Newsbrief: Campaign Comments -- Lieberman on Drug War Racial Disparities 10/31/03

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During Sunday night's debate among the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman had some harsh words for the state of racial justice in the war on drugs. Responding to a question from Detroit WJBK TV Fox 2 News anchor Huel Perkins, Lieberman called for "a change" in policies that send non-whites to prison for drug crimes in disproportionate numbers. From the debate transcript:

Perkins: Senator Lieberman, a famous talk-show host admits his addiction to prescription drugs (LAUGHTER). He goes off for treatment. There are addicts who have also admitted that they have a problem. They're behind bars right now. There seems to be a disparity... (APPLAUSE) ... real or perceived, a disparity. But it seems that if you're rich and famous, you go to rehab, but if you're poor and unknown, you go to jail (APPLAUSE). How will you change the perceived mistreatment, or real mistreatment, of people in the medical and legal fields?

Lieberman: This is a very important question, and it's time for a change on this. Let's first acknowledge that there is a real problem here. This is not just rhetoric. Just this past week, I read in the newspapers of a study done in the state of Maryland that showed something like 90 percent of the people in Maryland jails for drug-related charges are African American. Now, that's a miscarriage of justice. There's just no rationale as to why that number would be so much larger than the African American population in the state of Maryland. [See for DRCNet coverage of the study.]

I believe in a system of justice. I believe, as I presume and I know everyone here does, that people have to be held accountable for crimes. But the system of justice must be fair. Too many people are in jail today for nonviolent drug offenses. They are costing our country, their states, their families, their neighborhoods an enormous amount. We need to commit ourselves to turn this around and invest in rehabilitation... education, job training.

The fact is, when I am president, I am going to fix this problem. I am going to not have John Ashcroft at the Justice Department. I'm going to have an attorney general who will work to see that there is justice that is fair. I say one final word, and it says it all. Reverend Jackson was in Connecticut some years ago, and he talked about this problem. And he said, you know, it costs more to keep a young African American in jail than to send that same young man through Yale. That's what we ought to be doing.

The highly partisan crowd enthusiastically applauded Lieberman's remarks, but then again, that same crowd even applauded during the question -- twice -- and also cheered just about any red-meat attack on President George Bush and his policies. Lieberman was the only candidate asked directly about drug policy, and no other candidates jumped in later to go on record about drug policy during the debate.

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Issue #307, 10/17/03 Editorial: It's Time to Rejoin the Free World | Presenting "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" | Decriminalization Comes to Britain: House of Commons Passes Cannabis Rescheduling Bill | Leftist Legalizer Elected Mayor of Bogota in Voter Rebuke of Colombian President | Dutch Government Seeks Ban on Foreigners in Coffee Shops | One and a Half Million Drug Arrests Last Year, Nearly 700,000 for Marijuana, FBI Reports | Media Scan: David Borden on Cultural Baggage, Forbes, Alternet, Pot TV | This Week in History | Newsbrief: MAPS/UMass Marijuana Grow Proposal Gets Backing from Senators Kennedy and Kerry | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Campaign Comments -- Lieberman on Drug War Racial Disparities | Newsbrief: Federal Appeals Court Says Nervousness Not Enough to Prompt Driver Search | Newsbrief: More Death Squad Drug Killings in the Philippines | Newsbrief: Retrograde Drug Politics in Kentucky Governor's Race | Newsbrief: North Carolina Congressman in Drug Treatment Slush Fund Scandal | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar

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