callahan.
Detailed contact and location information can be found online at http://www.november.org/twomilliontoomany.html, or call the November Coalition at (509) 684-1550. We list the current set of locations below. Visit http://www.cjcj.org/punishingdecade/punishingpr.html for further information on the Justice Policy Institute study.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), chair of the subcommittee that oversees White House spending, said that he intends to add language to next year's appropriations bill that will put an end to the practice of government review of, and payment for, television scripts that meet their approval.
"This does not violate the letter of the law, but it does violate the spirit of what we're trying to do," said Campbell.
The controversy began with an investigative report by Dan Forbes in Salon Magazine, which revealed that the Office of National Drug Control Policy had been reviewing scripts and granting credit to networks which ran shows with anti-drug content. The credit was given against time owed the government for anti-drug public service announcements under the Partnership for a Drug Free America campaign. The networks had initially agreed to provide the PSA's at a two-for-one discount on their regular advertising rates. A strong economy, however, made the ad time more lucrative, and the networks jumped at the chance to work off their commitments through their programming, allowing them to resell the ad time to commercial buyers.
The White House, for its part, has maintained that the scheme was no secret, and that the Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey, had testified before Congress, letting them know exactly what was going on. Senator Campbell, however, preempted the testimony of Alan Levitt, who runs the program for ONDCP, to disagree. Campbell told Levitt that he had searched the congressional record and could not find anything to substantiate the White House claim.
In a second hearing (2/9) before the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, Dr. Donald R. Vereen, Deputy Director of ONDCP testified that his office had, in fact, been open and honest with Congress.
"Everything about this campaign -- including the pro-bono match -- has been conducted openly with congressional oversight," said Dr. Vereen in his written testimony. "There were three congressional hearings in 1999 on the subject of the media campaign, so the notion that this project is being conducted in 'secret' is inaccurate."
Dr. Vereen went on to defend the crediting of networks for content in lieu of ad time owed the government. But in deference to the extreme criticism that ONDCP has taken over its purported review of television scripts prior to production, Dr. Vereen did say that that particular practice would end.
"We take seriously concerns about the campaign's pro-bono match procedures. There can be no suggestion of federal interference in the creative process. In the future, we will review programs for pro-bono match considerations only after they have aired."
But according to experts in communications and propaganda, the issue of whether a show is approved by the government during or after the creative process begs the key question on state censorship.
Dr. Patricia Aufderheide, professor at the American University School of Communications, told The Week Online that state censorship does not necessarily require direct government involvement during the creative process.
"It is well to recognize that prior censorship is problematic," said Dr. Aufderheide. "The problem here is the immense power of the state to punish or, as in this case, to reward. If you are creating a television show, and you know in advance that the state will review its content to decide whether or not it approves, there is enormous pressure to cooperate by self-censorship. And while it is perhaps true that this is preferable, at least in the mind of the person creating the piece, to the government's direct involvement, the reality is that the power of the state is such that both scenarios result in strong government influence. Neither form of censorship is a good idea in a free society."
The original Week Online story about the disputed government anti-drug campaign at can be found in our archives at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/121.html#ondcp. Dan Forbes' expose in the online magazine salon.com can be found at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/01/13/drugs/.
Three weeks after a DRCNet special report revealed that Newsweek magazine had delayed publication of an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published biography of Al Gore, Newsweek has decided to run the story, in the Feb. 14 issue of the magazine. In "Inventing Gore: A Biography," John Warnecke, an old friend of Gore's from his Tennessean reporter days, claims that the extent and duration of Gore's marijuana use was greater than the candidate has previously admitted and that Warnecke was pressured to stonewall when asked about it by reporters (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/gore.html).
Warnecke told biographer and Newsweek reporter Bill Turque that "he'll vote for Gore, but is offended by the hypocrisy of boomer politicians who did drugs when they were young and now preside over a legal system where drug offenders often serve longer sentences than rapists."
Though the Washington Post claimed, without quoting any sources, that Newsweek had pulled the excerpt due to concerns over its credibility, Newsweek itself never made such a statement. Interestingly, the Post article failed to inform readers of the Post's own conflict of interest -- the Post owns Newsweek. The Turque excerpt as finally published was not watered down from the original, and includes a quote from another former Tennessean reporter, Andrew Schlesinger, backing up Warnecke.
A column by Henrik Hertzberg in the February issue of The New Yorker magazine provides an in-depth discussion of the drug policy and social justice issues that Warnecke -- and DRCNet -- hoped to bring forward with release of the Gore information. Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent column is marred by an unfair treatment of Warnecke himself.
Warnecke told The Week Online, "It's a good article on government policy, but its characterization of me is damning and libelous. They paint a picture of me as a Falstaff-like character suffering from alcoholism. The truth is I'm recovered and haven't had a drink in 21 years, but that's not mentioned -- nor did they ever call me to check out their facts on the story."
The column's second flaw is its incorrect attribution of the Gore story to a secondary rather than the primary source. Hertzberg writes "... an Internet reporter (in this case Jake Tapper, of Salon) gets a tip...." Hertzberg doesn't seem to have actually read Tapper's story, however, which appeared on Jan. 22nd and which prominently cites and links to DRCNet's story of the 20th -- a story which had been linked to and written about in sources such as Drudge Report, Media Gossip and the Boston Herald on the 20th and 21st. (Tapper's article and interview can be read online at http://www.salon.com/politics2000/feature/2000/01/22/gore/.)
Otherwise, the New Yorker piece could almost serve as a textbook for drug policy reform rhetoric: "[T]he failure of the twenty-year "drug war" has never been more apparent... Interdiction has functioned mainly as a protectionist and R. & D. program for the burgeoning domestic marijuana industry... The prison population, which fifteen years ago was under three-quarters of a million, will cross the two-million mark sometime this month... This costly jihad has scared off some casual users, but it has done nothing to reduce the number of hardcore addicts."
Hertzberg discusses the medical marijuana initiatives, and makes note of mainstream politicians like New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, a Republican, and Rep. Tom Campbell of California, probable Republican nominee for Senate, who have taken stands in favor of fundamental reform.
Twelve-year-old Brady Tannahill of Lockney, Texas is an A and B student who has never been in trouble in his life. His refusal to take a school-mandated drug test, however, has changed all of that. Now, as far as the school is concerned, he is a drug user and will be punished as such. Larry Tanahill, Brady's father, is appealing.
The punishment, set by the school district, includes a 21-day suspension from all extracurricular activities, a minimum three-day suspension from school, and substance abuse counseling. Brady could also be required to take monthly drug tests for a year, with each refusal counting as a positive test, with increasing penalties. According to Graham Boyd of the ACLU's drug policy project, the Lockney school district is the only one in the nation requiring suspicionless testing of all students, grades 6-12.
On Friday, Mr. Tanahill met with his son's principal to begin the appeal process. Brady will be able to attend school as usual for two weeks pending a hearing in front of the school board.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, a legal challenge has been filed on behalf of two sets of parents in an attempt to strike down the suspicionless drug-testing requirement for students participating in extracurricular activities in the Wahkiakum School District.
The parents, Hans and Katherine York and Sharon and Paul Schneider, object to both the policy's substance and message.
"We object to the urine-testing policy as an unwarranted invasion of privacy," said Hans York, a deputy sheriff. "We want school to teach our children to think critically, not to police them." The Hans' are the parents of two students, a senior, who is a member of the national honor society, and a ninth grader. The Schneiders have a child in the ninth grade. Paul Schneider is a medical doctor who has served as a medical review officer in a drug rehabilitation context.
The Week Online will keep you up to date on both stories as they develop. To learn more about drug testing, visit the ACLU web site at http://www.aclu.org and do a "concept" search on "drug testing."
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
Vancouver, BC: The British Columbia Supreme Court ordered this Wednesday that US citizen Renee Boje be surrendered for extradition to the US on charges including marijuana possession, production, conspiracy to possess, conspiracy to produce and conspiracy to traffic. Boje was released on $5,000 bail.
Boje's next step is to take her case to the Canadian Minister of Justice. The minister can issue a full release under sections of the Extradition Act, if the minister is "satisfied that surrender would be unjust or oppressive," or that "the conduct in respect of which extradition is sought is a political offense or an offense of political character."
Boje was arrested in July 1997 along with Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams. Boje was doing sketches of marijuana plants for a book McCormick was writing on growing marijuana. Before she was indicted, Boje fled to British Columbia. If Boje is extradited she could face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
"I am now in the hands of the public and the Canadian Minister of Justice," Boje said. "If enough people send in letters of support to the minister before March 10, I have faith that the minister will make a compassionate decision."
Letters of support can be sent to:
The Honourable Anne McLellanLetters can also be sent to Minister McLellan by e-mail, to [email protected] Visit the Renee Boje Legal Defense web site at http://thecompassionclub.org/renee/. Additional information can be obtained from the web site of the Amsterdam-based Drugspeace Institute, online at http://www.drugspeace.org/en/frame2_en.htm.
Debate over marijuana law reform reached a fever pitch in the UK this week after British "drug czar" Keith Hellawell told The (UK) Observer that police should relax enforcement of marijuana possession laws.
In an exclusive interview with the Observer on Sunday (2/6), Hellawell said, "By far the greater proportion of arrests are for cannabis and I am looking for a change on that. I am looking for a shift towards those dealing in heroin and cocaine." His sentiments were reportedly echoed later by anti-drug cabinet minister Mo Mowlam, who has admitted to having tried marijuana in college and is generally thought to support marijuana law reform.
By Tuesday, both had backpedaled sufficiently to imply that their statements did not signal a change in the government policy. Hellawell claimed he had been misquoted, and Mowlam insisted that the government's policy remains to be "tough on drugs but also (to support) treatment and education."
Nevertheless, reaction from drug warriors and political foes of the Labour government was swift and sharp. Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe told reporters that "What we need is a clampdown on the possession of cannabis. Hellawell is completely wrong. We should be looking at a zero tolerance policy."
This week, the Tory party unveiled a new tough-on-drugs package that includes life sentences for people caught providing minors with Ecstasy and other "Class A" drugs for the second time, institutes prison sentences for persons caught with drugs within a quarter mile of a school, and allows schools to expel first-time drug offenders. Tory leader William Hague has vowed to make drug policy a central issue in the next election.
That plan could backfire for the conservatives, as public opinion in Britain seems to be moving in favor of reform. A recent poll by the Scotland on Sunday newspaper found that 43 percent of Scots favor legalizing marijuana. That figure is up from 34 percent just four years ago.
Like a newly discovered river whose every twist and turn is a revelation, the full course and end point of the fast-developing corruption scandal in the Los Angeles Police Department are impossible to know.
But it's clear that the win-at-all-cost mindset of the war on drugs and gangs disposed the Los Angeles police department for years of extraordinary misconduct, the details of which have been unfolding for five months. Reporters Scott Glover and Matt Lait have led the Los Angeles Times' ongoing coverage of the story, and their reporting provided much of the basis for this account. Glover and Lait have had a lot to cover.
Last September, Officer Rafael Perez pleaded guilty to stealing eight pounds of cocaine from an LAPD evidence facility. Perez had been attached to the anti-gang unit called CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) at the Rampart Division, west of downtown Los Angeles. He agreed to cooperate with investigators in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence and, according to the ex-officer, in an effort to clear his conscience.
Perez has claimed that he and his former partners at the Rampart Division framed 99 innocent people between 1995 and 1998. For the last five months, Perez has made extraordinary allegations of police on a rampage: planting drugs and weapons on innocent people, perjury, unjustified shootings and beatings, false arrests, witness intimidation and bogus police reports.
In late January, reporters Glover and Lait published a story in which a police officer who worked with Perez in the CRASH unit corroborated the allegations. "Everybody (in Rampart CRASH) kind of knows it happens," the officer told the LA Times. This officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was relieved of duty in connection with the ongoing probe. He said he could corroborate a number of Perez's allegations, and he told the reporters that some Rampart officers carried drugs to plant on suspects. The officer also said it was understood within the CRASH team that officers involved in a "problem" arrest or shooting would huddle to get their story straight before meeting with supervisors.
As of early February, 32 convictions have been overturned and 20 officers have been either fired, relieved of duty or have quit in connection with the ongoing investigation. On February 4th, according to the Alameda (CA) Times-Star, Los Angeles city council members learned in a private session that the city could be facing a bill of $125 million in legal settlements with people who were framed or injured by police.
Javier Francisco Ovando might be a candidate for such a settlement. According to the LA Times, Perez claimed that he and his partner, Nino Durden, deliberately shot Ovando, who was unarmed, and then planted a gun on him. Ovando was paralyzed in the incident, and he received a 23-year jail sentence that was later overturned. Ovando has been released from prison and has filed a lawsuit against the city.
"(The scandal) is the most important case I have seen this office handle in my 31 years here," said Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti told the Associated Press. "It goes to the heart of the criminal justice system."
Beleaguered Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks agrees. "These terrible events have forever changed the department and the city," Parks wrote in a report to the Los Angeles Police Commission on February 8th, according to the LA Times. Parks' report states that the department will need at least nine million dollars and hundreds of new positions in the next year alone to fix what went wrong at the Rampart Division.
Part of that effort will be the department's ongoing internal investigation. "The one positive light is the work of those officers on [the LAPD's] task force," Parks told the LA Times. He said detectives have worked tirelessly to "clear the names of suspects who were convicted of crimes who should not have been." Parks said his task force now numbers 46 officers, and they have conducted more than 300 interviews with defendants and witnesses. Parks has said that 57 cases have been "tainted," and he has urged District Attorney Garcetti to move quickly to void those convictions.
It's anyone's guess as to the full scope of the scandal. In early January, Duncan Campbell of The (UK) Guardian Weekly wrote that "up to 3,200 criminal cases in Los Angeles may have to be reviewed" as a result of the ongoing inquiry. DA Garcetti disputed this figure, which had been suggested by defense lawyers, and said at the time that it was impossible to say how many cases would ultimately be involved.
What is less mysterious is how the climate created by the war on drugs can impel the kinds of behavior seen in Los Angeles. "The drug war has conditioned some cops to disregard the Bill of Rights and due process," said Joseph McNamara, a retired 25-year police veteran and former police chief in San Jose, California, who is now at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto. "The whole system breaks down when you can't believe a police officer on the witness stand and think that he may have planted evidence and framed innocent people." McNamara says that his research for his upcoming book, entitled "Gangster Cops: The Hidden Cost of America's War on Drugs," shows that "the LAPD scandal is replicated thousands of times throughout the country."
Peter J. Christ (rhymes with "wrist") retired from the Tonawanda (NY) police force as a captain in 1989 after 20 years in law enforcement. He now heads up ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, an advocacy group. "We want (drug) policy to work at all costs, but it's impossible to win the war," he said.
Christ likened the alleged behavior in Los Angeles to the infamous My Lai massacre of civilians during the Vietnam War. "It's a lot of frustration boiling over," he said. "Police officers have all these people yelling at them to do something, but officers can tell it's not doing any good. If you arrest a burglar, you've probably taken someone off the streets who has committed a number of crimes and would commit more. If you arrest a drug dealer, you create a job opening."
Christ agreed with McNamara that the Los Angeles scandal is hardly unique. "We've had situations with the Customs people, the Chicago police department and the police in Rochester (NY)," he said. "The last time we had this level of police corruption was during (alcohol) Prohibition. In 1926, Al Smith, who was Mayor of New York, put a halt to local law enforcement of Prohibition. He basically said that if the feds wanted to do that work, they could, but he wouldn't spend any more city resources on it. The level of corruption went down immediately." Christ said he believes that localities can similarly choose to "deescalate" the war on drugs.
What isn't likely to deescalate very quickly are the revelations pouring out of Los Angeles. Will the people who allegedly abused their power as police officers be dealt with as harshly by our criminal justice system as the thousands of non-violent drug offenders now languishing in prison? Stay tuned.
Ongoing coverage of the Ramparts LAPD investigation can be found on the Los Angeles Times web site at http://www.latimes.com.
Two separate but related scandals this week illustrate how prosecution of the drug war has helped to undermine the credibility of the American justice system. In the first case, police raided a home in Denver on the basis of a faulty warrant, killing an innocent father of nine. In the second, an informant who has been paid an aggregate of several million dollars for testimony helpful to numerous prosecutions was suspended by the DEA after a newspaper investigation revealed he had lied on the stand in as many as 300 cases for the agency.
DEATH BY SWAT TEAM
During the early afternoon of September 29, 1999, 13 SWAT team members stormed the upstairs apartment at 3738 High Street in Denver, Colorado, looking for drugs. They were executing a so-called "no-knock" raid, one of about 200 such warrants issued by the Denver PD last year. In such raids, the SWAT team simply breaks down the suspect's door, unannounced. Ismael Mena, 45, the occupant of the apartment, worked the night shift at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant and normally slept during the day.
After breaking open the front door and entering the apartment, the SWAT team officers found the door to Mena's room latched, and kicked it in. According to the officers, they found Mena, armed with an 8-shot .22 revolver, standing on his bed. Officers screamed "police!" and "drop the gun!" repeatedly, at which point, they attest, Mena started to put the gun down, asking, "policia?" At that moment, Sgt. Anthony Iacovetta emerged from behind a wall and moved to disarm Mena, at which point Mena once again raised the gun at police.
Colorado law allows police to use deadly force if they believe there is imminent danger to their lives; officer Kenneth Overman, standing at the top of the stairs facing Mena's bedroom door, opened fire, followed by officer Mark Haney. Mena allegedly fell back into a sitting position and, bleeding from head and chest wounds, lifted his gun again and fired at the police, precipitating more gunfire. Mena was hit by eight bullets in all.
No drugs were found on Mena's person or in his apartment. But the primary controversy in this case is not the conduct of the police during the raid, although protesters and commentators have certainly challenged that conduct. The issue, according to Denver officials, is that the day following the raid, SWAT team officers learned they had raided the wrong residence -- they should have gone next door, to 3742 High Street.
Officer Joseph Bini, the five-year veteran of the Denver police department who wrote and applied for the warrant to raid Mena's apartment, is currently facing a felonious charge of first-degree perjury for his alleged fabrication of evidence to obtain the no-knock warrant. He faces a sentence of two to six years.
Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, was appointed as special prosecutor on December 2nd, and spent two months investigating the Mena incident before officially charging Bini on February 5th. Thomas exculpated the SWAT officers, saying they were justified in killing Mena during the raid because he brandished a gun at them, but his investigation revealed that the warrant to raid Mena's house was fraudulently obtained. "At the heart of the whole incident is the search warrant," Thomas said. "It relates to an individual officer, Joseph Bini, making what we allege are false statements under oath, knowing they were false."
Thomas charges that Bini lied about the following things: That he received information that Mena's apartment was a crack house; that he saw (in person) his informant go to the house; that the informant went into the apartment with a suspect; and that drugs were bought at the apartment. Because Bini had not personally observed what he attested to in the warrant, Bini used the wrong address on the search warrant, apparently because he didn't know any better. His court date is Feb. 18.
"They felt extraordinarily threatened and felt very afraid of being shot," Thomas said in exonerating the SWAT officers. Denver Mayor Wellington Webb insisted that the SWAT team acted properly, and commented that, "if Mena did not have a gun or point it at police officers, he'd be alive today." Nonetheless, Mayor Webb ordered a review of the process by which search warrants are granted. He requested that Police Chief Tom Sanchez and Denver DA Bill Ritter study the criteria for issuing search warrants, the process by which requests for no-knock warrants are reviewed, and the frequency and effectiveness of no-knock warrants. The report is due in two months.
Reacting to Thomas' findings, however, about 250 protesters demonstrated on the steps of the Denver City and County building on Saturday, Feb. 6. The Justice for Mena Committee insists that the incident is still being covered up by the police and that Mena's gun was planted.
DEA PAYS LYING INFORMANT MILLIONS
Following an investigative report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this week suspended its highest-paid undercover informant, Andrew Chambers, 42. The Post-Dispatch's four-month investigation found that Chambers was paid to lie in court dozens of times, to the tune of $2.2 million from the DEA over a period of years.
The investigation also found that DEA agents across the country continued to rely on Chambers as an informant despite three US appellate court opinions ruling him a liar, and admonitions from numerous federal prosecutors that he is untrustworthy.
Chambers, like many others, is a professional informant; it is what he does for a living. One would think that, by nature, an informant's information is incidental to his specific case. It is arrived at by the accident of the informant's involvement in illegal dealings. But not for Chambers. The Post-Dispatch estimates his total earnings, often paid in cash, over 16 years from all government sources total close to $4 million.
H. Dean Steward, an assistant federal public defender in California, filed a complaint with the DEA about Chambers' lies. Steward said that Chambers has been involved in over 300 investigations and "has lied under oath virtually every time he has been put on the witness stand. I can document the lies... he lies about his criminal history, his educational background, his aliases, where he is from, and just about every personal detail you could imagine," reported the Post-Dispatch.
Steward's investigative efforts have had some success, though. As of last September, the DEA is no longer allowed to use Chambers without revealing his full history to prosecutors, who must then disclose their evidence to the defense in trials.
Max LeMieux, executive director of the Eastern Missouri American Civil Liberties Union, called for an independent group to investigate the DEA, and stated that a "trial can't be fair when people who testify lie on the stand."
In addition to being a national day of vigils against soaring incarceration rates, Feb. 15 is also a national call-in day opposing the administration's proposed counternarcotics aid package to Colombia's military, an institution with known ties to paramilitary death squads. In last week's short update, DRCNet forwarded a detailed alert from the Washington Office on Latin America. If you don't have it in your e-mail, you can find it online at http://www.wola.org/colcallingday.html.
CONNECTICUT: On February 23, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, in conjunction with Western Connecticut State University NORML and the Yale ACLU, will present, "Seized!?! A Debate on Civil Asset Forfeiture."
The debate will be moderated by the Hon. Mike Lawlor, Co-Chair of the Judiciary Committee of the CT General Assembly. Presenting the case for reform will be former New Haven Police Chief and Criminal Justice Policy Foundation senior fellow Nicholas Pastore; Roger Pilon, Vice-President of Legal Affairs for the CATO Institute and an expert in Connecticut State Law; and Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU's drug policy litigation project. Arguing against reform will be retired Guilford police officer Anthony Dirienzo III; David X. Sullivan, State's Attorney, Forfeiture Division; and Mark H. Kaczynski, Resident Agent in charge of DEA operations in Hartford.
"Seized!?!" takes place Wednesday, February 23, at 7:30pm at Yale University, Linsley-Chittenden Hall (LC), Room 102. Refreshments will follow. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Dave Bonan at (860) 247-9823 (days) or (203) 791-0284 (eves).
MARYLAND: Del. Don Murphy (R-Catonsville) has introduced HB 308, a bill to protect patients who use marijuana medically and their doctors who recommend it. DRCNet is collaborating with the Marijuana Policy Project on a web site to demonstrate public support for the bill. If you are from Maryland, please visit http://www.mpp.org/Maryland/ and send a free e-mail or fax to your state Senator and your Delegates.
NEW JERSEY: Former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne issued a forceful call for decriminalization and shifting of resources in the drug war, interviewed on the New Jersey Network program "Due Process" last Wednesday. Please visit http://www.drcnet.org/states/newjersey/ for further information and to send an e-mail or fax to your state legislators and for letter-to-the-editor information.
SOUTH CAROLINA: An effort to inject discussion of drug policy into the South Carolina primaries is underway. If you live in or can travel to SC for such an effort, please e-mail Dave Guard at [email protected].
VIRGINIA: Activists have scored a victory in getting HB 1400, a bill to increase marijuana penalties, stalled and held up until the session next year. Many other drug bills are still being fought in the Virginia legislature, though, whose whirlwind session will probably be over by the end of the month. If you are from Virginia, please visit our collaborative web site with the group Virginians Against Drug Violence, at http://www.drcnet.org/states/virginia/, to send a free e-mail or fax to your state Senator and Delegate and to find our more information about Operation SABRE and how to get involved.
MORE STATES COMING SOON!
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
Josef Stalin, the murderous revolutionary and dictator of Soviet Russia is reputed to have once said, "When you kill one, it is a tragedy. When you kill ten million, it is a statistic."
Perhaps it is because of the incomprehensibility of such great numbers that the incarcerated population of our country has been able to reach the two million mark. Looking at some populations that the jail and prison population now exceeds may help make it seem more real:
Unlike the typical New Hampshire resident, most, perhaps, of the US incarcerated population has broken some law, just or otherwise, to get there. But that doesn't insulate us from the social disruption and escalating price tag of the incarceration program. Across the country, states are trading education spending for prison spending. Countless families live in forced separation and undue financial hardship; the pain of such separations often leads young people into lives of crime themselves.
And when these legions return to free society, as most of them eventually do, they will be burdened with criminal records that will frighten off most potential employers; but will be armed with increased knowledge of crime and relationships with career criminals, all gained in prison. In the African American community, where one in every three young black men is on criminal justice control on any given day, the massive overuse of the criminal justice system to address social problems has itself become one of the major causes of poverty and urban blight.
History will not praise our drug and crime policies as jobs well done. More likely, future students of our time will shake their heads in disbelief, wondering how 20th century America could be so blind, so self-destructive, for so long and at such a cost.
But perhaps they will note Feb. 15, 2000 as a turning point, an awakening, a day when wisdom began to prevail over cruelty and fear. Let us strive with all our energies toward that vision.
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