(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #163, 12/8/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In yet another exit interview, this one with Rolling Stone magazine publisher and editor Jann Wenner, outgoing President Bill Clinton called for reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and said possession of small amounts of marijuana "should be" decriminalized.
The Clinton presidency has been marked by ever-increasing anti-drug budgets, huge increases in the number of people sent to prison on drug charges, and three consecutive years of record marijuana arrests. During Clinton's two terms in office, the annual number of marijuana arrests rose from 250,000 to more than 700,000.
Regarding the drug that he has famously not inhaled, Clinton told Rolling Stone, "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be."
"Try telling that to the 700,000 people who got arrested for it last year," retorted national NORML head Keith Stroup.
"Listen," Stroup told DRCNet, "I feel two ways about this. First, I'd like to strangle the bastard for waiting until the waning days of his administration to speak out on this. Where the hell has he been, and why did 700,000 people get arrested last year if he feels this way?"
"On the other hand," Stroup continued, "we are delighted to have his support, and we will be using his statement in publicity work because it is a very powerful statement. Last time I heard a president talk like that, Jimmy Carter was in the White House."
"This is typical Clinton," Stroup argued. "It's a very positive statement, but it underscores a real weakness, which is his lack of political courage. If he had any guts he would have made this statement years ago."
"But I have to welcome the president's support, even at this late date," he concluded.
Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project was less ambivalent.
"Clinton's drug war has been every bit as vicious as those of his predecessors," he told DRCNet. "He's addicted to being well-liked and plays to his audience. He wants to come across as a cool, open-minded guy on the drug issue when he's in Rolling Stone or on MTV, but if he were talking to scared parents he'd be talking about how we need to crack down."
"I just hope that anyone who reads that interview realizes that despite Clinton's misinformed opinion, marijuana is not decriminalized in the US," Thomas added. "He's right that it should be, but that requires more than just yukking it up with a Rolling Stone reporter."
"Maybe we need an apology from Bill Clinton," one drug reform funder told DRCNet.
Regarding sentencing disparities, Clinton told Rolling Stone that mandatory minimum sentences for drug use should be reviewed, as should the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.
"The disparities are unconscionable between crack and powder cocaine," he said. "I tried to change that. The Republican Congress was willing to narrow but not eliminate them, the theory being that people who used crack were more violent than people who used cocaine."
"What they really meant was: People that used crack were more likely to be poor and, coincidentally, black or brown. And therefore not to have money. Those people that used cocaine were more likely to be rich, pay for it and therefore be peaceful."
If Clinton is sincere in his comments about injustice in the war on drugs, he has an opportunity to act in the coming days. He can respond to the Jubilee Justice petition campaign (http://www.jubileejustice.org), a nationwide grassroots effort that has gathered 32,000 signatures calling on the President to release all federal prisoners who have served at least five years for nonviolent drug law violations and commute the sentences of all nonviolent federal prisoners. Clinton has so far made limited use of his commutation power. A related effort, the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency (http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/), delivered a clemency petition to the President from more than 600 clergy (Associated Press wire story online).
Clinton has taken action on another drug war-related issue, an upcoming federal execution. Juan Raul Garza was scheduled for December 12th, 2000, to become the first person executed under federal law since 1963. Garza was convicted of murders committed in the course of a marijuana trafficking conspiracy in Texas.
Citing concerns about racial and geographical disparities in the application of the federal death penalty, numerous national and international groups have called on Clinton to set aside Garza's execution. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/146.html#garza and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/148.html#garza for our earlier stories on the Garza case.)
The President did not commute Garza's death sentence, however, but only postponed it, a second time, citing an ongoing Justice Department review of geographic and racial disparities in the federal death penalty system. Garza's fate, hence, will likely lie in the hands of the next President (AP story online).
Opening a new front in the battle over racial profiling in New Jersey, a state appeals court ruled that four persons serving time for drug offenses after traffic stops by state troopers may use evidence of racial profiling to appeal or reopen their cases.
The Week Online reported last week on that state's release of more than 90,000 documents detailing racial profiling practices and NJ officials' belated efforts to stop it, as well as the impact it could have on cases involving traffic stops (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/162.html#njprofiling).
State courts had previously said only that defendants facing their initial trial could present evidence of racial profiling.
The court of appeals rejected arguments from state lawyers that because defendants had not previously raised the issue they should not be allowed to now. It similarly rejected the state's effort to block appeals by defendants who had pleaded guilty.
Attorney General John S. Farmer said last week that the state may have to drop some criminal cases. His office will also attempt to settle civil suits filed by detained but not arrested motorists and by black and Hispanic state troopers who said they were forced to engage in racial profiling.
Now, with state court rulings that allow both defendants facing trial and those appealing their cases to bring evidence that racial profiling played a role in their cases, the reverberations from more than a decade of discriminatory policing fueled by the war on drugs promise to roil the New Jersey courts for years to come.
In a related story, the ACLU has released a report finding that racial profiling has taken place in Philadelphia. Visit http://www.msnbc.com/local/wcau/377376.asp for further information.
(Note: DRCNet is preparing to re-releasing the entire 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive on our web site over the next few days. Stay tuned, and check our home page at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org for breaking news on this project.)
Of the wave of successful drug policy reform initiatives passed by voters in November, efforts in two states, Utah and Oregon, overturned existing state asset forfeiture statutes.
In Oregon, the new law significantly raises the bar for asset forfeiture. Under the state's 1989 law, passed amidst drug war frenzy, police needed only a "reasonable suspicion" that the goods seized were related to illegal drug activity. Now, police cannot dispose of seized goods unless and until they obtain a conviction. As important, 75% of proceeds from seized goods will now go to drug treatment programs, not the law enforcement agency that made the seizure.
In Utah, the Utah Property Protection Act will allow claimants in asset forfeiture cases to use some of the funds in question to cover legal expenses incurred in the right to retain their property. It also raises the standard of proof required to confiscate seized goods, and directs that proceeds from asset forfeitures go into the state school fund.
Unlike the medical marijuana initiatives passed in California and eight other states since 1996, which must contend with hard-nosed opposition from the federal government, these efforts face only local- and state-level opposition. Law enforcement and prosecutors in both states campaigned against the measures, and in the wake of their passage, police in both states are squealing like stuck pigs.
Various Oregon drug task forces, including the Portland Marijuana Task Force, the Lane County (Eugene) Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team, and the Jackson County (Medford) Narcotics Enforcement Team, or JACNET, have publicly complained that they will not be able to operate without the booty they seize from drug suspects.
The Portland task force scored more than $700,000 for local police coffers last year, while JACNET brought in $80,000 and the Lane County task force's entire $550,900 budget came from seized goods. In all, Oregon law enforcement agencies took in more than $2 million from seizures last year. Now these loot-addicted task forces face an uncertain future. Accustomed to living off the proceeds from cash and properties seized from citizens, they face the uncertain prospect of having to rely on public funds allocated through the democratic process.
"I'm waiting for answers like everyone else," Eugene Police Sgt. Lee Thoming told the Eugene Register-Guard. "I intend to do everything I can to keep the team running," said Thompson, who runs the Lane County task force. "It's just a matter of figuring out how that can happen. Or if that can happen."
Rep. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), who supported the initiative, told the Register-Guard the police should get their money the same way any other state or local entity does.
"It's going to come down to local decisions to prioritize the resources they have," he said. "It's going to shift the funding from the current source [seized goods] to being ranked against other community needs."
Scott Ehlers of the Campaign for New Drug Policies (CNDP -- http://www.drugreform.org), which sponsored both campaigns, made the same point.
"If local governments or the legislature want to fund those task forces, they should step up to the plate and fund them," he told DRCNet. "We certainly don't want self-financing police with no oversight by government officials."
Law enforcement, prosecutors, and task force supporters are not merely whining, however. Local and state-wide meetings of prosecutors and police officials took place throughout November. And at least one Oregon newspaper, the Medford Mail Tribune in conservative southern Oregon, has called on local government bodies to fund the local drug task force.
But even in so doing, the Mail Tribune paid heed to the will of Oregon voters, who passed the measure by a two-to-one margin:
"[The voters] felt, and we agree, that the traditional American presumption of innocence ought to apply when police deprive people of property just as it does when they deprive them of liberty by locking them up," the paper warned.
The paper quoted Jackson County Sheriff Bob Kennedy as saying the law could force an end to forfeitures across the state. "Maybe that's not such a bad thing," mused the Mail Tribune.
CNDP's Dave Fratello told DRCNet that, fervent post-election vows notwithstanding, he expects opponents of the new law to cooperate in its implementation.
"You wake up the morning after a bloody beating like they got, and the immediate reaction is there must be something we can do," Fratello said, "but they are controlled by the law. The measure is constitutional and should be self-implementing."
"But they are working with us, too," Fratello continued. "Law enforcement and supporters of the measure are working to sponsor legislation to systematically reform the existing statutes to put them in compliance with the new law."
For Fratello, a more direct threat than attempted sabotage of the legislation is a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law on technical grounds.
"This is a hail mary pass, an opportunistic attempt to delay implementation," he told DRCNet, "but we have to look at it and defend against it."
Much the same pattern has played out in Utah, according to CNDP's Ehlers and Fratello and press reports from the Deseret State, although opponents there appeared even more reluctant to face political reality.
Fueled by $650,000 in donations from the Daddy Warbucks trio of drug reform -- George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling -- the initiative won with an impressive 69% of the vote.
"The populace got fooled," Iron County Attorney Scott Burns complained to the Deseret News.
Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner analyzed it this way for his home-town paper, the Standard-Examiner: "Those with pro-drug legalization agendas have bought the votes of the citizens under false pretenses."
Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocum, who along with Greiner is a member of the Coalition to Stop Drug Dealer Profits, which opposed the initiative, hammered at the same theme.
"A fraud has been perpetrated upon the public by these outside interests," he told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Local and national organizers of the initiative have a different take.
"Look," exclaimed CNDP's Ehlers, "this won the most overwhelming support of any of the drug reform initiatives this year. These opponents keep lying to themselves that the people didn't know what they were doing."
"Calling the voters stupid is not good for politicians," he pointed out.
Salt Lake attorney Janet Jenson of Utahns for Property Protection, who helped write the initiative, told reporters, "I thought the issue was pretty simple and I think people understand they deserve to have their property protected."
She also had a warning for opponents who have been grumbling about challenging the new law in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
"This is 70% of their constituency," she told the Tribune. "I think I would listen real hard if I were them. The legislature will realize the voters have spoken."
But despite the grumblings and threats, no legislation challenging the new law has been filed, said Ehlers.
"We don't need to pass any implementing legislation," said Ehlers. "What we have to do now is play defense in the legislature."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who opposed the measure, has vowed to heed the will of the voters. His office must implement it by March 31st.
"It's the law of the land," he told the Tribune. "I'm going to enforce it."
Danny Sugerman has been a player in the Los Angeles music scene since working with the legendary rock group, the Doors. A prolific author, he has written five books, most famously "No One Here Gets Out Alive: The Biography of Jim Morrison." Sugerman manages the band's revived career. He is also the author of "Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamour and Excess," an autobiographical novel depicting his relationships with drugs and with Morrison. That book has been optioned in a movie deal, about which Sugerman is optimistic.
Sugerman's education on the
drug issue includes but goes beyond his own experience with addiction;
his extensive personal library includes a wide range of books and documents
ranging from turn-of-the-century scholarly drug policy reports to novels
by addicted authors to anything else you'd be likely or unlikely to find.
The Week Online interviewed Sugerman by phone:
The Supreme Court ruled less than two weeks ago that police could not use random, suspicionless searches of motorists' vehicles as a tactic in the war on drugs. A Missouri sheriff so fond of drug-hunting roadblocks that he's been nicknamed "The Sheriff of I-44" thinks he's found a way around such constitutional impediments to his lucrative pursuit of drug law violators.
According to reports in the Southeast Missourian (Cape Girardeau) and Kansas City Star, the Phelps County Sheriff's Department in Rolla will continue the checkpoints.
Sheriff Don Blankenship told the local newspaper after the ruling that it "shouldn't affect us because we have a different type of checkpoint" and that the US Attorney's office agreed with him.
In comments to the Star's Karen Dillon, Terri Dougherty, executive assistant to Eastern District of Missouri US Attorney Audrey Fleissig confirmed that her office had given Blankenship the okay to continue.
Sheriff Blankenship and other Missouri law enforcement officials argue that their roadblocks created reasonable suspicion through the use of deception. They would typically set up a sign warning of a drug checkpoint ahead, but allow motorists the opportunity to exit between the sign and the supposed checkpoint.
The checkpoint was actually at the bottom of the off-ramp. Under the police logic, drivers who take the exit, especially those with out of state plates, are deemed to have created reasonable suspicion to be stopped and possibly searched.
The American Civil Liberties Union branch in St. Louis begs to differ.
"If the purpose is to find evidence of a crime then it is unconstitutional," ACLU of Eastern Missouri head Matt LeMieux told the Star. "It is quite clear that the purpose of the Phelps County checkpoints is to find criminal evidence -- drugs in this case."
"We certainly intend to share with the sheriff our view of how the Supreme Court decision applies to his checkpoints and encourage him to stop them," said LeMieux. "Even if the Justice Department gave him the go-ahead, I don't think it changes the fact that the practice appears to conflict with the US Supreme Court ruling."
Other Missouri law enforcement agencies have reacted more compliantly to the Supreme Court ruling. The state Highway Patrol has ended its use of checkpoints, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association has advised police to stop using them, and the Missouri Sheriffs Association notified sheriffs statewide about the ruling.
Sheriffs Association head James L. Vermeersch told the Star he wants to talk to Blankenship about his decision. He's not alone. The Phelps County Commission wanted to discuss the court ruling with him at their meeting last Thursday, but he didn't show up.
Blankenship came under fire in the recent election campaign for spending too much time conducting drug checkpoints on Interstate 44 instead of patrolling the county. Critics accused him of running the checkpoints because the department profited from seizures from drug suspects.
This year, the department has taken in $114,000 as of October, the Star reported. While under Missouri law, such funds are dedicated for public education, little has made it into county coffers in the last two years, the county treasurer reported.
Instead, under a federal asset forfeiture sleight-of-hand, the department turns the money over to the DEA, which in turn sends roughly 80% back to the arresting agency.
Sheriff Blankenship used some of the proceeds to buy gun locks, which opponents accused him of giving away as a campaign device, and another $221 went for 500 copies of a pamphlet called "Your Friend the Sheriff." Another $358 bought a thousand "Help Fight Crime" pens. Other seized funds were used to pay the salaries of police who participated in the roadblocks, who were supposedly "volunteers," the Star reported.
And, like the New Jersey racial profiling scandal, in the background lurks the DEA. That agency was so taken with Phelps County's techniques that it gave the department's checkpoint team a national award. One Phelps County deputy now spends three weeks each year teaching his borderline technique to DEA agents and police around the nation.
While the US remained entranced by the candidates' dance in Florida, Canada quietly went about the business of electing a new premier and parliament. Incumbent Liberal Prime Minister Jacques Chretien cruised to an easy re-election, and his party padded its parliamentary majority, fending off a challenge from the conservative-populist, Western-based Canadian Alliance party.
The Marijuana Party, whose single-issue platform is "end the persecution against cannabis," picked up 66,000 votes, or .52% of all votes cast. The fledgling party ran candidates in 73 ridings, or parliamentary districts, or roughly one-quarter of all seats.
In those ridings where its candidates competed, they averaged 2% of the popular vote, with party founder Boris St.-Maurice pulling down 4.8% in his Montreal riding. (All the party's vote totals, as well as its platform and other information are available at http://www.marijuanaparty.org on the web.)
The party is strongest in Quebec, where it has the advantage of having competed in 1998 elections, when it gained some 10,000 votes. This year, it fielded 30 candidates in Quebec, compared to 22 in more populous Ontario, and 12 in British Colombia. This time around, Marijuana Party candidates tripled their 1998 Quebec total, reaping more than 35,000 votes in the province.
"We clearly built off our momentum from last time," St.-Maurice told DRCNet. "We've remained active since the 1998 elections, and all that activity served to reinvigorate and inspire our voters."
While in general, party candidates in Quebec ran better than in the rest of the nation -- 2.4% versus 1.9% -- there were some exceptions. Grant Adam Krieger, the son of medical marijuana litigant Grant Krieger, racked up 3.7% of the vote in socially conservative Calgary, Alberta. And Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen picked up 3.1% in his West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast riding, a hotbed of Canadian marijuana culture.
Larsen was one of a trio of British Colombia candidates connected to Cannabis Culture. The magazine's publisher, Marc Emery, who also owns Canada's largest marijuana seed company, ran in central Vancouver, gaining 1.9%, and Dan Loehndorf, better known as the Reverend Damuzi, got 2.1% of the votes in a southeastern British Colombia riding.
When asked why his party would do as well or better in conservative areas as in relaxed British Colombia, St.-Maurice offered a paradoxical response.
"Where tolerance is already high," he argued, "we seem to have a lower potential for picking up parliamentary votes. In BC, people say 'the stuff is almost legal,' so you really have to cultivate a desire to act."
The tolerance paradox notwithstanding, St.-Maurice is pleased.
"We surpassed our goals," the amiable ex-musician told DRCNet. "We wanted to be a registered party in Canada and to do that we needed to compete in 50 ridings. We ran candidates in 73."
"Most important," St.-Maurice continued, "we've won recognition clean across Canada. All of our candidates did great in getting local press, and because it was a short campaign, we got a real media blitz."
The Canadian press seemed to jump at the idea of the Marijuana Party, although clearly not least because of the opportunity it provided for punning headlines. "Joint Effort Thrills Marijuana Party," wrote one front-page wit; "Marijuana Vote Lights Up," ventured another.
Headline writers weren't providing all the laughs.
Reporters penned light-hearted stories about the party's inability to keep its signs posted, with their prominent pot-leaf symbol proving too attractive for fans and collectors. One article reported how a candidate, under house arrest for marijuana crime, got a judge's permission to go out and campaign.
Even the candidates got in on the act. The Reverend Damuzi told a perturbed Nelson (BC) Daily News, "I will be campaigning on marijuana, probably in more ways than one."
It could have been comments such as the above that led Nelson High School to un-invite the Reverend from its candidates' forum and then cancel the forum when he threatened a protest. That little tiff garnered yet more press for the candidate and the party.
For St.-Maurice, the electoral campaign and the generally friendly press attention are laying the groundwork for a strong national marijuana reform organization. Canada has lacked such a group for at least a decade, he said.
St.-Maurice told DRCNet the party will turn its immediate attention to gaining the chance to consult on any revisions of Canada's marijuana law, which was struck down by the Ontario Supreme Court earlier this year. The court gave the government one year to rewrite the law to allow a medical exception; if the government fails to act, the entire marijuana prohibition law will be voided.
While parliament has yet to move on revising the law, St.-Maurice has no doubt it will.
"It would be naive to think the government will let the law be voided," he said. "They will try to fix the administrative process for medical marijuana, and given our expertise and the fact that we represent 66,000 Canadians, we want to be involved."
"I worry that they're going to fix it by trying to create something like a medical marijuana monopoly, and that would be a small gain for sick people, but that is not what we want."
And St.-Maurice will be there fighting. The some time musician told DRCNet he had planned to return to the studio after the campaign, "but the keyboardist's house burned down."
No matter, says St.-Maurice. "I'm 100% committed to the party, that's my priority. I've traded in my rock and roll shoes for marijuana boots."
Nevada is the only state where simple possession of small amounts of marijuana is a felony. Now, once again, a judicial commission there has recommended that the penalty be reduced to a misdemeanor. An earlier version of the commission, empanelled in 1993, made the same recommendation, but the legislature failed to act.
The Judicial Assessment Commission, formed by the Nevada Supreme Court to recommend changes to the state's justice system, was reconvened by the court last year. In its first incarnation, its recommendations to the state legislature resulted in the passage of a medical marijuana law and expansion of the state's drug court program.
Commission member Justice of the Peace Nancy Oesterle was careful, in remarks to the Las Vegas Sun, to point out that the commission does not favor marijuana legalization.
But, she said, most people charged with marijuana possession felonies eventually plead to lesser charges. Citing them with misdemeanors in the first place would save the state the cost of defendants' jail stays pending trial, court costs, and prosecutors' time.
"Nevada is the only state that treats these crimes as felonies," Oesterle said. "The committee specifically does not condone these crimes, but it wants the law to be applicable to what's really happening in the court system. This is a realistic approach."
New Mexico Republican Governor Gary Johnson, the highest-ranking elected official in the land to advocate radical changes in drug policy, is the subject of Playboy magazines January interview. The January issue hit the newsstands Monday.
Johnson's press secretary, Diane Kinderwater, told the Albuquerque Journal that the governor "is not a Playboy reader, and he did hesitate about being in that magazine." But, said Kinderwater, Johnson saw it as an "opportunity to speak to millions of people in his words about an issue he feels strongly about. He was convinced he would be able to reach to a lot of people, not just Playboy subscribers, but people who are policy makers," she said.
In the interview, Johnson once again hit his standard reform themes, telling the magazine: "If we legalized all drugs across the board, we would have a better situation than we have today. If all illicit drugs were available over the counter, things would be better. But that's not what I'm advocating. I think we should start with certain drugs, based on existing models. There are models that exist in this world for the legalization of heroin."
"There is a model when it comes to marijuana. There isn't a model for cocaine, methamphetamines, LSD, and so on. I am not advocating legalization, but I do think we should look into it."
That was apparently too fine a distinction for Playboy's publicity department, which irritated the governor's office with a press release touting the interview. The press release, which went out to a thousand media outlets, said: "Outspoken Republican Calls for Legalization of Drugs 'Across the Board.'"
Kinderwater said the governor objected to the "across the board" language as overstating his position. Playboy subsequently issued another press release with the governor's quote used above.
In the interview, Johnson revisited his own personal drug use history, saying it was limited to cocaine and "lots of pot" in his twenties. He also revealed for the first time that he used marijuana to fend off insomnia and that he has seen friends "do heroin."
"They were never addicted," he told Playboy. "They just experimented with it. So, that's another myth: Everyone who tries heroin becomes an addict."
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) visited Colombia last week to inspect preparations for the government's US-sponsored Plan Colombia and to show support for human rights workers in that country. And what a trip it was.
Wellstone is a leading congressional critic of Plan Colombia, the $1.3 billion (so far) US effort to simultaneously defeat both long-lived guerrillas and a flourishing coca and cocaine industry. He offered unsuccessful amendments in the Senate to divert the funds into domestic drug treatment programs. His was also one of the few voices in Congress to challenge President Clinton's decision to waive certification that Colombia was complying with US human rights standards.
He got a very spooky reception from his Colombian hosts. First, there was the bomb scare. As Wellstone's party, including US Ambassador Anne Patterson, prepared to land in Barrancabermeja, an oil-refining city of 200,000 where nearly 500 people have been killed in political murders this year, a Colombian police colonel announced that a possible assassination attempt had been thwarted.
Two bombs had been found along a possible route and a man identified by police as a leftist guerrilla was arrested. The colonel did not explain to reporters why leftist guerrillas would wish to kill an opponent of US military aid to Colombia.
The US Embassy in Bogota later doubted the bombs were intended for Wellstone: "Such explosive devices are frequently found in the area of Barrancabermeja, an area of extensive activity by illegally armed groups in Colombia," it noted dryly.
Then there was the coca-eradication exhibition. As Wellstone, his party, and assorted Colombian police officials stood on a mountain-side overlooking a coca field, and just after the US Embassy passed out materials noting the "precise geographical coordinates" used to spray coca fields, the entire entourage was enveloped in a mist of the herbicide glyphosate dumped from a helicopter 200 feet overhead.
Oops. So much for the program's "precise flight lines with a 170-foot width, leaving little room for error." Police said it was a mistake, and blamed the wind.
"We did not spray on the people or on the senator," Gen. Gustavo Socha, anti-narcotics director for the Colombian National Police, first told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. But when the paper's reporter told him he had been there, Socha said: "What hit him was because of the wind, not because they had the intention."
Whether accident, coincidence, or subtle effort at intimidation, the incidents have not altered Wellstone's positions. At a post-trip news conference, he told reporters he thought his Colombian hosts created the bomb story to dissuade him from traveling to other dangerous regions. But he deflected attention from himself to the larger issues.
"I don't know whether I was targeted, but I certainly know that the human rights activists are targeted," Wellstone said. "It's a small story that tells the larger story of what's happening in Colombia. It's so tragic."
At the Minneapolis news conference, Wellstone told reporters the US strategy in Colombia is "bound to fail" unless the US cuts its demand for cocaine and poor Colombians have an economically viable alternative to the drug. "We're too lopsided on the military part and not enough on the economic development part," he said.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
January 13, 2001, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
March 9-11, 2001, New York, NY, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex. Northeast regional conference, following on the large national gathering in 1998, to focus on the impacts of the prison industrial complex in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Visit http://www.criticalresistance.org for further information, or call (212) 561-0912 or e-mail [email protected]
April 1-5, 2001, New Delhi, India, 12th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Coalition, for information visit http://www.ihrc-india2001.org on the web, e-mail [email protected], call 91-11-6237417-18, fax 91-11-6217493 or write to Showtime Events Pvt. Ltd., S-567, Greater Kailash - II, New Delhi 110 048, India.
April 19-21, Washington, DC, 2001 NORML Conference. Call (202) 293-8340 for information. Registration and other information to be made available soon at http://www.norml.org.
April 25-28, Minneapolis, MN, North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, for further information call (253) 272-4857, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.nasen.org on the web. At the Marriott City Center Hotel, 30 South Seventh Street.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
It couldn't have been better timed if it were in a movie or TV show -- as Colombian officials boast to US Senator Wellstone about the "precise flight lines" and "precise geographical coordinates" used in their aerial anti-coca spraying program, the Senator and his delegation are doused with a batch of dangerous herbicide, glyphosate, dumped from a helicopter flying 200 feet overhead on a coca spraying mission.
The incident vividly illustrates how laughable are Colombian and US officials' claims that aerial coca eradication is being done safely. But should we laugh, or cry?
Pamela Costain, Executive Director of the Resource Center of the Americas and a member of Wellstone's delegation, wasn't laughing. "I'm fearful about what they're using, and I really didn't want to get it on me," she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Omayra Morales didn't laugh either, when the sprayers came to her small town of Milleflores in southeastern Colombia a few years before. When Morales heard the low flying airplane approach, she ran outside to call her children in. "[T]here was no way I could protect them," she told Robin Lloyd, who recounted the interview for the winter 1998 issue of the Drug Policy Letter. "As our houses are made from wood, the poison filters in. It lands on the water and on the food crops." Her children vomited from the glyphosate, and later their hair fell out.
Just as incredible, perhaps, are the vigorous denials made by New Jersey law enforcement officials that their police officers would ever use race as a basis for highway stops and searches. These denials, many of them extremely self-righteous in tone, are replete throughout the 91,000-page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive released by the state's Attorney General office last week. But as we know by now, the archive shows that racial profiling not only took place, but was widespread, even encouraged in the name of the war on drugs.
Should we find it laughable that police officials and defenders would deny and deny such practices, thinking they would never get caught in the lie? Or should we shake our heads that it took lawsuits, statistical analyses and nationwide advocacy campaigns to prove that which any black American has lived and any white American has seen? Profiling's victims, whose tales of discrimination and indignity are also replete in the archive, weren't laughing. They were angry, and we should be too.
It may be that such deceptions are inevitable whenever ideology converges with politics and money. Laugh or cry, but let the truth be told and the injustices stopped.
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